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The School Of Valentinus

The Valentinians were the most important of all the Gnostics closely
connected with the Church. The school had many adherents scattered
throughout the Roman Empire, its leading teachers were men of culture and
literary ability, and the sect maintained itself a long time. Valentinus
himself was a native of Egypt, and probably educated at Alexandria, where
he may have come under the influence of Basilides. He taught his own
system chiefly at Rome c. 140-c. 160. The great work of Irenaeus against
the Gnostics, although having all Gnostics in view, especially deals with
the Valentinians in their various forms, because Irenaeus was of the
opinion that he who refutes their system refutes all (cf. Adv. Haer., IV,
praef., 2). It is difficult to reconstruct with certainty the esoteric
system of Valentinus as distinguished from possibly later developments of
the school, as Irenaeus, the principal authority, follows not only
Valentinus, but Ptolomaeus and others, in describing the system. The
following selection of sources gives fragments of the letters and other
writings of Valentinus himself as preserved by Clement of Alexandria,
passages from Irenaeus bringing out distinctive features of the system, and
the important letter of Ptolemaeus to Flora, one of the very few extant
writings of the Gnostics of an early date. It gives a good idea of the
character of the exoteric teaching of the school.

Additional source material: The principal authority for the system
of the Valentinians is Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., Lib. I (ANF), see
also Hippolytus, Refut., VI, 24-32 (ANF); "The Hymn of the
Soul," from the Acts of Thomas, trans. by A. A. Bevan, Texts
and Studies, III, Cambridge, 1897; The Fragments of Heracleon,
trans. by A. E. Burke, Text and Studies, I, Cambridge, 1891; see
also ANF, IX, index, p. 526, s. v., Heracleon. The Excerpta
Theodoti contained in ANF, VIII, are really the Excerpta
Prophetica, another collection, identified with the Excerpta
Theodoti by mistake of the editor of the American edition, A. C.
Coxe (on the Excerpta, see Zahn, History of the Canon of the
New Testament).

(a) Clement of Alexandria, Strom., IV, 13. (MSG, 8:1296.)

The following passages appear to be taken from the same homily of
Valentinus. The pneumatics are naturally immortal, but have
assumed mortality to overcome it. Death is the work of the
imperfect Demiurge. The concluding portion, which is very obscure,
does not fit well into the Valentinian system. Cf. Hilgenfeld,
op. cit., p. 300.

Valentinian in a homily writes in these words: "Ye are originally
immortal, and ye are children of eternal life, and ye desired to have
death distributed to you, that ye may spend and lavish it, and that death
may die in you and by you; for when ye dissolve the world, and are not
yourselves dissolved, ye have dominion over creation and all
corruption."(44) For he also, similarly with Basilides, supposes a class
saved by nature [i.e., the pneumatics, v. infra], and that this
different race has come hither to us from above for the abolition of
death, and that the origin of death is the work of the Creator of the
world. Wherefore, also, he thus expounds that Scripture, "No one shall see
the face of God and live" [Ex. 33:20], as if He were the cause of death.
Respecting this God, he makes those allusions, when writing, in these
expressions: "As much as the image is inferior to the living face, so much
is the world inferior to the living Eon. What is, then, the cause of the
image? It is the majesty of the face, which exhibits the figure to the
painter, to be honored by his name; for the form is not found exactly to
the life, but the name supplies what is wanting in that which is formed.
The invisibility of God co-operates also for the sake of the faith of that
which has been fashioned." For the Demiurge, called God and Father, he
designated the image and prophet of the true God, as the Painter, and
Wisdom, whose image, which is formed, is to the glory of the invisible
One; since the things which proceed from a pair [syzygy] are complements
[pleromata], and those which proceed from one are images. But since what
is seen is no part of Him, the soul [psyche] comes from what is
intermediate, and is different; and this is the inspiration of the
different spirit. And generally what is breathed into the soul, which is
the image of the spirit [pneuma], and in general, what is said of the
Demiurge, who was made according to the image, they say was foretold by a
sensible image in the book of Genesis respecting the origin of man; and
the likeness they transfer to themselves, teaching that the addition of
the different spirit was made, unknown to the Demiurge.

