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§ 126. The School of Valentinus. Heracleon, Ptolemy, Marcos, Bardesanes, Harmonius.

Of all the forms of Gnosticism, that of Valentinus was the most popular and influential, more particularly in Rome. He had a large number of followers, who variously modified his system. Tertullian says, his heresy "fashioned itself into as many shapes as a courtesan who usually changes and adjusts her dress every day."

The school of Valentinus divided chiefly into two branches, an Oriental,875875    Διδασκαλία ἀνατολική. Hippol. VI. 35 (p. 286).75 and an Italian. The first, in which Hippolytus reckons one Axionicos, not otherwise known, and Ardesianes (Ἀρδησιάνης, probably the, same with Bardesanes), held the body of Jesus to be pneumatic and heavenly, because the Holy Spirit, i.e. Sophia and the demiurgic power of the Highest, came upon Mary. The Italian school—embracing Heracleon and Ptolemy —taught that the body of Jesus was psychial, and that for this reason the Spirit descended upon him in the baptism. Some Valentinians came nearer the orthodox view, than their master.

Heracleon was personally instructed by Valentine, and probably flourished between 170 and 180 somewhere in Italy. He has a special interest as the earliest known commentator of the Gospel of John. Origen, in commenting on the same book, has preserved us about fifty fragments, usually contradicting them. They are chiefly taken from the first two, the fourth, and the eighth chapters.876876    They are collected by Grabe, Spicil. II. 83-117, Stieren, in his ed. of Iren. Tom. I. 938-971. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. IV. 9) quotes also from a Commentary of Heracleon on Luke 12:8.76 Heracleon fully acknowledges the canonical authority of the fourth Gospel, but reads his own system into it. He used the same allegorical method, as Origen, who even charges him with adhering too much to the letter, and not going deep enough into the spiritual sense. He finds in John the favorite Valentinian ideas of logos, life, light, love, conflict with darkness, and mysteries in all the numbers, but deprives the facts of historical realness. The woman of Samaria, in the fourth chapter, represents the redemption of the Sophia; the water of Jacob’s well is Judaism; her husband is her spiritual bridegroom from the Pleroma; her former husbands are the Hyle or kingdom of the devil. The nobleman in Capernaum (John 4:47) is the Demiurge, who is not hostile, but short-sighted and ignorant, yet ready to implore the Saviour’s help for his subjects; the nobleman’s son represents the psychics, who will be healed and redeemed when their ignorance is removed. The fact that John’s Gospel was held in equal reverence by the Valentinians and the orthodox, strongly favors its early existence before their separation, and its apostolic origin.877877    Baur (I. 203) significantly ignores Heracleon’s Commentary, which is fatal to his hypothesis of the late origin of the fourth Gospel.77

Ptolemy is the author of the Epistle to Flora, a wealthy Christian lady, whom he tried to convert to the Valentinian system.878878    The Epistola ad Floram is preserved by Epiphanius (Haer XXIII. § 3). Stieren, in a Latin inaugural address (1813), denied its genuineness, but Rossel in an Appendix to Neanders Church History (Germ. ed. II. 1249-1254, in Torrey’s translation I. 725-728), and Heinrici (l.c. p. 75 sqq.) defend it.78 He deals chiefly with the objection that the creation of the world and the Old Testament could not proceed from the highest God. He appeals to an apostolic tradition and to the words of Christ, who alone knows the Father of all and first revealed him (John 1:18). God is the only good (Matt. 19:17), and hence he cannot be the author of a world in which there is so much evil. Irenaeus derived much of his information from the contemporary followers of Ptolemy.

Another disciple of Valentine, Marcos, who taught likewise in the second half of the second century, probably in Asia Minor, perhaps also in Gaul, blended a Pythagorean and Cabbalistic numerical symbolism with the ideas of his master, introduced a ritual abounding in ceremonies, and sought to attract beautiful and wealthy women by magical arts. His followers were called Marcosians.879879    Marcos and the Marcosians are known to us from Clement of Alex. and Iren. (I. 13-21). Hippolytus (VI. 39 sqq., p. 296 sqq.) and Epiphanius depend here almost entirely on Irenaeus, who speak of Marcos as still living.79

