Patristic Evidence

Burkitt on
Marcion (140 A.D.)

Excerpt from: F.C. Burkitt, The Gospel History & its Transmission , Ch. 9 "Marcion: Christianity without History" , (London, 1911)

Page Index

Modern Comments

On Marcion

    prologue: a 2nd century Christian seeker
    Marcion: (c. 140 A.D.) a brief history
    Marcions's Doctrines: its NT roots

Early Doctrinal Problems
    The God of Israel: Marcion's rejection of Jehovah
    The 'Ransom' Doctrine: originally orthodox?
    The New Ransom Doctrine: invented by Anselm

Rejection of Marcionites
    Marcion and Church Reaction: Epiphanius
    The End of the Marcionites: and Constantine (320 A.D.)

Doctrinal & Operational Clashes
    The Clash of Principles: and anti-Semitism
    The O.T. Inheritance: the real (key) battleground
    The Non-Historical Jesus: and Marcionite Theology
    The Aceticism of Marcion: marriage rejected etc.

Textual Issues
    The 'Bible' of Marcion : Luke abridged, Paul collected
    The Collection of Paul's Letters : an early Marcionite corpus
    Marcion and the 1st NT Canon: his influence
    Mariconite Prologues: to St. Paul in Vulgate

Return to Index

Burkitt on

F.C. Burkitt's viewpoint on Marcion is sometimes as remarkable as Marcion's viewpoint on Christianity. On the one hand, Burkitt is open-minded and sympathetic to Marcion, which is desirable, and results in a fair treatment of his beliefs (as well as they can be known).

On the other hand, Burkitt, like Hort and others at the turn of the 19th century, is overly occupied with the doctrinal issues of his day, such as the "Atonement", "Ransom" and their relation to "the Law". (Its hard to avoid some treatment of these when dealing with Marcion, however.)

Many Christian academics c. 1850-1900 were disturbed by concepts such as 'ransom' paid to Satan/the Father and/or some abstract principle of justice. These concepts appeared to be of the nature of superstitions and were therefore suspect to Protestant scholars engaged in rational study of Scripture.

Burkitt also gives Marcion far too much credit, attributing both the idea and much of the actual result of the canonization of the NT to him. The evidence however cannot sustain this thesis. It is far more plausible that Marcion's tampering however, did alarm Christian leaders enough to organize and insist on holding to a strict and fixed NT canon, once the issue was raised by the proliferation of heretical works and tampering.

Overall, however, Burkitt does do an admirable job at introducing Marcion, his influence and his scripture-tampering, and the state of contemporary scholarship in Burkitt's time.

Taken from:
F.C. Burkitt, M.A., D.D.
The Gospel History & its Transmission , 3rd ed.
Ch. 9 "Marcion: Christianity without History" , (London, 1911)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

IX. Marcion

or Christianity without History

In the first prospectus of the Hibbert Journal the editors announced that they intended to open their pages to all varieties of religious thought, but that it was not part of their design to occupy their readers with the discussion of 'dead religions.'

The heretic Marcion has been dead for more than seventeen centuries, and the Church which he established has utterly perished. The religion of Marcion is on the face of it a dead religion, and having decided to speak to you about it in this Lecture, I feel it will be part of my duty to attempt to explain why Marcion still may have some living interest for us.

The main object that I have in view is to shew you what form Christianity took in the mind of an earnest Christian of the second century, to whom the historical element in the Gospel meant little or nothing, a thinker who desired to give up everything in order to have his Christianity purged from all defilements of nationalistic and materialistic elements.

A Brief History of Marcion

Let me begin by putting before you the outline of Marcion's career. I cannot claim to have any new light on the subject, which you will find admirably treated in the article on Marcion, in the Dictionary of Christian Biography, by the late Provost of Trinity College, Dublin. There is, indeed, little dispute as to the essential facts.

Marcion was born about 100 A.D. in Pontus, apparently at the well-known Black Sea port of Sinope, and his life occupies the first sixty years or so of the second century. His father was a Christian ; our authorities tell us that he was ' Bishop ' of the Church there, and according to some accounts Marcion himself had been made his suffragan. Here we have the first point of interest. We cannot tell, of course, what was the exact state of the development of the Christian Ministry in Pontus during the first quarter of the second century.

At a later period, when Marcion had become an excommunicated heretic and had founded his own heretical Society, he was regarded as their bishop, and he transmitted his 'Orders' to a succession of Marcionite bishops who came after him.

The Marcionite 'orders' were not recognised at Rome any more than Anglican orders are at the present day, but that naturally did not affect their legitimacy in the eyes of the Marcionites. This matter, however, hardly concerns us now. The real point of interest is that Marcion came of orthodox Christian stock, and that the Marcionites, however much they were mistaken, and however much they were to be con- demned, were definitely a sect of Christians.

This is not true of most of the early heretics, or not true to anything like the same extent. For the most part, the Gnostic heretics — Valentinus, Marcus, Hermogenes, and the rest — were products of the mixture of Greek speculation with Christianity. Their systems were only half- Christian. But Marcion's ideas were Christian through and through.

Two centuries later, S. Ephraim in his Hymns against Heretics avers that Bardaisan the Gnostic (who was, in fact, a distinguished Astronomer and Astrologer as well as a Theologian) wasted his time in reading heathen books about the signs of the Zodiac instead of studying the Bible. Ephraim has many hard things to say about Marcion, but he does not make that kind of accusation against him. Whatever we may think of Marcion's theories, we must acknowledge that they pro- ceeded from the study of the Gospel.