(b) Clement of Alexandria, Strom., II, 20. (MSG, 8:1057.)

According to Basilides, the various passions of the soul were no
original parts of the soul, but appendages to the soul. "They were
in essence certain spirits attached to the rational soul, through
some original perturbation and confusion; and that again, other
bastard and heterogeneous natures of spirits grow onto them, like
that of the wolf, the ape, the lion, and the goat, whose
properties, showing themselves around the soul, they say,
assimilate the lusts of the soul to the likeness of these
animals." See the whole passage immediately preceding the
following fragment. The fragment can best be understood by
reference to the presentation of the system by W. Bousset in
Encyc. Brit., eleventh ed., art. "Basilides."

Valentinus, too, in a letter to certain people, writes in these very words
respecting the appendages: "There is One good, by whose presence is the
manifestation, which is by the Son, and by Him alone can the heart become
pure, by the expulsion of every evil spirit from the heart; for the
multitude of spirits dwelling in it do not suffer it to be pure; but each
of them performs his own deeds, insulting it oft with unseemly lusts. And
the heart seems to be treated somewhat like a caravansary. For the latter
has holes and ruts made in it, and is often filled with filthy dung; men
living filthily in it, and taking no care for the place as belonging to
others. So fares it with the heart as long as there is no thought taken
for it, being unclean and the abode of demons many. But when the only good
Father visits it, it is sanctified and gleams with light. And he who
possesses such a heart is so blessed that he shall see God."

(c) Clement of Alexandria, Strom., II. 8. (MSG, 8:972.)

The teaching in the following passage attaches itself to the text,
"The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" (cf. Prov. 1:7).
Compare with it Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., I, 30:6.

Here the followers of Basilides, interpreting this expression [Prov. 1:7]
say that "the Archon, having heard the speech of the Spirit, who was being
ministered to, was struck with amazement both with the voice and the
vision, having had glad tidings beyond his hopes announced to him; and
that his amazement was called fear, which became the origin of wisdom,
which distinguishes classes, and discriminates, and perfects, and
restores. For not the world alone, but also the election, He that is over
all has set apart and sent forth."

And Valentinus appears also in an epistle to have adopted such views. For
he writes in these very words: "And as terror fell on the angels at this
creature, because he uttered things greater than proceeds from his
formation, by reason of the being in him who had invisibly communicated a
germ of the supernal essence, and who spoke with free utterance; so, also,
among the tribes of men in the world the works of men became terrors to
those who made them--as, for example, images and statues. And the hands of
all fashion things to bear the image of God; for Adam, formed into the
name of man, inspired the dread attaching to the pre-existing man, as
having his being in him; and they were terror-stricken and speedily marred
the work."

(d) Clement of Alexandria, Strom., III, 7. (MSG, 8:1151.)

The Docetism of Valentinus comes out in the following. It is to be
noted that Clement not only does not controvert the position taken
by the Gnostic as to the reality of the bodily functions of Jesus,
but in his own person makes almost the same assertions (cf.
Strom., VI, 9). He might indeed call himself, as he does in this
latter passage, a Gnostic in the sense of the true or Christian
Gnostic, but he comes very close to the position of the
non-Christian Gnostic.

Valentinus in an epistle to Agathopous says: "Since He endured all things,
and was continent [i.e., self-controlled], Jesus, accordingly, obtained
for Himself divinity. He ate and drank in a peculiar manner, not giving
forth His food. Such was the power of His continence [self-control] that
the food was not corrupted in Him, because He himself was without

(e) Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., I, 7, 15; I, 8, 23. (MSG, 7:517, 528.)

The division of mankind into three classes, according to their
nature and consequent capacity for salvation, is characteristic of
the Valentinian Gnosticism. The other Gnostics divided mankind
into two classes: those capable of salvation, or the pneumatics,
or Gnostics, and those who perish in the final destruction of
material existence, or the hylics. Valentinus avails himself of
the notion of the trichotomy of human nature, and gives a place
for the bulk of Christians, those who did not embrace Gnosticism;
cf. Irenaeus, ibid., I, 6. Valentinus remained long within the
Church, accommodating his teaching as far as possible, and in its
exoteric side very fully, to the current teaching of the Church.
The doctrine as to the psychics, capable of a limited salvation,
appears to be a part of this accommodation.

