1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Valentinus and the Valentinians

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VALENTINUS and THE VALENTINIANS.

I. Valentinus, the most prominent leader of the Gnostic movement, was born, according to Epiphanius (Haer. 31, 2), near the coast in Lower Egypt, and was brought up and educated in Alexandria. He then went to Rome, as we learn from Irenaeus, Adv. haer. iii. 4, 3; Valentinus came to Rome during the episcopate of Hyginus, flourished under Pius and stayed till the time of Anicetus. The duration of the episcopates of the Roman bishops at this period is not absolutely established, but we can hardly go altogether wrong if, with Harnack (Chronologie der altchrisllichen Literatur, i. 291), we fix the period 135-60 for Valentinus's residence in Rome. This is confirmed by the fact that Justin Martyr in his Apology, 1. 26, begun about 150, mentions that in his earlier work against heresy, the Syntagma, he attacked, among others, Valentinus; so that his heresy must have begun to appear at least as early as 140. According to Irenaeus iii. 3, 4, Polycarp, during his sojourn in Rome under the episcopate of Anicetus, converted a few adherents of the Valentinian sect. Tertullian (Adv . Valentin. cap. 4) declares that Valentinus came to Rome as an adherent of the orthodox Church, and was a candidate for the bishopric of Rome, but he abandoned the Church because a confessor was preferred to him for this office. The credibility of this statement may be questioned. There is nothing impossible in it, but it has rather the appearance of a piece of the usual church gossip. Great uncertainty attaches to the residence of Valentinus in Cyprus, recorded by Epiphanius (loc. cit.), who places it after his stay in Rome, adding that it was here that he definitely accomplished his secession from the Church. Scholars are divided as to whether this stay in Cyprus was before or after that in Rome . But on the whole it seems to be clear from the various notices that Valentinus did not, e.g. like Marcion, break with the Church from the very beginning, but endeavoured as long as possible to maintain his standing within it.

II. The authorities which we have to consider deal for the most part with Valentinianism in its fully developed form, and not with the original teaching of the master. Justin's Syntagma (v.s.), which treats of Valentinus, is unfortunately lost. Irenaeus in his section i. II, 1—3, has preserved what is obviously an older document, possibly from Justin, dealing with Valentinus's own teaching and that of two of his disciples. The sketch which he gives is the best guide for the original form of Valentinianism. For Valentinus himself we have also to consider the fragments of his writings preserved by Clemens Alexandrinus. The best edition of and commentary on them is Hilgenfeld's Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums (pp. 293-307). Irenaeus in his treatise Adv. hoer. gives a detailed account of the two chief schools following Valentinus, the school of Ptolemaeus (i. i—10), and Marcus and the Marcosians (i. 13—21) . For his account of the Ptolemaeans, Irenaeus seems to have used various writings and expositions of the school, especially prominent being a collection of Scripture proofs which may have once had a separate literary existence (i. 1, 3; 3, 1—5 (6); 8, 2—4) . To this work is appended in a somewhat disconnected fashion a commentary on the prologue to the fourth Gospel (i. 8, 5). Irenaeus himself twice prefaces his remarks by saying he is indebted to other authorities for his exposition (i. 2, 3—4; 7, 2-5). Section 6, 2—4, interrupts and disturbs the continuity, and section 5, 1—3, is a duplicate of 5, 4. We see how the account of Irenaeus is built up from small fragments. In his account of Marcus and the Marcosians the chapters on the sacraments (i. 13 and 20) seem originally to have formed part of the same whole. Very valuable too are the Excerpta ex Theodoto which are to be found in the works of Clemens Alexandrinus, and may be looked upon as a collection made by the author with a view to the eighth book of his Stromateis, which was never finished. Of these excerpts paragraphs 4, 5, 8-15, 17b—20, 27, should be distinguished as Clemens's own observations; the remaining parts are extracted from Gnostic writings (cf. Zahn, Geschichte des Kanons, ii. pp . 269 seq.). Yet the Excerpta, as their contents show, are not homogeneous, and cannot have been borrowed from one writing. The question as to whether Clemens' method of quotations, which mentions sometimes Theodotus, sometimes the Valentinians as his sources for these excerpts, is of any use as a guide to an estimate between these sources, must be left undecided . The most important sections are paragraphs 29–68, in which an attempt is made at a continuous exposition of the system (though here again from various sources), and section 69–86, which deals with the Gnostic doctrine of the sacraments and that of the liberation of the Heimarmene. The lost Syntagma of Hippolytus, which, as we know, is preserved in the works of Philastrius and the pseudo-Tertullian, seems to furnish us with valuable information as to the earlier doctrines of the sect, and in his second treatise against heretics, the so-called Philosophumena (6, 29 seq.). Hippolytus gives a homogeneous and continuous exposition of a later Valentinian system, possibly connected with the school of Ptolemaeus. Important, too, are Hippolytus' references to an Italic and an Anatolian branch of the Valentinian sect (6, 35). Tertullian gives at the beginning of his treatise against the Valentinians a few separate notices of the life and disciples of Valentinus, but his further argument is closely dependent upon Irenaeus' exposition of the Ptolemaean system, which he embellishes in his usual fashion with bitterly sarcastic comments. Epiphanius deals with Valentinus and his school in sections 31–36 of his work. In cap. 31, 1-8, he gives an account of the Valentinians, which seems to be based on his own observation. Thus in 31, 5-6, we find yet another verbal extract from a Valentinian doctrinal work. For the rest he copies the text of Irenaeus word for word, which has the advantage of preserving for us Irenaeus' Greek phraseology, which we otherwise should only know in a Latin translation. In his section on Ptolemaeus, cap. 33, Epiphanius has preserved for us a valuable letter of Ptolemaeus to Flora, which is a document of the highest importance for the understanding of Gnosticism.