The story of Marcion's life is for the most part unknown. According to the Edessene Chronicle he left the Church in AD 138. He then appears to have proceeded to Rome, where he hoped that his doctrine would be accepted, or that it would at least receive toleration ; but in this he was disappointed. He seems to have led a wandering life, but he was established in Rome as a teacher of his peculiar doctrines during the episcopate of Anicetus (154-166), and for aught we know to the contrary he may have died there.

Marcion's Doctrines

The importance of Marcion does not lie in the outward events of his life, but in the doctrines which he taught. They can be expressed in very few words. His teaching was the exact converse of those discourses in the Acts with which we are all so familiar, in which the speaker, S. Peter or S. Paul, seeks to prove to those who believe Moses and the Prophets that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of God.

Marcion's teaching was very different. Believing fervently that Jesus was the Son of God, come down from the highest Heaven to reveal the Divine will to man, he took the Gospel message and asked how it was possible to believe that the Author of the Gospel could have been the God of the Old Testament. Marcion started, in fact, from the Gospel. The God, he said, whom Jesus preached was 070^0?, * Good/ or rather, 'Kind.* He is /? Bon Dieu, a God who is able and willing to forgive. The God of the Old Testament is Just, keeping His promise for ever. He loves them which love Him, and those that sought Him early found Him. He was kind to His friends, terrible to His foes, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. Those that left His service learned to their cost that He is a jealous God. He taught His worshippers that He was God, and that there was none beside Him, and His glory He would not give to another.

How different, said Marcion, is the Most High whom Jesus preached ; for He is kind to the unthankful and evil, and He commands His servants to be in like manner kind to their enemies and to forgive.

Here you have in a few words the essence of Marcion's religion and Marcion's philosophy. All the rest follows from it, or is the result of mere accidental co-ordination with it. What the master cause was that compelled him to be a Christian, that attracted him to the Gospel, that constrained him to believe in the Divine Message of Jesus, we do not know with precision. No Marcionite work has survived, and we have to pick up our information from opponents more eager to refute the great heretic than to expound his beliefs.

That which Marcion shared with his fellow-Christians his refuters pass over for the most part in silence. But we may guess to some extent the forces that influenced him. In the first place, as we have seen, he was born a Christian. The general Christian tradition, the life of the Christian Society, had doubtless a firm hold on Marcion, as also had the belief that the same Jesus who had taught in Palestine had proved Himself the Lord of Death.

But Marcion was something far deeper than a mere Christian by inheritance. The mere fact that he felt so acutely the difference between the Old Law and the New is a proof of the profound impression which the teaching of Jesus, the Gospel morality, continued to exercise upon him. In all this we cannot fail to recognise the parallel between the 2nd-century heresiarch and those thinkers of the present day who are attracted to the Gospel partly from ancestral association, partly from a genuine conviction that the message of the Gospel is the highest teaching which they know, who nevertheless cannot identify the Power that has evolved the visible universe of Nature and produced secular history — in a word, the God of this world — with the Father whom our Lord revealed.

Our modern ideas about the early history of man and Nature are widely different from those current in the 2nd century, whether among heretics or orthodox ; but this should not blind us to our ethical kinship with some of Marcion's leading principles of religion.

As nearly as any one of whom we have knowledge, he preached the Gospel morality without external sanctions. The essence of the orthodox polemic against him was that in doing this he became involved in contradictions with his own doctrines.

Marcion and the God of Israel

Sometimes it is stated that Marcion rejected the Old Testament. That is not quite true. Marcion rejected the God of Israel as his God ; but, as was the case with all early Christian thinkers, the cosmogony of the Pentateuch and its interpretation played an important part in his speculations.

Nothing more clearly illustrates the great gap between modern and ancient speculation about the cosmos than the use made by Marcion of the Book of Genesis. In point of fact, the Book of Genesis had no serious rivals until the modern sciences of Geology and Archaeology taught us something of the actual march of events on this planet before ordinary history began.

It is rather difficult to do justice to Marcion's speculations on the Fall of Man. To go into details in a lecture like this would be misleading. What we most need is not antiquarian lore about ancient heretics ; we need to try to translate Marcion's beliefs into a form which is now intelligible, to attempt to realise what attitude he took up with regard to the problems which are still unsolved, or of which we only now are approaching the solution.

The chief point is that Marcion believed that man is governed or influenced by three Principles or Forces. There is Matter, out of which his body was made ; there is Justice, or, as we now call it, Law, by means of which he came into being and emerged from mere inanimate material ; and there is Grace, a principle distinct from and superior to Law, by which man may be redeemed from the dominion of Law, and by which in the end the better and eternal part of man will escape from the defiling contamination of Matter.

According to Marcion, Matter, Law, and Grace are distinct entities in the cosmos, each dwelling in its own sphere. This world we live in was made by the action of Law upon Matter. Man, the noblest product of Law and Matter, is distracted between the two principles of his being. He alone among created things consciously tries to obey Law, i.e. Justice, and to forsake the degrading service of Matter ; but through his imperfect constitution he fails to find the true Law and becomes involved in the worship of Idols. Justice neither forgives nor makes allow- ances, and for the sin of worshipping Idols, false ideals which do not exist, Man goes to hell — that is to say, the spirit of Man goes to conscious torment, for the body perishes at death. This miserable state of things went on for many centuries. At last the principle of Grace who dwells in the highest heaven — in other words, le Bon Dieu — took pity on Man and sent His Son down to earth to redeem them from their slavery. Hitherto He had been a stranger to Man, He had been neither the origin of Man's life nor the object of his worship. It was out of mere com- passion that Grace came down and interposed — we may almost say, interfered — to save mankind from their hopeless condition. So Jesus, the Son of God, appeared on earth, doing good without reward, and healing those who for their sins were sick, until at last the God of the Law was jealous ; and the God of the Law stirred up his servants and they took Jesus and crucified Him, and He became like the dead, so that Hell opened her mouth and received Him.

