Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Sean Mac Dubh-sìthe

Valentinian Christianity

Valentinian Christianity and the 8 Points  

8 members have voted

You do not have permission to vote in this poll, or see the poll results. Please sign in or register to vote in this poll.

Recommended Posts

I'm interested in exploring Valentinian Christianity as an ancient analogue to Progressive Christianity. It seems to me that most people who know a little about it know it as a form of Gnosticism. However, I agree with Karen King and others that Gnosticism is a problematic scholarly construct.

 

It suggests a single unified religion that differs significantly enough from Christianity to warrant another name when neither one of these suggestions represent the situation accurately. There are a variety of perspectives among the gnostic groups and Valentinians would definitely have identified themselves as Christians.

 

Many people who reject gnostic ideas, do so on the grounds that they are strictly dualistic and present an evil demiurge (i.e. a creator god) as the god that most people worship. However, this is definitely not the case with Valentinian Christianity. I find the Valentinian position on the panentheistic parent of all, the merely just demiurge and the different types of people to be very insightful.

 

I've included a poll to get a feeling for the familiarity of interested persons on this topic and their views on the compatibility of Valentinian Christianity and the 8 points. Hopefully, this will help me discern what aspects of this topic are of the most interest so that I can elaborate appropriately.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While I had some contact with Thomasine Christians that were among those that had to flee Iraq and came to the US for refuge following the 2001 US invasion, through contacts in the Religious Studies dept at college, I'm not familiar with Valentinian Christianity you may be talking about. Ironically, Saddam Hussein had protected the of Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, that was not the case after the US invasion, and Christians and Jews were hit hard and savagely by insurgents.

Interestingly, the Thomasine Christian community there are direct descendants of people of that regions that converted to Christianity under Thomas' evangelizing in the first century, so has developed largely independently of either the Western Catholic church or the Eastern Orthadox church, or for that matter, the Egyptian Coptic community.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Btw, Gnosticism as I was introduced to it through Religious Studies courses as an influence in the early development of Christianity, and have read of in translated works from Nag Hammadi, I'd have to say I pretty broadly reject. If for no other reason, that Gnosticism was largely the source of anti-feminine, degradation and disregard for women as it entered the church after the first century.

Jenell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To Sean,

 

Thanks for starting this thread. I had to vote "don't know enough to say" as far as the 8 points. I think it would be great to get a discussion going. Are there any texts that you might find appropriate to link and perhaps go over? Just a suggestion -- however you want to proceed is up to you. A couple of general topics of interest for me would be regarding the aforementioned panentheism (and dualism) of Valentinian Christianity. And also, perhaps, its view of other religious traditions (does it try to incorporate or exclude them?).

 

Thanks again!

 

 

 

 

To Jenell,

 

Unfortunately, the anti-feminine tendency is a pretty pervasive phenomenon in cultural history (as I'm sure you're aware), both East and West. I can't think of any high civilizations that weren't (perhaps I should say, aren't) misogynistic in some stark ways. Still, there may be many jewels that can be sifted. But I can understand (and share) your disdain for those unenlightened tendencies.

 

 

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The hostility toward women I'm refering to in particular is as the Gnositcs cast Eve the cause of the Fall, and woman in the role of seductress, temptress, to lead men into intercourse so as to conceive children...since the 'flesh' was seen as the evil bondage of the soul, that kept the soul in chains, every child a woman bore meant another soul entrapped and enslaved to the flesh and material world. Their view on the evil of women went far beyond most cultural disregard of women at the time.

Jenell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But I am always open to learning more about a faith or cultural tradition new to me.. Have just gone and browsed up some basics stuff on Valentinian, and Valetenian Gnositicism.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Jenell and Mike,

 

Jenell, I have to say I was surprised by your statement that "Gnosticism was largely the source of anti-feminine, degradation and disregard for women as it entered the church after the first century". That is not an objection I have encountered before.

