Marcion, a noted and permanently influential heretic of the 2nd cent.
Life.--Justin Martyr (Apol. cc. 26, 58)
mentions Simon and Menander as having been instigated by demons to introduce
heresy into the church, and goes on to speak of Marcion as still living,
evidently regarding him as the most formidable heretic of the day. 1 He states that he was a native of Pontus
who had made many disciples out of every nation, and refers for a more detailed
refutation to a separate treatise of his own, one sentence of which has been
preserved by Irenaeus (iv. 6). This work seems to have been extant in the time
of Photius (Cod. 154). Irenaeus also states that Marcion came from Pontus. He
adds that thence he came to Rome, where he became an adherent, and afterwards
the successor, of Cerdo, a Syrian teacher who, though he made public confession
and was reconciled, privately continued teaching heretical doctrine, was
betrayed by some of his hearers, and again separated. Irenaeus places the coming
of Cerdo to Rome in the episcopate of Hyginus, which lasted four years, ending,
according, to Lipsius, 139, 140, or 141. Irenaeus places the activity of Marcion
at Rome under Anicetus ("invaluit sub Aniceto"), whose episcopate of 12 years
began in 154. He says (iii. 3) that Marcion meeting Polycarp at Rome (probably
154 or 155) claimed recognition, on which Polycarp answered, "I recognize thee
as the firstborn of Satan." Irenaeus contemplated (iii. 12) a separate treatise
against Marcion. There is no direct evidence of his having carried out this
design, but as its proposed method is stated to have been the confutation of
Marcion by means of his own gospel, and as this is precisely the method followed
by Tertullian, who is elsewhere largely indebted to Irenaeus, the work of
Irenaeus may have been then written and known to Tertullian. It has been stated
under Hippolytus how the
contents of the lost Syntagma of Hippolytus are inferred. It appears to
have named Sinope as Marcion's native city (Epiph. 42, Philast. 45), of which
his father was bishop; and to have stated that he was obliged to leave home
because he seduced a virgin and was excommunicated by his father (Epiph.,
Pseudo-Tert. 17). Epiphanius tells, apparently on the same authority, that
Marcion, his frequent entreaties for absolution having failed, went to Rome,
where he arrived after the death of Hyginus, that he begged restoration from the
presbyters there, but they declared themselves unable to act contrary to the
decision of his venerated father. The mention of presbyters as then the ruling
power in the church of Rome, and their professed inability to reverse the
decision of a provincial bishop, indicate a date earlier than that of
Epiphanius; but Epiphanius further states that Marcion's quarrel with the
presbyters was not only because they did not restore him to church communion,
but also because they did not make him bishop. This has been generally
understood to mean bp. of Rome, and possibly Epiphanius intended this, but he
does not say so. His words are wV ouk apeilhfe thn proedrian
te, kai thn eisdusin thV ekklhsiaV. It is absurd
that an excommunicated foreigner should dream of being made bishop of a church
from which he was asking in vain for absolution. Epiphanius must have
misunderstood some expression he found in his authority, or Marcion must have
been already a bishop (possibly one of his father's suffragans), been deposed,
and was seeking at Rome both restoration to communion and recognition of his
episcopal dignity. Optatus alone directly countenances the latter view, speaking
of Marcion (iv. 5, p. 74) as "ex episcopo factus apostata." But there is
indirect confirmation in the fact which we learn from Adamantius (i. 15; xvi.
264, Lommatz.) that Marcion was afterwards recognized as bishop by his own
followers and was
The story proceeds to say that he asked the Roman presbyters to explain the texts, "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit," and "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment," texts from which he himself deduced that works in which evil is to be found could not proceed from the good God, and that the Christian dispensation could have nothing in common with the Jewish. Rejecting the explanation offered him by the presbyters, he broke off the interview with a threat to make a schism in their church. The beginning of Marcionism was so early that the church writers of the end of the 2nd cent., who are our best authorities, do not themselves seem able to tell with certainty the story of its commencement. But we know that the heresy of Marcion spread itself widely over many countries. Epiphanius names as infected by it in his time, Rome and Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Syria, Cyprus, and even Persia. Its diffusion in the latter half of the 2nd cent. is proved by its antagonists in numerous countries: Dionysius in Corinth writing to Nicomedia, Philip in Crete, Theophilus in Antioch, besides Modestus (Eus. iv. 25), Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Rhodo, and Tertullian. Bardesanes wrote in Syriac against the heresy (ib. iv. 30), as did Ephrem Syrus later.
