Valentinus 3

To continue our series of articles on obscure and lost religions, and because this day is called Valentine’s Day, here is an account of Valentinianism. (Though it has no connection as far as we know with [Saint] Valentine’s Day apart from the coincidence of the names.)

Lost religions, which seem to us no more than intricate fantasies, claimed the credulity and devotion of thousands of people through hundreds or even thousands of years. Similarly absurd beliefs claim the devotion and credulity of millions in our own day. In all likelihood they too will pass away – only to be replaced by new ones?

Valentinus was born in the year 100 CE in Phenobia, Egypt, went to live in Rome when he was 36, and died in 160 on the island of Cyprus. He was educated in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, where he must have become acquainted with Judaism, Christianity, and many a pagan cult and school of philosophy including the grandest of them, Platonism and Neopythagoreanism. He was ordained a Christian priest but while in Rome broke away from the church and founded a new religion, perhaps because (as some chroniclers gossip) he wasn’t made bishop of Rome (Pope), a rival being preferred.

Valentinianism was a Gnostic creed. Valentinians believed that salvation from the miseries of earthly existence is attainable by an elite among humankind through the Gnosis (knowledge) with which they are spiritually gifted.

Valentinus proclaimed that what he taught was the real, secret teaching of St. Paul which Theudas, St. Paul’s companion, had imparted to him. It may have been. There are whole Gnostic passages in the known teaching of St. Paul; so much in fact that an argument can be made that Pauline Christianity could be classed as a Gnostic doctrine. Certainly most of the Gnostic cults which arose in the second century CE could be classed as Christianities. Both the Gnostic and the Pauline-Christian theologies owe more to Greek philosophy than to Judaism.

The typical Gnostic divine schema, or theogony, was a hierarchy of heavens and of the beings that dwell in them. Valentinus’s was one of the most elaborate. (His cosmic myth differed from that of most Gnostic cults of his time in two main respects, footnoted below.)

In summary, this is what Valentinus taught:

The Pro-Father (Propator), also called the Abyss or the Deep (Bythos), both male and female, and the source of all that exists, emanated a first pair (syzygy): the First Thought (Ennoia), female, and Mind (Nous), male.

From the First Thought descended Truth (Alithea), female, and from Mind descended The Word (Logos), male.

These parallel descents continued through 12 more phases to The Church (Ecclesia) and Primordial Man (Adam Kadmon), from each of whom descended 13 more pairs (a female and a male in each).

These are the Aeons of the highest heaven called the Fullness (Pleroma).

Then came the last of the Aeons, Wisdom (Sophia), who tried to imitate the Pro-Father by giving birth out of herself and all by herself, but being far inferior to the Pro-Father could produce only base substance which filled her with disgust and remorse.

Her first Intention (Enthymesis) became Sophia-Akhamoth, who whirled about in empty space and longed to be admitted to the higher heaven.

Sophia begged the Aeons to pray to the Pro-Father to redeem her creation, but he commanded Mind and Truth to engender Christ (male) and the Holy Spirit (female), and he himself the Pro-Father emanated a new pair, the Cross and the Limit. Together they make the symbol T, which strengthened the Pleroma, and excluded from it forever the imperfect creation which Sophia had produced.

When this was done, all the Aeons burst out singing hymns of praise to the Pro-Father, and all together, as the reinforced Pleroma, they emanated The Perfect Fruit, which was the Savior. He took pity on Sophia-Akhamoth, reached down and gave her a form. Then she was called the Holy Spirit of Earth and of the Heavenly Jerusalem, and the Mother.

After which the Savior withdrew into the Pleroma.

Having been given a form, the fallen Sophia became conscious of her suffering and searched for the light which had touched her and departed, but the Limit prevented her from reaching the Pleroma.

Most dolefully she pleaded to the Highest who had abandoned her. Her dread and woe and despair composed the Matter of which our world is formed.

Again in pity for her the Aeons decreed that Christ would be her spouse at the end of time.

Meanwhile they sent the Gnosis to allay her passions and console her suffering.

The fallen Sophia engendered her own Archons, and from them proceeded 3 Principles: The Pneumatic (the spiritual); The Psychic (the mental); The Hylic (the material), for each of which there is a corresponding plane –

  • The Ogdoad for the Spiritual, highest and nearest to the Pleroma, where dwells the Mother (the heavenly Sophia).
  • The Hebdomad for the Psychic, the plane of the Seven Heavens, formed for his own dwelling place by the Chief of the Archons, The Demiurge* (the craftsman)[the Jewish God, creator of this world], also called the Metropator. He believes himself to be the only God.
  • This base World for the Hylic, the dwelling place of the Devil, who is also called the Cosmocrator. It is also the dwelling-place of terrestrial Man, Adam, into whose base substance the Devil breathed the psychic element.

