Lent: Day 7 of 40 - Marcion

Is the God of law not the God of grace?

Gnostic heresy thrived in the 2nd century in a variety of spiritualist elitisms. Some knew secrets, or belonged to a good god against a bad demi-urge, most dismissed material things as to be avoided or indulged. It was possible to take one more step and say material things don’t threaten your soul either, and could be kept and used. Sound like any heretics like us?

Marcion was a rich Gnostic leader who contributed a lot of money hoping for a nomination to be bishop of Rome. He divided the world clearly into his good guys of love and grace and newness, and lots of bad guys of justice and law and tradition. Those ‘bad guys’ sent his money back.

Marcion’s Gnosticism resists legalism, so much that he gives us the ‘bad old God of Judaism and Torah law, and the good new God of gentle gracious Jesus’ . Laws and Judaism are of this world and its God, but Marcion belongs to the God of Spirit, revealed in an emanation Jesus, not really flesh and blood. We in turn should resist the evil material world, and avoid meat and sexual intercourse as spiritual beings.

Marcion is best known for his “canon”: he dumped all Hebrew scriptures, relying on an edited Luke and some letters of Paul. His bible would have been like the Gideon or Bible Society tracts given children or soldiers. The ‘boys and the book’ decided against him, finding that you couldn’t understand Jesus or the gospel without the Hebrew scriptures too.

Marcion’s version of Jesus is ‘Docetic’: Christ a blissful divine visitor in a bad world, vaguely like Buddha or Horus in mystery religions. Incarnation in the flesh, death on a cross, and physical resurrection are not even optional, rather unnecessary. Religion is more of a speculative recreation than a bloody militant movement. These are heretics like us, eh?

There is a lot of Tom Harpur’s 'cosmic Christ' in Marcion, of New Age and progressive spirituality that appeals to privileged North Americans. Popular culture’s ambivalence about sex and Jesus, and dichotomies between a God of grace and Jesus, and a God of judging and law, also echo Marcion’s heresy. It’s an easy step to liecntiousness.

Marcion was rejected by other heretics, including those who won out to become ‘orthodox’. They affirmed one God who created a good creation, added more books to their bible. Theirs was a chorus of voices, not as anarchic as Montanist spirits, but more inclusive than Marcion’s models of polarized dichotomies.

Marcion rules in our culture and century, particularly as a dualist. There are good guys and bad guys – which are you? Who believes they need to know the Hebrew scriptures? It’s far more work to struggle with the line between good and evil running through the heart of every person in every moment Who affirms and celebrates sex as a good and Christian thing?

Who buys that anti-Semitic line
about a new God of grace replacing an old God of law?
oops - to many, heretics like us...