,) one of the most celebrated of the so-called heretics of the second century.
He was a native of Pontus.
The account, prevalent in the days of Epiphanius, of which there is no reason to doubt the correctness, made him a native of Sinope in Hellenopontus. Tertullian repeatedly calls him a ship-master, nauclerus (Adv. Marc.
1.18, 3.6, 4.9, &c.), and, according to one MS. and the version of Rufinus, Rhodon, a writer of the latter part of the second century (apud Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 5.13
), calls him the seaman Marcion. Some moderns have doubted whether so learned a man could have been in such an occupation, but we see no reason to question the statement, nor does his learning appear to have been great. His father was bishop of a Christian church (probably at Sinope), but there is reason to think that Marcion had grown up before his father's conversion, for Tertullian intimates (De Praescrip. Hereticor.
100.30) that he had been a stoic, and speaks of his " finding out God" (Adv. Marcion,
i. l), expressions which indicate that he had not been brought up as a Christian, but had become a convert in an adult age, after inquiry, and on his own conviction. Be this as it may, he appears to have been a sincere and earnest believer, characterised by the severity of his ascetic practices; nor does he at first seem to have entertained, at least he did not avow, any opinions at variance with the usual belief of the church with which he was in full communion.
The course of his life was, however, altogether altered by his excommunication.
The occasion of this is, in the spurious addition to one of the works of Tertullian (De Praescrip. Haeret.
100.51 ), and by Epiphanius, stated to have been his seduction of a girl ; but the silence of Tertullian in his genuine works, and of the other early opponents of Marcion, ready as they would have been to lay hold on anything unfavourable to him, throws, as Beausobre and Lardner have shown, considerable doubt on the accusation. Beausobre and Neander suppose that he was cut off from the church on account of his having already begun to propagate his obnoxious sentiments as to the Mosaic dispensation and the Old Testament generally. Even if the charge brought against him by Epiphanius be credited, there is no reason to regard his delinquency as an evidence of habitual licentiousness: it stands in marked contrast with the rigour of his system and with the ordinary tenor of his life, and at a later period he himself excommunicated Apelles, one of his disciples, for a similar, perhaps even a less heinous, offence. (Tertull. ibid.
100.30.) Epipbanius further adds, that his first desire after his fall was to be restored to the communion of the church, and that, in order to this, he professed penitence; but that his father, by whom he ad been excommunicated, refused to restore him, being angry at the shame which had fallen upon himself by his son's fall; or possibly (if there be any truth in the story at all), from an apprehension that his near connection with the offender might incline hinm, or make him suspected of inclining, to undue lenity. Failing to obtain his readmission, and unable to bear the opprobrium which his conduct had incurred, Marcion went to Rome. Epiphanius says that he arrived there after the decease of Pope Hyginus, a statement which is subject to considerable doubt, and of which, in any case, the uncertainty of the early Papal chronology prevents our fixing the date. Tillemont places the pope's death and Marcion's arrival in A. D. 142; but if Justin Martyr wrote his First Apology in which Marcion's residence at Rome, and his teaching his heretical views are mentioned (Justin. Apol. Prima,
c26), in A. D. 139. [JUSTINUS, ecclesiastical, No. 1], Marcion must have settled at Rome some years earlier.
According to Epiphanius, Marcion's first care, on his arrival at Rome, was to apply to be admitted into communion with the church, but he was refused. Epiphanius adds, that he had aspired to succeed to the vacant bishopric,--a statement too absurd to merit refutation, especially taken in conneetion with the story of his previous incontinence ; and that disappointed ambition stimulated him to unite himself with the Syrian Gnostic Cerdon, then at Rome, to adopt and propagate his opinions, and to carry out the threat with which he parted from the elders of the Roman church on their refusal to receive him, that "he would cause a perpetual schism among them." Imputation of motives is so easy and so common, that it has little weight, especially when the writer is so credulous and uncharitable as Epiphanius; nor is his statement of facts in accordance with Tertullian, who tells us (De Praescrip. Haeret.
