Gnostic Heresiarch




from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Elizabeth Livingstone, ed.

VALENTINUS (d.c. 165), Gnostic theologian and founder of the Valentinian sect. Acc. to St Irenaeus and others he was a native of Egypt whose disciples claimed that he had been taught by Theodas, a pupil of St Paul. He came to Rome c.136 and is said to have had hopes of being elected Bishop ‘on account of his intellectual force and eloquence’ (quia et ingenio poterat et eloquio; Tertullian, Adv. Valentinianos, 4), but was passed over in favour of a ‘confessor’, seceded from the Church, and went to the E., perhaps to Cyprus. Later he returned to Rome, where he died c.165.

Valentinus produced a variety of writings, but we have only fragments, preserved chiefly by Clement of Alexandria, which are insufficient to allow us to reconstruct his teaching, except in broad outline. The Coptic texts from Nag Hammadi include several which clearly derive from the Valentinian school (Evangelium Veritatis, the ‘Tripartite Tractate’, Gospel of Philip, ‘On the Resurrection’, etc.), but none of them can be assigned to Valentinus himself with any confidence. Hippolytus (Haer. 6. 37. 7) preserves one of his hymns.

His system is known to us only in the developed and modified form given to it by his disciples. It appears to have been based on earlier systems (perhaps including the Ophite), and to incorporate Platonic and Pythagorean elements.

The spiritual world or ‘pleroma’ comprises 30 ‘aeons’ emanated by the Primal Ground of Being, who form a succession of pairs (syzygies). The visible world owes its origin to the fall of Sophia, the last of these aeons; this fall is variously described, but results in the emergence of her offspring the Demiurge or creator, identified with the God of the OT. The Valentinian myth is intended to explain the human predicament by showing how a divine element has come to be imprisoned in this alien and hostile world, at the mercy of the Demiurge and his ‘archons’, the rulers of the planetary spheres.

Redemption is effected by another aeon, Christ, who unites with the man Jesus (either at his conception or at his baptism) to bring mankind the saving knowledge (‘gnosis’) of its true origin and destiny.

This gnosis, however, is given only to the ‘spiritual’ or ‘pneumatics’, i.e. the Valentinians, who through it are destined to return to the pleroma; other Christians, described as ‘psychics’ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14 etc.), can attain by faith and good works to a form of salvation, but only in a lower realm below the pleroma; the rest of mankind, called ‘hylics’ as merely material and not ‘spiritual’, are doomed to eternal perdition.

Valentinus was probably the most influential of the Gnostics and had a very large following (frequentissimum plane collegium inter haereticos; Tertullian, op. cit. 1). Later the school divided into two branches (Hippolytus, Haer. 6. 35), an E. one including Theodotus, and an Italian or W. one including Ptolemaeus, Heracleon, and Marcus (see marcosians). The patristic reports frequently mention the divergent views of ‘others’ in describing the system, and thus show how easily and quickly modifications could be introduced or differences of opinion arise within the school.

The chief Christian sources are Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1, passim, and 3. 4; Tertullian, Adv. Valentinianos; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis (several refs.) and Excerpta ex Theodoto; Hippolytus, Haer. 6. 20–55; Pseudo-Tertullian, Adversus Omnes Haereses, 4 [De Praescriptione, 49]; Eusebius, HE 4. 11; Epiphanius, Haer. 31, 33 f., and 56. Most of these, together with other material on the Valentinians, are conveniently collected in W. Völker, Quellen zur Geschichte der christlichen Gnosis (1932), pp. 57–141. Eng. tr. of primary texts, with brief introd., in W. Foerster, Gnosis, 1 (Eng. tr. by R. McL. Wilson, Oxford, 1972), pp. 121–243. There are comprehensive studies by F.-M.-M. Sagnard, OP, La Gnose valentinienne et le témoignage de saint Irénée (Études de Philosophie médiévale, 36; 1947); A. Orbe, SJ, Estudios Valentinianos (Analecta Gregoriana, 65, 99, 100, 113, and 158; 1955–66); and C. Markschies, Valentinus Gnosticus? Untersuchungen zur valentinianischen Gnosis (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testaments, 65; Tübingen [1992]). Other important studies incl. C. Barth, Die Interpretation des Neuen Testaments in der valentinianischen Gnosis (TU 37, Heft 3; 1911); W. Foerster, Von Valentin zu Herakleon: Untersuchungen über die Quellen und die Entwicklung der valentinianischen Gnosis (Beihefte zu ZNTW, 7; 1928); G. Quispel, ‘The Original Doctrine of Valentine’, VC 1 (1947), pp. 43–73; cf. id., ‘The Original Doctrine of Valentinus the Gnostic’,


OT Old Testament.

HE Historia Ecclesiastica.

TU Texte and Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, begründet von O. von Gebhardt and A. Harnack (Leipzig, 1882–1943; Berlin, 1951 ff.).

ZNTW Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde des Urchristentums (und der älteren Kirche) (Giessen, 1900–32; Berlin, 1933 ff.; + Beihefte, Giessen, 1923–34; Berlin, 1936 ff.).

VC Vigiliae Christianae (Amsterdam, 1947 ff.).

cf. confer (Lat., compare).


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