III. Valentinus is the only one of the Gnostics who had a whole series of disciples who are known by name - indeed, in the accounts of the Church Fathers his own system and views are almost entirely obscured by the accounts of those of his disciples. His fundamental ideas can be with difficulty reconstructed from Irenaeus i. II, from the fragments contained in Clemens, and to a certain extent from the Syntagma of Hippolytus, with the aid of later systems connected with his. Two early disciples of Valentinus are enumerated in Irenacus ii. 2-3, one of whom is named Secundus; according to Irenacus we have to trace back to him the division of the Valentinian Sophia into the double form of an aeon abiding in heaven, and her daughter, Sophia Achamoth. The second disciple is not named by Irenacus; it is conjectured that he may have been Colorbases, the teacher of Marcus (i. 14, I). The most important disciples of Valentinus, then, are the two dealt with at length by Irenacus, Ptolemaeus and Marcus, who both seem to have had a numerous following. besides these we should also mention Herakleon, of whose commentary on the gospel of St John extensive fragments are preserved by Origen. Ptolemaeus and Herakleon are counted by Hippolytus (6, 35) among the Italic branch of Valentinianism. There was also the Anatolian branch, as representative of which Hippolytus mentions Axionicus, who is also referred to by Tertullian as having actually been taught in Antioch. The Excerpta ex Theodoto in Clemens are also, according to the superscription, fragments from the Anatolian Gnosticism. It is, however, an error when Hippolytus speaks of Bardesanes as representative of this branch, for he had an entirely distinct position.

IV. In the important section of Irenaeus (i. II) devoted to Valentinus, his teaching is definitely connected with the so-called "falsely reputed Gnostics." It will be useful, in trying to ascertain the teaching and view of life of Valentinus, to keep closely before us that of the "Gnostics" in the narrower sense of the word, as preserved in the expositions of Irenaeus (i. 29, 30) and Epiphanius (passim) . The Gnostics were par excellence worshippers of the supreme Mother-goddess, the Mὴτηρ, in whom we have no difficulty in recognizing the characteristics of the goddess of heaven of anterior Asia. This "Meter" is, in the system of these Gnostics, also at one time the stern, austere goddess, the Mother, who dwells in heaven, at other times the licentious goddess of love, the great courtesan (Prunikon), who, e.g. in the Simonian system, takes the form of the prostitute Helena, in whose worship all kinds of obscene rites were celebrated. She dwells in the eighth or highest heaven, whence her name Ogdoas. Next to her stands the supreme and shadowy form of the unknown and nameless Father; below her in the seven lower heavens reign the seven planetary, world-creating angelic powers, headed by Jaldabaoth, who was later to be identified with the God of the Old Testament. The Gnostics are children of the supreme Mother; from her the heavenly seed, the divine spark, descended in some way to this lower world, and thus the children of heaven still exist in this gross material world, subject to the Heimarmene and in the power of hostile spirits and powers; and all their sacraments and mysteries, their formulae and symbols, must be part of her worship, in order to find the way upwards, back to the highest heaven, "where the Mother dwells." This idea that the Gnostics know themselves to be in a hostile and evil world reacted in the same direction upon the conception of the Mother of heaven. She became likewise a fallen goddess, who has sunk down into the material world and seeks to free herself from it, receiving her liberation at the hands of a heavenly Redeemer, exactly like the Gnostics. Various myths have contributed towards this; one of these is the widespread naive pagan myth of a goddess who disappears, carried off by the powers of evil, to be set free and taken back to her home by a divine liberator, a brother or betrothed. The moon-goddess with her disappearance may have been the prototype of this mythical figure (there are, indeed, certain analogies to be remarked between the Simonian Helena and Selene). With this myth are connected certain Jewish Theologumena; the goddess who sinks down into the material may readily be identified with Ruach (Rucha), the Spirit of God, who broods over Chaos, or even with the later Sophia (Chokma Achamoth), who was generally conceived of as a world-creating agent. Thirdly, the chief influence at work here seems to have been the oriental myth of the Primal Man sunk in the material world, which appears in its simple form in individual Gnostic systems, e.g. in Poimandres (in the Corpus henneticum) and in Manichaeism. In the Gnostic systems of Irenaeus i. 29, 30, the Anthropos (i.e. the Primal Man) no longer appears as the world-creative power sinking down into the material world, but as a celestial aeon of the upper world (or even as the supreme god), who stands in a clearly defined relationship to the fallen goddess; it is possible that the role of the Anthropos is here transferred to Sophia Achamoth. The fallen Sophia next becomes, in like manner, a world creative power. And now the highest of the world-creating angels, Jaldabaoth, appears as her son, and with this whole conception are then linked up the ideas of liberation and redemption . Next to the Sophia stands a male redeeming divinity. In all the Gnostic systems known to us Christ already appears as the Saviour, and so in this respect a Christianizing of Gnosticism has been carried out; but originally this Saviour-divinity had nothing in common with the figure of the Christian Redeemer. This is clear from Irenaeus's account of the Gnostics (i. 30). For here the redemption is actually and essentially effected through the uniting in marriage of the fallen goddess with her higher celestial brother, and they are expressly described as the bride and bridegroom. That is to say, we have here the purely mythical idea of the deliverance of a goddess by a god, and of the celestial marriage of a divine pair. This myth can only with difficulty be connected with the historic redemption through Jesus of Nazareth, by further relating that Christ, having been united to the Sophia, descends into the earthly Jesus.

