Marcion of Sinope


Marcion of Sinope

Marcion of Sinope (Greek: Μαρκίων[1] Σινώπης, ca. 85-160) was a bishop in early Christianity.[2] His theology, which rejected the deity described in the Jewish Scriptures as inferior or subjugated to the God proclaimed in the Christian gospel, was denounced by the Church Fathers and he was excommunicated. His rejection of many books contemporarily considered Scripture in the catholic part of the church prompted this church to develop a Catholic canon of Scriptures.

Contents

Life

Hippolytus records that Marcion was the son of the bishop of Sinope, in Pontus. His near-contemporaries Rhodon and Tertullian described him as a ship owner.[3] Marcion probably was consecrated a bishop, likely an assistant or suffragan of his father at Sinope.[3]

Epiphanius states that after beginnings as an ascetic, he seduced a virgin and was accordingly excommunicated by his father, prompting him to leave his home town.[4] This account has been doubted by many scholars, who consider it "malicious gossip". More recently, Bart D. Ehrman suggests that this "seduction of a virgin" was a metaphor for his corruption of the Christian Church, with the Church portrayed as the undefiled virgin.[5]

Marcion had travelled to Rome about 142/143.[6]. But since the Marcionite church was already widespread at the time of his excommunication, it is more likely that his founding of Marcionite style churches had started much earlier. Marcion made a notable donation of 200,000 sesterces to the church.

Conflicts with the bishops of Rome arose and he was eventually excommunicated by the Church of Rome, his donation being returned to him. After his excommunication, he returned to Asia Minor where he continued to lead his many church congregations and teach the Christian gospel in its Marcionite or Pauline version.

Teachings

Study of the Jewish Scriptures, along with received writings circulating in the nascent Church (the majority of which were eventually incorporated into the New Testament canon) led Marcion to conclude that many of the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the actions of the god of the Old Testament, Yahweh. Marcion responded by developing a dualist system of belief around the year 144.[7] This dual-god notion allowed Marcion to reconcile supposed contradictions between Old Covenant theology and the Gospel message proclaimed by Jesus.

Marcion affirmed Jesus to be the saviour sent by the Heavenly Father, and Paul as His chief apostle. In contrast to the nascent Christian church, Marcion declared that Christianity was distinct from and in opposition to Judaism. Marcion did not claim that the Jewish Scriptures were false. Instead, Marcion asserted that they were to be read in an absolutely literal manner, thereby developing an understanding that YHVH was not the same god spoken of by Jesus, e.g. in the Genesis account of YHVH walking through the Garden of Eden asking where Adam was, Marcion read this to mean that YHVH physically walked through the Garden without foreknowledge of Adam's whereabouts. Marcion argued that this proved YHVH inhabited a physical body (unlike the Heavenly Father) and that YHVH was ignorant and without universal foreknowledge, attributes wholly incompatible with the Heavenly Father professed by Jesus.

According to Marcion, the god of the Old Testament, whom he called the Demiurge, the creator of the material universe, is a jealous tribal deity of the Jews, whose law represents legalistic reciprocal justice and who punishes mankind for its sins through suffering and death. Contrastingly, the god that Jesus professed is an altogether different being, a universal god of compassion and love who looks upon humanity with benevolence and mercy.

Marcion held Jesus to be the son of the Heavenly Father but understood the incarnation in a docetic manner, i.e. that Jesus' body was only an imitation of a material body. Marcion held that Jesus paid the debt of sin that humanity owed via his crucifixion, thus absolving humanity and allowing it to inherit eternal life.[8]

Marcion was the first to propose a New Testament canon. His canon consisted of only eleven books grouped into two sections: the Evangelikon, being a version of the Gospel of Luke,[9] and the Apostolikon, a selection of ten letters of Paul the Apostle (whom Marcion considered the correct interpreter and transmitter of Jesus' teachings). Both sections were purged of elements relating to Jesus' childhood, Judaism, and material challenging Marcion's dualism. Marcion also produced his Antitheses contrasting the Demiurge of the Old Testament with the Heavenly Father of the New Testament.

Marcion and Gnosticism

Marcion is sometimes described as a Gnostic philosopher. In some essential respects, Marcion proposed ideas which would have aligned well with Gnostic thought. Like the Gnostics, he argued that Jesus was essentially a divine spirit appearing to men in the shape of a human form, and not someone in a true physical body.[8]

However, Marcionism conceptualizes God in a way which cannot be reconciled with broader Gnostic thought. For Gnostics, every human being is born with a small piece of God's soul lodged within his/her spirit (akin to the notion of a 'Divine Spark').[8] God is thus intimately connected to and part of His creation.[8] Salvation lies in turning away from the physical world (which Gnostics regard as an illusion) and embracing the God-like qualities within yourself.[8] Marcion, by contrast, held that the Heavenly Father (the father of Jesus Christ) was an utterly alien god; he had no part in making the world, nor any connection with it. Out of mercy, he intervened in the world to save humanity.[8]

