THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - Volume 2: by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.

|207 CHAPTER 13: TATIAN AND THE EAST

| HOME | |< | << | Tatian in Rome | Tatian and the universe | The Four Gospels | The Diatessaron | Tatian in Syria, c. A.D. 173 | Theophilus of Antioch | The church in Mesopotamia | Syrianism | The rebellion in Syria, A.D. 175 | The Clementine Recognitions | The Ebionite legends | The Ebionite Peter | The Epistle of the Apostles | >> |


TATIAN IN ROME

It was during the episcopate of Soter that Tatian departed from the church. He is a figure of commanding influence, of whom we know too little. We have seen him as the pupil of Justin and as a Christian teacher, dividing his time between Athens and Rome. We learn from Irenaeus that he set up a school in Rome after the martyrdom of Justin and drifted into heresy. He was inflated, Irenaeus says, with the pride of being a teacher. He was fascinated by the realms of spiritual being which were revealed in the speculations of Valentine. He had an intense faith in the power and reality of the Spirit which was given to the Christian man. Life in the Spirit was not compatible with life in the flesh or the indulgence of the passions. It must possess and overrule the whole being. At length he parted from the church, Irenaeus says, and established 'his own type of school'; the same expression which he had used to describe the secession of Valentine.

He taught that marriage was the work of the devil and he denied the salvation of Adam, which means in modern speech that he thought that nothing could be done with the common man. It is the mark of all these ultra-spiritual heresies; it is the same in Marcion, in Valentine, in Montanus and in Tatian; the ordinary run of Christians are 'psychics', animal creatures devoid of the divine spark. On the other hand, we must say for Marcion, for Montanus, and for Tatian, that they took the hard way to heaven; they did not find their religion an easy thing; it was a struggle with the powers of darkness.

Such is the account of Tatian's defection which we find in Irenaeus, who is obviously recording a personal impression. We are practically compelled to assume that Irenaeus was in Rome at this time. It is not |208 stated anywhere in so many words that he was a member of the school of Justin, but we may safely assume that he was. We cannot date his arrival in Rome or chronicle his doings. All we know is that he entered very fully into the old Roman tradition which he came to regard as his own. 'It came even unto us', he says more than once.
top

TATIAN AND THE UNIVERSE

Tatian ended his life teaching among the Syrians on the banks of the Euphrates or Tigris; Irenaeus among the Celts and Germans on the banks of the Rhone. They could not have been more unlike. Tatian had a first-rate mind; he had a touch of genius; but he was excitable and unbalanced and extreme in his views; a dangerous man. Irenaeus was a safe man. He also had a first-rate mind; but fair, well-balanced, methodical, omprehensive, reliable.

Tatian is what used to be called a Byronic figure; the outcast of society, the victim of fate, the sport of the universe. He cultivates a superb indifference, in which he outdoes the Cynic.

I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command; I detest fornication; I am not compelled by an insatiable love of gain to go to sea; I do not contend for chaplets; I am free from a mad thirst for fame; I despise death; I am superior to every kind of disease; grief does not consume my soul. Am I a slave, I endure servitude. Am I free, I do not make a vaunt of my good birth. I see that the same sun is for all, and one death for all, whether they live in pleasure or in destitution.
(Tatian, Against the Greeks, xi.)

This histrionic attitude appears in his theology. He invents something very like the Miltonic myth. He puts together the fall of the angels out of Enoch, the garden of Eden story out of Genesis, the war of the Titans out of the Greek poets, and the fatalism of Babylonian astrology. Others had experimented in these fields of syncretism, and doubtless he was following in the footsteps of other men.

When a pagan became a Christian, he renounced the old gods, but he did not necessarily cease to believe in them. He walked forward into the new faith, but he remained in the old universe; the universe of all educated men. Justin, for instance, had not changed his God on becoming a Christian, since it was agreed that Moses and Plato believed in the same God; and that is why the Logos theology was so important |209 for him and Tatian; they needed the divine Word to be the chief actor in the Hebrew revelation and the Christian gospel. In the same way, he had not given up his belief in the pagan gods; he had simply demoted them to the rank of daemons.

