JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Valentinus and the Ophites.

§ 60.

15. The most comprehensive of the Gnostic systems is that of Yalentinus, among whose followers may be reckoned Heracleon and Ptolemy, Secundus and Marcus, and many others. Yalentinus was by birth an Egyptian. He taught in Alexandria about A.D. 140, and subsequently in Rome, and died, about A.D. 160, in Cyprus. He sets up as that which is the highest in existence, the incomprehensible, unnameable, eternal, and unbegotten God, to whom he gives the name Bythos, and sometimes the name Patêr or Propatôr. From him proceed, as from a first cause, a series of supernatural powers or AEons, who together constitute the Pleroma.

16. Associated with the Bythos was a sexually different principle, Sige (sigê or ennoia), from whom the primal Father, under the influence of Love, begat the two highest AEons, Nous and Aletheia. The Nous is called also the monogenês (only-begotten), and also patêr kai archê tôn pantôn. Bythos, Sige, Nous, and Aletheia produced in turn the Logos and the Zoe, and these in their turn the Anthropos and the Ecclesia. The last four form in conjunction with the first four (tetraktus) the system of eight (Ogdoas). The Logos in union with Zoe begets ten AEons, and Anthropos in union with Ecciesia begets twelve (dôdekas) AEons. This generation is effected by successive stages; in each stage a male and female AEon being produced, who then unite to continue the generative process. These thirty sons form, as has been said, the Pleroma, or Fulness of Divine Life. The last of the twelve AEons which stand at the end of the series -- and, consequently, the last of the entire thirty AEons -- is Sophia a female AEon.

17. The inborn Nous alone has knowledge of the unbegotten Father. This knowledge is not vouchsafed the other AEons. But their desire to behold the Father is excited by this privation; and this desire becomes so powerful in Sophia that it almost leads to her dissolution, In the effort, however, this female AEon gives birth to a formless substance. But Horos is sent to her by the Father, and he succeeds with much difficulty in persuading her that the Supreme God is unknowable (akatalêptos, and thus preserves her from destruction and restores her to her first estate. The abortion she has brought forth -- that formless substance to which she has given birth -- is expelled by Horos from the Pleroma, and sinks into the Kenoma or empty space. By command of the Father, Nous and Aletheia hereupon bring forth by emanation two new AEons -- Christ and the Holy Ghost; these enlighten the other AEons as to their relation with Bythos, and order is again restored among them. In the joy that follows, all the other AEons produce in common a new AEon of higher excellence, who is known by the several names -- Jesus, Logos, Soter, or Christ, and him they offer as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father.

18. All this takes place within the Pleroma. But the Christ who has been generated by Nous and Aletheia takes pity on that formless substance named Achamoth, the offspring of Sophia, which Horos has relegated to the Kenoma, and having given it essence and form, retires again within the Pleroma. As soon as Achamoth becomes sensible of the light which Christ has imparted to it, the desire springs up within it to enter into the Pleroma, but being hindered by Horos, it becomes the victim of fear, and sorrow, and want.{1} In response to its petitions, the Pleroma sends the AEon, Jesus, to deliver it from suffering, to rescue it from the Pathê (Fear, Sorrow, Want, Supplication), and to reconcile it with God. But for all this, it does not succeed in attaining to the Pleroma; it reaches no further than a sphere bordering on the Pleroma, separated from the latter by Horos and the Cross, and called the lower Ogdoas. Achamoth generates the Demiurgus. The latter is a purely physical being, and has therefore no knowledge of his parent. The Demiurgus in his turn produces the sensible world, the matter of which is constituted by the Pathê which Jesus separated from Achamoth. The Pleroma forms the archetype for the Demiurgus in his labours; the sensible world is, accordingly, modelled after the Pleroma. But in this imitation the Demiurgus is an imitator unconsciously; he does not know the Pleroma, and cannot know it, for he is a purely physical being. The place of the Demiurgus is in heaven, below Achamoth; the earth is the habitation of the Demon.

