copyright 2008 Stephan Huller
Up until now we haven’t laid out any proof that the Alexandrian Church ever participated in throne worship. Yet anyone who pays any attention to the Coptic tradition sees at once that it is filled with countless references to its role in their religion. The eight day of the month of Hatour for example we see that the day is consecrated to the ‘four incorporeal beasts’ which adorn the throne. These creatures constantly resurface throughout the Coptic liturgy. Nevertheless there is a far more significant way to see the manner in which ‘the throne’ figures in the Alexandrian tradition – that is, to examine the use of Psalm 45 among the Copts. The Psalm clearly demonstrates that the Alexandrian community did indeed engage in ‘throne veneration.’
This is especially clear with regards to its development into Coptic hymn entitled ‘Pekethronos’ (which translates to ‘Your Throne’ an important line from the original text). We see that Psalm 45 is sung every Tuesday of Holy Week. The logic put forward by Copts for this reading is that it corresponds to the day that the first reference to Christ ‘taking the throne.’ If the reader is a little unclear where the corresponding gospel throne reference actually occurs, the Coptic tradition is disappointingly quite vague. It merely says that they recite the ‘Pekenthronos’ because it corresponds to the material in Mark chapter13 about the ‘future judgment.’
I have a theory of my own here. The only way that Jesus can be seen to refer to a throne in this section of text is if the allusion to Daniel 7:13 i.e. “at that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his messengers and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” The connection between the ‘throne’ and coming of the Son of Man make perfect sense given that the original passage is necessarily connected to a vision of the messiah seated on the solar chariot.
At least one Christian gospel tradition - that of the Manichaean Church - preserves a reading which interprets Jesus’ words as referring to a real historical enthronement. The community knew that Mani did exactly this c. 300 CE and they had a whole set of ‘throne psalms’ as well as a throne festival to celebrate that event. The ‘clouds’ which accompanied the seating would likely have been explained by billows of incense (already hinted in the description of the Seraphim in Isaiah).
It is worth noting that the Coptic tradition recites Psalm 45 a second time during Holy Week. It occurs at the twelfth hour of Good Friday and is said to represent the beginning of the Resurrection. Clearly someone thought that Christ only came back to life to sit on a throne, although the orthodox way of explaining the reference would be to argue that after Jesus resurrects then went ‘back’ up to his Father in heaven).
The thing we have to stress time and time again is that it is now clear that not everyone read the passage in this way. As we have already shown the Manichaeans linked it to a historical enthronement when Mani was confirmed as the long awaited Paraclete. Yet I think we can take matters one step further. The Acts of Archelaus (the text from which Severus must have got his information) makes clear that Mani also appeared among the followers of ‘little Mark’ to correct the ‘erroneous’ belief prevalent among them that their apostle had already applied these prophesies to himself.
Does this mean that Christians of St. Mark believed that he was enthroned as the Paraclete? All that we have seen regarding the very existence of a ‘throne of St. Mark’ supports this very assumption inferred in the surviving text. Yet for the moment I would like to avoid all the speculative talk and strictly focus on the use of Psalm 45 in the Alexandrian tradition which in my mind does a much better job solidifying this assumption.
Scholarly studies of the Coptic tradition surrounding ‘Pekenthronos’ reveal several interesting things about the hymn. It is said to represent one of the oldest and best preserved religious songs in the Coptic liturgy. It has been also argued that it was actually connected with the enthronement of Pharaohs, which we have already noted occurred at the beginning of the Egyptian calendar – i.e. the very time we have demonstrated that Agrippa came to Alexandria.
Dr. Rageb Moftah, former dean of the Coptic Music Department, Coptic Studies Institute, Cairo, Egypt has argued that Pekethronos was an ancient Egyptian tune adapted for a specifically Christian function (Moftah Coptic Music: Selected Writings 1958 p. 11). He notes that Philo already makes clear that the monastic communities of St. Mark were actively involved in just this kind of activity (i.e. developing traditional Egyptian songs to Biblical themes). He adds that Coptic hymns were actually transmitted orally from one generation to another until he was commissioned by the Royal Academy to write them all down with musical notation.
Moftah notes that “the Coptic hymns began to develop shortly after the preaching of St. Mark the Apostle in Alexandria.” (ibid p. 10) Early Christians in the city, were in his mind, Jews who resided there in large numbers. According to Coptic tradition the first believers ‘sold everything and devoted their lives to worship in monasteries near Lake Maerotis in the forties of the first century.” Evidence to suggest a blending of traditional Egyptian and Jewish cultures is demonstrated from the discovery of the earliest known Christian hymn near the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in the third century.
