2013-03-24

The Author of the So-Called Ignatians was an Apellean Christian

by Roger Parvus

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This post continues from The Teachings of Apelles, Marcion’s Apostate

All posts so far in this series: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius

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From this survey of the teaching of Apelles it can be seen how closely his doctrine matches the combination of beliefs exhibited by the author of the letters. The most straightforward way to account for this is to conclude that their author, Peregrinus, was an Apellean.

Explanatory power of the thesis

That affiliation can account for the little interest he has in the Old Testament and his disdainful estimation of Judaism as consisting of little more than falsehoods and fables.

And that would in turn explain his belief that Christ is God’s “Word who came forth from silence” (IgnMag. 8:2). The characterization of God as silent is certainly not proto-Catholic, but makes sense in an Apellean scenario. Proto-Catholics believed God had spoken often in the past through the prophets, and the Old Testament contained the record of his communication. But for Apelleans — since most of the Old Testament was not an authentic revelation of God — the amount of supposed divine communication to mankind prior to the coming of Jesus was drastically reduced. This reduction of divine communication, this silence of God, was likely what Epiphanius was referring to when he wrote that “nothing here in this world is of any concern” to the God of Apelles.

Apellean affiliation can account for the absence of any praise of the created world and its maker in the letters.

And it explains how Peregrinus could believe that “nothing visible is good;” and why he believes man’s possession of a body is something that requires justification: “For this reason you are of both flesh and spirit, that you may attend kindly to the things that are visible to you” (IgnPoly. 2:2).

And it likewise provides an answer to why he gives no indication of belief in a future resurrection of the body. As an Apellean he believed that the visible world was the poorly made product of the glorious angel whose attempt to make something that would honor the highest God failed. Despite the best of intentions the glorious angel created a world that is flawed. So neither the world nor its creator, the lost sheep, deserved praise. He receives only a single mention in the letters, and that is a passing one in an anti-docetic section of the letter to the Smyrneans. We are told that the glorious angel too must believe in the real body and suffering of Christ:

Let no one be deceived: Even for the heavenly powers and the glory of the angels and the rulers both visible and invisible there is judgment, if they do not believe in the blood of Christ. (IgnSmyr. 6:1)

The terminology used in this verse — powers, angels, and rulers — is exactly the terminology that, according to the early record, was used by Apelles. Pseudo-Tertullian says, “He (Apelles) introduces one God in the infinite upper regions, and states that he made many powers and angels” (Against All Heresies, 6). And Tertullian is witness that Apelles called the fiery angel in his system the “ruler” (Latin: praeses) of evil.

But it is the expression “the glory of the angels” that is especially interesting here. Ignatian scholars have been unable to positively identify this “glory of the angels.” The recognition that Peregrinus was an Apellean provides a plausible solution, for Apelles called the angel who created the world “the glorious angel.” To disguise a title that was too recognizably Apellean, the proto-Catholic redactor changed the “glorious angel” to the less recognizable “glory of the angels.”

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Identifying the Opponents of Peregrinus

Who were the Judaizers?

The realization that Peregrinus was an Apellean gives the perspective needed to plausibly identify his uncircumcised Judaizing opponents. Who were these Gentile Judaizers who were not even trying to impose the law of Moses on anyone? From an Apellean perspective they come into focus. They are proto-Catholics.

"Ernest Renan"

“Ernest Renan” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Ernest Renan recognized long ago, in the eyes of Apelles the Catholics were Judaizers (Marc-Aurèle et la Fin du Monde Antique, Calmann Levy, 1882, p. 153). They were Judaizers because they continued to use Jewish Scripture that, as Apelles saw it, consisted mainly of fables and falsehoods. And by according authority to that Scripture they were letting themselves be duped, just like the Jews, into accepting the fiery angel as the supreme God.

As Tertullian acknowledges, for Apelles the fiery angel was “the God of Israel and of us” (On the Soul, 23) i.e., of Israel and of Tertullian and his coreligionists. And that was enough to earn for proto-Catholics the label of ‘Judaizer’. In turn, the main objection that Apelles’ proto-Catholic contemporaries would have had to him was his failure to accord due authority to the Old Testament. And for that reason they would not have been able to accept his gospel no matter how anti-docetic and inspiring it was. Unless they found the “archives” (IgnPhil. 8:2) in his gospel, they would not believe in it.

Who were the docetists?

Peregrinus’ Apellean affililiation also gives the key to identifying his other opponents — the docetic ones — and it can plausibly explain the animosity exhibited towards them. They are Marcionites. Family feuds are often the most bitter. Apelles had not only deserted Marcion, he became the leader of a sect that held beliefs opposed to Marcion’s. Being an intelligent and capable man, his sect initially would have consisted of ex-Marcionites who followed him out the door.

Christianity has experienced countless breakaways over the centuries and they usually result in splits in all the churches that the leader of the breakaway was involved with. I expect it was no different in this instance. There would have been splits in the churches that Apelles had founded as a Marcionite. And for a time the parent body would have tried to win its former members back. In that situation Peregrinus’ warning to absolutely avoid all communication with or about the docetists makes sense.