19. Man is a creation of the Demiurgus. He is formed from matter (hulê), receives a soul (psuchê) from the Demiurgus, and a spirit (pneuma) from Achamoth. The nature of man is thus a compound formed of three elements, Body, Soul, and Spirit. The body of man was at first an ethereal nature, immaterial, and without difference of sex. It was only when man fell into sin that he was invested with a coarse material body. The spirit which Achamoth had implanted in him without knowledge of the Demiurgus impelled man to raise himself above the latter. The Demiurgus, with his angels, took alarm, and to keep man in subjection forbade him to eat of the tree of knowledge. Man disobeyed the command, and thereupon was driven from the ethereal region of Paradise into the coarse material sphere of this nether earth. Here he was invested with a material body. In this condition he is saved from complete subjection to matter only by the aid of Achamoth.

20. The Law and the Prophets are from the Demiurgus. He had promised a Messiah -- but a Messiah of a psychical nature only. Man, endowed as he was with a spiritual nature, was not, however, to remain for ever under the dominion of the Demiurgus. The Saviour, Jesus, descended from the Pleroma to make known to men the mysteries of the life of God, and to free them from the dominion of the Demiurgus. For this end the man Jesus was formed from the three elements of human nature, Spirit, Soul, and Body, but in such wise that his body was not of coarse material constitution, but of ethereal form. This man came into the world, passing through the body of Mary as through a channel. In the ceremony of Baptism he united himself with the AEon, Jesus, and remained in union with him till the trial before Pilate. At this point he abandoned him and returned into the Pleroma. (Other Valentinians taught that the AEon, Jesus, was united with the man Jesus from the time of the conception of the latter).

21. Jesus came into the world to redeem men; that is to say, to reveal to them the divine mysteries, and to free them from subjection to the Demiurgus; but all men do not participate in this redemption. The Valentinians distinguish three classes of men, the Hylicists, the Psychicists, and the Pneumatists. The Hylicists (heathens) are wholly outside the region of the higher life, the spirit is not imparted to them in any degree, they have, therefore, no existence after death. The Psychicists, on the other hand (i.e., the members of the Church who are content with mere faith), although they do not participate in the spirit, and are subject to the dominion and to the law of the Demiurgus, yet if they fulfil this law, and wage the fight against matter, and practise good works, may after death attain to the kingdom of the Demiurgus. But the Pneumatists, i.e., the Gnostics, have been made partakers of the spirit by Jesus; they rise above faith to the Gnosis; in the Gnosis they have knowledge of the mysteries of the Pleroma, and the knowledge leads to supreme happiness. They are not subject to the law of the Demiurgus; the difference between good and evil is of no moment to them. Marriage is not only permitted them, it is a matter of obligation. They cannot be deprived of the salvation they have attained. After death they return to Achamoth their mother. There is no resurrection of the body.

22. When the course of this world is run, Achamoth and all the spirits of the Pneumatists that are associated with her, return again to the Pleroma; the spirits mingle with the angels, to whom they are united connubially, and with whom their existence is thenceforward continued. The Demiurgus, with the souls that belong to him, ascends to the realm previously inhabited by Achamoth. As for the nether material world, the fire which was latent in matter bursts forth and entirely consumes it, and nothing is left but the Pleroma and the kingdom of the Demiurgus.

23. There are, no doubt, elements of sane philosophy in all this. The three constituent elements of human nature -- body, soul, spirit -- recall the Platonic theories. So, too, the AEons of the Pleroma are no more than personifications of the ideas of the Platonists, as is apparent from the circumstance that they are made the archetypes of creation. But these philosophical elements are lost in a chaos of fantastic images, the product of a disordered and unrestrained imagination. For this reason the Valentinian, like the other Gnostic systems, is of small scientific value. The sexual excesses which the Yalentinians permitted themselves, as a consequence of their doctrines, deprived their system of ethical value. In every respect it remains a melancholy monument of the aberrations of human intelligence.

24. Akin to the Valentinians were the Ophites (Naassenes). Both sects may have been derived from a common origin, for the principles of the Ophites are, throughout, in accord with those of the Valentinians, the differences are merely accidental. The Ophites owe their name to a party amongst them -- the Perates -- in whose system the serpent of the Book of Genesis plays a prominent part. They go so far as to identify the serpent with Christ, the mediator between God and the world, and accordingly assign it divine honour.

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{1} In the book Pistis Sophia we have the romance of the sufferings of this Achamoth -- i.e., of this Sophia excluded from the divinity -- written in detail, with full account of its penitential hymns and lamentations.