But Death could have no dominion over Jesus, nor could Hell retain One who was alive within its bounds. Jesus therefore burst the bonds of Hell and ascended to His Father, carrying with Him the spirits that lay there in prison. Then Jesus came down in His glory and appeared before the God of the Law, who was obliged to confess that he was guilty according to his own Law ; for Jesus had only done good to the race of men, and yet He had been crucified.

" I was Ignorant," said the God of the Law to Jesus, " and because I sinned and killed Thee in ignorance, there shall be given to Thee in revenge all those who shall be willing to believe in Thee, to carry away wherever Thou wilt."

Then Jesus left the God of the Law and betook Himself to Paul, and revealed this to him, and sent him to preach that we have been bought with a price. All who believe in Jesus were then and there sold from the dominion of the Just Power to the Good and Kind One.

Eznik the Armenian, from whose account of the Marcionites the details recounted in the last paragraph have been taken, goes on to say :

"Not all the Marcionites know all this, but only a few of them, who hand down the doctrine one to the other by word of mouth. What the Marcionites usually say is simply, * The Good Stranger — with a price He bought us from the Lord of the Creation,* but how or with what He bought them, — that not all of them know."

Most modern scholars suppose that this detailed theory of how the price was paid for man belongs to a later development of Marcionism , but there is nothing in it inconsistent with the leading idea of the Marcionite doctrine. This idea is the essential antithesis between Law and Grace. 'Mercy rejoiceth against Judgement,' and Marcion saw in the God of the Old Testament the God of Judgement, and in the God of the New Testament the God of Mercy.

Marcion and the 'Ransom' Doctrine

It should be here pointed out that this story of how the World-Power caused our Lord to be killed, not knowing who He was, and how as a consequence He descended into Hell and harrowed it, was not confined to the Marcionite s.

It has dropped out from the modern presentation of Christianity, but it is always meeting us in pre- Reformation theology, from the Acts of Judas Thomas and the Nisebene Hymns of S. Ephraim to the Gospel of Nicodemus and the windows of King's College Chapel.

The only real difference between the Marcionite and the orthodox forms of the story is that where the Marcionites speak of the God of the Old Testament, the orthodox speak of Satan. In either case, it is the Adversary of Jesus.

The Marcionites taught that by the sacrifice of the Cross our Lord bought us from the dominion of the God of the Law, the orthodox taught that by the sacrifice of the Cross our Lord bought us from the dominion of the Devil.

And I cannot help feeling that there is a definite reason why the Marcionite form of the doctrine may be the more original, and that the story which enshrines the doctrine may have originated among the Marcionites, if it does not come from Marcion himself.

For Marcion was constrained to explain how the Good God came to have any concern at all with mankind. The orthodox Christian might believe that Jesus Christ came in the fulness of time, in accordance with the eternal purpose of God for His Creation. But, according to Marcion, man originally owed no allegiance to the Good God. Man was the handiwork of the Just God, and owed Him allegiance; it was necessary therefore to explain how man's allegiance was transferred to the Good Stranger.

The New Ransom Doctrine of Anselm

But the most curious part of the story, from the point of view of the history of ideas, has yet to be told. The belief that the Redemption was essentially an act by which Man was bought by God from the Devil prevailed among theologians during the first 10 centuries of Christianity.

It was accepted by S. Irenaeus, by Origen, by S. Augustine. But at last it fell into discredit, and a new theory took its place. The author of the new theory was as far removed from heresy as it is possible to be. Anselm was a prince of the Church in his lifetime, and now he is a canonized Saint. This great philosophical thinker was profoundly dissatisfied with the current view of the Atonement. He felt it unworthy to represent God as giving the Devil his due : the redemption of man must be something wholly accomplished and transacted by the Divine Personality, not something paid away by God to some one else. And so Anselm elaborated the famous theory by which the sacrifice of Christ was represented as a debt paid by God's Mercy to God's Justice.

This thought is very near akin to the leading idea of Marcion. In Anselm's system, which was accepted by the mediaeval Church, and is very commonly held even now among Protestants, God's Justice and God's Mercy are eternal principles which play separate and opposing parts.

They are, in fact, if not in name, distinct Persons in the Divine Essence. The world is governed by Justice, and Mercy can only interfere by paying the price to Justice. Justice cannot and will not forgive, and it is distinct from Mercy and Grace. But this is what Marcion taught eight centuries before Anselm. The difference is only in nomenclature.

S. Anselm speaks of the eternal Justice of God, and, on the other hand, of the eternal Mercy of God at last manifested in Christ ; Marcion spoke of the God of the Law, and of the Good and Kind Stranger who sent His Son. I cannot see that there is any real difference.

' If we searched all space,' says Luthardt, ' we should discover only the gospel of power ; if we surveyed all time, only the gospel of righteousness. Only in Jesus Christ do we learn the gospel of grace.'

This characteristic sentence from an orthodox Lutheran theologian, quoted with approval by Canon Ottley in his article on the Incarnation in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible ii 465, seems to me a piece of unadulterated Marcionite doctrine.

Marcion and Church Reaction

I have not attempted to set before you today a complete and ordered exposition of Marcion's doctrines. In the first place, the materials are insufficient ; and, in the second place, you can easily read up for yourselves all that is known about him. What I have tried to do is to show how fundamental and vital were the questions which he raised, and how closely the solution which he proposed, strange and repellent as it sounds, is in touch with the thought of various ages, when it is stripped of mere accidents of 2nd-century phraseology. And, indeed, the controversy between Marcion and the Church was no mere academic discussion.

