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§ 127. Marcion and his School.


I. Justin M.: Apol. I. c. 26 and 58. He wrote also a special work against Marcion, which is lost Irenaeus: I. 28. IV. 33 sqq. and several other passages. He likewise contemplated a special treatise against Marcion (III. 12) Tertullian: Adv. Marcionem Libri V. Hippol. Philos. VII. 29 (ed. Duncker and Schneidewin, pp. 382–394). Epiphanius: Haer. XLII. Philaster.: Haer. XLV. The Armenian account of Esnig in his "Destruction of Heretics" (5th century), translated by Neumann, in the "Zeitschrift für histor. Theologie," Leipzig, vol. IV. 1834. Esnig gives Marcionism more of a mystic and speculative character than the earlier fathers, but presents nothing which may not be harmonized with them.

II Neander (whose account is too charitable), Baur (I. 213–217), Möller (Gesch. der Kosmologie, 374–407), Fessler. (in Wetzer and Welte, VI. 816–821), Jacobi (in Herzog, V. 231–236), Salmon (in Smith and Wace, III. 816–824). Ad. Hilgenfeld: Cerdon und Marcion, in his "Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theol." Leipz. 1881, pp. 1–37.

III. On the critical question of Marcion’s canon and the relation of his mutilated Gospel of Luke to the genuine Gospel of Luke, see the works on the Canon, the critical Introductions, and especially Volkmar: Das Evangelium Marcions, Text und Kritik (Leipz. 1852), and Sanday: The Gospels in the Second Century (London, 1876). The last two have conclusively proved (against the earlier view of Baur, Ritschl, and the author of "Supernat. Rel.") the priority of the canonical Luke. Comp. vol. I. 668.


Marcion was the most earnest, the most practical, and the most dangerous among the Gnostics, full of energy and zeal for reforming, but restless rough and eccentric. He has a remote connection with modern questions of biblical criticism and the canon. He anticipated the rationalistic opposition to the Old Testament and to the Pastoral Epistles, but in a very arbitrary and unscrupulous way. He could see only superficial differences in the Bible, not the deeper harmony. He rejected the heathen mythology of the other Gnostics, and adhered to Christianity as the only true religion; he was less speculative, and gave a higher place to faith. But he was utterly destitute of historical sense, and put Christianity into a radical conflict with all previous revelations of God; as if God had neglected the world for thousands of years until he suddenly appeared in Christ. He represents an extreme anti-Jewish and pseudo-Pauline tendency, and a magical supranaturalism, which, in fanatical zeal for a pure primitive Christianity, nullifies all history, and turns the gospel into an abrupt, unnatural, phantomlike appearance.

Marcion was the son of a bishop of Sinope in Pontus, and gave in his first fervor his property to the church, but was excommunicated by his own father, probably on account of his heretical opinions and contempt of authority.886886    Epiphanius and others mention, as a reason, his seduction of a consecrated virgin; but this does not agree well with his asceticism, and Irenaeus and Tertullian bring no charge of youthful incontinence against him.86 He betook himself, about the middle of the second century, to Rome (140–155), which originated none of the Gnostic systems, but attracted them all. There he joined the Syrian Gnostic, Cerdo, who gave him some speculative foundation for his practical dualism. He disseminated his doctrine by travels, and made many disciples from different nations. He is said to have intended to apply at last for restoration to the communion of the Catholic Church, when his death intervened.887887    So Tertullian: but Irenaeus tells a similar story of Cerdo. Tertullian also reports that Marcion was repeatedly (semel et iterim) excommunicated.87 The time and place of his death are unknown. He wrote a recension of the Gospel of Luke and the Pauline Epistles, and a work on the contradictions between the Old anad New Testaments. Justin Martyr regarded him as the most formidable heretic of his day. The abhorrence of the Catholics for him is expressed in the report of Irenaeus, that Polycarp of Smyrna, meeting with Marcion in Rome, and being asked by him: "Dost thou know me?" answered: "I know the first-born of Satan."888888    Adv. Haer. iil.c. 3, § 4: Ἐπιγινώσκω τὸν πρωτότοκον τοῦ Σατανᾶ.88

Marcion supposed two or three primal forces (ἀρχαί): the good or gracious God (θεὸς ἀγαθός), whom Christ first made known; the evil matter (ὕλη) ruled by the devil, to which heathenism belongs; and the righteous world-maker (δημιουργὸς δίκαιος), who is the finite, imperfect, angry Jehovah of the Jews. Some writers reduce his principles to two; but he did not identify the demiurge with the hyle. He did not go into any further speculative analysis of these principles; he rejected the pagan emanation theory, the secret tradition, and the allegorical interpretation of the Gnostics; in his system he has no Pleroma, no Aeons, no Dynameis, no Syzygies, no suffering Sophia; he excludes gradual development and growth; everything is unprepared, sudden and abrupt.

