Богомил (bogomilos) wrote,
Богомил
bogomilos

THE ANCIENT CHRISTIANITY AND THE GNOSTICISM – 1.

This paper is based on the report read on November 18th, 2003 at the session of St.-Petersburg religious-philosophical seminarium. At once we shall note that it is impossible to consider consistently and in detail all complex of the problems connected with so-called "Gnosticism" in the brief review. So here we would like only to draw the attention of our readers to some theoretical positions proving the importance of Gnostic Scriptures for the history of early Christianity.

Christian proto-literature. Traditional representation as if the orthodox dogma, the sacraments and the hierarchy were inherited by the church directly from the apostles, and the heresies arose as deadlock branches from the mainstream, is anachronistic and directly false. On the contrary, the Christianity the 1st-3rd centuries was polycentric and diverse. The movement which subsequently has declared itself to be an "universal apostolic church", offered only one of the possible versions of the Christian doctrine. This version received significant distribution in Rome and in a number of the communities anyhow connected with Roman since the middle of 2nd century. The “catholic orthodoxy” managed to gain a convincing victory over its opponents only much later and only by means of authorities of Roman Empire. Practically without transition roman authorities switched from persecutions on all the Christians without exception to the prosecutions of "heretics", that is those Christians, whose faith did not coincide with the orthodox version proclaimed to be the official religion of empire. In 385 CE after the denunciation by catholic bishops "heretic" Priscillian and six of his pupils have been tortured and slain. On November, 22nd 407 CE according to the law of Arcadius, Honorius and Theodosius the Younger "heresy" has been equated to high treason. Certainly, after the union with pagan empire the orthodox community suffered moral losses. In exchange for far not "all the kingdoms of the world" it was to bow to the "holy and equal to apostles" pagan emperor who most graciously agreed to take up a hard duty to preside over church Councils and to decide, which doctrines and bishops are orthodox and which are not.

If to speak about the reflection of these processes in the literature we are to note first of all that the texts which were included into the authoritative canonical corpus, the New Testament, for a long time existed in parallel with set of others scriptures. The poverty of the sources of Eusebius, the father of the church history, has been caused not by the poverty of early Christian literature, but by the refusal of use of the most ancient texts on the ideological, first of all the dogmatic reasons (Wisse, 1986, 187-188). This inevitably entailed loss of texts during a life of one-two generations even if manuscripts were not withdrawn and exterminated as "heretical". It is no wonder that in these severe conditions only pity particles survived from all the riches of Christian proto-literature, besides the canonical texts of the New Testament. Let's remember that Gnostic scriptures have been found out not in libraries, but at casual excavations in the Higher Egypt where the manuscripts buried in the ground can be kept long enough. Besides unlike thousands (relatively late) manuscripts of canonical books of the New Testament, apocryphons, even such orthodox as Didache and Pastor, survived in individual copies.

As the Russian researcher Serge Lezov, referring to German scientist of the 19th century Franc Overbeck, specifies, the patristic literature uses the forms of the profane literatures of time while Christian "proto-literature" is isolated. It has neither examples in the past, nor continuations during the subsequent epoch, that, according to Overbeck, specifies the break between the faith of initial Christianity and the faith of Catholic church (Lezov, 1996, 141-142). Overbeck himself considered, that for the proto-literature is characteristic the enthusiastic expectation of fast coming of the Lord in glory whereas the apologists testify to the church which have adapted to the world around it and have accepted the fact, that till doomsday can pass centuries. Certainly, it is hard to come to other conclusion on the literary material with which the scientist has been compelled to work. The break, certainly, took place, but the scriptures discovered and published already in the 20th century allow us to doubt correctness of criterion chosen by Overbeck. We should consider that though authors Christian Gnostic scriptures not for a minute did not doubt of finiteness of the world, and in some cases described its catastrophic end in bright images, they do not have predictions of such events, as the Second Coming and terrible court. It is so evident, that some scientists assumed the purposeful editorial "de-eshatologisation" of Jesus’ sayings in the Gospel of Thomas (Dann, 1997, 310-311; Metzger, 1998, 86). Probably, having considered steadfastly the Christian Gnostic scriptures, Franc Overbeck would come to considerably other conclusions about the nature of break between the faith of "proto-literature" authors and the faith of Catholic church, but, unfortunately, the texts of Coptic library, that is the Berlin papyrus 8502 and the collection from Nag Hammadi, have been published in decades after his death.