V. This primitive "Gnosticism" was very closely followed by Valentinus, who may have come to know these doctrines in Egypt. This can be seen from the fact that in Valentinianism the Mother-goddess always stands absolutely at the centre of the system. Irenaeus (i. 6, I) is very instructive on this point, characterizing the Gnostics as the pneumatici who have a perfect knowledge of God, and have been initiated into the mysteries of Achamoth . A mighty system is certainly erected here out of the modest elements of Gnosticism.

(1) More especially, the superstructure of the celestial system, the celestial world of aeons, which exists above the fallen goddess, is here developed in the most complicated way. Valentinus has a system of thirty aeons, but we can with but little trouble recognize the simple system underlying this great superstructure. The quite shadowy plurality of ten and twelve aeons (the Dekas and the Dodekas) of the Valentinian system we may at once set aside as mere fantastical accretions. We have left only a group of eight celestial beings, the so-called Ogdoas, and of these eight figures four again are peculiar to the Valentinian system, and are probably artificial interpolations. For instance, when for the third pair of aeons we find the Logos and Zöe, figures which occur only here, and perceive, moreover, that the place of this pair of aeons is not firmly established, but that in this Valentinian tradition they occur some-times before and sometimes after the fourth pair of aeons, the Anthropos and the Ekklesia, we cannot be far wrong in suspecting that here already we find Valentinus to have been influenced by the prologue of the fourth Gospel (we also find the probably Johan-nine names Monogenes and Parakletos in the series of aeons).

(2) The first pair of aeons, Bythos and Sige, is likewise an original innovation of the Valentinian school, and clearly betrays a monistic tendency. According to Irenaeus's account of the "Gnostics" (i. 29), their theory was that Sophia casts herself into the primal sub-stratum of matter to be found outside the celestial world of aeons. In the Valentinian system, primal matter (Bythos), the original Chaos, is brought into connexion with the celestial world of aeons. And thus it is effected that matter is here not found originally and irretrievably separated from the higher celestial world, but that the latter originally exists for itself alone; the fall or disturbance is accomplished within the celestial world, and the material world first comes into existence through the fall. When we subtract from the Ogdoas the two pairs of aeons whose later introduction into the Valentinian system has been demonstrated, we are left actually with a double pair of aeons, the Father and Truth, the Anthropos and the Ekklesia. These strongly recall the Gnostic systems set forth in Irenaeus i. 29 and 30 (cf. i. 29, 3) . And thus the Anthropos (man), a leading figure of primitive Gnosticism, now half-forgotten, moves back into the centre of the system and the direct vicinity of the fallen goddess. It is also clear why the Ekklesia appears together with the Anthropos. With the celestial Primal Man—of whom the myth originally relates that he has sunk into matter and then raised him-self up from it again—is associated the community of the faithful and the redeemed, who are to share the same fate with him . Similarly among the Gnostics of Irenaeus i. 29, 3, perfect Gnosis (and thus the whole body of Gnostics) is connected with the Anthropos.

(3) The fallen goddess, mentioned above, occurs in the Valentinian system, as in the Gnostic systems described by Irenaeus, and in the older systems it is again the celestial aeon himself who falls, and whose fate outside the Pleroma is related (cf. the exposition in Irenaeus i. 11, Excerpta ex Theodoto, § 31 seq., and Hippolytus, Syntagma, in the pseudo-Tertullian). In the later Valentinian systems, probably from Secundus onwards (see above), the figure appears in double guise. The higher Sophia still remains within the upper world after creating a disturbance, and after her expiation and repentance; but her premature offspring, Sophia Achamoth, is re-moved from the Pleroma, and becomes the heroine of the rest of the drama (we have dealt in the preceding section with the other conception of the fall of Sophia).

