The Gnostic Society Library

| Valentinus IndexGnostic Society Library | Gnosis Archive |


Psychology and Salvation

The Three Elements Within The Human Being

Valentinians interpreted human psychology and salvation in terms of a triple division of the human psyche. According to the Valentinian myth of Sophia (Wisdom), three states of consciousness result from her fall into deficiency and her ultimate redemption. From her deficiency and suffering is derived the irrational carnal soul. From her pleading and conversion comes the rational or animate soul. From her gnosis comes the spiritual seed. The origin and nature of human beings is explained through allegorical interpretation of the Book of Genesis in terms of these three internal psychic components.

According to Valentinian tradition, the Craftsman and his angels set about creating human beings in the image of the pre-existing Humanity (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:5:2, Excerpts of Theodotus 51:1). From "dust" (Genesis 2:7), that is, non-corporeal deficiency and suffering, they created the carnal or irrational soul. Into this the Craftsman breathed an animating rational soul deriving from pleading and conversion (i.e. from his own substance). This is the "breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). Lastly, Wisdom (Sophia) secretly sowed her spiritual seed into the human being. Thus there are three essences in every human being: an irrational carnal soul, an animating rational soul and a spiritual seed.

The irrational carnal soul is the burden of deficiency and ignorance which has been distributed among the seeds so that when they receive knowledge (gnosis), ignorance may be completely destroyed. Valentinus says, "You wished to distribute death (i.e. deficiency) amongst yourselves so as to consume it and annihilate it and so that death might die in and through you." (Valentinus Fragment 4). The carnal nature represents unthinking instinctual drives for self-gratification (cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 50:1, Ireneus Against Heresies 1:5:4). It is a "tare" (Matthew 13:22) and a "seed of the Devil" (Matthew 13:28 cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 53:1). Saint Paul calls it "the law which wars against the law of my mind" (Romans 7:23, cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 52:1-53:1). The carnal nature is sometimes personified as the "Devil" and "spiritual powers of wickedness" (Ephesians 6:12; for more discussion see Ireneus Against Heresies 1:5:4, Excerpts of Theodotus 48:2, Hip 32:5, 34:1) By its very nature, the carnal is not open to salvation in any form.

The rational animating soul is what makes us living human beings. It is our normal consciousness, identified with our emotions and our rational faculty. It is the rational soul that constructs the concensus reality that most of us share. For this reason it is called a "Craftsman" which creates the world. Soul is characterized by a capacity for free choice (Excerpts of Theodotus 55:3). It can only be saved if the person chooses good deeds rather than evil ones.

The spiritual nature is our true inner self. It exists potentially, as a seed, within all who hear the Word and is expressed as creativity and intuition. The spiritual seed was sent "to be formed here along with the animate soul and to be brought up and elevated with it." (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:1). The spiritual seed is often compared to gold or a pearl cast into mud (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:2, Gospel of Philip 62:17-25) since "it is a precious thing and it has come to reside in a lowly body" (Gospel of Philip 56:24-25). If the seed bears fruit (cf. Matthew 13:23) and the person attains to some level of knowledge, the spiritual nature is actualized. Such a person attains to the highest level of salvation.

According to Valentinus, the sowing of the spiritual seed into Adam caused him to utter things "superior to what his origins justified" (Valentinus Fragment 1, cf. Gospel of Philip 70:26-29, Naasene Preaching 8:14). As a result, fear overcame the Craftsman and his angels (Valentinus Fragment 1), and they became envious of the human being "because they were separated from the spiritual union" (Gospel of Philip 70:26-29). The angels then "hid" their handiwork (cf. Valentinus Fragment 1) in a "coat of skins" (Genesis 3:21), i.e. the physical body (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:5:5, 1:18:2, Excerpts of Theodotus 52:1).

Valentinians interpreted the trees planted in the Garden of Eden in terms of the three natures. According to their interpretation, there were ordinary carnal trees, the animate "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" and the spiritual "Tree of Life" in the garden. The human beings ate of the carnal trees and the animate Tree of Knowledge rather than the spiritual Tree of Life (Gospel of Philip 71:22-24, Tripartite Tractate 106:25-107:18 cf. Genesis 2:16-17). In the Gospel of Philip, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (animate nature) is identified with the Law. Using the Epistle to the Romans 7:7-11, the author says: "It has the power to give knowledge of good and evil. It neither removed him from evil, nor did it set him in the good. Instead it created death for those who ate of it. For when it said, 'Eat this. Do not eat that.' it became the beginning of death." (Gospel of Philip 74:3-11) The human beings ate of this tree and embraced their lower nature and the resulting arbitrary laws. As a result, Adam became separated from Eve who represents the female spiritual principal (cf. Genesis 2:21-22). This is spiritual death (Gospel of Philip 70:10-12).

