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MARCION’S ATTEMPT TO SET ASIDE THE OLD TESTAMENT FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIANITY, TO PURIFY TRADITION, AND TO REFORM CHRISTENDOM ON THE BASIS OF THE PAULINE GOSPEL.
Marcion cannot be numbered among the Gnostics in the strict sense of the word.366366He belonged to Pontus and was a rich shipowner: about 139 he came to Rome already a Christian, and for a short time belonged to the church there. As he could not succeed in his attempt to reform it, he broke away from it about 144. He founded a church of his own and developed a very great activity. He spread his views by numerous journeys, and communities bearing his name very soon arose in every province of the Empire (Adamantius, de recta in deum fide, Origen, Opp. ed. Delarue I. p. 809: Epiph. h. 42. p. 668. ed. Oehler). They were ecclesiastically organised (Tertull., de præscr. 41, and adv. Marc. IV. 5) and possessed bishops, presbyters, etc. (Euseb. H. E. IV. 15. 46: de Mart. Palæst. X. 2: Les Bas and Waddington, Inscript. Grecq. et Latines rec. en Grêce et en Asie Min. Vol. III. No. 2558). Justin (Apol. 1. 26) about 150 tells us that Marcion’s preaching had spread κατὰ πᾶν γένος ἀνθρώπων, and by the year 155, the Marcionites were already numerous in Rome (Iren. III. 34). Up to his death, however, Marcion did not give up the purpose of winning the whole of Christendom, and therefore again and again sought connection with it (Iren. I. c.; Tertull., de præscr. 30), likewise his disciples (see the conversation of Apelles with Rhodon in Euseb. H. E. V. 13. 5, and the dialogue of the Marcionites with Adamantius). It is very probable that Marcion had fixed the ground features of his doctrine, and had laboured for its propagation, even before he came to Rome. In Rome the Syrian Gnostic Cerdo had a great influence on him, so that we can even yet perceive, and clearly distinguish the Gnostic element in the form of the Marcionite doctrine transmitted to us. For (1) he was not guided by any speculatively scientific, or even by an apologetic, but by a soteriological interest.367367“Sufficit,” said the Marcionites, “unicum opsus deo nostro, quod hominem liberavit summa et præcipua bonitate sua” (Tertull. adv. Marc. I. 17). (2) He therefore put all emphasis on faith, not on Gnosis.368368Apelles, the disciple of Marcion, declared (Euseb. H. E. V. 13. 5) σωθήσεσθαι τοὺς ἐπί τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον ἡλπικότας, μόνον ἐὰν ἐν ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς εὐρίσκωνται. (3) In the exposition of his ideas he neither applied the elements of any Semitic religious wisdom, 268nor the methods of the Greek philosophy of religion.369369This is an extremely important point. Marcion rejected all allegories. (See Tertull., adv. Marc. II. 19. 21. 22: III. 5. 6. 14. 19: IV. 15. 20: V. 1; Orig., Comment. in Matth. T. XV. 3 Opp. III. p. 655: in. ep. ad. Rom. Opp. IV. p. 494 sq.: Adamant., Sect. I, Orig. Opp. I. pp. 808. 817; Ephr. Syrus. hymn. 36 Edit. Benedict, p. 520 sq.) and describes this method as an arbitrary one. But that simply means that he perceived and avoided the transformation of the Gospel into Hellenic philosophy. No philosophic formulæ are found in any of his statements that have been handed down to us. But what is still more important, none-of his early opponents have attributed to Marcion a system, as they did to Basilides and Valentinus. There can be no doubt that Marcion did not set up any system (the Armenian, Esnik, first gives a Marcionite system, but that is a late production, see my essay in the Ztschr. f. wiss. Theol. 1896. p. 80 f.). He was just as far from having any apologetic or rationalistic interest. Justin (Apol. I. 58) says of the Marcionites; ἀπόδειξιν μηδεμίαν περὶ ὧν λέγουσιν ἔχουσιν, ἀλλὰ ἀλόγως ὡς ὑπὸ λύκου ἄρνες συνηπρασμένοι κτλ. Tertullian again and again casts in the teeth of Marcion that he has adduced no proof. See I. 11 sq.: III. 2. 3. 4: IV. 11: “Subito Christus, subito et Johannes. Sic sunt omnia apud Marcionem, quæ suum et plenum habent ordinem apud creatorem.” Rhodon (Euseb., H. E. V. 13. 4) says of two prominent genuine disciples of Marcion: μὴ εὑρίοκοντες τὴν διαίρεσιν τῶν πραγμάτων, ὡς οὐδὲ ἐκεῖνος, δυὸ ἀρχὰς ἀπεφήναντο ψιλῶς καὶ ἀναποδείκτῶς. Of Apelles, the most important of Marcion’s disciples who laid aside the Gnostic, borrows of his master, we have the words (l. c.): μὴ δεῖν ὅλως ἐξετάζειν τὸν λόγον, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκαστον, ὡς πεπίστευκε, διαμένειν. Σωθήσεσθαι γὰρ τοὺς ἐτί τὸν ἐσταρωμένον ἡλπικότας ἀπεφαίνετο, μόνον ἐὰν ἐν ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς εὐρίσκωνται . . . . τὸ δὲ πῶς ἔστι μία ἀρχή, μὴ γινώσκειν ἔλεγεν, οὕτω δὲ κινεῖσθαι μόνον . . . . μὴ ἐπίστασθαι πῶς εἷς ἐστὶν ἀγέννητος θεός, τοῦτο δὲ πιστεύειν. It was Marcion’s purpose therefore to give all value to faith alone, to make it dependent on its own convincing power, and avoid all philosophic paraphrase and argument. The contrast in which he placed the Christian blessing of salvation, has in principle nothing in common with the contract in which Greek philosophy viewed the summum bonum. Finally, it may he pointed out that Marcion introduced no new elements Æons, Matter, etc.) into his evangelic views, and leant on no Oriental religious science. The later Marcionite speculations about matter (see the account of Esnik) should not be charged upon the master himself, as is manifest from the second book of Tertullian against Marcion. The assumption that the creator of the world created it out of a materia subjacens is certainly found in Marcion (see Tertull., 1. 