By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Early Christianity

  • Scholars think Valentinus was born in the Nile delta and educated in Alexandria, where he was taught Greek literature and the sciences. He might have been born around 100 C.E.
  • At that time, Alexandria was an important metropolitan and intellectual center with an established Christian population.
  • Legend has it that Valentinus studied with Theodas, who presumably had at least known Paul, but might have actually studied with him.
  • Further information about Theodas (sometimes spelled Theudas) is unknown. Yet, it was common for people to ascribe their teachings to someone who had had access to the disciples or the apostles.
  • Valentinus claimed that Theodas gave him the secret teachings he had learned from Paul, which Paul only shared with his innermost disciples. This sort of claim was not appreciated by the church.
  • Eventually, Valentinus began to teach in Alexandria under the tutelage of Epiphanius, who is another relatively unknown individual. It would have been prior to 136 C.E. because that is when he went to Rome. He arrived in Rome during the time of Pope Hyginus (ca 138 C.E.), and he remained there until the time of Pope Anicetus (150-167).
  • Rome was the place where someone could try out new ideas and reach a wider audience.
  • While there, his views were thought to be quite orthodox (having the right views).
  • In less than seven years, Valentinus was considered to be a candidate for the office of bishop. Some have claimed that he eventually turned this down. But other scholars maintain that he was deeply disappointed when someone else was chosen.
  • There is no doubt that he would have been eminently qualified for the job.
  • Some think it was this disappointment that led to his break with the Church and the true faith; indeed, "he was determined to wreak havoc on the church and exterminate the truth. In finding the clue of a certain old opinion [a possible reference to Gnosticism], he marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent."
  • But since Tertullian (a powerful opponent) is the one who voiced the above, perhaps those words could be categorized as an attempt to hurl a literary insult.
  • Many people believe that Valentinus was already working on his theological system at this point.
  • Another legend has him trying out his heretical system while he was still in Rome, which resulted in his excommunication from the church.
  • After he was excommunicated, he went to Cyprus where he stayed until his death around 160-161 C.E. [Others think he died as late as 175.]
  • His followers were of two schools. One went throughout Egypt and Syria. The other included Rome, Italy, and parts of Gaul. It's not exactly sure whether they disagreed on points of doctrine.
  • People think Plato had been highly influential in Valentinus' thinking.
  • Valentinus was also a master at alluding to concepts found in the canonical New Testament, oftentimes suggesting one or more had been the source for some of his ideas.
  • His beliefs were rooted in a dualistic system – there was the ideal world and then the lower world.
  • The world itself was created by a Primal Being, who eventually created other beings. There were fifteen pairs of beings. The lower of these beings (Sophia) was weak and sinful, which resulted in the creation of the material world.
  • Christ and the Holy Spirit do factor into his Christology, though Christ was devoid of a real body, and hence could not suffer.
  • His system was quite extensive and was applicable to all phases of thought and action.
  • There were basically three types of people: the spiritual – his followers who had the complete knowledge; the psychic – regular Christians who would receive a lesser salvation; and the material – the pagans who would not be saved.
  • He was very successful and had a large following.
  • Scholars credit him with having the most extensive understanding of Gnosticism.
  • It is Irenaeus who decreed that his written work was known as the Gospel of Truth, which is certainly possible since it is similar to other writings attributed to him.
  • It is a very eloquent gospel, and everyone admits that Valentinus was an eloquent man.

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