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MARCIONISM . The movement known as Marcionism was founded in the second century by Marcion, an early Christian teacher from Sinope in Asia Minor. Of the many early Christian sects the Marcionites were among the most successful, creating a parallel organization to the Catholic Church. The Marcionite church existed in recognizable form for over three hundred years, until the middle of the fifth century. The oldest inscription from any Christian church building is from a Marcionite church in a small village south of Damascus. The inscription, in Greek, identifies the building as the "gathering place [synagoge ] of the Marcionites of the village of Lebabon of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ under the leadership of Paul the presbyter" and is dated 318319. This inscription is evidence not only of the continuation of the Marcionite movement into the fourth century, but of the benefit it received from the toleration extended to the Catholic Church. The use of the word Marcionite, a term of opprobrium to other Christians, shows the veneration in which the founder was held.

Marcion broke with the Catholic Church in Rome in 144. By the end of the second century, Marcionite churches could be found in cities throughout the Roman Empire. The central elements of Marcionism are rejection of the Old Testament (the Hebrew scriptures) and the creator God portrayed there; belief in a strange God who has nothing to do with the world and who is revealed in Jesus Christ; acceptance of Marcion's Bible, a pared-down version of the New Testament comprising an edited text of the gospel of Luke and ten epistles of Paul; and acceptance of Marcion's own work, Antitheses, used as a key to the interpretation of the scriptures. The Marcionites followed a strict ascetic life that forbade marriage and encouraged the avoidance of wine and meat (but allowed fish). Perforce the movement spread through the winning of new converts, not by birth, and yet was extraordinarily successful.

Marcionism developed its own brand of orthodoxy, but under Apelles, a disciple who eventually broke with his master, there was an effort to modify Marcion's dualism and to trace all things back to a single principle. Apelles also taught that Christ had a real body though he did not undergo a human birth. Over the centuries, however, the main ideas of the group remained remarkably durable.

Evidence of the survival of Marcionism can be found from the third, fourth, and fifth centuries in all parts of the Roman world: Asia Minor, Crete, western and eastern Syria, Palestine, Alexandria, Carthage, and Rome. To untutored Christians its churches could hardly be distinguished from the Catholic Church, so similar were they in organization and ritual. To bishops and theologians, however, Marcionism was a deadly foe, and a series of key thinkers opposed it vigorously. It is mentioned by such diverse writers as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil of Caesarea, Epiphanius of Cyprus, Adamantius, Bardesanes (Bardaisan), Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus. A fourth-century creed from Laodicea, a city on the Syrian coast, confesses "one God, ruler, God of the law and the gospel," suggesting that the framers thought it necessary to separate Catholic Christianity from Marcionism. As late as the fifth century some villages in Syria were predominantly Marcionite. After that time little is known about the movement.


Blackman, Edwin C. Marcion and His Influence. London, 1948.

Harnack, Adolf von. Marcion: Das Evangelium vom fremden Gott; Eine Monographie zur Geschichte der Grundlegung der katholischen Kirche. Leipzig, 1921.

Robert L. Wilken (1987)

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