15; Hippol., Philos. X. 19); but he speculated no further about it, and that assumption itself was not rejected, for example, by Clem. Alex. (Strom. II. 16. 74: Photius on Clement’s Hypotyposes). Marcion did not really speculate even about the good God; yet see Tertull., adv. Marc. I. 14. 15: IV. 7: “Mundus ille superior”—“cœlum tertium.” (4) He never made the distinction between an esoteric and an exoteric form of religion. He rather clung to the publicity of the preaching, and endeavoured to reform Christendom, in opposition to the attempts at founding schools for those who 269knew and mystery cults for such as were in quest of initiation. It was only after the failure of his attempts at reform that he founded churches of his own, in which brotherly equality, freedom from all ceremonies, and strict evangelical discipline were to rule.370370Tertull., de præscr. 41. sq.; the delineation refers chiefly to the Marcionites (see Epiph. h. 42. c. 3. 4, and Esnik’s account) on the Church system of Marcion, see also Tertull., adv. Marc. I. 14, 21, 23, 24, 28, 29: III. 1, 22: IV. 5, 34: V. 7, 10, 15, 18. Completely carried away with the novelty, uniqueness and grandeur of the Pauline Gospel of the grace of God in Christ, Marcion felt that all other conceptions of the Gospel, and especially its union with the Old Testament religion, was opposed to, and a backsliding from, the truth.371371Marcion himself originally belonged to the main body of the Church, as is expressly declared by Tertullian and Epiphanius, and attested by one of his own letters. He accordingly supposed that it was necessary to make the sharp antitheses of Paul, law and gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, death and life, that is the Pauline criticism of the Old Testament religion, the foundation of his religious views, and to refer them to two principles, the righteous and wrathful god of the Old Testament, who is at the same time identical with the creator of the world, and the God of the Gospel, quite unknown before Christ, who is only love and mercy.372372Tertull., adv. Marc. I. 2. 19: “Separatio legis et evangelii proprium et principale opus est Marcionis . . . ex diversitate sententiarum utriusque instrumenti diversitatem quoque argumentatur deorum.” II. 28, 29: IV. 1. 1. 6: “Dispares deos, alterum, judicem, ferum, bellipotentem; alterum mitem, placidum et tantummodo bonum atque optimum.” Iren. I. 27. 2. This Paulinism in its religious strength, but without dialectic, without the Jewish Christian view of history, and detached from the soil of the Old Testament, was to him the true Christianity. Marcion, like Paul, felt that the religious value of a statutory law with commandments and ceremonies, was very different from that of a uniform law of love.373373Marcion maintained that the good God is not to be feared. Tertull., adv. Marc. I. 27: “Atque adeo præ se ferunt Marcionitæ: quod deum suum omnino non timeant. Malus autem, inquiunt, timebitur; bonus autem diligitur.” To the question why they did not sin if they did not fear their God, the Marcionites answered in the words of Rom. VI. 1. 2. (l. c.). Accordingly, 270he had a capacity for appreciating the Pauline idea of faith; it is to him reliance on the unmerited grace of God which is revealed in Christ. But Marcion shewed himself to be a Greek influenced by the religious spirit of the time, by changing the ethical contrast of the good and legal into the contrast between the infinitely exalted spiritual and the sensible which is subject to the law of nature, by despairing of the triumph of good in the world and, consequently, correcting the traditional faith that the world and history belong to God, by an empirical view of the world and the course of events in it,374374Tertull., adv. Marc. I. 2: II. 5. a view to which he was no doubt also led by the severity of the early Christian estimate of the world. Yet to him systematic speculation about the final causes of the contrast actually observed, was by no means the main thing. So far as he himself ventured on such a speculation he seems to have been influenced by the Syrian Cerdo. The numerous contradictions which arise as soon as one attempts to reduce Marcion’s propositions to a system, and the fact that his disciples tried all possible conceptions of the doctrine of principles, and defined the relation of the two Gods very differently, are the clearest proof that Marcion was a religious character, that he had in general nothing to do with principles, but with living beings whose power he felt, and that what he ultimately saw in the Gospel was not an explanation of the world, but redemption from the world,375375See the passage adduced, p. 267, note 2, and Tertull., I. 19: “Immo inquiunt Marcionitæ, deus poster, etsi non ab initio, etsi non per conditionem, sed per semetipsum revelatus est in Christi Jesu.” The very fact that different theological tendencies (schools) appeared within Marcionite Christianity and were mutually tolerant, proves that the Marcionite Church itself was not based on a formulated system of faith. Apelles expressly conceded different forms of doctrine in Christendom, on the basis of faith in the Crucified and a common holy ideal of life (see p. 268).—redemption from a world which even in the best that it can offer has nothing that can reach the height of the blessing bestowed in Christ.376376Tertull. I. 13. “Narem contrahentes impudentissimi Marcionitæ convertuntur ad destructionem operum creatoris. Nimirum, inquiunt, grande opus et dignum deo mundus?” The Marcionites (Iren. IV. 34. 1) put the question to their ecclesiastical opponents: “Quid novi attulit dominus veniens?” and therewith caused them no small embarrassment. 271Special attention may be called to the following particulars.
