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

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

Post by Peter Kirby »

mbuckley3 wrote: Mon Feb 26, 2024 12:18 pm From this, it would be a reasonable inference that the writer styled his lord as Χρηστος.
Maybe, maybe not, but we can perhaps observe more by following the argument of the Epistle to Diognetus, than we would by just observing some of the directly relevant word associations made. Obviously the kindness of God and of his Son was common ground among all Christians (and Jews), or common enough ground that it alone doesn't distinguish those who would apply the name Chrestos over Christos to Jesus (none of which three appear here, possibly being suppressed by the apologist to give it a more philosophically-grounded color and outline).

The author's train of thought is most clearly visible in chapters 8 and 9.

https://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ ... tfoot.html

The Previously Unknown God
8:1 For what man at all had any knowledge what God was, before He came?
8:2 Or dost thou accept the empty and nonsensical statements of those pretentious philosophers: of whom some said that God was fire (they call that God, whereunto they themselves shall go), and others water, and others some other of the elements which were created by God?
8:3 And yet if any of these statements is worthy of acceptance, any one other created thing might just as well be made out to be God.
8:4 Nay, all this is the quackery and deceit of the magicians;
8:5 and no man has either seen or recognised Him, but He revealed Himself.
8:6 And He revealed (Himself) by faith, whereby alone it is given to see God.

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 to Diognetus. Apologetic concerns later in the second century developed firmly in the direction of establishing that God had always been known. As Tertullian puts it, rather than Jesus revealing God, it was God who was already revealed and who vouchsafed the identity of Jesus as his Son by his prophecy. Of course, we recognize the words of the Epistle to Diognetus as echoing thoughts present already in the Gospel of John (John 1:18 - "no one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is himself God"), which can be considered another interesting link between the Marcionite nexus (which is seen reflected here in the Epistle to Diognetus) and the Johannine community.

This is not to say that I am sure that the Epistle to Diognetus is from a "Marcionite." For all I know, there is a common influence that lies behind both the Epistle to Diognetus and behind Marcion. The attempt to trace all these ideas back to the influence of Marcion (or before him Cerdo) is valid if we assume that the patristic authors are correct that they had introduced many novel doctrines, immediately creating a separate stream of tradition themselves, personally. 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.

There's an implication here, expressed explicitly elsewhere: Since nobody knew God, all religion before the revelation of God when He came was based on error and superstition, including the religion of the Jews (and the Greeks). It's worth taking a detour here, back to the passages that make this explicit.

Judaism Considered no more than a Superstition
3:1 In the next place, I fancy that thou art chiefly anxious to hear about their not practising their religion in the same way as the Jews.
3:2 The Jews then, so far as they abstain from the mode of worship described above, do well in claiming to reverence one God of the universe and to regard Him as Master; but so far as they offer Him this worship in methods similar to those already mentioned, they are altogether at fault.
3:3 For whereas the Greeks, by offering these things to senseless and deaf images, make an exhibition of stupidity, the Jews considering that they are presenting them to God, as if He were in need of them, ought in all reason to count it folly and not religious worship.
3:4 For He that made the heaven and the earth and all things that are therein, and furnisheth us all with what we need, cannot Himself need any of these things which He Himself supplieth to them that imagine they are giving them to Him.
3:5 But those who think to perform sacrifices to Him with blood and fat and whole burnt offerings, and to honour Him with such honours, seem to me in no way different from those who show the same respect towards deaf images; for the one class think fit to make offerings to things unable to participate in the honour, the other class to One Who is in need of nothing.
4:1 But again their scruples concerning meats, and their superstition relating to the sabbath and the vanity of their circumcision and the dissimulation of their fasting and new moons, I do [not] suppose you need to learn from me, are ridiculous and unworthy of any consideration.
4:2 For of the things created by God for the use of man to receive some as created well, but to decline others as useless and superfluous, is not this impious?
4:3 And again to lie against God, as if He forbad us to do any good thing on the sabbath day, is not this profane?
4:4 Again, to vaunt the mutilation of the flesh as a token of election as though for this reason they were particularly beloved by God, is not this ridiculous?
4:5 And to watch the stars and the moon and to keep the observance of months and of days, and to distinguish the arrangements of God and the changes of the seasons according to their own impulses, making some into festivals and others into times of mourning, who would regard this as an exhibition of godliness and not much more of folly?
4:6 That the Christians are right therefore in holding aloof from the common silliness and error of the Jews and from their excessive fussiness and pride, I consider that thou hast been sufficiently instructed; but as regards the mystery of their own religion, expect not that thou canst be instructed by man.