Three Types of People

Human beings can be divided into three types depending on which of the three natures is dominant within them. According to the Valentinians, that is why Adam and Eve are described as having had three children who they named Cain, Abel and Seth. They are the prototypes of carnal (choic), animate (psychic) and spiritual (pneumatic) human beings respectively. (Ireneus Against Heresies 1;7:5, Excerpts of Theodotus 54:1).

A key to understanding the Valentinian doctrine of the three classes is their teaching about the spirit which they compare to a "seed", an image derived from the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Matthew (13:3-8, 18-23). The Tripartite Tractate is tremendously valuable in clarifying their teachings here. The event that divides people into three classes is not predestination but their response to Jesus and his message of salvation. Those who don't understand and reject Jesus are the "seeds that fell on the path" (Matthew 13:4) i.e. the carnal. Those who hesitate and don't understand the message fully are the "seeds that fell among the thorns" (Matthew 13:7) i.e. the animate. Those who accept the message immediately and achieve gnosis are the seeds "sown in the good earth" (Matthew 13:8) i.e. the spiritual. All people were believed to have the spiritual potential (seed), but it was actualized in only a few.

Instead of being seen as immutable, preordained categories, the three classes should instead be seen as stages of spiritual development. Valentinians believed that one could move from one category to another as a result two major life-changing transitions.

Carnal (Choic) Human Beings

In carnal people, the irrational (or carnal) soul acts like a drug that makes them forget their true origin and become a creature of the world (Gospel of Truth 22:17-18). The Gospel of Truth describes the carnal state as being like a nightmare: "As when one falls soud asleep and finds oneself in the midst of nightmares: running towards somewhere, powerless to get away while being pursued--in hand to hand combat--being beaten--falling from a great height..sometimes too it seems that one is being murdered..or killing one's neighbours, with whose blood one is smeared.." (Gospel of Truth 29:8-25).

People dominated by their carnal nature act purely to satisfy personal needs and wants without regard for others. As Saint Paul says, "Their god is their bodily desires..they think only of things that belong to this world" (Philippians 3:19). The Gospel of Philip describes the carnal nature this way: "If we are ignorant of it, it sinks its roots within us and yields its crops within our hearts. It dominates us. We are its slaves. It takes us captive so that we do the things we do not want and do not do the things we want." (Gospel of Philip 83:22-28). Cain is the prototype of the carnal person. Like all carnal people, he was by nature a "child of the Devil" (John 1:44 cf. Herakleon 46, Gospel of Philip 66:4-6) and was driven towards conflict by the lust for power that was strong within him (cf. Tripartite Tractate 79:20-80:11). As a result "he became a murderer just like his father and killed his brother" (Gospel of Philip 66:6-10).

Those who remain in the carnal state until death are the seeds that fell along the path (Matthew 13:18). They hear Christ's message but do not understand it since it has no meaning for them (cf. Matthew 13:19). As Valentinus says, "The material ones were strangers and did not see his (i.e. Jesus') likeness and had not known him, for he came by means of a fleshly form." This type of person is a "creature of oblivion" (Gospel of Truth 2:35). When they die they will be scattered into the outer darkness and pass into nonexistence (Gospel of Truth 2:35-36, Excerpts of Theodotus 37, 55:3, Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:1, Ep 7:6). They were never truly "alive", at least not in the spiritual sense (Treatise on the Resurrection 48:23-24, Gospel of Philip 52:15-17).

Animate (Psychic) Human Beings

Only if the person undergoes a conversion from their carnal state can they become identified with their animate rational nature. The call from above awakens them from their unconscious carnal state. As a result they become aware of the grief, fear and confusion to which they had previously been numb. Because of their distress, they repent and plead for assistance. This pleading and repentance is the essence of the animate state (cf. Ireneus Against Heresies 1:4:5). The Exegesis on the Soul describes this in the following way; "The beginning of salvation is repentance. Therefore before Christ's appearance came John preaching the baptism of repentance. And repentance takes place in distress and grief" (Exegesis on the Soul 135:21-26).

