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Valentinian Theology

The Father

Valentinus and his followers believed that God, the supreme Father is "uncontained, incomprehensible and cannot be seen or heard" (Against Heresies 1:2:5). Therefore he defies accurate description. He is infinite, without beginning or end and is the ultimate origin of all things. He encompasses all things without being encompassed (Ep5:3, Gospel of Truth 18:34, Valentinian Exposition 22:27-28, Against Heresies 2:2:2). Everything including the world lies within the Father and continues to be part of him. God manifests himself through a process of self-unfolding in the subsequent multiplicity of being while maintaining his unity.

All Valentinians agree that God incorporates both masculine and feminine characteristics. This is in opposition to traditional Jewish and orthodox Christian descriptions of God in exclusively masculine terms. According to most sources, the Father (or Parent)can be understood as a male-female dyad. This is related to the notion that God provides the universe with both form and substance.

The aspect through which the Father provides the universe with substance can be understood as feminine. In this aspect he is called Silence, Grace and Thought. Silence is God's primordial state of tranquillity (Valentinian Exposition 22:24) and self-awareness (Excerpts of Theodotus 7:1). She is the active creative Thought that makes all subsequent states of being (or "Aeons") substantial.

The masculine aspect of God which gives the universe form is called by the names Ineffable, Depth and First Father. Depth is the profoundly incomprehensible, all-encompassing aspect of the deity. According to some sources, he is essentially passive. Only when moved to action by his feminine Thought, does he gives the universe form. (cf. Epiphanius Panarion 5:3)

The anonymous author summarized by Hippolytus and the author of the Tripartite Tractate emphasize the unity of the Father. They point out that these two aspects of the deity are not truly separate entities. They exist as simultaneous states of being within the Godhead (cf. Refutation of Heresies 30:8). They are like two sides of a coin or like water and wetness. They are inseparable and one cannot be understood without the other. For this reason these two authors describe God in more strongly unitary terms.

The Son

The origin of the universe is described as a process of emanation of subsequent states of being from the Godhead. According to the sources, in the beginning, there was nothing at all created and the Father rested in himself as an inert unitary being (Refutation of Heresies 29:5, Against Heresies 1:1:1, Authoritative Teaching 25:27-34). The universe existed only as a potential, not in actuality. As one source puts it, "the self-begotten contained in himself everything, which was in him in unawareness" (Panarion 5:3 cf. also Valentinian Exposition 22:27-28, Tripartite Tractate 60:1-34).

The creative process entails self-limitation on the part of the Godhead. In order that subsequent states of being (Aeons) remain separate from him, the Father created a boundary or Limit (Against Heresies 1:2:1, Valentinian Exposition 27:36-37). It is the power of Limit which "consolidates the All and keeps it outside of the Ineffable Greatness" (Against Heresies 1:2:2). The Limit, also called the Cross, has two functions. It separates the spiritual world (or "Fullness") from the Father and provides these things with strength (Against Heresies 1:2:1).

This accomplished, the Father then was able to manifest himself in a comprehensible form through a process of emanation. Theodotus describes this process in the following words, "Through his own Thought as the one who knew himself, he (the Father) brought forth the spirit of knowledge, which is in knowledge, the Only-Begotten (Son)" (Excerpts of Theodotus 7:1).

This offspring is the "Only Begotten Son". Like God, the Son is also androgynous and generally understood as a male-female dyad. The masculine aspect or Aeon of the Son is referred to as Only-Begotten, Mind and Father of All. His feminine aspect is called Truth and Mother of All. They represent how truth can only be comprehended by the truly conscious mind. The Son is the Beginning of all things that follow (cf. John 1:1). The Father and the Son, are sometimes referred to as the original Four since they both can be understood as dyads (i.e. Depth, Silence, Mind and Truth).

The Son (i.e. Mind and Truth) is the comprehensible image of the incomprehensible aspects of God (Against Heresies 1:12:1, Tripartite Tractate 66:13-15). It is only through his mediation that we can know the supreme deity, since "He who came forth from knowledge, that is, from the Father's thought became himself knowledge, that is, the Son, because 'through the Son the Father is known'" (Excerpts of Theodotus 7:1 cf. Matt 11:27)

The relationship between the Father and the Son can be compared to the relationship between the human mind and the unconscious. It must be noted that the Son is encompassed or lies within the Father.