(4) In the true Valentinian system the so-called Christos is the son of the fallen Aeon, who is thus conceived as an individual. Sophia, who in a frenzy of love had sought to draw near to the unattainable Bythos, brings forth, through her longing for that higher being, an aeon who is higher and purer than-herself, and at once rises into the celestial worlds. Among the Gnostics of Irenaeus we find a kindred conception, but with a slight difference. Here Christos and Sophia appear as brother and sister, Christos representing the higher and Sophia the lower element. In the enigmatic figure of Christoswe again find hidden the original conception of the Primal Man, who sinks down into matter but rises again. (In the later Valentinian systems this origin of the Christos is entirely obscured, and Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, becomes a later offspring of the celestial world of aeons; this may be looked upon as an approximation to the Christian dogma).

(5) A figure entirely peculiar to Valentinian Gnosticism is that of Horos (the Limiter). The name is perhaps an echo of the Egyptian Horus. The peculiar task of Horos is to separate the fallen aeons from the upper world of aeons. At the same time he becomes (first, perhaps, in the later Valentinian systems) a kind of world-creative power, who in this capacity helps to construct an ordered world out of Sophia and her passions. He is also called, curiously enough, Stauros (cross), and we frequently meet with references to the figure of Stauros. But we must not be in too great a hurry to conjecture that this is a Christian figure. Speculations about the Stauros are older than Christianity, and a Platonic conception may have been at work here. Plato had already stated that the world-soul revealed itself in the form of the letter Chi (X) ; by which he meant that figure described in the heavens by the intersecting orbits of the sun and the planetary ecliptic. Since through this double orbit all the movements of the heavenly powers are determined, so all "becoming" and all life depend on it, and thus we can understand the statement that the world-soul appears in the form of an X,or a cross. The cross can also stand for the wondrous aeon on whom depends the ordering and life of the world, and thus Horos-Stauros appears here as the first redeemer of Sophia from her passions, and as the orderer of the creation of the world which now begins. This explanation of Horos, moreover, is not a mere conjecture, but one branch of the Valentinian school, the Marcosians, have expressly so explained this figure (Irenaeus i. 17, I). Naturally, then, the figure of Horos-Stauros was often in later days assimilated to that of the Christian Redeemer.

(6) Peculiarly Valentinian is the above-mentioned derivation of the material world from the passions of Sophia. Whether this already formed part of the original system of Valentinus is, indeed, questionable, but at any rate it plays a prominent part in the Valentinian school, and consequently appears with the most diverse variations in the account given by Irenaeus. By it is effected the comparative monism of the Valentinian system. The dualism of the conception of two separate worlds of light and darkness is over-come by the derivation of the material world from the passions of Sophia . Older myths may here have served as a model; for instance, we may recall the myth of the derivation of the world from the body and limbs of the Primal Man (Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, p. 211).

(7) This derivation of the material world from the passions of the fallen Sophia is next affected by an older theory, which probably occupied an important place in the true Valentinian system. According to this theory the son of Sophia, whom she forms on the model of the Christos who has disappeared in the Pleroma, becomes the Demiourgos, and this Demiourgos with his angels now appears as the real world-creative power. These two conceptions had now to be combined at all costs. And it is interesting to observe here what efforts were made to give the Demiourgos a better position. According to the older conception, he was an imperfect, ignorant, half-evil and malicious offspring of his mother, who has already been deprived of any particle of light (Irenaeus i. 29, 30). In the Valentinian systems he appears as the fruit of Sophia's repentance and conversion. Even his name has been changed from that of the older Gnosticism. He is no longer called Jaldabaoth, but has been assigned the better name, drawn from the philosophy of Plato, of Demiourgos. We must not forget here that the Demiourgos of the Gnostic is known to have corresponded to the God of the Old Testament, who was the God of the Christian Church, and that we can thus lay our finger here on a compromise with the faith of the great Christian community.

(8) With the doctrine of the creation of the world is connected the subject of the creation of man. We fortunately know, from a fragment preserved by Clemens, that Valentinus here preserved the old Gnostic myth practically unaltered in his system. According to it, the world-creating angels—not one, but many—create man, but the seed of the spirit comes into their creature without their knowledge, by the agency of a higher celestial aeon, and they are then terrified by the faculty of speech by which their creature rises above them, and try to destroy him . In the Valentinian system known to us this myth has practically lost its original freshness and colour, and can only be arrived at from allusions. On the other hand, the speculations of the Valentinians delight in accounts of the artificial and complicated putting together of the first man out of the various elements. And a specifically Valentinian idea is here added in that of the threefold nature of man, who is represented as at once spiritual, psychical and material . In accordance with this there also arise three classes of men, the pneumatici, the psychici and the hylici (van, matter). It is significant that Valentinus himself is credited with having written a treatise upon the three natures (Schwartz, A porien, i. 292). Here we have another instance of the theological compromise of the Valentinians. All the other Gnostic systems recognize only a dual division, the children of light and the children of darkness. That the Valentinians should have placed the psychici between the pneumatici and hylici signifies a certain recognition of the Christian Church and its adherents. They are not numbered simply among the outcasts, but considered as an intermediate class, to whom is left the choice between the higher celestial nature and the lower and earthly.

