THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: The Romanization of the Alexandrian Christian Mystery Religion in the Early Third Century

The Romanization of the Alexandrian Christian Mystery Religion in the Early Third Century

I have been spending the last three days to demonstrate what should have been noticed long ago by the scholars who devote themselves to the Patristic literature - namely, that what passes as 'the writings of Irenaeus' cannot be regarded as a pure witness to the beliefs of late second century Rome.  To be sure there is Irenaeus in the writings of Irenaeus.  However it would be reckless to say that there isn't someone else - or indeed 'many someone elses' developing the original material in different directions.

At bottom Photius, the tenth century Byzantine scribe had before him a tradition which said that Hippolytus took 'lectures' on orthodoxy and heresy and developed the material into the book that eventually became the Refutation of All Heresies.  To be sure, Photius also acknowledges the existence of Against All Heresies which has always been taken to be five books written by Irenaeus.  Nevertheless, the very fact that Photius DOESN'T SAY that the Refutation of All Heresies was developed from Against All Heresies is very significant.

What this acknowledgment by Photius does for us is make clear that there are at least three stages to the development of the original material written by Irenaeus in the Commodian period which can be outlines as follows:

1. Various 'lectures' "of various kinds including letters, in some of which it should be observed that the exact truth of the doctrines of the Church appears to be falsified by spurious arguments" written between 177 - 192 CE

2. The development and 'correction' of this original material into Latin and other languages such as Tertullian's Against the Valentinians which makes use of one of these original 'lectures' in its original form.

3. The systematizing of these original 'lectures' into compendiums such as Against All Heresies (explicitly attributed to Irenaeus), Adversus Omnes Haereses (according to the CCSL introduction, the work was written at Rome in the time of Pope Zephyrinus c. 199 - 217) and the Philosophumena (an anonymous treatise now attributed to Hippolytus and identified as his Refutation of All Heresies mentioned in Eusebius even though Photius testimony demonstrates that the original text resembled Adversus Omnes Haereses in some ways).  

I don't see how there is any way around this formulation that I have just developed for the reader.  What passes as the writings of Irenaeus have been developed by a later editor.  As I noted before, this doesn't mean that there aren't Irenaean elements in the surviving material.  One may even argue that it could even be 'ninety percent pure.'

What seems to be clear from Photius again is that Hippolytus assembled various lectures of Irenaeus into at least one book - more than likely 'books.'  Our surviving Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called is likely the original 'Refutation' of Hippolytus (notice Photius calls Hippolytus's work Against Heresies).  Again Irenaeus never actually wrote a book called 'Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called' or 'Against All Heresies.'

As the original material changed and developed over time, the original work was attributed to Irenaeus and subsequent works to Hippolytus.  The process is paralleled by the manner in which Tertullian is credited with the Five Books Against Marcion even though the original material came from writers in the second century.

Irenaeus did a very good job of pointing out beliefs that distinguished the various heretical sects.  Nevertheless, he himself was as far removed from these same Alexandrian schools as let's say the Christianity which emerged in the fourth century under Constantine.

One example, as I noted is what Schaff notes regarding the doctrine of redemption.  He writes:

all the essential elements of the later church doctrine of redemption may be found, either expressed or implied, before the close of the second century. The negative part of the doctrine, the subjection of the devil, the prince of the kingdom of sin and death, was naturally most dwelt on in the patristic period, on account of the existing conflict of Christianity with heathenism, which was regarded as wholly ruled by Satan and demons. Even in the New Testament, particularly in Col. 2:15, Heb. 2:14, and 1 John 3:8, the victory over the devil is made an integral part of the work of Christ. But this view was carried out in the early church in a very peculiar and, to some extent, mythical way; and in this form continued current, until the satisfaction theory of Anselm gave a new turn to the development of the dogma. Satan is supposed to have acquired, by the disobedience of our first parents, a legal claim (whether just or unjust) upon mankind, and held them bound in the chains of sin and death (Comp. Hebr. 2:14, 15). Christ came to our release. The victory over Satan was conceived now as a legal ransom by the payment of a stipulated price, to wit, the death of Christ; now as a cheat upon him (1 Cor. 2:8, misapprehended) either intentional and deserved, or due to his own infatuation. (This strange theory is variously held by Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Augustin, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great. See Baur, ch. I. and II. p. 30-118.093).