The Aeons

Inspired by the Father, the androgynous Son then began a process of making manifest the energies immanent within his personality. To this end, he emanated four more Aeons (i.e. two more male-female pairs). The first pair consisted of Word (male) and Life (female). They were generated in the image of Depth and Silence (Valentinian Exposition 29:25-37) and represent how true life originates from the divine utterance. The second pair consisted of Humanity (male) and Church (female). They were created in the image of Mind and Truth (Valentinian Exposition 29:25-37) and represent the natural state of humanity conjoined to the church.

According to Ptolemy and Theodotus, these four aspects of the Son's personality are referred to explicitly in the prologue to the fourth Gospel. Where John says, "The Word existed in the Beginning" (John 1:1), they claimed he was referring to Mind and Truth. He refers to the pair Word and Life when he says, "What was made had Life in union with the Word" (John 1:4). When John says, "Life was the light of human beings" (John 1:4), they claimed that he was referring to Humanity and the Church (Against Heresies 1:8:5, Excerpts of Theodotus 6:1-3).

The original Four and these four secondary Aeons are sometimes collectively referred to as the "original Eight". The Eight are the "root and substance of all things" (Against Heresies 1:1:1). All other things have their origins from them. The nature and function of these Aeons can be compared with the role of the sefiroth in Jewish Kabalism. The Eight are complete in themselves - a fullness within the Fullness.

The first movements of life within the hidden recesses of deity give birth to the Son who manifests himself as the ideal forms of all rational life- Mind, Truth, Word, Life, Humanity, Church. These must first exist in God and evolve in the divine self-consciousness as the essential and primary functions in the inner life of deity. They are also the patterns or models of life in this world.

Subsequently, eighteen less important Aeons were brought forth, ten from Word and Life and twelve from Humanity and Church. They represent an further unfolding and manifestation of characteristics immanent within the Son.

The ten Aeons Word and Life brought forth were in honour of Depth and Silence (Panarion 5:9, Refutation of Heresies 30:1, Valentinian Exposition 30:16-19). Their names are:
male female
* not to be confused with Only-Begotten Mind!

The ten Aeons represent cosmological principals which are necessary as a basis of ethical life. Note the linking of male terms denoting stability with female terms relating to sexuality. This joining together of complementary qualities represents the ideal state of being.

The twelve Aeons generated by Humanity and Church were in honour of Mind and Truth (Refutation of Heresies 30:1). Their names are given as:
male female
The Ordained-----Wisdom(Sophia)

The Twelve represent the qualities of the perfected humanity which Christianity is destined to produce.

Altogether there are thirty Aeons or divine attributes divided into three groups: Eight, Ten and Twelve. They represent the manifestation or unfolding of different aspects of the Son's nature. This process of self-unfolding of the divine Fullness can be compared to the growth of a tree from a seed (Refutation of Heresies 8:2-5, Against Heresies 2:17:6, Tripartite Tractate 60:31-32) or to the sending forth of rays of light from the sun. (Against Heresies 2:13:5, 2:17:7). Valentinians conceived of the universe in terms of a series of concentric spheres. Just as the Son lies enclosed within the Father, the Fullness of Aeons is enclosed within the Son.

Thus, even in the multiplicity of Aeons, the unity of the Godhead is maintained. As one ancient writer says, "All are formed of the same substance with the Father, differing from one another in size and not in nature, and filling up the Greatness of the Father, even as the fingers complete the hand." (Against Heresies 2:17:6). They remain one while manifesting themselves as a plurality.

In the Gospel of Truth, the Son is described as the Name of God. This theme is developed further by Marcus who identifies the thirty Aeons as the letters that make up the Name. Individually they are incomplete but together they constitute the complete Name (Marcus Against Heresies 1:14:1). Similarly, the Aeons only together constitute the complete Fullness of the Godhead (i.e. the Son).