(9) At the centre of the whole Valentinian system naturally stands the idea of redemption, and so we find here developed particularly clearly the myth of the heavenly marriage already known from Irenaeus i. 30 to be Gnostic. Redemption is essentially accomplished through the union of the heavenly Soter with the fallen goddess. There is great uncertainty in the Valentinian system as to who this celestial Soter is. In the Gnostic systems of Irenaeus i. 30 he is the Christos, the celestial brother who turns back to the fallen sister. In the Valentinian system the redeemer is likewise sometimes brought into relation with the Christos, sometimes, in a significant way, with the Anthropos, and sometimes again with Horos-Stauros. In the fully developed Ptolemaean system he appears as the common off-spring of the whole Pleroma, upon whom all the aeons confer their best and most wonderful qualities (we may compare here the Marduk myth, in which it is related that all the gods transfer their qualities and powers to the young god Marduk, who is recognized as their leader). And this celestial redeemer-aeon now enters into a marriage with the fallen goddess; they are the "bride and bridegroom." It is boldly stated in the exposition in Hippolytus's Philo'sophzcmena that they produce between them 70 celestial sons (angels) . (In the other accounts these angels no longer appear as the sons of the celestial pair, but as the heavenly attendants accompanied by whom the Soter approaches Sophia.) It is obvious from the number 70 that we have here a marriage between a celestial and divine pair. This marriage relation between the Soter and Sophia is expounded in quite a material way even in Irenaeus iii. 3, 4, where the Old Testament phrase πᾶν ἀρρεν διαvοιγον μήτραν is translated, "the Pan (the all, a name for the Soter), the masculinity which opens the mother's womb." This myth of the redeemer, as we shall see more fully below, and as may be mentioned here, is of great significance for the practical piety of the Valentinian Gnostics. It is the chief idea of their pious practices mystically to repeat the experience of this celestial union of the Soter with Sophia. In this respect, consequently, the myth underwent yet wider development. Just as the Soter is the bridegroom of Sophia, so the heavenly angels, who sometimes appear as the sons of the Soter and Sophia, sometimes as the escort of the Soter, are the males betrothed to the souls of the Gnostics, which are looked upon as feminine. Thus every Gnostic had his angel standing in the presence of God, and the object of a pious life was to bring about and experience this inner union with the celestial abstract personage This leads us straight to the sacramental ideas of this branch of Gnosticism (see below). And it also explains the expression used of the Gnostics in Irenaeus i . 6, 4, that they always meditate upon the secret of the heavenly union (the Syzygia).

(10) With this celestial Soter of the Valentinians and the redemption of Sophia through him is connected, in a way which is now not quite intelligible to us, the figure of Jesus of Nazareth and the historical redemption connected with his name. The Soter, the bridegroom of Sophia, and the earthly Jesus answer to each other as in some way identical. Here again we recognize the entirely artificial compromise between Gnosticism and Christianity. It is characteristic of this that in one passage in the account of Irenaeus it is directly stated that the redeemer came specially on account of the psychici, for the pneumatici (the Gnostics) already belong by nature to the celestial world, and no longer require any historical redemption, while the hylici have fallen beforehand into damnation, so that with the psychici only is there any question as to whether they will turn to redemption or damnation, and for them the historical redeemer is of efficacy (Irenaeus i. 6, 1). This assertion is in thorough agreement with the fundamental tendency of Gnostic piety; for the Gnostics individual redemption has actually been accomplished in the union between the Soter and Sophia, and is effected for the individual Gnostics in repeating the experience of this union. So that in effect they no longer require the historical redemption through Jesus.

(11) Among the manifold confusion of opinions as to the nature and characteristics of the Redeemer Jesus of Nazareth, certain explanations stand out as characteristically Valentinian, especially those in which it is laid down that even the redeemer has a threefold nature; from his mother, Sophia, he derived his nature as a pneumaticos, in the world of the Demiourgos he was united with the Christos, and finally a wonderful bodily nature was formed for him from celestial elements, which was yet not of earthly material. As such he was miraculously born of the Virgin, as through a canal (διἁ σωλῆνος). The compromises with the Catholic Church are here obvious. According to this theory Jesus, having an element of the psychical nature, can appear in virtue of this as the son of the Demiourgos, i.e. of the Old Testament God, and as the Redeemer of the psychici; and when we read of this miraculous bodily nature, which is not composed of earthly material, there is an obvious compromise between the fundamental heresy of Gnosticism, Docetism and the dogma of the Christian Church as to the true bodily nature of the Redeemer. Into this already complicated Christology is now introduced by an obscure combination, in the systems known to us, the idea that upon this Jesus, so constituted, yet another celestial nature, the Christos or the Soter, has descended at his baptism. This is the older and peculiar Gnostic conception of Irenaeus i. 30, which appears to have been introduced into Valentinianism at a late stage of its development. The express statement is Hippolytus 6, 35, that this doctrine was shared only by the Italic branch of the Valentinians, but disclaimed by the Anatolian branch, also bears on the point.