Through animate conversion, people are said to "ascend" to the level of the Craftsman. They remain in ignorance of the true God and of the spiritual nature. This is illustrated by discussion of Wisdom (Sophia) and the Craftsman, archetypes of the spiritual and animate respectively. (cf. Ireneus Against Heresies 1:5:1, Excerpts of Theodotus 47:2). The Craftsman (i.e. the animate person) is ignorant of Wisdom (the spiritual nature). The animate nature is unconsciously inspired towards good deeds by his spiritual nature. However, like the Craftsman, every animate person will foolishly insists that he undertakes all of his actions independently, without spiritual inspiration (Excepts of Theodotus 53:4).

Animate people are strengthened by faith and good works (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:2). However due to their ignorance, they require perceptible instructions and rules to determine what course of action is correct (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:2 cf. Romans 2:18). Therefore, they remain subject to the arbitrary demands of human Law (Galatians 3:23-24) and to temptation by "demons" i.e. selfish evil thoughts (cf. Gospel of Philip 65:1-7, 85:32-86:6). In one famous analogy, the soul is compared to an inn vandalized by its visitors (Valentinus Fragment 2, Hip 34:6). Like the carnal human being, the animate is driven by the lust for power and this often leads to violent conflict between the two (Tripartite Tractate 79:20-80:11)

Those who remain in the animate state are the seeds who fell amongst the thorns (Matthew 13:22). They hear the message and understand it. However, they are hesitant (cf. Tripartite Tractate 118:37-119:1) and "worries about this world and the love for riches choke the message" (Matthew 13:22). Because of this they do not receive the complete spiritual knowledge and remain slaves of the ruling spirits of this world (Galatians 4:3). In their ignorance, they worship the Craftsman instead of the true God, as Herakleon says "They worshipped the creation and not the true creator" (Herakleon Fragment 23 cf. Romans 1:25)

Animate people can be saved if they resist temptation and choose the better (Excerpts of Theodotus 55:3, Ep 7:3, 7:9). After death the animate people who are saved reside with the Craftsman. They will not achieve their full spiritual potential until the end of the world. However, if they choose evil, then they become "children of the Devil" by intent (Herakleon 46 cf. John 8:44; see also Authoritative Teaching 33:25-26). Having become like the carnal, they are scattered along with it into the outer darkness (Excerpts of Theodotus 37, 55:3, Gospel of Philip 66:29-27:1)

Spiritual (Pneumatic) Human Beings

In order to become identified with the spiritual element, the person must attain a state of mystical knowledge (gnosis) of God. The person directly experiences the presence of the risen Christ in the form of his or her personal angel. Just as Wisdom (Sophia) was formed according to knowledge by the Savior, they themselves are formed according to knowledge by the angels who will be their bridegrooms (cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 61, Exegesis on the Soul 132:9-23). The spiritual person no longer needs to rely on the testimony of others, having come to believe from the Truth itself (Herakleon 39).

Awakened from the drunken stupor of ignorance, and freed of suffering, they recognize their true spiritual nature. They remember where they come from and where they must return (Gospel of Truth 22:13-15, Excerpts of Theodotus 78:2, etc.). Confidently, they can proclaim, "I trace my origins to the Pre-existent One. I am returning to my own from whence I came" (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:21:5, 1 Apocalypse of James 34:17-18, cf. also Gospel of Mary 16:13-17, Gospel of Thomas 50). Knowing God is the final result of knowing themselves. They come to know God because they are part of God.

Attaining to knowledge (gnosis) is spiritual rebirth (John 3:6-7). It is the true resurrection from the dead, that is, from the death of ignorance. This resurrection does not take place in the afterlife. It must be experienced in the here and now (Gospel of Philip 56:18-19, Treatise on the Resurrection 49:9-35 cf. Romans 6:4). As the Gospel of Philip says, "People who believe they will die first and then rise up are mistaken. If they do not first receive resurrection while they are alive, once they have died they will receive nothing" (Gospel of Philip 73:1-5).

Putting on the true flesh (Galatians 15:44, Romans 6:2), the elect obtain a spiritual body which will arise from the fleshly one when they die (Ep 7:3 cf. Gospel of Philip 56:26-57, Authoritative Teaching 32:30-32, Treatise on the Resurrection 47:4-8, 1 Corinthians 15:44-46). Thereby "imperishability descends upon the perishable" (Treatise on the Resurrection 48:38-49:1) and they "shall never die" (John 11:26). As the apostle John says, "We know that we have left death and come over to life" (1 John 3:14, cf. also John 5:24)