 

I spent some time thinking about why you might think that, because my readings of gnostic texts like the Nag Hammadi scriptures and scholarly studies drawing both from these texts and the heresiological reports of the gnostics have consistently espoused the exact opposite. I do not mean to be disagreeable or condescending towards your religious studies experience, and you certainly have a right to your opinion. However, part of my intent with this topic is to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding gnostics generally and Valentinian Christians in particular.

 

Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect you may be drawing this conclusion from the negative aspects of the gnostic depiction of Sophia's fall or the last saying (i.e. 114) in the Gospel of Thomas, which some have attributed to gnostic redaction.

 

Before I attempt to put those two ideas into context, let me explain why I think that is necessary. As I mentioned above, Karen King in "What is Gnosticism?" and other scholars have recently argued that "Gnosticism" is a problematic, relatively recent, scholarly construct that perpetuates many of the heresiological biases toward the various traditions so labeled. They base this understanding on the relatively recently discovered Nag Hammadi scriptures and other gnostic texts that give the straight-from-the-horses-mouth account of their various traditions. These texts pose significant problems for the "Gnosticism" constructed from the heresiologists hostile, simplified and therefore distorted accounts of gnostic beliefs and practices.

 

To give an analogy to the heresiologists portrayal and previous scholars acceptance of it, let me ask whether or not we should take the Roman and Jewish portrayals of Jesus and early Christians at face value. To be fair to these scholars, the heresiologists were all they had to work with until relatively recently, whereas we have always had the accounts of Christians in addition to Tacitus and the Toledot Yeshu. However, this is no longer an excuse, and scholars like Karen King are recognizing this.

 

Another reason that they have pointed out the problems with the fantasy religion "Gnosticism" is that scholars have yet to offer a consistent definition of it that fits all the evidence, especially the primary sources. This is true, as I believe Karen King discusses, even when a conference such as that in Messina on the topic of gnostic origins was held in 1966.

 

All that being said, let me return to the items I mentioned might have lead you to your conclusion. One of the main problems with the construct "Gnosticism" is that it defines a single gnostic myth that is supposed to be applicable to all traditions so labeled. However, in many cases, especially with Valentinian Christianity, scholars can say no more than that their texts presuppose such a myth, and in such cases, the actual details of the devised myth rarely mesh with the newer primary evidence. Recent scholars have recognized the familiarity of the Valentinians with Jewish interpretations of the Bible and their adept use of such interpretations in their own exegesis. It is also debated whether or not gnostic ideas originated originally amongst Jews and were later Christianized or originated with Christians, I believe, with the direction of recent conclusions tending toward the former or a third Pagan source.

 

Therefore, it seems most likely that the various gnostic speculations surrounding Sophia, especially those of the Valentinian Christians, were derived from the Jewish Wisdom tradition which places her as present with God before creation and makes her in significant ways co-creator with God. This certainly raises the feminine to levels as high or higher than proto-othodox and othodox theological treatment of women and should always be kept in mind when interpreting gnostic discussions of Sophia.

 

The following two paragraph discussion of Sophia's fall comes from my reading of Chapter 6 of Ismo Dunderberg's "Beyond Gnosticism", an excellent if not the best explanation, in my estimate, of Valentinian Christianity. It should be noted before addressing Sophia in Valentinian Christian theology/theogony, that in one of the most significant Valentinian Christian presentations of this fall (i.e the "Tripartite Tractate"), a male Logos occupies the feminine Sophia's place. This indicates that for the author at least, the aeon's gender is in some ways irrelevant to the point of the myth.

 

When Sophia is the aeon under consideration, it seems to be her "excessive" emotions that are of most interest to the Valentian Christians who considered this myth important to their "therapy of emotions" as Dunderberg calls it. Her offense is that she actively seeks to experience the parent of all apart from her syzygy (i.e. her male partner Desired). This result in the eventual creation of our imperfect world. The impression is left that this has to do with her acting alone, and the same result would have occurred had a male aeon done the same.

