The Gnostic View Of When the Two Become One

The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: Chapter 24
Saying 22 of the Gospel states most vividly and fully the recurrent theme. Jesus sees infants being suckled. He tells his disciples that these infants are like those who enter the kingdom. “Shall we then,” they ask, “as children, enter the kingdom?” This prologue calls to mind, of course, the familiar saying from the canon: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Little children,” however, became a code-word for the Gnostic elect, who, like them, were or ought to be free of carnal attachments, living lives undistracted by allurements of the flesh. (In three other Sayings, Jesus refers to those who will find the kingdom as “children.”)

“Male and Female into a Single One”

The main interest of Saying 22, however, lies in what follows the disciples’ question. Jesus replies: “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner as the outer, and the upper as the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male shall not be male, and the female shall not be female: . . . then you will enter [the kingdom].”

The theme of two-in-oneness appears repeatedly in Gnostic literature. Three variations on it come from the Acts of Judas Thomas . In addition to Mygdonia’s words, already quoted, we might remember that her husband Karish dreams of the eagle that snatches up two partridges and two doves. The following morning he is puzzled when he puts his left shoe on his right foot. In Thomas’s long prayer before his martyrdom, he recites his efforts to carry out his mission, and says: “The inside I have made outside, and the outside [inside], and thy whole fullness has been fulfilled in me.”

In the apocryphal Acts of Peter , to explain why he is being crucified upside down, Peter says: “Concerning this the Lord says in a mystery, ‘Unless you make on the right hand as what is on the left and what is on the left hand as what is on the right and what is above as what is below and what is behind as what is before you will not have knowledge of the kingdom.'”

A writing traditionally called 2 Clement , possibly from second-century Egypt, is an anti-Gnostic preaching. (The document is usually paired in later collections with a letter from Pope Clement I in Rome to the church in Corinth, called l Clement , although there no connection in date or origin or subject matter between the two texts). It quotes, as coming from “the master himself,” the saying “When the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with female neither male nor female,” but strips it of mystical meaning and gives it a bland interpretation more palatable to anti-Gnostic Christians.

Here, says the writer in 2 Clement , the two are one when we speak truth to each other; the inside is the soul and outside the body, and we should let the soul be evident in good works just as the body is visibly evident. As for “the male with the female,” it simply means that a Christian brother should not think of a sister-Christian as female, nor the sister think of him as a male. “When you do these things, he says, my father’s kingdom will come.”

The most interesting thing about the passage from 2 Clement is the obvious effort to counteract a Gnostic interpretaton of a saying that was acknowledged by the writer to be the authentic words of Jesus.

The so-called Gospel of Philip (one of the Gnostic, probably Valentinian, texts found at Nag Hammadi) says that light and darkness, life and death, right and left, “are brothers of one another, they are inseparable.”

The core message of the Gospel of Thomas appears in Saying 22 and the other logia that ring changes on the theme of two-becoming-one, looking back toward the androgynous unity that existed before the diversity found in worldly creation. Sayings 11, 16, 22, 61, 87, 106, and 114 bear on this theme of unity, and some readers find a similar message in sayings that give the “solitary” or “single one” a special status. Some, who agree that the two-becoming-one theme is at the heart of the Gospel, regard it principally as part of an early baptismal rite. It can be seen. as a dramatization of “the initiate’s putting off the body, putting on light, and returning to sexual oneness”–to the androgynous primal Adamic human being. It was, in this view, a mystery rite ensuring the initiate of oneness with God and with one’s heavenly mate.

Eros and Androgynes

It is often said that unitive or mystical experiences cannot be described in words, for the phenomenon lies outside the rational system of language. We cannot define the mystical; we can only point toward it. A huge literature does what it can to put the phenomenon into meaningful words. Unitive moments are said to share some or all of certain characteristics: a feeling of being at one with everything; an intense awareness, without awareness of any particular thing; a sense of knowing what is really real, what truly is ; a paradoxical state of being full but empty, of grasping everything and yet nothing, with an awareness of the connectedness of all things; a loss of concern for self; intense euphoria or ecstasy.

As Alfred North Whitehead said of mystical experience, “Words don’t convey it except feebly; we are aware of having been in communication with infinitude and we know that no finite form we can give can convey it. . . . ”

In many religious systems the union of man and woman is considered an apt metaphor for the unitive experience: a cessation of self-awareness in a moment of intense awareness. In literature, art, and ritual, ultimate Oneness has long and often been expressed in erotic imagery. Tantric Buddhism, a mystical system in which the commodious word “love” has been explored to its utmost, offers the yabyum , joined figures of the male god embracing his female counterpart, holding her close before him, face to face, body to body. They form a union of Compassion and Thought — the two central ideas of this late school of Buddhism, the two final states of the human consciousness before it realizes nirvana. A Taoist symbol is more familiar in the West; yin and yang , female and male energies, enfold each other to form a circle, itself a universal expression of perfect unity.