Tatian carried into Christianity the oriental faith in astral determinism which he had already identified with Greek mythology. The Greek gods, who were fixed as constellations in the sky, determined the fate of human beings. Their king was the devil himself, whom the Greeks had accepted as their chief deity; they called him Zeus, the father of gods and men. He was the lord of the whole universe. He was 'the spirit that was about matter'. He had been given this authority by God himself, but had rebelled and been cast down. Evil had been infused into God's universe.

Tatian thus had all the advantages of the old Syrian gnosis, without actually being a gnostic. He was formally orthodox, and yet he could regard matter as evil. This was the basis of his encratism; and it even allowed a little scope for astrology.
top

THE FOUR GOSPELS

Irenaeus, on the other hand, remained loyal to the Asian and Roman tradition, with its background of Hebrew faith and worship, and its legacy of testimony theology, and its historic church order. He fought hard against the tendency to dissolve Christian history into spirituality or merge it in pagan myth. It is interesting that his view of catholic Christianity hardly includes Syria, though some scholars hold that he made use of the works of Theophilus. He does not actually quote the old Roman masters like Clement or Hermas; what he seems to have valued in the Roman church was the solid tradition of the elders and bishops in their successions, like the successions which he had known in Asia; for practical people know that stability and progress depend on people more than on theories or literature. He includes within this double succession the baptismal creeds, the four Gospels and the remaining apostolic books, which he does not hesitate to call scripture.

With regard to the four Gospels, Irenaeus inherited a piece of orthodox gnosis which has come down in the tradition to this day. Heretics had said that it was absurd to have four Gospels; on the contrary, Irenaeus said, it was natural to have four Gospels, one for each of the |210 cardinal points of the heavens; the bull, the lion, the eagle, and the man (Aquarius). Tatian inherited the same four Gospels from the school of Justin and from the Roman church; but he saw nothing sacred in the number four; he decided to harmonize it with the number one.
top

Tatian's Diatessaron

THE DIATESSARON

The greatest literary achievement of Tatian was his gospel-book, which he called the Diatessaron, a musical term which means a harmony formed by four notes. The work must have taken years of study, for every verse of the four Gospels was worked into a continuous narrative. He did not know of any other Gospel worthy of consideration.

The selection of four Gospels for church use was a simple matter, if they were merely to be kept in a chest for reference and study, or read in church according to the wish of a preacher; but it would be another matter if a gospel was designed to be read continuously in the service, Sunday by Sunday, in course. Under these circumstances the appearance of a new gospel would cause awkward problems.

It has been suggested that Mark and Matthew were written for continuous reading, Sunday by Sunday, throughout the calendar year; « P. Carrington, The Primitive Christian Calendar (Cambridge, 1952). we may not press this theory too hard, but we hope it is fair to say that such an arrangement had been brought into use by the time of Tatian. In the ancient manuscripts the Gospels are divided into numbered lections, and the systems of enumeration in Mark and Matthew agree remarkably closely with one another and with Tatian. The structure of these two Gospels was so similar that this type of chapter-enumeration made it possible to substitute one for another without much difficulty. Now Luke does not fall into the same pattern, and we learn from Irenaeus that the common practice was to use it as a storehouse of additional' Gospels', such as were not found in Mark or Matthew.

These factors are reflected in the Diatessaron of Tatian. Mark-Matthew is the basis of its structure, with a distinct leaning towards Mark. The Lucan text is combined with the Mark-Matthew text in the cases where it supplies the same material; but Lucan material which has no Marcan or Matthaean parallel is placed to the best advantage without disturbing the Mark-Matthew order; sometimes in its obvious position, but often quite arbitrarily.

|211 In the case of John, Tatian had a problem of greater difficulty, since it has a totally different structure. He began by boldly transposing some of the earlier Johannine sections so as to approximate to the Mark-Matthew-Luke order; and when he had done this, he combined all his sources. As if to compensate for this bold action, he adopted the Johannine order for the ministry in Jerusalem and the story of the Passion, fitting the Mark-Matthew-Luke material into it. His work is most ingenious and interesting. The resultant unified Gospel, in fifty-five chapters, could be put into operation in any church on a Sunday-by-Sunday basis, in succession to Mark or Matthew. Its calendrical structure is obvious. Its chapter-enumeration agrees on the whole with the standard chapter-enumeration of Mark.

