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Sean Mac Dubh-sìthe

Valentinian Christianity

Valentinian Christianity and the 8 Points  

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

 

Here are the next two paragraphs:

 

"For it is evident that the Law was not ordained by the perfect God the Father, for it is secondary, being imperfect and in need of completion by another, containing commandments alien to the nature and thought of such a God.

 

On the other hand, one cannot impute the Law to the injustice of the opposite God, for it is opposed to injustice. Such persons do not comprehend what was said by the Savior. For a house or city divided against itself cannot stand [Matt 12:25], declared our Savior. Furthermore, the apostle says that creation of the world is due to him, for Everything was made through him and apart from him nothing was made. [John 1:3] Thus he takes away in advance the baseless wisdom of the false accusers, and shows that the creation is not due to a God who corrupts but to the one who is just and hates evil. Only unintelligent men have this idea, men who do not recognize the providence of the creator and have blinded not only the eye of the soul but also of the body."

 

That Ptolemy recognizes a disjunction between some of the commandments in the Torah and the perfect God seems to me indiscernible from the majority progressive opinion.

 

Also, his discussion of the other extreme shows that Valentinians valued the teaching of Jesus and certainly did not accept the position of Marcion and those that considered the creator (i.e. demiurge) of the world to be evil, but instead, considered the creator a lover of justice and hater of evil, one whose providence should be acknowledged. Perhaps, the mention of "blinded ... the eye ... also of the body" is meant as a further criticism of those who "saw" the world and the body as evil.

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Hello Sean,

 

This has been an interesting discussion, thank you for your thoughtful and thorough responses. I apologize I haven't been around for a couple days, as I know some of your posts were directed toward me. I've been reading through this thread now for the better part of an hour -- and Ptolemy's Letter to Flora', which I've found quite interesting.

 

I agree that the ethical concerns he expresses have a lot of resonance with PC. Though it would take quite a bit of convincing for me to accept the concept of the demiurge, I can appreciate his approach of not falling into the trappings of the outright God/Devil dualism that other gnostics felt compelled to posit. The 'house divided cannot stand' argument definitely has its virtues. In fact, with his logic I'm not sure why he needed to invoke the demiurge at all. Liberal theology is quite content nowadays to emphasize some form of divide between 'divine inspiration' from 'human construct'.

 

I'm going out on a limb here, but perhaps the demiurge was a myth that seem to gain some (as was perceived) needed distance between the perfect God and the fallen world. Obviously this has Platonic resonances. Platonism saw the material world as the lowest emanation of the perfect, ultimate reality. By extension, as you note, the whole world can be seen as spiritual, but in practice I'm not sure how this pans out.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike

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Hi Mike,

 

You're definitely right about the Platonic influence. The term "demiurge" has been acknowledged, in everything I've read, as deriving from Plato's "Timaeus". I have not read "Timaeus" completely, but it does seem that the Valentinian usage of the term is closest of any gnostic group to Plato's. In Einar Thomassen's "The Spiritual Seed", which in my experience is the most thorough English-language discussion of Valentinian systematic theology, he discusses the likely neoplatonic and neopythagorean influences on the main Valentinian myth.

 

I also think you're right about the concept of the demiurge being attractive as a step between perfection and falleness, but I think it is a necessary step. How does liberal theology explain the divide between divinity and humanity? That is not rhetorical. I'm genuinely asking as I don't know. I see the Valentinian demiurge as a mythic depiction of a finite cosmic consciousness, the god we imagine. For me, it is a powerful mystical symbol for the limited mindset that governs much of humanity.

 

I see the practical implication of the Valentinian view of the world as ultimately spiritual in their egalitarianism towards religious authority. All people have the ability to express the divine. I see, in their division of types of people (or, maybe better, parts of people), the realization that not all people do. Some choose to only express their limitedness.

 

Furthermore, they recognized that even that limitedness ultimately derives from the infinite parent of all but not immediately from there. The demiurge is therefore the immediate parent of the limited aspects of the world, while the parent of all is the immediate cause of its divinity. The former is recognized as ultimately an illusion, a fascade, being derivative. To me, Valentinian thought is not dualistic in that good and evil, perfection and falleness are not co-equals. The latter are derivative while the former are not.