Besides the canonical scriptures of the New Testament to the group of "proto-literature" we can confidently enough carry the writings of Ignatius and Kliment, the Epistle of Barnaba, the Pastor and the Apocalypse of Peter sometimes included into the New Testament and a number of gospels, not entered into a canon and survived in the citations at early fathers or the fragments found at archeological excavations. It is possible to carry here with some share of reserve such late pseudoepigraphic texts, as the Apocalypse of Paul, the Gospel of Nicodemus and the Gospel of James, having already absolutely fantastic character. At the same time, to this group belong practically all scriptures of the Christian Gnostic tradition which have kept in Coptic, excepting the late, dated not earlier the 3rd century, books Pistis-Sophia and Jeou which were created by gnosticising sectarianism of the 3rd-4th centuries, and still, unlike the writings of the 2nd century apologist, such as Justin the Martyr, very close to the group.

The canon of the New Testament and Marcion. According to the traditional version composed by fathers-heresiologists and non-critically apprehended by many modern researchers, shipowner Markion has arrived to Rome from Sinope c. 140 CE and has entered the Roman Christian community, having offered on its needs the significant on those times sum in two hundred thousand sestertiuses. However, soon having got under the influence of the syrian Gnostic Cerdo, who lived in Rome, he has caused displeasure of the community presbyters, having addressed to them with a question about the interpretation of the parables on a kind and bad tree and on old and new bottles (Luk., 3:9; 5:37-38; 6:44). For the presbyters had not the satisfactory interpretation of these parables, Marcion has remained not satisfied by their answer. For them too was not pleasant the interpretation of Marcion, openly opposing the Gospel to the Old Testament’s Law, and Jesus’ heavenly Father in turn to the “god of Jews" Yahweh. Marcion was excommunicated and expelled from the church community. Thus to him ostensibly even have been returned all of his two hundred thousand sestertiuses. (We are to note, that the importunate underlining of this statement itself by both ancient heresiologists and some modern scientists testifies just to the opposite - to "heretic" was not returned a cent).

Further Marcion has established in Rome his own community and has edited the Gospel of Luke, having reduced it considerably, and the Epistles of apostle Paul, having rejected four of them - 1 and 2 Epistles to Timothy, Epistles to Titus and to the Hebrews - and having reduced and corrected remained ten to please his "heretical" views. The Marcionite canon of Christian Scripture consisted of two parts - the Gospel of Lord, the brief version of the Gospel of Luke, and the Apostolicon included brief versions of the Epistle of apostle Paul to Galatians, two Epistles to Corinthians, to the Romans, two Epistles to Thessalonians, to Laodiceans (the long version of this epistle was included into the New Testament under the name "to Ephesians"), to Colossians and Philemon. For us in this case it is important, that Marcion was the first who has collected and published the authoritative collection of the Christian scriptures - a prototype of the future New Testament.

The preaching of Marcion has sounded for the adherents of Jewish-Christian syncretism as a bolt from the blue. Already Justin the Philosopher with bitterness recognizes that "many trust this person as to the only who knows the truth, and laugh at us". The simple, clear and logically following from the text of both Christian and Jewish scriptures interpretation of Marcion has threatened not only the claims of self-appointed "orthodoxes" for universal authority, but also their existence as organized group. Certainly, he was proclaimed to be "heretic" and even "the first-born of the Satan" (Adv.haer. III.3.4). It is not an exaggeration to tell, that orthodoxes tried to frighten "these little ones" by him as an "anti-Christ" (the common spirit of the anti-marcionite polemic and its level are very authentically transferred in anonymous (pseudo-Tertullian’s) Carmen adversus Marcionem (Penkevitch, 2004)). The church fathers competed in wit, deriding the "heresiarch" Marcion, who "deformed and cut up " the Gospel and Epistles to please his doctrine. Epiphanius and Tertullian have kept in their writings not only numerous citations from the Gospel and the Apostolicon, but also have listed the differences between "marcionite" and Catholic versions. Certainly, they sincerely trusted, that the long Catholic version is original, but in the 19th century their citations and lists of differences have allowed to reconstruct the text of the Apostolicon and the Gospel and to raise the question, which of the versions - brief "marcionite" or long Catholic - was primary.