Now, Marcion would seem to have travelled much and probably used his journeys to propagate his doctrines. Ephrem Syrus speaks of him as wandering like Cain, but possibly only refers to his leaving his country for Rome (Hymn 56, Assemani, Bibl. Or. i. 119). Tertullian constantly describes him as "nauclerus"; Rhodo (ap. Eus. v. 13) calls him nauthV, according to a reading which we believe to be right, though the word is wanting in some MSS. His travels seem more likely to have preceded than to have followed his settling in Rome under Anicetus. Unless, therefore, the story of the interview with the Roman presbyters is to be rejected altogether, we think it must be taken date and all. The interview must be placed immediately after the death of Hyginus and we must suppose Marcion then to have left Rome on his travels and only to have settled there permanently some years later, first as a member of Cerdo's school and afterwards as his successor.
The authorities as to the chronology of his life are very conflicting. The statement on which we can most rely is that he taught in Rome during the episcopate of Anicetus. We have no good warrant to extend his activity later, for we can give no credit to Tertullian when he names Eleutherus (de Praesc. 30) in connexion with the excommunication of Marcion. If Marcion did not survive Anicetus he may have been born c. 100. The Chronicle of Edessa names 138 for the beginning of Marcionism, and with this agrees the first year of Antoninus given by the Fihrist (Flügel's Mani, p. 85). This date is not improbable, if we suppose an Oriental preaching of the heresy to have preceded its establishment at Rome; A.D. 150 is a not unlikely date for Justin Martyr's Apology, and 12 years' growth is not too much for Marcionism to attain the formidable dimensions that work indicates. If Justin Martyr's work is dated earlier, the date of Marcionism will be similarly affected.
The time of Marcion's death is unknown, but he probably
did not survive Anicetus. The only works he is known to have left are his
recensions of the Gospel and Pauline Epistles; his Antitheses, in which
by comparing different passages he tried to shew that the O.T. contradicted the
New, and also itself; and Tertullian refers to a letter of his, then extant, as
proving that he had originally belonged to the Catholic church (adv.
Marc. i. 1; iv. 4; de Carn. Christ. ii.). We learn from Rhodo (Eus.
v. 13) that after his death his followers broke up into sects, among the leaders
of which he names Apelles, who only acknowledged one first principle; Potitus
and Basilicus, who counted two; and Syneros, who counted three (Ref. vii.
31). Other Marcionite teachers mentioned are Prepo, an Assyrian, by Hippolytus,
Lucanus by Tertullian; Pitho and Blastus (the latter probably erroneously) by
Theodoret (Haer. Fab. i. 25). Epiphanius says (de Mens. et Pond.
17) that Theodotion, the translator of O.T., had been a Marcionite before his
apostasy to Judaism, and Jerome (de Vir. Illust. 56) states that
Ambrosius was one before his conversion by Origen. These sectaries were
formidable to the church, both from their numbers and the strictness of their
life. They were very severe ascetics, refusing flesh meat, wine, and the married
life. Unlike some Gnostics who taught that it was no sin to escape persecution
by disguising their faith, the Marcionites vied with the orthodox
At the end of the Diocletian persecution the Marcionites had a short interval of freedom of worship. An inscription has been found over the doorway of a house in a Syrian village (Le Bas and Waddington, Inscriptions, No. 2558, vol. iii. p. 583) bearing a Syrian date corresponding to the year commencing Oct. 1, 318. This is more ancient than any dated inscription belonging to a Catholic church. With the complete triumph of Christianity, Marcionite freedom of worship was lost. Constantine (Eus. de Vit. Const. iii. 64) absolutely forbade their meeting for worship in public or private buildings. Their churches were to be given to the Catholics; any private houses used for schismatical worship to be confiscated. But the dying out of Marcionism was probably less the result of imperial legislation than of the absorption of the older heresy by the new wave of Oriental dualism which in Manicheism passed over the church. The Theodosian Code (xvi. tit. v. 65) contains a solitary mention of Marcionites. They were not extinct in the fifth cent., for Theodoret, writing to pope Leo (Ep. 113, p. 1190), boasts that he had himself converted more than a thousand Marcionites. In Ep. 145 the number of converts rises to ten thousand; in Ep. 81 they are said to be the inhabitants of eight villages. In his Church History (v.) Theodoret tells of an unsuccessful effort made by Chrysostom for their conversion. Probably this survival of Marcionism was but a local peculiarity. But as late as 692 the council in Trullo thought it worth while to make provision for the reconciliation of Marcionites, and there is other evidence of lingering remains so late as the 10th cent. (Flügel's Mani, pp. 160, 167).
