The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by mbuckley3 »

Peter Kirby wrote: Mon Feb 26, 2024 11:46 pm

Here we find a doctrine that sounds very similar to what puzzled the church fathers so much about the Marcionites, i.e., that man did not have any knowledge of God before He came. I will at once declare this to be the most interesting feature of the Epistle ..

This is not to say that I am sure that the Epistle to Diognetus is from a "Marcionite.. If instead that separateness of this stream of tradition came into existence through a process of repudiation and self-definition that took many more decades to unfold, then a search for "Marcionites" in the first half of the second century could be an inadequate framing of the question. What we can comment on, however, is a nexus of thought (which may have been expressed variously and not only by Marcion) that is also reflected in later anti-Marcionite accounts. This is termed "the Marcionite nexus" for convenience, rather than on the assumption that everyone under this rubric would consider themselves to be connected with Marcion...




The author later says (quoted above) that nobody had knowledge of God or had received a revelation from God before He came as Jesus (the "previously unknown God" doctrine). The implication of that is that the Jews did not receive a revelation from God, and the author here writes about the Jews in a way that is completely consistent with his idea that nobody (not even the Jews) has received a revelation from God before He came as Jesus.

The singularity of God's revelation in his Son once again implicitly denies the idea that God had been speaking about himself to men before, or trickling out clues regarding His Son over time, or that God had provided imperfect revelations through the Jewish scriptures, Moses, or the prophets. All of these ideas are foreign to the text. The Son of God alone provides the revelation regarding God, who was previously unknown, and this revelation proceeds all at once, unexpected, when all the revelation of God had been kept hidden as a mystery previously. This once again belongs to the "Marcionite nexus," for lack of a better term. It is the kind of idea that would also have been condemned by anti-Marcionite polemic. We can say this even though we don't know what kind of relationship existed between the ideas of the author of this text and the ideas of Marcion (which may not always be well reflected in the anti-Marcionite polemic anyway), who also may have been at odds with each other if they had encountered the other. The term is being used here to describe the kind of thought being criticized as Marcionite, as a way of trying to place where this "nexus" of ideas may be found in earlier texts.



This is a wonderfully suggestive hypothesis, which uses the Epistle to Diognetus primarily as a piece to think with, only secondarily (as it's prima facie undateable) as evidence. What would be helpful would be some additional proof of concept.

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As the crucial point of difference is the relevance, or not, to Christians of the OT, of the 'oracles' of Moses and the prophets, superficially attractive as evidence is the Apology of Aristides. It self-presents as a mid-C2 work, and while praising the Jewish conception of God (Syriac, ch.14), it allows them nothing else and absolutely does not use the argument from oracles.

However, it is so determinedly an exoteric work, that the internals of Christian teaching are evaded. Christians "by going about and seeking have found the truth" (ch.15). The 'writings' the emperor is enjoined to read are not specified beyond a gospel (ch.2). That these 'writings' include the OT is implied by listing from the Decalogue the basis of Christian ethics (ch.15). In short, the absence of the argument from oracles is not a denial of it, there is plenty of space for it. In a similarly 'philosophical' Apology, the Octavius of Minucius Felix, it's not until ch.34 that we get "the philosophers..imitated the shadow of the corrupted truth from the divine announcements of the prophets"; it's an aside, but a significant one.

Much more useful is Clement of Alexandria, Strom.6.5. Strom.6.2 ff repeats the chronological argument familiar from Justin that the Greeks are plagiarists, and the insights they have are derived from 'barbarian philosophy', most particularly Moses and the prophets. It's an argument suitable both for Apologetic purposes and for internal consumption. That the Greeks have had a partial revelation, and that there is a continuum between Moses and Christians, these are both simply assumed.

But chapter 5 takes a detour. Clement feels the need to justify both these assumptions. That this is an internal Christian issue is demonstrated by his method, which is to appeal to the apostolic authority of Peter and Paul, by quotation from their (supposed) writings.

