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Valentinus, the best known and most influential of the Gnostic heretics, was born according to Epiphanius (Haer., XXXI) on the coast of Egypt. He was trained in Hellenistic science in Alexandria. Like many other heretical teachers he went to Rome the better, perhaps to disseminate his views. He arrived there during the pontificate of Hyginus and remained until the pontificate of Anicetus. During a sojourn of perhaps fifteen years, though he had in the beginning allied himself with the orthodox community in Rome, he was guilty of attempting to establish his heretical system. His errors led to his excommunication, after which he repaired to Cyprus where he resumed his activities as a teacher and where he died probably about 160 or 161. Valentinus professed to have derived his ideas from Theodas or Theudas, a disciple of St. Paul, but his system is obviously an attempt to amalgamate Greek and Oriental speculations of the most fantastic kind with Christian ideas. He was especially indebted to Plato. From him was derived the parallel between the ideal world (the pleroma ) and the lower world of phenomena (the kenoma ). Valentinus drew freely on some books of the New Testament, but used a strange system of interpretation by which the sacred authors were made responsible for his own cosmological and pantheistic views. In working out his system he was thoroughly dominated by dualistic fancies.

He assumed, as the beginning of all things, the Primal Being or Bythos , who after ages of silence and contemplation, gave rise to other beings by a process of emanation. The first series of beings, the aeons, were thirty in number, representing fifteen syzygies or pairs sexually complementary. Through the weakness and sin of Sophia, one of the lowest aeons, the lower world with its sujection to matter is brought into existence. Man, the highest being in the lower world, participates in both the psychic and the hylic (material) nature, and the work of redemption consists in freeing the higher, the spiritual, from its servitude to the lower. This was the word and mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Christology of Valentinus is confusing in the extreme. He seems to have maintained the existence of three redeeming beings, but Christ the Son of Mary did not have a real body and did not suffer. The system of Valentinus was extremely comprehensive, and was worked out to cover all phases of thought and action. While Valentinus was alive he made many disciples, and his system was the most widely diffused of all the forms of Gnosticism. His school was divided into two branches, the Oriental and the Italian. The former was spread through Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor , the latter in Rome, Italy, and Southern Gaul. Among the more prominent disciples of Valentinus, who, however, did not slavishly follow their master in all his views, were Heracleon, Ptolemy, Marcos, and Bardesanes. Many of the writings of these Gnostics, and a large number of excerpts from the writings of Valentinus, are still in existence. Tertullian ascribes to him the apocryphal Gospel of Valentinus, which, according to Irenaeus, was the same as the "Gospel of Truth ".


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