We are told by Epiphanlus that when Marcion first came to Rome he asked to be admitted to Communion, and when he was refused communion he went on to ask the Roman Presbyters what was meant when our Lord spoke of the new wine and the old bottles and of the folly of putting a new patch on a worn-out garment. It was a great and serious question.

Christianity, we believe, is both old and new ; in this saying of Jesus it is for the moment represented as a thing essentially new, and the problem of how to combine the old and the new still besets the constructive reformer of every age.

But Marcion was told that the worn-out garment signified Judas Iscariot, who was worn out with covetousness, so that he was unable fitly to receive the new and heavenly hope of the Gospel ; and though he was joined on to the eleven Apostles by the Lord, a worse rent came through him, and, moreover, his mind and thought did not agree with the others! Nothing more clearly shews than this answer how incompetent the heads of the Church about 140 A.D. were to resolve the doubts of a keen and earnest thinker like Marcion.

What wonder that Marcion replied by identifying himself with the new piece of cloth and regarding the Church as the worn-out Jewish gabardine !

" I will tear your Church," said he to the Roman Presbyters, '* I will tear your Church and make a rent in it for ever."

The Marcionite schism was a very serious rent, and one that was not mended for many a long day.

The End of the Marcionites

In spite of persecution, at first from the heathen, and afterwards from fellow- Christians, in spite of a severely ascetic mode of life, in spite of 'refutation' by almost every prominent orthodox theologian, one after the other, the followers of Marcion organised themselves into a Church and maintained their corporate existence until after the 5th century. An inscribed stone is still preserved which had stood over the lintel of the Marcionite chapel of a village near Damascus.

[The inscription runs : ' Synagogue of Marcionites of Lebab village of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Xristos), at the expense of the priest Paul in the year 630' — i.e. 318 AD. ; Le Bos iii 583 (2558).]

It is the oldest dated inscription from any Christian place of worship, and it is melancholy to think that in all probability this building was destroyed at the instigation of Christians a few years after it was dedicated. For 318 A.D., the date of the dedication of this Marcionite Chapel, occurs in the interval of toleration between the end of the great Diocletian Persecution (313) and the definite triumph of Christianity under Constantine (324), after which the Marcionites were forbidden to meet for worship either in public or private, and the buildings they had already erected for meeting-places were to be confiscated.

The Marcionites had proved their devotion to our Lord by many a martyrdom, their discipline was strict, their lives were pure ; but the Catholic Church waged war upon them to the death.

I do not intend to take you step by step over the detailed refutations of Marcion by Tertullian and Epiphanius.

The detailed refutation of a lost cause generally arouses sympathy rather than conviction, for we ourselves are obliged to supply the arguments on the heretic's side. Moreover, the orthodox champions do much less than justice to Marcion.

Tertullian is epigrammatic, harsh, and wholly without the sympathy which alone can comprehend ; while Epiphanius, for all his erudition, — well, think of the narrowest clergyman of your acquaintance and what he thinks and says of the Dissenters in his parish — that (only much worse) is the attitude of Saint Epiphanius toward heretics.

We shall do better to leave Tertullian and Epiphanius alone, until we have a better idea of the principles underlying both parties. For, after all, the formal refutations do not supply us with the principal reasons why the Church rejected Marcion. As in all great questions, the two parties ranged themselves on opposing sides not so much from the objections which could be raised against the other's views as from allegiance to positive principles.

And it is comparatively easy to pick holes in your opponent's case, to point out the weaknesses and inconsistencies into which he has fallen ; but for the most part triumphant demonstrations of this kind only serve to encourage fellow-believers.

The Clash of Principles

For us, after the lapse of seventeen centuries, it is more interesting and more profitable to try and get at the positive ideals which underlay the controversial tactics of the two camps.

We have seen what were some of the main principles of Marcion : the eternal antithesis of Law and Gospel, of Justice and Mercy, of Nature and Grace. Now let us see why the Church refused the dilemma. What were the principles to which the Church clung when Marcion was swept away?

The answer to this query lies implicitly, as I venture to think, in a piece of literary borrowing, which surprised me much when I first came across it, but which I now see to have a real appropriateness.

Tertullian, as you have heard, wrote a long and elaborate refutation of Marcion. He also wrote, or (as some think) a Carthaginian contemporary wrote, a treatise against the Jews.

Whether this treatise against the Jews was actually compiled by Tertullian, or not, does not greatly matter; the important point for us is undisputed, viz. that it was published a very few years after the publication of Tertullian's work against Marcion. The two works appeared at the same place, and belong to the same school of thought ; they are, in fact, practically designed for the same public.

Now the surprising thing is that about half the treatise against the Jews is simply copied out of the Third Book against Marcion. Paragraph after paragraph agrees verbally, or only with the omission of a contemptuous reference to Marcion's Pontic birth.

[ Cf. Aliud est si penes Ponticos barbariae gentis infantes in proelium erumpunt {adv. Marc, iii 13) = Aliud est si penes uos infantes in proelium erumpunt {adv. lud. § 9). ]

It does not matter whether the writer of the treatise against the Jews was Tertullian plagiarising from himself, or some one else plagiarising from Tertullian. The important thing is that the same arguments that were thought appropriate to use against the Jews were thought appropriate to use against Marcion the anti-Jew.

The Fight over the O.T. Inheritance

Surprising as it seems at first sight, the Church had to a great extent the same controversy with both opponents. The Church was determined to maintain its claim to be the true heir of the promises of the Old Testament, the promises made of old to the Fathers.

