One of the outstanding Gnostic leaders, founder of a widespread sect in Rome in the second century. It is difficult to separate fact from legend among the few details of his life preserved by the ancient writers on heresies. Valentinus was born in Egypt and educated at Alexandria, where he first began to teach. Under Pope St. Hyginus (c. 136–140) he moved to Rome and flourished there for some 20 years. At Rome he broke with the Church because, according to Tertullian (Adversus valentinus 4), he was thwarted in his attempt to become bishop. Epiphanius (Haereses 31.7) states that he later left Rome for Cyprus. He wrote letters, homilies, and psalms of which only a few fragments are preserved in the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria and in other patristic sources. Irenaeus (Adversus haereses 3.11.9) mentions that he or his school composed a "gospel" called the Gospel of Truth, but bearing no resemblance whatever to the canonical Gospels. With this scholars now identify a writing of the same description in the Codex Jung, and some also attribute the Letter to Rheginus in the same codex to Valentinus. Though clearly Gnostic, the Gospel of Truth lacks the elaborate doctrines of the Aeons and the Demiurge; it may therefore represent an early stage of Valentinus' teaching, and is perhaps to be dated c. 140.
Apart from this source it is not easy to sketch the original teaching of Valentinus because his pupils developed his system considerably and branched out into two schools, the Italian and the Oriental, differing in their classification of the body of Jesus (Hippolytus, Ref. 6.35). The writers on heresies tended to describe and refute the followers rather than the founder. Under Platonic influence Valentinus distinguished a phenomenal world and a spiritual world, the Pleroma. In the latter there are a series of emanations from one Father (Hippolytus, Ref. 6.29) or from a primal pair (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 1.1), forming a total of 30 Aeons in pairs or "syzygies." From the fall of the lowest of these, Sophia, into passion and disgrace, there resulted the emission of matter and the Demiurge, the God of the Old Testament, who shaped matter into our world. In the Pleroma the Holy Spirit and Christ emanated as Aeons. Christ united with the man, Jesus, who was conceived of in a purely Docetic sense, to effect the conquest of death and the salvation of mankind. Men are classified as pneumatics—the Valentinians themselves—saved by knowledge (gnosis); psychics, other Christians capable of intermediate salvation; and hylics, those of material nature, who are lost. Valentinus seems more of a mystic than a philosopher or theologian. His system, although clearly a Christian gnosis, is a caricature, however unconscious, of the message of the New Testament. His following was very large (Tertullian, Adversus valentinus 1) but the pure form of his teaching lasted only a few generations.
See Also: gnosticism.
Bibliography: Texts. w. vÖlker, ed., Quellen zur Geschichte der christlichen Gnosis (Tübingen 1932) 57–141. r. m. grant, Gnosticism: A Sourcebook … (New York 1961) 143–208. Studies. r. a. lipsius, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, ed. w. smith and h. wace, 4 v. (London 1877–87) 4:1076–99. w. foerster, Von Valentin zu Herakleon, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 7 (1928). f. m. sagnard, La Gnose valentinienne et le témoignage de saint Irénée (Études de philosophic médiévale 36; Paris 1947). g. quispel, "The Original Doctrine of Valentine," Vigiliae christianea 1 (1947) 43–73. g. bardy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951–) 15.2:2497–2519. f. l. cross, ed., The Jung Codex: Three Studies (London 1955) h. jonas, The Gnostic Religion (2d ed. Boston 1963) 174–205. r. m. wilson, The Gnostic Problem (London 1958). j. doresse, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, tr. p. mairet (New York 1960).
[g. w. macrae]