Marcion was a very interesting man. He was not a speculative philosopher – although he was that, too – but he was a religious reformer. He founded congregations of Marcionites which endured for a long time. The title of his book is Antithesis – (this is not an invention of Hegel’s!). He was a gnostic namely, in his distinction between the God of the Old and the God of the New Testament, the God of the law and the God of the Gospel. He rejected the former and reaffirmed the latter. This problem shouldn’t be seen in terms of the fantastic idea of two gods.
This is much too easy. But it shouldbe seen in the problem with which Harnack, the great historian of Christian dogma, wrestled at the end of his life: namely, the problem whether or not the New Testament is actually so different from the Old Testament that you cannot combine them.
In Church history, we always have Marcionism, or radical Paulinism, and we have it today in the Barthian school whenever they try to put the God of revelation against the God of natural law. In natural law, and accordingly in history, man is by himself, they say. They don’t speak of a second God: such a fantastic mythology would not be possible today. But they speak of a radical tension between the natural world – including natural reason, natural morals – and the religious realm, which stands against all the other realms. This was Marcion’s problem, and he solved it by a radical separation. The problem is: Gnostic dualism.
For the Gnostics, the created world is bad, and therefore the world must have been created by a God who is bad. And who is this God? It is the God of the Old Testament. Salvation ,therefore; is liberation from the world, and .this must be done in ascetic terms. There is no place for eschatology on the basis of this dualism because the end of the world would be always seen in the light of this dualism, and a dualistic fulfillment is not a fulfillment: it is a split in God himself.
The saviour is one of the heavenly powers, called aeons, eternities – the word “eternity” does not have the connotation of timelessness here, but has the connotation of cosmic powers, and as such it is always used. This higher aeon, the saviour aeon, the saviour power of being, descends to earth and takes on human f lesh. But now it becomes obvious that the aeon, a Divine power, cannot suffer. So he takes on either a strange body or a body which only seems to be a body, but he does not become f lesh. This of course was a very sensitive point for the early Christians and their conformity, and so they rejected the gnostics on this point. The saviour descends to the different realms in which the different astrological powers rule. This concerns especially the planets, which are considered as astrological powers even long after the Renaissance, even in Protestantism.. He reveals the hidden weapons of these demonic powers by trespassing their realm and overcoming them on his descent. He brings down the seals of their power, their names and their characters, and if you have the name of a demonic power, you are superior to it: you call it by name and then it falls down. One of the Gnostic texts says “Having the seals, I shall descend, going through all aeons. I shall recognize all mysteries. I shall show the shape of the gods. And the hidden things of the holy path, called gnosis, I shall deliver.” Here you have a claim of the good God, of the mystery power which comes down to earth.