To finish our study and truly begin to understand how the Orthodox Church developed, we need to take a close look at Valentinus, who will play a large part of in verbal war of doctrine with Irenaeus and Orthodoxy. I will discuss the life and beliefs of Valentinus first, followed by Irenaeus, and then the exchange between the two as documented by later church fathers such as Tertullian. Looking into the life of just these two historical figures, though small in the grand scale of early church history, will provide us with a good picture of what was really going on in the second century and how the Orthodox Church with all its doctrine and Christology was able to get started. I believe you will find the next two articles the most informative and interesting ones yet. I say next two because I had originally planned to cover all this in one article, but Valentinus requires an article to himself. Part six will cover the development of Orthodox thought with Irenaeus.
Valentinus is hands down the most important early Gnostic we know through history. I admit that I am somewhat biased at that last statement; I feel in him a bit of a kindred spirit. If you’ve read any material on Valentinus from early Orthodox Church fathers, you might think he was a demon who tried to pervert the message of the Gospels, but I consider him one of the few that understood it. I also admit that it is hard to pin down exactly who he really was; there are so many conflicting views about his life and theology, even among modern scholars. But I think we can flesh out the beliefs and deeds of a man who was more of a compassionate hero than a vile heretic.
Valentinus was born around 100 AD. According to Tertullian, 160-220 A.D., Valentinus was running for the bishopric of Rome and lost by a very narrow margin. After his loss, he went on to found his own church in the same city and enjoyed great popularity, even in the mainstream Christian community. Valentinus went on to have enormous influence despite starting a school that we now know as being Gnostic. In fact, his teaching was so popular that even though he was branded a heretic by early church fathers in the second century, his school of thought continued to thrive until the fourth century, when Orthodoxy was all but finally established. This is the century that Orthodoxy made great progress in eradicating opposing belief systems. However, it should be noted that Valentinus was known as a great intellect, orator, and leader of Christian thought even by his Orthodox opponents.
What is interesting is that Valentinus continued to worship with the mainstream church of his time although he held secret meetings for the initiated into the higher mysteries where symbolism of the scriptures were taught, among participating in special rites such as the bridal chamber of Christ (more on this later). It has been argued by some scholars that Paul did the same thing, where all of his missionary destinations were known to have mystery schools already established. Why did Valentinus and his followers do this? They claimed they were emulating Paul, who became all things to all people in order to see them saved.
Valentinus’ Beliefs and Teachings
All of the information on Valentinus’ beliefs and practices below will come from the scholar Stephen Hoeller. If inclined, you can read an interesting article (from which I will summarize) written by him yourself:
Of course I will be interjecting my own views and thoughts as I summarize. When I do this, I will be writing in Italics so you do not get his thoughts confused with my own. I do this because I do not want put words in Hoeller’s mouth which he may not agree with, although I think he mightJ
Orthodox Christian and Jewish doctrine holds that all the evil in the world comes from the sin of man. In other words, all our sufferings are our own fault. Valentinus disagreed. Although he acknowledged that something was amiss, Valentinus believed that all evils and sufferings of the world were an inherit part of creation.
Common sense reveals this to be true. No doubt Valentinus could even sense this from the dog eat dog world of the animal kingdom. Though mainstream Christianity wants us to believe that the lion will become a vegetarian and will one day lie with the lamb, I can’t picture a great white shark doing this, can you?
Valentinus believed in the potential redemptive aspect of the human soul. He even goes so far as to blame the creator himself for the ills of the world, however, Valentinus’ creator wasn’t a literal being, but rather a myth. When Valentinus lays the fault of suffering on the creator (demiurge), he is speaking to a psychological problem inherit in the human ego, not some literal God being in the heavens. The Valentinians believed it was the human ego which creates illusion and suffering.
The Gospel of Philip gives us insight into this truth when it states,
“God created man and man created God. So is it in the world. Men make Gods and they worship their creations. The Gods ought to worship man.”
To an Orthodox believer, this sounds as blasphemous as one can could get. But no so fast. The gods or demiurge that the Gnostics are referring to above is simply part of the human condition, not an external power that resides somewhere in the heavens or cosmos. Once we understand this point, we can begin to unravel who the Gnostics really were. We might even paraphrase the above quote from Philip to mean something like,
“The ego in man should bow down and worship the divinity that is within man.”
The human ego, then, is the problem, and creates an illusion that blinds us from the truth that is only spiritually discerned. As Paul makes clear, the natural man cannot receive the true spiritual essence of consciousness.
Valentinus’ belief system is no different than the concept of Maya (illusion) taught in the Upanishads. The idea has always been found in Buddhism and Hinduism, and Gnosticism has much in common with these philosophies.
