This post continues from The (Apellean) Gospel of Peregrinus and concludes the series.
|Links to all posts in this series are collated at: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius
In posts two through six I showed why Peregrinus should be regarded as the author of the so-called Ignatian letters. In posts seven through eleven I argued that he was an Apellean Christian.
In this post I will tie up some loose ends, adding some thoughts regarding the date of his letters, and taking a somewhat speculative last look at his community, the Apelleans.
Contents of this post
WHEN WERE THE ORIGINAL LETTERS WRITTEN?
- Terminus ante quem
- Terminus post quem
- ca 145 CE?
- Or late 130s?
MODIFYING THE LETTERS: WHEN? WHY? WHO?
- Between Irenaeus and Origen
- How did he come by the letters?
- The evidence pointing to Theophilus of Antioch
WHAT BECAME OF THE APELLEAN GOSPEL?
- Basis of the Gospel of John?
- Gnostic threads in the Gospel of John
- Opposing views of the world in the Fourth Gospel
- Why the Gospel’s hostility to the Jews and Judaism
- Why no Passover or Baptism in John’s Gospel
- The missing Ascension in the Fourth Gospel
- Identifying the Paraclete (the mysterious witness to Jesus) : The Holy Spirit or Paul?
- Identifying the Beloved Disciple: Paul?
- Paul not a persecutor
- Paul (“little one”) the boy disciple?
- Paul or John?
- Affairs at Ephesus and Smyrna
AND WHAT BECAME OF THE APELLEANS?
- Identifying the woman taken in adultery?
- Returning to the fold
WHEN WERE THE ORIGINAL LETTERS WRITTEN?
Using the chronological indications that Lucian provides in his sketch of Peregrinus, the year of the would-be martyr’s arrest can only be very roughly pegged to have occurred sometime between 130 and 150 CE.
Terminus ante quem
Peregrinus was a Cynic by the time of the Olympic games held in 153 (see note 22 of Harmon’s translation of The Death of Peregrinus). And at least a few years must be allowed for his dismissal by the Christians and his trips to Egypt and to Rome (The Death of Peregrinus, 16-18). That would yield a terminus ante quem of 150 CE for his arrest and the composition of the letters.
Terminus post quem
The terminus post quem is more difficult to pin down. G.A. Harrar, in his Studies in the Roman Province of Syria, would tentatively date the arrest to no earlier than 135 CE (p. 28). But since Lucian provides little guidance on that point, I would add a few years cushion to what Harrar proposed and thus arrive at a comfortable 130 to 150 CE window.
ca 145 CE?
If the year of Marcion’s break with Rome were known with certainty, the date that Peregrinus composed his letters could be further narrowed down, for the schism mentioned in IgnPhil. 3:3 appears to be related to that break. The docetists — Marcionites, in my scenario — were refusing communion with non-docetic Christians (IgnSmyr. 6:2-7:1). Both proto-Catholics and the followers of Apelles fall into that non-docetic category. Harnack proposed 144 CE as the year of Marcion’s split, and his proposal has been widely embraced. He calculated it using a statement made by Tertullian that the Marcionites put 115 years and 6 and a half months between Christ and Marcion (Against Marcion, 1,19,2). And he argued that for the Marcionites the end point of that interval would have been the day that Marcion established his church by breaking with the church of Rome. That seems reasonable and I therefore am inclined to date the composition of Peregrinus’ letters to 145 CE or thereabouts.
Or late 130s?
There is, however, another opinion regarding what event was marked by the 115 year interval. Ernst Barnikol argued that the end point — 144 CE — was the date of Marcion’s death. That contention seems to conflict with a statement Justin makes in chapter twenty-six of his first Apologia. Justin is thought to have composed that work in the early 150s and in it he says that Marcion was still alive. In any event, if at some point it were found that Barnikol’s contention is in fact correct, the date of Peregrinus’ letters could be correspondingly pushed earlier to, say, the late 130s.
MODIFYING THE LETTERS: WHEN? WHY? WHO?