"And that the men of highest repute among the Greeks knew God, not by positive knowledge, but by indirect expression, Peter says in the Preaching : 'Know then that there is one God, who made the beginning of all things, and holds the power of the end; and is the Invisible, who sees all things; incapable of being contained, who contains all things; needing nothing, whom all things need, and by whom they are; incomprehensible, everlasting, unmade, who made all things by the Word of his Power, that is, his Son.'

"Then he adds : 'Worship this God not as the Greeks', - signifying plainly, that the excellent among the Greeks worshipped the same God as we, but that they had not learned by perfect knowledge that which was delivered by the Son. 'Do not then worship', he did not say, the God whom the Greeks worship, but 'as the Greeks', - changing the manner of the worship of God, not announcing another God.

"What, then, the expression 'not as the Greeks' means, Peter himself shall explain, as he adds : '[a list of the follies of pagan cult].'

"And that it is said, that we and the Greeks know the same God, though not in the same way, he will infer thus : 'Neither worship as the Jews; for they, thinking that they only know God, do not know him, adoring as they do angels and archangels, the month and the moon. And if the moon be not visible, they do not hold the sabbath, which is called the first; nor do they hold the new moon, nor the feast of unleavened bread, nor the feast, nor the great day'.

"Then he gives the finishing stroke to the question : 'So that do ye also, learning holily and righteously what we deliver to you; keep them, worshipping God in a new way, by Christ. For we find in the scriptures, as the Lord says : 'Behold, I make with you a new covenant, not as I made with your fathers in Mount Horeb.' He made a new covenant with us; for what belonged to the Greeks and Jews is old. But we, who worship him in a new way, in a third race, are Christians'.

"For clearly, as I think, he showed that the one and only God was known by the Greeks in a gentile way, by the Jews judaically, and in a new and spiritual way by us. And further, that the same God that furnished both the covenants was the giver of Greek philosophy to the Greeks, by which the Almighty is glorified among the Greeks, he shows. And it is clear from this. Accordingly, then, from the Hellenic training, and also from that of the Law, are gathered into the one race of the saved people those who accept faith; not that the three peoples are separated by time, so that one might suppose three natures, but trained in different covenants of the one Lord, by the word of the one Lord. For that, as God wished to save the Jews by giving to them prophets, so also by raising up prophets of their own in their own tongue, as they were able to receive God's beneficence, he distinguished the most excellent of the Greeks from the common herd, in addition to the Preaching of Peter, the apostle Paul will show.." [Clement now quotes an agraphon of Paul, recommending consultation of the Sibyl and Hystaspes].

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Clement sometimes (e.g. Strom.1.9) has cause to argue with fellow-Christians who see no value in Greek culture. But it is remarkable that here he has to use authoritative evidence that the OT oracles are valid. The clear implication is that some fellow-Christians argued to the contrary. The name of Marcion is not mentioned by Clement or his source. And that 'suspicious' term in the Preaching of Peter - 'another god' - is applied in the context of the Greek pantheon, not in the context of the god of the Jews.
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by Peter Kirby »

Thank you for this.
mbuckley3 wrote: Sat Mar 23, 2024 5:03 pm Much more useful is Clement of Alexandria, Strom.6.5. Strom.6.2 ff repeats the chronological argument familiar from Justin that the Greeks are plagiarists, and the insights they have are derived from 'barbarian philosophy', most particularly Moses and the prophets. It's an argument suitable both for Apologetic purposes and for internal consumption. That the Greeks have had a partial revelation, and that there is a continuum between Moses and Christians, these are both simply assumed.

But chapter 5 takes a detour. Clement feels the need to justify both these assumptions. That this is an internal Christian issue is demonstrated by his method, which is to appeal to the apostolic authority of Peter and Paul, by quotation from their (supposed) writings.

