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The Role of Jesus in Valentinianism


Valentinianism is a profoundly Christo-centric form of Christian mysticism. The entire mythology can be seen as Christology. In Valentinian thought, the decisive event in the history of the world was the ministry of Jesus. Prior to his coming, the true God was unknown ( Against Heresies 1:19:3-1:20:3). This is because "no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matthew 11:27 cf. Against Heresies 1:20:3). This is the point of the Sophia myth. Throughout the ages, human beings sought to find God, but in the absence of Christ, they succeeded only in producing a defective image of the divine i.e. the Craftsman (demiurge). In their error they worshipped an imperfect image of God as lawgiver and Craftsman of the material world instead of the true God.

The Human Jesus and the Divine Christ

Valentinian tradition draws a sharp distinction between the human and the divine Jesus. By a special dispensation, the human Jesus was born (Against Heresies 1:15:3). Some Valentinians accepted the virgin birth (e.g Second Apocalypse of James 50:10f) while others believed Jesus was the true son of Mary and Joseph (Gospel of Philip 55:23-26). According to Valentinian theologians, Jesus derived his animate "body" or essence from the Craftsman. His spiritual essence is the entire "church of the superior seed" (Excerpts of Theodotus 17:1) deriving from Wisdom (Sophia). That is why the angel told Mary, "The Holy Spirit (i.e. Wisdom) will come upon you and the power of the Most High (i.e. the Craftsman) will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35 cf. Refutation of Heresies 6:35:3-4, also Excerpt of Theodotus 60, Against Heresies 1:15:3). According to Ptolemy, the contributions from Wisdom (Sophia) and the Craftsman pass through Mary into Jesus "like water through a pipe" (Against Heresies 1:7:2). This human being is the "lamb of God" (John 1:26 cf. Fragments of Herakleon 10), that is, the one the "Father of All chose to obtain knowledge of himself" ( Against Heresies 1:15:3).

Jesus became closely identified with humanity by taking on a human body. His human body is seen as consubstantial with the Church. Drawing on the metaphor from Saint Paul that the church is the body of Christ, Theodotus says, "The visible part of Jesus was Sophia (Wisdom) and the church of the superior seed which he put on through the body but the invisible part was the Name which is the only begotten Son" (Excerpts of Theodotus 26:1). The corresponding metaphor in the Gospel of Truth is the "living book" which contains the names of all the saved that the Son takes up (Gospel of Truth 20:10-14 cf. Revelation 20:15).

Valentinians divide the human personality into three distinct parts: chous (carnal), psyche (soul) and pneuma (spirit). The chous is closely linked the physical body and consists of the instinctual drives to self-gratification. It is said to directly derive from deficiency and suffering. By a special dispensation, Jesus was born without chous. For this reason, his physical body is sometimes said to be directly connected with psyche. Hence Ptolemy describes Jesus as having a "psychic" rather than a carnal (choic) body ( Against Heresies 1:6:1, 1:7:2).

The Baptism of Jesus

When he was thirty years old, he went to John the Baptist to be baptized (Luke 3:23). As soon as he went down into the water, "he came out laughing at everything (of this world), not because he considers it a trifle, but because he is full of contempt for it" (Gospel of Philip 71:3-15). The divine Savior, referred to as the "Spirit of the Thought of the Father", descended on him in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16 and parallels cf. Against Heresies 1:7:2, 1:15:3, Excerpts of Theodotus 61:6, Refutation of Heresies 35:3) and the "Word became flesh" (John 1:14).

Jesus' baptism and the descent of the "Spirit" is his redemption (Gospel of Philip 70:34-36). Redemption was necessary even for Jesus so that "he might not be detained by the thought of the deficiency in which he was placed" (Excerpts of Theodotus 22:7 cf. also Tripartite Tractate 124:31-125:11). This is the true "virgin birth" and resurrection from the dead, for he was reborn of the virgin Spirit (cf. Gospel of Philip 70:34-71:7, Refutation of Heresies 35:5, Gospel of Philip 56:15-18). According to Theodotus, the Savior's angels were also baptized "through the redemption of the Name which came upon Jesus in the dove and redeemed him" (Excerpts of Theodotus 22:1-2). The angels are those who are "baptized for the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:29), that is, for human beings who are in ignorance of the true God (Excerpts of Theodotus 21:1-2).

