I’ve been reading a lot (big surprise) and listening to some Catholic radio and heard just the other day about someone the Catholic church believes is a heretic: Marcion of Sinope. On Catholic radio, Fr. John Corapi made the interesting but arrogant comment that the Catholic church teaches that Protestantism stems from Marcion’s “heretical” teachings. (I put the word “heretical” in quotes because really, one person’s heretic is another person’s reformer). Specifically, Fr. Corapi cited the doctrine that some Calvinist believe: that the New Testament covenant has superseded the Old Testament covenant. Marcion also contended that Paul was the true founder of Protestantism and used only his epistles and the Gospel of Luke as true scriptures. Now the fact that the Catholic church can just make these pronouncements as blanket dismissals of those they deem heretical is astounding to me. The absolute certainty that they are right has always been the biggest turnoff when it comes to any religion (although political parties run a close second to such arrogance). When I think of the condemnation and sometimes death such “heretics” endured at the hands of monolithic religions, I cringe. But these “heretics” deserve mention precisely because they bucked the system.
Marcion was one of these heretics. So, I looked up good old Marcion on the internet and found some interesting facts (depending on whose article it is). Marcion, although not completely a Gnostic in the fullest sense, believed as the Gnostics did that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God that Jesus worshiped. This is interesting, because many, many atheists and agnostics contend this very thing. Even I have found a huge discrepancy between how the God of the Old Testament is perceived by the Jews and how the God of the New Testament is perceived by Jesus and the apostles. Of course this could be explained very easily. Our ideas about God evolve as naturally as nature does. The Jews’ God is one that protected their nation at all costs, even at the expense of other tribes and nations. War was a fact of life for them. They believed that God sanctioned their illegal entry into other nations’ territories. They also believed that God sanctioned the murder of these nations and tribes so that they could take over the land that they thought God gave them. However, they could have been wrong. They never admitted it, but they could have been wrong. Lots of people believe God talks to them and tells them to do things, but we don’t believe everything they say. Why should we then take the Old Testament at face value, as infallible? Why can it not just be a record of one people’s struggle to believe in God?
Apparently, Jesus believed God spoke to him directly and others attested to this fact at his baptism:
(Luk 3:22 GNB) and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”
Many believers accept this testimony as proof that Jesus was telling the truth. So, in order to accept the inspiration of the Scriptures, do you have to accept the God portrayed by the Jews or the God portrayed by Jesus, if indeed you believe they are different? Marcion believed that the latest revelation found in Jesus Christ was binding. Jesus’ ethics were obviously different enough from the Jews’ normal way of doing things or we would not have ever heard of him, let alone worship him. Jesus was surrounded by factions of Jews who believed different things about the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection, the Sadducees didn’t (Mark 12:18). Others believed you had to worship in synagogues. Others didn’t (John 4). I can see how Marcion came to the conclusion that the God Christians worshiped was different than the O.T. God, but what led him to question it and why can’t we question it too?
We too are free to believe that Jesus’ interpretation of God’s wishes were more charitable and more merciful than his own peoples’ historical view of God. Why could not Jesus have been the equivalent of the Progressive Christian today who sees God in a different light than those who only see the punishing and heartless God, as fundamentalists are prone to do? He came in the midst of controversies raging during his time; about the personality of God, about God’s mercy, about the end of times, about where we worship. It’s no different today. Like Marcion, every believer reserves the right to interpret the actions of God as attested to in the Old and New Testaments and they reserve the right to contest the religions in power as well.
I admire early heretics because of their courage to stand up to the established churches, usually at personal peril. Regardless of whether they were right or not, these early believers voiced their opinions against an already entrenched church system headed by paid clergy. Like these “heretics,” everyone today should have the same freedom to challenge established authorities without backlash. This obsession that churches and church leaders have with everyone believing the same things is hard to understand when we realize that this was never a reality in history. There has never been a time when believers all agreed about God. Pagans didn’t. The Jews didn’t. Native Americans didn’t. But they all agreed on one point. There was a Great Spirit that ruled the Universe. Why is this not enough for believers of all varieties? Why this obsession with raking in as many believers to your cause as you can get? Do they think it chalks up “brownie points” with God? Do they hope for big rewards, kind of like the green stamp program? Fill your books with converts and you can trade it in for heavenly things!!
Marcion went on to inspire a gnostic sect of his own but it’s doubtful that he intended to adhere to Gnosticism. He was a Christian bishop first who just happened to disagree with the establishment (sounds like Luther, doesn’t it?). We read:
Thus, Marcion did contribute positively to the history of Christianity by providing the idea of a New Testament canon and forcing the orthodox church to establish its own list of texts. Marcion succeeded in building his own church which survived in the East until the fifth century.
You see? Even “heretics” can exert a positive influence in God’s grand scheme of things. Why can’t believers just trust that all will work itself out in the end? Why, because of something called hubris.
2 thoughts on “Anti-Saint of the Day”
There were too many heretics to count in the early church – what eventually became the Roman Catholic church. In an attempt to form their doctine and cannonize thier scripture they had to decide what was good and what wasn’t. Whether they picked the right stuff who knows. So, it’s not very surprising at all that they would make a statement like this. It’s built into centuries of “this is how it is” mentality. I agree completely that understanding these so-called heretics is important. They were often people who believed they were right, that they had interpreted Jesus’ life/death/teachings correctly. Just because one group had more politicial sway or did a better marketing job than the next doesn’t discount other ideas. This is one of those facts that causes me to look at the Bible with so many questions.
Me too. I mean, those in power determine what the rest of us know about history, right? I’m not saying that we can’t make rational decisions and CHOOSE what we believe, because we can. If we choose to accept the revelation of Jesus’ life and teachings, that’s our prerogative. What’s irks me is that others want to make that choice FOR YOU. Freedom in all things, I say. 🙂
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