Modern Marcions

“The new lies hidden in the old and the old is unveiled in the new”. This is how St. Augustine described the organic relationship between the Old and New Testaments. He explained how passages in the former implicitly presage passages in the latter. Examples would be: Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God the Father’s willingness to sacrifice Jesus; young Isaac carrying the bundle of sticks for the altar on which he was to be immolated and Jesus carrying the cross of his own execution; the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles; crossing the Red Sea and baptism; the Promised Land and the Kingdom of Heaven, et cetera. This type of study of the scriptures is called ‘typology’ (which is not the same as prophecy).

But, there is more to the inter-testament relationship than typology and prophecy. The Old Testament is a literary account of how (and, importantly, why) we came to be, of our fall from grace, and of God’s plan for our redemption. The Old Testament records the revelation of monotheism, the basic morality enshrined in the Ten Commandments, and the fidelity of God in spite of our own infidelity. Its constant theme is the covenantal bond between God and his Chosen People, a bond which lays the foundation for the universal proclamation of the gospel after the Incarnation. As St. Augustine says the new flows from and builds on the old. They cannot be separated.

And yet, a popular perception shared by many is that the God of the Old Testament personifies vengeful justice while the God of the New Testament radiates forgiving love. Consequently the two testaments are considered irreconcilable with the newer being superior to the older.  Marcion of Sinope (Turkey) was a second century bishop who promoted this belief – even to the point of ejecting the Hebrew Scripture from the Christian canon. His writings gave rise to the heresy known as ‘Marcionism’ a creed which – unmoored from orthodoxy – was eventually absorbed by subsequent heresies.  Imagine Marcion’s hubris in believing his personal insight justified jettisoning the received knowledge and wisdom distilled through more than a millennium before him.

Sometimes I think we are modern Marcions, we who facilely reject and even deride the history, beliefs and traditions on which our civilization is grounded. Egomaniacs so inflated with pride and void of humility we are duped into believing our existence, our purpose, and our manner of being depend on none other than ourselves? Do we really think we are wiser than the millions of souls who have come before us? In our enlightened state are we so convinced of our autonomy? Wasn’t this the prelapsarian pride of Eve and Adam that landed us, their progeny, in this vale of tears?

Marcion was the son of a bishop and it was his father who excommunicated him for his heretical beliefs. Will those in the generation which precedes ours, the so-called ‘greatest generation’, feel a similar sense of betrayal by us?

As an aside, while the Kingdom advances and in light of Vatican II’s ‘Nostra Aetate’ perhaps we should consider a respectful change in nomenclature and begin referring to the Old and New Testaments as the First and Second.

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