One of the Upanishads, sacred texts in the Hindu system, puts it this way: “As a man when in the embrace of a well-loved woman knows nothing, either within or without, so does that man, when in the embrace of the intelligent self, know nothing within or without.”

Another symbol of unity is widespread: man and woman as two beings in one person — neither male nor female, but both, combined in one. (“Androgyne” the term for this symbol of union, should not be confused with “hermaphrodite,” a person with physical attributes of both sexes, although writers do not always make this distinction.)

In many Gnostic systems the Anthropos — an aeon in the Pleroma, one of the attributes of the Ultimate Oneness, the Ideal of earthly humans — was regarded as an androgyne. And so was its first earthly manifestation — the first human. We are told that some early rabbinical writings present Adam in that guise. One version of the old Greek translation (Septuagint) of Genesis reads: “male and female created He him ” instead of the familiar “them .” In the first century A.D. some Jewish writers combined this reading with two other scriptural passages: one speaks of the Lord’s shaping “me back and front;” the other, from Genesis , reads “the Lord God . . . took one of his sides.” These rabbis also knew Plato’s myth of the severed spheroids who were the first human beings.

From these diverse sources a Talmudic story was developed that sounds much like Plato’s: God made the first human two-sided and two-sexed, then split this creature and made two bodies and turned them around to effect the creation with which we are familiar. The ingenious interpretation of the combined texts was designed to reconcile the two creation stories in Genesis, and to point to a monogamous moral: the two sides, man and woman, had been and should be again, in marriage, one flesh. According to later medieval Jewish mystics, marriages are indeed made in heaven; every soul, originally two-sexed, is divided at birth, and is incomplete until it finds its missing half.

Saying 22 finds clear echoes in the mystical teaching of third-century Neoplatonist Plotinus. In his mature years in Rome, Plotinus became a sharp critic of Gnostics, although he speaks of them as friends and may have been a Gnostic himself at some time. He had several complaints. The Gnostics’ chief offense was in departing from ancient Greek philosophic teaching, of Plato and his followers. Gnostics erred in their pessimistic view of human origins and fate. They did not recognize that the creation emanating from the One was Good; they regarded the cosmos of stars and planets as hostile forces instead of Plato’s harmonious and beneficent divine creation.

And many of the Gnostic myths had an extravagant plethora of aeons, powers, archons, and other intermediaries between the highest and the human whereas, for Plotinus, the chain descending from the One was simpIe: After the One, universal Intellect or Nous , then Soul, then Human. And for him the way to human reunion with the Oneness was through rigorous reason and virtue, with no Gnostic shortcuts. Nevertheless, he was in many ways very close to the Gnostic way of thinking. For the moment we are concerned only with his use of the two-in-oneness motif.

Porphyry, his follower and biographer, reports that Plotinus had four mystical experiences during the five years they were together (and says that he himself had one such moment at the age of sixty-eight). Plotinus describes his attainment of oneness several times. When the soul has reached this height, there “is no longer a duality but a two in one; for, so long as the presence holds, all distinction fades: it is as lover and beloved here long to blend, in a copy of that union; the soul has now no further awareness of being in body . . . ”

Salome, Confidante of Jesus

In Saying ll4, which closes the Gospel of Thomas , the Twin reports an encounter that seems, at first sight, to demean women. Simon Peter says to the gathered disciples that Mary Magdalene should leave them, “for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus replies that he himself will “lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Saying is not necessarily, as some readers tend to find it, a statement echoing the prevailing attitudes in Jewry and in Greco-Roman society that assigned an inferior position to women, or a repetition of the familiar Jewish and Christian theme that Eve was the source of sin and caused separation of the human species from the Almighty.

Equally possible — and more probable, in its Gnostic context — is a reading that makes this simply another example of the union of male and female as a symbol for the ultimate unitive experience. There is an overcoming of the division of Adamic man-woman in Eden, which was the beginning of differentiation, and the restoration of oneness as a result of their reunion. A French scholar finds collaboration of such a view in the Pistis Sophia , where “Mary Magdalene feels this interior man in herself, and, identifying with him, understands All.”

It appears that women played a more prominent role in the myths and communities that arose among Christian Gnostics than they did in society at large. In the capital of King Mazdai, wherever that may have been, Thomas had an important following among women — the wives of notables at the court, including the queen herself. And early Christian heresiologists accused Gnostic leaders of seeking out women, ones described by the heresy-hunters as weak and gullible, as easy converts. In Marcion’s church women were full participants and could administer baptism. Apocryphal writings of Gnostic origin made certain of the women in Jesus’s inner circle recipients of secret learning from him after his resurrection. They as well as men could be inspirited.