The work was probably done from the Greek text; for the notion that it was done in Syriac is losing ground. We know now that a Greek text existed, for a small fragment of it has turned up at Dura-Europus on the Euphrates; it formed part of a parchment roll, and was necessarily made before A.D. 250 when that outpost of the Roman empire was wiped out of existence. A translation into Syriac was made at a very early date and became the regular liturgical Gospel of the Syrian churches. It was a long time before the 'Separated Gospels' were able to replace it. There was also a Latin translation which was current in the west, and this exists in more than one form. The Diatessaron was made from the so-called Western text, which was also used by Justin, Marcion, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and the Latin versions. The original Greek no longer exists except for the Dura-Europus fragment; what we have is an Arabic translation of the Syriac translation; and this can be supplemented from the various descendants of the Latin translation, which, however, have gone through a number of changes.
top

TATIAN IN SYRIA, c. A.D. 173

Tatian left Rome in the episcopate of Soter. Epiphanius says that he established his school in the ' Midst of the Rivers' in the twelfth year of Antoninus Pius. This would be 150; but Epiphanius means Marcus Aurelius, for, like other writers of his time, he mixes up the Antonine emperors. The year he means would be 173, which is accepted by scholars as reasonably correct. The 'Midst of the Rivers' is Mesopotamia, and the 'school' of Tatian was doubtless a schismatic church. |212 If that was the year in which he established his schismatic church, he may have left Rome no later than 170 or 171.

It does not look as if he went directly to Mesopotamia. He came from Rome, Epiphanius says, to the parts of the east, and lived there. He preached a modified form of Valentinianism, and a rigorous form of encratism and this preaching of his was influential in Antioch and in Cilicia and in Pisidia. The encratites, who regarded Tatian as their founder, were still numerous in these regions when Epiphanius was writing. Now Pisidia is the local name for the east Phrygian country where Iconium and Derbe and Lystra were situated; and this is the local setting of the encratite Acts of Paul. The success of Tatian was in the Pauline country; in Cilicia, the province where he was born; and Pisidia, which cherished his memory as an evangelist and ascetic; and Antioch, where he undoubtedly left his mark.

Avidius Cassius was still in command in Antioch, lord of all Asia Minor, all the east as far as the Euphrates and Tigris, and virtually of Egypt too. Marcus Aurelius had left him there too long. He was a native Syrian, and he was planning to revolt against Marcus, and set himself up as Emperor. Theophilus was the bishop of Antioch, or would soon succeed Eros. We know of two heretical schools in addition to Tatian's, if Tatian's is so reckoned; their leaders were Marcianus and Hermogenes. Marcianus was the docetic who used the Gospel of Peter. Hermogenes was a painter who had a gnosis of his own. He believed that prior to creation there was an original uncreated formless matter which was divided between light and darkness. The conflict of these two principles led to an intervention by the supreme God. It looks as if his theology owed something to Basilides. It was very influential in the east and even reached Africa, where Tertullian had to contend with it.

We have no information about the Marcionite or Valentinian schools in Antioch.
top

THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH

Theophilus was an Antiochene scholar who contended with Hermogenes and rose to be bishop of Antioch. He was obviously a Syrian with Syrian sympathies; but that does not mean that he was born in one of the eastern Syrian principalities like Tatian. His reference to the Tigris and the Euphrates as bordering on our latitudes does not warrant |213 this inference. He was much more at home in Greek culture than Tatian, and wrote fluently and attractively in the Greek language. He was not a Christian by birth, but had been drawn to Christianity by the study of the Hebrew scriptures, like Justin and Tatian and Athenagoras. He was acquainted with that whole school of Christian philosophy and theology to which they belonged; but his own approach was a different one.

In his only surviving book, which is called To Autolycus, he refers to various historical works which he had composed. He loved poring over the records of times long ago, and learning about gods and wars and chronologies and genealogies and origins; not only in the Hebrew scriptures but also in the Hellenistic annalists of the time of Seleucus and Ptolemy; Berossus, the Babylonian priest who wrote down the chronicles of the old Semitic empires, Menander the Ephesian, who composed a history of the Phoenicians, and Manetho the chronicler of the Pharaohs of Egypt; books which have long disappeared from the earth. Tatian had studied this literature too. The Syrian had a love for chronicles, lists of names, pedigrees, and so forth. Though his style was more graceful, and his spirit less harsh, his mind moved in much the same way as Tatian's in this respect.