With regards to the Pekethronos hymn it is argued to have been developed from music used during the coronation of the Pharaoh. It lasts about twenty minutes or so in traditional usage where the first part is mournful and usually was said during his burial and where the second part is joyous and was said during his coronation. One could certainly make the argument that it embodied the continuity from the rule of one Pharaoh to the next just as it likely became adapted to originally symbolize the transformation from Jesus into Christ.
If Moftah is correct then it seems utterly inescapable that the original Egyptian song was originally sung on the first day of the solar calendar – up to and including the time of Agrippa’s arrival in Alexandria – and was later officially ‘relocated’ to twelfth hour of Good Friday. The fact that the words of Psalm 45 are laid over the ancient tune clearly make sense if it was St. Mark’s throne which was originally identified as ‘your throne’ and Marcus Agrippa’s historical visit in 38 CE for the words of that psalm (as preserved in the LXX) read:
My heart has uttered a good word: I declare my works to the king: my tongue is the pen of a quick writer.
Thou art more beautiful than the sons of men: grace has been shed forth on thy lips: therefore God has blessed thee for ever.
Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O Mighty One, in thy comeliness, and in thy beauty;
and bend thy bow, and prosper, and reign, because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall guide thee wonderfully.
Thy weapons are sharpened, Mighty One, the nations shall fall under thee they are in the heart of the king’s enemies.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness.
Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness beyond thy fellows.
Myrrh, and stacte, and cassia are exhaled from thy garments, and out of the ivory palaces,
with which kings’ daughters have gladdened thee for thine honour: the queen stood by on thy right hand, clothed in vesture wrought with gold, and arrayed in divers colours.
Hear, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear; forget also thy people, and thy father’s house.
Because the king has desired thy beauty; for he is thy Lord.
And the daughter of Tyre shall adore him with gifts; the rich of the people of the land shall supplicate thy favour.
All her glory is that of the daughter of the king of Esebon, robed as she is in golden fringed garments,
in embroidered clothing: virgins shall be brought to the king after her: her fellows shall be brought to thee.
They shall be brought with gladness and exultation: they shall be led into the king’s temple.
Instead of thy fathers children are born to thee: thou shalt make them princes over all the earth.
They shall make mention of thy name from generation to generation: therefore shall the nations give thanks to thee for ever, even for ever and ever.
It should be noted that this Greek version of the Psalm differs considerably from the Hebrew. Nevertheless it is important to note that the earliest Christian citations of the text inevitably prefer the version cited.
Indeed one can’t overstate the obvious manner that what is said here naturally fits into the existing portrait of the ‘heretical gnostic’ tradition associated with St. Mark. I will go on to argue that it necessarily turns upside down what appears in Irenaeus – i.e. his repeated emphasis of the followers of ‘Marcos’ engaging in some kind of ‘ritual debauchery’ of its female members. Alexandrian employment of these same words throughout the ages prove once and for all what was really going on – viz. ‘Marcos’ was venerated as the ‘royal messiah’ of the community. The claim that women engaged in sexual acts with him derives its origin from Irenaeus (or his source) taking the allegorical statements in Psalm 45 at face value in order to ‘shock’ and ‘scandalize’ his readers.
We have already surmised that Irenaeus had deliberately obscured the significance of the use of a ‘small throne’ among the members of the community. The key to making sense of the reference is to remember that all Irenaeus’ information about the community comes from an original (and now lost) report in Aramaic. We see this in the section where the prayers of the community are cited in their original Semitic form. Irenaeus’ poor command of Hebrew is demonstrated elsewhere where he mistranslates the opening words of Genesis to read ‘In his Son, God created heaven and earth …”
The place Irenaeus gets tripped up (or deliberately misleads his readers is with regards to the double meaning of the word kisse. In Hebrew the word means ‘cup’ and this is how he translates the word throughout the section. However the actual language of the community was Aramaic where kisse should have been rendered ‘throne.’ So it is that we read that the followers of Mark took:
the smaller [throne] consecrated by the woman into that which has been brought forward by he himself, he at the same time pronounces these words: "May that Grace who is before all things, and who transcends all knowledge and speech, fill thine inner man, and multiply in thee her own knowledge, by sowing the grain of mustard seed in thee as in good soil." Repeating certain other like words, and thus goading on the wretched woman, he then appears a worker of wonders when the large [throne] is seen to have been filled from the small one
The point of course is now clear. One of the great mysteries in the Markan community centers around the historical reality that the boy who sat in the little throne eventually filled the seat occupied by the shepherd of the community.
