Friday, November 16, 2012

Deconstructing Valentinus

So let's start again.  The reference in Against Heresies 1.11.3 to another "illustrious teacher of theirs" (clarus magister) - i.e. of the Valentinians.  A discussion of a primary Tetrad follows where we are told that it was taught by this 'third teacher' this this 'aeonic foursome' was the source of all the rest of the Aeons.   While we read "clarus magister" in the old Latin translation of Against Heresies the original Greek was certainly ἐπιφανὴς διδάσκαλος.  Scholars have long noted that Epiphanes had this reading in his text which we have determined to be an original lecture of Irenaeus 'Against the Valentinians' which in turn was derived from the lost original syntagma behind all heresiological compendiums.

Pearson's restoration of the Greek has since been pretty nearly verified by the recovery of the passage as reproduced by Hippolytus (Ref. vi. 38), where it runs ἄλλος δέ τις ἐπιφανὴς διδάσκαλος αὐτῶν. Here the word in question is plainly an adjective, and Tertullian so understood it, who translates (adv. Valent. 37) "insignioris apud eos magistri." On the other hand, it must be noted that Epiphanius understood the passage to be about a heretic named Epiphanes.  Schaff assumes the following "on examining what he tells of that heretic (Haer. 32), it is plain that Epiphanius has been following Irenaeus until, on coming to the words ἑπιφανὴς διδάσκαλος, he goes off to Clement of Alexandria, and puts in what he there found about Epiphanes."  Yet this is certainly an incorrect - and all too convenient - reinterpretation of the situation, a typical lazy intellectual error made by scholars who apparently get paid by the word of published articles.  

There are two indisputable facts that we must come back to time and time again.  The first is that Epiphanius makes absolutely certain that his manuscript of Against the Marcians (or 'Against Marcus and his Followers') identified Colorbasus and Heracleon as Marcites.  The second is that - in a very similar vein - the Philosophumena argues against an effort of the Marcites to blame the heretical practice of redemption baptism or one of its variants on these same sectarians who are later identified as Valentinians.  The Marcite objection is clearly based on 'errors' in the original reporting of Irenaeus which the author (incredibly!) acknowledges have some basis.  Nevertheless his response to their objections is to (a) rewrite whole sections of Irenaeus's original report about the Marcites (b) ignore other parts of the narrative (c) transform the original followers of Irenaeus (Colorbasus and Heracleon) into Valentinians and (d) emphasize that Valentinians do not engage in redemption baptism only Marcites do.  

Again both the Philosophumena and Epiphanius are still using the original lecture of Irenaeus Against the Marcians rather than our existing text which has been incorporated into a new framework.  To this end, it is very telling that there is a basic order to the collection of 'Valentinians' which manifests itself through the two works independent of the Against Heresies collection which hasn't been noticed before.  Epiphanius for instance has:

  1. Valentinians
  2. Secundians 
  3. Ptolemaeans

and then under a different heading:

  1. Marcians
  2. Colorbasians
  3. Heracleonites

Now if we turn to Philosophumena 6.33 we read:

  1. (missing section of Valentinus paralleled with AH 1.11.1)
  2. "secundus, born about the same time with Ptolemaeus",
  3. "Some other, however--Epiphanes, a teacher among them"
  4. "But the followers of Ptolemaeus assert that (Bythus) has two spouses"

When we actually start look at this list we suddenly realize that what at first glance appeared to be a list with some specificity in actual fact is a completely white-washed vestige of something with (dangerous) clarity. 

If we take the Philosophumena as our guide in fact we have an expunged section associated with Valentinus later in Against Heresies, then a 'second' figure who is said to be a contemporary with Ptolemy' a figure who only appears in the fourth spot, this is then followed by 'some other' figure who is a 'renowned teacher' originally transformed into the figure of 'Epiphanes' who is identified as a Carpocratian by Clement and - more importantly - a student of Isidore in Epiphanius's version of Irenaeus.  Then fourth on the list comes Ptolemy who appears for the first time among these obscured references as an actual historical figure.  