 

The aeons in the gnostic view of the pleroma (i.e. the fullness of the spiritual world) are given in pairs of male and female with the exception of the parent of the all, who though sometimes referred to as the father is shown by this and other things to be without specific gender. Also, the first aeon emanating from the parent of all is, in all cases I recall, feminine. Also, and probably especially in the context of myth, male and female genders are understood metaphorically. That last point leads appropriately into the context of saying 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, assuming that is a gnostic redaction, which if it's not denies it relevance in any discussion of gnostic views of women unless, of course, Valentinian Christians employed it or something similar, the latter of which at least Dunderberg and Elaine Pagels argue to be the case.

 

In rereading some things for this response, I realize that John Dominic Crossan's discussion of saying 114 on pages 297-298 of "The Historical Jesus" may be the source of your complaint that anti-feminine gnostic views influenced the early church. I can't emphasize my appreciation for Crossan enough. I have just finished reading "The Historical Jesus" and his follow-up "The Birth of Christianity" back to back and found them extremely valuable. He deserves, in my mind, his place as one of the foremost prophets of Progressive Christianity. With all that as a disclaimer, I must say I find his views on gnostics lacking. He is after all, not an expert on such traditions, as his emphasis is before their time, and his "Prologue" to "The Birth of Christianity" displays, if not outright admits, his dislike of gnostic views. Again, even this dislike may just be because his knowledge of the latest research on various gnostic tradions seems lacking. I say this, especially since the epigraph to that prologue, which Crossan mentions in two other places and relies on almost if not solely for his definition of "Gnosticism", quotes Kurt Rudolph's "Gnosis". While this was certainly a landmark work and, I believe, the first scholarly attempt at a complete description of "Gnosis" that considered the Nag Hammadi scriptures and other recently discovered primary sources, it is also therefore somewhat outdated and other scholars I've read (perhaps Karen King) point out that it suffers from the problems inherent in "Gnosticism" as a unified contruct.

 

The discussion in the following paragraphs comes from my reading of various excerpts of Elaine Pagels' "The Gnostic Paul", which is a description as the subtitle indicates of "Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters". I would point out, though, that the word "Gnostic" in that subtitle is somewhat misleading as the focus is primarily if not entirely on Valentinian Christian exegesis and not that of other gnostics.

 

On pages 1 and 2, Pagels cites Clement of Alexandria's report that the Valentinian Christians claim that Valentinus was a disciple of Theudas who was in turn a disciple of Paul and suggests that Ptolemy, a disciple of Valentinus espouses this in his "Letter to Flora" (a woman who is apparently interested in Valentinian Christian teachings) when he mentions "'apostolic tradition' that 'we too have received from succession'".

 

On page 4 and 5, Pagels mentions how Tertullian protests the Valentinian Christians denial of Pauline authorship to the Pastoral Letters, which interestingly most scholars now agree are not authentically Pauline. Therefore, any passages in those letters that may be understood as anti-feminine need no Valentinian Christian explanation. Pagels also points out that the available Valentinian Christian interpretations corroborate the heresiological report by only referring to "Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews (a list that corresponds exactly to the earliest known Pauline collection attested from Alexandria)." I should explain that Valentinus was from North Africa and Valentinian Christians had a strong presence in Alexandria as well as Rome.

 

The entire body of Pagels' book proceeds through the extant Valentinian Christian interpretations of those letters. From the first passage in these letters that may be understood as anti-feminine, the Valentinian Christian interpretations consistently insist that male and female are to be taken symbolically for the pneumatic and psychic types of people, respectively, both categories potentially contain both actual men and actual women. Therefore, it would seem that this understanding should be extended to any saying interpreted by or originating with Valentinian Christians, even saying 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, again if it is indeed a gnostic redaction or even a non-gnostic saying that the Valentian Christians employed.

 

All this being said, I would argue that neither Valentinian Christian myth nor exegesis can accurately be used to support anti-feminine views, but what of their practice? Heresiologists criticized gnostics, usually Valentinian Christians, for praying upon women, which is probably just a hostile indication that their teachings appealed to women who found more acceptance, freedom and power to participate at the same levels in their more egalitarian meetings.