It we consider carefully the genuine interest which Theophilus had in this work, which must have made a romantic appeal to his imagination, we cannot help thinking that there was a streak of national or racial pride in it. He was no Roman or Hellene. His treatment of the Greek poets and philosophers is far from respectful; it is not even fair. On the other hand, he has a sympathy for Judaism which is rather unexpected. His praise of Melchizedek as the originator of all priesthood everywhere, and of the Jerusalem Temple where the priests worked their miracles of healing, is not quite the kind of thing that we have found in Christian writers. He seems to stand nearer to the Jewish race, and to the synagogue phase of the church's development, than any of his contemporaries; but not nearer than Clement of Rome perhaps, whose Epistle was undoubtedly known to him. Perhaps he used Jewish sources.

St Jerome says that Theophilus composed a commentary on the Gospel. In one place he says that it was a commentary on Matthew, but in another he says that Theophilus combined the things that were said by the four evangelists into one corpus, thus leaving a monument of his |214 genius. Here is an undeniable link with Tatian. Did Theophilus really make a harmony of the Gospels, or did he comment on the Diatessaron itself? Was the Diatessaron circulated in Antioch before it reached the Syrian churches on the Euphrates? Did Tatian teach for a time in Antioch before proceeding further? It seems likely.

We know very little about the use of the Gospels in Antioch, except for the unparalleled position of Matthew in Ignatius and the Didache. Other Gospels were read and quoted in Ignatius and in Theophilus, but Matthew seems to have been' The Gospel' still. On the other hand, the sect called the Docetae was using the Gospel according to Peter, which had been freely composed by a literary man who had the four Gospels spread before him and possibly other material. A 'dia-Tessaron', a one-in-four, might be just what the situation demanded, especially if it was so constructed as to take the place of Matthew in the church service. The Diatessaron may have been brought to Antioch, or even composed in Antioch, and used there for a time in succession to Matthew; and this would explain how it spread to the Syrian kingdoms.

This is of course a mere conjecture, designed to fill out the very meagre evidence. Many scholars still think that it was composed in Syriac in the first place, in the land between the two rivers. On the other hand, we have to explain its translation into Latin and distribution in the west. The theory of a Greek original makes it easier to do so; but perhaps the question'of priority is not one of great importance in the case of a bilingual scholar.
top

THE CHURCH IN MESOPOTAMIA

When Tatian arrived home and set up his school in his native country, he found a great change. It had been formed into a Roman protectorate. King Manu of Edessa had taken the Roman side in the recent war, and had been established in his kingdom. According to the legend he was the monarch who put to death Aggai the disciple of Addai, on the grounds that Aggai would not weave him a pagan diadem for his coronation, an Iranian emblem of deity and royalty.

According to the life of Bar Daisan which we have previously quoted, Hystasp was bishop of Edessa; it is an Iranian name, and perhaps he was the one who wove a crown for Manu. Bar Daisan himself, it says, had been born in Edessa on n July 154. He was twenty-five years old |215 when he passed by the church which Addai had built, and heard Hystasp explaining the scriptures to the people; it was in the year 179. Bar Daisan was pleased with the discourse and desired to be initiated into the Christian mysteries. Hystasp instructed him and baptized him and ordained him deacon. There is no evidence that Bar Daisan became a pupil of Tatian; but there is an interesting resemblance between the two great Syrian teachers. Both repudiated Marcionism which was propagated in Syria by a man named Prepon; both were attracted by Valen-tinianism though they did not become Valentinians; both were heretics or near-heretics, out of line with the theologies which prevailed in the Greek-speaking churches of the Roman empire. The special theology of Bar Daisan may have been influenced by Hermogenes of Antioch; it has an Iranian touch.

We lose sight of Tatian after his arrival in Mesopotamia, but his influence on the Syrian churches must have been considerable, since they accepted his Diatessaron as their official church Gospel; in a Syriac translation, of course. It remained in use into the fifth century; and the Syrian churches also had a strong encratite flavour.
top

SYRIANISM

The evidence which we have reviewed in connexion with Syrian Christianity is small in quantity but highly suggestive.