This only one small example of what I see as the slow 'Romanization' of the original Alexandrian mystery religion over the first half of the third century.  I have pointed out that the Muratorian canon bears witness to the idea it originally took the shape of what must have been the original Alexandrian canon where 1 Corinthians (originally called 'to the Alexandrians' among the Marcionites) was given the preeminent place among the Pauline letters.

For the moment however I would like to devote a few paragraphs to the transformation of the original Marcionite/Marcosian understanding of the doctrine of redemption.

As most people know, the Passover is called the redemption in Judaism.  The idea goes back to Exodus 15:16 (the Song of the Sea) where God is said to have 'purchased' Israel:

Terror and dread falleth upon them (the enemies of Israel); by the greatness of Thine arm they are as still as a stone; till Thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over that Thou hast purchased.  Thou bringest them in, and plantest them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place, O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established.

There are of course many other allusions to the concept of Israel being purchased as they crossed through the sea as the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread 'went out' into the eighth.  For the moment it is enough to see that the caricature of Simon Magus attempting to 'purchase' the Holy Spirit which comes through proper Christian baptism (cf. Acts 8:16f) is developed from a rejection of this heretical understanding.

Now it is worth noting that when scholars come across the Marcionite doctrine of redemption in later Church Fathers like Adamantius, Eznik of Kolb and Efrem the Syrian they argue that these represent the beliefs of 'later Marcionites' principally because they aren't referenced by 'the early Fathers' who wrote against Marcion.

Irenaeus of course develops the original Marcionite concept into a purchase of humanity from Satan, which is down right stupid and utterly implausible.  The original Marcionite concept was clearly the 'purchase' of humanity by Christ from the Demiurge as we see in Eznik's summary of the tradition:

He sent his Son to redeem them and 'to take on the likeness of a slave and to come into being in the form of man' [Phil 2:7] in the midst of the sons of the God of the Law. 'Heal' he said 'their lepers and give life to their dead and open their blind and make very great healings as a gift to them, so that the Lord of creatures might see you and be jealous and raise you on a cross.' 

'And then having become dead you will descend into the Harsh (or, Hell) and you will raise them thence because it is not customary for the Harsh to accept life into its midst. And for the same reason you will go up to the cross so that you might resemble the dead and so that you might open the mouth of Hell to take you and enter into the middle of it and empty it.'

And when he had raised him on a cross, they say, he descended into the Harsh and emptied it. And having raised the souls from the middle of it he led them into the third heaven, to his Father.

And the Lord of creatures having become angry, in his anger he rent his robe and the curtain of of his temple. And he darkened his sun and he clothed his world in umber. And in his affliction he dwelt in mourning. Then when Jesus descended a second time in the form of his divinity to the Lord of creatures, he brought a lawsuit against him on account of his death.

And when the Lord of the world saw that divinity of Jesus, he discovered that another God apart from himself existed. And Jesus said to him, 'I am in litigation with you, and let no one judge between us, but the laws that you wrote.'

And when they had placed the Law in the middle, Jesus said to him "Did you not write in your Law, 'Whoever will murder he will die, (cf Num 35.30 - 34)?' and 'Whoever sheds the blood of a righteous one, his blood will be shed (Gen 9:6)?'" And he said, 'Yes, I wrote."

And Jesus said to him "So give yourself into my hands, so that I might slaughter and shed your blood, because rightly am I more lawful than you, and great favors have I bestowed on your creatures." And he began to reckon up those favors that he had bestowed on that one's creatures.

And when the Lord of creatures saw that he had gained victory over him - neither did he know what to say in reply because by his own Law he was condemned; nor did he find an answer to give because he came forth condemnation in exchange for his death - so having fallen down in supplication, he was praying to him "Whereas I sinned and slaughtered you ignorantly because I did not know that you were a god, but rather I considered you a man, let there be given to you in exchange, for revenge, all of those who wish to believe in you to take wheresoever you wish."

So Jesus having released him, he carried off Paul from the astonished ones, and he revealed to him their prices, and he sent him forth to preach that we have been bought for a price, and everyone who believes in Jesus has been sold by that Just One to the Good One.

This is the beginning of the sect of the Marcion, leaving aside many irrelevancies - and what not everyone knows, but rather a few from among them, and they transmit that teaching to one another by mouth. They say, "By means of the price of the Stranger we were purchased from the Lord of creatures," and "How or in what way is the purchase, this no one knows." [Eznik A Treatise on God 358]

And again in Adamantius's debate with a Marcionite representative named Megethius:

Megethius the Marcionite: So alien are we to the Christ who appeared and the Christ who appeared to the Creator-god that Paul says 'Christ has redeemed us' [Gal 3:13]. It is clear then that he redeemed aliens, for no one ever redeems those who are his own: he redeems aliens, not his own.