That the docetists in question were indeed Marcionites receives confirmation from the ways that Peregrinus refers to them. He sarcastically describes their docetic doctrine as “alien,” choosing the word that Marcion used to describe his god: “Anyone who walks in alien doctrine has no share in the Passion” (IgnPhil. 3:3). They are the party that caused the disturbance in the church at Antioch, for by their departure that church was filtered clean of “every alien stain” (Inscr. to IgnRom.).

Adolf Harnack

Adolf Harnack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Through all the centuries of the existence of the Marcionite church and in all the languages that the Marcionites spoke, ‘the Alien’ or ‘the good Alien’ remained the proper name for their God. Conversely, from the standpoint of God men also were called ‘the aliens’. (Marcion—The Gospel of the Alien God, Adolf von Harnack, p. 80)

Recall too that when Marcion expounded and defended his teaching before the Roman presbyters he appealed to two Gospel passages in particular: A tree, good or evil, is known by its fruits (Lk. 7:43-44) and new wine cannot be contained in old wineskins (Lk. 6:37-38). In the letters those two images of fruit and wine are used by Peregrinus against his docetic enemies:

They are “evil offshoots which bear deadly fruit. Anyone who tastes it immediately dies. For these are not the planting of the Father” (IgnTral. 11:1);

They are like those who administer a deadly poison mixed with honeyed wine, which one unwittingly drinks with pleasure and then dies” (IgnTral. 6:2).

So although Peregrinus did not provide the names of his docetic enemies—and he says that the omission is deliberate (IgnSmyr. 5:3)—his choice of words seems to identify them well enough anyway.

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The Authority of the Bishops

200px-Mitra5

Mitre worn by an Eastern bishop

The scenario I am proposing involving Apelleans, Marcionites and proto-Catholics can also explain the presence of bishop, presbyters and deacons in the churches addressed by Peregrinus and the considerable authority he claims for the bishop in charge of each of those churches. It should not be surprising, of course, that Apelles, as an ex-Marcionite, set up his churches with bishops, presbyters, and deacons. That is to say, there is nothing in the early record to indicate that Apelles rejected the type of ecclesiastical offices in place not only in Marcion’s communities but probably also in those of the proto-Catholics. On this subject Sebastian Moll writes:

We can still agree with Harnack that Marcion in all probability introduced these offices in his church himself, or, to be more precise, that he retained these offices when he broke with the Church. For it is far more likely that these offices were retained from the beginning than that the Marcionite church adopted any kind of ecclesial practice during the period of schism in which the churches openly fought with each other. (The Arch-Heretic Marcion, p. 124)

But what requires an explanation is the amount of authority that Peregrinus insistently demands for the single bishop in each church. I think that, in essence, Walter Bauer hit upon the correct explanation in his Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity:

Demands like these are typical of minorities which, through their own strong man who is clothed with a special aura and equipped with unusual power, endeavor to obtain that overriding importance which they are unable to gain by virtue of the number of their members. But if they can supply one who is in absolute control of the whole group, then the possibility emerges either of bringing those who differ to heel within the community, or else, if there is no alternative, of crowding them out.

So long as a council is in control of the church, it is unavoidable that it will be composed of Christians of various sorts and that — to move from generalities back to the specific case of Ignatius — alongside members holding views like those of Ignatius there would also be representatives of the gnostics and of acknowledged Jewish Christians in it.

If, however, the leadership of the community responds to the command of the one bishop, then orthodoxy can hope to take the helm even where it constitutes only a minority of the whole group — provided that the others are disunited. Of course, there is the possibility that Ignatius’ group actually represented the majority in certain cities. However, in view of Ignatius’ frantic concern, it hardly seems likely that this was the general rule. (pp. 62-63)

Bauer, of course, did not identify the embattled “Ignatian” minority as being Apellean. But his observation that centralized authority can be an effective defensive measure when a small community feels threatened fits well the situation the Apelleans were in. They were caught in the middle between two churches much larger than theirs. They were a minority both in regard to the Judaizing proto-Catholics (with whom, however, they were still on speaking-terms) and in regard to the docetic Marcionites (with whom they refused to speak).

The Apellean bishops, as leaders in the newly-formed sect, were almost certainly the people who had been the most loyal to Apelles and his teaching at the time of the split. For they would have been the ones who, despite the fact that Marcion was the better known and more imposing figure, took the decisive step of siding with Apelles and of accepting leadership roles in his breakaway communities.

Peregrinus saw that the best hope of survival for his churches lay in getting their members to unquestioningly obey those bishops. As an Apellean he could not do that by appealing to the Old Testament or to apostolic succession. The best argument available to him in those circumstances was to claim that authority in the church should be modeled on the authority of heaven.

In my next post I intend to continue examining passages in the letters and showing how my Apellean scenario can account for them.

Roger Parvus

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One comment

  • 2013-03-26 12:49:01 UTC - 12:49 | Permalink

    “To disguise a title that was too recognizably Apellean, the proto-Catholic redactor changed the “glorious angel” to the less recognizable ‘glory of the angels.’”

    Or its an awkward translation made by someone who didn’t know Ignatius was an Apellean.

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