Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dunderberg on the Valentinian Character of the Material Common to Maximus, Methodius and Adamantius

While Harvest shows that Valentinus's attitude toward the present world was positive, it says little about his theory as to how this world emerged. From the other fragments of his works, we know that he considered the present world to be a copy of the eternal realm (fragment 5) and that he thought that malevolent angels were involved in Adam's creation (fragment 1). Yet even these fragments do not contain any accounts of the origin of the world. This, however, is the topic that the heterodox protagonist addresses in Methodius's dialogue On Free Will. At the beginning of this text, this figure delivers a lengthy opening address, which leads to the conclusion that God created the world from the preexistent hyle ("matter").68 The latter part of this address is quoted as stemming from Valentinus himself in the Dialogue on the True Faith in God. Its author, known as “Adamantius” (often identified with Origen), introduces Droserius, Valentinus's uncritical follower, who is convinced that Valentinus has solved the problem pertaining to the origin of the devil and evil in a manner that “is not open to contradiction.” Therefore, Droserius first wants to read a passage from Valentinus's work70 and is then willing to defend “the doctrine of Valentinus.” Droserius is no doubt a fictitious character,71 and the text quoted as if from Valentinus's work is the second part of the heterodox protagonist's address in Methodius's On Free Will. The account of "the doctrine of Valentinus" in Adamantius is, thus, entirely dependent on Methodius.72 The dialogue of Adamantius, however, was composed not many years after Methodius's work, and its author may have been one of his students.73 The easiest explanation for the identification of Methodius's heterodox speaker with Valentinus in the Dialogue on the True Faith in God is that the author of the latter work found this identification in the manuscript of Methodius's treatise with which he was working.

Scholars, however, are doubtful concerning this identification. The problem is that, in Methodius's On Free Will, the heterodox speaker's “thesis does not contain anything that would be especially Gnostic or Valentinian: it is Platonic."74 This has led scholars to think that this figure was only secondarily identified with Valentinus. Lloyd Patterson maintains that Methodius's On Free Will, "far from identifying specific opponents of the gnostic sort, sets itself in particular opposition to the cosmological scheme of the Timaeus."75 Most recently, Katharina Bracht has argued that there are “no agreements between Gnostic teachings and the heterodox's teachings” in Methodius. Her conclusion is that the heterodox protagonist is a Christian Middle Platonist rather than a Valentinian.76 The heterodox protagonist's position in Methodius is no doubt thoroughly Platonic and different from Valentinian theology in general. This does not mean, however, that he could not represent Valentinus's own views, as the author of the Dialogue on the True Faith in God thought. The objection that the heterodox speaker in Methodius is too Platonic and not Valentinian enough loses ground as soon as it is recognized that Valentinus was one of the early Christian Platonists and that his views were different from those of his followers. Moreover, the heterodox speaker's address contains a number of affinities with Valentinus's teaching, especially with Harvest, and the position ascribed to this speaker links him closely with Platonic Christians of the second century.

The heterodox in Methodius's On Free Will begins his address on God and hyle with an account of how he, walking on a seashore, saw and began to contemplate a number of phenomena in nature: the waves of the sea, the regular movement of the sun and the moon in their orbits, the variety of animals, and the colorful beauty of plants. They all show how reasonably and well the cosmos is ordered. Seeing all this, the heterodox speaker was ready to admit that God is "the source of everything that exists" and began to praise him. The next day, however, the heterodox was faced with a number of examples of how humans mistreat each other: scuffles, grave robbery, desecration of bodies, murder, mercilessness, rape, and seducing another man's wife. These misdeeds show that humans are obviously not imitators of the good God, as they should be. Their wrongdoings are opposed to the will of God and require explanation. The speaker now feels compelled to modify his former conclusion. Although it first seemed to him that God is the source of everything that exists, this cannot be the final truth. All this evil cannot stem from God, who is "good and the creator of excellent things." In seeking a solution to this dilemma, the heterodox speaker has recourse to ancient physics. He takes over the widely accepted idea that God created the world from the primordial hyle, “matter” or “stuff,” and argues that evil stems from this substance. It was usually accepted in ancient natural philosophy that active God and passive hyle were the two eternal premises of creation.77 While opinions differed regarding the precise relationship between God and hyle, Plotinus says that all philosophical schools shared the view that hyle is “a certain base, a recipient of Form-Ideas."78 The heterodox speaker's conclusion is replete with allusions to Plato's works, especially to Timaeus.79 In it, Plato maintained that God "was good" and that "envy [phthonos] is impossible" for this God.80 Methodius's heterodox not only repeats the first idea, which he could have taken from the New Testament (Matthew I9:17),81 but also the second, affirming that God “showed no envy.”82

In addition, the heterodox speaker describes hyle as being "not made" (apoios), "without form" (aschematistos), and in a state of disorder (ataktospheromene). These definitions call upon Plato's description of a primordial substance, which was void of form and "moving wrongly and disorderly (ataktos)" before God imposed order upon it.83 In Middle Platonism, these attributes became standard qualifications of hyle.84 The heterodox speaker argues that God created the world by separating the best and worst parts of hyle.85 However, God's working with hyle produced hazardous waste. Because he is good, he could only use the better parts of hyle, whereas he had to abandon the worse parts, which were unsuitable for his creation. It is from these bad remnants of hyle, which the heterodox compares to dregs of wine, that "the evil things stream on and on among human beings."