The author makes one and only one concession to the Jews: they are not completely wrong about the nature of God ("claiming to reverence one God of the universe"). This is also commonly considered a subject of (as we would put it) natural theology, not requiring revelation to be aware at least that the one God exists, as for example declared in Romans 1:20 and argued by the philosophers.

In every other respect - in everything, that is, the Jews claim to have by revelation - the Jews are claimed not only to be wrong but to have no grounds whatsoever for what they do. Their sacrifices are superstitious, their avoidance of certain meats is superstitious, their holy day is superstitious, their circumcision is superstitious, their fasting is superstitious, their holiday system is superstitious, and in general everything about their religion is "folly," "common silliness and error," "profane," a "lie against God," "impious," "vanity," "in no way different" from the Greeks, and thus "superstition."

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. Now, back to the passage at hand.

God Alone is Good
8:7 For God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, Who made all things and arranged them in order, was found to be not only friendly to men, but also long-suffering.
8:8 And such indeed He was always, and is, and will be, kindly and good and dispassionate and true, and He alone is good.

Here in 8:8 we find the same doctrine that Origen says the Marcionites emphasized completely, based on the Gospel saying: God alone is good (καὶ μόνος ἀγαθός ἐστιν). This is a point of emphasis for the Marcionites, and the idea is expressed here as the pivotal reason that God will go from being unknown to being revealed, making it crucial to the system of the Epistle to Diognetus also. The matter of God's goodness is essential; without it, none of the rest unfolds.

Now let us recall who the Son is in the Epistle to Diognetus.

The Son is the Creative Instrument of God
7:2 But truly the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Invisible God Himself from heaven planted among men the truth and the holy teaching which surpasseth the wit of man, and fixed it firmly in their hearts, not as any man might imagine, by sending (to mankind) a subaltern, or angel, or ruler, or one of those that direct the affairs of earth, or one of those who have been entrusted with the dispensations in heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the Universe Himself, by Whom He made the heavens, by Whom He enclosed the sea in its proper bounds, Whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from Whom [the sun] hath received even the measure of the courses of the day to keep them, Whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine by night, Whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by Whom all things are ordered and bounded and placed in subjection, the heavens and the things that are in the heavens, the earth and the things that are in the earth, the sea and the things that are in the sea, fire, air, abyss, the things that are in the heights, the things that are in the depths, the things that are between the two. Him He sent unto them.

The Son of God is "He by Whom He made the heavens, by Whom He enclosed the sea," etc. The Son is also God himself, through whom the world was made in the beginning, the one who is the ordering principle of this world. This point does appear to stand in tension with what is gleaned from the anti-Marcionite controversies (whether this is may be considered as a clue to the error of these descriptions or evidence of the variety of such otherwise similar systems in antiquity isn't addressed here).

This point does bring to mind my own pet theory here:
Peter Kirby wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 8:43 pm My own pet theory here is that speculation regarding ὁ ἀγαθὸς and ὁ χρηστὸς developed as a result of a two powers in heaven perspective. God always was associated with ὁ ἀγαθὸς because it is the noble good, in and of itself, that is proper to divinity, by definition. God was ὁ ἀγαθὸς prior to creation, and the divine person of God the Father exemplifies this trait. The notion of ὁ χρηστὸς (kind) is active and speaks to God's relationship with man. Unlike simply being good (ὁ ἀγαθὸς), kindness involves an object of this kindness. The creative instrument of God, this second power in heaven - under various other terms also: his Word, his Wisdom, his Son, etc. - brings God into relationship with his creation. That gives this second, creative power a divine aspect of kindness, ὁ χρηστὸς.
The Epistle to Diognetus confirms this kind of logic, even if not actually clarifying the matter of names regarding the Son (but any approach that attempts to proceed solely from an impression regarding a pattern of the appearance of names is fundamentally flawed because the most meaningful information is found by examining the ideas involved). The motivating premise of the author's theology is the idea that "He alone is good," ἀγαθός (8:8 above), the essential nature of God, that which he always was, is, and will be. This is the fundamental starting point for the text, and from it, from the goodness of God, who alone is ἀγαθός, the author develops the rest of his thought, in particular revealing himself through his Son, through whom he had created the universe.