The reading and thinking of Theophilus, so far as it can be assessed from his only surviving book (which he finished writing after 180) shows many curious negative signs. There is, first of all, the massive silence on the credal and sacramental elements in Christianity. He has a Logos theology, or a Logos-and-Sophia theology; and he quotes the Gospels as if they were well-known books; but the name of Jesus is never mentioned, though it may be hidden under certain references to healing, or lasts. He confines himself to the prolegomena of Christianity which could safely be spoken of in public in the heathen world; and so, of course, did Tatian in his Address to the Greeks ; and Athenagoras, too.

Actually he works from the Old Testament, with which he is very familiar. He loves it, and knows it well in its liturgical and catechetical and historical setting. He specializes in the latter and relates it to oriental history generally. He champions the Hebrew culture against |216 the entire Greek culture with all its wise men and philosophers and poets; though indeed he finds a prophetess'among the Greek and other nations' in the Sibyl and quotes her as an ally, and is grateful for sporadic testimonies from classical Greek authors in favour of a monotheistic faith, imperative morals, divine justice, a resurrection from the dead and eternal retribution in a future life.

Nevertheless his attitude to the Greek culture is uncompromisingly hostile, and his knowledge of it surprisingly superficial. He seems not to have had any personal contact with the exponents of a formal Greek philosophy, for his inaccuracies could not have passed uncorrected in the course of actual encounter. His knowledge is second-hand. He knows his material in literary form, and even so he is not deeply versed in it.

Now Justin and Athenagoras knew Greek philosophy from personal contact, and had a respect for it. Furthermore, they were prepared to affiliate Christianity with it to some extent. Theophilus repudiates it altogether; he never forgets that Christianity is an oriental religion with an oriental background. It was an indigenous religion for him.

Furthermore, his attitude to the Roman empire is not friendly. Clement, Justin and Melito all admire the imperium, and are loyal to it. They are prepared to compliment the emperors on their piety or philosophy. There is no sign of this attitude in Theophilus. He repeats the conventional Jewish teaching about honouring God and the king, which he quotes from Proverbs, not from the Gospels; but that is as far as he goes. He admits that the monarch has a stewardship which he has received from God; but his pattern of Roman monarchy is Tarquin the Proud, whom he paints as a monument of arrogance, a murderer and adulterer, and a patron of every kind of crime.

We are tempted to discover here a racial or political motivation. The Romanized or Hellenized east was proud of its own history and its own cultural inheritance. The wealth and power of Syria was increasing, and would before long dominate the Roman world. The Syrian proconsul, Avidius Cassius, was preparing plans for an independent oriental empire; and the time would come when Syrian emperors and empresses would reign in Rome itself. Was Theophilus the exponent of an oriental Christianity which would know how to co-operate with them when the day came?

Theophilus, in the course of his three volumes To Autolycus, strives |217 to wean his reader from an infatuation for the Greek culture and to win him to a Christianity which he presents as the oldest and truest oriental monotheism. The Hebrews are' our ancestors'; Moses is' our legislator'; the prophets are 'our scriptures'; and it is by such a pedigree that Christianity, in or near the land where it was born, could appear as the legitimate heir of the oldest oriental culture and the natural form of religious self-expression for the growing Syrian nationalism. He even provides holy places of immemorial antiquity; the high city of Jerusalem; and the garden of Eden bordering on our latitudes; and the mountains of Arabia, where the remains of the ark were to be seen; Arabia no doubt being a copyist's error for Armenia.

Among the varieties of Jewish, Jewish-Syrian, and non-Jewish-Syrian Christianity which ramified east and north from Palestine and Antioch, there was one which actually developed into a form of national self-expression before the end of the century, the Christianity of Edessa. In the time of which we were writing, the king of Edessa was pro-Roman and anti-Christian. His successor Abgar was anti-Roman and pro-Christian. A Christian cult could wed itself to a national sentiment as it had done in parts of Phrygia.