Valentinians made no distinction between present and future eschatology. Just as resurrection was immediate, the final consummation of the world was also said to be experienced here and now through gnosis. Through resurrection, the spiritual person was said to ascend beyond the animate realm of the Craftsman to the Eighth heaven. There they put aside their soul, become joined with an angel (Ireneus Against Heresies 3:15:2). Then they reenter the heavenly realm or Fullness (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:7:1,Ireneus Against Heresies 3:15:2, Excerpts of Theodotus 64:1, Valentinian Exposition 39:28-33, Gospel of Philip 81:34-82:25) and all "attain to the vision of the Father and become intellectual Aeons, entering into the intelligible and eternal union in marriage" (Excerpts of Theodotus 64:1). The entire Fullness is the "bridal chamber" for their union (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:7:1, Excerpts of Theodotus 64:1). For them "the world has already become the eternal realm" (Gospel of Philip 86:11-14). Valentinus describes it this way, "The Father is within them and they are within the Father, being perfect, being undivided in the truly good one, being in no way deficient in anything, but they are refreshed in the Spirit" (Gospel of Truth 42:27-33).

This process is said to result in the dissolution of the material world (Valentinus Fragment 4, cf. also Ireneus Against Heresies 1:21:4). As Valentinus says, "Since deficiency came into being when the Father was unknown, therefore when the Father is known, from that moment on , the deficiency will no longer exist." (Gospel of Truth 24:28-32) and the "realm of appearance is no longer manifest but will pass away in the harmony of unity" (Gospel of Truth 25:1-6). The deficiency and "the entire system originating in ignorance (including the world) is dissolved by knowledge" (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:21:4, cf also Ireneus Against Heresies 1:7:1). Those who have attained to knowledge are said to able to see through the illusion which is the world and "rule over creation and the whole of corruption" (Valentinus Fragment 4, cf. also Gospel of Thomas 2).

In order to attain to a state of mystical knowledge, the person needs to lead a life of meditation and detachment so that he or she is "in the world" but not "of the world" (John 17:11, 17:14 cf. Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:4, also Treatise on the Resurrection 49:9-11). The Treatise on the Resurrection states, "Everyone should practice in many ways to gain release from this element so that one might not wander aimlessly but rather might recover one's former state of being" (Treatise on the Resurrection 49:30-36).

Knowledge (gnosis)is a restoration to the person's original condition. It transforms everything. Spiritual people by definition do not sin. Through knowledge they die with regard to sin and are raised up again with Christ (Galatians 2:19-20, Colossians 3:5). Knowledge enables them to annihilate the carnal nature (i.e. the burden of deficiency) which is the cause of sin. Valentinus describes this process in the Gospel of Truth: "It is within Unity that each one will attain himself; within knowledge he will purify himself from multiplicity into Unity, consuming matter (i.e. the carnal element) within himself like a fire and darkness by light, death by life" (Gospel of Truth 25:10-20).

According to Theodotus, when the risen Christ breathed his Spirit into the apostles, "He blew away the carnal like ashes and removed it, but he kindled and made alive the spark" (Excerpts of Theodotus 3:2). This metaphor is made even clearer when we remember that the Greek word translated here as 'carnal' is chous which literally means 'dust'. In order to annihilate the carnal nature and become truly spiritual it is necessary to completely refrain from sin (Excerpts of Theodotus 52:2). The Gospel of Philip says "The one who has knowledge is a free person. But the free person does not sin, for the one who sins is a slave of sin " (Gospel of Philip 77:15-18 cf. John 8:34). Therefore, as it says in another part of the Gospel of Philip, "Let each us burrow for the root of evil that is within and root it up from his or her heart. It will be rooted up when it is recognized" (Gospel of Philip 83:18-21).

This is why it is said that spiritual people are "saved by nature" (Excerpts of Theodotus 55:3, cf. Ep 7:8, Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:4, Thessalonians 2:13), and that it is "impossible for them to fall prey to corruption" (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:2 cf. 1 John 3:9). They have the knowledge of God's will that allows them to lead a sinless existence (cf. Gospel of Truth 22:9-11, Interpretation of Knowledge 9:31-33) and have become "illuminators in the midst of mortal men" (Letter of Peter to Philip 137:6-9).

In people who attain knowledge in their lifetime, the seeds are "sown in the good earth" and they "bear fruit" (Matthew 13:23 cf Ireneus Against Heresies 1:7:1). Each person who receives knowledge destroys a portion of the deficiency and brings the Godhead one step closer to reintegration. The final end of the world will occur when "all that is spiritual has been shaped by knowledge" (Ireneus Against Heresies 1:6:1). The triple division of the human psyche is overcome through gnosis and the person is reintegrated into the divine.



Content authored by David Brons