Between Irenaeus and Origen
Peregrinus leapt to his fiery death in CE 165. About fifteen years later, when Irenaeus wrote his Against Heresies, the Christian letters of Peregrinus had not yet been changed into letters of Ignatius. Irenaeus used a quotation from IgnRom. 4:1 but apparently to avoid the embarrassment of acknowledging Peregrinus as the author of it, he attributed it only to “one of our people.” As noted in my sixth post, it is only later, in the writings of Origen, that ‘Ignatius, bishop of Antioch’ first appears as the author of the letters. In his Homilies on Luke (6:4), Origen says:
I have found it well written in one of the letters of a certain martyr — I am referring to Ignatius who was the second bishop of Antioch after Saint Peter and in a persecution fought with wild beasts at Rome — that ‘the virginity of Mary escaped the notice of the ruler of this age;’ escaped notice on account of Joseph, on account of their marriage because she was thought to have a husband.
The homily was written no earlier than the 230 CE. Thus it would seem that the letters of Peregrinus were transformed into letters of Ignatius sometime between CE 180 and 230.
|His aims were limited to hiding Peregrinus’ authorship of the letters and to correcting perceived creedal deficiencies to salvage the letters for use by his own community. . . . He does not push for Roman authority . . . .
From the changes made to the letters it is clear that the redactor knew who Peregrinus was, knew his Apellean affiliation, and knew of his ultimate apostasy from Christianity. The changes also reveal the proto-Catholic affiliation of the redactor. He reroutes the prisoner to Rome instead of back to Antioch. He makes Polycarp the recipient of one of the letters. And the corrections he makes to Peregrinus’ Apellean beliefs bring them into line with proto-Catholic ones. His aims were limited to hiding Peregrinus’ authorship of the letters and to correcting perceived creedal deficiencies of the prisoner. I see no sign of any other agenda. He does not push for Roman authority over the other churches. And he does not try to base the local bishop’s authority on some kind of apostolic succession. To me this restraint indicates that his main goal was simply to salvage the letters for use by his own community.
How did he come by the letters?
How did he come by the letters? He may, of course, have come across them simply by chance. But there may be something more to his possession of them and his interest in them. The most likely place for them to have been gathered together and treasured would have been at Antioch, for it was there that Peregrinus was imprisoned. And it was to that city that Peregrinus requested delegates be sent to rejoice with him and pray for him. If the churches couldn’t send delegates to the most God-pleasing Antiochene council, they were directed to at least send letters to it (IgnPoly. 8:1).
Antioch, then, would seem to be the most likely place that a collection of the prisoner’s letters was made.
The evidence pointing to Theophilus of Antioch
And that is why Theophilus of Antioch catches my attention as a candidate for proto-Catholic redactor of the letters.
|THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH
He is from the right city, has the right affiliation, and was still alive during at least the earliest part of the 180 to 230 CE window.
And there are some additional considerations that make Theophilus an intriguing candidate. Robert M. Grant, in his analysis of To Autolycus, noted that “the prophet is Theophilus’ basic classification for Old Testament writers” (Greek Apologists of the Second Century, p. 162). We have seen in the letters that when the redactor wishes to neutralize Apellean dismissal of the Old Testament, he does so by inserting praise of the prophets.
Furthermore, the earliest patristic quotation from the Gospel according to John is found in To Autolycus (2,22). As I pointed out in earlier posts, Peregrinus’ Apellean gospel has definite Johannine affinities.
Add too that Theophilus says it was his study of Scripture that led to his conversion to Christianity. But the only book of the Old Testament that he is known to have written a commentary about (no longer extant) is the book of Proverbs. Set that alongside the fact that the only Old Testament book that Peregrinus quotes from is the book of Proverbs.
So I am wondering not only whether Theophilus of Antioch was the proto-Catholic redactor of Peregrinus’ letters, but also if earlier in his life he was an Apellean and personally acquainted with Peregrinus.
He may have even been mentioned in the letters. Two men, Philo and Rheus Agathopus, brought the news to Peregrinus that peace had been restored in the Antiochene church. I have already proposed that Agathopus is the Agathobulus who later initiated Peregrinus into Cynicism (TDOP, 17). But what about Philo? Could Philo be the shortened name chosen by the redactor ‘Theo-Philus’ to disguise his own involvement in the affair?