Soon after the end of the First World war Adolf von Harnack has published the monography "Marcion, the Gospel about the alien God", in the appendix to which there was substantially restored text of the Apostolicon and of the Gospel. We are to mention that von Harnack trusted to the heresiologists and considered, that Marcion has really distorted the original text of Epistles of Paul and the Gospel of Luke. This reflects his well-known aphorism stated in conversation with Franc Overbeck: "Marcion was the unique Christian from pagans who understood Paul, and even he did not understand him" (Metzger, 1998, 94; we shall result the amusing comment of Thomas Wright, the bishop of Darem: "... Old nonsense about that nobody actually has understood Paul, except for the lived in the 2nd century heretic Markion, and he has misunderstood Paul too (we shall remind, that Marcion has transformed Christianity in not having anything the common with Judaism, if not an anti-Jewish, religion). It is the dangerous half-truth, and truth is not present even in the remained half too" (Wright, 2004, 165)). But in two years after the second edition of Harnack’s work (1924) French researcher Paul-Louis Couchoud compared the version of epistles restored by Harnack with the long version included into the New Testament. He has demonstrated that the brief text published by Marcion was primary and original whereas the long edition of the epistles in the New Testament is spoiled by numerous inserts and the alterations sometimes completely destroying the thought of Paul, and is added by three so-called "pastoral" epistles which are obviously having no any attitude to Paul (1926). It is curious, but in one of them it is mentioned the book “Antitheses” (αντιθέσεις της ψεθδονύμου γνώσεος - oppositions of science falsely so called (1 Tim., 6:20)), that was published by Marcion not earlier than 144 CE. This not only allows us to date pastoral epistles precisely enough, but also characterizes an intellectual level of their authors.

So, P.-L. Couchoud has proved, that Marcion was the diligent collector, the keeper and the publisher of the original Epistles of apostle Paul. As for his book “Antitheses” it consisted basically of bible citations and became the realization of Marcion’s polemic against the presbyters of the Roman community, who offered their variant of Christian doctrine provided the maximal syncretisation of the Christianity with the Judaism. In the survived marcionite prologues to epistles the preachers of Jewish-Christian synkretism are called "false apostoles" (falsis apostolis). It’s affirmed there that the Christians who have believed their sermon are brought "under the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (sub nomine domini nostri Jesu Christi) to "the Law and circumcision" (in legem et circumcisionem) or to "the Law and the prophets" (in legem et prophetas) - (von Harnack, 1924, 128*). Marcion acted in a role of traditionalist, protecting the sacred heritage of apostle Paul and Jesus himslf from the more than courageous theological innovation of the Roman presbyters. The conflict between him and the presbyters was still aggravated by that fact, that during this period the Roman community adhered after monarchian doctrine, later condemned by the church Councils. At least, the Roman bishops Victor, Zephirin and Kallixt, headed the community already after the exile of Marcion, are known as monarchians. Not going into subtleties of this very original theological concept, we shall note only, that monarchians directly identified Christ with the deity Yahweh and considered them to be one uniform Person. It is easy to imagine what impression should make the sermon of Marcion on these people.

Presence of the numerous corrections brought by people who neither have concur with the theological concept of apostle Paul nor were capable to understand it adequately, perfectly explains, why the editor of 2 Epistles of Peter (3:15) wrote about “some things hard to be understood” in Pauline epistles. Obviously, he have read these epistles already in the edited kind, that is not earlier the middle of the 2nd century. For example, the pagan polemist Porfirius directly scoffed at Paul, speaking, that he constantly contradicts to himself (Ranovitch, 1990, 378-382). Checking of the text of epistles in the Apostolicon and in the New Testament allows to establish unequivocally, that editing was conducted in the spirit of Jewish-Christian syncretism, and the ideas about identity of the Christian God-Father and the esteemed in the Jerusalem temple deity Yahweh and about continuity of Christianity in relation to Judaism have been ascribed to Paul. But these ideas were alien to sights of Paul himself. Paul directly connected the mentions of realities of the Old Testament with a theme of the Law as Sin (η αμαρτια) and the legislator as the god of this world. We are to estimate one fact to understand the power and the revolutionary value of the theological concept of Paul correctly, - his doctrine about redemption initially was created outside of the Old Testament’s mythology and was artificially connected with the description of "fall" in Genesis already by the editors in the 2nd century.
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