Salome (not to be confused with the princess who demanded John the Baptist’s head) and Mary Magdalene were confidantes of this sort. In the canonical gospels, Salome appears by name only in Mark , who gives her a role of highest importance : she is a witness of both the crucifixion and the empty tomb. The later gospels –Matthew, Luke , and John — do not refer to her at all. It has been suggested that she was left out because the later gospel-writers disapproved of various Christian groups who invoked her as authority for what had become, in their eyes, dubious doctrine. The prominent role she plays in Gnostic literature and the conspicuous silence of later orthodoxy writers strongly support such a view.

Salome’s identity remains mysterious although some scholars, having to explain the references in Mark, regard her as in some way a kinswoman of Jesus, perhaps his mother’s sister. Some apocryphal tales make Salome the midwife at the birth of Jesus. And others make her a Doubter, like Thomas himself: she is said to have demanded tactile proof, by touching the relevant parts, that the mother of Jesus was still a virgin after she gave birth.

In the Gospel of Thomas ( Saying 61b) Salome says to Jesus that he had come up on her couch (presumably referring to reclining at meals) and eaten from her table. “Who are you, man,” she asks. Jesus replies, “I am he who exists from the undivided.” He goes on to say that someone who is divided will be filled with darkness, but someone [presumably “undivided”: translators point out that there is a gap in the text] will be filled with light. This is one of the notable sayings on the theme of Oneness.

Clement of Alexandria singles out for refutation a Julius Cassianus, otherwise unknown, who preaches extreme sexual asceticism. According to Cassianus a saying of the Lord to Salome — that “death will have power” as long as women bear children — meant that the kingdom would come when you have trampled on the garment of shame and when the male and female become one. These words, by now familiar to us, were apparently also known in Clement’s time (late second and early third centuries) from a long-lost Gospel of the Egyptians. (Clement explains that the Lord’s words do not really mean, as the Encratites held, that child-bearing was an evil: they were pointing out a fact of nature: so long as lusts are powerful the soul will die.)

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene is much more prominent than Salome as a confidante and interlocutor of Jesus before and after the resurrection. The Gospel of Philip describes her as the consort of Jesus, who loved her and frequently kissed her. In Pistis Sophia (“Faith-Wisdom”, a group of Gnostic writings from the late third and early fourth centuries) the risen Jesus appears to his closest followers (who include Salome, Mary Magdalene, and Thomas) in an indescribably brilliant light. He relates how he has rescued Sophia, his spiritual partner, from her exile in the intermediate zone between the Pleroma and the cosmos, and restored her to the Fullness.

Jesus then invites questions, to which he gives extensive answers. Thirty-nine of the forty-six queries come from the Magdalene. And Jesus is reported as saying that “Mary Magdalene and John, the virgin, will surpass all my disciples and all men who shall receive mysteries in the Ineffable; they will be on my right hand and on my left, and I am they and they are I . . .”

“And I am they and they are I”: here the unity of the Gnostic’s quest seems to be expressed in extreme form, but as a statement of the inwardness of God in man it is not novel. In the much earlier Gospel of Thomas , Jesus says (Saying 108), “Whoever drinks from my mouth shall become as I am and I myself will become he, and the hidden things will be revealed to him”

Hans Kung, out of favor with his church as a leading theologian but still prominent in the search for a common ecumenical fund of basic religious ideas, suggests that “Without doubt what was fascinating for many people [early in the Christian era] was that in the Gnostic system the world was often described with the help of polar opposites, in which human bisexuality appeared through couples in a quite different way from a God envisaged in masculine terms.”

Whether all these images of spiritual union spring from an idea that literally traveled by ship and camel-back among the homelands of the movements concerned or from a universally shared collective unconscious, as Carl Jung and his followers would probably have it, they were notably lacking in the emerging mainstream of Christianity.


The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: Chapter 7

The Third through the Sixth Acts in the story of Judas Thomas take place after the apostle has left the court of Gundaphorus. Some points in these episodes deserve mention. Among the prominent themes, here and in the remainder of the Acts of Judas Thomas , are sexual abstinence, the exemplary virtue of women inspired by the apostle (the male characters are usually weaker), conversions to worship of Thomas’s God by miraculous deeds, and manifestations of supernatural power as being both good and evil.