The letter to the Philadelphians says this:
Philo, the deacon from Cilicia, a man well-spoken of, is now ministering to me in the word of God, together with Rheus Agathopus, a remarkable man who has followed me from Syria and has renounced this life. (IgnPhil 11:1)
Thus Philo ministered to Peregrinus in the word of God and was, like Peregrinus himself, a deacon. And since he likely returned to Antioch to be there when Peregrinus arrived under military escort, he may have been one of those officials who, according to Lucian, “even slept inside with him after bribing the guards. Then elaborate meals were brought in, and sacred books of theirs were read aloud . . . ” (TDOP, 12, Harmon’s translation). As a minister in the word of God, Philo (Theophilus?) may have been the one who read sacred books aloud to Peregrinus in jail.
If I am right in my speculation about Theophilus of Antioch — and, admittedly, that is all it is — it would be he who made a collection of Peregrinus’ letters at the most God-pleasing council in 145 CE.
And it was he who thirty-five years later still could not bear to throw the letters of Peregrinus in the trash. He decided to salvage them. He changed Peregrinus into Ignatius. And it was he, Theophilus, who changed his hero’s adopted name ‘Hagiophorus’ to ‘Theophorus.’
WHAT BECAME OF THE APELLEAN GOSPEL?
|The Gospel according to John may very well be a proto-Catholic redaction of the no longer extant Manifestations Gospel of Apelles.|
Peregrinus’ proto-Catholic opponents at Philadelphia in effect said, “If we don’t find the archives in your gospel, we won’t believe in it” (IgnPhil. 8:2). His initial reaction was to assert that the archives were in some way represented in his gospel. To that assertion they, in turn, replied: “That deserves investigation.” It is natural to wonder what the outcome of their investigation was. Did they end up approving the Apellean Gospel?
My suspicion is that they ultimately did approve parts of it, but only after submitting them to the same kind of correction that the letters of Peregrinus underwent. They took the parts of the Apellean Gospel that appealed to them and clumsily put them together in a new way that left very obvious dislocations, rearrangements, and deletions. The archives were not deemed to be sufficiently represented in the Apellean Gospel so they inserted some Old Testament quotes that remedied that defect. Proto-Catholic beliefs were supplied where necessary to make up for the perceived deficiencies in the beliefs of Apelles and Philumena, the authors of the Apellean Gospel. The final product is known today as the Gospel according to John.
|Many scholars refer to the earliest Johannine layer as the ‘Sign’s Gospel’ or ‘Signs Source.” It could just as appropriately be called the ‘Manifestations Gospel’ or ‘Manifestations Source’ . . . .|
So my suspicion is that Apelles’ Gospel—which he also called the Manifestations (Greek: Phaneroseis) — may have been more than just Johannine-like; it may have been the actual text that the proto-Catholics reworked in the mid-second century to construct John’s Gospel. Many scholars refer to the earliest Johannine layer as the ‘Sign’s Gospel’ or ‘Signs Source.” It could just as appropriately be called the ‘Manifestations Gospel’ or ‘Manifestations Source’ since its signs are presented as manifestations of the glory of Jesus:
This the first of his signs Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Jn. 2:11)
The Gospel according to John may very well be a proto-Catholic redaction of the no longer extant Manifestations Gospel of Apelles.
|Apellean authorship of the foundation layer of John’s Gospel would be the reason that gospel contains its unusual mix of mild Gnosticism and strong anti-docetism.|
Apellean authorship of the foundation layer of John’s Gospel would be the reason that gospel contains its unusual mix of mild Gnosticism and strong anti-docetism. Apelles was a very rare bird: An anti-docetic Gnostic.
His anti-docetism was apparently motivated by his belief that if Jesus did not have a real body his suffering would have been fake. But his Gnosticism would not allow him to provide his Jesus with a body made of materials from this flawed lower world. So his Jesus had flesh but not by way of any human birth, virginal or otherwise.
