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Valentinus

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Treatise
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(3/5) ***
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 120-160 A.D.

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Information on Valentinus

Bentley Layton writes (The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 217):

Valentinus (A.D. ca. 100-ca. 175) was born in the Egyptian Delta, at Phrenobis (see Map 4). He enjoyed the good fortune of a Greek education in the nearby metropolis of Alexandria, the world capital of Hellenistic culture. In Alexandria he probably met the Christian philosopher Basilides (see Part Five), who was teaching there, and may have been influenced by him. There, too, he must have made the acquiantance of Greek philosophy. Valentinus's familiarity with Platonism may have come to him through study of Hellenistic Jewish interpretation of the bible, for in a passage of one of his sermons he seems to show knowledge of a work by the great Alexandrian Jewish allegorist and philosopher Philo Judaeus (ca. 30 B.C.-A.D. ca. 45). [GTr 36:35f may use the allegory of Gn 2:8 found in Philo Judaeus, "Questions and Anwswers on Genesis" 1.6.] Valentinus's distinguished career as a teacher began in Alexandria, sometime between A.D. 117 and 138. Since most of the Fragments of his works (VFr) were preserved by a second-century Christian intellectual in Alexandria, Valentinus may have written and published in Alexandria while he was teaching there. If so, his considerable expertise in rhetorical composition, which is evident in these Fragments, must have been acquired while he was studying in Alexandria. Valentinus's followers in Alexandria later reported that he had claimed a kind of apostolic sanction for his teaching by maintaining that he had received lessons in Christian religion from a certain Theudas, who—he said— had been a student of St. Paul. If there is any truth in this claim, his contact with Theudas and his reading of St. Paul may have occurred in Alexandria.

J. Quasten writes (Patrology, v. 1, p. 260):

By far more important than Basilides and his son Isidore was their contemporary Valentinus. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3,4,3) states of him: 'Valentinus came to Rome in the time of Hyginus (ca. 136 to 140 A.D.), flourished under Pius (ca. 150 to 155) and remained until Anicetus' (ca. 155 to 160). Epiphanius (Haer. 31,7 to 12) is the first who reports that he was born in Egypt, educated in Alexandria, and that he spread his doctrine in Egypt before he went to Rome. Epiphanius adds that he later left Rome for Cyprus. Clement of Alexandria has six fragments of his writings incorporated into his Stromata: two of them are from his letters, two from his homilies, and two of them do not give any indication from which of his writings they are taken.

Quasten also states: "Valentinus found many followers both in the East and in the West. Hippolytus speaks of two schools, an Oriental and an Italian." (Patrology, v. 1, p. 261)

Bentley Layton expounds (The Gnostic Scriptures, pp. 221-222):

Three sides of Valentinus' literary personality emerge in these remains. First, there is the mythmaker—continuing in the steps of the gnostics, but strikingly innovative so as to take account of the different brand of philosophy, a more profound acceptance of biblical and cross-centered Christianity, and a different structuring of the myth. A doctrinal résumé of Valentinus's myth, by St. Irenaeus, survives (IrV): it is abbreviated and stops short, so no more than a hint of this side of Valentinus emerges. The myth is known in more detail in versions taught by Valentinus's disciples. The version by Ptolemy is included in the present volume (IrPt); from it, a modern reader can get a better idea of what Valentinus's own teaching muts have been like, though some details are doubtless due to Ptolemy's own creativity.

Second, there is the Platonizing—or perhaps, better, gnosticizing—biblical theologian of the Fragments (VFrA-H). These eight Fragments, excerpted by ancient witnesses from Valentinus's philosophical epistles, sermons, and treatises, show an intensity, an attention to detail, and a penchant for unexpected turns of thought that set them apart from most other literature of gnostic Christianity and Valentinianism. Despite their brevity and incompleteness, they are among the most striking remains of ancient Christian literature. Without more of the originals, it is hard to assess how far they resembled other material attributed to Valentinus. VFrA, VFrC, and VFrD relate to a mythic story of cosmic structure and creation like IrV, while VFrF and VFrH resemble more the content of GTr. However, there is very little in the Fragments that unambiguously resembles gnostic or postgnostic myth (except perhaps "the preexistent human being" in VFrC; cf. VFrD, "the form was not reproduced with perfect fidelity").

Third, there is the mystic poet of Summer Harvest (VHr) and The Gospel of Truth (GTr). Both these works are personal and visionary. Summer Harvest is nothing less than a stylized evocation of the whole metaphysical and physical world, in seven line of verse that hover between philosophical cosmology and pure poetry. The Gospel of Truth also evokes the entire universe, but in a rhetoric that no longer bears any immediate relation to the linear, chainlike cosmology of gnostic myth or Summer Harvest. The world view of GTr is Stoic and pantheistic: that is, a universe in which all is enclosed by god, and ultimately all is god. Although it begins with formal rhetoric and continues with exhortation of the listeners, GTr ends in a purely visionary mode in which Valentinus confesses that he is already present in the "place" of repose and salvation.

Like Marcion, Valentinus held to a faith that did not fit into the orthodoxy of early Catholicism but that also does not strictly correspond to classical Gnosticism, as known from the Apocryphon of John and the bulk of the refutations of Irenaeus. Also like Marcion, Valentinus was active in Rome in the late 130s. Both Marcion and Valentinus provide us with a perspective on "Christianity as it could have been." As it turned out, the Roman church developed doctrines that were more along the lines of apologist Justin Martyr, who arrived in Rome in 140 CE and may have had some responsibility for the fact that Valentinus never became a bishop in Rome.


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