Doctrine.--There is a striking difference of character between the teaching of Marcion and of others commonly classed with him as Gnostics. The systems of the latter often contain so many elements derived from heathenism, or drawn from the fancy of the speculators, that we feel as if we had scarcely any common ground with them; but with Marcion Christianity is plainly the starting-point, and the character of his system harmonizes with his being the son of a Christian bishop and brought up as a Christian. But he has been perplexed by the question of the origin of evil, and is disposed to accept the solution, much prevalent in the East then, that evil is inextricably mixed up with matter, which therefore could not be the creation of the Supreme. He tries to fit in this solution with his Christian creed and with the Scriptures; but naturally only by a mutilation of both can he force an agreement. Indeed, he sometimes has even to alter the text, e.g. "I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil," into "I am not come to fulfil the law, but to destroy." Still, the arbitrary criticism of Marcion has more points of contact with modern thought than the baseless assumptions of other Gnostics. A modern divine would turn away from the dreams of Valentinianism in silent contempt; but he could not refuse to discuss the question raised by Marcion, whether there is such opposition between different parts of what he regards as the word of God, that all cannot come from the same author.
The fundamental point of difference between Marcion and
the church was concerning the unity of the first principle. Marcion plainly
asserted the existence of two Gods, a good one and a just one. What he meant to
convey by these words Beausobre well illustrates by a passage of Bardesanes,
preserved by Eusebius (Praep. Evan. vi. 10). He says that animals are of
three kinds: some, like serpents and scorpions, will hurt those who have given
them no provocation; some, like sheep, will not attempt to return evil for evil;
others will hurt those only that hurt them. These three may be called evil,
good, and just respectively. Marcion then thought the infliction of punishment
inconsistent with perfect goodness, and would only concede the title of just to
the God of O.T., who had distinctly threatened to punish the wicked. The God, he
said, whose law was "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," was a just
God, but not the same as that good God whose command was, "If any smite thee on
the one cheek, turn to him the other also." The command, "Thou shalt love him
that loveth thee and hate thine enemy" was that of a just God; "Love thine
enemy" was the law of the good God. Further, the God of O.T. had said of
Himself, "I create evil"; but since from a good tree evil fruit cannot spring,
it follows that He who created evil cannot Himself be good. He could not be the
Supreme, for He was of limited intelligence, not being able to find Adam when he
hid himself, and obliged to ask, "Where are thou?", and also obliged to come
down to see before He could know whether Sodom had done according to its cry.
Marcion's theory was that the visible creation was the work of the just God; the
good God, whose abode he places in the third or highest heaven and whom
apparently he acknowledged as the creator of a high immaterial universe, neither
concerned Himself with
Marcion's rejection of O.T. prophecy did not involve a denial that the prophets had foretold the coming of a Christ; but the Christ of the prophets could not be our Christ. The former was to come for the deliverance of the Jewish people; the latter for that of the whole human race. The former was to be a warrior--Christ was a man of peace; Christ suffered on the cross--the law pronounced accursed him that hangeth on a tree; the Christ of the prophets is to rule the nations with a rod of iron, kings are to set themselves against Him, He is to have the heathen for His inheritance and to set up a kingdom that shall not be destroyed. Jesus did none of these things, therefore the Christ of the prophets is still to come. Tertullian successfully shews that if Jesus was not the Christ of the prophets, He must have wished to personate Him, coming as He did at the time and in the place which the prophets had foretold, and fulfilling so many of the indications they had given. What Marcion supposed his own Christ to be has been disputed. Some have supposed that he did not distinguish him from his good God, for Marcion's Gospel was said to have commenced: "In the 15th year of Tiberius God came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught on the Sabbath days" (Tert. adv. Marc. iv. 7); but we believe the true reading here is "eum," not "deum," and that Marcion held his Christ to be a saving Spirit (i. 19), but did not confound him with the Supreme. Marcion's Gospel told nothing of the birth of Christ, and Marcion's "came down" has a very different meaning from what it has in the original passage (Luke vi. 31), in Marcion's use meaning "came down from heaven." In fact, the story of Christ's birth would represent Him as a born subject of the Demiurge, deriving from his bounty the very body in which He came; so it was preferred to tell the improbable tale of a divine teacher unheard-of before making a sudden appearance in the synagogue. That Christ had a real earthly body Marcion of course could not admit. See Docetism for an account of Marcion's doctrine on this subject, and that of his disciple Apelles, who on this point as on others approached more nearly to the orthodox. It was an obvious argument against the Docetic theory that if our Lord's body were not real we could have no faith that His miracles were real, nor in the reality of His sufferings and death, which Marcion was willing to regard as an exhibition of redeeming love; nor in the reality of His resurrection. Marcion, like the orthodox, taught that the death of our Lord was followed by a "descent into hell"; but Irenaeus tells us that he taught that there Cain, the people of Sodom, and others condemned in O.T. as wicked, received Christ's preaching and were taken up by Him into His kingdom; but that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, the prophets, and other righteous men imagined that the Demiurge was tempting them as on other occasions, and so, being afraid to join themselves to Christ and accept deliverance from Him, were left in the underworld. Christ's salvation, according to Marcion, affected the soul only, and did not affect the body, of which he held there would be no resurrection. Indeed, none of those who regarded matter as essentially evil could believe that evil would be made eternal by a material resurrection. Tertullian points out that sin originates with the soul, not the body, and pronounces it unfair that the sinful soul should be redeemed and the less guilty body punished. On unredeemed souls no punishment would be inflicted by Marcion's good God--he would merely abandon them to the vengeance of the Demiurge; but Tertullian shewed that if direct punishment were inconsistent with perfect goodness, such abandonment must be equally so.
The Marcionite system as described by Esnig has more of a
mythic than of a rationalistic character, and if we accept this as the original
form of Marcionism, Marcion owed more to the older Gnostics than we should
otherwise have supposed. Marcion is said by Esnig to have taught that there were
three heavens: in the highest dwelt the good God,
Though this mythical story differs much in complexion from other ancient accounts of Marcionite doctrine, we cannot absolutely reject it; for there is nothing in it inconsistent with Marcion's known doctrines or such as a Gnostic of his age might have taught. It is, indeed, such a system as he might have learned from the Syriac Gnostic Cerdo. But Marcion must have given the mythic element little prominence, or it would not have so disappeared from the other accounts.
Discipline and Worship.--In rites Marcion followed the church model. Thus (Tert. adv. Marc. i. 14) he had baptism with water, anointing with oil, a mixture of milk and honey was given to the newly baptized, and sacramental bread represented the Saviour's Body. Wine was absent from his Eucharist, for his principles entirely forbade wine or flesh meat. [ENCRATITES.] Fish, however, he permitted. He commanded his disciples to fast on Saturday, to mark his hostility to the God of the Jews, who had made that His day of rest. Marriage he condemned. A married man was received as a catechumen, but not admitted to baptism until he had agreed to separate from his wife (ib. i. 29 and iv. 10). This probably explains the statement of Epiphanius that the Marcionites celebrated the mysteries in the presence of unbaptized persons. The sect could not have flourished if it discouraged married persons from joining it; and if it admitted them only as catechumens, that class would naturally be granted larger privileges than in the Catholic church. 2 Nor need we disbelieve the statement of Epiphanius that a second or a third baptism was permitted. If a member married, or one who had put away his wife took her back, it is not incredible that on repentance a second baptism was necessary before restoration to full privileges of membership. Again, since the baptism of a married person was only permitted in articulo mortis, it would sometimes happen that catechumens were surprised by death before baptism, and it is not incredible that in such cases the device of a vicarious baptism may have been resorted to, as Chrysostom tells in speaking on the passage in Corinthians about being baptized for the dead. Epiphanius states that Marcion permitted females to baptize. The Marcionite baptism was not recognized by the church. Theodoret tells that he baptized those whom be converted. (See also Basil. Can. 47, E¢. 199.) He tells also that he had met an aged Marcionite who, in his hostility to the Creator, refused to use his works, a principle which could not possibly be carried out consistently.