In the series of wars which began in 161 it may be that some Syrian Christians were not on the Roman side.
top

THE REBELLION IN SYRIA, A.D. 175

In 174 there was a period of peace, following the wars on the Danube; but it was only short-lived. In 175 Marcus was considering the organization of new Roman provinces north of the Danube and east of the Rhine, which would form a protective area against barbarian aggression when news came of a rebellion in Syria. Avidius Cassius, the successful general of the wars of 162-5 had been the ruler of the east for nearly ten years; he was a Syrian by birth, and saw an opportunity of reviving the old Syrian empire of Seleucus and Antiochus. He declared his independence. Marcus was obliged to abandon his plans, and march east with his armies. He took with him his wife the empress Faustina, and his son Commodus, who was now fourteen years old. He had recently been invested with the toga virilis which marked his coming of age, and had been given the title of Caesar. It would not be long before he would succeed his father as emperor.

|218 We have now had before our eyes examples of most of the weaknesses which would affect the empire in succeeding centuries; the undue family feeling of the Emperors as they became godlike hereditary autocrats; the perpetual incursions of the barbarians from Germany; the growing wealth and power of the eastern provinces; and the temptation felt by a popular and successful general to assert his independence. To these factors we must add others which are harder to estimate. As the central government increased in power, there was a corresponding loss of independence in the local civic life, where some show of democracy and self-government still existed when St Luke wrote the Acts. The codification of the law tended to identify the source of authority with the will of the prince. Commercial expansion in the eastern countries was accompanied by a serious deterioration of the currency. There was a general decline, historians suggest, in moral vigour, social enterprise, and intellectual originality. The ordinary reader of history, however, cannot help admiring the amazing power and resilience of the empire which succeeded so often in rallying its forces and throwing back its invaders, though each time at fearful cost to itself.

Avidius Cassius was assassinated, and his attempt to found a Syrian empire collapsed with his death. Marcus Aurelius, like Hadrian forty years before, could make a tour of the east. It seems that he made a good impression. He is probably the emperor who is spoken of in the Talmud as visiting Rabbi Judah the Holy, the Jewish patriarch or prince of the sanhedrin, whose court was in Galilee. Judah was the lineal descendant of Hillel and Gamaliel, and presided over the compilation of the Mishnah itself, surviving until about 220. Marcus Aurelius also visited Alexandria, but returned to Antioch for the winter. Early in 176 he passed through Cappadocia where the empress died. He reached Smyrna in the spring and so returned to Rome.
top

THE CLEMENTINE RECOGNITIONS

Some effort must now be made to deal with the Ebionite material which has survived, in a diluted form, in the long philosophic romances which are written in the name of Clement. The difficulty is that they did not appear in their present literary form before the end of the fourth century and the sparse amount of second-century material which they contain is overwhelmed in a flood of religious philosophizing. The supposed |219 narrator is Clement of Rome, who is alleged to have made a visit to Palestine and attached himself to Simon Peter as his attendant and secretary in the Greek tongue. He was influenced to do this by Barnabas, who preached the gospel in Rome shortly after the ascension.

Clement was thought of as a member of the imperial family. His mother Matthidia had disappeared when he was a child, taking with her his twin brothers Faustinus and Faustus. His father Faustinianus had gone in search of his wife and children, and none of them had ever been heard of again. This situation provides a secondary plot for the narrative, and gives it the name by which it is known in one of the two recensions: The Clementine Recognitions ; for Clement eventually succeeds in finding all his lost relations. The other version is called the Clementine Homilies.

A Gallery in the Cemetery of Domitilla, Rome.

The name of Clement connects him with the Flavian emperors and the martyred consul who bore the same name, and his wife Domitilla, whose property at Rome was in use as a Christian cemetery. Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius had both married wives of the name of Faustina, and Hadrian had a female relative named Matthidia, to whom he gave imperial rank. The story of Clement's family is mere machinery which helps to give the heavy narrative a little life; but it also commended Christianity to loyalist circles by connecting it so closely with the imperial family. It may even suggest that Faustina was not unfavourable to the faith.
top

THE EBIONITE LEGENDS

The next step is to disentangle the older 'Ebionite' legends which were woven into this romantic framework. Epiphanius, in the fourth century, knew of two Ebionite books which seem to answer to this description; one was the anabathmoi or Steps or Ascents of James ; the other was the periodoi or Circuits or Wanderings of Peter. There is material corresponding to those titles in the Clementine books, and this material has an Ebionite colour. Origen shows some knowledge of the Petrine material and speaks of Dialogues with Appion which are contained in it. We are in touch here with second-century Palestinian tradition.