And that would be the reason the Fourth Gospel — even though it is the latest of the canonical gospels — does not have a nativity section
But it does contain the Gnostic dualistic contrasts between light and darkness, spirit and flesh, the world above and the world below. “What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit” (Jn. 3:6). Those who are born of spirit recognize Jesus and listen to him. They belong to the Father above and the world above where they existed before they were enclosed in bodies. (Jn. 9:2 is the only reference to the soul’s pre-incarnational state that the proto-Catholic redactor allowed to remain in the final text). Those who are born of flesh have the devil for their father and cannot believe the words of Jesus.
Opposing views of the world in the Fourth Gospel
In the Apellean Gospel it was a subordinate Glorious Angel who created this imperfect lower world. The proto-Catholic redactor had to change this and make the Son of God its creator. Because of that change the “world” is viewed in two opposed ways in the Fourth Gospel. The Apellean Jesus says:
I revealed your name to those you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me. . . I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours. . . I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. (Jn. 17:6, 9 and 14)
But to offset this, the proto-Catholic redactor makes the gospel say, for instance, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . . (Jn. 3:16).
Why the Gospel’s hostility to the Jews and Judaism
Apelles’ views on the Old Testament can explain the hostility of the Johannine Jesus not just to Jews but to historical Judaism itself. In certain passages the Johannine Jesus seems not to be a Jew.
- He tells the Jews: “Your”—not our—“ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died” (Jn. 6:49).
- And the Law that the Jews claimed was given by God himself he dismissively calls “your Law.”
- And he calls all their spiritual shepherds who came before him “thieves and brigands” (Jn. 10:8).
- And he tells the Jews: “you have never heard his voice (the Father’s) nor seen his form” (Jn. 5:37);
- and “no one has ascended into heaven except the one who came down from heaven” (Jn. 3:13).
No one? What about Moses? Enoch? Elijah? Isaiah? Who could have made the Johannine Jesus so antagonistic to his supposed heritage? I nominate Apelles, “who treated the writings of the Jews as fables, and says that Jesus is the only one who has visited the human race” (Origen, Against Celsus, 5,54).
Why no Passover or Baptism
Despite numerous proto-Catholic touch-ups, the Apellean under layer still often protrudes. That under layer is the reason why, contrary to the Synoptics, the Johannine Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples is not a Passover meal.
And it is the reason why the Fourth Gospel does not relate any baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer.
The missing Ascension
Remember, the redactor of Peregrinus’ letters had to include baptism by John in one of his interpolations (IgnSmyr. 1:1). Furthermore, there are indications that the under layer had an ascension scene that did not make the Fourth Gospel’s final cut (see Jn. 6:62). As has already been pointed out, Apelles’ version of a bodiless ascension by Jesus was unacceptable to the proto-Catholics.
Identifying the Paraclete: The Holy Spirit or Paul?
An Apellean provenance for the Fourth Gospel can also provide a plausible identification of the Paraclete, the mysterious figure who will bear witness to Jesus (Jn. 15:26) and “will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26).
There have been scholars (e.g., Weizsäcker, Wernle) who sensed that, for the author of this Gospel, these words were meant to foretell the revelation of his work. His Jesus was in effect saying that he would one day send a Paraclete to reveal the Fourth Gospel. And it was suspected that, if that was the mindset of the evangelist, he likely viewed the older Gospels as in some way inadequate, defective or corrupt. Why would he have written the new Gospel if he was already happy with one of the existing ones?
|Philumena claimed to receive her revelations via a phantasma who appeared to her and “. . . sometimes stated he was Christ, sometimes Paul.”|
My Apellean scenario is in line with these insights. For Apelles, coming from a Marcionite background, considered the Gospels that existed in his time to be corrupt. And after his break with Marcion, he was dissatisfied too with the Gospel restoration his erstwhile teacher had undertaken with scissors. Apelles’ recourse to the revelations of his prophetess associate Philumena to form a new gospel (the Manifestations) is understandable if he was dissatisfied with those in existence. And since Philumena claimed to receive her revelations via a phantasma who appeared to her and “. . . sometimes stated he was Christ, sometimes Paul” (Latin Patrology 42, 30, n. 1), it is easy to see how such an arrangement could provide Apelles with a Pauline gospel he felt he could trust; one that had not been compromised beyond recovery by those he viewed as Judaizers.
