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The Valentinian Cosmology

Valentinian fresco
graphic from external link The Tradition of Saint Valentine

Valentinus was a second-century Christian who was expelled by the early Church (who doubtless found his theology too esoteric) and went on to found his own school.  It is most unlikely that all  the doctrines termed "Valentinian" are attributable to him; but rather they were developed by his students.  In keeping with the magnificent creativity of Hellenistic Gnosticism - so different from the straight-jacket conformity and heresy-hunting of the Christian Church - each of these students in turn founded their own variant schools, so that we have a Ptolemaeic Valentinism, a Heracleonan Valentinism, and so on.

The Valentinian Aeonology follows basically the same pattern as the Sethian one, although it differs in detail.  This account of Valentinian cosmology is taken in the main from Hans Jonas' The Gnostic Religion, a scholarly work which predates the publication in English of the Nag Hammadi Library, but nevertheless provides a very useful overview of Gnosticism.  Here he is paraphrasing and summarising the accounts of the Christian polemicists such as Irenaeus who, despite their sarcasm and frequent lack of understanding, nevertheless did at least make an attempt to understand their Gnostic contemporaries.

In the first chapter of a rather heavy and academic work on this subject, another scholar of Gnosticism, Elaine Pagels, explains that the Valentinian Ptolemy distinguishes three transcendent Principles:

  1. The Father, who "emits all things"
  2. The Arche (primal principle), also called Nous, "Son", Monogenes (Only-begotten), and Theos (God), the latter because he was "generated from Theos".  This Arche bears within himself seminally the whole of the Pleroma.
  3. The Logos, generated in turn from the Arche, and also (for the same reason) called Theos.  He bears within himself "the whole being of the Aions", which he later formed.  The female counterpole of the Logos is Zoe, "Life".
[Elaine H. Pagels, The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exergesis, (1989, Scholars Press, Atlanta, Georgia), pp.26ff]

So here we have the concept of emanation and unfolding within a totally transcendent Divine reality, a common and central theme in almost all the Gnostic schools.

Valentinus and the Valentinians home page
Valentinus and the Valentinians

(Valentinus home page)
a superb site - comprehensive coverage of the Valentinian movement. Originally on a spearate website, it is now archived in the Gnostic Society Library.

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 28 June 1998, last modified 26 December 2003