1. Marcion explained the Old Testament in its literal sense and rejected every allegorical interpretation. He recognised it as the revelation of the creator of the world and the god of the Jews, but placed it, just on that account, in sharpest contrast to the Gospel. He demonstrated the contradictions between the Old Testament and the Gospel in a voluminous work (the ἀνσιθἑσεις).377377On these see Tertull. I. 19: II. 28. 29: IV. I. 4. 6: Epiph.; Hippol. Philos. VII. 30; the book was used by other Gnostics also (it is very probable that 1 Tim. VI. 20, an addition to the Epistle—refers to Marcion’s Antitheses). Apelles, Marcion’s disciple, composed a similar work under the title of “Syllogismi.” Marcion’s Antitheses, which may still in part be reconstructed from Tertullian, Epiphanius, Adamantius, Ephraem, etc., possessed canonical authority in the Marcionite church, and therefore took the place of the Old Testament. That is quite clear from Tertull., I. 19 (cf. IV. 1): Separatio legis et Evangelii proprium et principale opus est Marcionis, nec poterunt negare discipuli ejus, quod in summo (suo) instrumento habent, quo denique initiantur et indurantur in hanc hæresim. In the god of the former book he saw a being whose character was stern justice, and therefore anger, contentiousness and unmercifulness. The law which rules nature and man appeared to him to accord with the characteristics of this god and the kind of law revealed by him, and therefore it seemed credible to him that this god is the creator and lord of the world (κοτμοκράτωρ). As the law which governs the world is inflexible and yet, on the other hand, full of contradictions, just and again brutal, and as the law of the Old Testament exhibits the same features, so the god of creation was to Marcion a being who united in himself the whole gradations of attributes from justice to malevolence, from obstinacy to inconsistency.378378Tertullian has frequently pointed to the contradictions in the Marcionite conception of the god of creation. These contradictions, however, vanish as soon as we regard Marcion’s god from the point of view that he is like his revelation in the Old Testament. Into this conception of the creator of the world, the characteristic of which is that it cannot be systematised, could easily be fitted the Syrian Gnostic theory which regards him as an evil being, because he belongs to this world and to matter. Marcion did not accept it in principle,379379The creator of the world is indeed to Marcion “malignus,” but not “malus.” but touched it lightly and adopted certain inferences.380380Marcion touched on it when he taught that the “visibilia” belonged to the god of creation, but the “invisibilia” to the good God (I. 16). He adopted the consequences, inasmuch as he taught docetically about Christ, and only assumed a deliverance of the human soul. On 272the basis of the Old Testament and of empirical observation, Marcion divided men into two classes, good and evil, though he regarded them all, body and soul, as creatures of the demiurge. The good are those who strive to fulfil the law of the demiurge. These are outwardly better than those who refuse him obedience. But the distinction found here is not the decisive one. To yield to the promptings of Divine grace is the only decisive distinction, and those just men will shew themselves less susceptible to the manifestation of the truly good than sinners. As Marcion held the Old Testament to be a book worthy of belief, though his disciple, Apelles, thought otherwise, he referred all its predictions to a Messiah whom the creator of the world is yet to send, and who, as a war-like hero, is to set up the earthly kingdom of the “just” God.381381See especially the third book of Tertull. adv. Marcion.
2. Marcion placed the good God of love in opposition to the creator of the world.382382“Solius bonitatis,” “deus melior,” were Marcion’s standing expressions for him. This God has only been revealed in Christ. He was absolutely unknown before Christ,“Deus incognitus” was likewise a standing expression. They maintained against all attacks the religious position that, from the nature of the case, believers only can know God, and that this is quite sufficient (Tertull., I. 11.) and men were in every respect strange to him.383383Marcion firmly emphasised this and appealed to passages in Paul; see Tertull. I. 11. 19. 23: “Scio dicturos, atqui hanc esse principalem et perfectam bonitatem, cum sine ullo debito familiaritatis in extraneos voluntaria et libera effunditur, secundum quam inimicos quoque nostros et hoc nomine jam extraneos deligere jubeamur.” The Church Fathers therefore declared that Marcion’s good God was a thief and a robber. See also Celsus, in Orig. VI. 53. Out of pure goodness and mercy, for these are the essential attributes of this God who judges not and is not wrathful, he espoused the cause of those beings who were foreign to him, as he could not bear to have them any longer tormented by their just and yet malevolent lord.384384See Esnik’s account, which, however, is to be used cautiously. The God of love appeared in Christ and proclaimed a new kingdom (Tertull., adv. Marc. III. 24. fin.). Christ called to himself the weary and heavy 273laden,385385Marcion has strongly emphasised the respective passages in Luke’s Gospel: see his Antitheses, and his comments on the Gospel as presented by Tertullian (1. IV). and proclaimed to them that he would deliver them from the fetters of their lord and from the world. He shewed mercy to all while he sojourned on the earth, and did in every respect the opposite of what the creator of the world had done to men. They who believed in the creator of the world nailed him to the cross. But in doing so they were unconsciously serving his purpose, for his death was the price by which the God of love purchased men from the creator of the world.386386That can be plainly read in Esnik, and must have been thought by Marcion himself, as he followed Paul (see Tertull., 1. V. and I. 11). Apelles also emphasised the death upon the cross. Marcion’s conception of the purchase can indeed no longer be ascertained in its details. But see Adamant., de recta in deum fide, sect. I. It is one of his theoretic contradictions that the good God who is exalted above righteousness should yet purchase men. He who places his hope in the Crucified can now be sure of escaping from the power of the creator of the world, and of being translated into the kingdom of the good God. But experience shews that, like the Jews, men who are virtuous according to the law of the creator of the world, do not allow themselves to be converted by Christ; it is rather sinners who accept his message of redemption. Christ, therefore, rescued from the under-world, not the righteous men of the Old Testament (Iren. I. 27. 3), but the sinners who were disobedient to the creator of the world. If the determining thought of Marcion’s view of Christianity is here again very clearly shewn, the Gnostic woof cannot fail to be seen in the proposition that the good God delivers only the souls, not the bodies of believers. The antithesis of spirit and matter, appears here as the decisive one, and the good God of love becomes the God of the spirit, the Old Testament god the god of the flesh. In point of fact, Marcion seems to have given such a turn to the good God’s attributes of love and incapability of wrath, as to make Him the apathetic, infinitely exalted Being, free from all affections. The contradiction in which Marcion is here involved is evident, because he taught expressly that the spirit of man is in itself just as foreign to the good God as his body. But the strict asceticism which 274Marcion demanded as a Christian, could have had no motive without the Greek assumption of a metaphysical contrast of flesh and Spirit, which in fact was also apparently the doctrine of Paul.
