Πέμπτη, 3 Μαΐου 2012

The Gnostics by David Brakke


The Gnostics Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity by David Brakke
Harvard University Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 2010

Fragments :

When historians and theologians used to tell the story of Christianity’s “crisis of Gnosticism,” they would explain, as the title of one important article put it, “Why the Church Rejected Gnosticism.” 5  (Strangely, at least one scholar has included even the New Prophecy in “Gnosticism.”) 6  But as we have seen already in the previous chapter, there was no single “Church” that could accept or reject anything, nor was there a multiform heresy called “Gnosticism” to be accepted or rejected.

There was a Gnostic school of thought, with its distinct interpretation of the Christian message, and there  were a number of other Christian teachers and groups who disagreed with the Gnostics on particular points. But the dynamic of self- differentiation and boundary formation in which the Gnostics and their opponents participated was far more complex than simple “rejection” of one party by another.

A variety of Christian groups negotiated their relationships with each other and with non- Christians as well.
The goal of this chapter is to sketch some of the ways in which Christians of the second and third centuries responded to the Gnostics and to each other. We shall explore the strategies by which Christians presented themselves as having the true Christian message and others as teaching what is incomplete or false...........

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 Teachers of an Apostolic Tradition: The Valentinian School

Valentinus’s program of adapting the Gnostic myth and developing its more overtly Christian features continued in the work of a school of Christian theologians who looked to him for inspiration: the Valentinian school of thought. So successful was this movement that it rapidly eclipsed the Gnostics as the greater danger in the minds of opponents like Irenaeus. Unlike the Gnostics, who practiced a highly distinctive ritual of baptism and appear to have rejected the Eucharist, the Valentinians participated fully in the baptism and Eucharist of other Christians and may have had even more rituals of their own.

Valentinian teachers presented their ideas as the correct interpretations of Christian scriptures and creeds, and they claimed apostolic authority for their message. Like the Gnostic school of thought and other philosophical schools in antiquity, Valentinian groups sought to facilitate the progress of their adherents in knowledge and virtue, that is, to teach them a way of life that would lead to salvation.7

 Valentinian theologians developed rich and compelling teachings on the entire range of subjects that Christian intellectuals usually considered— God, Christ, sin, and salvation, the sacraments, the nature of the Church, the resurrection, and so on— but  here I shall focus on their strategies of self- differentiation with respect to other Christians. How did Valentinian Christians present their reinventions of Christianity as the true ones? “Valentinianism” existed in a range of social forms and related to other Christian communities in diverse ways. On a minimal basis, it was a mode of Christian thought or a way of understanding the Christian message with which any educated Christian could engage without necessarily joining a group.

There must have been bishops and presbyters in local communities whose preaching and teaching reflected Valentinian ideas without any awareness on their part or that of their congregants that these ideas  were, as others might charge, suspect or out of “the mainstream.” This situation might resemble a modern Christian congregation in which the minister’s sermons and biblical interpretations might be heavily infl uenced by Karl Barth or by liberation theology. We know that in the 190s a Valentinian named Florinus served as a presbyter in the Roman Church under the non- Valentinian Bishop Victor.

It is not clear whether people recognized Florinus as a Valentinian only on the basis of his views or because he also participated in an or ga nized group of Valentinians. When early Valentinians became visible as a distinct community, it was usually because they formed study groups similar to other philosophical schools in antiquity.

These groups operated alongside and as a supplement to other Christian communities: a Christian might worship weekly in a  house church near his or her home but also participate in meetings of study and discussion led by a Valentinian teacher. Valentinians incorporated their unique relationship to other Christians into their theology and reached out to them. For example, they borrowed terminology from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (2:14– 15) and referred to themselves as “spiritual ones” (pneumatikoi) and to non- Valentinian Christians as merely “animate ones” (psuchikoi).

According to Irenaeus’s account of Valentinian teachings, “animate” Christians would receive a lesser form of salvation at the end of time than the “spiritual ones” would— but salvation nonetheless. When the spirituals are restored to the fullness (the Valentinian version of the Gnostics’ entirety), the animates will “gain repose” in a place outside of it.8

The comprehensive Valentinian work The Tripartite Tractate, however, suggests that the distinction between “animates” and “spirituals” will be overcome in God’s fi nal act of reconciliation: “If, in fact, we confess the kingdom in Christ, it is for the abolishment of all diversity, in e qual ity, and difference. For the end will regain the form of existence of a single one, just as the beginning was a single one.”9 Similarly, another Valentinian teacher called the fi nal consummation a “wedding banquet, which is shared by all the saved, until all become equal and recognize one another.”10

And indeed, Valentinians showed pastoral interest in their fellow Christians, often inviting them to join them for advanced study and thus eventually to become “spirituals” themselves. For example, a surviving letter from the Valentinian theologian Ptolemy introduces a non- Valentinian Christian named Flora to some basic Valentinian ideas (ethics, the lower status of the creator god) and then invites her to study further with him.11 The anti- Valentinian Bishop Irenaeus complained bitterly that Valentinians use “persuasion and rhetoric” to “attract the  simple to pursue the quest” for advanced knowledge of God and Christ.12

The Valentinians presented themselves and their teachings as the deeper or higher meaning of what ever form of Christianity to which potential followers adhered. Their division of Christians into “animates” and “spirituals” functioned more like stages in one’s progression into acquaintance than as rigid, pre- determined sets of people.13 Irenaeus lamented, too, that the Valentinians “speak like us but think differently.”14

