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The Pair (Syzygy) in Valentinian Thought

The notion of the pair or "syzygy" is central to Valentinian thought. The term refers to the linking together of complementary qualities ("Aeons") of to form a state of wholeness (pleroma). This is the highest level of reality. The halves of a syzygy are often refered to as male and female. The male corresponds to form and the female corresponds to substance. God can be understood to consist of four primary pairs or syzygies:

Depth and Silence (unknowable God),
Mind and Truth (comprehensible God),
Word and Life (active God),
Humanity and Church (immanent God).

It is worth noting that the syzygies were understood to be male-female pairs. Thus Depth, Mind, Word and Humanity were understood as corresponding to the "male" aspect of God while Silence, Truth, Life and Church were seen as the "feminine" aspect of God.From these primary energies, eleven further syzygies were generated by a process of emanation for a total of fifteen pairs (i.e. thirty Aeons). This harmonious realm of paired energies is refered to as the "Pleroma", which means "fullness" or "completion".

The complementary qualities that make up the syzygy have become separated in this world due to the action of Sophia, resulting in a state of deficiency (hysterema). This lower level of reality is a illusion that results from ignorance and separation. According to Valentinus, every human being contains a seed of the divine essence (pneuma) that has to be rejoined to its heavenly counterpart or angel in a syzygy.

Because of our ignorance, we often mistakenly believe that things can be separated into opposites. This is discussed in the Gospel of Philip: "Light and darkness, life and death, right and left are mutually dependent; it is impossible for them to separate. Accordingly the 'good' are not good, the 'bad' are not bad, 'life' is not life, 'death' is not death." (Gospel of Philip 53:14-23). Categories that are often considered as opposites are in fact closely related and one cannot be understood without the other. There can be no concept of maleness without femaleness or no concept of darkness without light. The division into opposites is an illusion.

This illusory level of reality can be "dissolved" by reunification of the pneuma within us with its angelic counterpart. This is commonly refered to as gnosis and results in a restoration of the individual to the syzygy and the wholeness (pleroma). This "gnosis" is understood simultaneously as knowledge of God and as reunification with one's heavenly counterpart. Distinctions such as the division into "opposites" are dissolved through restoration to unity.

Restoration to unity allows the mystic to transcend the illusion and perceive the true reality. According to Valentinus: "Inasmuch as the deficiency came into being because the Father was not known, from the moment the Father is known the deficiency will not exist. As with a person's ignorance- when one receives gnosis, ignorance of the other passes away of its own accord, as the darkness vanishes when the light appears, so also the deficiency vanishes in the completion, so from that moment on the realm of appearance (i.e. the mundane world) is no longer manifest but rather will pass away in the harmony of unity." (Gospel of Truth 24:27-25:6)

It is clear from the preceding that Valentinianism is a form of monism. According to Valentinus, the divine is the only true reality. All else is illusion. Dualistic distinctions between "body" and "mind", "soul" and "matter" are meaningless. To have gnosis of God is to see through the illusion of worldly distinctions and to experience reality as the fullness (pleroma) of the divine.



Content authored by David Brons