3. The relation in which Marcion placed the two Gods, appears at first sight to be one of equal rank.387387Tertull. I. 6: “Marcion non negat creatorem deum esse.” Marcion himself, according to the most reliable witnesses, expressly asserted that both were uncreated, eternal, etc. But if we look more closely we shall see that in Marcion’s mind there can be no thought of equality. Not only did he himself expressly declare that the creator of the world is a self-contradictory being of limited knowledge and power, but the whole doctrine of redemption shews that he is a power subordinate to the good God. We need not stop to enquire about the details, but it is certain that the creator of the world formerly knew nothing of the existence of the good God, that he is in the end completely powerless against him, that he is overcome by him, and that history in its issue with regard to man is determined solely by its relation to the good God. The just god appears at the end of history, not as an independent being hostile to the good God, but as one subordinate to him,388388Here Tertull., I. 27, 28, is of special importance; see also II. 28; IV. 29 (on Luke XII. 41–46): IV. 30. Marcion’s idea was this. The good God does not judge or punish; but He judges in so far as he keeps evil at a distance from Him: it remains foreign to Him. “Marcionitæ interrogati quid fiet peccatori cuique die illo? respondent abici ilium quasi ab oculis”. “Tranquilitas est et mansuetudinis segregare solummodo et partem ejus cum infidelibus ponere”. But what is the end of him who is thus rejected? “Ab igne, inquiunt, creatoris deprehendetur”. We might think with Tertullian that the creator of the world would receive sinners with joy: but this is the god of the law who punishes sinners. The issue is twofold: the heaven of the good God, and the hell of the creator of the world. Either Marcion assumed with Paul that no one can keep the law, or he was silent about the end of the “righteous” because he had no interest in it. At any rate, the teaching of Marcion closes with an outlook in which the creator of the world can no longer be regarded as an independent god. Marcion’s disciples (see Esnik) here developed a consistent theory: the creator of the world violated his own law by killing the righteous Christ, and was therefore deprived of all his power by Christ. so that some scholars, such as Neander, have attempted to claim for Marcion a doctrine of one principle, and to deny that he 275ever held the complete independence of the creator of the world, the creator of the world being simply an angel of the good God. This inference may certainly be drawn with little trouble, as the result of various considerations, but it is forbidden by reliable testimony. The characteristic of Marcion’s teaching is just this, that as soon as we seek to raise his ideas from the sphere of practical considerations to that of a consistent theory, we come upon a tangled knot of contradictions. The theoretic contradictions are explained by the different interests which here cross each other in Marcion. In the first place, he was consciously dependent on the Pauline theology, and was resolved to defend everything which he held to be Pauline. Secondly, he was influenced by the contrast in which he saw the ethical powers involved. This contrast seemed to demand a metaphysical basis, and its actual solution seemed to forbid such a foundation. Finally, the theories of Gnosticism, the paradoxes of Paul, the recognition of the duty of strictly mortifying the flesh, suggested to Marcion the idea that the good God was the exalted God of the spirit, and the just god the god of the sensuous, of the flesh. This view, which involved the principle of a metaphysical dualism, had something very specious about it, and to its influence we must probably ascribe the fact that Marcion no longer attempted to derive the creator of the world from the good God. His disciples who had theoretical interests in the matter, no doubt noted the contradictions. In order to remove them, some of these disciples advanced to a doctrine of three principles, the good God, the just creator of the world, the evil god, by conceiving the creator of the world sometimes as an independent being, sometimes as one dependent on the good God. Others reverted to the common dualism, God of the spirit and God of matter. But Apelles, the most important of Marcion’s disciples, returned to the creed of the one God (μία ἀρχὴ), and conceived the creator of the world and Satan as his angels, without departing from the fundamental thought of the master, but rather following suggestions which he himself had given.389389Schools soon arose in the Marcionite church, just as they did later on in the main body of Christendom (see Rhodon in Euseb., H. E. V. 13. 2-4). The different doctrines of principles which were here developed (two, three, four principles; the Marcionite Marcus’s doctrine of two principles in which the creator of the world is an evil being, diverges furthest from the Master) explain the different accounts of the Church Fathers about Marcion’s teaching. The only one of the disciples who really seceded from the Master was Appelles (Tertull., de præscr. 30). His teaching is therefore the more important, as it shews that it was possible to retain the fundamental ideas of Marcion without embracing dualism. The attitude of Apelles to the Old Testament is that of Marcion in so far as he rejects the book. But perhaps he somewhat modified the strictness of the Master. On the other hand, he certainly designated much in it as untrue and fabulous. It is remarkable that we meet with a highly honoured prophetess in the environment of Apelles: in Marcion’s church we hear nothing of such, nay, it is extremely important as regards Marcion that he has never appealed to the Spirit and to prophets. The “sanctiores feminæ” (Tertull. V. 8) are not of this nature, nor can we appeals even to V. 15. Moreover, it is hardly likely that Jerome ad Eph. III. 5, refers to Marcionites. In this complete disregard of early Christian prophecy, and in his exclusive reliance on literary documents, we see in Marcion a process of despiritualising, that is, a form of secularisation peculiar to himself. Marcion no longer possessed the early Christian enthusiasm as, for example, Hermas did. Apart from Apelles, 276who founded a Church of his own, we hear nothing of the controversies of disciples breaking up the Marcionite church. All those who lived in the faith for which the master had worked—viz., that the laws ruling in nature and history, as well as the course of common legality and righteousness, are the antitheses of the act of Divine mercy in Christ, and that cordial love and believing confidence have their proper contrasts in self-righteous pride and the natural religion of the heart,—those who rejected the Old Testament and clung solely to the Gospel proclaimed by Paul, and finally, those who considered that a strict mortification of the flesh and an earnest renunciation of the world were demanded in the name of the Gospel, felt themselves members of the same community, and to all appearance allowed perfect liberty to speculations about final causes.
