BET EMET MINISTRIES

Hebrew For "The House Of Truth"

Craig M. Lyons Ms.D., D.D., M.Div.

bennoah1@verizon.net

MARCION & MARCIONITES

Throughout the second century, while some Christian communities were forming themselves into churches and combining to become part of the Great Roman Church, others were following leaders of diverging views and beliefs.

Already in Paul's time, Christian converts were forming sects, each taking the name of a special teacher:

". . .everyone of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (I Cor 1:12).

In post-apostolic times the divergences were growing still greater; indeed in some regions it may have been difficult to determine who were the rightful descendants of the first Christian teachers.

One of these divergent groups was that of the Marcionites. Most of what is known about their beliefs comes from the writings of Irenaeus, who attacked them in his book Adversus Haereses.

The Marcionites, unlike the Gnostics, formed a Church. This they claimed to be universal, based on the authentic institution of Christ. Marcionite numbers grew rapidly, until in some regions, it seemed that they would outnumber the Great Church. Irenaeus wrote against what appeared to him to be as great a danger to the unity of Christianity as was the teaching of the Valentiman Gnostics. The Marcionites are often depicted as a Gnostic sect and many of their religious tenets were the same. Yet they differed in other respects as we shall see. The aim of Gnosticism was to teach those, who could be taught, the true knowledge that would restore them to their origin. Christianity was one of the ways to do this but not the only way.The Marcionites considered themselves to be the only true Christians, and their aim was to preach pure Christianity, which alone could bring salvation. They aimed at a simple, ascetic form of Christianity - a reaction against the speculative and "mystical" ideas that seemed to them to be spreading everywhere.

Marcion lived between C. 130 and 180 AD. The system he taught incorporated some of the Gnostic doctrines which he had studied. Marcion accepted the Gnostic principle of Dualism:

Matter was hostile to the Good. This meant that the Creator-God, the "Demiurge", was limited and evil; and his material creation was therefore evil. We saw these ideas typical of Gnosticism previously in past Gnostic articles Accordng to Marcion's system, man was the creation of this stern and wrathful God, who gave him a Law which was impossible to keep, so that he lay under a curse. The Higher God of Goodness - the First Principle - took pity on man and sent his Son to rescue him. This manifestation of the Supreme God was clothed in the phantom body (no flesh/not human) of a man of thirty-three years of age, whom the "Demiurge" caused to be crucified.To Marcion and his followers who were following gnostic ideas, this was a Docetic Christ, a purely spiritual being, not subject to the birth and death of an ordinary man. The Risen Christ charged the "Demiurge" with acting against his own Law. And so, to make amends, the "Demiurge" had to deliver to the "Good God" the souls of the redeemed who had died. To draw the living to Himself the "Good God" raised up Paul, who alone was the only one who understood the message of "the Christ" and the doctrine of the God of Love and the God of Law.

Marcion held that Paul alone knew and kept the true traditions of Christ. Marcion shared this belief, with many of the Gnostic schools, who regarded St Paul as their founder. Paul had drawn an antithesis between the servitude of the Law and the freedom of grace, and this was interpreted by Marcion as in opposition between the justice of the God of the Old Testament, (identified with the "Demiurge"), and the love of the Good and Supreme God.

It may be prematrue to get into this at this time but understand that Marcion despised Jews. His advocacy of Paul as the only one who truly understood the message of "the Christ" is all the more surprising given this fact unless what the Ebionites write of Paul is correct; namely, that Paul was himself a Gentile who later converted to Judaism! Coupled with this is the fact that Marcion, a Gnostic to the core, would select Paul to express his religious ideas; strange you should think unless Paul's "gospel" was understood and interpreted in their day as being a treatise upon Gnosticism.

At this time the "Great Church", comprising those churches which accepted the leadership of Rome and a common Apostolic tradition, was still without a completely fixed canon of scripture, though it, like Marcion was familiar with the Oral Traditions and the few exant epistles of Paul and gospel fragments that existed in their day. As had been done from the very first days, the Christian communities also read extracts from the Law and the Prophets.