The Fifth Act is of particular interest. A beautiful woman cries out to Thomas as he enters the city, asking that he hear her story of affliction by the adversary. Coming out of her bath one day, she encountered a man who shamelessly suggested that they live together as husband and wife. She angrily rejected him, but that night he came to her room “and was joined to me in his foul intercourse.” And these visits have gone on for five years. She begs Thomas to rid her of the incubus.

Thomas confronts the demon, who complains that the apostle is trespassing on territory belonging to others: “You have power over your own, and we over ours”–a reminder that the demiurge’s Powers rule over the body and this world even if spirit will be joined to Spirit. Weeping bitterly over the loss of his “fairest consort,” the demon disappears in a flash of fire and smoke. Thomas anoints the liberated woman and many onlookers and prepares to administer the eucharist. His invocation of the Holy Spirit recalls the one recited when Gundaphorus was initiated. It reads in part:

Come, O perfect compassion, 

Come, O fellowship of the male, 

Come, she that knows the mysteries of him that is chosen, 

Come, she that has part in all the combats of the noble champion, . . . 

Come, . . the holy dove that bears the twin young, 

Come, hidden mother; 

Come, she that is manifest in her deeds and gives joy and rest unto them that are joined to her . . . .

Here, even more strongly than in the Gundaphorus episode, there appears a motif often found in Christian Gnostic writings: there is a female element in the godhead, one sometimes identified as Wisdom-Hakhmuth-Achamoth-Sophia. In earthly form she may be one of the Marys: sometimes the Magdalene, sometimes the mother of Jesus, sometimes one hard to link with any specific woman found in the canon.

There follows another long invocation of his God by Thomas, including the words: “Thou that called me apart from all my fellows and spoke unto me three words wherewith I am inflamed, and am not able to speak them unto others.” In the Gospel of Thomas a similar enigmatic utterance appears: Jesus took Thomas aside from the other apostles and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas replied that he could not tell them. If he were to tell them, he says, “you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up.”

These are strong words, appearing in two different Thomas texts presumably written at least half a century, and possibly much further, apart. There has been much speculation as to just what the three secret words might be. Briefly, among the many conjectures offered about the threesome, are these:

The three persons of the Trinity;

Words Jesus spoke to Thomas in the Gospel of John: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”;

Three things (such as blasphemy) that would have called for stoning under Jewish law;. “Kaulaukau, Saulasau, and Zeiser,” said by the heresiologist Hippolytus to have been used by the Gnostic sect of Naasenes as a three-fold metaphor for the original masculo-feminine deity.

The French scholar Jacques-ƒ. Menard has suggested that the three words may be those attributed to Jesus in Pistis Sophia , a late Gnostic work (composed of elements probably dating to the third or fourth century) in which Jesus imparts secret wisdom to selected followers, including Thomas and Mary Magdalene. Three times their master cries out three Greek vowels corresponding to ” i – a – o”: “Iota” is invoked, the text explains, because the All has proceeded from it; “alpha,” because the All returns to it; and “omega” because the consummation of all consummations will take place in it.

Whatever the three words may have been, clearly in the culture that produced these sayings it was thought that Jesus had singled out Thomas for special attention. He shared secrets kept from others. He was the apostle.

Twins and Soul Mirrors

The twin motif recurs throughout the Acts of Judas Thomas . An ass’s colt in the Fourth Act addresses him as “twin of Christ.” A devil-incubus confronted by Thomas in the Fifth Act asks him, “Wherefore are you made like unto the Son of God who has done us wrong? For you resemble him altogether as if you were born of him.” Others note the strong resemblance, including a murdered girl restored to life after her sojourn to hell in the Sixth Act. Some Gnostics thought that each soul (in the sense of “spirit”; the terms are not always used consistently) imprisoned in a human body, has a counterpart angel in the heavenly realm to which it is joined at death.

In Buddhist sculpture (especially in the region where Gundaphorus ruled, but a century or so later than his reign) a familiar figure is Vajrapani, or Bearer of the Thunderbolt (vajra ). He appears at the historic Buddha’s side in every stage of the Enlightened One’s life. He carries a thunderbolt, usually in the form of a short club like a thickened thigh bone, but often he is portrayed in Kushan art in distinctly Greco-Roman form as Hercules, the vajra taking the form of the nude hero’s massive club. Vajrapani, faithful companion and guardian of his teacher, came to be regarded as the Buddha’s alter ego, his guardian angel, “soul mirror,” displaying in his own posture and expression the emotions appropriate to whatever event is depicted in a particular sculpture.

