Two major dissident sects of Christians were relatively hidden from history until discoveries in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, including the Berlin Codex and the Nag Hammadi Corpus. The latter is comprised of twelve codices plus several leaves from a thirteenth. Included therein are forty-five separate titles, with some duplication. Prior to the discoveries, scholars were aware of such Christians, those who were ostracized as heretics, but material that accurately described who they were and what they believed was scarce. In fact, much of the knowledge we had was based on commentaries written by the clergy of the Catholic Church (the heresiologists including Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Epiphanius,) clearly not objective sources. In this work, I’d like to explore the differences between two of the main groups often in opposition with the Orthodox, the Valentinians and the Sethians. The codices mentioned have given us a glimpse into how diverse the beliefs of the Christian community were at the time.
The Valentinians were a part of the Orthodox Christian community; they attended church services and often led them. Additionally, though their beliefs incorporated traditional doctrine, they practiced their own tenets separately. This secret teaching conflicted with the views of the proto-orthodox. However, the Nicene Council of 325CE put an end to some of the more esoteric beliefs of this school.
The Sethians appear to have been much less likely to be concerned with the activities of the proto-orthodox. We know that this Sect, as defined today, was a fusion of the Barbeloites and the Sethites, two smaller schools of thought that have been combined by scholars. The Sethites held the biblical character Seth from Genesis (who was born after Cain and Abel) in such high regard as to position him with Christ himself. I find the Barbeloite branch to be much more intriguing, and we’ll delve deeper into this subject throughout this work. Going forward, whenever I mention the Sethians, it’s the Barbeloites being referenced. Later, I make the case that the Sethians were the Johannine secessionists, and I devote an entire Section to this group after discussing The Gospel of John. In fact, I believe this wing of the Johannine School represents the evangelist’s original intent—-and notably not the author who some scholars refer to as John the Elder (who many scholars believe wrote the Epistles–particularly the second and third–and possibly added some later additions to the Gospel, though not its core.)
The Valentinians likely fused the Sethian concepts into their beliefs. However, some of the original texts, particularly The Apocryphon of John (ApJohn,) seem to have been rewritten entirely. Thus, additional treatises were drafted that relied on Sethian tenets that were woven into the respective Valentinian works.
Rather than describing the Father solely in mysterious, negative-theology terms, which paradoxically he really should be for means of clarity, the Valentinians attempt to canonize the notion by way of using softer descriptions in addition to a subset of this negative-theology, such as “in his sweetness.” Though I believe that the Father does in fact encapsulate such expressions, I prefer the strength of the Sethian/Barbeloite and potentially Johannine secessionist exposition of his character: ineffable, incomprehensible, incorruptible, illimitable, unsearchable, immeasurable, invisible, eternal, and unnameable.
My preliminary thought is that I am a Johannine Sethian, though I’ll revisit this discussion repeatedly. As Princeton’s Elaine Pagels says on p. 162 of The Origin of Satan, “Those who have ‘the Spirit of truth within them’ refuse to enter into marriage, business, or any other worldly entanglements, in order to remain an ‘undominated generation’, ‘free to devote themselves to the Holy Spirit.’”
Some of the New Testament is critically important; many of the works discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945 are also key. I will attempt to piece this puzzle together in this work, and I believe that tenets of the Johannine School are crucial. Ultimately, I will put forward my take on what I entitled The Protennoia Johannine Secessionist Canon.