Now the role of Philumena’s phantasma as a dual stand-in, sometimes speaking as Christ and sometimes as Paul, provokes a question. If Philumena thought that Christ was speaking to her, what need did she have for Paul too? Isn’t Paul superfluous in that situation? But from a Johannine perspective the presence of both makes sense. The Johannine Jesus requires two witnesses to support a claim:
If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony cannot be verified. But there is another who testifies on my behalf . . . the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf” (Jn. 5:31 and 37).
|Thus, as I see it, the Paraclete sayings were originally spoken by Christ to Philumena, and the Paraclete that he promised to send was Paul.|
So my suspicion is that (in Philumena’s mind) Christ spoke to her first in order to vouch for Paul whom he promised to send shortly. Yes, the gospel to be written was going to be a based on the testimony of Paul (similar to what Marcion claimed for his Gospel), but in order for it to have authority Christ needed to show up first to vouch for his successor Paraclete. Thus, as I see it, the Paraclete sayings were originally spoken by Christ to Philumena, and the Paraclete that he promised to send was Paul.
If this is correct, it would mean that it was only later, when the proto-Catholics adopted and re-worked Apelles’ gospel, that the Paraclete sayings were transferred to the farewell discourse of Jesus. And the sayings were altered in a few places to turn the Apellean Paraclete into the proto-Catholic Holy Spirit.
That they were not originally part of the farewell discourse is not a totally new idea. Or that the Paraclete was originally not the Holy Spirit. Hans Windisch, for example, held that:
The five Paraclete sayings do not belong in the original text of the farewell discourses. They are alien entities in the course of both dialogues . . . (The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel, p. 3).
And in the same work Windisch writes:
In his interesting work Le Quatrieme Évangile H. Delafosse, like Sasse, maintained that the identification of the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit is secondary . . . No matter what one may think about the integrity of the Paraclete sayings, it is certain (and at this point I am in agreement with Delafosse and Sasse) that the Spirit and the Paraclete are two very different figures. (pp. 1 and 20)
My Apellean theory can bring these two ideas into better focus by giving them a concrete provenance, and it can account for why Paul the Paraclete was turned into the Holy Spirit.
Identifying the Beloved Disciple: Paul?
Can we go further and identify Paul as the Beloved Disciple? I would not be the first to make that identification. One scholar who has made it is the late Michael Goulder, in his article “An Old Friend Incognito” (Scottish Journal of Theology, 1992, Vol. 45, pp. 487-513). And if I am right that the Fourth Gospel was Apellean in origin, it would seem reasonable to think that Paul was its Beloved Disciple. Apelles came from a Marcionite background where “The Gospel” was viewed as Paul’s gospel. There is nothing in the extant record to indicate that he ever switched his allegiance, so to speak, to some other disciple or apostle.
Paul not a persecutor
And Apelles’ background removes one big obstacle to identifying Paul as the Beloved Disciple: the claim that Paul had been a persecutor of the church. Remember, the persecutor scenario represents a proto-orthodox view of Paul. Marcionites rejected the Acts of the Apostles with its story of Paul the persecutor. And it is known that the verse in Galatians where Paul says he persecuted the church of God (Gal. 1:13) was not part of Marcion’s version of the letter. Apparently nowhere in Marcion’s Apostolicon was there anything about Paul being a former persecutor of the church (See Tertullian’s Against Marcion, 5, 1).
Paul (“little one”) the boy disciple?
It is possible then, that from an Apellean perspective “Paul” (which means “little one”; “child”) was viewed as a nickname for a boy disciple whose given name was “John.” That would explain why the phantasma who delivered the gospel to Philumena was “dressed as a boy.” And it would explain the curious passage in Vatican Codex 4222 which says the Beloved Disciple was a boy:
John, the most holy evangelist was the youngest among all the apostles. Him the Lord held (in his arms) when the apostles discussed who among them was greatest and when he said: ‘He who is not converted as this boy will not enter the kingdom of heaven’. It is he who reclined against the Lord’s breast. It is he whom Jesus loved more than the others and to whom he gave his mother Mary and whom he gave as son to Mary. (my emphasis)
Paul or John?