4. Marcion had no interest in specially emphasising the distinction between the good God and Christ, which according to the Pauline Epistles could not be denied. To him Christ is the manifestation of the good God himself.390390Marcion was fond of calling Christ “Spiritus salutaris.” From the treatise of Tertullian we can prove both that Marcion distinguished Christ from God, and that he made no distinction (see, for example, I. 11, 14: II. 27: III. 8, 9, 11: IV. 7). Here again Marcion did not think theologically. What he regarded as specially important was that God has revealed himself in Christ, “per semetipsum.” Later Marcionites expressly taught Patripassianism, and have on that account been often grouped with the Sabellians. But other Christologies also arose in Marcion’s church, which is again a proof that it was not dependent on scholastic teaching, and therefore could take part in the later development of doctrines. But 277Marcion taught that Christ assumed absolutely nothing from the creation of the Demiurge, but came down from heaven in the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius, and after the assumption of an apparent body, began his preaching in the synagogue of Capernaum.391391See the beginning of the Marcionite Gospel. This pronounced docetism which denies that Jesus was born, or subjected to any human process of development,392392Tertullian informs us sufficiently about this. The body of Christ was regarded by Marcion merely as an “umbra”, a “phantasma.” His disciples adhered to this, but Apelles first constructed a “doctrine” of the body of Christ. is the strongest expression of Marcion’s abhorrence of the world. This aversion may have sprung from the severe attitude of the early Christians toward the world, but the inference which Marcion here draws, shews that this feeling was, in his case, united with the Greek estimate of spirit and matter. But Marcion’s docetism is all the more remarkable that, under Paul’s guidance, he put a high value on the fact of Christ’s death upon the cross. Here also is a glaring contradiction which his later disciples laboured to remove. This much, however, is unmistakable, that Marcion succeeded in placing the greatness and uniqueness of redemption through Christ in the clearest light, and in beholding this redemption in the person of Christ, but chiefly in his death upon the cross.
5. Marcion’s eschatology is also quite rudimentary. Yet he assumed with Paul that violent attacks were yet in store for the Church of the good God on the part of the Jewish Christ of the future, the Antichrist. He does not seem to have taught a visible return of Christ, but, in spite of the omnipotence and goodness of God, he did teach a twofold issue of history. The idea of a deliverance of all men, which seems to follow from his doctrine of boundless grace, was quite foreign to him. For this very reason he could not help actually making the good God the judge, though in theory he rejected the idea, 278in order not to measure the will and acts of God by a human standard. Along with the fundamental proposition of Marcion, that God should be conceived only as goodness and grace, we must take into account the strict asceticism which he prescribed for the Christian communities, in order to see that that idea of God was not obtained from antinomianism. We know of no Christian community in the second century which insisted so strictly on renunciation of the world as the Marcionites. No union of the sexes was permitted. Those who were married had to separate ere they could be received by baptism into the community. The sternest precepts were laid down in the matter of food and drink. Martyrdom was enjoined; and from the fact that they were ταλαίπωροι καὶ μισούμενοι in the world, the members were to know that they were disciples of Christ.393393The strict asceticism of Marcion and the Marcionites is reluctantly acknowledged by the Church Fathers; see Tertull., de præscr. 30: “Sanctissimus magister”; I. 28, “carni imponit sanctitem.” The strict prohibition of marriage: I. 29: IV. 11, 17, 29, 34, 38: V. 7, 8, 15, 18; prohibition of food: 1. 14; cynical life: Hippol., Philos. VII. 29; numerous martyrs: Euseb., H. E. V. 16. 21, and frequently elsewhere. Marcion named his adherents (Tertull. IV. 9 36) “συνταλαίπωροι καὶ συμμισούμενοι.” It is questionable whether Marcion himself allowed the repetition of baptism; it arose in his church. But this repetition is a proof that the prevailing conception of baptism was not sufficient for a vigorous religious temper. With all that, the early Christian enthusiasm was wanting.