Marcion, a Gnostic, will be the first to collect and develop a fixed canon of scripture. For purposes of clarity I will call this the First New Testament. In Marcion's Church, the Gospel of Truth was read, Paul's epistles (excluding the Pastoral letters), and, what was to become later the Gospel of Luke. Much of what is accepted today as the Pauline epistles were, in Marcion's collection of them, lacking huge parts indicating that later writing and additions to the Pauline epistles will be accomplished by the Holy Roman Forgery Mill. The fact that the first mention and quote by a Christian writer from either the Gospel of Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John cannot be found before 180 C.E. should speak loud to us about the late date for the Four Canonical Gospels that are touted by Roman tradition today to have been written "early." In I Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul was shown to have received an account of the Last Supper "from the Lord". The account most similar to this is found in Luke's Gospel, which convinced Marcion that what would later be called Luke's Gospel was written by originally by Paul.

The main purpose in the Marcionites' collection of scripture was to emphasise the love and forgiveness of God which they considered best reflected Luke's Gospel. They held that the Old Testament scriptures, which were read in the "Catholic" churches, were opposed to the teaching of mercy, which was for them the hallmark of true Christianity. Anything which they found in fragments of what would later be called Luke's Gospel or in Paul's letters which was at variance with their conception of Christian teaching they attributed to falsifications introduced by Judaisers and by those who opposed Paul and his Gnostic thought.

Marcion believed that God had raised him up to preach again the true Gospel and to bring the Church back to an understanding of Paul's teaching. Man must put his trust in the "Good God" and renounce the "Demiurge". This renunciation of the "God of Matter" led to rejection of everything sensual and so to a strict asceticism. The Marciomtes, like the Gnostics, made a division between the "Perfect" and the other believers. For them, the "Perfect" were those who were baptized and who thenceforth had to remain celibate. In speaking of marriage and sexual relations Paul would advocate Gnostic celibacy:

1 Cor 7:6-7 commandment. 7 For I would that all men were even as I myself (celibate). But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. (KJV)

Yet this was not imposed upon people forceably; ordinary believers could live a normal married life and were only baptized at the time of their death. This Marciomte doctrine was to reappear in later mediaeval heresies, where similar distinctions were made between grades of adherents. We saw this previously.

It was not only their belief in the hostility of Matter and therefore in the necessary rejection of all sensual indulgence that gave rise to these hierarchies; there was also, as in many heresies, the sense that the demands of Christianity were so enormous that they were far above what the mass of people could attain. The Marcionites used their hierarchical system as a solution to this problem, in the same way as other Gnostics had done.

In seeming contradiction to the strictness of their hierarchical rules, the Marcionite Church insisted that only faith in God's love was needed for salvation, humanity having been freed from the legislation of the Old Testament God. This emphasis on a loving, merciful God, rather than on a God of wrath and justice, was what attracted increasing numbers of converts into their community. Marcionite communities spread rapidly, especially in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, and there were Marcionite churches there throughout the second century and at the beginning of the third. But by the end of the third century Marcionism had either died out or had been engulfed by other sects such as the Manichaeans.

Though some Marcionite doctrines were to have an influence on Christian teachings of later times, it is primarily the great numbers of the Marcionites and the size of their Church that makes the Marcionite heresy important; indeed, in the second century it might have appeared uncertain which would become the continuing Church of Christianity, the Great Church or the Marcionite.

And yet, looking back through history, the Marcionite system is seen to be full of illogicalities and over-simplifications. Its many illogicalities caused its churches to split into factions. Tertullian, writing a few decades after Irenaeus, said:

"Marcionites make churches as wasps make nests" (Tertullan, Adv. Marc.). Proliferation and division may well be the distinguishing marks of what constitutes a heresy.