Adamantius the Catholic: You and your party argue quite illogically. If you could prove your theories, well and good, but if you are hunting for an argument not yet refuted, then your reasoning is irreverent. You said that Christ is the one who bought: who is he who sold? You must have yielded to the silly fiction that buyer and seller are brothers! If the Devil who is evil, sold to the Good Christ, he is not evil but good: he who was jealous of humanity from the beginning is now no longer moved by jealousy for he has handed over his possession to the Good Christ. In point of fact he will be just, because he has given up all jealousy and all evil. But even if you say that it was not the Devil who sold but the Creator-god - whom however you claim to be just - what better justice will be shown here, if he sold those whom he had himself made to someone else? For if those who were being sold were good, he who, for ransom money, causes good servants to become the property of others is unjust. But if actually, he sold bad servants, he will still be unjust, because for ransom money, he causes his own bad servants to become the bad servants of someone else!

The case is rather that men had sinned and had alienated themselves through their sins, but they were redeemed through God's mercy ... The prophet says "You were sold without payment and you will be redeemed without money" [Isa 52:3 LXX] The words without money clearly indicate that the redemption was to be through the blood of Christ. The prophet actually asserts this "He was wounded because of your sins: by his bruises were we healed" [Isa 53:5] Because if you think that he did not, as it were, give his blood for the remission of sins, but in place of a ransom price, and that he did not offer his life for his sheep - suppose that he who received His blood or His life did actually return it; it would not be a recognized sale. And suppose that he did not return it, but retained His blood or His life, how could Christ have risen from the dead? [Adamantius Dialogue 1.820a]

As always then the heretical conception is much closer to the Jewish conception.  While the reports on the sect called 'Marcionites' never specify HOW mankind is 'purchased' from the Demiurge by Christ, the fact that there is another sect - the Marcosians - whose name means the same thing (i.e. those of Mark) who make it perfectly clear that it is through the sacrament of baptism that 'redemption' is delivered to the new Israel viz. Christianity.

I needn't say that there is an underlying connection between baptism and the crossing of the Sea by the Israelites.  This is already made explicit in 1 Corinthians chapter 10.  I think that the Marcosian 'redemption' baptism occurs in the context of Mark chapter 10 (Irenaeus i.20.2) it should be connected with LGM 1 of the secret Gospel of Mark in Alexandria.  To this end I see unfolding of this mystery of the kingdom of God over seven days culminating in an eighth day as being connected with tradition Biblical practices especially among the Samaritans.

Yet the Marcosian ritual described by Irenaeus alludes to the same idea of 'escape from authorities' as we see in the Exodus narrative.  Irenaeus writes that:

they (the Marcosians) affirm, that because of the "Redemption" it has come to pass that they can neither be apprehended, nor even seen by the judge. But even if he should happen to lay hold upon them, then they might simply repeat these words, while standing in his presence along with the "Redemption" 

O thou, who sittest beside God, and the mystical, eternal secret, thou through whom the angels, who continually behold the face of the Father, having thee as their guide and introducer, do derive their forms from above, which she in the greatness of her daring inspiring with mind on account of the goodness of the Propator, produced us as their images, having her mind then intent upon the things above, as in a dream,--behold, the judge is at hand, and the crier orders me to make my defence. But do thou, as being acquainted with the affairs of both, present the cause of both of us to the judge, inasmuch as it is in reality but one cause.

Now, as soon as the Mother hears these words, she puts the Homeric helmet of Pluto upon them, so that they may invisibly escape the judge. And then she immediately catches them up, conducts them into the bridal chamber, and hands them over to their consorts.[AH i.13.5]

The problem here is that most scholars just assume that the Marcosians are praying for release from a supernatural judge.  The terminology and the context throughout this section suits the idea of an escape from human judges.  The report goes on to explain that various followers of Mark have been captured quite near to Irenaeus (I suspect the location is the Po Valley) and in that description there is a clear understanding that at least some of the heretics have been brought to confessing their sins.