According to Marcus, each of the thirty Aeons contain further Aeons and each of these further Aeons contain further Aeons to form an inifinite number of Aeons. To illustrate this he makes use of the metaphor of the Aeons as letters of the Name. The Name consists of "thirty letters, while each of these letters, again, contains other letters in itself, by means of which the name of the letter is expressed. And thus, again, others are named by other letters, and others still by others, so that the multitude of letters swells out into infinitude" (Against Heresies 1:14:2). Using the Greek letter delta as an example, it can be written by means of five letters (d, e, l, t, a). Each of these letters is expressed by further letters, to infinity. The Fullness of Aeons corresponds to the Platonic world of ideas.

This spiritual realm represents a Christian ideal and furnishes a model for the life of this world. The Eight represent the great conceptions which underlie all rational life. The Ten represent the stability and unity of the Godhead. The Twelve represent the virtues produced by the perfected humanity through union with the Church. The life of each of the Aeons is perfected only through membership in the Fullness as a whole. At this point, the 26 Aeons produced by the Son are psychologically distinct entities. They represent unintegrated elements of the Son's personality.


The Myth of the Fall of Wisdom (Sophia) & The Aeons Seek to Know the Father

The Son alone had perfect knowledge of the supreme Father (cf.. John 1:18, Matthew 11:27). To all of the other Aeons he remained invisible and inconceivable. (Against Heresies 1:2:1, 1:14:1, Valentinian Exposition 24:25-39, Gospel of Truth 22:27-29, Excerpts of Theodotus 7:1). Saint Paul refers to this when he discusses "the mystery hidden from the ages (Aeons) in God" (Ephesians 3:9, cf.. also Romans 16:25, Colossians 1:26). This situation is a natural consequence of the process of self-limitation by which the Aeons were produced. They could not continue to exist otherwise (Tripartite Tractate 64:28-37). The Aeons can only know God through the mediation of the Son.

All of the Aeons longed to know the one from whom they came forth. Valentinus describes this in the Gospel of Truth, "The All went about searching for the one from whom they had come forth, and the All was inside of him, the incomprehensible, inconceivable one who is superior to every thought." (Gospel of Truth 17:4-9)

According to Valentinus, the search of the Aeons for the Father led inevitably to disaster. According to him, "ignorance of the Father caused agitation and fear. And the agitation grew dense like a fog, so that no one could see. Thus error found strength...Without having learned to know the truth, she took up residence in a modeled form (a material body), preparing by means of the power, in beauty, a substitute for the truth" (Gospel of Truth 17:10-13). This "substitute for the truth" is the material universe and human beings are the Aeons who have fallen into error and taken up residence in a "modelled form" (i.e. a human body).

The Fall of Wisdom

Valentinians made use of the myth of Wisdom (Sophia) as a metaphor to describe the this fall into error. According to this myth, the longing to know the Father passed to Wisdom, the youngest of the Twelve. On behalf of the whole Fullness, she took up the quest to know the supreme Parent. However, she attempted to know God without the mediation of the Son , something that is impossible. As a result of this defective way of thinking, she became separated from her consort and fell into a state of error and suffering (Against Heresies 1:2:2-3, Excerpts of Theodotus 31:3, Tripartite Tractate 75:17-77:37). The separation of Eve from Adam in the book of Genesis (Genesis 2:21-22) is interpreted by Valentinian teachers as an allegorical representation of Wisdom's separation from her consort (Excerpts of Theodotus 21:1, Gospel of Philip 68:22-25 70:9f, Interpretation of Knowledge 11:17f)

Wisdom's defective Thinking is described as an abortion which she produced because "she wished to be like the Father" (Refutation of Heresies 30:6). In attempting to know the Father, she was, in a way, trying to bring him forth. However, all she brought forth was the defective Thinking which is described as an "abortion". (Against Heresies 1:2:1). In her ignorance, Wisdom suffered grief, fear and confusion.

In her distress, she repented and began to plead for help. The other Aeons were also distressed and joined her petition (Against Heresies 1:2:3, Refutation of Heresies 31:2, Valentinian Exposition 34:25-31). By means of a second boundary or Limit, she was divided into a higher and lower self. Her lower self (the "abortion") along with the suffering were excluded from the Fullness. The higher Wisdom was strengthened and returned to her consort convinced that God is unknowable (Against Heresies 1:2:4, cf.. Refutation of Heresies 31:5)

Wisdom's actions served to externalize and separate the defect inherent in the Fullness. The "abortion" is an expression of the desire shared by all of the Aeons for knowledge of the Parent. The net result of this process is that the lower Wisdom (i.e. the aborted Thinking) was trapped outside the Fullness in a lower realm of ignorance and suffering. This process is in accord with what is ordained by the Father (Tripartite Tractate 76:24-77:1). This the reason Wisdom's consort is called the Ordained.