The Jews and Marcion had this in common, that they disputed the claim of the Christian Church to be the legitimate successor of the Patriarchs and the Prophets, and this was a claim that it was vital for the Church to make.

The claim was made good. Of course the price had to be paid. We sometimes hear that there is too much of the Old Testament in the Christian Religion ; that may have been, and may be still, true of certain forms which Christianity has taken. But, on the whole, there can be no doubt that the Church was right and that Marcion was wrong.

The Church was right both as a matter of history and as a matter of religious theory. As a matter of history, there can be no doubt that Jesus Christ Himself believed that He came not to destroy but to fulfil, and that He believed that the Father whom He preached was the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of the Prophets and the Psalmists. No one had known the Father but the Son ; yes, but that was because men were blind and crass, not because God was a stranger.

Our Lord was not the kind of Messiah that the Jews were expecting, but none the less He was a Branch out of the root of Jesse. He was a Jew by birth, by training, by His whole environment ; and to forget or deny this, as Marcion denied it, and to regard Him as something wholly new, come down from the Absolute, is to make Christ and Christianity incomprehensible and unreal.

And as a matter of religious theory Marcionism is inferior to its rival. In fact, we can see this now much clearer than it could be seen in the 2nd century.

The Non-historical Nature of Marcion's Doctrine

Neither Tertullian nor Marcion had much idea of the orderly development of Religion from crude and childish notions about God and the world to thoughts adequate for a maturer stage in human history. But while Development occupies only a small space in the Catholic theory, in Marcion's theory there was no room for it at all.

It is a theory of catastrophe : a New God comes down from nowhere, and proclaims true religion for the first time. And closely allied with Marcion's rejection of the Old Testament history as being in any sense the history of true religion was his denial of the reality of our Lord's body as being in any sense true flesh and blood. Marcion's Christ con- descends to treat with the God of the Law, but He will have nothing to do with Matter, which in Marcion's view was a thing altogether unclean and outside the Christ's beneficent operations.

The refusal of the Catholic Church to give up the real humanity of our Lord, or to regard our material life as essentially unclean and impure, — the two refusals are most intimately connected — is one of the highest claims it has upon the gratitude of the modern world.

That what is Divine is degraded by becoming really human carries with it the corollary that the things which really make up human life, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, the trivial round, the common task, have no part in the service of God.

They are not things to be consecrated : they have nothing to do with religion. Consequently we find those that hold this theory either regard mere morality as a thing indifferent ; or, as more often happens with those in whom the religious feeling, the devotion to the Divine, is strong, they fall into the opposite error of asceticism.

The Aceticism of Marcion

Among these was Marcion, and he impressed his beliefs on his followers. According to Marcion, the procreation of children was a doing the works of the Creator of this world, an act unworthy of a member of Christ. And so no Marcionite was admitted to baptism, unless the candidate was prepared to live a life of absolute continence from that day forward. Holy Matrimony to the Marcionite meant marriage to Christ, and for man and wife to live together meant divorce from Christ.

Tertullian's strictures on Marcion about this very important point are both vigorous and sensible. Gluttony, he says, is bad, but that is no reason for proscribing food (Tert. adv. Marc, i 29, iv 34); what is needed is temperance. Marriage may be the cause of many evils, but it is not to blame for those evils. In common with almost all Church writers, Tertullian believes that 'holiness,' i,e, a life of continence, is better than the married state, but (he says) we hold up this ideal not as good as opposed to bad, but as a better as opposed to good. And, he adds, when marriage is attacked as unlawful for Christians, the Church expressly defends it.

We shall all be ready to side with Tertullian here, rather than with his opponent. But we must be careful about the terms we use in reprobating the Marcionite theory and practice.

Marcion was not alone in his rejection of marriage. Nor was the actual practice of his adherents quite so revolutionary as it sounds to our ears. The mere fact that the Marcionites continued to exist for more than three centuries, enjoying all the while a reputation not for licence, but for puritanical austerity, is enough to shew that they were not a sect of 'race-suicides.'

It was in their Sacramental theory rather than in their social life that the Marcionites differed from their Catholic cousins. No doubt there were many young folk among them who volunteered early for baptism and actual participation in the Holy Communion, just as there were, and are still, young Catholics who volunteer to become monks and nuns, and remain so.

But these, I venture to think, did not form the majority of the sectaries. The majority lived like their neighbours in the world, attending their 'Church' (in which they were allowed to witness the celebration of the Eucharist without partaking of the sacramental meal), and no doubt distributing towards the necessities of the Saints. Such persons, of course had not yet been through the ceremony of baptism. No doubt most of them were married like their Pagan neighbours : the Wedding Feast, and for aught I know the Wedding Ring itself, is a good deal older than Christianity.

But a Marcionite marriage was not recognised by the Marcionite Church, and neither man nor woman was admitted to baptism and communion until he or she was ready to live apart for the future. The general result, therefore, was that the sacramental life was deferred ; it became a preparation for entering the life after death rather than a regime for the present.

This view of the Sacraments was by no means confined to the followers of Marcion. I have attempted elsewhere to show that it prevailed in the Syriac-speaking Church down to the 4th century. It is at least certain that candidates for Baptism in this branch of the Church were warned that if their hearts were set on marriage they had better turn back from Baptism* and go away and be married. (* Aphraates, Horn, vii 20. ) Yet these folk were in communion with the rest of the Catholic Church, and their Bishops sat with the rest in the Council of Nicaea. And we may remember that the Council of Nicaea was summoned by Constantine the Great, a Christian Emperor who thought it well and seemly to delay his own baptism until a few months before his death.