 

The Valentinian Christian participated in proto-orthodox churches and professed the same beliefs, even according to the heresiologists. They did not separate themselves from these churches but, instead, were driven out by their opponents, at least partly if not primarily because they also held their own meetings outside the authority of these churches. This particularly infuriated their opponents, since they determined participation in various roles by casting lots each time they met as Irenaeus relates, according to page 41 of Pagels' "The Gnostic Gospels". Pagels states, "All initiates, men and women alike, participated equally in the drawing; anyone might be selected to serve as priest, bishop, or prophet. Furthermore, because they cast lots at each meeting, even the distinctions established by lot could never become permanent 'ranks'." She goes on to say, "They believed that since God directs everything in the universe, the way the lots fell expressed his choice."

 

Mike, not only did the Valentinian Christians on the whole not separate themselves from other Christians, the following hostile quote that Pagels gives from Tertullian on page 42 also partially addresses your question regarding the inclusiveness of Valentinian Christians more generally. "How frivolous, how worldly, how merely human it is, without seriousness, without authority, without discipline, as fits their faith! To begin with, it is uncertain who is a catechumen, and who a believer: they all have access equally, they listen equally, they pray equally—even pagans, if any happen to come.... They also share the kiss of peace with all who come, for they do not care how differently they treat topics, if they meet together to storm the citadel of the one only truth.... All of them are arrogant ... all offer you gnosis!" The last part about arrogance seems to me to be a clear-cut case of projection.

 

Nonetheless, in Chapter 26 of Einar Thomassen's "The Spiritual Seed", he discusses Valentinian Christian initiation and cites Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora" as promising further instruction "If God permits" when she has "been deemed worthy", suggesting, according to Thomassen, "that a scrutiny of the candidates took place". He also mentions Tertullian and Hippolytus referring to the long length of such initiation. Therefore, the statement about not being able to distinguish catecumens is apparently an exaggeration, although there is no reason to think the equality and welcoming is anything less than accurate.

 

Returning to your concern, Jenell, Pagels, again on page 42, goes on to say, "Tertullian protests especially the participation of 'those women among the heretics' who shared with men positions of authority: "They teach, they engage in discussion; they exorcise; they cure"—he suspects that they might even baptize, which meant that they also acted as bishops!"

 

Hopefully, Jenell, all of that acquits the Valentinian Christians from any anti-feminism. I really appreciate you raising this question and giving me the opportunity to explore my understanding of this aspect of Valentinian Christianity more fully than I had previously. This is why civil debate is so helpful to me. Please, feel free to continue to disagree if you still do and help me see your side of things.

 

Mike, I will try to address the things you brought up more fully later. Thanks for your patience in advance.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Jenell,

 

My last post was written prior to me seeing your last two. Hopefully, it addresses some of what you mention specifically in the second to last post. However, let me at least add that the belief you describe is most prominant in Manicheism, which came later, and is definitely not present like that in Valentinian Christianity. This is a good example of the problem created by lumping these diverse gnostic traditions into a single category called "Gnosticism". Also, Manicheism is Kurt Rudolph's specialty, and is one of the gnostic traditions which was most familiar to scholars before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scriptures and primary sources like it. Therefore, Manicheism had a profound impact on his "Gnosis" and, I think, on definitions of "Gnosticism" generally that make them woefully inaccurate when applied to Valentinian Christianity. Furthermore, Augustine was a Manichean before he converted to orthodox Christianity, which is probably largely where the influence on Christianity's disdain for women comes from, as you have, in that case, rightly indicated.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As I noted, I must say I don't recall having heard of Velentinian Gnosticism/Christianity prior to this, so can't really comment or discuss what it entailed. My exposure to Gnostic thought was primarily through a Rels Studies course on the history and origins of doctines, theologies, and ethics in Christianity, from 1st century through the modern era. Ie, what doctrines and theological ideas came from where, when, and why. I really don't recall Valentinian being one that was mentioned. Zoroasteriansim, Mannicheism,(sp?) Gnosticism, as well as Jewish, Greek, Egyptian and Roman sources were primary in the early centuries...also those commonly referred to as 'early church fathers', Augustine, Justin Martyr, Origen, etc, and Constantine, of course in the same general time frame as Valentinian,...