That is, the Valentinians accepted the same scriptures and basic doctrines as Irenaeus, but interpreted them differently, often in what Irenaeus took to be a more meta phorical or symbolical fashion. For example, all Christians agreed that “Christ was raised from the dead” (Romans 6:4) and that Christians, too, would rise like him (1 Corinthians 15). In Irenaeus’s view, this meant that Christ  rose from the grave, body and soul, and so would Christians at the end of history: “We too must await the time of our resurrection fi xed by God.”15

According to one Valentinian author, however, the Christian’s resurrection is his or her gradual transcendence of the material world through contemplation of increasingly higher realities. Resurrection does not lie in the future but is available now: “Leave the state of dispersion and bondage,” the author exhorts, “and then you already have resurrection.”16

A Valentinian could affi rm with fellow Christians who  were not Valentinians a shared belief in resurrection from the dead, but would have his or her own understanding of what that means— as indeed all Christians did. At this point no single understanding had emerged as normative. Still, the rhetoric of some Valentinian works suggests that their authors understood that they had to relate their views to other Christian ideas that may have been more widespread. For instance, Ptolemy complained that “many people” have misunderstood the Law of Moses, and another Valentinian teacher remarked that “few” comprehend the true meaning of resurrection.17

The Gnostics drew on the Bible for their teachings, but they did so often by rewriting biblical narratives, especially from Genesis, in order to correct their meaning. They seemed to create new scriptures for themselves (The Revelation of Adam, The Gospel of Judas) as much as they used texts that other Jews and Christians honored. The Reality of the Rulers appears to replace Genesis just as much as it interprets it.

The Valentinians, in contrast, did not create new scriptures; rather, they  were pioneers in the close exegesis of Jewish and Christian scriptures and produced some of the earliest known commentaries on biblical books. The Valentinian thinker Heracleon wrote “notes” or “comments” (hupomnemata) on the Gospel of John and perhaps on other gospels as well.18

Like most other Christian teachers, Heracleon and his colleagues interpreted biblical texts allegorically or symbolically and so argued that Valentinian teachings  were to be found in them. For example, in the fourth chapter of John, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21). 
Heracleon interprets this statement as symbolically teaching that “spiritual ones” (that is, Valentinians) worship neither created things as the pagans did (“mountain”) nor the creator god of this world as the Jews and many other Christians did (“Jerusalem”), but the higher ultimate God.19 Valentinian  exegetes also made extensive use of Paul’s letters in explicating their theologies.20

Indeed, Valentinian teachers frequently invoked the authority of Paul (and of the apostles in general) to legitimate their doctrines and their identity as teachers. As we saw in the previous chapter, Valentinian theologians asserted that Valentinus had studied with Theudas, a disciple of Paul. Followers of another Christian teacher, Basilides, an older contemporary of Valentinus, made a similar claim about their theological hero, but they traced his intellectual pedigree back to the apostle Peter through a certain Glaucias.21

By tracing a similar lineage to Paul, the Valentinians professed a kind of apostolic succession for themselves: Paul had transmitted his teachings to Theudas, who passed them on to Valentinus, and now these teachings have come to the students of Valentinus (and their students in turn). Ptolemy suggested to Flora that she might be “deemed worthy of the apostolic tradition, which even we have received by succession . . .  at least if, like good rich soil that has received fertile seeds, you bear fruit.”22
One Valentinian author wrote, “The father anointed the son; and the son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us.”23 Another attributed a prayer for authority and enlightenment to “Paul the Apostle.”24

The claim to special connection with an apostle through a chain of successors functioned as a powerful bid for authority and recognition as having the most authentic Christian teaching. Ptolemy’s hope that Flora would prove “worthy of the apostolic tradition” indicates that at least portions of this tradition  were reserved for more advanced Christians.Baptism and the Eucharist played important roles in Valentinian spirituality.

Their references to baptism suggest that their understanding of Christian initiation contained the same elements one fi nds in baptism in other Christian groups: a period of instruction, one or more anointings with oil, exorcisms, immersion, laying on of hands.25

Valentinians must have undergone initiation in ordinary congregations or practiced their own baptism, which nonetheless did not differ much if at all from that of other Christians. Whichever was the case, baptism could not be effective without the instruction and growth in knowledge and virtue that Valentinian teaching provided: “It is not the bath alone that liberates, but also the acquaintance: Who  were we? What have we become? Where  were we? Into what place have we been thrown? Where are we going? From what are we ransomed? What is generation? What is regeneration?”26

Valentinian sources suggest that they may have observed some rituals that  were specifi c to them. For example, one group of Valentinians may have developed their own ritual for death long before other Christians did.27 Several sources mention a ritual called “bridal chamber.” “Bridal chamber” appears to refer to the potential reunion of the human soul with its angelic counterpart or spiritual alter ego. Scholars disagree, however, about whether “bridal chamber” in fact refers to a distinct ritual or represents a Valentinian understanding of the meaning of baptism.28

The Valentinian movement, then, had a complex relationship with other Christian groups. It featured in de pen dent study circles that worked like philosophical schools and supplemented worship and participation in non- Valentinian  house churches. And yet some  house churches may have had clergy whose theology was Valentinian, even if the  house church did not have a “Valentinian” identity. Valentinian teachers refl ected this ambiguous position.

They claimed special authority inherited from the apostle Paul, presented their teachings as the hidden or symbolic meanings of generally shared Jewish and Christian scriptures, and refl ected on the differences between Valentinian or advanced Christians (“spiritual ones”) and their non- Valentinian brothers and sisters or less advanced Christians (“animate ones”).

Evidence suggests that during the third century and later, Valentinian Christianity increasingly took on the character of a fully in de pen dent network of churches, similar to that of the Marcionites. For example, in the late fourth century a Christian mob attacked a Valentinian worship building— a sign that Valentinians by this point  were clearly distinct from other Christians.29

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