His system was more critical and rationalistic than mystic and philosophical.889889    The Armenian bishop, Esnig, however, brings it nearer to the other forms of Gnosticism. According to him Marcion assumed three heavens; in the highest dwelt the good God, far away from the world, in the second the God of the Law, in the lowest his angels; beneath, on the earth, lay Hyle, or Matter, which he calls also the power (δύναμις) or essence (οὐσία) of the earth. The Hyle is a female principle, and by her aid, as his spouse, the Jewish God of the Law made this world, after which he retired to his heaven, and each ruled in his own domain, he with his angels in heaven, and Hyle with her sons on earth. Möller (p. 378) is disposed to accept this account as trustworthy. Salmon thinks; it such a system as Marcion may have learned from Cerdo, but he must have made little account of the mystic element, else it would be mentioned by the earlier writers.89 He was chiefly zealous for the consistent practical enforcement of the irreconcilable dualism which he established between the gospel and the law, Christianity and Judaism, goodness and righteousness.890890    " Separatio legis et evangelii proprium et principale opus est Marcionis." Tertullian, Adv. Marc I. 19.90  He drew out this contrast at large in a special work, entitled "Antitheses." The God of the Old Testament is harsh, severe and unmerciful as his law; he commands, "Love thy neighbor, but hate thine enemy," and returns "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" but the God of the New Testament commands, "Love thine enemy." The one is only just, the other is good. Marcion rejected all the books of the Old Testament, and wrested Christ’s word in Matt. 5:17 into the very opposite declaration: "I am come not to fulfil the law and the prophets, but to destroy them." In his view, Christianity has no connection whatever with the past, whether of the Jewish or the heathen world, but has fallen abruptly and magically, as it were, from heaven.891891    "Subito Christus, subito Joannes. Sic sunt omnia apud Marcionem, que suum et plenum habent ordinem apud creatorem." Tert. IV. 11.91 Christ, too, was not born at all, but suddenly descended into the city of Capernaum in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, and appeared as the revealer of the good God, who sent him. He has no connection with the Messiah, announced by the Demiurge in the Old Testament; though he called himself the Messiah by way of accommodation. His body was a mere appearance, and his death an illusion, though they had a real meaning.892892    Renan (L’englise chrét., p. 358) says of the shadowy narrative of Christ’s which Marcion elaborated on the basis of his mutilated Luke: "Si Jesus ne nous avait été connu que par des textes de ce genre, on aurait pu douter s’il avaitvraiment existé, ous’il n’ était pas une fiction, A PRIORI, dégagée de tout lien avec le réalité. Dans un pareil système, le Christ ne naissait pas (la naissance, pour Marcion, était une souillure), ne souffrait pas, ne mourait pas."92 He cast the Demiurge into Hades, secured the redemption of the soul (not of the body), and called the apostle Paul to preach it. The other apostles are Judaizing corrupters of pure Christianity, and their writings are to be rejected, together with the catholic tradition. In over-straining the difference between Paul and the other apostles, he was a crude forerunner of the Tübingen school of critics.

Marcion formed a canon of his own, which consisted of only eleven books, an abridged and mutilated Gospel of Luke, and ten of Paul’s epistles. He put Galatians first in order, and called Ephesians the Epistle to the Laodicaeans. He rejected the pastoral epistles, in which the forerunners of Gnosticism are condemned, the Epistle to the Hebrews, Matthew, Mark, John, the Acts, the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse.

Notwithstanding his violent antinomianism, Marcion taught and practiced the strictest ascetic self-discipline, which revolted not only from all pagan festivities, but even from marriage, flesh, and wine. (He allowed fish). He could find the true God in nature no more than in history. He admitted married persons to baptism only on a vow of abstinence from all sexual intercourse.893893    Tertullian, I. 29; IV. 10.93 He had a very gloomy, pessimistic view of the world and the church, and addressed a disciple as "his partner in tribulation, and fellow-sufferer from hatred."

In worship he excluded wine from the eucharist, but retained the sacramental bread, water-baptism, anointing with oil, and the mixture of milk and honey given to the newly baptized.894894    Tert. I. 14.94 Epiphanius reports that he permitted females to baptize. The Marcionites practiced sometimes vicarious baptism for the dead.895895    So they understood. 1 Cor. 15:29.95 Their baptism was not recognized by the church.

The Marcionite sect spread in Italy, Egypt, North Africa, Cyprus, and Syria; but it split into many branches. Its wide diffusion is proved by the number of antagonists in the different countries.

The most noteworthy Marcionites are Prepo, Lucanus (an Assyrian), and Apelles. They supplied the defects of the master’s system by other Gnostic speculations, and in some instances softened down its antipathy to heathenism and Judaism. Apelles acknowledged only one first principle. Ambrosius, a friend of Origen, was a Marcionite before his conversion. These heretics were dangerous to the church because of their severe morality and the number of their martyrs. They abstained from marriage, flesh and wine, and did not escape from persecution, like some other Gnostics.

Constantine forbade the Marcionites freedom of worship public and private, and ordered their meeting-houses to be handed over to the Catholic Church.896896    Euseb. Vit. Const. III. 64.96 The Theodosian code mentions them only once. But they existed in the fifth century when Theodoret boasted to have converted more than a thousand of these heretics, and the Trullan Council of 692 thought it worth while to make provision for the reconciliation of Marcionites. Remains of them are found as late as the tenth century.897897    Flügel’s; Mani, p. 160, 167 (quoted by Salmon). Prof. Jacobi (in Herzog, V. 236) quotes a letter of Hasenkamp to Lavater of the year 1774, and later authorities, to prove the lingering existence of similar opinions in Bosnia and Herzegowina.97 Some of their principles revived among the Paulicians, who took refuge in Bulgaria, and the Cathari in the West.



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