And it could explain too why, even in Peregrinus’ letter to the Ephesians, Paul but no John is mentioned. If the name John is absent from a mid-second-century letter to Christians in Ephesus, the reason may be that for the Christians in question — Apelleans — Paul was John.
When was the Gospel of John composed?
Finally, to bring to a close my contention that the original Fourth Gospel was Apellean, I would note that Apelles lived at the right time and place to be the author of it. It was apparently written shortly after the bar Kosiba revolt, as betrayed by the verse:
I am come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, him you will receive (Jn. 5:43).
And perhaps also by:
Yes, the hour is coming when whosoever kills you will think that he offers service to God (Jn. 16:2).
Affairs at Ephesus and Smyrna
The place of origin of the Fourth Gospel has traditionally been associated with Ephesus. This, as we see from the letters of Peregrinus, was an area with an Apellean presence in the 140s. And just a few short miles from Ephesus was Smyrna, which is of interest because the martyrologies of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church honor as the first bishop of that city a man named — you guessed it — Apelles.
Of all the bishops mentioned in the so-called Ignatians, it is the bishop of Smyrna whose authority stands out the most prominently:
In things pertaining to the church, let no one do anything independently of the bishop. Let that Eucharist alone be considered valid which is celebrated by the bishop or his delegate. Wherever the bishop is, there let the people be; just as wherever Christ Jesus is, there is the whole church. It is not permitted either to baptize or to hold an agape independently of the bishop; but whatever he approves has God’s approval too. Everything that is done in this way is sure and legitimate. (IgnSmyr. 8:1-2)
Nothing quite as emphatic as this is said about the authority of the other bishops. Which leads me to think that the bishop in question may have been the head of the Apellean church, that he was none other than Apelles himself.
If so, it was Apelles who, in the doctored Ignatians, was replaced with Polycarp by the proto-Catholic interpolator. And, as I see it, it was the Gospel of Apelles that was converted by the proto-Catholics into the Gospel according to John.
AND WHAT BECAME OF THE APELLEANS?
If I am right that the Fourth Gospel was put together by the proto-Catholics from Apellean materials, I think the Apelleans themselves must have been willing parties to that arrangement. It is hard to see how the proto-Catholics could have just taken over in the 150s the Apellean gospel and re-worked it if the Apelleans themselves were not amenable to that course of action. And there is in the extant record one hint that could explain why they were so amenable: the apparent fall from grace of their prophetess Philumena. Tertullian says that she “became a monstrous prostitute.”
It’s hard to know for sure what Tertullian meant by that. It could refer to a sexual infraction, but not necessarily. In the Bible sexual language is often used for infidelity to God. But there is one consideration that inclines me to think Philumena’s sin was adultery: Already in some of the earliest Old Latin (pre-Vulgate) translations of the Fourth Gospel there is found the story of a woman caught in adultery. How the story came to be lodged there has always been a mystery.
Identifying the woman taken in adultery?
My hunch is that some early (end second-century) Latin translator was in the know about the true origin of this gospel and inserted a story about a forgiven fallen woman as a way to discreetly honor Philumena, the compromised woman who played such a key role its composition. The story contains the only instance in any of the gospels where Jesus writes, albeit with his finger in the dust. And the place in the gospel where the story was most often located is its present position immediately before Jesus’ proclamation, “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). In many of the Old Latin versions the ‘light’ in the proclamation is rendered by the word “lumen.” Now, although the name ‘Philumena’ is of Greek origin, I think it is conceivable that a Latin translator chose the placement of the story based on the presence in her name of the letters that spell the Latin word for light: Phi-lumen-a. The writing finger of Jesus and the placement of the story, then, may have been the way he surreptitiously identified who the forgiven adulteress represents.
|The second-century record contains no condemnation of Apelles, Philumena and Apelleans. . . . This silence of Irenaeus is huge.|
Be that as it may, that there was indeed some kind of agreement between the proto-Catholic church and the Apelleans seems indicated by the fact that the second-century record contains no condemnation of Apelles, Philumena and Apelleans. Tertullian, writing at the beginning of the third century and about thirty years after the death of Apelles, is the first proto-Catholic heresy hunter to target them. In taking aim at Apelles, Tertullian makes clear that he is targeting a figure from the previous generation and that he considers Marcion, Valentinus and Apelles to be its heretical ‘Big Three’ (On the Prescription of Heretics, 30). That makes it all the more telling that Irenaeus, writing thirty years earlier, nowhere condemns or even mentions Apelles, his followers or his doctrines even though he condemns by name many lesser heretical figures and teachings. In my opinion this silence of Irenaeus is huge.