(12) The close of the drama and the final accomplishment of the redemption is also depicted by the Valentinian writings in accordance with the old Gnosticism. A general ascent takes place, the Soter returns with the liberated Sophia into the Pleroma, and likewise the Gnostics with the angels with whom they are connected. But it is characteristic of the Valentinian system that the Demiourgos and the psychici who are connected with him also ascend to the eighth or highest heaven of Achamoth, while the remaining material world sinks into flames.

VI . The first survey of these confused speculations, these myths gathered together and preserved from the ancient world, this marshalling together of the most varied traditions, and above all, these artificial attempts at compromise dictated by practical prudence, makes us inclined to doubt whether it was possible for any true piety to coexist with all this. Yet such piety existed, indeed we have here a set of regular mystics. It is not, indeed, a purely spiritual and mystical piety, but a mysticism much distorted and over-grown with sacramental additions and a mysterious cult. But all this is not without an inner value and an attractive atmosphere. Our information, it is true, is scant; most of it is to be found in the fragments of the letters and homilies of the master of the school preserved for us by Clemens. The central point of the piety of Valentinus seems to have been tha mystical contemplation of God; in a letter preserved in Clemens ii. 20, 114, he sets forth that the soul of man is like an inn, which is inhabited by many evil spirits. "But when the Father, who alone is good, looks down and around him, then the soul is hallowed and lies in full light, and so he who has such a heart as this is to be called happy, for he shall behold God." But this contemplation of God, as Valentinus, closely and deliberately following the doctrines of the Church, and with him the compiler of the Gospel of John declares, is accomplished through the revelation of the Son . This mystic and visionary also discusses the Psalm which is preserved in the Philosaphumena of Hippolytus (6, 37) . With celestial enthusiasm Valentinus here surveys and depicts the heavenly world of aeons, and its connexion with the lower world.[1] Exalted joy of battle and a valiant courage breathe forth in the sermon in which Valentinus addresses the faithful (Clemens iv. 13, 91): "Ye are from the beginning immortal and children of eternal life, and desire to divide death amongst you like a prey, in order to destroy it and utterly to annihilate it, that thus death may die in you and through you, for if ye dissolve the world, and are not yourselves dissolved, then are ye lords over creation and over all that passes away." From Tertullian, de carne Christi cap. 17, 20, we learn that Valentinus composed psalms. We may conjecture that these psalms were similar in their kind to the beautiful odes of Solomon which have lately been discovered, though without suggesting that these particular psalms were specifically Gnostic or Valentinian.

VII. But with this mysticism, of which we possess only a few of the beautifyl flowers, is connect the mystery and cult of the sacrament. The lofty spirituality of the Gnostic degenerates over and over into a distinctly material and sensual attitude, in which all kinds of efforts are made actually to assimilate to oneself the divine through external means. our authoraties for the sacramental practises of the Valentinians are preserved especially in the accounts of the Marcosians given Irenaeus i. 13 and 20, and in the last section of Excerpta ex Theodoto. We must point out once again how the mother aeon stands absolutely at the centre of this cult. There are moreover various figures in the fully developed system of the Valentinians who are in the Gnostic;s mind when he calls upon the Mother godess; sometimes it is the fallen Achamoth, sometimes the higher Sophia abiding in the celestical world, sometimes Aletheia, the consort of the supreme heavenly father, but it is always the same person, the Mother godess, on whom the fervent faith of the Gnostics is fixed. Thus a baptisimal confession of faith of the Gnostics (Irenaeus i. 21, 3) runs "In the name of the unknown Father of all, by Aletheia, the mother of all, by the name which descended upon Jesus." And in almost all the sacremental prayers of the Gnostics handed down to us by Irenaeus, the mother is the object of the invocation. If the interpretation generally given of the Aramaean baptismal formula by Irenaeus in the same passage is correct, it began with the words, "In the name of Achamoth." Hence we can understand how, according to Irenaeus i. 5, 3, Sophia Achamoth had among the Valentinians the title of kyrios (lord), and, a question closely connected with this, why they did not call Jesus kyrios, but Soter, as Irenaeus expressly assures us (i. 1, 3). Kyrios is the title given to the hero who is subject of a cult among a given body of people, and the heroine of the cult of the Valentinians, Sophia Achamoth there receives this title.