The central place occupied by this ‘little throne’ makes the underlying reference to Psalm 45 here start to make sense. For Irenaeus goes on to emphasize repeatedly that the ‘women’ of the Markan community want to have sex with the man who occupied the throne. Of course it was easy to get the sexually repressed heads of the Catholic Church to detest a community which engaged in orgiastic ritual practices and so almost every scholar has followed suit (undoubtedly owing to the same underlying pent up frustration). Nevertheless a careful examination of the actual passages in question reveals a much less interesting truth – there were no sex parties going on among the heretics. They were just reciting Psalm 45.
So it is we should have a great deal of caution when we hear Irenaeus say that ‘Marcus’ was actively engaged in:
• drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him, as to one who is possessed of the greatest knowledge and perfection, and who has received the highest power,” [Haer 1:13:1]
• that “he devotes himself especially to women … whom he frequently seeks to draw after him, by addressing them in such seductive words as these: "I am eager to make thee a partaker of my Grace … it behoves us to become one. Receive first from me and by me [the gift of] Grace. Adorn thyself as a bride who is expecting her bridegroom, that thou mayest be what I am, and I what thou art. Establish the germ of light in thy nuptial chamber. Receive from me a spouse, and become receptive of him, while thou art received by him.
• Then she makes the effort to reward him … by yielding up to him her person, desiring in every way to be united to him, that she may become altogether one with him.”
• Marcus “compounds philters and love-potions, in order to insult the persons of some of these women, if not of all, those of them who have returned to the Church … have acknowledged, confessing, too, that they have been defiled by him, and that they were filled with a burning passion towards him.
• some of his disciples, too, addicting themselves to the same practices, have deceived many silly women, and defiled them.
Once we acknowledge that there was indeed an ancient Alexandrian throne rite which involved reciting Psalm 45 all of the exaggeration present in Irenaeus’ account immediately disappear.
What is being described here is a throne ritual where ‘Marcus’ is Christ and his adherents are his messianic bridegrooms. Indeed nowhere is this more obvious than in the repeated mention of ‘Marcus’ bestowing ‘grace’ on his ‘women.’ Irenaeus is scandalized by the fact that anyone else other than Jesus having the authority to grant the ‘grace’ which leads to individuals receiving the prophetic gift. Nevertheless the idea is clearly present in Psalm 45 – “grace has been shed forth on thy lips: therefore God has blessed thee for ever.” What’s more the king is identified as Elohim in the previous verse which is one of the few places that the term means ‘ruler’ rather than its standard application of ‘god.’
Once we acknowledge that the ancient ‘heretical’ community of Mark used Psalm 45 in a way that established the current usage of the Alexandrian Church we immediately begin to see doors open to our understanding of the original place of the little throne of St. Mark before it was taken away from them. Marcus Agrippa must have been the messianic king described in the Psalm as sitting on the throne being attended by a gathering of ‘women’ – even virgins. The idea that the Church itself was feminine or was composed of virgins is well established in all Christian traditions based on similar references from the gospel. Nevertheless the specific application of Psalm 45 immediately explains why Irenaeus was so troubled by the reference – it makes clear that Jesus wasn’t the messiah of the original community.
As we shall demonstrate from the writings of the Church Fathers it was always recognized that Jesus wasn’t like the messiah described in the Psalm. He wasn’t a historical king, a conquering general, a man mighty in war. It wasn’t just the earliest Christians who recognized what kind of messiah was being described in the Psalm. We see also in the earliest Jewish writings – i.e. the early Targums – renders verse 3 as, “Thy beauty, O King Messiah, is greater than that of the children of men.
As we have already stated the deliberate emphasis on this wholly human messianic figure raised to the status of an enthroned king seems utterly incompatible with the historical Jesus. The point was likely never lost on the Alexandrian community. As we shall see shortly they developed their interpretation of the Psalm in a way that proved that ‘Christ’ became established on the throne only after ‘Jesus’ died on the Cross. In other words, Christ wasn’t Jesus. He represented instead his second advent in another figure. Had the community been allowed to flourish unperturbed we would likely still see this interpretation active in the Alexandrian Church. As it was those who held such beliefs were systematically tortured and ultimately killed. A case in point is the example of Clement of Alexandria.
While it is true that Clement almost never explicitly acknowledges the ‘two advent’ formula of his successor Origen, it is certainly present in his writings albeit in a deliberately muted form. The reason for his submissiveness is obvious. Not only did he have to contend with Demetrius as the new bishop of Alexandria, Clement seems acutely aware of the hostile propaganda Irenaeus was broadcasting against his Markan faith.