The reservation of the Sacraments for those who had withdrawn themselves from the world by celibacy and freedom from worldly cares is not therefore a special feature of Marcionism .

None the less we cannot doubt that the Church was right to reject it. Both the Catholics and the Marcionites believed that the reception of the Eucharist involved the real presence of God in the recipient. But while the Marcionite s thought that so holy a Presence ought not to be mingled with the elements of everyday human life, the Catholic theory, however haltingly and however imperfectly, declared that the elements of everyday life are not essentially unclean, and that the highest union with the Divine Nature of which man is capable will consecrate these elements, not destroy them.

All this was involved in the Church's controversy with Marcion. The issues at stake were really great and always new and vital. When we remember this, we may be more able to understand and partly to excuse the bitterness with which Church writers speak of an ardent and earnest Christian thinker.

The 'Bible' of Marcion (Luke Abridged)

I must now say a few words upon Marcion's Bible, that is to say, his Gospel, and his edition of S. Paul's Epistles. Thirty or forty years ago this would have been the centre of interest in a Lecture on Marcion.

A very general belief was then current in critical circles that the Gospel accepted by Marcion was not, as Tertullian and Epiphanius asserted, a mutilated edition of S. Luke, cut about to suit the heretic's notions.

It was thought that Marcion's Gospel might be the original and our S. Luke a later interpolated version used by the orthodox. But this theory has been entirely given up on closer study of the question from various points of view.

The assertions of Tertullian and Epiphanius have been fully vindicated, and Marcion's Gospel has sunk into a mere curiosity of literature.

In the first place, the numerous omissions, by which Marcion's Gospel chiefly differs from the canonical S. Luke, are all, or almost all, easily explicable. Most of them, indeed, could not have been retained by one who held Marcion's views.

The birth of Jesus Christ from a human parent and the baptism of Jesus Christ by a prophet of the old order were inconsistent with what Marcion taught. Marcion did not believe that Jesus could have said that God had clothed the grass of this material world, or that He could have declared the old Prophets to have spoken of Him. So all these passages are absent from the Marcionite Gospel.

But no one doubts that they form a genuine portion of the Third Gospel.

Evidence from Luke's Style

Again, the linguistic evidence is fatal to the priority of the Marcionite edition. If the parts rejected by Marcion did not really belong to the Third Gospel, but were later accretions, there should be some difference of style between these portions and the rest. But as a matter of fact there is none.

The characteristic style of the Lucan writings equally pervades the passages rejected and the passages retained by Marcion; in fact, there is nothing to separate the two classes except that what Marcion rejected does not fit his peculiar theory.* (* The linguistic evidence is admirably marshalled in Dr. Sanday's Gospels in the 2ond Century pp. 222-230.)

Synoptic Evidence for Lukan Priority over Marcion

The trend of modern Synoptic criticism is also adverse to the priority of Marcion's Gospel. The Gospel according to S. Luke is a composite work, compiled by the Evangelist from two main sources, one identical with, or at all events nearly re- sembling, our Gospel according to S. Mark, the other mostly consisting of our Lord's Discourses.

But Marcion's omissions are spread over both documents. Some of the passages omitted, such as * Go and tell that fox ' (Lk 13:32), are peculiar to S. Luke ; others, such as the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (20:9-18) and the Widow's Mite (21:1-4), are found also in S. Mark.

It is, I firmly believe, impossible to invent a hypothesis which will account for the actual facts, except the hypothesis advanced by the Church Fathers, that Marcion himself abridged S. Luke's Gospel. Of course, he believed himself to be restoring the pure Gospel, purged of foreign accretions, but from a purely literary and historical point of view we can scarcely agree with him.

One thing, however, we may note in passing. Marcion is, in a sense, the last of the Evangelists. He is the last to produce a book, professing to give the Gospel Story, which is not a mere Harmony of the Four Gospels. The Christian of a later age, however heretical, did not feel himself free to select and to reject; Marcion's method of treating S. Luke does not differ in kind, only in result, from S. Luke's very free treatment of S. Mark's Gospel.

Paul's Letters

The Collection of Paul's Letters into a Corpus

A copy of the Marcionite edition of S. Paul's Epistles would be, on the whole, a more valuable discovery than a copy of the Marcionite Gospel.

The Marclonite Gospel is merely an abridged and altered edition of what we already possess, but Marcion's edition of the Pauline Epistles very possibly represents an earlier stage of the collection of S. Paul's letters than the canonical.

The history of the collection of these letters is distinct from the question of the genuineness of any or either of them. That the longer letters ascribed to S. Paul are really his, is the verdict of most scholars, whether they belong to the critical school or otherwise ; and further, it seems probable that several of these letters, notably 1st Corinthians and Galatians, have come down to us practically in their original form.

But there is no great probability that S. Paul himself made a collected edition of his letters, or even that he kept copies of those that he sent. He may have done so, but there is no evidence. It is indeed wholly uncertain how or when these letters were first brought together into a Corpus, I think we may fairly consider our present collection to be at least a 2nd edition, revised and enlarged ; and there is something to be said for supposing that the previous edition was due to Marcion's reverence for the great Apostle.

As I said before, this question is distinct from the question of the genuineness of the several letters. There is clear evidence that some of the letters, especially 1st Corinthians, were known and held in great respect by writers earlier than or contemporary with Marcion. But there is no tangible evidence for an Apostolicon, a collection of the Epistles.

Thus S. Clement of Rome, writing to the Church at Corinth, quotes 1st Corinthians by name, and most appropriately:

''Take up the letter of the blessed Paul the apostle, how ... he spiritually charged you concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos." * I Clem, xlvii i.