Among the Jewish-Christian traditions of Hegesippus, who was still living in Rome at this time, there was an account of a scene in the Temple at Passover, when James the brother of Jesus was placed on a pinnacle or high point, and interrogated by representatives of the seven |220 sects into which the Jewish people was divided. The story of James in the Recognitions begins in the same way except that he stands at the top of the Temple steps, with the twelve apostles. He has been arguing against the maintenance of the sacrifices, and has announced that the Temple will be devastated unless they are discontinued. He commends Christian baptism as a substitute. After seven days of argument, he has persuaded Caiaphas and the priests to accept baptism, when a. mysterious 'enemy' arrives on the scene with a few followers. There is a riot in which much blood is shed. There is a confused flight, in the midst of which 'that enemy' attacks James and throws him headlong from his exalted position, and leaves him there thinking that he is dead; which also resembles the story of Hegesippus. Eusebius makes this story the prelude to his martyrdom but in the Recognitions it is a separate incident, and the enemy who does the deed is Saul of Tarsus.

A note in one of the manuscripts explains this identification, but no note is needed; for Caiaphas, who now seems to be on the anti-Christian side again, sends him to Damascus, where it is believed that Peter had taken refuge. Here, then, is the substance of the story of the lost Ascents of James.

We now come to the Wanderings of Peter, who had been sent by James to Caesarea. There he finds himself in conflict with the sinister figure of Simon Magus, the Samaritan sorcerer and heresiarch. He disputes with Simon, who decamps from Caesarea and makes his way by stages to Rome. Peter follows him from city to city along the Phoenician sea-coast, until he reaches Antioch, where he makes his headquarters. In these encounters it is clear from time to time that the figure of Simon really means Paul. He is the rival of the true apostles who claimed after a brief discipleship, in a single vision which lasted but an hour, to be an apostle and to resist Peter himself. Phrases out of Paul's Epistles are woven into the orations of Peter in which Paul is denounced. But these attacks have more in mind than the historical Paul of the Acts and the Epistles; they have Marcion and possibly Basilides. It is the other side of the Marcionite controversy that comes into view here. Marcion and others like him maintained that Paul alone possessed the truth, and that Peter and the Twelve had not properly understood their Master. Here in the Ebionite propaganda is the Paul that Marcion believed in and the Peter that he objected to, mixing Jewish legalities with the gospel of Christ, and opposing the work of Paul.

|221 It is impossible to doubt that these legends are old second-century material, and reflect the bitter controversy between the churches of the Marcionite and Ebionite types: the ultra-Gentile and the ultra-Jewish.
top

THE EBIONITE PETER

Peter appears in the New Testament as the champion of a liberal Jewish Christianity, and a friend of the Gentiles. In the Books of Clement his liberal Jewish Christianity is of a peculiar type. He denounces the sacrificial rites in the Temple and the holy fire that burned upon the altar; these elements in the Jewish tradition are traced back to the authority of Aaron, who was a representative of the evil power. The two powers which operate against one another in the universe always send their prophets into the world simultaneously: Moses and Aaron, Jesus and John the Baptist, Simon Peter and Simon Magus. The condemnation of John the Baptist is an odd feature of this legend; he is the one born of woman, whereas Jesus is the son of man; he represents the moon and has thirty disciples, whereas Jesus represents the sun and has twelve; he is the master of the heretics; Simon and Dositheus are his pupils.

The true prophet has come into the world many times, appearing first in Adam; Jesus is one of his several incarnations, if incarnation is the right word. He is the new Moses, purifying the old religion of its Aaronic features, and making it a universal religion for all mankind. The sacrifices are replaced by Christian baptism; but a certain amount of the legal ceremonial is retained; how much it would be hard to say. The third- and fourth-century authors who have worked on this material have made Peter into a wandering philosopher of the familiar Hellenistic type, the Pythagorean sage, who has imbibed some wonderful oriental form of illumination, and become a master-mind. He was used as a mouthpiece for all kinds of theological and apologetic propaganda. This process may well have begun in the second century, however; it may be that a refined universalistic form of Ebionism was already being worked out on the Phoenician sea-coast.

