Marcionites, Marcites, and Marcosians

MARCIONITES: An ancient sect of heretics, who owe their origin to Marcion, son of the bishop of Sinope in Pontus.  He is said to have been excommunicated by his father in consequence of immorality, and also because of his adopting speculative notions opposed to those of the Christian church at Sinope.  He repaired to Rome, where he met with Cerdo, a Syrian Gnostic, under whose instruction, concerning the tenets of Gnosticism, he developed, in connection with his own peculiar views of Christianity, a system of religious doctrine, which subsequently was diffused though the Roman empire, and continued to be professed by great numbers, when all other traces of Gnosticism were well-nigh obliterated. 

This system in its fundamental principles coincided with other Gnostic systems of the Syrian school; but with this difference, that it supposed the existence of a kind of deity intermediate between the eternally good and the eternally evil powers.  This middle deity was neither perfectly good nor perfectly evil, but of a mixed nature; and so far just and powerful as to administer rewards and to inflict punishments.  He was the Demiurge, the Creator of this world, and the God of the Jews, who, whilst he maintained a continual hostility towards the evil principle, was likewise desirous of securing for himself the dominion exercised by the supreme good principle.  Mankind, it is said, were governed despotically by this medium deity, and the absolutely wicked power.  To free them, therefore, from this condition, and afford them a better condition than this Demiurge was able to bestow, Christ suddenly descended into Capernaum with the appearance of a body, in order to proclaim the good Deity, hitherto unknown.  He taught that those that believed in Christ and led a good life, from love to the good Deity, would be blessed with happiness in His eternal kingdom, whilst others are left to the justice of the Demiurge.  Marcion required of the perfect Christians a strictly ascetic life, abstinence from marriage, avoidance of all earthly pleasures, and restriction to a few simple articles of diet.  He and his followers rejected entirely the Old Testament, and acknowledged, in the New Testament, the gospel by Luke only, though greatly mutilated, and ten of St Paul’s epistles, likewise greatly corrupted. 

In furtherance of his opposition to the Old Testament, Marcion wrote a work called ‘Antitheses,’ in which he opposed passages taken from the New Testament to passages selected from the Old, with a view to show, from the disagreement of the Law and Gospel, that the same God could not be the author of both.  For instance, he contrasted (without considering that the scheme of revelation, gradually developed, was adapted to the different capacities and situations of man under the old and new dispensations) the lex talionis, in the Old Testament, with the forgiveness of injuries in the New; the interference of Moses in a quarrel between the two Israelites, with the non-interference of Christ between the two brethren, on the subject of the inheritance; the Mosaic permission of divorce, with the Christian prohibition of it, except in cases of adultery.  He considered the deluge as a proof of mutability and consequent imperfection in the God of the Old Testament; as if the vicissitudes of human affairs necessarily implied a change in the divine nature.  He objected, too, that God was represented as repenting, etc.  These, and numerous other objections, were refuted by Tertullian, who wrote five books against this heresiarch.  In the first he shows the absurdity of supposing that the supreme Deity is different from the Creator; in the second; he exposes the weakness of the arguments by which this absurdity was defended; in the third, he proves that Jesus Christ the Son of God, who was the Creator and the author of the Jewish dispensation; he then reconciles the supposed contradiction between the Old and New Testaments, showing in the fourth book, that St Luke’s gospel, and also, in the fifth, that St Paul’s epistles, are in harmony with the Jewish Scriptures.  This sect, unlike the other Gnostics, established separate fraternities or churches, apart from the general fellowship of the Christian church.  It had its rise about AD 144.

MARCITES: A sect of heretics in the second century, who also called themselves perfecti, and made profession of doing everything without fear, and with great liberty.  This they borrowed from Simon Magus.  They were called Marcites, from Marcion, who ordained women to the Christian ministry, and appointed them to administer the sacraments.

MARCOSIANS: A visionary sect which adapted the Valentinian fictions.  The system of this sect was set forth in a poem written by Marcus, in which he introduced the aeons speaking in the style and manner of public devotion.  He taught, among other absurdities, that the perfection and fulness of all truth were to be found in the Greek alphabet; and this he alleged as the reason why our Lord was called, in the New Testament, the Alpha and the Omega.  He is also stated to have held that there was a quaternity in the Godhead, composed of Ineffability, Silence, the Father, and Truth.  Marcus taught his followers to baptize in the name of the unknown Father of all things; in the name of Truth, the mother of all things; and in Jesus, who descended (or, as Eusebius reads it, in Him who descended into Jesus) for the union and redemption and communion of the principalities or powers, or, in the union and redemption and communion of these powers.  For it may be understood that the names of these powers were taken into the form of baptism.  Some of them altogether rejected baptism.  There are authors who take the Marcites and Marcionites to have been the same.

From: Farrar, John, 1878, “An Ecclesiastical Dictionary, Explanatory of the History, Antiquities, Heresies, Sects, and Religious Denominations of the Christian Church”, entry “Marcionites” p. 369-371, pub. Wesleyan Conference Office, London.

From: Farrar, John, 1878, “An Ecclesiastical Dictionary, Explanatory of the History, Antiquities, Heresies, Sects, and Religious Denominations of the Christian Church”, entry “Marcites” p. 371, pub. Wesleyan Conference Office, London.

From: Farrar, John, 1878, “An Ecclesiastical Dictionary, Explanatory of the History, Antiquities, Heresies, Sects, and Religious Denominations of the Christian Church”, entry “Marcosians” p. 371, pub. Wesleyan Conference Office, London.

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