100.30) that Marcion was in communion with the Roman church, and professed to hold the general belief; under the episcopate of Eleutherius, but that on account of the ever-restless curiosity with which lie pursued his inquiries, he was repeatedly (semel atque iterum) excommunicated, the last time finally (in perpetuum discidium relegatus).
It is possible that he may, on his final ejection, have uttered some such threat as that attributed to him by Epiphanius, yet in that case Tertullian would have hardly forborne to mention it; and it may be observed that Marcion's repeated reconciliation with the church, and retractation or concealment of his opinions, indicate a greater pliancy of temper and a more anxious desire to avoid a schism than it has been usual to impute to him. Tertullian is, indeed, by some critics, yet we think on insufficient ground, supposed to have confounded Marcion with Cerdon, of whom Irenaeus (Adv. Haeres.
3.4) gives a somewhat similar account.
We have seen that Marcion was at Rome, and engaged in the propagation of his views which implies his separation from the church, in A. D. 139, when Justin wrote his First Apology. Whether he travelled intodistant provinces to diffuse his opinions is very doubtful. Most modern critics, including Tillemont, Beausobre, and Lardner, think that he did; but the passages cited from the ancients in support of the supposition are quite insufficient.
That views similar to his were widely diffused in various parts, especially of the East, is indisputable, but that the diffusion was owing to his personal exertions and influence is by no means clear; and we do not know of any distinct evidence that he ever left Rome after his first arrival there.
The passages from Tertullian and Ephrem Syrus are mere declamatory expressions, and the passage usually cited from Jerome (Epist. cxxxiii. ad Ctesiphont.
vol. i. col. 1025, ed. Vallarsii), if it has any foundation in truth, is most naturally referred to Marcion's first journey from Sinope to Rome; and it was probably on that same journey that he became acquainted with the venerable Polycarp, whom he afterwards met, apparently at Rome, and who, when Marcion asked if he knew him, replied, "I know thee as the first-born of Satan." (Irenaeus, Adv. Haeres.
This anecdote of Marcion's anxiety to claim acquaintance with that venerable man is in accordance with his desire to be reconciled to the Catholic Church, a desire which continued to the close of his life, for after all his misbelief, the ministers, apparently of the Roman church, agreed to restore him on condition of his bringing back with hin those whim he had led into error.
This condition seems to show that his own immediate disciples were not numerous, and that the widely diffused body that held similar views, and was called by his name, had rather followed an independent course of thougllt than been influenced by him. His compliance with the condition of his restoration was prevented by his death, the time of which is quite unknown. (Tertullian, de I'raescript. Haeret.
The doctrinal system of Marcion was of remarkable character. Its great feature was the irreconcileable opposition which it supposed to exist between the Creator and the Christian God, and between the religious systems, the Law and the Gospel, which it was believed they had respectively founded. Whether he held two or three original principles is not clear. Rhodon (apud Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 5.13
) and Augusitin (de Haeres.
100.22) say he held two, Epiphanius charges him with holding three, --one, nameless and invisible, the Supreme, whom Marcion termed " the Good ;" another "the visible God, the Creator ;" the third, " the Devil," or perhaps matter, the source of evil. Theodoret says he held four " unbegotten existences,"--the good God. the Creator, matter, and the evil ruler of matter, meaning, apparently, the Devil.
That he held matter to be eternal is admitted; the doubtful point is whether he really held the Creator to have been a principle, or to have been in some way derived from the good God.
That he regarded them as independent first principles is the most natural inference from the strong opposition which he conceived to exist between them, and which formed the prominent feature in his doctrinal system.
He was probably led to the belief of this opposition by the difficulty he found in reconciling the existence of evil, so prevalent in the world, with the attribute of goodness in the Deity, which was so distinctly manifested in the gospel.
This is Tertullian's account of the origin of his heresy (Adr. Marcion.