 

I suspect that the aeons including Sophia, the demiurge and the archons are a necessary pantheon required to show the gradual nature of the derivation, much like the Egyptian ennead before them (which almost had to have served as a model for the aeons at least) and the Kabbalistic tree of life after them. The non-dualism of Valentinian Christianity is clear while also providing, in my mind, a cogent explanation of what others perceived as requiring a dualistic one.

 

I think Progressive Christianity can tend to be mystically and mythically bland and might be enriched by embracing those traditions from ancient times that are closest to it. That would also serve to stem the misleading idea that Progressive Christianity is a new thing. Plus, one of the benefits of Progressive Christianity, for me, is the ability to reclaim valuable traditions that were put down as heretical by a much less tolerant Christianity.

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Sean wrote: "I think Progressive Christianity can tend to be mystically and mythically bland and might be enriched by embracing those traditions from ancient times that are closest to it. That would also serve to stem the misleading idea that Progressive Christianity is a new thing. Plus, one of the benefits of Progressive Christianity, for me, is the ability to reclaim valuable traditions that were put down as heretical by a much less tolerant Christianity."

 

I absolutely agree here, in several major points.

 

First, yes, I agree PC as well as Liberal Christianity (which has and does heavily influence PC Christian thinking) do tend to be not only mythically bland, but spiritually/mysticly bland. I see that as having come about for two reasons. First, of course, the effects of the age of reason. Emphasis on reason and a mental, or cognitive approach to religious matters has tended to disregard anything of the "unexplanable" through our physical senses and normal cogntive processes. Reductionist and concretist thinking has tended to rob religion and faith of the numinous, the mystereum, because we can't process or argue support for those elements rationally. Something of a case of having thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

 

Advances of science and steadily increasing discreditation of so much of the superstitious and magical false hype and emotionalism in modern religion and humanity's over all world view has resulted in something of having thrown the baby out, but keeping and deifying the bathwater (pseudo-spiritual language and practices) as well as the bathtub (the religiouus structures that serve to contain those elements). One need only spend a bit of "research time" watching TBN and other religious channels to see the phoney, totally irrational emotionalism that is passed off as supposedly spiritual through clever hype and manipulation, that an amazing number of people actually fall for. It is my opinion that what we see there is what was mentioned in the NT in the incident of Simon Bar-Jesus, the sorcerer that amazed his followers with his deceptive magic tricks. Observing the prevalence of such charletonism and trickery in highly publicized religious programs is enough to make most clear-headed rational minded people reject entirely any idea of a spiritual reality. This second element does a very good job of reinforcing what many rational minded people have come to in the first reason given above.

 

So I see Liberal Christians being shy of anything that seems to even appear similar to the kind of magical, irrational hype associated with forms of religion in which magic, trickery, and deceptive pseudo-spiritualiity is so clearly evident. And for the influence of Liberal theology on the PC community and thinking, is a tendency within PC as well.

 

But I think this tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater and pitching out the bath tub as well is as much in error as embracing those pseudo-spiritual positions. To present in a different metaphor, to go off into the ditch to one side of the road is no better than to go off it to the other side.

 

Trying to find a middle way, that keeps us on the road and out of the ditch on either side, is, I think, perhaps the most crucial element in PC as a valid approach to matters of faith and religion.

 

Now, to address the other point in your post, Sean. That of the perversion of ancient faith groups and their practices and beliefs, as in Gnostism as we look at here. As noted, until the discovery and translation of Gnostic writings from the Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi artifacts, all we had to try to learn about those ancient religious forms the Catholic church deemed hertical was writings commisioned and sanctioned by the Catholic Chruch. The Catholic Church did a very effective purging of any historical records actually written BY those within those traditions.

