Gnostic Doctrine

Sunday, 14 June 2020

The Valentinian Trinity of Man

The Valentinian Trinity of Man

The Valentinians also believed that this basic trinity of natures was reflected in three types of humans: the Spiritual, the Natural (Soul), and the material (or fleshly). The Spiritual human was identified as such because he supposedly possesses some seed or essence from the Spiritual God above. The Spiritual human is by nature good and is predestined for salvation. The Natural human is purely a man of soul. The fate of the Natural human is determined by free will, because the Natural man has the capacity for either good or evil. The Material human is by nature evil, and cannot be changed or saved.

Irenaeus gives this account of the Valentinian doctrine of the trinity of man and the three natures:

“They conceive, then, of three kinds of men, spiritual, material, and animal (soul), represented by Cain, Abel and Seth. These three natures are no longer found in one person, but constitute various kinds of men. The material goes as a matter of course into corruption. The animal, if it choose the better part, finds repose…in the intermediate place; but if [choosing] the worse, it too shall pass into destruction. …

But they assert that the spiritual principles which have been sown by [Sophia], being disciplined and nourished here from that time until now in righteous souls…at last attaining perfection, shall be given as brides… (referring to the Bridal Chamber), while the animal souls rest of necessity with the Demiurge in the intermediate place (referring to the Valentinian notion of the repentance and salvation of the Demiurge).

And again, subdividing the animal souls themselves, they say that some are by nature good, and others by nature evil. The good are those who become capable of receiving the spiritual seed; the evil by nature are those who are never able to receive the seed” (Against Heresies, 1.7.5).

And here again Irenaeus describes the three natures and the types of men who receive them:

“There being three kinds of substances, they declare all that is material, which they also describe as of the ‘Left hand’, that it must of necessity perish, inasmuch as it is incapable of receiving any afflatus of incorruption.

As to every animal existence, which they denominate as of the ‘Right hand’, they hold that, inasmuch as it is a mean between the spiritual and the material, it passes to the side to which inclination draws it. (ibid. 1.6.1)

Animal men, again, are instructed in animal things; such men, namely, as are established by their works, and by a mere faith, while they have not perfect knowledge. We of the Church, they say, are these persons. Wherefore also they maintain that good works are necessary for us, for that otherwise it is impossible that we should be saved.

But as to themselves, they hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, but because they are spiritual in nature. For, just as it is impossible for material substance should partake of salvation…so again it is impossible that spiritual substance…should ever come under the power of corruption.” (ibid. 1.6.2)

The Tripartite Tractate also refers to the three-natures and types of men:

“Mankind came to be in three essential types, the spiritual, the psychic, and the material, conforming to the triple disposition of the Logos, from which were brought forth the material ones and the psychic ones and the spiritual ones. Each of the three essential types is known by its fruit. And they were not known at first but only at the coming of the Savior, who shone upon the saints and revealed what each was.

The spiritual race, being like light from light and like spirit from spirit, when its head appeared, it ran toward him immediately. It immediately became a body of its head. It suddenly received knowledge in the revelation.

The psychic race is like light from a fire, since it hesitated to accept knowledge of him who appeared to it. (It hesitated) even more to run toward him in faith. Rather, through a voice it was instructed, and this was sufficient, since it is not far from the hope according to the promise, since it received, so to speak as a pledge, the assurance of the things which were to be.

The material race, however, is alien in every way; since it is dark, it shuns the shining of the light, because its appearance destroys it. And since it has not received its unity, it is something excessive and hateful toward the Lord at his revelation.

The spiritual race will receive complete salvation in every way. The material will receive destruction in every way, just as one who resists him. The psychic race, since it is in the middle when it is brought forth and also when it is created, is double according to its determination for both good and evil.” (Tripartite Tractate, 118)

Notice the remarkable similarities between the words above and what is reported by Irenaeus. Both sources affirm a three-fold principle that provides a structure and explanation for the origins of nature, theology and human nature. A similar doctrine was also taught by the Naaasenes as recorded by Hippolytus in the so-called Naassene Sermon (Refutation of All Heresies, book 5). Here the Naassene source offers the following definition of “gnosis.” Hippolytus explains that this gnosis is rooted in the knowledge of the three-fold nature of the primal man:

“For they say, of this man, that one part is rational, another psychical, another earthly. And they suppose that the knowledge of this is the originating principle of the knowledge of God, expressing themselves thus: ‘The originating principle of perfection is the gnosis of Man, while the gnosis of God is absolute perfection.’ … All of these qualities—rational, psychical (soul) and earthly—have all descended into one man at once: Jesus, who was born of Mary. And these three men (meaning the three natures) speak through Jesus according to their own separate natures. For, according to the [Naassenes], there are three kinds of existent things—angelic, psychical, earthly; and there are three churches: angelic, psychical, earthly; and the names of these are Elect, Called and Captive.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 5:1)

The three natures mentioned above correspond to the three natures of the Valentinian Trinity. The Naassenes believed that the knowledge of these three natures is the key to salvation. If one reads through the Naassene Sermon that person will ultimately find that this knowledge meant understanding the difference between the elements and focusing on the spiritual. This is to unlock the greater Mysteries:

“For they who obtain their share of the greater Mysteries receive greater portions. For this is the gate of Heaven, and this is the house of God, where the good God alone dwells. And into this gate no unclean man shall enter, no ‘man of soul’ or carnal. But it is reserved for the spiritual only. And those who go there must cast off their clothes and become bridegrooms, made thoroughly male through the virgin Spirit. For this is the virgin who carries in her womb, and conceives and brings forth a son, not animal (soul), not corporeal (material), but blessed forever more.” (Hippolytus, ibid., 5:3)

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