1.2), and it is apparently the true one; nor will it materially differ from the account of Neander, that Marcion could not perceive in nature or in the Old Testament the same love which was manifested in the Gospel of Christ.
He accordingly made the Creator, the God of the Old Testament, the author of evils, "malorum factored," according to the statement of Irenaeus (Adv. Haeres.
1.29), by which he meant that he was the author, not of moral evil, but of suffering.
The old dispensation was, according to him, given by the Creator, who chose out the Jews as his own people, and promised to them a Messiah. Jesus was not this Messiah, but the son of the " unseen and unnamed" God, and had appeared on earth in the outward form of man, possibly a mere phantasm, to deliver souls, and to upset the dominion of the Creator; and Marcion further supposed that, when he descended into Hades, he had delivered, not those who in the Old Testament were regarded as saints, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, &c., who were apprehensive of some delusion and would not believe, but rather those who had rejected or disobeyed the Creator, such as Cain, Esau, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
The other doctrines of Marcion were such as naturally flowed from this prominent feature of his system.
He condemned marriage, and admitted none who were living in the married state to baptism; for he did not think it right to enlarge, by propagation, a race born in subjection to the harsh rule of the Creator. (Clem. Alex. Strom.
3.3.) His followers did not hesitate to brave martyrdom, and boasted of the number of their martyrs.
He denied the resurrection of the body; and, according to the very questionable authority of Epiphanius, believed in transmigration.
He admitted persons to baptism, Epiphanius says, three times, apparently requiring a repetition of it after any great sin; but as Tertullian does not notice this threefold baptism, it was probably introduced after Marcion's time. His followers permitted women to baptize probably those of their own sex, and allowed catechumens to be present at the celebration of the mysteries.
According to Chrysostom, when a catechumen died they baptized another person for him; but even Tillemont supposes that this was not their original practice. They fasted on the Sabbath, out of opposition to the Creator, who had rested on that day.
Edition of the New Testament
It was a necessary consequence of these views that Marcion should reject a considerable part of the New Testament. The Old Testament he regarded as a communication from the Creator to his people the Jews, not only separate from Christianity, but opposed to it.
He acknowledged but one Gospel, formed by the mutilation of the Gospel of St. Luke. which, it may be reasonably supposed, he believed he was restoring, by such mutilation, to its original purity.
He rejected the greater part of the four first chapters, commencing his gospel with the words, "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar God came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and he taught on the Sabbath," &c. (as in Luke, 4.31, &c.).
He omitted all those passages in our Lord's discourses in which he recognised the Creator as his father.
He received the following Epistles of Paul:--to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, and acknowledged certain portions of a supposed Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans ; but the Epistles which he received were, according to Epiphanius, whose testimony in this respect there is no reason to doubt, mutilated and corrupted.
Marcion, besides his edition, if we may so term it, of the New Testament, compiled a work entitled Antithesis,
consisting of passages from the Old and from the New Testament which he judged to be mutually contradictory.
This work was examined and answered by Tertullian, in his fourth book against Marcion.
Epistle cited by Tertullian
Tertullian also cites (De Carne Christi,
100.2) an epistle of Marcion, but without further describing it.
Justin Martyr and Irenaeus,ll. cc.;
Tertullian, Adv. Marcion. Libri V. de Praescripf. Haeret.
passim; Epiphan. Panarium. Haeres.
xlii; the numerous other passages in ancient writers have been collected by Ittigius, de Haeresiarchis,
sect. 2.100.7; Tillemont, Mémoires,
vol. ii. p. 266, &c.; Beausobre, Hist. de Manichéisme,
liv. iv. ch. v.--viii.; and Lardner, Hist. of Heretics,
b. ii. ch. x.
See also Neander, Church History
(by Rose), vol. ii. p. 119, &c.; Cave, Hist. Litt.
ad ann. 128, vol. i. p. 54, ed. Oxford, 1740-- 42.