God Revealed through His Son Alone
8:9 And having conceived a great and unutterable scheme He communicated it to His Son alone.
8:10 For so long as He kept and guarded His wise design as a mystery, He seemed to neglect us and to be careless about us.
8:11 But when He revealed it through His beloved Son, and manifested the purpose which He had prepared from the beginning, He gave us all these gifts at once, participation in His benefits, and sight and understanding of (mysteries) which none of us ever would have expected.

The two doctrines - that God is previously unknown, and that God is revealed by His Son - come together in a coherent way to express a clear and simple worldview about God's revelation. In 8:10, the Epistle to Diognetus acknowledges one of the most immediate difficulties with the theology being presented, that God would have not revealed himself at any time before the revelation of His Son, which would seem to "neglect us and be careless about us." And the text implicitly answers this objection also, referring to a mystery and a purpose that had been prepared from the beginning of the world, where we would be given "all these gifts at once," along with understanding that "none of us ever would have expected."

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.

Here are a couple more items in the text that fall within the "Marcionite nexus," which require no detailed comment.

The Body a Prison of the Soul
6:3 The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. ...
6:7 The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together.
6:8 The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens.

Asceticism, including Abstention from Meat and Alcohol
6:5 The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war with it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, though it receiveth no wrong from them, because they set themselves against its pleasures.
6:9 The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meats and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily.

These of course are not "Marcionite" exclusives, but that's not the point here. They do build up an impression of the text as casting light on the kinds of traditions represented by the Marcionites, in the form that they appear in the anti-Marcionite polemics, by being consistent with what we hear about Marcionite views of the body, asceticism, and even particularly matters of restraint with meat and alcohol (albeit ambiguous on the question of prohibition). In that they provide further points of correspondence between the text and the "Marcionite nexus" known through the polemics, they serve to substantiate the view taken here that the Epistle to Diognetus reflects ideas that developed along similar lines.

Ransom Theory of Atonement
9:2 ... He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

This paper says that Origen presented the ransom theory but that:

https://noyam.org/wp-content/uploads/20 ... 022841.pdf
Writing about hundred years after the apostolic period, Irenaeus of Lyons became the first to articulate a complete theory of the atonement, the recapitulation theory. His recapitulation theory - which is his most original contribution to Christian theology— is therefore the earliest identified atonement theory within historic Christianity.

Which I consider to be a wonderfully distorted way of looking at ideas regarding the atonement in the second century, of which Irenaeus could not have been more proud. I would consider that the recapitulation theory of Irenaeus has no precedent whatsoever before he wrote, while Origen (while writing later) was drawing on traditions of interpretation that were older than Irenaeus. I also suggest that the motivating reason for Irenaeus to present the recapitulation theory of atonement was to avoid all the other preceding theories of atonement, which had come under suspicion by him for the support they could appear to lend to the "heresies" that expounded on them. That means, naturally, that I believe Irenaeus identified the ransom theory of atonement with "heresy" because it was a key part of a system of theology (or systems) that Irenaeus opposed.

Given that supposed scriptural support for "ransom" theory is in Mark and in Paul (but notably not in Luke), that pattern of imagined scriptural support would already lead me to inquire whether "ransom" theory may belong to the Marcionite nexus. What I've said here is by nature a hypothesis, so this requires further investigation before it can be confirmed.