The notion of a spiritual counterpart was to be found in Zoroastrian Iran: a fravashi is both protective angel and spiritual archetype of every human being, inhabiting the body at birth and surviving after death. Specialists in Zoroastrian studies have offered varied theories about the fravashi: as protector, hero, continuation of the self, bringer of good luck, ancestor spirit deserving reverence. Mary Boyce, a British scholar specializing in Iranian religions, concluded that the “developed doctrine came to be that each fravashi existed from beginning of time in a spiritual state; that in due course it is born, clad in a physical body.”

The twin motif is only one of several emerging from the Acts of Judas Thomas that set such writings apart from more familiar Christian writings. Among other unfamiliar motifs is the recurring image of a female element in the godhead, sometimes identifiable as Sophia, sometimes as the Mother. The “Five Members of the Mind” recur often in Gnostic writings, most prominently in later Manicheism. The strongly ascetic, or encratite, flavor of Thomas’s Acts was characteristic of most Gnostic sects, but was not uniquely Gnostic; as already noted, it was to be found among many early Christians, and even as late as the fourth and fifth centuries among East Syrian Christians.

From the contents of this Gnostic-tinged text, a religious romance of the early third century, we turn to the place where it and earlier Thomas writings are thought to have originated — the upper reaches of the Euphrates valley. We are coming into true Thomas country.

The Name and Naming in Valentinianism

Valentinus was a second century AD Gnostic Christian mystic and speculative theologian. He founded a theological school that preserved and further developed his ideas after his death in about 160 AD. The Valentinians and related speculative groups are often called ‘Gnostic’ because of the role that mystical knowledge (gnosis) plays in their thought.

In Valentinus’ thought, speculation on the Name and on naming play an important role. The notion of the Name is explicitly present in about half of the surviving Valentinian sources and can be implied in most of the remainder. The notion has been discussed in detail previously by Thomassen (1993) in relation to semiotics and by Zyla (1996). While the notion of the Name is not unique to the Valentinians, they did develop the idea in some unique and unusual directions.

The concept of the Name in Valentinianism has links with Jewish speculation on the Divine Name. The Valentinian liturgy preserved by Irenaeus makes the connection clear. In one of the baptismal prayers, the Name is explicitly identified with Iao (Hebrew Yaho) which is a variant of Yahweh (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:21:3). A connection to Judaism is not all that surprising given the Jewish roots of both Christianity and Gnosticism.

In Valentinian thought, the Son is identical with the Name. In The Gospel of Truth, Valentinus says, “Now the Name of the Father is the Son … he begot him as a Son and gave him his Name” (Gospel of Truth 38:6-13 cf. also 39:19-21). Similarly, Theodotus writes of “the Name which is the Son, the form of the Aeons” (Excerpts of Theodotus 31:4). The association of Christ with the Name derives from early Christian speculation that has its ultimate origins in Jewish Christianity. In several passages in the New Testament, Jesus is said to have received the divine Name. For example in Saint Paul: “For this reason God raised him to the highest place and gave him the Name which is greater than any other name (Philippians 2:9) This passage is quoted in several Valentinian sources including ‘The Prayer of the Apostle Paul’. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I kept them safe by the power of your Name, the Name you gave me” (John 17:12). Thus the notion that the Son possessed the divine Name was well known in early Christianity. The unique feature in Valentinianism is that the Son not only possesses the Name, he is identical with it.

The identity of the Son with the Name can only be explained by understanding the notion of naming in Valentinianism. In Valentinian thought, naming is the same as generation. Hence, the Father’s generation of the Son and his act of naming the Son are the same thing. In the Gospel of Truth, the Father “begot him as a Son and gave his Name” (38:10-13) and “bore him unto himself as a Name” (38:32-34). Elsewhere in the same work, Valentinus states that all things that truly exist have a name, “for what does not exist has no name” (39: 11-12).

Through the act of naming, the thing which receives a name becomes virtually identical with what is referred to by the name. Thus the Son who receives the Father’s Name becomes closely identified with the Father. The Gospel of Philip discusses this notion: “Only one name is not uttered in the world, the Name that the Father bestowed on the Son. It is above every other – that is the Name of the Father. For the Son would not become a Father had he not put on the Name of the Father” (Gospel of Philip 54:5-10).Thus the Son who receives the Name of the Father is himself called ‘Father’ in many Valentinian sources (e.g. Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:1:1).

There is an intimate association between the name and that which is named. According to Valentinus all things that truly exist do so in association with their name: “For what does not exist has no name – indeed what would a nonexistent be named? – but what exists, exists along with its name” (Gospel of Truth 39:11-16). The linking together of the name and that which is named is expressed elsewhere in Valentinian theology through the concept of the syzygy (linked pairs). In the syzygy, the “male” corresponding to form is joined with the “female” corresponding to substance. In most forms of Valentinian thought, even the Father is a syzygy. His inexpressible nature is expressed by having him united with his Thought (or Silence). The Son is also generally conceived of as a syzygy. He is Mind united with Truth. Inasmuch as both Father and Son are both syzygies, they are together described as the first Tetrad. (see Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:1:1). The Tetrad is itself linked with the fact that the divine name is expressed by four letters in Hebrew.