We needn’t merely restrict ourselves to the underlying policy of ‘denying the existence of a secret faith’ that we saw earlier in Hippolytus text. Clement seems to be aware that Irenaeus’ anti-Markan report is rooted in the community’s application of Psalm 45. The cultural climate of the day wouldn’t allow Clement to just come out and say ‘that’s not how we use the Psalm.’ Instead he obliquely takes issue with the charge of ‘effeminacy’ leveled against his community and goes on to write in one section of his work:
There are some who, annoyed at the attention bestowed on this, appear to me to be rightly so averse to perfumes on account of their rendering manhood effeminate, as to banish their compounders and vendors from well-regulated states, and banish, too, the dyers of flower-coloured wools. For it is not right that ensnaring garments and unguents should be admitted into the city of truth; but it is highly requisite for the men who belong to us to give forth the odour not of ointments, but of nobleness and goodness. And let woman breathe the odour of the true royal ointment, that of Christ, not of unguents and scented powders; and let her always be anointed with the ambrosial chrism of modesty, and find delight in the holy unguent, the Spirit. This ointment of pleasant fragrance Christ prepares for His disciples, compounding the ointment of celestial aromatic ingredients.
Wherefore also the Lord Himself is anointed with an ointment, as is mentioned by David: “Wherefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows; myrrh, and stacte, and cassia from thy garments.” [Ps. 45:7, 8] But let us not unconsciously abominate unguents … and let a few unguents be selected by women, such as will not be overpowering to a husband. For excessive anointings with unguents savour of a funeral and not of connubial life. Yet oil itself is inimical to bees and insects; and some men it benefits, and some it summons to the fight; and those who were formerly friends, when anointed with it, it turns out to deadly combat.
Ointment being smooth oil, do you not think that it is calculated to render noble manners effeminate? Certainly. And as we have abandoned luxury in taste, so certainly do we renounce voluptuousness in sights and odours; lest through the senses, as through unwatched doors, we unconsciously give access into the soul to that excess which we have driven away. If, then, we say that the Lord the great High Priest offers to God the incense of sweet fragrance, let us not imagine that this is a sacrifice and sweet fragrance of incense; but let us understand it to mean, that the Lord lays the acceptable offering of love, the spiritual fragrance, on the altar. [Instructor 2:8]
Clearly the intended target of Clement’s message isn’t so much Irenaeus but all those who would use his supposedly ‘authoritative account’ as a basis to persecute his community. It is his way of saying, Irenaeus got it wrong. All they can be accused of doing ultimately was paying too much attention to a particular Psalm.
Of course, in this ancient theological chess match, the real bone of controversy is never so much as uttered by either side. The use of Psalm 45 in conjunction with the throne of St. Mark necessitates the veneration of the evangelist as the community’s Christ. It pulls the rug right from under the messiah of the Catholic tradition – viz. Jesus.
That Clement doesn’t want to acknowledge this belief is obvious enough. He wants to continue living. In the case of Irenaeus too however there is a desire to avoid direct mention of the heresy’s attachment to the gospel writer. Instead, as we have already seen, he deliberately develops a scenario where ‘Mark’ is some anonymous heretic living in an obscure part of the Christian world who happened to claim ‘unspeakable’ things about his role within his community.
This tactic is by no means isolated. The heresy of ‘Valentinus’ seems equally obscure until we probe deeper into Irenaeus’ past. Florinus, a rival Christian apologist in Rome, seems to have claimed that the ‘heresy’ represented the true beliefs of his master Polycarp. To this end, we always have to take into account what Irenaeus does not say as much as what he does say about a particular ‘heresy.’ The same applies to many of his statements of what constitutes ‘orthodoxy.’
There are several Irenaean references to Psalm 45. Each one of them emphasizes what the Church Father sees as the ‘correct’ interpretation of the text. Yet a careful examination of the references reveals that lying beneath the surface of these accounts we find the original ‘heretical’ reading of the Psalm. In other words, a critical evaluation of Irenaeus efforts reveals little more than a series of attempts to counter pre-existent ‘incorrect’ applications of the material.