I, 7, 5. The Valentinians conceive of three kinds of men: the pneumatic
[or spiritual], the choic [or material],(45) and the psychic [or animal];
such were Cain, Abel, and Seth. These three natures are no longer in one
person, but in the race. The material goes to destruction. The animal, if
it chooses the better part, finds repose in an intermediate place; but if
it chooses the worse, it, too, goes to the same [destruction]. But they
assert that the spiritual principles, whatever Acamoth has sown, being
disciplined and nourished here from that time until now in righteous
souls, because they were sent forth weak, at last attain perfection and
shall be given as brides(46) to the angels of the Saviour, but their
animal souls necessarily rest forever with the Demiurge in the
intermediate place. And again subdividing the animal souls themselves,
they say that some are by nature good and others are by nature evil. The
good are those who become capable of receiving the seed; the evil by
nature, those who are never able to receive that seed.

I, 8, 23. The parable of the leaven which the woman is said to have hid in
three measures of meal they declare manifests the three kinds of men:
pneumatic, psychic, and the choic, but the leaven denoted the Saviour
himself. Paul also very plainly set forth the choic, the psychic, and the
pneumatic, saying in one place: "As is the earthy [choic] such are they
also that are earthy" [I Cor. 15:48]; and in another place, "He that is
spiritual [pneumatic] judgeth all things" [I Cor. 2:14]. And the passage,
"The animal man receiveth not the things of the spirit" [I Cor. 2:15],
they affirm was spoken concerning the Demiurge, who, being psychic, knew
neither his mother, who was spiritual, nor her seed, nor the Eons in the

(f) Irenaeus. Adv. Haer., I, 1. (MSG, 7:445 f.)

The following passage appears, from the context, to have been
written with the teaching of Ptolemaeus especially in mind. It
should be compared with the account further on in the same book,
I, 11: 1-3. The syzygies are characteristic of the Valentinian
teaching, and the symbolism of marriage plays an important part in
the "system" of all the Valentinians. In the words of Duchesne
(Hist. ancienne de l'eglise, sixth ed., p. 171): "Valentinian
Gnosticism is from one end to the other a 'marriage Gnosticism.'
From the most abstract origins of being to their end, there are
only syzygies, marriages, and generations." For the connection
between these conceptions and antinomianism, see Irenaeus, Adv.
Haer., I, 6:3 f. For their sacramental application, ibid., I,
21:3. Cf. I, 13:3, a passage which seems to belong to the
sacrament of the bridal chamber.

They [the Valentinians] say that in the invisible and ineffable heights
above there exists a certain perfect, pre-existent Eon, and him they call
Proarche, Propator, and Bythos; and that he is invisible and that nothing
is able to comprehend him. Since he is comprehended by no one, and is
invisible, eternal, and unbegotten, he was in silence and profound
quiescence in the boundless ages. There existed along with him Ennoea, whom
they call Charis and Sige. And at a certain time this Bythos determined to
send forth from himself the beginnings of all things, and just as seed he
wished to send forth this emanation, and he deposited it in the womb of
her who was with him, even of Sige. She then received this seed, and
becoming pregnant, generated Nous, who was both similar and equal to him
who had sent him forth(47) and alone comprehended his father's greatness.
This Nous they also call Monogenes and Father and the Beginning of all
Things. Along with him was also sent forth Aletheia; and these four
constituted the first and first-begotten Pythagorean Tetrad, which also
they denominate the root of all things. For there are first Bythos and
Sige, and then Nous and Aletheia. And Monogenes, when he perceived for
what purpose he had been sent forth, also himself sent forth Logos and
Zoe, being the father of all those who are to come after him, and the
beginning and fashioning of the entire pleroma. From Logos and Zoe were
sent forth, by a conjunction, Anthropos and Ecclesia, and thus were formed
the first-begotten Ogdoad, the root and substance of all things, called
among them by four names; namely, Bythos, Nous, Logos, and Anthropos. For
each of these is at once masculine and feminine, as follows: Propator was
united by a conjunction with his Ennoea, then Monogenes (i.e., Nous) with
Aletheia, Logos with Zoe, Anthropos with Ecclesia.