Imitation of God by Kindness
10:4 And loving Him (ἀγαπήσας δὲ) thou wilt be an imitator (μιμητὴς ἔσῃ) of His goodness (αὐτοῦ τῆς χρηστότητος). And marvel not that a man can be an imitator of God. He can, if God willeth it.
10:6 But whosoever taketh upon himself the burden of his neighbour, whosoever desireth to benefit one that is worse off in that in which he himself is superior, whosoever by supplying to those that are in want possessions which he received from God becomes a God to those who receive them from him, he is an imitator of God.

This theme of the imitation of God, by imitating God's kindness (χρηστότητος), is also not yet placed clearly in the "Marcionite nexus," but we would be remiss not to consider it worth further investigation. It is possibly an insight regarding this fund of tradition that can be derived from the Epistle to Diognetus, which we may be able to find reflected elsewhere also.

A Connection to the Gospel of John
10:2 _For God loved_ men for whose sake He made the world, to whom He subjected all things that are in the earth, to whom He gave reason and mind, whom alone He permitted to look up to heaven, whom He created after His own image, to whom _He sent His only begotten Son,_ to whom He promised the kingdom which is in heaven, and will give it to those that have loved Him.

This looks like an allusion to John 3:16, which would tend to confirm an impression also seen elsewhere, that the Epistle to Diognetus made use of this gospel. We may likewise find a connection between the Marcionite nexus and the Gospel of John in the reported statements regarding opposition between Marcion and John or between Marcion and Polycarp, allegedly a hearer of John. Likewise we may find in the statements of 1 John and perhaps also John itself, regarding those who deny that Jesus is the Christ, a connection to John in the Marcionite nexus. As it appears here, of course, the connection is simply a positive one, where the Epistle to Diognetus finds support from John.

Jesus is not the Messiah
(implied?)

Considering that the idea of revelation prior to the arrival of the Son is entirely discounted, Jesus is not a prophesied Christ. This too may be considered a connection between the Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite nexus.

Nevertheless, the author identifies as Christian (as, according to Justin Martyr for example, the Marcionites also did).

Last but not least:

The Son as a Manifestation of God's Kindness
9:2 And when our iniquity had been fully accomplished, and it had been made perfectly manifest that punishment and death were expected as its recompense, and the season came which God had ordained, when henceforth He should manifest His goodness and power (τὴν ἑαυτοῦ χρηστότητα καὶ δύναμιν) (O the exceeding great kindness and love of God (<ὢ> τῆς ὑπερβαλλούσης φιλανθρωπίας <καὶ ἀγάπης> τοῦ
Θεοῦ)), ...
9:6 Having then in the former time demonstrated the inability of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed a Saviour able to save even creatures which have no ability, He willed that for both reasons we should believe in His goodness (πιστεύειν ἡμᾶς τῇ χρηστότητι αὐτοῦ) and should regard Him as nurse, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength and life.

Here we find the full expression of the theology that began with the God who alone is good (ἀγαθός). Justice alone would allow men to fall into "punishment and death." Yet, in the theology of the text, it is not mere dispassionate justice that motivates God. Because of God's love for man, sending His Son for their salvation made his kindness and power (τὴν ἑαυτοῦ χρηστότητα καὶ δύναμιν) "manifest," that we should believe in his kindness (πιστεύειν ἡμᾶς τῇ χρηστότητι αὐτοῦ). In short, the Son shows God's love and kindness.

This language does not imply that the Son is called by any particular name. However, for any who did call the Son χρηστὸς, this does explain what they could mean by that. It could be interpreted as an expressing the way that the Son made manifest divine kindness. So the text does help us understand what some people could have meant by calling the Son of God χρηστὸς.

