Apr 18, 2010

Response to A Valentinian Exposition (xi 2) from The Nag Hammadi Library

Mabel Nash-Greenberg

Gnosticism Independent Study with Dr. Bruce Matthews

According to Pagels, the Valentinian Expositions claim to deliver a “secret catechism for candidates being initiated into gnosis” that allows the individual to partake in sacramental rituals such as anointing, baptism and the eucharist as they are understood by the Gnostics. Because the Valentinian system is only known through the words its opponents, notably Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, it is difficult to understand the cosmogony as a comprehensive system, though this writing may be considered my attempt to do so. 

Let us first establish several definitions. Archons (Greek: “Ruler/lord”) are several servants of the demiurge that stand between the human race and the transcendent God and make it difficult for man and God to become one, (though this is achievable through Gnosis.) A Valentinian Exposition introduces the concept of pleroma (Greek: “fullness”/ “heavenly all”). Pleroma is the totality of all that is regarded in our understanding of the Divine. It is the ‘light above our world’ consisting of Aeons—the first 30 beings who self-emanated from the pleroma in sexually complementary pairs which correspond to seven planetary spheres. Above these seven planetary spheres there exists an eighth sphere, in which dwells the mother of all archons, Sophia, who set into motion the creation of the material world. 

The Apocryphon of John describes how Sophia prepared a place for the souls in heaven, where Jesus, the incarnation of the aeon Christ (note: there is an important distinction to make between Jesus and Christ, as the latter precedes the former?)  disclose the true knowledge of how to return to their home in pleroma, where they would ascend past the rulers (archons) and be made holy and faultless.

What is this place in which the triple-powered male virginal Youth of Allogenes XI 45 “[becomes] perfect” and can thus “[know himself ….and the perfect] Invisible [Spirit]?” (444) What is this space in which there can exist no fault? How does it relate to and interact with the material world created by Sophia? How can the faulted material world exist and interact fluidly with pleroma? How does knowing oneself provide the key to transcending the material world so that one might “become as the [divine Triple Male—the power that is higher than God] is?”

Who is this “One who truly exists” the ‘divinity of divinity’ who contains and embodies paradox: the One who expresses that one ‘undivided Energy’ which is only the substance of his own beginning? We know that it is impossible for the individuals to comprehend the ‘All’ located in the “place that is higher than perfect” (445) How can there exist a power “higher than God”—and what would characterize such a being?

It would seem that no such power could exist, and in a sense, it does not. Interestingly, the language used to describe this One is indicative of his nature. The elusiveness of  God’s nature requires that he is spoken of in negative terminology, often as irrational and indirect as Zen koans.

God is revealed as the “Unknown One, invisible, unfathomable, incomprehensible,” the “spiritual, invisible Triple Power” which is the “best of the best” and exists, paradoxically, as the “non-being Existence.”

He provides everything for himself since it is he who shall come to be when he recognizes himself. And he is [One] who subsists as a [sort of being] and a source and an immaterial [material and an] innumerable [number and formless] form and a shapeless shape and ….an [inactive] activity….when he is recognized as the traverser of the boundlessness of the Invisible Spirit that subsists in him, the boundlessness turns to itself in order that it might know what is within him and how he exists. And he is becoming salvation for every one by being a point of departure for those who truly exist, for through him his knowledge endured, since he is the one who knows [what] he is. (445)

There follows a description of the elements which combine as the definitive traits of the divine Triple Male, that power which is higher than God: Vitality, Mentality and That Which Is. (“the three are one, although they are each three as individuals”(445)) What is this power which is higher than God, and from where did it arise? What significance do the elements of God’s triplicity (vitality, mentality and That Which Is) have within the entirety of God’s power? What purpose does the Divine Triple Male serve, if it is beyond God? Is this the knowledge that constitutes Gnosis? 

What is the significance of those three elements which compose that power which is higher than God? What are Vitality, Mentality and Existence such that they are beyond any human contemplation before Gnosis, and may be realized though self-reflection and then transcendence? 

'Youel said to me, ‘[O Allogenes], you shall know that the Triple Power exists before the glories. They do not exist. among those who exist. Rather all these exist as divinity and blessedness and existence…The Triple Male is something beyond substance….’ (447)

We witness, through this revelation dialog, what I believe is Allogenes’ realization and acceptance of the redemptive Gnosis, and then acceptance into the eternal pleroma. However, he is told clearly not to know the Triple Power, though it would seem that in Gnosis he should be able to: “Do not know him, for it is impossible, but if by means of an enlightened thought you should know him, become ignorant of him.” This seems akin to the idea of Buddhist nirvana: one can not seek enlightenment if they are to find it: and the ultimate, unobtainable presence exists paradoxically in everything that it is not. 

McConkey Robinson, James. “The Valentinian Expositions”. The Nag Hammadi Library. New York: Brill Academic Publishers, 1997.