Although Christianity was still an unauthorised sect in the Roman Empire and subject to periodic persecutions, nevertheless, by this time - the end of the second century - the numbers of Christians were growing dramatically thanks to the efforts of Marcion and his emphasis upon a God of love. Rome and their brand of Christianity felt threatened by not only Marcion's successes but the impact of his First New Testament which provided an example in canon form of a Heavenly authority for his doctrnes. The Jews had their Torah and Marcion and the earliest Christians had their First New Testament that espoused the teachings of "the Christ" among men. Rome knew it had to act and act quickly. Their solution was to give the world a Second New Testament through forgery and persecute out of existence these earliest Christians.

When Marcion lived, there was as yet no organisation which could claim general acceptance as the Catholic Church, divinely instituted; and no fixed Catholic Canon of New Testament Scripture. Christianity was still in a fluid state. Irenaeus' great work against heresies had not yet been written. There appeared then to be merely disagreement between those holding different interpretations and beliefs, rather than a clear line between "orthodox" and "heretic". So that, in Marcion's time, it was not difficult for separated groups of Christians to live in accordance with their own particular views of strict Christian behaviour, and worship as they thought fit.

By the turn of the second century however, the Great Church was already an institution for administration and for teaching. Rome was putting the power of the State behind religion and that means in officially they were not designating that some writings were considered canonical and some were not. The beliefs and practices of the Marcionites were then held by official Roman Catholicism to be heretical, their religious tenants condemned by Roman. Over time an institutional Church with a formulated body of dogmatic teaching was out of necessity brought into being. Ironically it was Marcion's own existence and actions that helped to create it. As was the case with other great heresies, in trying to combat them Church leaders were forced to articulate their beliefs in clear-cut doctrines. And to end the danger of divisions which could destroy a unified Church these doctrines were issued in the form of dogma, that is to say, as doctrines, the belief in which is binding. These "official doctrines" were incorpated into pages of the First New Tesament in such a way that its mythical and allegorical interpretation of "the Christ" was but for all intentions lost. Gospels were written and added to in the names of Jewish Apostles which reflected not historcal Jewish beliefs concerning the Jewish Messiah but Rome's literalization of a previous "allegorical" concept of God and His Christ. Coupled with this is the result of such Roman "literalization": namely, the creation of a literal incarnated SunGodman in the form of a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus. Pauline espistles were invented (the Pastoral Epistles) and great pains were taken to make the "allegorical Christ" a historical person. Genealogies were added to existing gospels both in Luke and Matthew and antinomian passages were created entirely like Galatians chapter 3 and Roman chapters 9-11 to express Roman theology in the name of Paul. Since the power of the State now was behind Roman Christianity there was no limit to the deceptions foisted upon mankind in the name of offical Roman dogma.

By the time the third century opened, there was already an established collection of "orthodox"' beliefs, binding on those who considered themselves part of the Catholic Church; "catholic' was now synonymous with 'orthodox' Christianity. The Apostles' Creed had been formulated as we have seen to combat the earliest Gnostic Christians, and adherence to it was obligatory.

Answer for yourself: In view of all that took place in the first two centuries, how much was the establishment of doctrine and institution merely the result of reaction to circumstance and to the words and deeds of others?

Answer for yourself: Was it a necessary development inherent in the very religion itself? If it was, did this development lead to new insights and understanding, and so to true growth?

Answer for yourself: Or did strict formulation lead to distortion?

Answer for yourself: Was St Hilary, Gallic bishop of the fourth century, right when he said, "The error of others compels us to err in daring to embody, in human terms, truths which ought to be hidden in the silent veneration of the heart." (Hihary, De Trinitate 2.11.7).

Answer for yourself: Even granting some inevitable distortion, was this a necessary price to pay for the continuation of a world-religion, which would otherwise have evaporated into a collection of divergent sects?

Answer for yourself: Was logical definition essential to an institutional Church, which alone could give the Christian religion continuity?

An institutional Church, inheriting much that was practically useful from the law and administration of the Roman Empire, was, in their eyes of many, something wholly different from the early Church, established by the earliest Christians and true follower of "the Christ."

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