We can say a little more than that. The second century apologists are notorious for their use of ambiguity with regards to the names for the Son of God, preferring to use those derived more directly from philosophy, so it is still quite plausible that χρηστὸς was a name of the Son for the Epistle to Diognetus, even though it's not made explicit. More than that, we can make a very simple argument that it is the most probable conclusion. The text defends "Christians," and all the early references to "Christians" imply that they were named after their "Christ" figure. On the other hand, we've already seen that, for the author, the Son is not genuinely the Messiah or a prophesied Christ since there was no revelation from God prior to sending his Son (and, in particular, no revelation from God known to the Jews). If asked if Jesus were a prophesied Messiah, he would have to deny it. There is of course a possibility that the author held onto the name of "Christ" in a way devoid of meaning. However, we have just seen that the full and true meaning of the Son is that he is sent as the expression of God's kindness. Since the meaning of the Son corresponds fully in this way to the meaning of χρηστὸς, and because the other possibility here is devoid of meaning (or simply wrong) for the author, it is most likely that the Epistle to Diognetus regarded the Son as χρηστὸς.
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by MrMacSon »

fwiw,
The epistle survived only in one manuscript. It was initially discovered in a 13th-century codex that included writings ascribed to Justin Martyr. The 13th-century manuscript was mostly intact, exhibiting damage only in one place, several lines in the middle of the text. It was first published in 1592, and attributed to Justin Martyr because of the context of its discovery. Unfortunately the original was subsequently destroyed in a fire during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, but numerous transcriptions of the letter survive today. Oddly, there is no evidence that any Apostolic Father or Church Father knew of its existence ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_t ... anuscripts
How early the content of this epistle is or might be, might well be open to interpretation, discussion or dispute

eta
Abstract
The Epistle to Diognetus appears to have been a text that was as keen for self-destruction as a group of lemmings heading for a precipice. Unknown and uncited in the extant writings of the Church Fathers ... https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10 ... 4606074317
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by Peter Kirby »

MrMacSon wrote: Tue Feb 27, 2024 1:02 am fwiw,
The epistle survived only in one manuscript. It was initially discovered in a 13th-century codex that included writings ascribed to Justin Martyr. The 13th-century manuscript was mostly intact, exhibiting damage only in one place, several lines in the middle of the text. It was first published in 1592, and attributed to Justin Martyr because of the context of its discovery. Unfortunately the original was subsequently destroyed in a fire during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, but numerous transcriptions of the letter survive today. Oddly, there is no evidence that any Apostolic Father or Church Father knew of its existence ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_t ... anuscripts
How early the content of this epistle is or might be, might well be open to interpretation, discussion or dispute

eta
Abstract
The Epistle to Diognetus appears to have been a text that was as keen for self-destruction as a group of lemmings heading for a precipice. Unknown and uncited in the extant writings of the Church Fathers ... https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10 ... 4606074317
I am happy to engage with any developed hypothesis about the text, but of course I don't consider them all to be equal.

Most ancient texts are in this precarious liminal space of either existing or not existing by a kind of chance, given the ravages of time and benign neglect.

Neither is it surprising for a text not to be known and referenced by extant authors.

The OP could even shed a little light on the possible early use of the text and therefore the nature of a pattern of neglect (not being squarely in the 'orthodox' camp). The text seems to have survived only in association with Justin's oeuvre, probably a false and extraneous association.
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by davidmartin »

Of course, we recognize the words of the Epistle to Diognetus as echoing thoughts present already in the Gospel of John (John 1:18 - "no one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is himself God"), which can be considered another interesting link between the Marcionite nexus (which is seen reflected here in the Epistle to Diognetus) and the Johannine community.
Another angle on this is Roger Parvus is convinced Apelles and Ignatius were connected and users of John's gospel in particular. So John at some point could have this Marcionite nexus link. (whether than mean the Johannine community i'm not so sure!)

I think Diognetus is an example of Marcionite's sweeping in to town with a bunch of new ideas. It's why I don't see the epistles as representing the original thing it's all part of this new mystery that just doesn't fit a historical Palestinian movement like what's portrayed in the gospels. The only thing that confuse me about Diognetus is do they know Paul? I couldn't seem to find any explicit mention or knowledge of the epistles... that's too weird for my head to handle and dropped the text at that point. Glad you're bringing it up though

ps don't some think Ambrose, Hypomnemata is by the same author as Diognetus?
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by MrMacSon »

Sure

fwiw #3,
A brief work of only twelve chapters, Diognetus illustrates the serious concerns of Christian authors probably in the latter part of the second century, including writers such as Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, and Athenagoras of Athens. The author offers a strong argument for the existence of the church in the midst of opposing Jewish and pagan claims to superiority. As has been noted, we know little about the background of the epistle ...