The chief sacrament of the Valentinians seems to have been that of the bridal chamber.

We have stated above the relation of this sacrament with the Valentinian speculations. Just as the apostle Paul represented his Christianity as a living, dying and rising again with Christ, so the first concern of the pious Valentinian was the experience of the divine marriage feast of Sophia. As Sophia was united with the Soter, her bridegroom, so the faithful would experience a union with their angel in heaven (i.e. their " double," Doppelgänger). The ritual of this sacrament is briefly indicated by Irenaeus i. 21, 3: "A few of them prepare a bridal chamber and in it go through a form of consecration, employing certain fixed formulae, which are repeated over the person to be initiated, and stating that a spiritual marriage is to be performed after the pattern of the higher Syzygia." Through a fortunate chance, a liturgical formula which was used at this sacrament appears to be preserved, though in a garbled form and in an entirely different connexion, the author seeming to have been uncertain as to its original meaning . It runs: "I will confer my favour upon thee, for the father of all sees thine angel ever before his face . . we must now become as one; receive now this grace from me and through me; deck thyself as a bride who awaits her bridegroom, that thou mayest become as I am, and I as thou art. Let the seed of light descend into thy bridal chamber; receive the bridegroom and give place to him, and open thine arms to embrace him. Behold, grace has descended upon thee."

Besides this the Gnostics already practised baptism, using the same form in all essentials as that of the Christian Church. The name given to baptism, at least among certain bodies, was apolytrosis (liberation) ; the baptismal formulae have been mentioned above . Great importance attaches in the Gnostic sacramental speculations to invocation (of the name). The Gnostics are baptized in the mysterious name which also descended upon Jesus at his baptism. The angels of the Gnostics have also had to be baptized in this name, in order to bring about redemption for themselves and the souls belonging to them (excerpla ex Theodoto, 22). In this connexion we also find the formula λύτρωσιν ἀγγελικἠν (for the angelic redemption, Irenaeus i. 21, 3). In the baptismal formulae the sacred name of the Redeemer is mentioned over and over again . In one of the formulae occur the words: "I would enjoy thy name, Saviour of Truth." The concluding formula of the baptismal ceremony is: " Peace over all upon whom the Name rests " (Irenaeus i. 21, 3) This name pronounced at baptism over the faithful has above all the significance that the name will protect the soul in its ascent through the heavens, conduct it safely through all hostile powers to the lower heavens, and procure it access to Horos, who frightens back the lower souls by his magic word (exc. ex Theodoto, 22). And for this life also baptism, in consequence of the pronouncing of the protecting name over the baptized person, accomplishes his liberation from the lower daemonic powers. Before baptism the Heirmarmene is supreme, but after baptism the soul is free from her (exc. ex Theod. 77).

With baptism was also connected the anointing with oil, and hence we can also understand the death sacrament occurring among the Valentinians consisting in an anointing with a mixture of oil and water (Irenaeus i. 21, 4). This death sacrament has naturally the express object of assuring the soul the way to the highest heaven " so that the soul may be intangible and invisible to the higher mights and powers " (Irenaeus, loc. cit.). In this connexion we also find a few formulae which are entrusted to the faithful, so that their souls may pronounce them on their journey upwards. One of these formulae runs: " I am a son of the Father, the Father who was before the whole world—I came to see everything, that which is strange and that which is my own; and deep down there is nothing strange, but only that which belongs to Achamoth. For she is the feminine aeon, and she has made all things. I draw my sex from that which was before the world, and take back to it the property from which I came" (Irenaeus i. 21, 5). Another formula is appended, in which there is a distinction in the invocation between the higher and lower Sophia. Another prayer of the same style is to be found in Irenaeus i. 13, and it is expressly stated that after prayer is pronounced the Mother throws the Homeric helm:t (cf. the Tarnkappe) over the faithful soul, and so makes him invisible to the mights and powers which surround and attack him.

On the other hand, we see how here and there a reaction took place against the absurdity of this sacramental superstition . Thus Irenaeus (i. 2I, 4) tells us of certain Gnostics who would admit no external holy practices as efficacious: "The completed apolytrosis is the actual knowledge of the inexpressible majesty (of God), for through ignorance arose all faultiness and suffering, and through knowledge will be removed all the conditions which arose from ignorance; and therefore knowledge (gnosis) is the perfecting of the inner man." A pure piety, rising above mere sacramentalism, breathes in the words of the Gnostics preserved in excerpta ex Theodoto, 78, 2: "But not baptism alone sets us free, but knowledge (gnosis) : who we were, what we have become, where we were, whither we have sunk, whither we hasten, whence we are redeemed, what is birth and what rebirth."