The name of Colarbasus, which is often connected with Marcos, must be stricken from the list of the Gnostics; for it originated in confounding the Hebrew Kol-Arba, "the Voice of Four," i.e. the divine Tetrad at the head of the Pleroma, with a person.880880    It is to be derived from לוֹק , voice (not from לכּׄ, all), and ﬠבַּרְאַ, four. The confusion was first discovered by Heumann (1743), and more fully explained by Volkmar, Die Colarbasus-Gnosis, in Niedner’s "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol." 1855, p. 603-616. Comp. Baur, I. 204, note, and Hort in Smith and Wace, I. 594 sq.80

Finally, in the Valentinian school is counted also Bardesanes or Bardaisan (son of Daisan, Βαρδησάνης).881881    Comp. Aug. Hahn: Bardesanes, Gnosticus Syrorum primus hymnologus. Lips. 1819. A. Merx: Bardes. v. Edessa. Halle, 1863. Lipsius: In the "Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theol." 1863, p. 435 sqq. A. Hilgenfeld. Bardesanes, der letzte Gnostiker. Leipz. 1864. K. Macke: Syrische Lieder gnostischen Ursprungs, in the "Tüb. Theol. Quartalschrift" for 1874. Dr. Hort: Bardaisan, in Smith and Wace, I. 256-260 (very thorough).81 He was a distinguished Syrian scholar and poet, and lived at the court of the prince of Edessa at the close of the second and in the early part of the third century.882882    Eusebius (IV. 30) and Jerome (De Vir. illutstr. 33), misled by the common confusion of the earlier and later Antonines, assign him to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), but according to the Chronicle of Edessa (Assemani, Bibl. Or. I. 389) He was born July 11, 155, and according to Barhebraeus (Chron. Eccl. ed. Abbeloos and Lamy, 1872, p. 79) he died in 223, aged 68 years. Hilgenfeld, Jacobi and Hortl adopt the latter date.82 But he can scarcely be numbered among the Gnostics, except in a very wide sense. He was at first orthodox, according to Epiphanius, but became corrupted by contact with Valentinians. Eusebius, on the contrary, makes him begin a heretic and end in orthodoxy. He also reports, that Bardesanes wrote against the heresy of Marcion in the Syriac language. Probably he accepted the common Christian faith with some modifications and exercised freedom on speculative doctrines, which were not yet clearly developed in the Syrian church of that period.883883    Dr. Hort (p. 252) thinks that "there is no reason to suppose that Bardaisan rejected the. ordinary faith of Christians, as founded on the Gospels and the writings of the Apostles, except on isolated points." The varying modern constructions of his system on a Gnostic basis are all arbitrary.83 His numerous works are lost, with the exception of a "Dialogue on Fate," which has recently been published in full.884884    Περὶ εἱμαρμένης.It was formerly known only from a Greek extract in Eusebius’s Proeparatio, Evang. (VI. 9, 10). The Syriac original was discovered among the Nitrian MSS of the British Museum, and published by Cureton, in Spicilegium Syriacum. London 1855, with an English translation and notes. Merx gives a German translation with notes (p. 25-55). The treatise is either identical with the Book of the Laws of Countries, or an extract from it. Dr. Hort doubts its genuineness.84 It is, however, of uncertain date, and shows no trace of the Gnostic mythology and dualism, ascribed to him. He or his son Harmonius (the accounts vary) is the father of Syrian hymnology, and composed a book of one hundred and fifty (after the Psalter), which were used on festivals, till they were superseded by the Orthodox hymns of St. Ephraem the Syrian, who retained the same metres and tunes.885885    Ephraem the Syrian speaks of a book of 150 hymns, by which Bardesanes list had beguiled the people, and makes no mention of Harmonius; but Sozomen and Theodoret report that Harmonius was the first to adapt the Syrian language to metrical formal, and music, and that his hymns and times were used till the time of Ephraem. Dr. Hort explains this contradiction, which has not received sufficient attention, by supposing that the book of hymns was really written by Harmonius, perhaps in his father’s lifetime, and at his suggestion. But it is equally possible that Bardesanes was the author and Harmonius the editor, or that both were hymnists. The testimony Ephraem cannot be easily set aside as a pure error. Fragments of hymns of Bardesanes have been traced in the Acta Thomae by K. Macke in the article quoted above. The Syriac hymns of Ephraem are translated into German by Zingerle (1838), and into English by H. Burgess (1853).85 He enjoyed great reputation, and his sect is said to have spread to the Southern Euphrates, and even to China.

His son Harmonius, of Edessa, followed in his steps. He is said to have studied philosophy at Athens. He shares with Bardesanes (as already remarked) the honor of being the father of Syrian hymnology.

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