 

Now, something I'm wondering from your posts, are we actually talking about a school of thought as it existed in that early time span, or a modern "reconstruction" using this name, Valentinian, for what is actually a new school of thought loosely based on some of the iideas drawn from that original source? Something like modern "Wicca" is a recent modern reconstruction loosely based on old European nature religions and folk lore?

 

Jenell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Jenell,

 

There are definitely modern reconstructions of gnostic traditions, such as Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller's Ecclesia Gnostica, for example, but that is not what I'm talking about, nor is it where my interest lies. Everything I've read has been about the ancient school, which scholars refer to as "Valentinian", since Valentinus was the founder of it and as "Christianity" because it was as Christian as the schools of Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and the like. In fact, the Valentinian school was the gnostic tradition that most closely aligned with the proto-orthodox, which is probably why they opposed it above all others. Nonetheless, Valentinian metaphorical exegesis strongly influenced the proto-orthodox tendency to interpret the Bible symbolically, especially in the cases of Origen and Clement of Alexandria, but the content of their interpretations were, of course, different in many cases. In other words, they borrowed their method of interpretation from the Valentinian Christians, but opposed the conclusions that the latter came to with that method.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Mike,

 

Here is a link to Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora" per your suggestion that it might be helpful to go over a specific text: http://www.gnosis.org/library/flora.htm. This is from Hoeller's site, and he explains in the "Archive Notes" that Bentley Layton's translation in "The Gnostic Scriptures" is better, and I have to agree.

 

This text covers what Ptolemy considered a good introduction to Valentinian Christian thought. It also addresses some of what you expressed interest in, and since I mentioned it several times above, it seemed like an appropriate place to start. Also, it is fairly short and does not require much if any special background knowledge.

 

Mike, Jenell or anyone else, please feel free to comment or raise questions on this text or anything else. I will try to submit some of my own comments, soon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My understanding of Gnosticism is limited, and it’s not clear to me how Valentinus really differs from that movement; but IMHO his teaching hardly seems like an “ancient analogue of Progressive Christianity” or aligned with the 8 points.

Maybe you could be more specific about how he resembles PC in your eyes.

From what I’ve read, Valentinus said there were three kinds of people, the spiritual, psychical, and material –that division, and the idea of Gnostics as an elect race with special knowledge, seems antithetical to Jesus’ egalitarianism and inclusiveness. Also there is an undeniable anti-feminist element in the fallen-Sophia story.

Burton Mack wrote “After Valentinus, Christians could not assume that the God revealed in Jesus was the creator of the universe, interested in and concerned about all the things that happened to his children in this world….Gnostics had a radically pessimistic conclusion about the very nature of the entire universe. This negative view of the created world surfaced so suddenly, and strikes the historian as so novel and inexplicable, that scholars have been at a loss to account for it.”

To me, the Genesis creation story is crucial --that we were created in the image and likeness of God, who calls it “very good.” Our core, our home is original blessing, not original sin. This starts us out on a positive and hopeful foundation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sean, thanks for your comments addressing my concerns...and that what is up for discussion here IS as the school of thought as it was then, rather than modern attempts at reconstruction. I'll follow this thread with interest.

 

Jenell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Rivanna,

 

Thanks for joining the conversation. Have you read my long response to Jenell above? I think it will answer some of your concerns. If not, please let me know so I can clarify further.

 

As mentioned above, "Gnosticism" is not an actual unified ancient movement that ever existed as defined. Rather, it is a recent scholarly construct that is often used in an uncritical and heavy-handed manner to dismiss any or all gnostic groups. It is a "definition" made by amassing, usually, the most negative beliefs of various groups that all valued gnosis, but had little else in common.