Valentinus did not believe that Jesus accomplished redemption of mankind by shedding his blood for original sin. How, then, is the human soul redeemed if not by the shedding of Jesus’ blood? It is through concept of Gnosis, or self-knowledge. But do not be confused. This self-knowledge is an experiential knowledge, not a kind of knowledge that can be gleaned from the intellect or the study of written scriptures.
The Gnostics believed it was this same self-knowledge that the apostle Paul experienced in the direct revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus, and the same self-knowledge that Paul speaks about in Corinthians:
“But we speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom…” 1 Cor. 2:7.
It is hidden because the natural man (the ego) is a veil that hides a higher reality.
Gnostics believed that salvation comes from experiencing God, not holding to a doctrine or a belief. This experience of God was through the conduit of the inner Christ, which is also why Paul taught that the Christ within you is the hope of glory. Just as Paul said no human taught him his gospel, so the Gnostic believed that no redemptive knowledge could come from the teachings of men, even the apostles themselves. There is no need for creed, dogma, or doctrine. Only direct experience. If you search Paul’s epistles carefully, and even the epistles of John and the book of Hebrews, you will find the exact same concepts being taught, albeit often veiled in symbolism which I admit is hard to crack if you do not study Gnostic teachings.
So how do we interpret Jesus for Valentinus? Jesus was an important figure for the Valentinians. Valentinus writes with much admiration for him. It seems that Valentinus believed Jesus was a historical figure that taught the wisdom of Gnosis to his disciples, at least to the elect that were ready for such teachings.
If you look at the Gnostic Gospels, the obvious mode of connecting with the inner Christ, of which they say Jesus taught and represents, you will find that the answer lies in honorable moral conduct, selfless love towards one’s brother, and advanced meditation practices. Not the simple kind of meditation practice that is sold in bookstores and online courses across the internet, but an advanced meditation that allows the consciousness of the individual to transcend the duality of the material world and the lower human ego. It is the gradual practice of the development of the spiritual ego. This was most likely the core of Valentinus’ Bridal chamber experience, even though it is not directly stated in the literature. Consider a verse from the Gospel of Thomas to back this up:
“When you make the one into two, when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, WHEN YOU MAKE MALE AND FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female, when you make eyes replacing an eye, a hand replacing a hand, a foot replacing a foot, and an image replacing an image, THEN YOU WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM.” (Gospel of Thomas).
This is a reference to pushing beyond the illusion of duality and into single mindedness through advanced meditation. Remember, Jesus effectively revealed the same truth when he stated that the Kingdome of God is WITHIN YOU. (Luke 17:21). How else to realize the kingdom—if it is within you—than to explore methods of higher consciousness that can only be explained as that which is “within you.”
Christ and Salvation as soter
The original meaning of Jesus as savior that both the Gnostics and the Orthodox Christians understood during the second century has been essentially lost in modern Christianity. Now salvation has taken on the meaning of being saved from hell after physical death instead of what is really meant in the original Greek by the term soter. This term, of which salvation is translated, originally meant wholeness, health, becoming whole, and delivered from imperfection. It means, being complete, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It was more for the benefit of one’s wholeness while alive on this earth than something that happened after death.
This is reflected in another saying from the Gospel of Philip which states,
“People who say they will first die and then arise are mistaken. If they do not first receive resurrection while they are alive, once they have died they will receive nothing.”
As the scholar Stephen Hoeller asks, if there was no need for a savior to save us from personal sin, what role did the soter of Jesus fulfill? According to Hoeller, the Gnostic saw the world as sick. Sick with materialism, which the Gnostics called hyleticism, and sick with moral and abstract intellectualism, known as psychism. Great masters such as Jesus, according to the Gnostics, brought wholeness to the individual trapped in a sick world by imparting pneuma (spirit) to the “soul and mind.”
I mentioned earlier that Stephen Hoeller informs us that the most prominent of Valentinus’ rites was known as the “bridal chamber.” What Hoeller does not inform us about directly in his article is that somewhere in this rite was practiced advanced meditation. Wheather Hoeller goes into more detail on this within another book or article, I do not know, but the astute reader can easily put two and two together to understand that such was the case. I will quote from Hoeller below to show his view of the importance of the bridal chamber rite, and then give some more thoughts of my own:
“The psychological basis upon which the bridal chamber ritual is founded is fairly easily understood. The Gnosis considers the human being as divided and fragmented within itself. The divisions have numerous aspects: We are involved in what modern psychology would call an Ego-Self dichotomy, in an Anima-Animus dichotomy, in a body-mind dichotomy, in a subjective-objective dichotomy, and many others. All of these divisions require mending, or healing. Even as the Pleroma, or divine plenum, is characterized by wholeness, so the human being must once again become whole and thereby acquire the qualifications to reenter the Pleroma. Contemporary, especially Jungian depth psychology envisions such a pneumatic union as the ultimate objective of what it calls the individuation process. Unlike Jungian psychologists who can offer only the practice of analysis as an instrumentality of the process of reunification, Valentinus was apparently inspired to document and ritually dramatize this union in the great sacrament of the bridal chamber. The Sophia myth serves in many ways as the mythological support of this sacrament. The myth implies that the creation of the imperfect world and the confinement of the soul within it originated through the disruption of the original spiritual unity of the Pleroma, so that the return of the soul into the loving embrace of her bridegroom, as indicated by the return of Sophia into the arms of Jesus, then represents the healing of this disruption and restoration of wholeness.”