In Valentinian theology, the Son emanates a series of divine attributes or ‘Aeons’. The Aeons follow the pattern established in the first Tetrad and are arranged into pairs (syzygies). The relationship of the Son to the Aeons is unclear without taking account of the notion of the Name. How the Aeons are related to the Name (Son) is clearly spelled out in the teacher Marcus as follows: “The pronunciation of the Name took place as follows. He spoke the first word of it which was the beginning, and that utterance consisted of four letters. He added the second and this also consisted of four letters. Next he uttered a third and this again embraced ten letters. Finally, he pronounced a fourth which was composed of twelve letters. The enunciation of the whole Name consisted of thirty letters or elements, and of four distinct utterances” (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:14:1) Using the metaphor developed by Marcus, each of the Aeons correspond to an individual letter of the Name. In addition to the Tetrad, there are twenty-six Aeons. Again we note a connection to Judaism. In Hebrew numerology, the divine name has a numerical value of twenty-six. Four and twenty-six give a total of thirty Aeons.

The Aeons share in or are individual instances of the Name. They represent the various aspects of the Son’s personality e.g. Word, Human Being, Church, Wisdom, etc. Only together as the Son do they constitute the complete Name. This relationship between the Aeons and the Son is described in the Tripartite Tractate with the following words: “He is each and every one of the Totalities forever at the same time. He is what all of them are.” (Tripartite Tractate 67:7-10) In another passage from the same work: “All of them exist in the single one, as he clothes them completely and he is never called by his single Name. And in this unique way they are equally the single one (Son) and the Totalities (Aeons)” (Tripartite Tractate 66:30-36). Even though the Aeons represent aspects of the Son, they are to some degree are conceived of as distinct personalities.

It is a key feature of Valentinian theology that the Aeons are ignorant of their role as part of the Name. This is discussed in Marcus: “No one of them perceives the form of that whereof it is only an element. It does not perceive or know the pronunciation of it’s neighbor, but believes that which it expresses names the whole” (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:14:1). As a consequence, they are also ignorant of the Father himself . As the teacher Ptolemy puts it, “The First Father was recognized only by the Only-Begotten (Son) who came into existence through him, that is, by Mind, whereas he remained invisible and inconceivable to all the others” (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:2:1, cf. Gospel of Truth 19:7-10 ). This astonishing idea has its root in the notion that the emanation of the Name by the Father was a process of self-limitation. Valentinus himself admits that it is an surprising idea, “It was quite amazing that they were in the Father without being aquainted with him and that they alone were able to emanate, inasmuch as they were not able to perceive and recognize the one in whom they were” (Gospel Truth 22:27-33). The Aeons can be thought of as unintegrated aspects of the Son’s overall personality who are unaware of the Name even while they form part of it.

The longing of the Aeons to know their origin leads inevitably to disaster. Valentinian theologians expressed this through a myth in which Sophia, the youngest Aeon becomes separated from her syzygy. This fall leads to a disruption of the Name. According to Theodotus, “The Aeon which desired to grasp that which is beyond knowledge fell into ignorance and formlessness. Therefore he brought about a void of knowledge which is a shadow of the Name, which is the Son, the form of the Aeons. Thus the partial name of the Aeons is the loss of the Name” (Excerpts of Theodotus 31:3-4). This is the ultimate origin of the physical universe. The things in this world were seen as separated from their name and existing in a state of deficiency and ignorance.

Through an act of grace, the Name is restored. According to Theodotus, “For then they recognized that what they are, they are by the grace of the Father, an inexpressible Name, form and knowledge (gnosis)” (Excerpts of Theodotus 31:3). The Aeons became united with the Son who then became known as the Savior. According to Marcus, “The restitution of all things will take place when the whole has reached the one single letter and one and the same expression is sounded” (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:14:1). The Aeons are joined to the Son and the Name is restored when they all pronounce the Name together.

In some sense, the restoration of the Name is linked to the notion that Aeons receive their name from the Son. In the Tripartite Tractate it says “The one from whom they take their name, he is the Son who is full, complete and faultless” (Tripartite Tractate 62:34-38). The unification of the Aeons with the Son is described in the Tripartite Tractate: “The Son in whom the Totalities are well-pleased put himself on them like a garment, through which he gave perfection to the perfect one and gave perfection to the defective one and gave confirmation to those who are perfect” (Tripartite Tractate 87:1-5). The Son then becomes integrated into a single personality.