Legacy

Marcion became one of the first declared heresiarchs in the year 144 for his deviations from the more conservative theological viewpoints of the main body of bishops. His purely Pauline or Marcionite interpretation of the gospel of Jesus Christ furthered the notion in the early Catholic church centered on Rome that certain gospel interpretations should be designated[by whom?] as orthodox, while others should be rejected, condemned and labelled as heretical. Reacting to the popularity of the churches led by Marcion east of Rome, the Catholic Church set out to systematise, fixate and impose a set of beliefs that would demarcate more clearly the outlines of their interpretation of orthodox Christianity. The suppression of the Marcionist form of Christianity is thus viewed[10] as a catalyst for the development of the Catholic canon, the establishment of a centralised church law, and the structuring of the Catholic Church with its orthodox dogmas in general, which remained a relatively unchallenged mainstay in Christendom until the Protestant Reformation.

The church that Marcion founded had expanded throughout the known world within his lifetime, and was a serious rival to the Catholic Church. Its adherents were strong enough in their convictions that the Marcionite church retained its expansive power for more than a century. It survived Christian controversy, and imperial disapproval, for several centuries more.[11]

Marcion was the first Christian leader to propose and delineate a canon (a list of officially sanctioned religious works). In so doing, he established a particular way of viewing religious texts that persists in Christian thought today. After Marcion, Christians began to divide texts into those that aligned well with the "measuring stick" (Greek kanōn literally means "measuring stick") of accepted theological thought, and those that should be rejected. This essential bifurcation played a major role in finalising the structure and contents of the collection of works now called the Bible. An initial impetus for finalising the Catholic version of the Christian canon stemmed from opposition to Marcion's first Christian canon.

Some ideas similar to those of Marcion's reappeared among the Bulgarian Bogomils of the 10th century and among the Cathars of southern France in the 13th century.[citation needed]

Notes

  1. ^ http://khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/justinus/apolog1g.htm
  2. ^ Tertullian, "Adversus Marcionem" book 1.
  3. ^ a b Catholic Encyclopedia, "Marcionites" (1911).
  4. ^ Haeresies, XLII, ii.
  5. ^ Bart D. Ehrman,Lost Christianities
  6. ^ Tertullian dates the beginning of Marcion's teachings 115 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, which he placed in AD 26/27 (Adversus Marcionem, xix).
  7. ^ 115 years and 6 months from the Crucifixion, according to Tertullian's reckoning in Adversus Marcionem, xv.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Adolph Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God (1924).[page needed]
  9. ^ Joseph B. Tyson (Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle) contradicts the mainstream view of Marcion's gospel being based on Luke, opining instead that canonical Luke may be a response to Marcion's gospel.
  10. ^ "The Canon of Scripture" by F.F. Bruce 1988, page 151
  11. ^ Evans 1972 p. ix

References

  • Blackman, E.C. Marcion and His Influence 2004 ISBN 1-59244-73
  • Clabeaux, John James. The Lost Edition of the Letters of Paul: A Reassessment of the Text of Pauline Corpus Attested by Marcion (Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series No. 21) 1989 ISBN 0-915170-20-5
  • Dahl, Nils Alstrup. "The Origin of the Earliest Prologues to the Pauline Letters", Semeia 12 (1978), 233-277
  • Epiphanius of Salamis. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Sects 1-46) Frank Williams translator, 1987 ISBN 90-04-07926-2
  • Evans, Ernest (comments and translation): Tertullian, Against Marcion (Oxford University Press, 1972). E-text of Adversus Marcionem and Evan's introduction "Marcion : His Doctrine and Influence"
  • Grant, Robert M. Marcion and the Critical Method Peter Richardson & John Collidge Hurd, eds., From Jesus to Paul. Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare. Waterloo, ON, 1984. p. 207–215.
  • Harnack, Adolf von 1961. History of Dogma (Neil Buchanan, translating Harnack's Dogmengeschichte 1900), vol I, pp 267 – 313, vol II, pp 1 – 19
  • Harnack, Adolf von. Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God translation 1990 ISBN 0-939464-16-0
  • R. Joseph Hoffmann. Marcion, on the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulist Theology in the Second Century 1984 ISBN 0-89130-638-2
  • Knox, John. Marcion and the New Testament 1942 ISBN 0-404-16183-9
  • Francis Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, From 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. (1914), reprinted in two volumes bound as one, University Books New York, 1964. LC Catalog 64-24125.
  • Livingstone, E.A. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.), pp. 1033–34, 1997 ISBN 0-19-211655-X
  • Riparelli, Enrico, Il volto del Cristo dualista. Da Marcione ai catari, Peter Lang, Bern - Berlin - Bruxelles - Frankfurt am Main - New York - Oxford - Wien 2008, 368 pp. ISBN 9783039114900
  • Williams, David Salter. "Reconsidering Marcion's Gospel", Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989), p. 477-96
  • Wilson, R. S. Marcion: A Study of a Second-Century Heretic (London:Clarke) 1933

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