The human Jesus is the "lamb of God", the Savior is the one "who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 cf. Herakleon 10). He came to reveal knowledge (gnosis) of the Father (Gospel of Truth 20:15-24, Against Heresies 1:15:2, Interpretation of Knowledge 14:28-30). By knowledge (gnosis), the two elements which had been separated (i.e. the seeds and the angels) are rejoined (cf. Gospel of Philip 70:12-15 etc.) and restored to the Fullness (Treatise on the Resurrection 44:26-30). He also came to conquer death by means of the resurrection ( Against Heresies 1:15:3, Treatise on the Resurrection 44:26-30). He accomplished this by "sharing with the dispensational (i.e. human) Christ his power and his name" ( Against Heresies 3:16:1).

Valentinian Christology emphasizes that the human Jesus is redeemed by being joined with the Savior at his baptism. The Son is "the Name which came down upon Jesus in the dove and redeemed him" (Excerpts of Theodotus 22:6). The redemption of the human Jesus is seen by the Valentinians as applying to all who form part of the "church of the superior seed". The human Jesus is joined to the Savior. All who form part of the spiritual church which is identical with the human Jesus are also joined to the Savior. In the Interpretation of Knowledge, the human Jesus who represents the Church is called the "humiliated one"(12:18-22)and the "reproached one" (12:29-31). Again it is the Savior who redeems: "Who is it that redeemed the one that was reproached? It is the emanation of the Name (i.e. the Savior)" (Interpretation of Knowledge 12:29-31cf also 12:18-22). The descent of the Son into Jesus at his baptism is simultaneously the redemption of the human Jesus and the redemption of all who are joined with him.

The Public Career of Jesus

Following his baptism, he taught for twelve months in order to "proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of retribution" (Isaiah 61:2 cf. Against Heresies 2:22:1). In order to reveal his dual nature, the Acts of John reports that at times he was substantial like an ordinary human being, but that at other times he seemed insubstantial and did not even seem to leave footprints. (Acts of John 88-89). Everything he did was "a symbol and a dispensation for the conversion and salvation of humanity" (Acts of John 102 cf. also Against Heresies 1:8:2). He taught he disciples "first in a figurative and mystical way, then in parables and riddles and thirdly clearly and directly in private" (Excerpts of Theodotus 66 cf. John 16:25, Luke 8:9-10).

In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is regarded as a full-fledged apostle. She was seen as having had a special relationship with Jesus and is said to be the apostle he loved more that the others (Gospel of Philip 64:1-2 cf. Gospel of Mary 18:14-15). She is sometimes interpreted as a symbol of Wisdom (Sophia). As such she is described as Jesus' consort and it is implied that they are married (Gospel of Philip 63:32-33, 56:6-10 cf. Gospel of Mary 10:2-3). His brother James also plays an important role in some Valentinian sources such as the First Apocalypse of James.

The Crufixion

The forces of ignorance rose up against Jesus, and, not comprehending his true nature, attempted to destroy him (Gospel of Truth 18:21-26). His passion and death have a special symbolic value according to Ptolemy who says that Jesus "came to his suffering in the last times of the world for the purpose of revealing the suffering arising with the last of the Aeons and through its end to reveal for all to see the final aim of the events in the world of the Aeons" ( Against Heresies 1:8:2).

Valentinians interpreted Jesus' suffering and death in terms of his dual nature. Inasmuch as Jesus is a human being, he suffered pain and died on the cross (cf. Against Heresies 1:7:2). However, his divine nature (i.e. the Savior) transcends physical pain and death ( Against Heresies 1:6:3, 1 Apocalypse of James 131:17-19). Instead, his divine aspect endured only the emotional sufferings of grief, fear and confusion in order to bring them to nothing. This distinction is expressed by the risen Christ in the following words: "What they (i.e. ordinary Christians) say of me, I did not endure, but what they do not say, those things I did suffer" (Acts of John 101).

According to Ptolemy, the Savior expressed his grief with the words, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38). When he says, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39) he shows fear. Similarly, his statement, "And what shall I say" (John 12:27) shows his confusion. ( Against Heresies 1:8:2). The reality of this suffering is affirmed in many places (Gospel of Truth 20:10-14, 20:28-30, Interpretation of Knowledge 5:30-35, Herakleon 12)

The identity of the Jesus' body with the Church lead some Valentinians to identify the suffering of Jesus with the suffering of the individual Christians that make up that body. In the Letter of Peter to Philip, it says "Our illuminator came down and was crucified..Jesus is a stranger to this suffering. But we are the ones who suffered through the transgression of the Mother. And because of this he did everything like us" (139:15-25).