 

Whether in written or spoken form, human words reflect "the voice of the author". When we read or hear words from an author intent on discrediting at any cost someone or something they disagree with, there is a "voice" that is connsistent and recognizable. A modern example is the highly emotional rhetoric we read and hear today coming out of those that would entirely discredit a different political position or candidates reflecting different ideas than the author's own. And lie, any distortion, any misrepresentation, is used to accomplish the goal of utterly discrediting those others. And it was this "voice" I heard when I first began to read some of the approved translations of the writings under the auspices of the Catholic Church in describing any and all the groups or individuals that had failed to meet the Church's approval. If you read early Catholic works about 'heretical' ideas, the description of those heretics' beliefs and practices are so outrageously absurb, one can only wonder how anyone ever fell for such stupid ideas.

 

The discovery of works actually produced by those heretics in modern times has done much to expose the Catholic church agenda to squash any competing beliefs to its authority. This has openned the way for us to now be able to reach back into those ideas for nuggets of treasure we might benefit by today, retrieve from history, to enrich our quest for spiritually valid ideas now.

 

Jenell

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Hi Jenell,

 

I really like your modification of the baby with the bathwater metaphor in your statement: "Advances of science and steadily increasing discreditation of so much of the superstitious and magical false hype and emotionalism in modern religion and humanity's over all world view has resulted in something of having thrown the baby out, but keeping and deifying the bathwater (pseudo-spiritual language and practices) as well as the bathtub (the religiouus structures that serve to contain those elements)." Also, I definitely agree with the point you make with it.

 

What are some early (or late) "discredited" traditions that you (or anyone else who wishes to respond) think are worth rediscovering?

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As for discovered written works, I find The Gospel of Thomas very compelling. I think it poses some interesting challenges for how the NT Gospels as they came down to us are composed.

It would also be interesting, I think, if some of the actual works of ones such as Origen were to come to light, as well as works of other very early Christian writers we only know about through brief citations and references to their original works by later writers. Again, the Catholic Church did a very thorough job of purging as 'heretical' anything not entirely supportive of their limited views.

 

I see as one of, if not THE most critical problem in religious thought and recieved doctrines, is the confusions between magical, deception through illusion and delusion, and deliberately staged and planned emotional excitement and psychological manipulation, with what is really spiritual, the potential for truly numinouus experiences. I thinktoo many within Christianty are afraid to stand up to and against all the fake so-called spirit stuff, the phoney miracles and faith healers and dramtic showy church exorcisms, for fear of at the same time seeming to be denying the reality of true spiritual experience. Some go off into that ditch on the other side, rather than try to confront allthat fakery and fraud and decption, they try to avoid involvment of anything that even might hint of actual spiritual experiences, the potential for human expereince of the numinous.

Relating to this problem, I believe that if early Christians ever really did experience such things, accounts oftheir experiences have been largely denied us by those 'carnal minded' of the early Roman Catholiic church, relegated to evidence of demonsof some such evil.

I've read that Wesley declared the reason the miraculous, the spiritual, the numinous dissapeared so quickly from the early church was because non-spirutual men that didn't believe in them quickly moved in to compete for positions and roles of power. On a sense, when Christianity as a religion was born, the Christian experience was rejected and died out within the Church.

 

This kind of thing was already evident in NT writings, fakery problem, as was involved in the incident with Simon Bar-Jesus, identified as a sorcerer. It's ironic that while sorcery at that time was seen as use of deceptive trickery, purely a hmuan skill, the church soon identified sorcery with REAL supernaturla or spiriitual "powers", so that soon, the only things "spiritual" humans might really experience, were of evil spirits, demons and the like. What a successful bait and switch tactic THAT was!

 

So if we are going to find anything about true spiritual experiences of early Christians, we are going to have to look for sources outside, even condemned by, the Roman Church. Yep, the heretics.