(g) Ptolemaeus, Epistula ad Floram, ap. Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer.
XXXIII, 3. Ed. Oehler, 1859. (MSG, 41:557.)

Ptolemaeus was possibly the most important disciple of Valentinus.
and the one to whom Irenaeus is most indebted for his first-hand
knowledge of the teaching of the sect of the Valentinians. Of his
writings have been preserved, in addition to numerous brief
fragments, a connected passage of some length, apparently from a
commentary on the Prologue or the Gospel of St. John (see Irenaeus,
Adv. Haer., I, 8:5), and the Epistle to Flora. The commentary is
distinctly a part of the esoteric teaching, the epistle is as
clearly exoteric.

That many have not(48) received the Law given by Moses, my dear sister
Flora, without recognizing either its fundamental ideas or its precepts,
will be perfectly clear to you, I believe, if you become acquainted with
the different views regarding the same. For some [i.e., the Church] say
that it was commanded by God and the Father; but others [i.e., the
Marcionites], taking the opposite direction, affirm that it was commanded
by an opposing and injurious devil, and they attribute to him the creation
of the world, and say that he is the Father and Creator. But such as teach
such doctrine are altogether deceived, and each of them strays from the
truth of what lies before him. For it appears not to have been given by
the perfect God and Father, because it is itself imperfect, and it needs
to be completed [cf. Matt. 5:17], and it has precepts not consonant with
the nature and mind of God; neither is the Law to be attributed to the
wickedness of the adversary, whose characteristic is to do wrong. Such do
not know what was spoken by the Saviour, that a city or a house divided
against itself cannot stand, as our Saviour has shown us. And besides, the
Apostle says that the creation of the world was His work (all things were
made by Him and without Him nothing was made), refuting the unsubstantial
wisdom of lying men, the work not of a god working ruin, but a just one
who hates wickedness. This is the opinion of rash men who do not
understand the cause of the providence of the Creator [Demiurge] and have
lost the eyes not only of their soul, but of their body. How far,
therefore, such wander from the way of truth is evident to you from what
has been said. But each of these is induced by something peculiar to
himself to think thus, some by ignorance of the God of righteousness:
others by ignorance of the Father of all, whom the Only One who knew Him
alone revealed when He came. To us it has been reserved to be deemed
worthy of making manifest to you the ideas of both of these, and to
investigate carefully this Law, whence anything is, and the law-giver by
whom it was commanded, bringing proofs of what shall be said from the
words of our Saviour, by which alone one can be led without error to the
knowledge of things.

First of all, it is to be known that the entire Law contained in the
Pentateuch of Moses was not given by one--I mean not by God alone; but some
of its precepts were given by men, and the words of the Saviour teach us
to divide it into three parts. For He attributes some of it to God himself
and His law-giving, and some to Moses, not in the sense that God gave laws
through him, but in the sense that Moses, impelled by his own spirit, set
down some things as laws; and He attributes some things to the elders of
the people, who first discovered certain commandments of their own and
then inserted them. How this was so you clearly learn from the words of
the Saviour. Somewhere the Saviour was conversing with the people, who
disputed with Him about divorce, that it was allowed in the Law, and He
said to them: Moses, on account of the hardness of your hearts, permitted
a man to divorce his wife; but from the beginning it was not so. For God,
said He, joined this bond, and what the Lord joined together let not man,
He said, put asunder. He therefore pointed out one law that forbids a
woman to be separated from her husband, which was of God, and another,
which was of Moses, that allows, on account of the hardness of men's
hearts, the bond to be dissolved. And accordingly, Moses gives a law
opposed to God, for it is opposed to the law forbidding divorce. But if we
consider carefully the mind of Moses, according to which he thus
legislated, we shall find that he did not do this of his own mere choice,
but by constraint because of the weakness of those to whom he was giving
the law. For since they were not able to observe that precept of God by
which it was not permitted them to cast forth their wives, with whom some
of them lived unhappily, and because of this they were in danger of
falling still more into unrighteousness, and from that into utter ruin,
Moses, intending to avoid this unhappy result, because they were in danger
of ruin, gave a certain second law, according to circumstances less evil,
in place of the better; and by his own authority gave the law of divorce
to them, that if they could not keep that they might keep this, and should
not fall into unrighteousness and wickedness by which complete ruin should
overtake them. This was his purpose in as far as he is found giving laws
contrary to God. That thus the law of Moses is shown to be other than the
Law of God is indisputable, if we have shown it in one instance.