"And that the men of highest repute among the Greeks knew God, not by positive knowledge, but by indirect expression, Peter says in the Preaching
Then he adds: "Worship this God not as the Greeks,"
stocks and stones, brass and iron, gold and silver
Neither worship as the Jews
thinking that they only know God, do not know Him
adoring as they do angels and archangels, the month and the moon
mbuckley3 wrote: Sat Mar 23, 2024 5:03 pm The name of Marcion is not mentioned by Clement or his source.
Does this reference from Origen, also mentioning the Preaching of Peter, suggest that the internal Christian issue was with what Heracleon wrote about the Preaching of Peter, being referenced both by Clement and Origen?

Origen on John, xiii. 17, has part of the above passages:

It is too much to set forth now the quotations of Heracleon taken from the book entitled The Preaching of Peter and dwell on them, inquiring about the book whether genuine or spurious or compounded of both elements: so we willingly postpone that, and only note that according to him (Heracleon) Peter taught that we must not worship as do the Greeks, receiving the things of matter, and serving stocks and stones: nor worship God as do the Jews, since they, who suppose that they alone know God, are ignorant of him, and serve angels and the month and the moon.

quoted in: https://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ ... peter.html
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by mbuckley3 »

Peter Kirby wrote: Sat Mar 23, 2024 7:12 pm

Does this reference from Origen, also mentioning the Preaching of Peter, suggest that the internal Christian issue was with what Heracleon wrote about the Preaching of Peter, being referenced both by Clement and Origen?

Quite possibly, but not exclusively.

The quoted passage from Origen continues :

"We must ask, however, in our concern for the truth, how the bodily form of worship arose among the Jews, for it is clear that it was ordained that they offer sacrifices to the Creator of the universe. On the other hand, it is worth noting what has been written in the Acts of the Apostles : 'But God turned away and gave them up to serve the host of heaven'. And since the Saviour declares in a straightforward manner that 'salvation is from the Jews', I do not understand how the heterodox deny the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the fathers of the Jews. In addition, if the Saviour fulfils the Law, and certain things occur in the Lord's sojourn so that what was written in the prophets might be fulfilled, is it not clear how 'salvation' comes 'from the Jews' ? For Jews and Gentiles have the same God 'since it is one God who justifies the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through faith.' "

This last point is shared with the Preaching of Peter in the extract quoted by Clement; so it is reasonable to infer that Origen's complaint is that Heracleon, in his commentary on John, has lifted lines from the Preaching out of context to serve the doctrine of the unknown God.

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How familiar was Clement with Heracleon's work ? There are just two references. At Strom.4.9.71, an exegesis of Luke 12.8-11 by "the most distinguished of Valentinus' school" is quoted, with approval. At Ecl.Pro.25, a reference to ear-branding is gleaned from Heracleon in relation to Luke 3.16 (= Matt.3.11). So it's possible Clement only knew a (hypothecated) commentary on Luke. But if we assume knowledge of the commentary on John, it would have been a smart move, not unworthy of Clement, to use the Preaching of Peter in an argument against a writer who had misrepresented it.

However, it is unlikely that the 'first principles' argument of Strom.6.5 is aimed at a single target. In Strom.3.4, Clement names and shames a series of those (Marcion, Prodicus, etc.) who are beyond the pale, eventually conflating libertines and ultra-ascetics as αντιτακται, 'resisters' of divine laws. As regards those he terms 'Valentinians', their doctrines and exegeses are considered on a case-by-case basis. At Strom.4.13, he quotes from a homily by Valentinus himself, and repudiates it. So naming an opponent is not a problem.

But, as André Méhat put it : "Cependant, il faut tenir compte de la tendance de Clément à l'abstraction, surtout dans les Stromates". If we continue Strom.6 to chapter 15, we find this generalising tendency allied to an attempt to delineate a rule - κανων - applicable to any text or doctrine.