The Unification of the Aeons

In order that this sort of crisis would never happen again, the Son manifested himself to the other Aeons in the form of Christ (male) and the Holy Spirit (female) (Against Heresies 1:2:5, Refutation of Heresies 31:3). Their activity among the Aeons represents an archetype of the ministry of Jesus and the Spirit to the earthly church.

As Christ, the Son revealed to the other Aeons that the Father is incomprehensible and that the truth can only be known through him (Against Heresies 1:2:5 cf. Matthew 11:27). The Holy Spirit taught them to give thanks and made them all equal (Against Heresies 1:2:5-6 cf. Gospel of Truth 24:9-20). This is baptism in the fullest sense of the word (Tripartite Tractate 126:27-129:34). It applies both to the Aeons and to the human Church, as Valentinus says: "The Father reveals his bosom. Now his bosom is the Holy Spirit. He reveals what is hidden of him - what is hidden of him is his Son (i.e. Christ) - so that through the mercies of the Father the Aeons may know him and cease laboring in search of the Father, resting there in him, knowing that this is the rest" (Gospel of Truth 24:9-20).

All of the Aeons then joined together and became united in the Son who is also called Savior. The Savior is the complete Name that all of the Aeons say together. Recalling the analogy of the individual Aeons to letters that make up a name, only the Savior has the complete Name since he alone derives from all of the Aeons (cf. Gospel of Truth 38:6-41:3). According to Marcus, the image of this is the "Amen" which we all say together when we pray (Against Heresies 1:14:1). The Savior also receives the titles Word, and Christ after his constituent entities (cf. Against Heresies 1:2:6). Saint Paul says, "He is the All" (Colossians 3:11), and "In him the whole Fullness of the Godhead dwells" (Colossians 2:9) since he comes from all of the Aeons.The Son who manifested himself as the wealth and diversity of divine energies is thereby reconstituted and united. All of the various aspects of the Son are integrated into a single personality.

The Savior and is destined to be the male partner or bridegroom (cf. Matthew 9:15) of the fallen Wisdom outside of the Limit (cf. Against Heresies 1:2:6, Refutation of Heresies 32:1-2, Tripartite Tractate 85:15-90:3, Excerpts of Theodotus 23:1) who is the joint product of the disunity of the Aeons. The Savior is associated with a retinue of angels who are the prototypes of the spiritual element present in every Christian (Against Heresies 1:2:6, Excerpts of Theodotus 39-40). Like rays of the sun, they are not distinct or self-sufficient individuals. Rather, they represent the dynamic richness of Jesus.


The Suffering of the Lower Wisdom

As a result of the fall, the lower Wisdom (i.e. the aborted Thinking) was trapped in a lower realm along with the deficiency and suffering. This lower realm or "deficiency" is the physical universe. Just as the Fullness is a product of the Son and lies within him, so also the realm of deficiency is a product of the Fullness and lies within it "as the center within a circle or a stain in a garment" (Against Heresies 2:4:2) The deficiency lies "outside" the Fullness only with regard to knowledge (Against Heresies 2:4:2). Just as the deficiency arose as result of ignorance, it will be dissolved through knowledge.

The fallen Wisdom is sometimes called "Achamoth" from the Hebrew word for wisdom and "Holy Spirit" after the one with Christ. She is the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21:9-10) and the lost sheep of the parable (Matthew 18:11-14). Trapped in a lower realm and ignorant of her true origin, she is the archetype of the individual person.

She continued her futile quest to know God without knowing Christ but she was prevented from ascending to the Fullness by the Limit. As a result of her ignorance, she continued to experience emotional sufferings of grief, fear and confusion. She experienced the world as a place of illusion and she was unable to distinguish reality from her own fantasy. This state of illusion and suffering (i.e. the deficiency) is the essence of the world experienced by all those who are ignorant of God (cf. Gospel of Truth 29:1-7, Against Heresies 2:14:3, Treatise on the Resurrection 48:21-29).