Hoeller does quote the exact same passage as I have done though from the Gospel of Thomas in which he says “…presents us with what might be considered the clearest formulation of the theoretical foundation of the bridal chamber…”
Hoeller is a brilliant scholar, no doubt, but why he doesn’t go further into explaining how this passage is obviously linked with advanced meditation, where one transcends the world of duality, is beyond me. Perhaps he doesn’t understand it, or he addresses it somewhere else that I am unaware of. That being said, I am thankful for having come across his work; he has done a tremendous service in unveiling the great personage of Valentinus for us. I would recommend that anyone who wishes to learn more should read further into Hoeller’s work.
One more side piece of information which you might be interested in: the Pleroma. According to Gaskill, the Pleroma represents:
“…the Archetypal Man in his fullness of stature as the perfect manhood and Godhood.”
Gaskill further provides a quote from the Apostle Paul to clarify:
“For in Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, an in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Col. 2:9-10).
It is through the inner Christ, then, that we return healed to the Pleroma. This is not symbolic of heaven as a location that we return, but a state of consciousness, that also continue after the death of the physical body. We must not make the mistake, as some have done, to assume that we receive a better life here on this earth only, and then die. The higher state of conscious awareness that we can potentially gain while in the physical body follows us into death. Indeed, Paul said some sleep after death. The counterpart to this concept is that some bring great awareness into death.
Valentinian Gnosticism is often considered the most advanced and elaborate school of Gnostic thought ever developed. Obviously Valentinus derived his knowledge from earlier mystic Jewish and Christian thought which perhaps has since been lost to us, at least in written form. I am sure there were many other schools of Gnostic thought that might have been ludicrously off-base, just as we have off-base practices in modern Christianity today such as “snake handling.” Many articles on the internet written by biased Christians and other writers think these were the ONLY forms of Gnosticism practiced. But Valentinus and his school of thought obviously represents an enlightened and pure form that produced great results for the healing of the individual psyche and soul of some of the earliest Christians. I am certainly under the impression that in its most advanced teachings and practices it produced the sort of enlightenment know as Samadhi in Eastern meditation practices. In my studies I have come to learn that all the great mystical schools of history used meditation as the final and preeminent practice for enlightenment and salvation, especially as suggested through the original concept of soter.
Consciousness, or spirit, is the least understood concept by academia and religious institutions because the natural man cannot receive spiritual things. So we must ask ourselves: what if the early Gnostic Christians like Valentinus were right? What if Jesus and Paul were wisdom teachers that taught Gnosis through the direct experience of the inner Christ? What if salvation, in its earliest conception, was about salvation and resurrection in this body and on this earth and in this life instead of what proceeds us after death? I have come to believe this was the more original message of Christianity. I once heard a loving, intelligent, and devout Christian of whom I have much respect say, “Wherever you are in the Lord during death is where you will be with him after.” This surprised me, because this Christian was heavily involved in mainstream, Orthodox Christianity, just as the early church fathers say Valentinus was. But this same person often interpreted certain Bible verses much different than the leaders of the church. These interpretations were much more insightful and full of life, and I was fascinated. This same person was also often disciplined by church leaders to not teach and say anymore, because they were misunderstood. This same person, in love and respect, would back down, but they gave more generously and lovingly than anyone else in the church I have ever known. Perhaps this person was somewhat of a Gnostic, although I don’t think they even knew the term or what it meant.
I have a great intuitive feeling that Valentinus was on to something when it comes to bringing healing, because even modern research by many brilliant doctors and scholars from prestigious institutions have proven over and over how beneficial mediation is. It truly heals the mind and body from many ailments. You can scour the internet and literature for yourself to see how it can even deliver those with mental afflictions like OCD, sever anxiety and depression, and psychotic episodes without the aid of drugs and pharmaceuticals. Of course pharmaceuticals make tons of money and there is no dedicated practice, so society opts for these instead.
I also have an intuitive feeling that Valentinus was onto something because conscious awareness is the greatest gift God has ever given us. Without it, we are nobody. It is our duty then, to bring this conscious awareness into the higher realms that lie within us that is most likely the true heavens spoken about in all the great scriptures of the worlds.
The next article in this series will finally to Irenaeus and more of Valentinus. As always, your thoughts, whether in agreement or disagreement, are always welcome.