History of religion

Religions of Antiquity VIII: The Greatest of Heretics

Published in GralsWelt 40/2006

“If God wants to remedy the misery in the world and cannot, he is incapable, which is not true of God; if he can and does not want to, he is malevolent, which is far from God; if he neither wants nor can, he is both malevolent and incapable and therefore not God; but if he wants and can what belongs to God alone, where does the evil come from? Or why doesn't he fix it? "             
Epicurus (371-241 BC)


Christianity arose in ancient times, and the - after Jesus - the most important personalities, who shaped or challenged early Christianity, and who ultimately enabled it to win over all other religions of the West, lived and worked in antiquity. Including the most authoritative apostle, the most important doctor of the church and the greatest heretic.

The most authoritative apostle is undoubtedly Paul. He spread Christianity (against the resistance of the early Jerusalem community) among the heathen (non-Jews); from his hand come the chronologically oldest parts of the New Testament and the interpretations of the doctrine represented by him Jesus form the foundations of Christian theology to this day. 

The most important Doctor of the Church is Augustine (354-430) with his comprehensive consideration of Christian theology and his endeavors to defend the church against dissenters.

 The most dangerous heretic is hardly known today: it is Marcion, the founder of a powerful opposing church that was able to hold its own for centuries. Deeper thinkers have been fascinated by his thoughts until modern times. Many who deviated from “pure doctrine” in past centuries were influenced by him, and the church was forced to a confrontation with the Marcionites, through which it changed itself.

MARCION (MARKION, 85 - approx. 160)

from Marcions Little is known about his curriculum vitae, his writings are lost, his lessons can only be deduced from the works of his opponents (how distorted that may be?). He was the son of the Bishop of Pontus and a wealthy shipowner. Raised as a Christian, he studied the Bible at a young age, which at that time was not a fixed canon. The early Christian communities read the Old Testament (this name did not exist at the time) and various writings of various kinds, those of Jesus and reported to the apostles. Probably recognized early on Marcion the incompatibility of the Old with the New Testament, which later became decisive for his religious convictions and which still affects many Christians today.

Came at 140 Marcion to Rome, where he fell out with the local Christian community, formed his own group, and in an astonishingly short time[i] a considerable crowd of supporters gathered around them.

Marcions Success as a founder of a religion is understandable if you consider that the early Christian communities were initially loose communities, based on belief in the Sermon on the Mount and the expectation of an early return Christ, and the desire of many Christians to change their lives. However, the original spiritual freedom of early Christianity was restricted after a relatively short time when bishops took over power and rituals and cults - often of pagan origin - gained in importance. Confessional formulas took the place of personal religious experience, the baptism of adults by the spirit had to give way to a ritualized baptism of infants, and the cultic communion replaced the common “love meal”. Marcion must have addressed the unspoken longing of many Christians for more spirituality, so that his teaching spread from the Euphrates to the Rhone in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.


Because of the great popularity Marcion found at the time, he became a serious opponent of the young Christian church, the first great "heretic"[v].

Marcions Doctrines appeared to the just forming early Catholic Church as completely unacceptable. The decisive contradictions to the church doctrine were:

* Marcion saw in Jesus the messenger (son) of the unknown God, who brought people the love of his Father, through which they can enter the kingdom of the strange, good God.

* The Old Testament could be used for Marcion should not be a holy book of Christianity, since it speaks of the “old God”, the demiurge, while Christians commit themselves to the so far unknown, “loving God” preached by Jesus. Accordingly, declined Marcion the Old Testament.

* He is convinced that the apostles (except Paul) falsifies the pure teaching of Jesus.

* Taught according to the Gnostic model Marcion the dualism of two deities. Once the Creator God of the Old Testament, the Demiurge, whom some Gnostics (but not Marcion) as a fallen angel whose failure was the creation of a world that seemed flawed to us. He stands far above him until he comes Jesus unknown god of love.

* The aim of man is to free himself from the ties to the imperfect world and to enter the kingdom of this loving father.

In Marcions Doctrine lies - as in many areas of Gnosticism - its influence on Marcion is not to be discussed away - a negation of this world from which it is necessary to free oneself. The rejection of the Old Testament also means a separation from Judaism, that Marcion does not see it as a kind of forerunner of Christianity. So was for Marcion even Jesus not a strictly religious Jew (as you often see him today) who wanted to fulfill the law of the Old Testament, but a religious revolutionary who brought something completely new by proclaiming a strange, previously unknown God.

For the church, which was only just emerging, the Marcionites soon became serious competition, which they resolutely fought. Later, Christian emperors also persecuted the Marcionites, who had to go underground and disappeared by the 6th century.


Denote theologians Marcion as a Gnostic and point out that about the same time as he arrived in Rome, there the Syrian Cerdo (Kerdon) taught in a typical Gnostic way that the world was not created by the unknown good God, but by another, less good, perhaps even malicious, Creator God: Dem Demiurge. In this world, created by the “bad God”, man is banished as a spark of light from the kingdom of the good God.