Then Wisdom (Sophia) underwent a conversion and thought about the ones who had given her life. As a result she became cheerful and laughed (Against Heresies 1:4:2). She began to plead with them for assistance (Against Heresies 1:4:5, Refutation of Heresies 32:3). Her conversion and pleading are a state of being intermediate between ignorance and spiritual knowledge. Since they represent the longing for the divine, the pleading and conversion became personified as a figure called the "Craftsman". He represents the defective image that those who are ignorant (but repentant) mistakenly worship as "God".

The Son Descends to Lower Wisdom

In response to Wisdom's pleading, the Savior "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7) and descended outside the Fullness into the deficiency with his retinue of angels (Excerpts of Theodotus 35:1, Against Heresies 1:4:5). He and Wisdom (Sophia) were joined together as a pair of Aeons. Through knowledge of the eternal realm she was freed of illusion and suffering.

Wisdom (Sophia) rejoiced at the sight of the Savior and his retinue of angels, and brought forth spiritual seeds in their image. These seeds are the spiritual element present in every Christian. For this reason the seeds are referred to as the Church. They are considered to be an image of the pre-existent Church in the Fullness (Against Heresies 1:5:6, Excerpts of Theodotus 40).

The female seeds and the male angels are what is referred to by the statement, "In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27 cf. Excepts of Theodotus 21:1). Just as the Savior is the bridegroom of Wisdom (Sophia), so also the angels will be the bridegrooms of the seeds at the end of time.

Thus three states of being or "substances" came into being from Wisdom (Sophia) as a result of her quest to know God. First the illusion which characterizes mundane existence came from ignorance and suffering. Second came conversion and pleading which represent an intermediate stage between ignorance and knowledge. Last the spiritual seed came from her knowledge.

The myth of Wisdom's suffering and ultimate redemption can be understood as an allegory of the individual person's spiritual development. The search for God through Thinking alone, without knowing Christ leads to suffering and a defective concept of God as an anthropomorphic creator and lawgiver. It is only through the intervention of the Savior, that these false concepts can be left behind and true knowledge can be attained.

The Material Creation

The creation of the material world was necessary in order that the spiritual seeds might go forth in immaturity and be trained here (cf. Against Heresies 1:7:5). Since she could not create this world directly, Wisdom (Sophia) influenced the Craftsman to give material things form. Through him she made "the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:13 cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 47:1-2, Against Heresies 1:5:1). The Craftsman is ignorant of his mother and thinks that he acts alone, but he unconsciously acts as her agent (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:8).

The Craftsman created seven angelic beings or "heavens" and dwells above them. For this reason he is called Seventh. The Craftsman's seven angels represent the seven days of creation in the book of Genesis. The Craftsman's mother Wisdom (Sophia) and the Savior dwell above him in the eighth heaven. These eight heavens are in the image of the Eight Aeons in the Fullness (Against Heresies 1:5:2). Wisdom (Sophia) and the Savior secretly influenced the Craftsman to make the material universe in the image of the things in the Fullness. This is so that Truth might be manifest to those who know to seek it, even in the midst of illusion and deficiency.

Human beings were formed by the Craftsman in the image of the pre-existent Humanity. They consist of a material body, a demonic element, a rational soul and the spiritual seed. The spiritual seed is capable of attaining to knowledge (gnosis) of God through the mediation of Jesus. Each person who receives knowledge destroys a portion of the deficiency and brings the Godhead one step closer to reintegration. The consummation or end of the world will occur when "all that is spiritual has been shaped by knowledge" (Against Heresies 1:6:1).

The spirits then put aside animate souls and with their mother Wisdom (Sophia), they enter the Fullness. Wisdom (Sophia), who is the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-10) is joined to her bridegroom, the Savior. Likewise, the spirits are joined to the angels (Against Heresies 1:7:1, Excerpts of Theodotus 64:1, Valentinian Exposition 39:28-33, Gospel of Philip 81:34-82:25). They 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 (Against Heresies 1:7:1, Excerpts of Theodotus 64:1).

Then the "fire which is hidden in the world will blaze up and ignite and destroy all matter and consume itself at the same time and pass into nothingness" (Against Heresies 1:7:1). The physical world will cease to exist. The deficiency will then have been eliminated and the process of restoration will be complete.



Content authored by David Brons