But it is more than doubtful whether S. Clement had ever heard of the letter which we call 2nd Corinthians, and it is very likely that the genuine letters of Paul, out of which our Epistle is composed, were at that time lying unknown to the rest of the Christian world in Corinth itself.

Again, there is very little to suggest that S. Ignatius knew the letter to the Galatians, though he certainly knew 1st Corinthians, and probably knew Ephesians.

When, therefore, we consider Marcion's special interest in S. Paul, he being, according to Marcion, the only one who understood the doctrine that Jesus came to deliver to mankind ; and when, further, we remember that Marcion was perhaps more of a traveller than any other Christian in the 2nd century, and therefore had opportunities for collection above most of his contemporaries ; when we consider these things, we may be permitted to wonder whether Marcion may not have been the first to make a regular collection of the Pauline Epistles.

At the same time, I should be sorry to leave you with the impression that this hypothesis is an assured result of criticism. It is not so ; it is no more than a guess, and the evidence is not sufficient to enable us to reach anything like certainty in the matter.

[ *Marcion's collection consisted of ten letters, which he arranged as follows : — Galatians, i Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, i and 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians (called by Marcion, ' To the Lao- dicaeans '), Colossians, Philemon, Philippians. He did not receive the Epistles to Timothy and to Titus. ]

Marcion and the First NT 'Canon'

Marcion's share in the collection of the Pauline Epistles must remain doubtful. But there can be little doubt that he was the first to canonise the New Testament.

The Bible of the earliest generations of Christians was the Bible of the Jewish Church. The Law and the Prophets and the Psalms, together with the still undefined limits of the rest of the Books, were to them the recorded Word of God.

The Idea of a new volume, to be added to what had been written aforetime, was strange and foreign to their thought. No one can read S. Luke's Preface to his great work and not feel that the author could never have imagined that his work would be sacred, otherwise than by the fact that words of the Lord Jesus were recorded in it.

S. Paul writes to his spiritual children with natural authority, but the Gospel which he enforces is a living, floating belief, not a written record. And this remained the point of view of the early Church. They remembered the words of the Lord Jesus, they repeated the prayer He had taught His disciples to use, but the Scripture, the written Word of God, remained what it had been. To such an extent is this the case, that when we find in a very early Christian writing, the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, the words, 'Many called, but few chosen,' with as it is written prefixed, we feel that we are confronted with a real difficulty. (* Bam. iv 14. [note: this is not a difficulty for many. Barnabas may be indeed quoting a written Gospel.])

It is probable that 'Barnabas' really had the words of Jesus in his mind, whether he knew of them through our Gospel according to Matthew or from some earlier collection of sayings ; but it is very improbable that he intentionally quoted them with the regular Scripture formula. It has therefore been supposed, with a good deal of reason, that he had forgotten the reference, and consequently has employed the formula as it is written by inadvertence for the more appropriate ' as the Lord said to His disciples,' or something of that kind.

The Church felt in no need of a new Bible ; as we have seen, the preoccupation of Church theologians was to vindicate the Church's claim to be the Heir of the Covenants, to prove that the Law and the Prophets rightfully belonged to the Christian Church rather than to the unfaithful Jewish Synagogue.

But Marcion rejected the Law and the Prophets. He was left without a Bible. For him true Religion began with the descent of the Son of God to preach in Galilee. The record of this preaching was for him what the mystical lives of the Patriarchs were to Jewish and orthodox Christians, and the writings of the true theologian Paul were the true prophecy.

Thus for Marcion the Gospel and the Epistles made up a New Testament [i.e., a whole 'Bible'], replacing the Old.

The Catholic Church complained, not without reason, that Marcion's Gospel was nothing more than a mutilated version of a thoroughly orthodox and trustworthy work, and it was not to be expected that Marcion's edition of S. Paul's letters would be accepted without scrutiny as complete or accurate in text.

But the fact remains' that Marcion is the first to come before us with a collection of Christian writings which are treated as Scripture, that is, as works out of the words of which doctrine can be proved.

Before Marcion's time, in the works of what are commonly called the Apostolic Fathers, we can find traces of the literary use of certain of S. Paul's Epistles and (less certainly) traces of the use of some of our Gospels. But though the Old Testament is often quoted, no formal quotation is found from the books which comprise the New Testament, with the exception of the quotation of 1st Corinthians by Clement and the passage from the Epistle of Barnabas to which I have just now referred.

Marcion then appears on the scene with a collection of books, which, though rudimentary and incomplete, is recognisably our New Testament.

A generation later we find the idea of a written record by Evangelists and Apostles firmly rooted in Catholic theology. When we remember that this same Marcion, in whose hands a New Testament is first found, had far greater need than his Catholic brethren of an authoritative New Testament, it is impossible to avoid the inference that to Marcion himself is due the introduction of Christian books into the sacred Canon. The books were not new ; they were used and venerated before, but they did not occupy the same rank as the Old Law.

A New Testament Canon of some kind would doubtless have been formed, if Marcion had never appeared, and, as a matter of fact, the Church rejected Marcion's Gospel in favour of earlier documents. What we really owe to Marcion, as I venture to think, is the enormous preponderance of the writings of S. Paul in our New Testament.

To Marcion, as afterwards to the Reformers of the 16th century, S. Paul was the great Theologian, the leader and fashioner of theological thought.

But it was not so to the early Catholic Church. The antithesis of Law and Grace, Justification by Faith, the Church regarded as the Body of Christ, — on all these points the ancient baptismal Creeds are silent.

I think it would surprise any one who knew the writings of the early Fathers from Clement of Rome to the Nicene Age, but was unacquainted with the New Testament, to learn that even though the Gospel was included four times over, letters of Paul occupied a quarter of the official Canon.