6. Marcion defined his position in theory and practice towards the prevailing form of Christianity, which, on the one hand, shewed throughout its connection with the Old Testament, and, on the other, left room for a secular ethical code, by assuming that it had been corrupted by Judaism, and therefore needed a reformation.394394Tertull. I. 20. “Aiunt, Marcionem non tam innovasse regulam separatione legis et evangelii quam retro adulteratam recurasse”; see the account of Epiphanius, taken from Hippolytus, about the appearance of Marcion in Rome (h. 42. 1. 2). But he could not fail to note that this corruption was not of recent date, but belonged to the oldest tradition itself. The consciousness of this moved him to a historical criticism of the whole Christian tradition.395395Here again we must remember that Marcion appealed neither to a secret tradition nor to the “Spirit,” in order to appreciate the epoch-making nature of his undertaking. Marcion was the first Christian who undertook such a task. Those writings to which he owed his religious convictions, 279viz., the Pauline Epistles, furnished the basis for it. He found nothing in the rest of Christian literature that harmonised with the Gospel of Paul. But he found in the Pauline Epistles hints which explained to him this result of his observations. The twelve Apostles whom Christ chose did not understand him, but regarded him as the Messiah of the god of creation.396396In his estimate of the twelve Apostles Marcion took as his standpoint Gal. II. See Tertull. I. 20: IV. 3 (generally IV. 1-6), V. 3; de præscr. 22, 23. He endeavoured to prove from this chapter that from a misunderstanding of the words of Christ, the twelve Apostles had proclaimed a different Gospel than that of Paul; they had wrongly taken the Father of Jesus Christ for the god of creation. It is not quite clear how Marcion conceived the inward condition of the Apostles during the lifetime of Jesus (see Tertull. III. 22: IV. 3, 39). He assumed that they were persecuted by the Jews as the preachers of a new God. It is probable, therefore, that he thought of a gradual obscuring of the preaching of Jesus in the case of the primitive Apostles. They fell hack into Judaism; see Iren. III. 2. 2. “Apostolos admiscuisse ea quæ sunt legalia salvatoris verbis”; III, 12. 12: “Apostoli quæ sunt Judæorum sentientes scripserunt” etc.; Tertull. V. 3: “Apostolos vultis Judaismi magis adfines subintelligi.” The expositions of Marcion in Tertull. IV. 9. 11, 13, 21, 24, 39: V. 13, shew that he regarded the primitive Apostles as out and out real Apostles of Christ. And therefore Christ inspired Paul by a special revelation, lest the Gospel of the grace of God should be lost through falsifications.397397The call of Paul was viewed by Marcion as a manifestation of Christ, of equal value with His first appearance and ministry; see the account of Esnik. “Then for the second time Jesus came down to the lord of the creatures in the form of his Godhead, and entered into judgment with him on account of his death . . . . And Jesus said to him: ‘Judgment is between me and thee, let no one be judge but thine own laws . . . . hast thou not written in this thy law, that he who killeth shall die?’ And he answered, ‘I have so written’ . . . . Jesus said to him, ‘Deliver thyself therefore into my hands’ . . . . The creator of the world said, ‘Because I have slain thee I give thee a compensation, all those who shall believe on thee, that thou mayest do with them what thou pleasest.’ Then Jesus left him and carried away Paul, and shewed him the price, and sent him to preach that we are bought with this price, and that all who believe in Jesus are sold by this just god to the good one.” This is a most instructive account; for it shews that in the Marcionite schools the Pauline doctrine of reconciliation was transformed into a drama, and placed between the death of Christ and the call of Paul, and that the Pauline Gospel was based, not directly on the death of Christ upon the cross, but a theory of it converted into history. On Paul as the one apostle of the truth, see Tertull. I. 20: III. 5, 14: IV. 2 sq.: IV. 34: V. I. As to the Marcionite theory that the promise to send the Spirit was fulfilled in the mission of Paul, an indication of the want of enthusiasm among the Marcionites, see the following page, note 2. But even Paul had been understood only by few (by none?). His Gospel had also been misunderstood—280nay, his Epistles had been falsified in many passages,398398Marcion must have spoken ex professo in his Antitheses about the Judaistic corruptions of Paul’s Epistles and the Gospel. He must also have known Evangelic writings bearing the names of the original Apostles, and have expressed himself about them (Tertull. IV. 1-6). in order to make them teach the identity of the god of creation and the God of redemption. A new reformation was therefore necessary. Marcion felt himself entrusted with this commission, and the church which he gathered recognised this vocation of his to be the reformer.399399Marcion’s self-consciousness of being a reformer, and the recognition of this in his church is still not understood, although his undertaking itself and the facts speak loud enough. (1) The great Marcionite church called itself after Marcion (Adamant., de recta in deum fide. I. 809; Epiph. h. 42, p. 668, ed. Oehler: Μαρκίων σοῦ τὸ ὄνομα ἐπικέκληνται οἱ ὑπο σοῦ ἡπατημένοι ὡς σεαυτὸν κηρύξαντος καὶ οὐχί Χριστόν. We possess a Marcionite inscription which begins: συναγωγὴ Μαρκιωνιστῶν). As the Marcionites did not form a school, but a church, it is of the greatest value for shewing the estimate of the master in this church, that its members called themselves by his name. (2) The Antitheses of Marcion had a place in the Marcionite canon (see above, p. 272). This canon therefore embraced a book of Christ, Epistles of Paul, and a book of Marcion, and for that reason the Antitheses were always circulated with the canon of Marcion. (3) Origen (in Luc. hom. 25. T. III. p. 962) reports as follows: “Denique in tantam quidam dilectionis audaciam proruperunt, ut nova quædam et inaudita super Paulo monstra confingerent. Alli enim aiunt, hoc quod scriptum est, sedere a dextris salvatoris et sinistris, de Paulo et de Marcione dici, quod Paulus sedet a dextris, Marcion sedet a sinistris. Porro alii legentes: Mittam vobis advocatum Spiritum veritatis, nolunt intelligere tertiam personam a patre et filio, sed Apostolum Paulum.” The estimate of Marcion which appears here is exceedingly instructive. (4) An Arabian writer, who, it is true, belongs to a later period, reports that Marcionites called their founder “Apostolorum principem.” (5) Justin, the first opponent of Marcion, classed him with Simon Magus and Menander; that is, with demonic founders of religion. These testimonies may suffice. He did not appeal to a new revelation such as he presupposed for Paul. As the Pauline Epistles and an authentic εὐαγγέλιον κυρίου were in existence, it was only necessary to purify these from interpolations, and restore the genuine Paulinism which was just the Gospel itself. But it was also necessary to secure and preserve this true Christianity for the future. Marcion, in all probability, was the first to conceive and, in great measure, to realise the idea of placing Christendom on the firm foundation of a definite theory of what is Christian—but not of basing it on a theological doctrine—and of establishing this theory by a fixed 281collection of Christian writings with canonical authority.400400On Marcion’s Gospel see the Introductions to the New Testament and Zahn’s Kanonsgeschichte, Bd. I., p. 585 ff. and II., p. 409. Marcion attached no name to his Gospel, which, according to his own testimony, he produced from the third one of our Canon (Tertull., adv. Marc. IV. 2. 