The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great

By Henry Chadwick | Go to book overview

11 Marcion

The apostle Paul insisted on the utter newness of what God had done in Christ (e.g. 2 Cor. 5: 17). A reader of Galatians 4. 24-6 would naturally deduce that the Mosaic law was a bondage into which no Gentile Christian, perhaps not even Jewish Christians, ought to be tied. Freedom from that law was a priceless gift of Christ in response to faith. By faith Gentile believers had deliverance from the 'elements of the world', the planetary powers of fate which also determined when Jewish feasts, such as new moon, were celebrated. If they listened to teachers telling them now to observe circumcision, sabbaths, and Jewish feasts, they would be returning to bondage (Gal. 4: 9). Such utterances could easily produce a radicalized Paulinism which put a negative interpretation on the Old Testament.

A root-and-branch separation of old and new was proclaimed about 140 at Rome by Marcion, a shipmaster from Pontus on the Black Sea coast, who was struck by the partly gnostic ideas of a certain Cerdo. Marcion was disturbed by the problem of evil in a world said to be created by a God wholly good, all-powerful, and possessing foreknowledge, who must have known that human nature would lapse into sin. If this fall could have been simply averted by the intervention of divine grace and that grace was withheld, does not the God who failed to give help bear ultimate responsibility? Marcion further reasoned that an environment containing scorpions and other noxious insects or poisonous plants must reflect some deficiency of goodness in its Maker. And then the sexuality of the animal and human parts of creation seemed particularly repulsive and humiliating.

These shortcomings discerned in nature and in human society appeared to Marcion strikingly similar to the moral imperfections of the God of the Jews who in their scriptures is revealed to be the Creator of this unhappy world. Marcion saw the God of the old covenant as a stern judge severely punishing transgressions of the Mosaic Law even for trivial matters, contrasting with the kindness and mercy of the God revealed in Jesus. Paul had taught that love transcended law, goodness was more than strict justice. Marcion drew a drastic conclusion: the Creator-god who gave the Law is inferior to a higher, supreme God of goodness and love first revealed by and incarnate in Jesus. The Creator was indeed divine, but far from supreme. Gnostic teachers liked

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The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Church in Ancient Society iii
  • Prefatory Note vi
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The First Followers of Jesus 5
  • 2: The Jewish Matrix 13
  • 3: Jews and Christians Survive Rome's Crushing of Revolts 21
  • 4: The Hebrew Scriptures in the Church 27
  • 5: Interpreting Scripture 32
  • 6: Apostles and Evangelists 43
  • 7: Women Among Jesus' Followers 53
  • 8: 'Barnabas', Jewish Christianity, Trouble at Corinth 56
  • 9: Ignatius of Antioch 65
  • 10: Didache 84
  • 11: Marcion 89
  • 12: Justin 93
  • 13: Irenaeus of Lyon 100
  • 14: The New Testament Text 108
  • 15: Celsus: A Platonist Attack 110
  • 16: Montanism: Perpetua 114
  • 17: Tertullian, Minucius Felix 118
  • 18: Clement of Alexandria 124
  • 19: Julius Africanus 130
  • 20: Hippolytus and Liturgy 132
  • 21: Origen 135
  • 22: Cyprian of Carthage 145
  • 23: Dionysius of Alexandria 161
  • 24: Paul of Samosata 166
  • 25: Mani 170
  • 26: Plotinus, Porphyry 173
  • 27: Diocletian and the Great Persecution; Rise of Constantine 176
  • 28: Constantine 190
  • 29: The Seeds of Reaction 201
  • 30: The Church at Prayer 212
  • 31: Athanasius, Marcellus, and the Gathering Storm 226
  • 32: A Fiasco at Serdica 240
  • 33: Religious Division 254
  • 34: Athanasius' Return 260
  • 35: Constantius' Double Council of Unity 279
  • 36: Julian and the Church 295
  • 37: Damasus, Siricius, Papal Authority, Synesius of Cyrene 314
  • 38: Basil of Caesarea (Cappadocia) 331
  • 39: Ambrose 348
  • 40: Ambrosiaster 379
  • 41: Donatism 382
  • 42: Monks: The Ascetic Life 394
  • 43: Messalians 411
  • 44: Schism at Antioch 415
  • 45: Jerome and Rufinus 433
  • 46: Pelagius, Caelestius, and the Roman See in Gaul and North Africa 446
  • 47: Julian of Eclanum 464
  • 48: Augustine 473
  • 49: John Chrysostom 479
  • 50: Innocent I and John Chrysostom's Honour 499
  • 51: The Christological Debate, I 515
  • 52: The Christological Debate, Ii 538
  • 53: The Christological Debate, Iii 557
  • 54: The Aftermath of the Council of Chalcedon 592
  • 55: Justinian, Origen, and the 'Three Chapters' 612
  • 56: The Ancient Oriental Churches 628
  • 57: The Church and the Barbarian Invasions in the West 633
  • 58: Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) 658
  • 59: Worship After Constantine 675
  • 60: Pilgrims 684
  • 61: Penance 688
  • Further Reading 694
  • Dates of Roman Emperors 714
  • Index 721
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