Harvey in his critical edition of Five Books Against All Heresies notes that:

Grabe and others have already noted that the Marcosian redemption prayers undoubtedly developed out of the traditional recitation of the Jewish ged'ullah (thanksgiving for their redemption from Egypt said in the morning and the evening).  He points to many common features in the formulas.  Harvey for his part notes the similarities with the Marcionites "the Marcosians like the Marcionites were not content baptizing their converts once; they repeated the rite and the second lustration was their apolytrosis that removed them from cognizance of the Demiurge.  The first baptism was material as the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan and was for the remission of sins, the second baptism  ... was spiritual and conferred redemption.  Hippolytus also mentions the twofold baptism of the Marcosians; referring to this passage of Irenaeus he says "For also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. (And it appears that some of the Marcosians,) on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate Redemption." [RH vi.42] It was on account of this heretical repetition of baptism that the Eastern creeds express faith in the efficacy of "one baptism for the remission of sins." [p. 343]

I of course take issue with this understanding.  I think that the evidence points to:

i) an original Alexandrian 'redemption' baptism connected with the traditional Hebrew formulations of the ged'ullah while standing in the water and developed from LGM 1 in Secret Mark.  I do not believe that the Alexandrian Gospel of Mark had the baptism of Jesus by John.  
ii) under Roman pressure the Alexandrians superficially modified their Easter celebration away from the tradition Jewish Festival of Unleavened Bread.  Origen however testifies that it must never have completely disappeared and thus, I believe, the redemption baptism continued.  As such I think that the reference to 'two baptisms' in the period relate to the superficial adoption of the Roman identification of Jesus in the Jordan being developed alongside the apolytrosis ritual.

It is also my belief given the examples of the Alexandrian community at the time of Justin Martyr, Julius Cassian, Origen, Demetrius and later examples that the redemption ritual involved ritual castration.  This was the means by which humanity made after the image of the creator became 'reformed' after the example of the angels (see in the Marcosian formula above "thou through whom the angels, who continually behold the face of the Father, having thee as their guide and introducer, do derive their forms from above").  This reference to Matthew 18:10 repeats throughout the description of the Marcosians especially as the formula when 'men and women' are portrayed as wanting to 'unite themselves to Mark' who is the living example of the heavenly Father (i.e. sitting on the Patriarchal throne).

I will discuss this in greater detail shortly but it is enough to say that I think I have found the controversial CONTEXT for the way in which the followers of Mark sought to liberate themselves from the example of the Demiurge.  By transforming themselves into angels and being 'neither male nor female' they, like Origen, returned to the state of Adam before the fall (hence his name Adamantine cf Ezekiel 28).

The important thing is to see that Irenaeus's reference to the 'redemption from Satan' is an illogical corruption of the original practice of the followers of Mark.  This is followed historically by a complete transformation of baptism away from its original Alexandrian mystery context into something which resembled the Roman military's practice of swearing of oaths of allegiance.

As Kelly (Early Christian Creeds notes about Tertullian:

whenever he has occasion to refer to the Christian's affirmation of his faith at baptism ... several times he employs the metaphor of a soldier of the imperial army taking a military oath. There must have been a close parallelism between the procedures involved, and since the soldier's oath was generally rehearsed in his hearing while he simply indicated his assent, the obvious deduction is that much the same must have happened at baptism. There is a well-known sentence in his treatise De Spectaculis which points to the same conclusion: 'when we entered the water and affirmed the Christian faith in answer to the words proscribed by its law, we testified with our lips that we had renounced the devil, his pomp and his angels.' The passage from the De Corona which has already been referred to is similar in its bearing: 'then we are three times immersed making a somewhat fuller reply than the Lord laid down in the gospel.' (pp. 46, 47)

Clearly Tertullian's baptism involved an interrogation where the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were confirmed. We see this sort of thing represented in Hippolytus' Apostolic Tradition.

Yet these types of rituals were directed at believers who wanted to adopt the faith without any previous Christian affiliation. There is a whole other body of literature that has survived about the tradition associated with the Marcosians which suggests that they were centered out as needing to 'redo' their baptism after the Roman manner.

The so-called 'Anonymous Treatise on Baptism' wrongly dated in my opinion to the mid-third century. It was clearly developed with Irenaeus' description of the Marcosians whose rituals, he claims were borrowed from Anaxilaus of Larissa, the famed physician, Pythagorean philosopher and magician.