3. 4). He called it simply εὐαγγέλιον (κυρίον), but held that it was the Gospel which Paul had in his mind when he spoke of his Gospel. The later Marcionites ascribed the authorship of the Gospel partly to Paul, partly to Christ himself, and made further changes in it. That Marcion chose the Gospel called after Luke should be regarded as a make-shift; for this Gospel, which is undoubtedly the most Hellenistic of the four Canonical Gospels, and therefore comes nearest to the Catholic conception of Christianity, accommodated itself in its traditional form but little better than the other three to Marcionite Christianity. Whether Marcion took it for a basis because in his time it had already been connected with Paul (or really had a connection with Paul), or whether the numerous narratives about Jesus as the Saviour of sinners led him to recognise in this Gospel alone a genuine kernel, we do not know. He was not a systematic thinker, but he was more; for he was not only a religious character, but at the same time a man with an organising talent, such as has no peer in the early Church. If we think of the lofty demands he made on Christians, and, on the other hand, ponder the results that accompanied his activity, we cannot fail to wonder. Wherever Christians were numerous about the year 160, there must have been Marcionite communities with the same fixed but free organisation, with the same canon and the same conception of the essence of Christianity, pre-eminent for the strictness of their morals and their joy in martyrdom.401401The associations of the Encratites and the community founded by Apelles stood between the main body of Christendom and the Marcionite church. The description of Celsus (especially V. 61-64 in Orig.) shews the motley appearance which Christendom presented soon after the middle of the second century. He there mentions the Marcionites, and a little before (V. 59), the “great Church.” It is very important that Celsus makes the main distinction consist in this, that some regarded their God as identical with the God of the Jews, whilst others again declared that “theirs was a different Deity, who is hostile to that of the Jews, and that it was he who had sent the Son.” (V. 61.) The Catholic Church was then only in process of growth, and it was long ere it reached the solidity won by the Marcionite church through the activity of one man, who was animated by a faith so strong that he was able to oppose his conception of Christianity to all others as the only right one, and who did not shrink from making selections from tradition instead of explaining it away. He was the first who laid the firm foundation 282for establishing what is Christian, because, in view of the absoluteness of his faith,402402One might be tempted to comprise the character of Marcion’s religion in the words, “The God who dwells in my breast can profoundly excite my inmost being. He who is throned above all my powers can move nothing outwardly.” But Marcion had the firm assurance that God has done something much greater than move the world: he has redeemed men from the world, and given them the assurance of this redemption, in the midst of all oppression and enmity which do not cease. he had no desire to appeal either to a secret evangelic tradition, or to prophecy, or to natural religion.
Remarks.—The innovations of Marcion are unmistakable. The way in which he attempted to sever Christianity from the Old Testament was a bold stroke which demanded the sacrifice of the dearest possession of Christianity as a religion, viz., the belief that the God of creation is also the God of redemption. And yet this innovation was partly caused by a religious conviction, the origin of which must be sought not in heathenism, but on Old Testament and Christian soil. For the bold Anti-judaist was the disciple of a Jewish thinker, Paul, and the origin of Marcion’s antinomianism may be ultimately found in the prophets. It will always be the glory of Marcion in the early history of the Church that he, the born heathen, could appreciate the religious criticism of the Old Testament religion as formerly exercised by Paul. The antinomianism of Marcion was ultimately based on the strength of his religious feeling, on his personal religion as contrasted with all statutory religion. That was also its basis in the case of the prophets and of Paul, only the statutory religion, which was felt to be a burden and a fetter, was different in each case. As regards the prophets, it was the outer sacrificial worship, and the deliverance was the idea of Jehovah’s righteousness. In the case of Paul, it was the pharisaic treatment of the law, and the deliverance was righteousness by faith. To Marcion it was the sum of all that the past had described as a revelation of God: only what Christ had given him was of real value to him. In this conviction he founded a Church. Before him there was no such thing in the sense of a community firmly united by a fixed conviction, harmoniously organised, and spread over the whole world. Such a 283Church the Apostle Paul had in his mind’s eye, but he was not able to realise it. That in the century of the great mixture of religion the greatest apparent paradox was actually realised—namely, a Paulinism with two Gods and without the Old Testament; and that this form of Christianity first resulted in a church which was based not only on intelligible words, but on a definite conception of the essence of Christianity as a religion, seems to be the greatest riddle which the earliest history of Christianity presents. But it only seems so. The Greek, whose mind was filled with certain fundamental features of the Pauline Gospel (law and grace), who was therefore convinced that in all respects the truth was there, and who on that account took pains to comprehend the real sense of Paul’s statements, could hardly reach any other results than those of Marcion. The history of Pauline theology in the Church, a history first of silence, then of artificial interpretation, speaks loudly enough. And had not Paul really separated Christianity as religion from Judaism and the Old Testament? Must it not have seemed an inconceivable inconsistency, if he had clung to the special national relation of Christianity to the Jewish people, and if he had taught a view of history in which for pædagogic reasons indeed, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort had appeared as one so entirely different? He who was not capable of translating himself into the consciousness of a Jew, and had not yet learned the method of special interpretation, had only the alternative, if he was convinced of the truth of the Gospel of Christ as Paul had proclaimed it, of either giving up this Gospel against the dictates of his conscience, or striking out of the Epistles whatever seemed Jewish. But in this case the god of creation also disappeared, and the fact that Marcion could make this sacrifice proves that this religious spirit, with all his energy, was not able to rise to the height of the religious faith which we find in the preaching of Jesus.
