Johannine Secessionist / Sethian / Valentinian?

The Valentinian’s middle-ground, attributing elements to both the Father and the Demiurge (which we’ll get to in more detail,) driven by their relative positioning as a sort of midpoint between the Orthodox and the Sethians, was an ineffective attempt to canonize this whole movement. Thus, to a certain extent they failed Original Christianity by sending it further into the realms of heresy than it ever might have been. However, this could be a good thing, in a reverse-logic fashion, as it did promote the overall concepts and treatises to the point we’ve discovered them in the twentieth century. It’s possible such works never would have been saved by the Pachomian Monks in such a fashion without Valentinian tactics, as much as I might personally disagree with some of their tenets. What can be said is that their attempts were no match for the heresiologists such as Irenaeus of Lyon and Epiphanius.

The discourse from the University of Exeter’s Alastair Logan regarding the positioning of the Valentinians vis-à-vis the original “falsely so-called Gnostics” of Irenaeus is very key to this discussion:

p. 9 of Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy: “The reference in [Irenaeus’ Against Heresies] 1.11.3-5 and elsewhere to Valentinian claims to be ‘more gnostic than the Gnostics’ must be seen in this context of primal emanations: the Gnostics, Irenaeus is claiming, were the first to develop the concept of emission of mental states or attributes of the Father like intelligence (nous) and reason (logos) as hypostases. The various Valentinian attempts to posit prior emissions and entities to these is to try to outdo these Gnostics—their spiritual ancestors!” I’d argue that the Barbeloites were the original group, who again I am referring to as the Sethians as a whole.

The Apocryphon of John (ApJohn) 3-4, the extremely noteworthy Sethian work, further describes the Father as follows, pp. 106-107 of James M. Robinson’s The Nag Hammadi Library:

  • “And I [John] asked to know, and he [Christ] said to me, ‘The Monad is a monarchy with nothing above it. It is he who exists as God and Father of everything, this invisible One who is above everything, who exists as incorruption, which is in the pure light into which no eye can look.”
  • “He is the invisible Spirit of whom it is not right to think of him as a god, or something similar. For he is more than a god, since there is nothing above him, for no one lords it over him. For he does not exist in something inferior to him, since everything exists in him.”
  • IV 4, 9-10: “For it is he who establishes himself. He is eternal since he does not need anything. For he is total perfection. He did not lack anything that he might be completed by it; rather he is always completely perfect in light.”
  • “He is immeasurable light which is pure, holy, and immaculate. He is ineffable being perfect in incorruptibility. He is not in perfection, nor in blessedness, nor in divinity, but he is far superior. He is not corporeal nor is he incorporeal. He is neither large nor is he small. There is no way to say, ‘What is his quantity?’ or ‘What is his quality?’ for no one can know him. He is not someone among other beings, rather he is far superior. Not that he is simply superior, but his essence does not partake in the Aeons nor in time. For he who partakes in an Aeon was prepared beforehand. Time was not apportioned to him, since he does not receive anything from another, for it would be received on loan. For he who precedes someone does not lack that he may receive from him. For rather it is the latter that looks expectantly at him in his light.”
  • “For the perfection is majestic. He is pure, immeasurable mind. He is an Aeon-giving Aeon. He is life giving life. He is a blessedness-giving blessed one. He is knowledge-giving knowledge. He is goodness-giving goodness. He is mercy and redemption-giving mercy. He is grace-giving grace, not because he possesses it, but because he gives the immeasurable, incomprehensible light.”
  • “His Aeon is indestructible, at rest, and existing in silence, reposing (and) being prior to everything. For he is the head of all the Aeons, and it is he who gives them strength in his goodness. For we know not the ineffable things, and we do not understand what is immeasurable, except for him who came forth from him, namely from the Father. For it is he who told it to us alone.”

The Gospel of John (GosJohn) represents strength, love, and incomprehensibility to a large degree—similar to ApJohnTrimorphic Protennoia (TriProt) is another treatise that is written in the same vein. Collectively the works seem to be pertinent to groups such as the Johannine secessionists. In my opinion, the Valentinian texts do not approach this strength, other than The Gospel of Truth (GosTruth) that was most likely written by Valentinus himself, thus at a very early date and closer to the source (circa 150AD.) Valentinus was most likely an adherent to the Apocryphon in his time. The Valentinian movement in general was stronger on message the farther back in history we go. It wasn’t until further development of this creed did things get convoluted.

As scholar Paul N. Anderson says in his work John 17–The Original Intention of Jesus for the Church on p. xxix, and he is referencing Yale University’s Wayne Meeks: “Regarding the historical setting of Johannine Christianity, Käsemann’s view [in his work The Testament of Jesus] of the community under the Word has enjoyed a stronger reception, although not all are convinced. On his view that John’s church is more in the mainstream of the late first-century movement than on the periphery, Schnelle, Brown, and others concur.  John’s presentation of Jesus as the Christ serves as a link between a synoptic-like Jesus tradition and emerging Gnosticism rather than being rooted in early Gnosticism connected with baptistic traditions. Thus, it is John who is the proto-Gnostic, not John’s sources.”

Thus, some believe John in the primary proto-Gnostic (meaning before the Gnostics,)  and this links with Irenaeus’ extensive discussion of the original Gnostics (the Sethians.) Other scholars have given this role to Paul, and he may well have been the proto-Valentinian. John, however, appears to have come first, and this school is not at all the same as that of the Paulines. As we’ll see later, the Fourth Gospel was most likely akin to a living document for most of the early years of Christianity, and even the final was not final as additional edits were made after its initial release circa 90CE according to most scholars. In other words, many believe that the Pauline letters were the earliest treatises written, but that assessment does not account for the vast body of oral tradition, which clearly also was a written work in progress, that goes back to the Christ event itself.  I’ll address this issue later in the Honing the True Canon Section. I’ll stress that it was the the Valentinians who were “more Gnostic than the Gnostics,” or the Sethians, at least according to Irenaeus.

Anderson later quotes Yale’s George MacRae from his work in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion 38:3 (1970, ) p. 332: “In a word, it must be said that Käsemann’s interpretation of John places it at least one important step further along the road to Gnosticism than its structure and its attitude toward tradition would seem to allow.”

Per Trimorphic Protennoia: “I am the first one who descended on account of my portion which remains, that is, the Spirit that dwells in the soul, which originated from the Water of Life, and out of the immersion of the mysteries. And I spoke, I, together with the Archons and Authorities. For I had gone down below their language, and I spoke my mysteries to my own–a hidden mystery–and the bonds and eternal oblivion were nullified. And I bore fruit in them, that is, the Thought of the unchanging Aeon, and my house, and their Father. And I went down to those who were mine from the first, and I reached them and broke the first strands that enslaved them. Then everyone of those within me shone, and I prepared a pattern for those ineffable Lights that are within me. Amen.”