 

I will try to point out correspondences between Valentinian Christianity and the 8 points here briefly and elaborate as individual cases present themselves in the ongoing conversation.

 

Point 1: Jesus is the embodiment of the Christ aeon sent to bring the world back into harmony with the parent of all through gnosis.

 

Point 2: Valentinians drew spiritual inspiration from many sources both Jewish and Hellenistic and did not consider themselves dogmatically bound to the teachings of Valentinus or other prominent Valentinians.

 

Point 3: At Valentinian meetings, the determination of who would act as bishop, priest, etc. was left up to God by the casting of lots and all initiates were included regardless of race, gender, social standing, etc.

 

Point 4: Valentinians upheld the ethical teachings of Jesus. For example, in Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora" (see link above), while discussing the law of retaliation in the Torah, he states "The person who is the second one to be unjust is no less unjust than the first; he simply changes the order of events while performing the same action."

 

Point 5: Valentinian Christianity was an ancient school of thought and sometimes was described as a mystery religion, which focused more on direct experience of God than any specific doctrine (see point 2).

 

Point 6: Valentinian myth served to oppose not the world itself but the powers of the world that create injustice among people, just as Jesus did with his parables.

 

Point 7: The original Valentinian cosmology is a panentheistic one. In his poem, "Harvest", Valentinus explains everything as extensions of the spirit, another name for the parent of all. For Valentinians, matter is limiting, but the whole world is in the end spirit-filled. I liken this to the fact that Buddhist's view the world as an illusion, but nonetheless are deeping concerned with its stewardship.

 

Point 8: Valentinian Christianity new its share of sacrifice. The entire faith was, in fact, wiped out by the same Roman Empire that executed Jesus, but now in Jesus' own name, and many times quite violently.

 

Regarding the three types of people in Valentinian thought (i.e. the hylics, psychics and pneumatics), these were not "by-nature" categories in the sense of the concept of a sinful nature passed on at birth. They were what different people associated themselves with. Hylics associate only with matter and their fleshly selves. Psychics associate with the demiurge, who in many ways is symbolic of the god we imagine, but pneumatics have attained gnosis of God, linguistically the way Adam knew Eve, spritually the way a Buddhist becomes enlightened. These categories are not permanent, but the psychic, being in the middle, is the most likely type to change for better or worse.

 

I hope this all helps clear things up a little more.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora": http://www.gnosis.org/library/flora.htm

 

I have a couple questions on the opening lines to get the discussion going.

 

Why might Ptolemy have chosen this topic as a good introduction for Flora to possible initiation into the Valentinian mysteries?

 

She may have written him first, specifically asking he discuss this, but let's assume this wasn't the case.

 

How likely is it that he chose it because ethics and particularly God's ethics as disclosed by Jesus were considered a necessary prerequisite to Valentinian initiation, similar to the way Kabbalistic initiation was later restricted to only those committed to Torah observance?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The gnostic Gospel of Mary also portrays Mary Magdalene as being the head of the church instead of Peter and having greater authority over the other apostles. Another gnostic heroine is the disciple of Paul, Saint Thecla. The Acts of Paul and Thecla portrayed Thecla as being persecuted for converting to Pauline Christianity, at one point even being fed to lions but God would always save her with miracles each time and many early Christians followed her as a martyred saint and saw her as being equal to the apostles. Elaine Pagels argued in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, that the gnostics in many ways were more progressive than the proto-orthodox church because they permitted women leaders and bishops. My problem with "Gnosticism" is that many gnostic groups demonized sex and saw all sexual pleasure as sinful.