Returning to the fold
But does the mid-second-century record contain any positive indications about the merger I am proposing? I believe it does. In the Against Heresies of Irenaeus we read:
He (Polycarp) it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus, caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics (Valentinus and Marcion) to the church of God . . . (3.3.4)
|If any group of Marcion-tainted people were ripe for merging back with the proto-Catholic church of Rome in the 150s, it was the Apelleans.|
As I see it, if any group of Marcion-tainted people were ripe for merging back with the proto-Catholic church of Rome in the 150s, it was the Apelleans. Apelles, as we have seen, turned away from Marcion, rejected his rigorism and docetism, and returned to belief in a single supreme God. And from the letters of Peregrinus we can see that the Apelleans blamed the docetists (Marcionites) for the schism in the church and reproached them for refusing to take part in the Apellean Eucharists. In contrast, there is no indication of similar refusal on the part of the proto-Catholics. And the letters witness that the Apelleans were still on speaking-terms with them. I suspect that this relationship became stronger and that they ultimately formed a common front against Marcion.
But, one could object: Did not Apelles continue to hold that the Old Testament contained many fables and falsehoods?
It would seem so.
- The heretic Rhodon claimed as much when he described his conversation with the elderly Apelles.
- But it is important to remember that in the mid-second century, even among the proto-Catholics, there apparently was no unanimity about how free from error the Old Testament was. Thus Justin, though he himself held that no Scripture contradicts another, mentions some fellow Christians of his who hold a different view (Dialogue with Trypho, 65).
- And there are the pseudo-Clementine Homilies, about which a decent case can be made that the document they were based on was of mid-second century proto-Catholic provenance. In them Peter acknowledges several times that there are falsehoods and errors in the Old Testament. And three times he quotes the agraphon that was also a favorite with Apelles: “Become competent moneychangers,” the meaning of which is that Christians must carefully determine which parts and verses of Scripture are genuine and which are not.
And Apelles was apparently not dogmatic in his position regarding the Old Testament. He did not consider acceptance of his view necessary for salvation. For according to Rhodon, the aged Apelles asserted “that those who had placed their hope in the crucified one would be saved, if they only were found doing good works” (Church History, Eusebius, 5, 13, 6). These are not the words of a hardliner.
So I see no insurmountable obstacle to a mid-second-century merger between the proto-Catholics and the Apelleans. It may even be an approval of Apelles that is lodged in chapter 16 of Romans. That chapter appears to be a late addition. It was not in Marcion’s version. And some scholars see it as being originally addressed to the church of Ephesus. When the proto-Catholics did a final revision of the Pauline letters, did they make Paul issue a prophetic ok for Apelles?
Welcome Apelles, who is approved in Christ (Rom. 16:10).
The letters of Peregrinus are precious. I am convinced they give us a glimpse into the short-lived community led by Apelles whose gospel may have ultimately been transformed into the Gospel according to John. And they give us new insight, of course, into that strange character who was Peregrinus. Even though he had “interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many” (TDOP, 11), he appeared to have been so thoroughly disowned by the Christians that no trace of his literary efforts for them remained. But lo and behold some letters of his were extant all along, hidden under the Ignatian veneer that had been imposed on them. The man who, according to Lucian, was hopelessly driven throughout his life by a relentless thirst for glory can again tell us in his own words about the early days when, adorned with his most God-pleasing chains, he first gained the adulation of a multitude. One cannot help but be captivated, and I have very much enjoyed getting to know him through his letters — the letters supposedly written by Ignatius of Antioch.