Take for example what appears in his first mention of the Psalm appears in Book III of his anti-heretical treatise. It is here we see that Irenaeus once again emphasizes that it has been in his mind proven that:
neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named [another God] as God; nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation, as this passage has it … “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee.” For the Spirit designates both [of them] by the name, of God—both Him who is anointed as Son, and Him who does anoint, that is, the Father … no other is named as God, or is called Lord, except Him who is God and Lord of all, who also said to Moses, “I am that I am.” [Haer 3:6]
The same argument appears later in Book IV and again in Book V. Most take for granted Irenaeus’ authority to establish orthodoxy. Nevertheless it is not at all difficult to see his efforts as being little more than reactionary – i.e. he is trying to counter a prevailing understanding that the royal messiah who sat on the ‘throne’ of Psalm 45 represented a god higher than the divinity who revealed the Torah to Moses.
We needn’t look far to uncover sources for this original position. For as stalwart an orthodox figure as Justin Martyr uses this same hymn in the ‘heretical’ manner opposed by Irenaeus [Dialogue LVI]. The chapter in question is aptly entitled “God who appeared to Moses is distinguished from God the Father.” The truth is that at the very least the Psalm was used to prove the existence of two powers in heaven by countless early Church Fathers (let alone the heretics!). They seized upon the opening line of text which has the Father ‘emitted’ or ‘belch’ the Word from ‘his heart.’
Scholars of course like to avoid incongruous statements in the Church Fathers preferring instead to emphasize the perpetuity of ‘orthodoxy.’ Nevertheless there are two typical uses for the Psalm in Christianity which at first seem to contradict one another. On the one hand it is taken to acknowledge that the Word – i.e. ‘Jesus’ - was emitted from the Father and the second was that ‘Christ’ was someone other than Jesus - a ‘royal messiah’ – who represented his Second Coming.
The question now is how do we reconcile the two ideas? Is the Psalm about Jesus or is it about the ‘Christ’ who came after him? The specific application of Psalm 45 to the throne of St. Mark as we have just seen overcomes that difficulty. The Psalm must have originally been taken to confirm that that this messiah (who is called ‘Elohim’ in the Hebrew text) is also taken to be the new solar Logos who guided the designs of the universe.
It might be difficult for some readers to even consider for a moment that the Alexandrian tradition might have taken Psalm 45 to confirm the apostle Mark as a figure higher than Jesus, nevertheless I think a careful reading of Origen helps alleviate many of this difficulties. We see that during the course of his anti-Christian treatise the pagan critic Celsus repeatedly argues that the image of Jesus from the gospel is utterly incompatible with the traditional Jewish concept of the messiah from Scripture. A naïve student of Christianity might think that Origen’s response would make clear that Jesus was indeed the ‘royal messiah’ envisioned by many of the prophets. Nevertheless what appears in Against Celsus demonstrates quite the opposite.
It is important to note that Psalm 45 appears twice in Origen’s counter attack. We might even suppose that Celsus referred to the text in his original attack. At the very least we should note that both times Origen references Psalm 45 he emphasizes that he and his Alexandrian tradition do not take its words to refer to Jesus but another figure who represents his ‘second coming.’
In the first citation of this text we read Origen emphasize that this ‘other Christ’ necessarily would appear as a mighty warrior, something completely different from the meek, suffering servant represented by the historical Jesus. To this end Origen ridicules his opponent saying that it has apparently escaped Celsus’ notice:
that the prophecies speak of two advents of Christ: the former characterized by human suffering and humility, in order that Christ, being with men, might make known the way that leads to God, and might leave no man in this life a ground of excuse, in saying that he knew not of the judgment to come; and the latter, distinguished only by glory and divinity, having no element of human infirmity intermingled with its divine greatness. To quote the prophecies at length would be tedious; and I deem it sufficient for the present to quote a part of the forty-fifth Psalm, which has this inscription, in addition to others, “A Psalm for the Beloved,” where God is evidently addressed in these words: “Grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God will bless Thee for ever and ever. Gird Thy sword on Thy thigh, O mighty One, with Thy beauty and Thy majesty. And stretch forth, and ride prosperously, and reign, because of Thy truth, and meekness, and righteousness; and Thy right hand shall lead Thee marvellously. Thine arrows are pointed, O mighty One; the people will fall under Thee in the heart of the enemies of the King.” [Ps. xlv. 2–5]. But attend carefully to what follows, where He is called God: “For Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” [Ps. xlv. 6, 7]. And observe that the prophet, speaking familiarly to God, whose “throne is for ever and ever,” and “a sceptre of righteousness the sceptre of His kingdom,” says that this God has been anointed by a God who was His God, and anointed, because more than His fellows He had loved righteousness and hated iniquity. And I remember that I pressed the Jew, who was deemed a learned man, very hard with this passage; and he, being perplexed about it, gave such an answer as was in keeping with his Judaistic views, saying that the words, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom,” are spoken of the God of all things; and these, “Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore Thy God hath anointed Thee,” etc., refer to the Messiah. [Origen Against Celsus 1:56]
This is exactly the theological position that his predecessor Clement was too frightened to take. How did Origen find the courage to articulate it? Most scholars note that Against Celsus wasn’t written in Alexandria; it came from a period when Origen had been chased out of town and took up residence in the Palestinian port city of Caesarea.