The opening line of the work indicates that it was addressed to someone by that name [Diognetes, of course], accompanied by the same adjective, kratiste, used with the Theophilus addressed in Luke 1:3. Some scholars suggest that this was the Alexandrian procurator Claudius Diogenes, who ruled at the end of the second century. But did this work function as a letter that was sent to a reader named Diognetus? The work seems to function more as a literary epistle rather than as a personal letter. Perhaps its intended role was similar to that of “To the Hebrews” in the New Testament ...

Like the other apologies that are known from early Christian literature, Diognetus follows the impassioned concerns of a well-informed author who is attempting to convince his audience of the truth of Christianity as the alternative to paganism and Judaism ...

More than one modern commentator has observed that in only a few well-constructed chapters the anonymous author has addressed many of the basic issues covered in the typical early Christian apology. These are such vital subjects as (1) the folly of false religions; (2) the pre-eminence of Christianity; (3) the need for repentance, and (4) the hope of eternal salvation through Christ and the love of God.

https://www.academia.edu/47770738/An_In ... _Diognetus

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

Post by Peter Kirby »

davidmartin wrote: Tue Feb 27, 2024 1:23 am I think Diognetus is an example of Marcionite's sweeping in to town with a bunch of new ideas. It's why I don't see the epistles as representing the original thing it's all part of this new mystery that just doesn't fit a historical Palestinian movement like what's portrayed in the gospels. The only thing that confuse me about Diognetus is do they know Paul? I couldn't seem to find any explicit mention or knowledge of the epistles... that's too weird for my head to handle and dropped the text at that point. Glad you're bringing it up though
There is this, but there is also often an assumption that the last two chapters of the text are secondary, so it's still not completely clear:

12:5 Discerning the force of this and blaming the
knowledge which is exercised apart from the truth of
the injunction which leads to life, the apostle says,
_Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth._

On the other hand, not "using" the epistles is different from not "knowing" the epistles. For example, Justin doesn't use the epistles, and I think we can argue that this is because Justin knew the epistles and chose to avoid them because he considered them non-authoritative. And of course, in a genre like an apology, and a compact apology at that, someone could consider the epistles authoritative and just not refer to them. Non-use / non-reference could mean knowing and rejecting (Justin), knowing and accepting (presumably lots of authors), or just not knowing.

But the question reveals a big problem.

We pay lip service to the fact that the church fathers provided distorted pictures of their opponents, but we still attempt to identify self-expressed theology by reference to those distorted pictures. Imagine that you've only ever seen someone as the actor who plays them, and you're trying to spot them based on that. You could walk right by them and think "that reminds me of ... but it can't possibly?" The portrait can seem more real than the real thing.

To continue the analogy, though, maybe the person who walks by is the brother, someone related to the real person, a person who we know only from the actor. This is indeed why I bring in the concept of a "Marcionite nexus," in that we need to become attuned to recognizing closely related ideas.

Failing to do so - failing to see a potentially ancient, varied, and sincere project of theological interpretation at work - is allowing the magic of the movie created by the anti-heretical project to fulfill its purpose by becoming what we see as real, ie that there were radically distinct heretical teachers who were the spiritual fathers of any similar heretics, explaining their errors as a kind of hereditary illness, in contrast to the naturally occurring apostolic orthodoxy.
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by Peter Kirby »

Secret Alias wrote: Sat Mar 02, 2024 6:17 am
Sic habebit intentio et forma opusculi nostri, sub illa utique condicione quae ex utraque parte condicta sit. Constituit Marcion alium esse Christum qui Tiberianis temporibus a deo quondam ignoto revelatus sit in salutem omnium gentium, alium qui a deo creatore in restitutionem Iudaici status sit destinatus quandoque venturus. Inter hos magnam et omnem differentiam scindit, quantam inter iustum et bonum, quantam inter legem et evangelium, quantam inter Iudaismum et Christianismum.