And as to there being certain traditions of the elders which have been
incorporated in the Law, the Saviour shows this also. For God, said He,
commanded: Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee.
But ye, He said, addressing the elders, have said: It is a gift to God,
that by which ye might be profited by me, and ye annul the law of God by
the traditions of your elders. And this very thing Isaiah declared when he
said: This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from
me, vainly do they worship me, teaching the doctrines and commandment of
men [cf. Matt. 15:4-9.] Clearly, then, from these things it is shown
that this whole Law is to be divided into three parts. And in it we find
laws given by Moses, by the elders, and by God; and this division of the
whole Law as we have made it, has shown the real truth as to the Law.

But one portion of the Law, that which is from God, is again to be divided
into three parts: first, into the genuine precepts, quite untainted with
evil, which is properly called the law, and which the Saviour came not to
destroy but to complete (for what he completed was not alien to Him, but
yet it was not perfect); secondly, the part comprising evil and
unrighteous things, which the Saviour did away with as something unfitting
His nature; and thirdly, the part which is for types and symbols, which is
given as a law, as images of things spiritual and excellent which, from
being evident and manifest to the senses, the Saviour changed into the
spiritual and unseen. Now the law of God, pure and untainted with anything
base, is the Decalogue itself, or those ten precepts distributed in two
tables, for the prohibition of things to be avoided and the performance of
things to be done. Although they constitute a pure body of laws, yet they
are not perfect, but need to be completed by the Saviour. But there is
that body of commands which are tainted with unrighteousness; such is the
law requiring vengeance and requital of injuries upon those who have first
injured us, commanding the smiting out of an eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth and revenging bloodshed with bloodshed. For one who is second
in doing unrighteousness acts no less unrighteously, when the difference
is only one of order, doing the self-same work. But such a precept was,
and is, in other respects just, because of the infirmity of those to whom
the law was given, and it was given in violation of the pure law, and was
not consonant with the nature and goodness of the Father of all; it was to
a degree appropriate, but yet given under a certain compulsion. For he who
forbids the commission of a single murder in that he says, Thou shalt not
kill, but commands that he who kills shall in requital be killed, gives a
second law and commands a second slaying, when he has forbidden one, and
has been compelled to do this by necessity. And therefore the Son, sent by
Him, abolishes this portion of the Law, He himself confessing that it is
from God, and this, among other things, is to be attributed to an ancient
heresy, among which, also, is that God, speaking, says: He that curseth
father or mother, let him die the death. But there is that part of the Law
which is typical, laying down that which is an image of things spiritual
and excellent, which gives laws concerning such matters as offerings, I
mean, and circumcision, the Sabbath and fasting, the passover and the
unleavened bread, and such like. For all these things, being images and
symbols of the truth which had been manifested, have been changed. They
were abrogated so far as they were external, visible acts of bodily
performance, but they were retained so far as they were spiritual, the
names remaining, but the things being changed. For the Saviour commands us
to present offerings, though not of irrational animals or of incense, but
spiritual offerings--praise, glory, and thanksgiving, and also liberality
and good deeds toward the neighbor. He would have us circumcised with a
circumcision not of the flesh, but spiritual and of the heart; and have us
observe the Sabbath, for he wishes us to rest from wicked actions; and
fast, but he does not wish us to observe a bodily fast, but a spiritual,
in that we abstain from all that is unworthy. External fasting, however,
is observed among our people, since it is capable of benefiting the soul
to some degree, if it is practised with reason, when it is neither
performed from imitation of any one, nor by custom, nor on account of a
day, as if a day were set apart for that purpose; and at the same time it
is also for a reminder of true fasting, that they who are not able to fast
thus may have a reminder of it from the fast which is external. And that
the passover, in the same way, and the unleavened bread are images, the
Apostle Paul also makes clear, saying: Christ our Passover is sacrificed
for us, and That ye may be unleavened, not having any leaven (for he calls
leaven wickedness), but that ye may be a new dough.

