Gnosticism is a broad term encompassing many different sects, people, and beliefs. Out of this variety come interesting figures in the history of Christianity. Of these figures are Simon the Magician, Marcion, and Valentinus. While all of these figures, among many more, deserve time and attention, the rest of this paper will focus on the person of Valentinus the Valentinian Gnosticism that came after him. Valentinus was born in Egypt in the early second century. He was educated in Alexandria, the Hellenistic capital of the world at the time, where he became well learned in Platonic philosophy.
It is likely that he met Christian philosopher Basilides and was influenced by his teachings. It is also thought that he received teaching from Theudas, who was a student of St. Paul, giving him some kind of apostolic sanction and authority. Layton, Around the year Valentinus migrated to Rome where he got involved in ecclesiastical affairs. Valentinus became more and more popular as a leader and a teacher in the Roman church, and at one point he even expected to become the next bishop of Rome.
His success in Rome is attributed to his literary talent and gifted speech. Around the year , after many attacks on Valentinus as a theologian, he died and therefore his individual impact ended. The cause of death is unknown, like many of the details of his life. The little information that we do have on Valentinus comes from two sources: patristic and papyrological. The heresiological polemic against Valentinus was very successful, and the vast majority of his personal writings were destroyed.
There are a few fragments left, and possibly a few full texts found in the Nag Hammadi library, but the majority of what we know about Valentinus the person comes from what others wrote about him. There are four patristic writers that include Valentinus in their works. Irenaeus of Lyon is the earliest patristic source, dating to around the year C. More will be said about Irenaeus later.
The next patristic source comes from Clement of Alexandria in about the year C. Hippolytus of Rome, C. The last patristic source is Marcellus of Ancyra, who died in the late fourth century. Marcellus preserves nothing but a title of a theological work by Valentinus, On the Three Natures.
The papyrological sources come from texts discovered in the Nag Hammadi Library. In the library was the Gospel of Truth, which some scholars argue was written by Valentinus. Layton examines each fragment from the patristic sources. Fragment A, from Hippolytus of Rome, is likely an autobiographical or visionary statement by Valentinus. It is written in Greek, but besides the three sentences recorded nothing is known about the work as a whole.
Fragment B is nothing more than a title, On the Three Natures , that is supposed to have talked about the notion of three subsistent entities and three persons: father, son, and holy spirit. It is hard to say exactly what it could mean, but Layton suggests that it could be a reworking of the gnostic myth. Fragment D continues the discussion on Adam, this time about his name.
Fragment F comes from a sermon and touches on the ideas of death and immortality. It talks about the hearts prerequisites for gnosis, the role of the savior and the Word, and the visitation of the father. Layton, Rather, the fragments are listed in limited detail above to drive home the fact that there is very little information on Valentinus and his beliefs. There are only eight fragments, anywhere from two to ten sentences, from second hand sources pulled out of much larger texts containing minimal information.
That moves us then to the papyrological source, the Gospel of Truth. As already stated, the authorship of the Gospel of Truth is debated among scholars. Tertulliam also states that Valentinus had his own gospel, but with no title attached. Williams, His cosmology and creation story are similar to other Gnostic sects. There is the Pleroma, with thirty aeons dwelling between the boundaries called limits. The Ineffable is the first thought or divine being and from it all the other aeons were created.
Like the general Gnostic myth, the Demiurge is created and he creates the earth.
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On the earth people are ignorant of the Father, the Ineffable, and are in a fog of terror and anguish. No one can see the real truth, so they mistake the earth for the truth.
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To remove this fog and see through it to the Father, Jesus comes down and shows people the way. Jesus comes down with the truth and shows it to people so that they can return to the Ineffable where they belong. Like the biblical story goes, Jesus is killed, but in the Gnostic story it is Error who kills Jesus. The theme throughout the Gospel of Truth is that the material world is evil. It is a fog separating humans from the Father.
The only way to get through that fog is to get secret knowledge of the Truth. This Truth is referred to as a book, and Jesus is that book. When he was crucified, the book was published for all to see. For those who saw the book, the Truth, and understood, they would be saved. Upon seeing the Truth and being saved, they were then to renounce their worldly possessions and desires and ascend to the Father. The Gospel of Truth, if in fact written by Valentinus, is huge in understanding his theology, cosmology, and Christology. While he holds true to the Gnostic myth with slight variations, he presents an interesting take on the crucifixion of Jesus.
While there is little about the person of Valentinus himself, there is much to be said about Valentinian Gnosticism after Valentinus. The Valentinian school of thought existed peaceably with other Christians for a good amount of time. It was like other philosophical schools of thought, but they studied the same Bible that the Christians had. It would have been common, then, for a Christian to worship in a home church one night of the week and later in the week go to a Valentinian study group to interpret the Bible.
Brakke, The school represented what scholars refer to as the Syrian-Egyptian type of gnostic speculation. Much like the ideas in the Gospel of Truth, or even an elaboration of them, the school focused on placing the origin of darkness and evil within the godhead. This creates a divine tragedy, and the need for salvation comes from it.
The way to salvation, as talked about above, is getting rid of the ignorance in the world.
The opposite of ignorance in this instance is knowledge, and therefore knowledge saves you, the knowledge of the Truth. Jonas, There are some scholars who divide the Valentinian school into two camps, the eastern and the western schools. Only three ancient sources support the idea that there were two Velentinian schools, one eastern and one Italian. Kalvesmaki argues that this title is either unreliable due to authorship issues or so specific that it brings doubt to the idea that there was a division. Kalvesmaki, Valentinus was a very successful preacher, and was even close to becoming the Bishop of Rome.
Elinar Thomassen explains why he believes Valentinus was never condemned as a heretic in his article Orthodoxy and Heresy in Second-Century Rome. While historical figures and heresiologists such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus labeled Valentinus a heretic, the Roman church never officially condemned Valentinus. Thommassen gives three reasons why he believes the church never condemned Valentinus.
The first reason is Valentinus himself might not have been a Valentinian. Valentinus might not have held to the Valentinian doctrines and ideas that were later condemned by heresiologists. The second reason is that the Valentinians could have been tolerated in the church. Tolerance could have been either an active recognition or a passive acceptance of doctrinal diversity.
This would make sense along with the fact that Valentinian Schools existed alongside other Christians in the church with no opposition. The problem with this possibility is that while there is no evidence in the writings of the condemnation of Valentinus, there is also no clear evidence of him being accepted by the church either. The third option, and the most likely, one is the organizational structure of the Roman church. Thomassen, Even though there was never an official authoritative condemnation of Valentinus or his followers, the polemic attacks against them still came from people like Irenaeus and Tertullian.
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Irenaeus was the Bishop of Lyons in Gaul in the second century. I didn't notice misspellings either which are so common in cheap kindle versions where it's obvious they just OCRed an old print version and all the "rn"s become "m"s. The book itself is a pretty good read, and Irenaeus is surprisingly funny when he trolls the gnostics. One person found this helpful. It is. The Table of Contents is extensive and the links work. Searches are quick and complete. I'll have to comment later on the content, but I was able to quickly download, search and find all of the references I was seeking to verify.
I enjoy reading the writings of the early Church Fathers and seeing first hand how they dealt with difficulties heresies in the church. It is quite interesting to see that all the arguments that people think are new in this age have already been addressed in the first centuries of the church. A great book for anyone that like Dan Brown!
As such it reveals much about Irenaeus' and the 2nd century church's theology and understanding of Scripture. This is vital source for both students of the early church and those debating gnosticism. See all 5 reviews. Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers.
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