So will have the intention and form of our work, under that condition which has been agreed upon by both parties. Marcion establishes that there is another Christ who was revealed in the time of Tiberius by a once-unknown God for the salvation of all nations, another who is destined by the creator God for the restoration of the Jewish state, to come at some point. Between these he makes a great and complete distinction, as much as between the just and the good, as much as between the law and the gospel, as much as between Judaism and Christianity. (4.6)
"Another Christ" = Chrestos. The author assumes that "Christ" is the correct title of Jesus.
Note the similarity here to the Epistle to Diogenetus, above.

IMO neither believed in "two Christs" and their "another Christ" was not the Messiah but rather Chrestos.
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by rgprice »

We can say a little more than that. The second century apologists are notorious for their use of ambiguity with regards to the names for the Son of God, preferring to use those derived more directly from philosophy, so it is still quite plausible that χρηστὸς was a name of the Son for the Epistle to Diognetus, even though it's not made explicit. More than that, we can make a very simple argument that it is the most probable conclusion. The text defends "Christians," and all the early references to "Christians" imply that they were named after their "Christ" figure. On the other hand, we've already seen that, for the author, the Son is not genuinely the Messiah or a prophesied Christ since there was no revelation from God prior to sending his Son (and, in particular, no revelation from God known to the Jews). If asked if Jesus were a prophesied Messiah, he would have to deny it. There is of course a possibility that the author held onto the name of "Christ" in a way devoid of meaning. However, we have just seen that the full and true meaning of the Son is that he is sent as the expression of God's kindness. Since the meaning of the Son corresponds fully in this way to the meaning of χρηστὸς, and because the other possibility here is devoid of meaning (or simply wrong) for the author, it is most likely that the Epistle to Diognetus regarded the Son as χρηστὸς.
This begs the type of questions raised by Martijn's work. What is the provenance of the text? How are the names actually written in the text? If this text comes down to us only from later medieval copies, might some of these words have been altered by later scribes?

On an entirely different matter, thanks for this, I found it very insightful. It would seem that the ideas of this writer align very strongly with the Gospel of John.

I've long puzzled over how this split could have developed between those that saw Jesus as being from teh Jewish God and those that saw him as not being from the Jewish God.

It seems to me that there must at some point have been a time when it was one or the other. I've long thought that the movement originated with the view that Jesus was son of the Jewish God, but that later Christians developed the idea that he wasn't from the Jewish God at all, perhaps in association with the on-going Jewish-Roman conflicts and a desire to further distance themselves from Judaism.

It seems to me that there are parts of the Pauline letters that appear to necessitate that the movement originated in close association with Judaism. But it is unclear whether Paul is renouncing his Judaism or expanding his view of what Judaism is.

Then we have Ascension of Isaiah, which seems to do a very good job of explaining the role and purpose of the savior within a Jewish framework.

Interestingly, the ideas expressed in this Epistle still postulate one God, not multiple, and still have God (ultimately) as the Creator and God being good. So how does this thinker account for the problems in the world? "Gnosticism" had a sort of logic to it that the material world contains problems because it was created by a flawed god, but Jesus was sent by a higher god than the one who created the world, to save us from the flawed creation. But this thinker doesn't use such concepts.

When it comes to identifying whether Jesus was sent by the Jewish God or another God, it seems quite clear that the Gospel of Mark has played a key role. It is in the material that we find in the Gospel of Mark that there are so many connections between the narrative about Jesus and the Jewish scriptures. But the writer of "Mark" never presents Jesus as "fulfilling" scripture, they just use the scriptures as inspiration for their scenes. Virtually every scene in Mark is derived from Jewish scriptures, but almost every single scripture used in Mark is critical of the Jews and talks about God disowning the Jews and punishing them, etc.

So its not entirely clear that the writer of this narrative was presenting Jesus as a Jewish figure, but may instead have been using the Jewish scriptures against the Jews. However, there are a handful of scenes that do imply that Jesus is an agent of the Jewish God through the use of scriptural references.