However, the fall of Sophia had given rise to a state of existence (the material world) which lacks true reality because it lacks the Name. The world and the human beings in it are said to exist in a state of ignorance and deficiency because they came into being apart from the Name. According to Valentinian tradition, human beings are formed in the image of the preexistent human being who can be identified with the Son (Valentinus Fragment 1). Valentinus compares the creation of Adam, the first human being, to the creation of a defective portrait. The portrait is an imperfect likeness but “the Name completed the deficiency within the act of modeling.” (Valentinus Fragment 5, cf. also Fragment 1). The activity of the Son within Adam completed the lack within him and reunited him with the Name. Naming fills up the deficiency within the human being such that the person no longer exists in a state of ignorance but in gnosis (knowlege).

In the Gospel of Truth the reception of gnosis is equivalent to having one’s name called by the Father. “Those whose names he foreknew were called at the end as persons having gnosis. It is the latter whose names the Father called” (Gospel of Truth 21:25-28). Receiving a name is equivalent to receiving the Name. The individual name can be seen as an instance of the Name much in the same way as the Aeons are instances of the Name. Thus the Father’s self-naming as Son is linked to the Father’s self-naming as every individual.

In many Valentinian sources, the elect are described as possessing the Name. In the Gospel of Philip, “one who receives the Holy Spirit has the gift of the Name” (Gospel of Philip 64:25-26, also 54:10-13). Similarly, Valentinus says, “Who then can utter his Name, the great Name, but him alone who possesses the Name – and the children of the Name in whom the Father’s Name reposed and who in turn reposed in his Name” (Gospel of Truth 38:25-32cf also 43:20-22). The source of the notion that the elect possess the Name is found in the book of Revelation where it is said to be written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1 cf. also 22:4).

Another metaphor used by the Valentinians to describe gnosis is being joined to a bridegroom angel. In Theodotus, the notion of being joined to an angel is linked to receiving the Name. (Excerpts of Theodotus 22:4-5) The angels are closely associated with the Savior and can be considered as instances or parts of the Savior just as the individual’s name spoken by the Father is an instance of the greater Name. In Theodotus we find the notion that the angels share in the Name (the Son). He refers to this as angelic baptism (Excerpts of Theodotus 22:4-5). Thus the bridegroom angels should be seen as essentially identical with the names that the Father calls. At the reception of gnosis, one receives one’s angel/name.

As discussed above, receiving a name is equivalent to receiving true existence. In the Gospel of Truth and the Treatise on Resurrection, only those who have gnosis (i.e. the Name) possess true reality. All else is illusion. According to the Treatise on Resurrection, “Suddenly the living are dying – surely they are not alive at all in this world of apparition! The rich have become poor, rulers overthrown: all changes, the world is an apparition” (48:20-27). All things that do not possess a true name are illusion.

The Valentinians drew a sharp distinction between false worldly names and real names. This theme is best developed in the Gospel of Philip. According to that work, “Names given to worldly things are very deceptive since they turn the heart aside from the real to the unreal…The names that one has heard exist in the world[. . .] deceive. If the names were situated in the eternal realm, they would not be uttered on any occasion in the world, nor would they be assigned to worldly things: their goal would be the eternal realm” (Gospel of Philip 53:23-28). False worldly names serve to deceive human beings and distract them from the true Name. The demonic worldly powers took advantage of this: “The rulers wanted to deceive humanity, inasmuch as they saw that it had kinship with truly good things: they took the names of the good and gave them to the nongood, to deceive humanity by the names and bind them to the nongood” (Gospel of Philip 54: 18-25). Thus false names keep human beings attached to the illusion and separated from the true Name.

Jesus becomes closely identified with humanity by taking on a human body. His human body is seen as consubstantial with the Church. Drawing on the metaphor from Saint Paul that the church is the body of Christ, Theodotus says, “The visible part of Jesus was Sophia (Wisdom) and the church of the superior seed which he put on through the body but the invisible part was the Name which is the only begotten Son” (Excerpts of Theodotus 26:1). The corresponding metaphor in the Gospel of Truth is the “living book” which contains the names of all the saved that the Son takes up (Gospel of Truth 20:10-14 cf. Revelation 20:15).