# "Wherefore also the sects of the 'barbarian philosophy', although they speak of one God, though they sing the praises of Christ, speak without accuracy, not in accordance with truth; for they discover another God, and receive Christ not as the prophecies deliver." (6.15.123)

# "The liars, then, in reality are not those who for the sake of the scheme of salvation conform, nor those who err in minute points, but those who are wrong in essentials, and reject the Lord and as far as in them lies deprive the Lord of the true teaching; who do not quote or deliver the scriptures in a manner worthy of God and of the Lord." (6.15.124)

# " 'But all things are right,' says the scripture, 'before those who understand', that is, those who receive the ecclesiastical rule [κανονα], the exposition of the scriptures explained by him; and the ecclesiastical rule is the concord and harmony of the Law and the Prophets in the covenant delivered at the coming of the Lord." (6.15.125)

# "Whence also Peter, in his Preaching, speaking of the apostles, says : 'But we, unrolling the books of the prophets which we possess, who name Jesus Christ, partly in parables, partly in enigmas, partly expressly and in so many words, find his coming and death, and cross, and all the rest of the tortures which the Jews inflicted on him, and his resurrection and assumption to heaven previous to the capture of Jerusalem. As it is written, 'These things are all that he behoves to suffer, and what should be after him'. Recognising them, therefore, we have believed in God in consequence of what is written respecting him.' " (6.15.128)

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In this overall context, it seems likelier that the 'internal issue' addressed by Strom.6.5, with its general rule stressing the core validity of the OT oracles, is not a single teacher or sect, but rather a whole cluster of semi-related ideas. Which brings us back to the concept of the 'Marcionite nexus'...
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by Peter Kirby »

Thank you for sharing that reference to Book 6, Chapter 15. Its interpretation is more apparent to me.

https://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ ... book6.html
Wherefore also the heresies of the Barbarian philosophy, although they speak of one God, though they sing the praises of Christ, speak without accuracy, not in accordance with truth; for they discover another God, and receive Christ not as the prophecies deliver. But their false dogmas, while they oppose the conduct that is according to the truth, are against us. For instance, Paul circumcised Timothy because of the Jews who believed, in order that those who had received their training from the law might not revolt from the faith through his breaking such points of the law as were understood more carnally, knowing right well that circumcision does not justify; for he professed that "all things were for all" by conformity, preserving those of the dogmas that were essential, "that he might gain all." And Daniel, under the king of the Persians, wore "the chain," though he despised not the afflictions of the people.

The liars, then, in reality are not those who for the sake of the scheme of salvation conform, nor those who err in minute points, but those who are wrong in essentials, and reject the Lord and as far as in them lies deprive the Lord of the true teaching; who do not quote or deliver the Scriptures in a manner worthy of God and of the Lord; for the deposit rendered to God, according to the teaching of the Lord by His apostles, is the understanding and the practice of the godly tradition. "And what ye hear in the ear " -- that is, in a hidden manner, and in a mystery (for such things are figuratively said to be spoken in the ear) -- "proclaim," He says, "on the housetops," understanding them sublimely, and delivering them in a lofty strain, and according to the canon of the truth explaining the Scriptures; for neither prophecy nor the Saviour Himself announced the divine mysteries simply so as to be easily apprehended by all and sundry, but express them in parables. The apostles accordingly say of the Lord, that "He spake all things in parables, and without a parable spake He nothing unto them;" and if "all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made," consequently also prophecy and the law were by Him, and were spoken by Him in parables.

Clement is writing about:

(a) "heresies"
(a) (1) believing in "one God" who is discovered to be "another God"
(a) (2) praising "Christ" but not receiving Christ "as the prophecies deliver"
(a) (3) not quoting the scriptures, or not delivering them "in a manner worthy of God"

Clement refutes them:

(b) "according to the canon of the truth explaining the Scriptures"
(b) (1) since the apostles say "all things were made by him" (John 1:3), Christ also made prophecy and the law
(b) (2) since the apostles say "He spake all things in parables" (Matthew 13:34, cf. Mark 4:34), Christ spoke of them in parables
(b) (3) therefore, those who do not quote the scriptures also "reject the Lord" and deprive Christ "of the true teaching"

The "or" construction (not quoting the scriptures or not delivering them "in a manner worthy of God") supports your reading that both Marcionites and other groups are in mind here. The other groups interpret the scriptures in ways that Clement rejects.
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