When we look at the Gospel of Matthew and even John, what we find is that every claim of "prophecy fulfillment" in those Gospels ties back to scenes that originate in Mark. It appears that John is a composite work in which a "Gnostic" type story has been "orthodized" by integrating a bunch of material from Mark with a story that was originally quite different so there are two almost opposing themes running throughout the narrative. With one writer telling us that Jesus is from a different God and is shown to be the Son of God in his own right because of his deeds and teachings, while another writer interjects and tells us that Jesus is shown to be the Messiah because he is fulfilling scriptural prophecies.

In Matthew, of course, the writer identifies many of the scriptural references from Mark and explains to the reader that these are all instances of prophecy fulfillment which prove that Jesus was sent by the Jewish God and is fulfilling prophecies that prove he is the Messiah.

So "Mark" is indeed a work of some ambiguity that offers the possibility of multiple interpretations. I think that the canonical version of Mark has been orthodized to increase its alignment with orthodox theology more than the original writing was.

But why would the origins of the movement have been so ambiguous? Was it accidental ambiguity? Was it intentional ambiguity? Is it the case that the punishment of the Jews by their own God was misinterpreted as indicating that Jesus was sent by a different God?

But the idea of the Jews "not recognizing" the savior is a very interesting one. It seems to be a core concept that is shared by all Christians. But it is explained in different ways. In one case because the Savior was sent by a different God and thus the Jews did not know him. In the other case the Jews are blamed for not understanding how to interpret their own scriptures, which is rather weak. This second claim, which is advanced by Justin Martyr and the like, derives from the interpretation of the scriptural references used in Mark as prophecies that the Jews had been unable to decipher ahead of time, and so this seems like a relatively late concept that was developed from the Gospels.
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by mbuckley3 »

Many thanks to Peter : I offer a brief note on the Epistle to Diognetus, and within twelve hours thete's a full, reasoned and immensely suggestive essay in response. Total respect !

There is a further link to the 'Marcionite nexus' which is obscured by the text of 7.4 as conventionally printed and translated : ως ανθρωπον προς ανθρωπους επεμψεν/'he sent him as a man to men'. This is not the manuscript reading, it includes an interpolation as an emendation. The judgement of an acute Jesuit scholar* is worth quoting :

"The following phrase reads, in the manuscript, ως προς ανθρωπους επεμψεν. Lachmann, followed by Meecham and most other editors (but not by Marrou), inserted ανθρωπον after ως. Once the correction is made, the phrase is easily translated; Meecham has 'He sent him as Man unto men'. Marrou has obvious trouble with the manuscript reading, and writes : 'il l'a envoyé comme il convenait qu'il le fût pour les hommes'. Without ανθρωπον, the text seems to suggest that the sending of the Son to men is in some way less than fact : he sent (him), as it were, to men. The case for inserting ανθρωπον is strong; in 7.4-5 ως occurs seven times, and in each case but this one, it modifies a noun or an adjective. With the emendation, the phrase clearly points to the true humanity of the Son. But the very clarity of this is an argument against the addition; it would be an extraordinarily clear witness to the true human nature of the Son in a document which nowhere else mentions this doctrine. For the present purposes, the ambiguous manuscript reading is preferable to the doctrinal clarity introduced by the emendation. That the Son was sent to men is clear from at least two other passages (7.2 and 10.2, both phrased απεστειλε προς). That the Son is man is not stated explicitly anywhere else in the Epistle".

■■■■■

* Joseph T. Lienhard, 'The Christology of the Epistle to Diognetus', Vigiliae Christianae 24 (1970)
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Re: The Epistle to Diognetus and the Marcionite Nexus: Twin Visions of God's Kindness

Post by Peter Kirby »

rgprice wrote: Sun Mar 03, 2024 5:48 am This begs the type of questions raised by Martijn's work. What is the provenance of the text? How are the names actually written in the text? If this text comes down to us only from later medieval copies, might some of these words have been altered by later scribes?
I already raised them. They are obvious questions to ask.
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