Canon of Scripture.-Marcion's rejection of the O.T. involved the rejection of great part of the New, which bears witness to the Old. He only retained the Gospel of St. Luke (and that in a mutilated form), and ten Epp. of St. Paul, omitting the pastoral epistles. In defence of his rejection of other apostolic writings, he appealed to the statements of St. Paul in Galatians, that some of the older apostles had not walked uprightly after the truth of the gospel, and that certain false apostles had perverted the gospel of Christ. Marcion's Gospel, though substantially identical, as far as it went, with our St. Luke's, did not bear that Evangelist's name. That it was, however, an abridgment of St. Luke was asserted by all the Fathers from Irenaeus and not doubted until modern times. Then it was noticed that in some cases where Marcion is accused by Epiphanius or Tertullian of having corrupted the text, his readings are witnessed by other ancient authorities. We have the means of restoring Marcion's Gospel with sufficient exactness. Tertullian goes through it in minute detail; Epiphanius also has made a series of minute notes on Marcion's corruptions of the text; some notices are also found in the Dialogue of Adamantius. Combining these independent sources, we obtain results on which we can place great confidence. It clearly appears that Marcion's Gospel and our St. Luke's in the main followed the same order and were even in verbal agreement, except that the latter contains much not found in the former. So that the affinity of the two forms is certain, and the only choice is whether we shall regard the one as a mutilation or the other as an interpolated form. The theory that the shorter form was the original was for some time defended by Ritschl and Baur, who, however, were obliged to yield to the arguments of Hilgenfeld and Volkmar. In Volkmar's Das Evangelium Marcions the differences between the two forms of the Gospel are examined in minute detail, especially with reference to their doctrinal bearings ; and it is found that the only theory which will explain the facts is that Marcion's is a mutilated form. His form exhibits a hostility to Judaism, the Mosaic law, and the work of the Creator, of which there is not a trace in genuine Pauline Christianity. Dr. Sanday (Gospel in the Second Cent., p. 204) has made a careful linguistic, comparison of the portion of our St. Luke which Marcion acknowledges with that which he omits, the result being a decisive proof of common authorship; the part omitted by Marcion abounding in all the peculiarities which distinguish the style of the third evangelist. The theory, therefore, that Marcion's form is the original may be said to be now completely exploded. Dr. Sanday notes further that the text of St. Luke used by Marcion has some readings recognized by some other ancient authorities, but which no
critic now accepts. The inference is that when Marcion used St. Luke's Gospel it had been so long in existence, and had been copied so often, that different types of text had had time to establish themselves. It has been argued that Marcion could not have known our Fourth Gospel, else he would have preferred this, as being more strongly antiJewish. But the Fourth Gospel is not antiJewish in Marcion's sense, and he would have had even more trouble in mutilating it to make it serve his purpose. At the very outset Christ's relation to the Jewish people is described in the words, " He came unto His own " ; the Jewish temple is called His Father's house; salvation is said to be of the Jews; contrary to Marcion's teaching, Christ is perpetually identified with the Christ predicted in O.T. ; the Scriptures are " they which testify of Me," " Moses wrote of Me," " Had ye believed Moses ye would have believed Me." Great importance is attached to the testimony of John the Baptist, who, according to Marcion, like the older prophets, did not know the true Christ ; and the miracle of turning water into wine would alone have condemned the Gospel in Marcion's eyes. In short, the Fourth Gospel is strongly antiMarcionite. See esp. Zahn's Gesch. des N.T. Kanons, i. 587-718 and ii. 409-529.Marcion's Apostolicon consisted of ten epistles, in the order: Gal., I. and II. Con, Rom. (wanting the last two chapters), I. and I I. Thess., Eph. (called by Marcion the Ep. to the Lao diceans), Col., Philippians, Philemon. Con cerning the order of the last two, Tertullian and Epiphanius differ. The Acts and the pastoral epistles are rejected. The Apostolicon was known to Jerome, who notes two or three of its readings. The most careful attempt to restore it is by Hilgenfeld (Zeit schyift f. histoy. Theol. 1855). It becomes apparent that Marcion struck out from the Epistles which he acknowledged some passages which conflicted with his theory and also made some few additions. The arbitrary character of such criticism would destroy all claim to originality for Marcion's text of the Gospel, even if that claim had not otherwise been sufficiently refuted.
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