Indeed Marcion was a christian. He rejected many Gnostic sects, with their often half-baked mystical teachings. But he was deeply impressed by the difference between the ancient Jewish teachings and Jesus' message of salvation:

The God of the Old Testament appeared to him as a cruel god of vengeance who orders the murder of people, the slaughter of animals, the execution of apostate believers, even imposes the death penalty on disobedient sons or Israelites who contradict the priests. Does this old Jewish God have the slightest resemblance to the loving Father Jesus speaks of?

For Marcion was consequently the god (or the gods?[ii]) of the Old Testament of the Demiurge, who created the world from which people must be freed. Is this demiurge - as some Gnostics thought - synonymous with Lucifer, the fallen angel, the Lord of this world, the origin of evil? Says no Marcion:

“The creator of the world is just! That's why he's not angry; but that's why he's not good either. Therefore he could only create the 'bad world' in which everything is just but not good, in which there is judgment but not sanctified, in which vengeance rules, but not grace. " (1, p. 12).

In the gospel of Jesus, the good news of salvation, however, the “good God” is proclaimed, who through Jesus wants to help people to free themselves from ties to the sinful world.

This solves for Marcion also the question about the many calamities in the world: The demiurge, the creator god, is not necessarily evil, he just could not create a better world.

The redemption from the evil of this world is given to those who have broken away from it and entered the kingdom of the true, the good, the unknown God. The Messiah helps him to do this:

"But Christ, the Son of the strange God, brought love that redeems from the world, from everything in this world, also from its righteousness." (1, p. 12).

Consistently rejected Marcion the Old Testament - so far the only "Holy Scripture" that all Christians knew - and brings a new canon that only contains the Gospel of Luke[iii] and contains ten letters from Paul. In doing so, he forced the church to commit to its own canonical writings and contributed indirectly to the creation of today's Bible.

We know very little about life in the many Marcionite communities, persecuted with hatred by the official church. The Marcionites celebrated simple devotions at which lay people were allowed to preach and women were allowed to baptize. They lived nonviolently, were vegetarian and did not drink alcohol.

Paul, the Marcion guess, left Christians free to live celibate or married (recommending celibacy). Marcion went further and demanded strict abstinence, probably in order not to keep tying spirit sparks to matter. This extreme demand certainly contributed to the decline of his movement.


Marcion was neither a prophet nor a mystic, but a radical thinker whose thoughts had attracted seekers of truth for centuries. In the many "heretical" groups that differed from the churches, Marcionite or Gnostic ideas appeared again and again over the centuries.

The Christianity of the Middle Ages probably had the idea of the “earthly valley of tears”, which was alien to classical antiquity Marcion or other Gnostics, and celibate priesthood and monasticism may be influenced by his demand for strict abstinence.

In the strict separation of the “kingdom of the good of God” from the “imperfect world” created by the demiurge, went Marcion too far. Presumably he saw the religious struggles of his time too much. A time that was politically - under the emperors Hadrian (117-138), Antonius Pius (138-161) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180) - a comparatively good time was in the Roman Empire. As a philosophically trained, religious person of antiquity, he overlooked the harmonious work of nature, the interplay of natural cycles and the beauty of earthly creation[iv]which indicate that this world started out from the heavenly Father who was above all things formed and in whom love and justice are one.

But world history would presumably have been more peaceful and non-violent had Christian churches been guided less by the idea of the punishing, eternally damning, avenging God of the Old Testament, and more by the loving Father of the Gospels.

Continuation "Religions of Antiquity" IX: The Manichaeans.


(1) Friedell, Egon, Cultural History of Egypt and the Ancient Orient, DTV, Munich 1982.

(2) Hagl, Siegfried, Chaff and Wheat - in the jungle of esotericism, Gralsverlag, Eggersdorf, 2003.

(3) Harnack, Adolf v., Marcion, The Gospel of the Strange God, Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt, 1960.

(4) Lüdemann, Gerd, Ketzer - the other side of early Christianity, Radius, Stuttgart, 1995.

(5) May, Gerhard / Greschat, Katharina, Marcion and its impact on the history of the church, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2002.

(6) Rudolph, Kurt, Die Gnosis, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1980.




[i] Within a decade the church founded by Marcion was known almost throughout the Roman Empire (4, p. 169).

[ii] The various names of God in the Old Testament such as Yahweh, Elohin (plural!), Adonai etc. are simply translated as "God" in Christian Bibles.

[iii] Marcion removed so-called "Judaic" additions from this Gospel of Luke. In his opinion, the other gospels were too much falsified by the “Jerusalem lying apostles” (4, p. 174).

[iv] On the question of the harmony of creation, see Grail World Theme Issue 11/2003 "World riddles and natural wonders" Part I - VI.

[v] The word “heretic” did not yet exist in Marcion's time. It probably comes from the word "Katharer", whose teaching was Christian, but also Gnostic or Marcionist.