In basing his own position and that of his church on Paulinism, as he conceived and remodelled it, Marcion connected himself with that part of the earliest tradition of Christianity which is best known to us, and has enabled us to understand 284his undertaking historically as we do no other. Here we have the means of accurately indicating what part of this structure of the second century has come down from the Apostolic age and is really based on tradition, and what has not. Where else could we do that? But Marcion has taught us far more. He does not impart a correct understanding of early Christianity, as was once supposed, for his explanation of that is undoubtedly incorrect, but a correct estimate of the reliability of the traditions that were current in his day alongside of the Pauline. There can be no doubt that Marcion criticised tradition from a dogmatic stand-point. But would his undertaking have been at all possible if at that time a reliable tradition of the twelve Apostles and their teaching had existed and been operative in wide circles? We may venture to say no. Consequently, Marcion gives important testimony against the historical reliability of the notion that the common Christianity was really based on the tradition of the twelve Apostles. It is not surprising that the first man who clearly put and answered the question, “What is Christian?” adhered exclusively to the Pauline Epistles, and therefore found a very imperfect solution. When more than 1600 years later the same question emerged for the first time in scientific form, its solution had likewise to be first attempted from the Pauline Epistles, and therefore led at the outset to a one-sidedness similar to that of Marcion. The situation of Christendom in the middle of the second century was not really more favourable to a historical knowledge of early Christianity than that of the 18th century, but in many respects more unfavourable. Even at that time, as attested by the enterprise of Marcion, its results, and the character of the polemic against him, there were besides the Pauline Epistles no reliable documents from which the teaching of the twelve Apostles could have been gathered. The position which the Pauline Epistles occupy in the history of the world is, however, described by the fact that every tendency in the Church which was unwilling to introduce into Christianity the power of Greek mysticism, and was yet no longer influenced by the early Christian eschatology, learned from the Pauline Epistles a Christianity 285which, as a religion, was peculiarly vigorous. But that position is further described by the fact that every tendency which courageously disregards spurious traditions is compelled to turn to the Pauline Epistles, which, on the one hand, present such a profound type of Christianity, and on the other darken and narrow the judgment about the preaching of Christ himself by their complicated theology. Marcion was the first, and for a long time the only Gentile Christian who took his stand on Paul. He was no moralist, no Greek mystic, no Apocalyptic enthusiast, but a religious character, nay, one of the few pronouncedly typical religious characters whom we know in the early Church before Augustine. But his attempt to resuscitate Paulinism is the first great proof that the conditions under which this Christianity originated do not repeat themselves, and that therefore Paulinism itself must receive a new construction if one desires to make it the basis of a Church. His attempt is a further proof of the unique value of the Old Testament to early Christendom, as the only means at that time of defending Christian monotheism. Finally, his attempt confirms the experience that a religious community can only be founded by a religious spirit who expects nothing from the world.
Nearly all ecclesiastical writers, from Justin to Origen, opposed Marcion. He appeared already to Justin as the most wicked enemy. We can understand this, and we can quite as well understand how the Church Fathers put him on a level with Basilides and Valentinus, and could not see the difference between them. Because Marcion elevated a better God above the god of creation, and consequently robbed the Christian God of his honour, he appeared to be worse than a heathen (Sentent. episc. LXXXVII., in Hartel’s edition of Cyprian, I. p. 454; “Gentiles quamvis idola colant, tamen summum deum patrem creatorem cognoscunt et confitentur [!]; in hunc Marcion, blasphemat, etc.”), as a blaspheming emissary of demons, as the first-born of Satan (Polyc., Justin, Irenæus). Because he rejected the allegoric interpretation of the Old Testament, and explained its predictions as referring to a Messiah of the Jews who was yet to come, he seemed to be a Jew (Tertull., adv. Marc. III.). Because he deprived Christianity 286of the apologetic proof (the proof from antiquity) he seemed to be a heathen and a Jew at the same time (see my Texte u. Unters. I. 3, p. 68; the antitheses of Marcion became very important for the heathen and Manichæan assaults on Christianity). Because he represented the twelve Apostles as unreliable witnesses, he appeared to be the most wicked and shameless of all heretics. Finally, because he gained so many adherents, and actually founded a church, he appeared to be the ravening wolf (Justin, Rhodon), and his church as the spurious church. (Tertull., adv. Marc. IV. 5.) In Marcion the Church Fathers chiefly attacked what they attacked in all Gnostic heretics, but here error shewed itself in its worst form. They learned much in opposing Marcion (see Bk. II.). For instance, their interpretation of the regula fidei and of the New Testament received a directly Antimarcionite expression in the Church. One thing, however, they could not learn from him, and that was how to make Christianity into a philosophic system. He formed no such system, but he has given a clearly outlined conception, based on historic documents, of Christianity as the religion which redeems the world.
Literature.—All anti-heretical writings of the early Church, but especially Justin, Apol. I. 26, 58; Iren. I. 27; Tertull., adv. Marc. I-V.; de præscr.; Hippol., Philos.; Adamant., de recta in deum fidei; Epiph. h. 42; Ephr. Syr.; Esnik. The older attempts to restore the Marcionite Gospel and Apostolicum have been antiquated by Zahn’s Kanonsgeschichte, l. c. Hahn (Regimonti, 1823) has attempted to restore the Antitheses. We are still in want of a German monograph on Marcion (see the whole presentation of Gnosticism by Zahn, with his Excursus, l. c.). Hilgenfeld, Ketzergesch. p. 316 f. 522 f.; cf. my work, Zur Quellenkritik des Gnosticismus, 1873; de Apelles Gnosis Monarchia, 1874; Beiträge z. Gesch. der Marcionitischen Kirchen (Ztschr. f. wiss. Theol. 1876). Marcion’s Commentar zum Evangelium (Ztschr. f. K. G. Bd. IV. 4). Apelles Syllogismen in the Texte u. Unters. VI. H. 3. Zahn, die Dialoge des Adamantius in the Ztschr. f. K-Gesch. IX. p. 193 ff. Meyboom, Marcion en de Marcionieten, Leiden, 1888.287
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