A Gnostic Christian movement, characterized by its intricate theology and cosmology, founded by Valentinus in the 2nd century.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Early Church
Founder: Valentinus
Founded: 2nd century CE
Location: Rome, Egypt, and other parts of the Roman Empire
Other Names: Valentinian Gnosticism

Valentinianism, founded by Valentinus in the second century CE, emerges as one of the most significant movements within early Christian Gnosticism. This movement, characterized by its unique blend of Christian and Oriental Gnostic teachings, represents a complex system of thought centered on the notion of gnosis—esoteric knowledge essential for salvation. Valentinus, an Egyptian religious philosopher, significantly influenced both Roman and Alexandrian schools with his teachings, challenging the theological frameworks of the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Educated in Alexandria, Valentinus claimed to have been instructed by Theodas, who was allegedly a pupil of St. Paul. Around 136 CE, he moved to Rome, where he remained influential for approximately 25 years, despite being overlooked for the position of bishop of Rome in favor of St. Pius I. His later years were spent in Cyprus and possibly Alexandria, continuing to develop his religious philosophy. Valentinus is credited with authoring the Gospel of Truth, a document blending Christian theology with Gnostic principles, which has been partly reconstructed from the Jung Codex discovered in 1946​​.

Valentinianism is often difficult to distinguish from other Gnostic and Christian teachings due to the sparse and fragmented nature of evidence concerning Valentinus’s own beliefs. This scarcity of direct evidence has led to diverse interpretations of Valentinianism’s origins and influences, including speculated connections to Platonism, Pythagoreanism, and other philosophical systems. However, clear parallels exist, such as the dualistic worldview incorporating both ideal and material realms and the concept of a divine fullness (pleroma) comprising a series of emanations or aeons​​.

At the core of Valentinian theology is the reinterpretation of Christian myths as allegories for deeper spiritual truths. Valentinus viewed the material world and its creator in a metaphorical light, seeing matter as a veil obscuring the divine. His teachings emphasized the liberation from material existence through gnosis, facilitated by Christ, who revealed the truth of the divine realm’s existence within the human spirit. This emphasis on knowledge and spiritual awakening distinguishes Valentinianism from other Christian interpretations, focusing on unity with the divine and the restoration of original oneness​​.

Valentinianism’s spread throughout the Roman Empire from the second to the fifth century CE underscores its appeal and adaptability. Valentinians were known for their integration into mainstream Christian practices, participating in communal worship while also holding distinct beliefs about salvation, gnosis, and the nature of divinity. Unlike more ascetic Gnostic groups, Valentinians engaged in ordinary social and economic life, maintaining that spiritual pursuits were paramount. The movement was not monolithic but varied, with different teachers and groups developing their own interpretations around the core teachings of Valentinus​​.

The Valentinian texts contribute significantly to our understanding of early Christian Gnosticism. The Gospel of Truth, Gospel of Philip, and other writings attributed to Valentinian authors provide insight into their theological innovations and spiritual practices. These texts, along with references in the works of early Christian heresiologists, paint a picture of a vibrant and intellectually rich movement that sought to explore and express the mysteries of the Christian faith in new and profound ways.

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