This entire Law, therefore, acknowledged to be from God, is divided into
three parts: into that part which is fulfilled by the Saviour, such as
Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not
forswear thyself, for they are included in this, thou shalt not be angry,
thou shalt not lust, thou shalt not swear; into that which is completely
abolished, such as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, being
tainted with unrighteousness, and having the same work of unrighteousness,
and these are taken away by the Saviour because contradictory (for those
things which are contradictory are mutually destructive), "For I say unto
you that ye in no wise resist evil, but if any one smite thee turn to him
the other cheek also;" and into that part which is changed and converted
from that which is bodily into that which is spiritual, as he expounds
allegorically a symbol which is commanded as an image of things that are
excellent. For these images and symbols, fitted to represent other things,
were good so long as the truth was not yet present; but when the truth is
present, it is necessary to do the things of truth, not the image of
truth. The same thing his disciples and the Apostle Paul teach, inasmuch
as in regard to things which are images, as we have already said, they
show by the passover and the unleavened bread that they are for our sake,
but in regard to the law which is tainted with unrighteousness, they call
it the law of commandments and ordinances, that is done away; but as to
the law which is untainted with evil, he says that the law is holy and the
commandment holy and just and good.

Accordingly, I think that it has been sufficiently shown you, so far as it
is possible to discuss the matter briefly, that there are laws of men
which have slipped in, and there is the very Law of God which is divided
into three parts. There remains, therefore, for us to show, who, then, is
that God who gave the Law. But I think that this has been shown you in
what has already been said, if you have listened attentively. For if the
Law was not given by the perfect God, as we have shown, nor by the devil,
which idea merely to mention is unlawful, there is another beside these,
one who gave the Law. This one is, therefore, the Demiurge and maker of
this whole world and of all things in it, different from the nature of the
other two, and placed between them, and who therefore rightly bears the
name of the Midst. And if the perfect God is good according to His own
nature, as also He is (for that there is only One who is good, namely, God
and His Father, the Saviour asserted, the God whom He manifested), there
is also one who is of the nature of the adversary, bad and wicked and
characterized by unrighteousness. Standing, therefore, between these, and
being neither good nor bad nor unjust, he can be called righteous in a
sense proper to him, as the judge of the righteousness that corresponds to
him, and that god will be lower than the perfect God, and his
righteousness lower than His, because he is begotten and not unbegotten.
For there is one unbegotten One, the Father, from whom are all things, for
all things have been prepared by Him. But He is greater and superior to
the adversary, and is of a different essence or nature from the essence of
the other. For the essence of the adversary is corruption and darkness,
for he is hylic and composite,(49) but the essence of the unbegotten
Father of all is incorruptibility, and He is light itself, simple and
uniform. But the essence of these(50) brings forth a certain twofold
power, and he is the image of the better. Do not let these things disturb
you, who wish to learn how from one principle of all things, whom we
acknowledge and in whom be believe, namely, the unbegotten and the
incorruptible and the good, there exist two other natures, namely, that of
corruption and that of the Midst, which are not of the same essence
God's permission, in due order, both the beginning of this and its
generation, since you are deemed worthy of the apostolic tradition, which
by a succession we have received, and in due season to test all things by
the teaching of the Saviour. The things which in a few words I have said
to you, my sister Flora, I have not exhausted, and I have written briefly.
At the same time I have sufficiently explained to you the subject
proposed, and what I have said will be constantly of use to you, if as a
beautiful and good field you have received the seed and will by it produce

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