So it is that Psalm 45 is now used in a way which ‘proves’ that the historical Jesus wasn’t its messiah. Surprisingly Origen goes one step further a little later in the same treatise saying that something else proves that Jesus wasn’t the Christ of the Psalm. Origen acknowledges that while the historical Jesus was ugly the ‘Christ’ in Psalm 45 is repeatedly identified as ‘beautiful.’ So it is that Origen continues by saying:
it is evident by these words, that when Celsus wishes to bring a charge against Jesus, he adduces [from] the sacred writings … There are, indeed, admitted to be recorded some statements respecting the body of Jesus having been “ill-favoured” not, however, “ignoble,” as has been stated, nor is there any certain evidence that he was “little” … These passages, then, Celsus listened to, because he thought they were of use to him in bringing a charge against Jesus; but he paid no attention to the words of the forty-fifth Psalm, and why it is then said, “Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O most mighty, with Thy comeliness and beauty; and continue, and prosper, and reign.” Let it be supposed, however, that he had not read the prophecy, or that he had read it, but had been drawn away by those who misinterpreted it as not being spoken of Jesus Christ. What has he to say of the Gospel, in the narratives of which Jesus ascended up into a high mountain, and was transfigured before the disciples, and was seen in glory, when both Moses and Elias, “being seen in glory, spake of the decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem?”[Luke ix. 31] … When the prophet says, “We beheld Him, and He had no form nor beauty,” etc Celsus accepts this prophecy as referring to Jesus … but if another prophet speak of His comeliness and beauty, he will no longer accept the prophecy as referring to [Jesus]!
There is according to Origen a secret in the gospel that Jesus transformed himself into someone else on the mountain just before the Passion took place (an idea which appears earlier in the Alexandrian Markan tradition). Origen goes on to explain that Celsus missed the boat here:
not observe the changing relation of His body according to the capacity of the spectators (and therefore its corresponding utility), inasmuch as it appeared to each one of such a nature as it was requisite for him to behold it? Moreover it is not a subject of wonder that the matter, which is by nature susceptible of being altered and changed, and of being transformed into anything which the Creator chooses, and is capable of receiving all the qualities which the Artificer desires, should at one time possess a quality, agreeably to which it is said, "He had no form nor beauty," and at another, one so glorious, and majestic, and marvellous, that the spectators of such surpassing loveliness--three disciples who had ascended (the mount) with Jesus--should fall upon their faces. He will say, however, that these are inventions, and in no respect different from myths, as are also the other marvels related of Jesus; which objection we have answered at greater length in what has gone before. But there is also something mystical in this doctrine, which announces that the varying appearances of Jesus are to be referred to the nature of the divine Word, who does not show Himself in the same manner to the multitude as He does to those who are capable of following Him to the high mountain which we have mentioned; for to those who still remain below, and are not yet prepared to ascend, the Word "has neither form nor beauty," because to such persons His form is "without honour," and inferior to the words given forth by men, which are figuratively termed "sons of men." [Psalm 45 ] … To those, indeed, Who have received power to follow Him, in order that they may attend Him even when He ascends to the "lofty mount," He has a diviner appearance … that he may "publish the praises of God in the gates of the daughter of Sion," and any others who have derived their birth from impressive preaching, and who are not at all inferior to "sons of thunder." But how can Celsus and the enemies of the divine Word, and those who have not examined the doctrines of Christianity in the spirit of truth, know the meaning of the different appearances of Jesus? And I refer also to the different stages of His life, and to any actions performed by Him be fore His sufferings, and after His resurrection from the dead. [Ibid 6:75]
The very same idea Origen is referring to here appears in the heretical Christian and Islamic pseudepigrapha where just before his crucifixion Jesus transforms himself into someone else so that his soul ends up ‘resurrecting’ in another body.