But the Mother endowed Man with a spiritual element of which the Demiurge and the Devil know nothing, and which Man can discover in himself only by the Gnosis.

In all human beings there is a mixture of the hylic, which is ‘of the Left’ and will perish; the psychic, which is ‘of the Right’ and not perishable or corruptible, but cannot rise into into the Highest Plane; the pneumatic, which is perfectible and redeemable in individual persons, in this life, through the Gnosis. Every spark of it will be gathered up and restored to the source at the Consummation of the Universe.

The mixture is in different proportions in different people. So there are three classes of human beings: the mostly Hylic – the Pagans who are dense, irredeemable matter; the mostly Psychic – the Christians who are half-leavened by their dim understanding of the teaching of Jesus; the mostly Pneumatic – the Gnostics who are incapable of sinning. They can do anything without impairing their moral purity. Indeed it is their positive duty, their mission, to commit every kind of “sin” and “abomination” called such by the Psychics, the half-ignorant Christians who do not know that this world is evil. Whatever they call good must be treated as bad, and whatever they call bad must be treated as good. In this cause, acts of extreme licentiousness are to be carried out as “spiritual exercises”. Evil must be consumed. While the Christians believed in redemption from sin, the Gnostics believed in redemption by sin. That is how they must play their part in the ultimate destruction of this base world.

The Consummation of the Universe is the end and purpose of the cosmic story. It will happen when the spiritual seed dispersed among all beings will have been gathered up, which will come about when Evil has been overcome by the Gnosis-enlightened Pneumatics fulfilling their mission.

Then Sophia will at last be allowed to enter the Pleroma and it shall be as a bridal chamber for her, where she will espouse Christ the Savior – the Bride joined to the Bridegroom.

And then the Pneumatics, male and female, cleansed not only of the hylic but also of the psychic, which is forever cut off from the Pleroma by the Limit, will mount – invisible to the Archons – through the Lower Heavens, needing no password to break the seals**, and will rise to the Pleroma to become the spouses of the Aeons who surround the Savior.

And the Demiurge (who is not irredeemable because on hearing of The Savior he hastened joyfully to him with all his Archons), will rise to the Ogdoad, and there with him the Psychic elements will find rest.

Last of all, at the will of the Aeons with which the pneumatics are united, the fire which is in all things will flame forth, destroy everything here below, and all matter will pass into nothingness.

*The Demiurge. Gnosticism endeavored to answer the question how, since the source of everything is good, did evil come into existence? The Gnostic answer was that lower divine entities became, as they proliferated, ever further removed in their descent from the source of goodness, and the lower they were the less good they were, until one or more was positively bad; and though they were able to exercise divine powers and create a material world and the first human beings, they could not make their creation good. This world was made by the lower bad god named Ialdabaoth, identified with the Creator God of Judaism and often with the Devil. In most Gnostic systems he is all bad, and his creation, this world, is all bad: every single thing in it is evil. Human beings are bad and the best thing they can do is allow themselves to die out: cast off their carnal forms, their bodies, because it is their materiality that is evil. Deep within their immaterial souls, however, is a minute spark of the divine spirit granted to them by the remote high god. He took pity on Man when the low god made him out of mud as a botched and nasty thing, and so sent him the spark by which he might redeem himself from filth and extinction. Only a few human beings, however, will be thus redeemed, because only an elite few will know they have the spark of the divine within them and know the secrets by which they might rise to the high heaven when they’ve shuffled off their mortal coil. This knowledge is the Gnosis. Valentinus differed from most other Gnostics in teaching that the creator-god of this world is not evil, not good, but is just. He exists midway between good on high and evil below, ignorant that there is another god above him.

** Passwords and seals. In many Gnostic systems, the spirits of the redeemable, once released from their bodies by death, had to know passwords to say to the Archons as they rose through the layers of heavens towards the highest. The passwords might be the secret names of the intervening powers. Sometimes whole speeches had to be recited to them before they’d let the ascending spirit continue its upward journey. These powers were called Aeons (heavenly beings, also ages in time) and Archons (principalities). According to some sources (but contradicted by others), Valentinus specifically denied that pneumatics in their final ascent would need passwords “to break the seals”. The seals are obscure. There’s a Gnostic hymn in which Jesus descends to rescue a fallen soul (possibly Sophia) and says to the Father: “Send me, Father. Bearing Seals I shall descend; I shall pass through all the Aeons; I shall reveal all the mysteries and I shall deliver the secrets of the holy way.”

Other posts in this series: Thus, more or less, spake Zarathustra, May 26, 2009 (on Zoroastrianism); Yezidis and Mandeans, April 4, 2010; Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus); Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils).

Posted under Religion general by Jillian Becker on Monday, February 14, 2011

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