Just like Clement encourages his fellow Alexandrians to refuse to acknowledge another Gospel of Mark UNDER OATH the Anonymous Treatise makes clear that these Marcosians must 'repent' from their former beliefs - must 'swear an oath' like a soldier changing from one side to another:

But since the first part of this argument seems to be unfolded, we ought to touch on its subsequent part, on account of the heretics; because it is very necessary not to pass over that discussion which once falls into our hands, lest perchance some heretic should dare, of his subtlety, to assail those of our brethren who are more simple. For because John said that we must be baptized [by Jesus] in the Holy Ghost and in fire, from the fact that he went on to say and fire, some desperate men have dared to such an extent to carry their depravity, and therefore very crafty men seek how they can thus corrupt and violate, and even neutralize the baptism of holiness ... And such men as these do all these things in the desire to deceive those who are more simple or more inquisitive. And some of them try to argue that they only administer a sound and perfect, not as we, a mutilated and curtailed baptism, which they are in such wise said to designate, that immediately they have descended into the water, fire at once appears upon the water. Which if it can be effected by any trick, as several tricks of this kind are affirmed to be— of Anaxilaus— whether it is anything natural, by means of which this may happen, or whether they think that they behold this, or whether the work and magical poison of some malignant being can force fire from the water; still they declare such a deceit and artifice to be a perfect baptism, which if faithful men have been forced to receive, there will assuredly be no doubt but that they have lost that which they had. Just as, if a soldier after taking an oath should desert his camp, and in the very different camp of the enemy should wish to take an oath of a far other kind, it is plain that in this way he is discharged from his old oath.

Moreover, if a man of this sort should again return to you, you will assuredly hesitate whether he may have baptism or no; and yet it will behoove you, in whatever way you can, to aid even this man if he repent. [Anonymous Treatise 16,17]

I have already developed a number of posts demonstrating that the Anonymous Treatise was connected with the writings of Irenaeus. What I will go on to suggest in future posts is that Clement and the Alexandrian tradition was already under assault from the beginning of the Commodian period. I would even connect the persecution with the failed revolts in Alexandria (172 - 175 CE) which had the region around the Church of St. Mark in Boucolia as their epicenter.

Of course I can't prove any of these allegations yet. They are at the best suppositions which need further arguments and debate in order to develop them into a 'proof' of my assertions. Nevertheless it is enough to remind my readers that it is at least possible that the Carpocratian gospel is one and the same with our canonical Gospel of Mark or an earlier predecessor.

Yet this is not all.  I think that we can make a more direct connection between the 'oath' referenced in To Theodore and contemporary re-baptisms of Alexandrian 'heretics.'  As Kelly again notes:

one need only cite the pathetic story related by Dionysius of Alexandria in a letter to Pope Xystus about the man who came to see him in great distress: he had himself been baptized in heretical circles, and had just witnessed a Catholic baptism and heard "the questions and answers" and it dawned upon him that there was nothing like this in his own baptismal initiation. (p. 47)

Of course Kelly's summary of the letter is not quite accurate.  The individual in question in actually described as a long standing member of the Alexandrian congregation:

For truly, brother, I am in need of counsel, and I ask your judgment concerning a certain matter which has come to me, fearing that I may be in error.

For one of the brethren that assemble, who has long been considered a believer, and who, before my ordination, and I think before the appointment of the blessed Heraclas, was a member of the congregation, was present with those who were recently baptized. And when he heard the questions and answers, he came to me weeping, and bewailing himself; and falling at my feet he acknowledged and protested that the baptism with which he had been baptized among the heretics was not of this character, nor in any respect like this, because it was full of impiety and blasphemy.

And he said that his soul was now pierced with sorrow, and that he had not confidence to lift his eyes to God, because he had set out from those impious words and deeds. And on this account he besought that he might receive this most perfect purification, and reception and grace.

But I did not dare to do this; and said that his long communion was sufficient for this. For I should not dare to renew from the beginning one who had heard the giving of thanks and joined in repeating the Amen; who had stood by the table and had stretched forth his hands to receive the blessed food; and who had received it, and partaken for a long while of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I exhorted him to be of good courage, and to approach the partaking of the saints with firm faith and good hope.

But he does not cease lamenting, and he shudders to approach the table, and scarcely, though entreated, does he dare to be present at the prayers.[Eusebius Church History 7:9]

I am sorry my friends, there is something peculiar going on here. It seems strange to me at least that Dionysius should be showing such deference to Xystus when he was only one who held this name at the time (Roman bishops only began being called 'Pope' in the fifth century).

I see EXACT parallels with the discussion in Clement's Letter to Theodore. We have an 'oath' were a member of the Alexandrian community is being called 'a heretic' (presumably so identified owing to something he had written which displeased Xystus). When Origen was expelled from Alexandria, it explicitly says that this was done owing to the dictates of the Roman government.

It's just the blindness of traditional scholars who can't see the thread which connects this historical process to Constantine and Nicaea ...

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