According to the Apocalypse of Peter, Jesus was laughing on the cross at his persecutors: "He laughs at their lack of perception, knowing that they are born blind" (Apocalypse of Peter 83:1-3). They foolishly thought they were killing him but in reality they were setting him free from the flesh. Only the human Jesus was being put to death.

According to Theodotus, when Jesus said, "Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit" (Luke 23:4), he committed the lower Wisdom and her seed to the Father, having accomplished his work of redemption (Excerpts of Theodotus 1:1-2). The Savior then withdrew from Jesus and his human part died (Excerpts of Theodotus 61:6). That is why the human Jesus said with his dying breath, "My God, my God, why o Lord have you forsaken me" (Matthew 27:46), for "he was divided in that place" (Gospel of Philip 68:26-28 cf. also Interpretation of Knowledge 13:14-16).

The Resurrection

When the human body died, his non-corporeal spiritual body rose up from it (Refutation of Heresies 10:7, Apocalypse of Peter 83:6-8, cf. also Treatise on the Resurrection 45:14-17). The Gospel of Truth puts it thus, "Having stripped himself of perishable rags, he put on imperishability" (Gospel of Truth 20:30-32 cf. also Treatise on the Resurrection 45:14-22).

According to a tradition preserved in the Acts of John, the risen Savior appeared immediately to the apostle John on the Mount of Olives while the multitude was still gathered around his human body nailed to the cross. The Savior revealed to him that the cross could be seen as a symbol of the Limit that separates the lower realm from the Fullness (Acts of John 97-100). When he told John that "those who are outside the mystery" (Acts of John 100) were saying that he had perished on the cross, John laughed at their foolishness (Acts of John 102).

On the third day after his human body died, the Savior sent forth a ray of power which destroyed death, and "he raised the mortal body after he scattered the sufferings (i.e. the physical and carnal natures)" (Excerpts of Theodotus 61:6). This body which he raised is not the material body, "for what is flesh and blood cannot share in God's kingdom" (1 Corinthians 15:50). Instead, it was a body of animate essence specially transformed so that it could be seen and felt (cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 59:4, Against Heresies 1:6:1, 1:7:1).

The risen Savior only took up those elements he wished to save, that is, the animate soul and the spiritual seed ( Against Heresies1:6:1). It is this animate and spiritual body of Christ which is consubstantial with the Church (Excerpts of Theodotus 42:3, 58:1, cf. Ephesians 4:15-16). Theodotus puts it in these words, "The visible part of Jesus was Wisdom (Sophia) and the Church of the superior seed which he put on through the body" (Excerpts of Theodotus 26:1).

The Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

The risen Jesus appeared to different people in various forms, that is "in the manner in which they would be able to see him" (Gospel of Philip 57:28-35 cf. also Excerpts of Theodotus 23:4, Acts of Peter 21). That is why Mary did not recognize him at the tomb (John 20:15) and the disciples did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:16).

According to a tradition known to the Valentinians, Jesus remained for eighteen months after his crucifixion ( Against Heresies 1:3:2, Secret Book of James 2:19). During this time he instructed his disciples "plainly about the Father" (John 16:25 cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 66). Valentinians believed that the secret tradition passed on to them was revealed to the disciples during this period.

After giving final instructions to Peter and James (Secret Book of James), the Savior and Wisdom (Sophia) ascended to the eighth heaven. The animate Christ remained in the seventh heaven on the right hand of the Craftsman (Excerpts of Theodotus 62:1 cf. Psalm 110). He will remain there until the consummation so that "they may see him whom they pierced" (Revelation 1:7 cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 62:2).


Jesus sows the spiritual seed in all who hear the message. He is the sower in the parable (Matthew 13:1-8 cf. Interpretation of Knowledge 5:16-19). The spiritual seed bears fruit in the Church, "therefore the signs of the Spirit - healing and prophesying - are accomplished through the Church" (Excerpts of Theodotus 24:1).

Jesus is absolutely central to Valentinian theology. Their understanding of his incarnation places great emphasis on both his human and divine nature. The human Jesus alone died on the cross since the divine transcends pain and death. This is distinctly different from "docetism". Valentinians never claimed that Jesus only appeared to suffer or that his body was an apparition.



Content authored by David Brons