It certainly seems to belong to the second-century pattern that James the brother of Jesus has a high position in Jerusalem. He is styled the bishop of bishops, and Peter reports to him from time to time. Peter is the founder of the Gentile church at Caesarea, and endows it with its |222 first bishop, his principal pupil Zacchaeus, to whom he allots twelve presbyters and four deacons. He passes through all the coast-towns, Ptolemais, Tyre, Sidon, Berytus, Tripolis, and Laodicea, making similar arrangements in some of them, and arrives finally at Antioch, where the important citizen Theophilus, or Cornelius, consecrates the great hall of his house as a church, and a chair is placed in it by all the people for the apostle Peter. And these statements may be of value as evidence for the local tradition at the time when the legends took form.

As for Simon Magus, he is not exclusively Paul or Marcion; he is the voice of Gentile error in general, and the assailant of the genuine Christian tradition, with Peter at its head. But now and then he is simply the magician of Samaria, who has become a purely legendary figure; but true facts may linger in the legend, which must also have existed in a pro-Simonian form among those who still accepted him as their cult-leader. Such genuine traditions will be few and far between; they may include, for instance, his connexion with John the Baptist and the name of his companion and rival, Dositheus. The daemonic character of Simon took a firm hold upon the Christian imagination; his legend assumed many forms and enjoyed a long life; its last transformation is said to be the medieval legend of Dr Faustus which was used by Marlowe, Goethe and Gounod.
top

THE EPISTLE OF THE APOSTLES

In recent years another work of the Christian imagination has turned up which may be regarded as an answer to the Ebionite onslaught on Paul, but this time from the catholic point of view, which accepted the traditions of both apostles. It is the Epistle of the Apostles, which its editor, Dr Schmidt, assigns to Asia Minor; but we depend on Coptic and Ethiopic translations for the text, and this shows that it was well received in Egypt, even if it did not originate there. There is one leaf of a Latin translation, however, which proves its wide distribution at one time. It is much concerned about the advent of heretical teachers, among whom it mentions Simon and Cleobius.

It has a conventional opening. The author assembles the twelve apostles on a mountain, where they receive instruction from the Lord. He even attempts a list of their names, but with a sad lack of success. He begins with John, Thomas, and Peter, and ends with 'Judas |223 Zelotes' and Kephas. There may be a copyist's error here, but Clement of Alexandria agrees with him in separating Peter and Kephas and making two men of them, an error which Origen corrects.

It supports the catholic church tradition against docetism. It touches on most of the orthodox points, the Word made flesh, the bodily resurrection, the final judgement, and so forth; but it gives these doctrines in a popular pictorial and apocalyptic form. It is not above a little mythology; for so we must describe the descent of Jesus through the heavens and his appearance to the Virgin Mary as the angel Gabriel. Nor is it above a little legend; like the story of Jesus as a child, learning his alphabet. Nor does it despise a little allegory, even in the case of the Gospels:

We did set pieces of bread before them and they ate and were filled; and there remained over, and we filled twelve baskets full of the fragments asking one another and saying, 'What mean these five loaves?'
They are the symbol of our faith in the Lord of the Christians, even in the Father the Lord Almighty, and in Jesus Christ our redeemer, in the Holy Spirit the comforter, in the holy church, and in the remission of sins.
(Epistula Apostolorum, 5, in M. R. James, Apocryphal N.T.)

in which we see how the old Trinitarian formula of baptism has given birth to a creed-form in five points; it is a eucharistic creed-form.

One purpose of this book is to substantiate the claim of St Paul to be enrolled with the Twelve as an apostle. It makes the Lord prophesy his arrival and instruct the Twelve to receive him. It quotes an apocryphal scripture to clinch the matter;

Behold out of Syria will I begin to call together a new Jerusalem; And Sion will I subdue unto me and it shall be taken; And the place which is childless shall be called the son and daughter of my father, and my bride.
(Ibid. 33.)

and Paul is described as coming out of the land of Cilicia unto Damascus of Syria.

There is an eschatology of a cloudy and indefinite character. There will be confusions, wars, heresies and scandals in the church. The advent of Christ is to take place during the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost, when a hundred and fifty years are passed after the Resurrection—if this is the correct text. This works out at A.D. 180, so that the Epistle itself must have been composed prior to that date.
<< | top | >>