Valentinian Christology emphasizes that the human Jesus is redeemed by being joined with the Savior at his baptism. The Son is “the Name which came down upon Jesus in the dove and redeemed him” (Excerpts of Theodotus 22:6). The redemption of the human Jesus is seen by the Valentinians as applying to all who form part of the “church of the superior seed”. The human Jesus is joined to the Name. All who form part of the spiritual church which is identical with the human Jesus are also joined to the Name. In the Interpretation of Knowledge, the human Jesus who represents the Church is called the “humiliated one”(12:18-22)and the “reproached one” (12:29-31). Again it is the Name who redeems: “Who is it that redeemed the one that was reproached? It is the emanation of the Name” (Interpretation of Knowledge 12:29-31cf also 12:18-22). The descent of the Son into Jesus at his baptism is simultaneously the redemption of the human Jesus and the redemption of all who are joined with him.

Just as the Son becomes identified with the Father by receiving his Name, the individual Christian also becomes identified with Christ by receiving the Name. As the Gospel of Philip says, “Such a person is no longer a Christian but a Christ” (Gospel of Philip 67:26-27). The person becomes part of the “church of the superior seed” which is the visible part of Jesus in this world. (Excerpts of Theodotus 26:1) Just as the Son may be called ‘Father’ because he has the Name of the Father, so the individual can be called ‘Christ’ because he possesses the Name. The Savior is identified with the Father (as his Name), with the Aeons (as instances of the Name) and with the individuals he saves (by naming).

The Name is said in many sources to be received in baptism which is also called redemption in some of the sources. According to the Tripartite Tractate, “there is no other baptism apart from this one alone which is redemption into God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit when confession is made by faith in those names which are a single Name of the gospel” (Tripartite Tractate 127:28-35). In the Valentinian baptismal liturgy preserved in Irenaeus, baptism is performed into the Name. Here is a selection from the text: “In the Name of the Father of all, into Truth the Mother of all, into him who descended into Jesus… The Name hidden from every divinity, rule and power… May your Name turn out to be to my benefit o Savior of Truth… in the Name of IAO… Peace to all on whom the Name rests” (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1:21:3). In baptism, the person who is redeemed is said to be joined with their angel and to receive “the same Name as that in which his angel was baptized before him” (Excerpts of Theodotus 22:4-5).

As noted in Dawson (1992), Thomassen (1993), and Zyla (1996) the Name is closely identified by Valentinus with ‘bold speaking’ or ‘free speaking’ (parhesia). This notion of ‘bold speech’ as a characteristic of the presence of the Name seems to be derived from the New Testament. In the book of Acts, speaking boldly, healings and miracles are all said to be produced by the presence of the Name (Acts 4:29-30). According to Valentinus, the Father’s “free act of speaking is the manifestation of the Son” (Valentinus Fragment 2). He goes on to say that the Son visits the heart of the individual in order to purify it. Similarly, in his account of the creation of human beings, the presence of the Name within Adam is said to produce ‘bold speech’ which frightens the angels(Valentinus Fragment 5). Just as the Father expressed himself boldly in the Son, so the Son expresses himself in “bold speech” within the individual person. As Zyla (1996) states, “Through the sacrifice of Jesus, gnosis of the Father was gained and can be passed on through parrhesia (bold speech)”. Gnosis of the Name produces “bold speech” in the individual.

Valentinus attributes inspired speech to the presence of the Name. The Name causes the individual to “utter sounds superior to what its modeling justified” (Valentinus Fragment 1). According to Marcus, inspired speech results from being joined to one’s bridegroom angel (Irenaeus Against Heresy 1:13:3). This further confirms the thesis that the angel is identical with the name. The experience of gnosis is the reception of one’s angel/name which is a particular instance of the Son/Name.

Inspired speech is an image of the Father’s “bold speaking” of the Name in the Son. However, it is not identical with the speaking of the Name. According to the Gospel of Philip, “Those who possess this Name think it but do not speak it” (Gospel of Philip 54:10-12). Instead, “For our sakes Truth engendered names in the world – Truth to which one cannot refer without names. Truth is unitary, [worldly names] are multiple, and it is for our sakes that it lovingly refers to this one thing by means of multiplicity” (Gospel of Philip 54:13-17). Inspired speech is the worldly image of the Name.

The Valentinians derived the notion of the Name from Judaism and other forms of early Christianity. They developed it in some rather unussual and distinctive directions. Many Valentinians made the concept central to their Christology and to their understanding of salvation. A thorough understanding of Valentinian thought is impossible without taking account of this concept.


Dawson, David. 1992. Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria. Berkeley, University of California Press

Foerster, Werner. 1972. Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts; vol. 1: Patristic Evidence. Oxford, Clarendon Press

Layton, Bentley. 1987. The Gnostic Scriptures. Garden City, NY, Doubleday

Thomassen, E. 1993. Gnostic semiotics – the Valentinian notion of the Name, Temenos vol. 29, pp 141-156

Zyla, Roy. 1996. Valentinian Soteriology of the Divine Name, SBL Abstracts, S152.

Gospel of Thomas