It would seem to follow at least tentatively that Isidore may well have been the 'second' figure (= secundus) at least from Epiphanius's manuscript.   Epiphanius after identify Epiphanes as Isidores pupil goes on to also say and so Epiphanes was associated with Secundus and his circle. For he copied Secundus' poison, that is, his wordy babble of baneful, reptilian corruption." His text also made the 'some other' figure as a person named 'Epiphanes' but the Philospphumena (being now an incomplete witness to the original syntagma) repeatedly references Heracleon as preceding Ptolemy in the ranks of Valentinians - "Valentinus, therefore, and Heracleon, and Ptolemaeus, and the entire school of these (heretics), as disciples of Pythagoras and Plato, (and) following these guides, have laid down as e fundamental principle of their doctrine the arithmetical system" (Phil. 6.24) and again "They from Italy, of whom is Heracleon and Ptolemaeus, say that the body of Jesus was animal (one). And on account of this, (they maintain) that at his baptism the Holy Spirit as a dove came down" (ibid 6.30)

While it is difficult to make sense of all of this at once, the facts are few scholars have noted how many possibilities there are with respect to solutions to this original difficulty.  Most have simply started with the assumption that Against Heresies is the original prototype for all other lists.  Another possibility which hasn't been considered is that the 'new list' at 1.11.1 - i.e. 'first,' 'second' etc. - is another document or something which was attached to original 'Against the Valentinians' lecture.  We should note again that:

  1. Epiphanius stops citing from Against the Valentinians at the equivalent of AH 1.11.1 and says explicitly 'this is the end of Irenaeus's Against the Valentinians' 
  2. the Philosophumena ignores 1.11.1, draws from another source completely for its information about the Valentinians and then once it is finished references the equivalent of AH 1.11.2 for information about specific Valentinian sects starting with the 'second' (secundus) without using AH 1.11.1 and without explicitly identifying who the first disciple of Valentinus was.  

The obvious 'solution' to these difficulties is to assume that they are coincidental. On the one hand, Epiphanius isn't really citing the end of the treatise when he says "this concludes Irenaeus against the Valentinans" (Pan 31.32.9) and moreover the author of the Philosophumena just happens to preserved the exact same 'excised piece' from Irenaeus (i.e. starting where Epiphanius says Against the Valentinians 'ends').

The facts remains however that there is a third difficulty which makes it difficult to continue to pretend there isn't a problem here.  For if we look carefully it is another odd trait of Irenaeus's original Against the Valentinians that the narrative begins as a discussion of Ptolemy not an individual named 'Valentinus' per se.  In the preface to Against the Valentinians, Irenaeus notes:

And as far as I can I shall also give a brief, clear explanation of the doctrine of those—I mean the Ptolemaeans—who are now repeating the same teaching, a culling from the school of Valentinus, and give others the resources for its refutation, by showing, as well as my modest ability allows, that what they say is absurd, untenable, and incompatible with the truth. (Pan 31.9,8)

I intend, then, to the best of my ability, with brevity and clearness to set forth the opinions of those who are now promulgating heresy. I refer especially to the disciples of Ptolemaeus, whose school may be described as a bud from that of Valentinus. I shall also endeavour, according to my moderate ability, to furnish the means of overthrowing them, by showing how absurd and inconsistent with the truth are their statements. (AH Pref. 2)

Why on earth would a discussion of 'the Valentinians' begin with Ptolemy instead of Valentinus himself?  A little later in the narrative we see Irenaeus add at the end of a long description of the 'Aeons' - "such are the views of Ptolemaeus." (AH 1.8.5)

On the surface at least there is a simple explanation - Irenaeus by saying that the teaching of the Ptolemaeans represent a flower picked from the school of Valentinus is only referencing the fact that Valentinus is dead and gone.  Yet Irenaeus never has a problem describing the teachings and practices of dead heretics.  Why are the Valentinians the exception?  Why is he incapable of stating definitively 'here is what Valentinus believed' right from the get go and then move on to Ptolemy?

This peculiarity is actually reinforced by a long section in Tertullian's translation and reworking of the original Against the Valentinians. For Tertullian is well aware somehow that the Valentinians who came into contact with Irenaeus's report denied that there ever was a Valentinus.  Tertullian begins chapter four of his text refuting the heretics objections:

We know, I say, most fully their actual origin, and we are quite aware why we call them Valentinians, although they affect to disavow their name.  They have departed it is true from their founder's path, still their original teachings have not been at all forgotten, even if they have been changed somewhat: this very change bears witness to their former teachings.  Valentinus had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, that another obtained the dignity by reason of a claim which confessorship had given him, he broke with the church of the true faith.

Just like those (restless) spirits which, when roused by ambition, are usually inflamed with the desire of revenge, he applied himself with all his might to exterminate the truth; and finding the clue of a certain old opinion, he marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent. Ptolemaeus afterwards entered on the same path, by distinguishing the names and the numbers of the Aenons into personal substances, which, however, he kept apart from God.

