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Valentinius

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Valentinius more usually called Valentinus (c. 100 - c. 153), was the best-known and for a time most successful Christian Gnostic thinker, ca 140 A.D. "Valentinus has disappeared, yet these are Valentinians who derive from Valentinus. At Antioch alone to this day Axionicus consoles the memory of Valentinus by a full obedience of his rules." (Tertullian, AV). Through him, Gnosticism came nearest to being incorporated into the mainstream tradition of Pauline Christianity.

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Biography

He was born in Phrebonis in the Nile delta and educated in Alexandria, an important and metropolitan early Christian center. There he may have heard the Christian philosopher Basilides and certainly became conversant with Hellenistic neo-Platonic philosophy and the culture of Hellenized Jews like the great Alexandrian Jewish allegorist and philosopher Philo Judaeus. His Alexandrian followers claimed that Valentinus was a follower of Theudas, who was in turn a follower of St. Paul of Tarsus. Valentinus claimed that Theudas imparted to him the secret wisdom that Paul had taught privately to his inner circle, which Paul publicly referred to in connection with his visionary encounter with the risen Christ (Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Acts 9:9-10), when he received the secret teaching from him. Such esoteric teachings (reported in the Secret Gospel of Mark and other early works) were becoming downplayed in Rome after the mid-2nd century.

Valentinus taught first in Alexandria and went to Rome about 136, during the pontificate of Pope Hyginus, and remained until the pontificate of Pope Anicetus. He became so prominent among the Christian community that, according to Tertullian Adversus Valentinianos iv, Valentinus was a candidate for bishop of Rome (the date would be 143) and that he lost the election by a narrow margin:

"Valentinus expected to become bishop because he had great abilities of mind and tongue, but another was preferred for the position because he suffered as a martyr. Angry at this, Valentinus broke with the legitimate church."[1] (http://www.tertullian.org/articles/riley_adv_val/riley_03_translation.htm) (The attributed motivation is part of Tertullian's sarcastic rhetoric.)

Tertullian— who developed heretical Montanist tendencies himself— reported that Valentinus was declared a heretic around 175 A.D. after his death. Tertullian also stated that Valentinus was personally acquainted with Origen. There is no evidence that Valentinus was ever cast out of the developing orthodox Pauline church, but he was controversial. According to a later tradition, he withdrew to Cyprus, where he continued to teach and draw adherents. He died probably about 160 or 161.

The Christian heresiologists also wrote details about the life of Valentinius which the scientific community today considers unreliable. As mentioned above, Tertullian claimed that Valentinus was a candidate for bishop of Rome and that he lost the election by a narrow margin, after which he turned to heresy in a fit of pique. Epiphanius wrotes that Valentinius gave up the true faith after he had suffered a shipwreck in Cyprus and became insane. In addition to seeming improbable, these descriptions are also conflicting.

Valentinius was among the early Christians who attempted to align Christianity with neo-Platonism, drawing dualist conceptions from the Platonic world of ideal forms (pleroma) and the lower world of phenomena (kenoma). Of the mid-2nd century thinkers and preachers who were declared heretical by Irenaeus and later mainstream Christians, only Marcion is as outstanding as a personality. The contemporary orthodox counter to Valentinus was Justin Martyr.

While Valentinus was alive he made many disciples, and his system was the most widely diffused of all the forms of Gnosticism. Among the more prominent disciples of Valentinus, who, however, did not slavishly follow their master in all his views, were Bardasanes, invariably linked to Valentinus in later references, as well as Heracleon, Ptolemy and Marcus. Many of the writings of these Gnostics, and a large number of excerpts from the writings of Valentinius, existed only in quotes displayed by their orthodox detractors, until 1945, when the cache of writings at Nag Hammadi revealed a Coptic version of the Gospel of Truth, which, according to Irenaeus, was the same as the Gospel of Valentinus mentioned by Tertullian in his diatribe Adversus Valentinianos. In a text known as Pseudo-Anthimus, Valentinus is quoted as teaching that God is three hypostases (hidden spiritual realities) and three prosopa (persons) called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Marcellus of Ancyra, "On the Holy Church", 9 states that:

"Valentinus, the leader of a sect, was the first to devise the notion of three subsistent entities (hypostases), in a work that he entitled On the Three Natures. For, he devised the notion of three subsistent entities and three persons—father, son, and holy spirit." [2] (http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/valentinus-b.html)

This teaching was later adopted in the doctrine of the Trinity of Nicene Christianity.