It is undoubtedly for this very reason then that the Coptic community continues to sing Psalm 45 at the twelfth hour of Good Friday. The original point was that it was this other figure who resurrects as Christ and embodies an immediate second coming. This understanding is explicitly confirmed by Origen in the summary of his ground breaking First Principles where he writes:
this soul which was in Jesus, before it knew the evil, selected the good; and because He loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, therefore God “anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows.” [Ps. xlv. 7] He is anointed, then, with the oil of gladness when He is united to the “word” of God in a stainless union, and by this means alone of all souls was incapable of sin, because it was capable of (receiving) well and fully the Son of God … Of which soul, seeing it had received into itself the whole wisdom of God, and the truth, and the life, I think that the apostle also said this: “Our life is hidden with Christ in God; but when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” [Col. iii. 3, 4]. For what other Christ can be here understood, who is said to be hidden in God, and who is afterwards to appear, except Him who is related to have been anointed with the oil of gladness, i.e., to have been filled with God essentially, in whom he is now said to be hidden? For on this account is Christ proposed as an example to all believers, because as He always, even before he knew evil at all, selected the good, and loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, and therefore God anointed Him with the oil of gladness; so also ought each one, after a lapse or sin, to cleanse himself from his stains, making Him his example, and, taking Him as the guide of his journey, enter upon the steep way of virtue, that so perchance by this means, as far as possible we may, by imitating Him, be made partakers of the divine nature … This “word,” then, and this “wisdom,” by the imitation of which we are said to be either wise or rational (beings), becomes “all things to all men, that it may gain all;” and because it is made weak, it is therefore said of it, “Though He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God.” [2 Cor. xiii. 4]. Finally, to the Corinthians who were weak, Paul declares that he “knew nothing, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” [Origen First Principles 4:24]
While it might be difficult for some readers to see beneath Origen’s argument, they should be reassured that he has deliberately made his words obscure to avoid having them understood by the authorities.
So it is that Origen’s most important work makes it utterly ambiguous who exactly was rescued at the Passion. This has been perpetuated down to modern times in the Coptic tradition when we carefully examine surviving hymns which refuse to specify the name of this redeemed figure. We read in one instance that it is declared by the Alexandrian congregation:
O Lord, Lord, Lord, as if you stood on the place of judgement before Pontius Pilate, he scorned You, but You had not left Your throne. You have seated with Your Father and have risen from the dead, and saved the world from the slavery of the enemy.
The fact that there is a very influential (and early) heresy in Alexandria associated with a figure identified by Church Fathers as ‘little Marcus’ (Marcion) of Pontus’ can be deduced to have originated from a derisive reference to his ‘rescue’ by Pontius Pilate (the Copts strangely revere Pilate as a saint to this day).
On the subject of these heretics of ‘little Mark’ it is noteworthy that they consistently use the hymn to prove that not only was Christ someone other than Jesus but that he was in fact a mighty general like Agrippa is identified in the rabbinic literature (cf Abodah Zarah). A sample of these references would include:
“He led captivity captive,” says the apostle [Eph. iv. 8 and Ps. lxviii. 19] With what arms? In what conflicts? From the devastation of what country? From the overthrow of what city? What women, what children, what princes did the Conqueror throw into chains? For when by David Christ is sung as “girded with His sword upon His thigh,” [Ps. xlv. 3] or by Isaiah as “taking away the spoils of Samaria and the power of Damascus,” [Isa. viii. 4] you make Him out to be really and truly a warrior confest to the eye. Learn then now, that His is a spiritual armour and warfare, since you have already discovered that the captivity is spiritual, in order that you may further learn that this also belongs to Him, even because the apostle derived the mention of the captivity from the same prophets as suggested to him his precepts likewise. [Tertullian 5:18]
your supposing [i.e. the followers of ‘little Mark’] that Christ is in any passage called a warrior, from the mention of certain arms and expressions of that sort, you weigh well the analogy of their other meanings, and draw your conclusions accordingly. “Gird on Thy sword,” says David, “upon Thy thigh.” [Ps. xlv. 3] But what do you read about Christ just before? “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured forth upon Thy lips.” [Ps. xlv. 2] It amuses me to imagine that blandishments of fair beauty and graceful lips are ascribed to one who had to gird on His sword for war! So likewise, when it is added, “Ride on prosperously in Thy majesty,” the reason is subjoined: “Because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness.” [Ps. xlv. 4] But who shall produce these results with the sword, and not their opposites rather—deceit, and harshness, and injury—which, it must be confessed, are the proper business of battles? … If he is your Christ, then even he is a warrior. If he is not a warrior, and the sword he brandishes is an allegorical one … [a lengthy and ridiculous attempt to allegorize the psalm continues which is followed by Tertullian’s conclusion] … thus is the Creator’s Christ mighty in war, and a bearer of arms; thus also does He now take the spoils, not of Samaria alone, but of all nations. [Tertullian Against Marcion 3:14]