 

Though the aforementioned Acts of Paul and Thecla had a very high view of women in roles of authority, it had a low view of sexuality and forbade all sexual acts including sex within marriage. It's my understanding though that Valentinian Christianity took a more moderate position and did permit sex within marriage if I'm understanding them correctly. As for the poll, my main experience with Valentinian Christianity is that I've read about it in some bible scholar books, mainly Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels, and Bart D Ehrman's Lost Christianities. As "Gnosticism" may be a modern construct, I'm not sure we can say for certain whether or not Valentinian Christianity would fit in with progressive Christianity as liberalism is a modern construct. Trying to fit ancient Christians into our modern political and religious labels would be like trying to determine if Plato would vote Republican or Democrat. This is not to ridicule you Sean or to be dismissive of the thread because I think it's a very interesting thread but I think we should be careful of trying to read modern labels into the ancient world.

Edited by Neon Genesis

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Neon's observation about some Gnostics condemnation of sex touches upon the ideas I mentioned above, re the conception and birth of a baby being seen as "entrapping" yet another soul in this fallen world in a human flesh body. I do remember wondering when reading about that, would it have been their idealized goal to end all sex, so that the himan race died off entirely? I didn't understand that, would that have set the cosmos back to what they believed was right order again?

 

I am interested, though, Sean, in what elements of that belief/faith system you think would contribute in a positive way to faith communities today? Or, what positive elements you've found arising from that faith community and school of thought, have contributed to modern faith or thought? Perhaps that will help us move toward more positive thoughts about it, rather than some of these things that some of us have heard that seem negative to us.

 

Jenell

 

 

Jenell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Neon,

 

The problem with "Gnosticism" is not that it is a modern construct. It is that it's an inaccurate construct. It was constructed mostly from the very hostile heresiological accounts of various ancient groups, that had no more in common with each other that today's religions do. Certainly, we do not take at face value the definition of "religion" proposed by militant atheists, culled from all the most negative aspects of the world's religions. My argument is that neither should we use "Gnosticism" to dismiss a whole variety of religions that it aims to caricaturize.

 

As to the sex issue, there is no reason I'm aware of to believe that Valentinian Christians were any more ascetical, as a matter of course, than their contemporaries. Most of the ideas relating to sex that I've seen brought up come from Manicheism, and even in that case, they are exaggerated. Manicheism was one of the most widespread religions in ancient times, and while its elect were celibate, the majority of it adherents were householders (i.e. married and engaged in procreation). This division of elect and householders is the rule in religion generally, not the exception. The proto-orthodox, in my view, were much more opposed to sexuality. Augustine left Manicheism, after all, and formulated his opposition to sexuality after he converted to othodox Christianity.

 

Regarding comparing Valentinian and Progressive Christianity, my point is that I don't see progressive ideas as modern constructs. These ideas were espoused in ancient times by the Valentinians (and others).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sean wrote: "Regarding comparing Valentinian and Progressive Christianity, my point is that I don't see progressive ideas as modern constructs. These ideas were espoused in ancient times by the Valentinians (and others). "

 

I can certainly agree with that point. I came to that realization over the past decade as I explored historical mystic traditions and religious/spiritual works, as well as in my common conversations with other people. In all the ideas, thoughts, concepts, as they are evident in such as PC as well as many other paradigms, I've come to the conclusion none of this is "new" at all, there have always been those that questioned, rejected orthodoxies, "saw beyond" the common vision...what is different now is the opening of communications between those that think these ways, most powerfully so through development of the Internet and accessablity to it by any common person.

 

I have even entertained the thought that as we are now calling this vast cyber-sphere of intercommunication and collective information "the Cloud", that what we are experiencing through it might relate to the text in The Revelation of Christ coming in the cloud(s) with His faithful chosen following with Him....Is "His Coming", which elsewhere is referenced as "the lightening that cometh out of the East and spreadeth to the West." perhaps this coming of a new consciousness, spreading throughout the world, via our abiliity to connect minds and thoughts through the Internet? Interesting thought, anyway.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem with "Gnosticism" is not that it is a modern construct. It is that it's an inaccurate construct. It was constructed mostly from the very hostile heresiological accounts of various ancient groups, that had no more in common with each other that today's religions do. Certainly, we do not take at face value the definition of "religion" proposed by militant atheists, culled from all the most negative aspects of the world's religions. My argument is that neither should we use "Gnosticism" to dismiss a whole variety of religions that it aims to caricaturize.

