Excerpts from Pioneers of Christian Thought(pp.67-89)
by Frederick D. Kershner


"...Ultimately the New Testament became the Bible of the Christians as the Old Testament previously had been and is the Bible of the Jews. The church authorities held on to both Scriptures, apparently without being much disturbed by the moral scruples which perplexed the soul of Marcion. For a thousand years Christianity was much more sympathetic with the Old Testament standards than those of the Sermon on the Mount. The leaders of the Crusades liked to read of the heroic deeds of Joshua and David and to emulate their example. Even Cromwell and his Ironsides chanted Psalms and used the Old Covenant almost exclusively for purposes of worship. They yielded a nominal homage to the new covenant, but the idea of turning the other cheek and of practising the law of love was too much for them. They preferred the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, and they had no scruples about hewing Amalek to pieces. Marcion's Bible would not have suited them at all. It is doubtful whether any considerable number of them would have been able to accept Christianity if it had not been for the comforting enormities of the Old Testament..."

"...With all his faults Marcion stood for a certain ethical idealism which was superior to the more subtle philosophy of his opponents. He wanted to establish the goodness of God, no matter at what cost, and his ethical instincts at this point were sound. If his teaching had prevailed there would have been no autos da fe, no Inquisition, and no burning of heretics by either Catholics or Protestants. It was the triumph of the imperialistic God of Tertullian and Augustine which led to most of the later horrors in the history of the church. The idea that the Deity could do anything which he himself regarded as unjust or cruel seemed unthinkable to Marcion, but this was not the case with his opponents. There are passages in Tertullian in which the grim old Roman orator challenges his enemies to do their worst with rack or fagot or sword, being well assured that his persecutors will suffer infinitely more in the eternal flames of hell. The satisfaction which this reflection apparently gives him makes the thought of his own torments trivial and insignificant. It was the common belief of the period, at least in orthodox circles, that the joys of Paradise would be enhanced by the possibility of witnessing the torments of the damned. Augustine has a great deal to say about this somewhat gruesome topic later on, but neither Augustine nor Tertullian represented anything unusual from the orthodox point of view. As Marcion saw all too clearly, no human being will ever rise to a higher moral level than the ethical plane of the Deity he worships. A God who could condemn little children to the unending flames of perdition simply because some of their remote ancestors disobeyed his commands represents an ethical ideal which was later to write history in the torture chambers of Torquemada, the flames which consumed the bodies of Huss and Servetus, and which broke Jean Calas on the wheel only two centuries ago. Marcion's theology at the worst would never have permitted such things as these. He was close enough to the original message of Jesus to recognize its incongruity with the idea of a Cruel Omnipotence. His theological gropings were grotesque and absurd enough, but his moral sense was sound, and the world might have been better off if his heresy had prevailed."

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