It is the great service which Marcion rendered to the Church, that he recognised and emphasised with a fervour, that was none the less effective for being narrow and one-sided, the unique position of the great Apostle of the Gentiles.

[For the Marcionite Prologues to S. Paul's Epistles, see the separate Note, p. 353-]

Latin Prologues to St Paul


AMONG the many contributions to Biblical and Patristic learning that have been made during the last three hundred years by members of the Benedictine Order few have been so startling as the sixteen pages communicated by Dom D. de Bruyne to the Revue Benedictine for January 1907.

The object of Dom de Bruyne's paper is to shew that the short 'arguments' or prologues, prefixed to S. Paul's Epistles in most MSS of the Latin Vulgate and frequently printed in Editions of the Bible, are the work of Marcion and were originally composed as headings for the Epistles in the Marcionite Apostolicon.

This surprising theory has been accepted by Harnack (Theologische Literaturzeitung for March, 1907), and indeed after reading de Bruyne's paper it is difficult to understand why so many generations of scholars, from Victorinus and Ambrosiaster to those of our own day, should have been blind to the marks of Marcionite authorship.

The set does not include an 'argument 'to Hebrews, and those to Timothy and Titus, and to 2 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians, are of a different construction from the others. The argument to Ephesians also is later, being merely an imitation of those to Philippians and Thessalonians.

But the remainder all belong to one series, which also included an Epistle ' to the Laodiceans.' They were arranged in this order : Galatians, Corin- thians, Romans, Thessalonians, [Laodiceans,] Colossians, Philippians, Philemon.

At least it is certain that Galatians came before Corinthians and that Colossians came immediately after 'Laodiceans,' — and this is Marcion's order and nomenclature.

But it is the contents of these Prologues, their standpoint and theological ideas, that are definitely Marcionite . They are the work of one who was as much obsessed by the opposition of Paulinism to Judaizing Christianity as was Baur himself.

All the Epistles are looked at from the point of view of the Epistle to the Galatians and the struggle between the Apostle and his opponents the Pseudo-Apostles. None but Marcionites occupied this point of view in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

And who but a Marcionite would have described the teaching of the 'false Apostles' as it is de- scribed in the Prologue to Romans, where it says that their converts ' had been brought into the Law and the Prophets ' (in legem et prophetas erant inducti) ?

The Law might be merely Jewish in parts, but the very essence of 2nd-century Catholic theology was that the Prophets spoke God's word about Christ and the Church.

It was Marcion alone who rejected the Prophets. As the Prologues are so short, I quote them in full that they may speak for themselves : —

"Galatians are Greeks. These accepted the word of truth first from the Apostle, but after his departure were tempted by false Apostles to turn to the law and circumcision. These the Apostle recalls to the faith of the truth, writing to them from Ephesus.'

* Corinthians are of Achaia. And these similarly heard the word of truth from the Apostle and were perverted variously by false Apostles, some by the wordy eloquence of philosophy, others brought in by the sect of the Jewish Law. These the Apostle recalls to the true Evangelical wisdom, writing to them from Ephesus by Timothy.'

'Romans are in the parts of Italy. These were reached beforehand by false Apostles, and under the name of our Lord Jesus Christ had been brought in to the Law and the Prophets. These the Apostle recalls to the true Evangelical faith, writing to them from Corinth.'

' Thessalonians are Macedonians [in Christ Jesus], who having accepted the word of truth persevered in the faith even in persecution from their fellow-citizens. Moreover, also, they received not the things said by false Apostles. These the Apostle praises, writing to them from Athens [by Timothy].'

' Laodiceans ... ' (missing).^

' Colossians — these also like the Laodiceans are of Asia, and they had been reached before- hand by Pseudo-Apostles, nor did the Apostle himself come to them. But these also by an Epistle he corrects, for they had heard the word from Archippus, who also accepted a ministry unto them. Therefore the Apostle already in custody writes to them from Ephesus.'

' Philippians are Macedonians. These having accepted the word of truth persevered in the faith, nor did they receive false Apostles. These the Apostle praises, writing to them from Rome [out of prison by Epaphroditus].'

'To Philemon he sends a private letter for Onesimus his slave, and writes to him from Rome out of prison.'

- The extant Argument to the Ep. to the Ephesians runs as follows :
' Ephesians are of Asia. These having accepted the word of truth persevered in the faith. These the Apostle praises, writing to them from the City of Rome out of prison by Tychicus the Deacon.'

The bracketed passages are omitted in the text as read in the Freising Palimpsest, the only extant Old Latin MS of this part of the New Testament. The Prologues are said to be not by the first hand in this MS, but, even if this be so, they were added in the 6th or 7th century, and thus this text is one of the oldest and most independent we possess of them. It is worth remark that no prologue is given in the Freising MS to 2 Corinthians, a fact which accords with de Bruyne's view that the short Prologue to this epistle found in many MSS does not belong to the Marcionite series.

When once the key-word 'Marcion' has been uttered, the Prologues need no commentary. I cannot do better than conclude here in Harnack's words {Tkeo/. Ltztg. 1907, col. 140). After point- ing out that the Prologues must have been originally composed in Greek, not only because of certain expressions, but also because no one living in the West would have written Romani sunt in partibus Italiae, Harnack says :

"We know now, unless unexpected objections are raised, that just as the Catholic Martyrology goes back to an Arian Martyrology [i.e. that quoted on p. 254], so also the ancient Prologues are a monument of the Marcionite Church standing in the midst of the Catholic New Testament. Is not the canonised collection of the Pauline Epistles itself such a monument ? "

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