VIII. It has already been seen clearly that Valentinian Gnosticism affected the nearest approach of all the Gnostic sects of the Catholic Church. Valentinus's own life indicates that he for a long time sought to remain within the official Church, and had at first no idea of founding a community of his own. Many compromises in his theories point the same way . The Johannine tendencies of his doctrine of the aeons (Logos, Zoë, Aletheia, Parakletos) ; the attempt to modify the sharp dualism of Gnosticism in a monistic direction; the derivation of the world from the fallen Sophia; the favourable judgment of the Demiourgos, and his origin in the repentance and conversion of Sophia, which are peculiar to the Valentinian system; the triple division of mankind into pneunzatici, psychici and hylici, which is obviously contrived for the benefit of the psychici; the inclusion of an element of the psychici in the composition of the Redeemer; the theory that Jesus possessed a miraculous body formed in the upper world; the emphasis on the fact that the redemption of Jesus was primarily for the psychici; the doctrine that by the final redemption the Demiourgos and the psychici find a place in the Ogdoas; the adoption of Christian baptism—all this, and perhaps more, indicates a definite and deliberate approach towards the doctrine of the Church .

These Gnostics, as in the case of most of the other Gnostic sects, possessed their own peculiar holy writings and books, but they also made a great use in their own circle of the canon of the Christian Church, especially the canon of the New Testament and—though with a few reservations—of the Old Testament. Irenaeus in his account of the Ptolemaean sects has used a source which contained a detailed scriptural ex-position of the Valentinian doctrines based on the New Testament. We can even—and this is of great interest and significance for the history of the canon—establish the contents of the Gnostic canon. It included the three first gospels and the apostle Paul . The proofs are constantly drawn firstly from the utterances of the Saviour, and then from the Epistles of Paul. The Gospel of John does not seem to have yet found a place in this canon, for the very good reason that it was not yet widely known and circulated. Later Valentinian Gnosticism delighted in making use of the Johannine Gospel as a crowning testimony . Thus to the older and ancient scriptural evidences which we mentioned above, Irenaeus (i. 8, 5) directly appends a commentary on the Gospel of John, which is ascribed to Ptolemaeus himself., And in the excerpla ex Theodoto, 6 seq., we also find a commentary on the prologue to this Gospel. And we know that the later Valentinian Herakleon wrote a detailed exposition of the whole Gospel. But the Old Testament too was a sacred book of these Gnostics, and its statements were used as evidence and proofs. This was done with some diffidence and caution. The attitude, at least of the later Valentinians, is best indicated by the letter of Ptolemaeus to Flora, which is preserved in Epiphanius 33, 3-7. Ptolemaeus here openly attacks the doctrine that the Old Testament is the work of the devil, or that it cannot at least be ascribed unconditionally, to the Supreme God. The Old Testament he considers to contain a system of laws given by God himself, a system of laws given by Moses according to his own ideas, and precepts interpolated by the elders of the people . The laws of God himself fall then into three classes: the true law, which is not interwoven with evil; the law permeated with unrighteousness, which the Redeemer has dissolved; and the typical and symbolical law, which the Redeemer has translated from the material into the spiritual . Thus there is a gradual approach to the Christian Church's conception of the Old Testament. (It should indeed be remarked that Ptolemaeus in the above-mentioned letter has purposely expounded the exoteric doctrine in special approximation with the Catholic Church, while for the actual difficult questions as to the nature of the Demiourgos and his relation with the unity of the Divine nature he consoles Flora with a further and more intimate instruction.)

And yet this reconciliation of Gnosticism was a fruitless and henceforward a purposeless undertaking. Oriental dualism and wildly intemperate Oriental mythology had grown into so radical and essential a part of Gnosticism that they could not be separated from it to make way for a purer and more spiritual view of religion. And at a time when the prevailing tendency of Christianity was a struggle out of the darkness of Oriental mythology and eschatology into clearness, and an effort towards union with the lucid simplicity of the Hellenic spirit, these Gnostics, for all their efforts, and even the most noble of them, had come too late. They are not the men of a forward movement, but they are, and remain, in spite of all clearer insight, the rear-guard in the history of piety, who have gone under and disappeared in a struggle with the impossible. None the less we cannot omit the observation that the Christian Church in later centuries to a certain extent travelled again over Gnostic ground in its sacra-mental theories and fully developed Christological speculations.

See Bibliography to article Gnosticism. Also A. Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, vol. i. (4th ed., 1909); W. Bousset, Haupiprobleme der Gnosis (1907). See also Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyklopädie des klassischen Altertums, s.v. Gnosticismus, Gnostiker. More particularly devoted to Valentinianism are: G. Heinrici, Die Valentinianische Gnosis and die heiligen Schriften (1871); E. Schwartz, "Aporien int 4 Evangelium" in Nachrichien der Gött. Gesellsch. der Wissensch. (1908), ii. 127—41; A. Harnack, Brief des Ptolemaeus an die Flora, Sitaungsber. der Berl. Akademie (1909) . (W. Bo.)


  1. Cf . Goethe's Faust, I.:
    "Wie Himmelskräfte auf and niedersteigen
    Und sich die goldnen Eimer reichen."