Valentinianus' detractors

Shortly after Valentinus' death, Irenaeus began his massive work Adversus Haeresis with a highly-colored and negative view of him and his teachings that occupies most his his first book. Tertullian's adversarial diatribe Adversus Valentinianos retranslated some passages from Irenaeus, without adding original material, a modern student, M.T. Riley, observes [3] (http://www.tertullian.org/articles/riley_adv_val/riley_00_index.htm). Later, Epiphanius of Salamis discussed and dismissed him (Haer., XXXI). As with all the non-traditional early Christian writers, Valentinus has been known largely through quotations in the works of his detractors, though an Alexandrian follower also preserved some fragmentary sections as extended quotes. A Valentinian teacher Ptolemy refers to "apostolic tradition which we too have received by succession" in his Letter to Flora. Ptolemy is known only for this letter to a wealthy Gnostic lady named Flora, a letter itself only known by its full inclusion in Epiphanius' Panarion; it relates the Gnostic view of the Law of Moses, and the situation of the Demiurge relative to this law. The possibility should not be ignored that the letter was composed by Epiphanius, in the manner of composed speeches that ancient historians put into the mouths of their protagonists, as a succinct way to sum up.

The Gospel of Truth

In this situation, it opened a new field in Valentinian studies when the Nag Hammadi cache of writings was discovered in Egypt in 1945. Among the very mixed bag of works branded as "gnostic" was a series of writings which could very well be associated with him, particularly the Coptic text called the Gospel of Truth which had been specifically named as his by Irenaeus (Adversus Haeresis 3.11.9). It is a declaration of the unknown name of the Father, possession of which enables the knower to penetrate the veil of ignorance that has separated all created beings from the Father. And Jesus Christ as Savior has revealed that name through a variety of modes laden with a language of abstract elements. Clyde Curry Smith states "The notions are finally too esoteric for popular consumption, and the followers of Valentinus can only have been the learned."

"Valentine"

The apocryphal "Saint Valentine", no longer in the Roman Catholic calendar, but for whom Saint Valentine's Day was dedicated, is more likely to have been a cover for the real Valentinus, whose position on conjugal love was markedly different from the horror of sexuality found in the mainstream Patristic literature.

The Valentinians

The Valentinians is the name for Valentinius' apprenticeship, one of the major gnostic movements. They are usually depicted as holding matter to be essentially evil, and the human body especially. Indeed they are often described as being little more than a Christian heresy with extreme, negative views on matter.

However, modern efforts to assess this view have found it to be too simplistic. Firstly, the notion that early Christianity came into being fully possessed of a rigid doctrinal body and a similarly strict corpus of canonical texts is unlikely. Primitive Christianity is viewed by modern atheist scholars as a most fluid entity, which encapsulated many apparently contradictory movements and core beliefs of the period; what we would now call orthodox Christianity is a synthesis of some of these beliefs, just one among many differing Christian movements. Thus the notion of a central orthodoxy from which 'Gnosticism' - or any other 'heresy' - deviated, is considered an improper approach. One might note that the original meaning of 'heresy' - denoting 'those who have made a choice' - possessed no derogatory or negative connotations common in the modern sense: it was purely adjectival. It quickly gained these negative connotations however, from the many derogatory words and phrases that were applied to heretics. Furthermore, in the particular case of the Gnostics, the common view is all too dependent on representations of the movement observed from the point of view of its detractors. This is chiefly because most of the writings we have available are in quotations from their detractors, leaving little alternative other than speculation.


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