This exact argument against the followers of ‘little Mark’ is interestingly turned around against the Jews too (who we have already seen considered Agrippa as their messiah into modern times). We read:
the Scriptures designate Christ a warrior, as we gather from the names of certain weapons, and words of that kind. But by a comparison of the remaining senses the Jews shall be convicted. “Gird thee,” says David, “the sword upon the thigh.” [Ps. xlv. 3] But what do you read above concerning the Christ? “Blooming in beauty above the sons of men; grace is outpoured in thy lips.” [Ps. xlv. 2] But very absurd it is if he was complimenting on the bloom of his beauty and the grace of his lips, one whom he was girding for war with a sword; of whom he proceeds subjunctively to say, “Outstretch and prosper, advance and reign!” And he has added, “because of thy lenity and justice.” [Ps. xlv. 4] Who will ply the sword without practising the contraries to lenity and justice; that is, guile, and asperity, and injustice, proper (of course) to the business of battles? … [the same implausible attempt at allegorization continues followed by the same conclusion] … Thus mighty in war and weapon-bearing is Christ; thus will He “receive the spoils,” not of “Samaria” alone, but of all nations as well. Acknowledge that His “spoils” are figurative whose weapons you have learnt to be allegorical. And thus, so far, the Christ who is come was not a warrior … [Tertullian Against Jews 9]
The point of course is that Tertullian was originally quite aware of the Alexandrian doctrine of a two advent formula like we saw in Origen. They completely contradict what we just saw - such ‘schizophrenia’ is typical in the surviving writings of Tertullian – and prove that the doctrine must have been accepted by the author:
We affirm that, as there are two conditions demonstrated by the prophets to belong to Christ, so these presignified the same number of advents; one, and that the first, was to be in humiliation when He had to be led as a sheep to be slain as a victim, and to be as a lamb dumb before the shearer, not opening His mouth, and not fair to look upon … these signs of degradation quite suit His first coming, just as the tokens of His majesty do His second advent … Then indeed He shall have both a glorious form, and an unsullied beauty above the sons of men. “Thou art fairer,” says (the Psalmist), “than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips; therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever. Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O most mighty, with Thy glory and Thy majesty.” [Ps. xlv. 2, 3] … [He] is portrayed in a twofold dress with reference to both His advents. At first He is clad in sordid garments, that is to say, in the lowliness of suffering and mortal flesh … afterwards He was stripped of His first filthy raiment, and adorned with the priestly robe and mitre, and a pure diadem; in other words, with the glory and honour of His second advent. If I may offer, moreover, an interpretation of the two goats which were presented on “the great day of atonement,” do they not also figure the two natures of Christ? They were of like size, and very similar in appearance, owing to the Lord’s identity of aspect; because He is not to come in any other form, having to be recognised by those by whom He was also wounded and pierced. One of these goats was with scarlet and driven by the people out of the camp into the wilderness, amid cursing, and spitting, and pulling, and piercing, being thus marked with all the signs of the Lord’s own passion; while the other, by being offered up for sins, and given to the priests of the temple for meat … Since, therefore, the first advent was prophetically declared both as most obscure in its types, and as deformed with every kind of indignity, but the second as glorious and altogether worthy of God, they would on this very account, while confining their regards to that which they were easily able both to understand and to believe, even the second advent, be not undeservedly deceived respecting the more obscure, and, at any rate, the more lowly first coming. [Tertullian Against Marcion 3:7]
[this Christ of Scripture is] my Christ, be He inglorious, be He ignoble, be He dishonoured; for such was it announced that He should be, both in bodily condition and aspect. Isaiah comes to our help again: “We have announced (His way) before Him,” says he; “He is like a little child” like a root in a dry ground … similarly the Father addressed the Son just before: “Inasmuch as many will be astonished at Thee, so also will Thy beauty be without glory from men.” [Isa. lii. 14] For although, in David’s words, He is fairer than the children of men,” [Ps. xlv. 2] yet it is in that figurative state of spiritual grace, when He is girded with the sword of the Spirit, which is verily His form, and beauty, and glory. [Tertullian 3:17]
So who did Tertullian say the followers of ‘little Mark’ thought was their ‘warrior Christ’ who sat on the throne described in Psalm 45 if not Jesus himself? You guessed it … ‘little Mark’ was himself the messiah of his community as we see in countless references in Tertullian and the rest of the Church Fathers.
copyright 2008 Stephan Huller