Valentinus had included these in the very essence of the Deity, as senses and affections of motion. Sundry bypaths were then struck off therefrom, by Heraclean and Secundus and the magician Marcus. Theotimus worked hard about "the images of the law." Valentinus, however, was as yet nowhere, and still the Valentinians derive their name from Valentinus. Axionicus at Antioch is the only man who at the present time does honour to the memory of Valentinus, by keeping his rules to the full. But this heresy is permitted to fashion itself into as many various shapes as a courtezan, who usually changes and adjusts her dress every day.

And why not? When they review that spiritual seed of theirs in every man after this fashion, whenever they have hit upon any novelty, they forthwith call their presumption a revelation, their own perverse ingenuity a spiritual gift; but (they deny all) unity, admitting only diversity. And thus we clearly see that, setting aside their customary dissimulation, most of them are in a divided state, being ready to say (and that sincerely) of certain points of their belief, "This is not so; "and, "I take this in a different sense; "and, "I do not admit that." By this variety, indeed, innovation is stamped on the very face of their rules; besides which, it wears all the colourable features of ignorant conceits.

 My own path, however, lies along the original tenets of their chief teachers, not with the self-appointed leaders of their promiscuous followers. Nor shall we hear it said of us from any quarter, that we have of our own mind fashioned our own materials, since these have been already produced, both in respect of the opinions and their refutations, in carefully written volumes, by so many eminently holy and excellent men, not only those who have lived before us, but those also who were contemporary with the heresiarchs themselves: for instance Justin, philosopher and martyr; Miltiades, the sophist of the churches Irenaeus, that very exact inquirer into all doctrines; our own Proculus, the model of chaste old age and Christian eloquence.

All these it would be my desire closely to follow in every work of faith, even as in this particular one. Now if there are no heresies at all but what those who refute them are supposed to have fabricated, then the apostle who predicted them61 must have been guilty of falsehood. If, however, there are heresies, they can be no other than those which are the subject of discussion. No writer can be supposed to have so much time on his hands as to fabricate materials which are already in his possession. I affirm that we know quite well their origins and we also know why we call them Valentinians even though they seem not to be; for they have left their founder's path. (Tertullian Against the Valentinians 4, 5)

I don't know how anyone can read these words and not acknowledge that the heretics themselves (a) denied there was a historical Valentinus and (b) the fact that they were Valentinians.  The very same thing in fact seems to be at the heart of the Philsophumena's report of Marcite outrage at Irenaeus's original report.

Indeed it cannot be denied when we go back to the discussion of the various 'disciples' of Valentinus that there is nothing left of the original list.  Instead of a reliable list of names we have a narrative which begins with the Ptolemaeans where one would expect to find a reference to Valentinus himself, then at its conclusion (or perhaps as an attachment to the lost original lecture) there is a blank space, followed by an erased figure of 'the second' now corrupted into an actual heretic named 'Secundus,' this person is followed in turn by a 'some other' figure who emerges as a disputed figure called 'Epiphanes' who is either a mistake, a Carpocratian or a follower of Isidore depending on whom you ask.  Then the list goes back to Ptolemy where it originally ended.

In due course however former Marcite heretics - Colorbasus and Heracleon - were transformed into Valentinians because of disputes over the accuracy of Irenaeus's parallel account of the Marcians.  The actual definition of what a 'Valentinian' is never given in any detail in Irenaeus's original report.  Instead the first definitive reference to Valentinus at all - after what is certainly a lengthy reference to Ptolemy for most of the first ten chapters appears at the very end, where he writes - "For Valentinus, the first of the so-called Gnostic sect to adapt its principles to a form characteristic of a school, blurted them out like this, with the declaration that there is an unnameable pair, one of which is called Ineffable, and the other Silence ..." (AH 1.11.1; Pan. 31.32.9).

How can we explain this incredibly long delay for actual information about the original Valentinus in a treatise apparently entitled 'Against the Valentinians'?  Could it be that the name 'Valentinian' meant something other than 'follower of Valentinus' and where Ptolemy, not Valentinus, was the original subject of the treatise?  A clue perhaps is found in the writings of Justin, a man associated with the original syntagma makes explicit an order which must be acknowledged to the original syntagma "some are called Marcians (Μαρκιανοί), and some Valentinians, and some Basilidians, and some Saturnilians, and others by other names." (Dialogue 35)  Could it be that all the sects were originally understood to be offshoots of the Marcians?  

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