 

 

The label Gnostic may be a modern construct but I still think it's a useful label to use to refer to a group of Christians who believed in higher revealed knowledge and had similar beliefs in a sinful world created by an evil false deity the same way we refer to followers of Jesus collectively as "Christians" even though the label "Christian" is also a later construct. The label of "Christian" didn't originate with Jesus and didn't first appear until the church in Antioch was formed and followers of Jesus before then were referred to as followers of "the Way." Yet though the label "Christian" is a later false construct we still use the label to refer collectively to followers of Jesus and scholars still consider it a useful label. Edited by Neon Genesis

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Neon,

 

I agree that labels are useful when there are common characteristics that distinguish one group from another. However, we recognize that it usually is not fully descriptive of every member of the group.

 

Today, as an example, it is useful to distinguish Christians from Jews or Muslims. But, that would not mean that all Christians believe exactly the same thing (see Spong and Robertson).

 

George

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A significant problem with labels, or for that matter, any word or term, is that meanings, content attached to that term as a symbol, change over time. And when cultural/social communitiies diverge, the same term can come to mean very different things in each separated part of the group.

 

With Gnosticism as well as any other element that the Catholic Church has seen as heretical, the records that have come down through the church pertaining to them have clearly been severely perverted in the Church's goal to discredit them. So many documents were destroyed by the early Catholic church, its hard to try to reconstruct what the actual facts were in many matters.

 

Jenell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I voted for Valentinianism being in line with all 8 points. If there can be socialist Calvinists, liberation Catholics, and feminist Lutherans, I see no reason why there cannot be progressive Valentinians.

 

One finds progressive Christianity (along with whatever label one would like to apply the type of Christianity promoted by the Family Research Council, Pat Robertson, etc.) in the application of doctrine to the political & civil realm more than in doctrine/belief itself. There are likely versions of Valentinian gnosis which can be deployed in support of progressive goals... just as there are interpretations of it that cannot.

 

This also gets to a way of engaging the issue of labels in one way: show me how you assemble your faith. My version of Calvinist/Reformed/Presbyterian Christianity is pro-gay rights, ecumenical, tolerant, and supports economic and social justice. With each book I read, I get better at demonstrating how the tradition of Christianity I know best heads (or should head) in that direction, and I expect Sean is doing something similar. Confession as the defining of labels isn't the solution to all label problems, but I think it is helpful.

 

At any rate, I realize this post is a bit of a non sequitor and not really engaging the discussion in an immediate way, but I felt like babbling.

 

PS - Inversely, one needs to be careful to avoid thinking a certain belief guarantees right action. That way leads madness.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora": http://www.gnosis.or...brary/flora.htm

Here are the first two paragraphs:

 

"The Law ... ordained through Moses, my dear sister Flora, has not been understood by many persons, who have accurate knowledge neither of him who ordained it nor of its commandments. I think that this will be perfectly clear to you when you have learned the contradictory opinions about it.

 

Some say that it is legislation given by God the Father; others, taking the contrary course, maintain stubbornly that it was ordained by the opposite, the Devil who causes destruction, just as they attribute the fashioning of the world to him, saying that he is the Father and maker of this universe. Both are completely in error; they refute each other and neither has reached the truth of the matter."

 

I've commented on the first paragraph above.

 

As to the second, Ptolemy is introducing the Valentinian case for a middle way between outright acceptance of the Torah as the word of God (per Jews and proto-orthodox Christians) and outright denial of it as the work of the Devil. I believe that Ptolemy's "the Devil" is referring to the malevolent demiurge described by other gnostic groups like the Sethians. However, as will be seen in the rest of the letter, the Valentinians considered the demiurge something between God and Satan.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  



×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

terms of service