The heterodox's opinions are obviously not based upon the earlier summaries of Valentinian theology in the hostile sources. He mentions neither the fall of Wisdom, to which Valentinians traced back the origin of hyle, nor the inferior Creator-God who worked with hyle to create the world.86 While these differences set the heterodox interlocutor apart from other Valentinians, his argument coincides in a number of ways with what we know about Valentinus's own teaching:

(1) We have no direct evidence that Valentinus believed in Wisdom's fall or in the existence of the inferior Creator-God.
(2) The first part of the heterodox speaker's address is strikingly similar in spirit to what Valentinus says in Harvest. The speaker describes how he began to praise the Creator when he saw "the solid earth, all different kinds of animals, and the blossoms of colorful plants."87 At the end of Harvest, Valentinus describes similar wonders of nature ("fruits borne from the depth, / a babe brought forth from the womb").
(3) The mode of the heterodox's argumentation is similar to Valentinus's. The heterodox bases his argumentation on a narrative of what he has seen and thought ("as I saw ..." "seeing that ..." "as I began to look intently at what has come into being in this way ..." "it seemed to me that ..." etc.). This style not only resembles Valentinus's self-reflective manner of describing the cosmic order in Harvest ("I see that ..." "I understand that ...") but it also recalls the way he expressed his argument concerning the purity of heart ("it seems to me that . . .").88 Moreover, Valentinus's story of his meeting with a little child who identified himself as the Word of God89 shows that he, like the heterodox speaker, preferred the form of a narrative in his teaching.
(4) The heterodox hones his argument with references to pagan philosophy and myths. In addition to the allusions to Plato's works, he begins his speech with a quotation from Homer's Iliad (9.4)90 and concludes his narration of human misconduct by saying: “For this reason, I began to believe in tragedies. It seemed to me that Thyestes's banquet has really taken place, I believed in Oenomaeus's illegal desire, and I did not doubt the rivalry between brothers settled with a sword."91 The allusions to Platonic philosophy and the exempla derived from pagan myths in the heterodox's address concur with Valentinus's appreciation of non-Christian texts as bearing witness to the same truth as that expressed in the Christian ones: "Much of what is written in the books distributed in public can also be found as written in the church of God.92 The heterodox interlocutor shows the same attitude by using pagan and biblical traditions side by side: he also mentions Noah's ark.93

In sum, the heterodox speaker in Methodius's On Free Will certainly sounds like Valentinus. In addition, the speaker's theory was popular among Christian teachers of Valentinus's time. As Gerhard May concludes, "throughout the second century and the early part of the third the doctrine of the preexistence of matter was firmly held by philosophically educated Christians.”94 Marcion, Athenagoras, Hermogenes, and Clement of Alexandria took over this view from contemporary Platonism.95

Hellenistic Jews, including the author of the Book of Wisdom (11:17) and Philo of Alexandria, also adopted the idea of the preexistence of matter.96 The idea that matter is bad and the cause of evil appears in Philo's works as well.97 Since Valentinus comes from the same intellectual milieu as Philo and Clement of Alexandria, the idea that he explained evil as originating from matter is entirely plausible. The heterodox speaker's theory points to a theological debate in which Christian teachers of the second century were engaged. Thus it is conceivable that the heterodox Christian described in Methodius's On Free Will indeed represents "the doctrine of Valentinus," as the author of the Dialogue on the True Faith of God claimed. The affinities with Valentinus's own teaching on the one hand and the absence of any hints at full-blown Valentinian cosmogonic myths on the other indicate that the heterodox's speech in Methodius's On Free Will is based upon some specific knowledge about what Valentinus himself had taught. Methodius placed Valentinus's views in the mouth of the heterodox protagonist in the beginning of his On Free Will98 and then subjected them to a subtle inquiry in Socratic fashion, as he did in all his texts known to us.99

The heterodox speaker's address gives a plausible picture of what the Valentinian cosmogonic speculation might have been in its initial stage, when the figures of Wisdom and the inferior Creator-God were not yet integrated into it. The solution that evil goes back to matter was quite conventional and could find acceptance among non-Christian and Christian Platonists alike. What is more, this theory leaves room enough for the assumption of malevolent angels, to whom Valentinus attributed Adam's creation. This can be seen in the teaching of Athenagoras, who also subscribed to the theory of preexistent matter.100 He argued that God originally created the devil to rule over matter. However, this "ruler over matter" became hostile to God, and together with some other angels, he rebelled and neglected the task assigned to him.101 These demonic powers linked with matter show hostility toward human beings.102 Thus, they are similar to Valentinus's malevolent creator angels, who were hostile to Adam. [Ismo Dunderberg, Beyond Gnosticism p.69 - 71]

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