 

One of my interests in pursuing the study of psychology has been to learn to recognize and understand the many kinds of human experience that is rooted in the "ordinary" human mind, as well as cognitive patterns set by socialization and expernience, that have been and are often confused by many as being mainifestions of something "spiritual" or of the numinous. An example is how there are actually those highly skilled in the psychology of mood and thought that work in the field of Evangelical Charismatic minitries, often as traveling "Evangelists", whose specialties is their skill in bringing congretations and audiences to chosen emotional states, even to experience states of altered consciousness, in something of a hypnotic sense That kind of thing is highly skilled fakery, but still fakery. And my study and experience in psychology has defintely helped sharpen my eye for that kind of thing...I seem to have always had a good natural eye for it I guess you'd put it, a good sense of 'discernment' for it...but while I'd know something just didn't feel right to me, I'd not know why...study of psychology helped me a lot there, to discern, when it doesn't feel right, just what is going on, really, psychologically.

 

Jenell

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To me, it seems there is plenty of evidence that PC is not “mystically and mythically bland.” But I appreciate how this thread reminds us there were many different movements within Christianity from the start.

 

My impression is that Valentinus, like other Gnostic writers appears to focus on abstract knowledge rather than compassion, and a Hellenized spiritual / material division. Yet the comparison to the 8 points asserts that he upheld egalitarianism, direct experience of God, and social justice.

 

I agree progressive Christianity is “not a new thing” – hopefully it resembles the original way of Jesus. PC doesn’t always have to be seen as a reaction to 20th century American fundamentalism. In its cultural context, Jesus’ (and Paul’s) liberating personal / social vision of the kingdom of God was ultimately more attractive, addressed more human needs, than paganism. The early Christians witnessed with their lives that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar; that the ‘hinge of history’ means love of power gives way to the power of love, as the one enduring truth.

Edited by rivanna
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I think some definitions of the mystical are in order here, even if they're only provisional definitions only for the purposes of this conversation. This is made more murky considering PC is a theologically immense tent that covers everything from people who reject all supernatural belief to those who have had a personal vision of Jesus (to use two examples from posts I've seen on this board).

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Nick, that is pretty much my point in my previous post. Until we can find some way to accurately discern and define various experiences, their true nature and source, what is hype and what is not, that is the crux of the problem as I note above.

 

It may be that as has been touched up elsewhere in these forums, this is something that will have to wait until science catches up with some of the more engimatic qualities of consciousness.

 

Meanwhile, that pretty much leave it up to each our own experiences, and how we think about those experiences what the true nature of those experiences may be. Again, for myself, my interest in psychology in trying to sort out, discern, what can be explained by ordinary psychologlical phenomenon, looking at and applying it not only to what I may observe in others, but in my own self, my own experiences, as well. I try to put my own experiences to close examinination, or test, as much if not more than things others may report. The result has been that some in my experiences I can explain away (in the mystical, numinous sense), but not all.

 

When we read the account of Paul's "conversion experience", if the account is to be trusted at all to represent what a man really experienced, there's no doubt it was something incredibly powerful, for how dramatically he was changed. Similarly incredible experiences have been reported by others, both famous and not famous, many of us know someone that at least truly believes they have had such an experience, and experience for which nothing in psychology or mind or otherwise in our known world can adequately explain. I think this particularly so when it is someone we know, that have never been caught up in the frantic "miracale seeking" of some religious group, that is known as a trustworth and sensible person, and who clearly exhibits no intent or purpose of trying to gain attention or anything else by claiming it.

 

Also as I've shared elsewhere, of some of my own unexplanable experiences, being as I am not one prone to magical or fantasy thinking, but rather quite rational and even pragmatic, the only way I've been able to reconcile evenwith myself some of these experiences is that they involve something "natural", that human science just hasn't caught up with yet.

 

So to me, if we are to say there is a "real God" or even in an atheist sense some force, some greater consciousness or intellegence, that some call God, then we must hold any defintion of what is "mystical" or "numinous" to the same standard. Somewhere, somehow, there must be applied some standard, some test, to what is 'real' or not.

 

Yet has it also not escaped my recognition that any and every such experience in my own life has been such that no matter how irrefutable the evidence was to me, for me, it was only rarely such as that even one or a small few other person(s) witnessed or experienced it, that they too had personal evidence of what had happened. And never anything that could be taken before others, presented with any credibility, any evidence, beyond my or a few others' word. Perhaps that is is how it must be, for the very nature of the mystical, the numinous...it can never be known or shared cogntively.

 

Jenell

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