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Psycho-Cosmogony and the Pneumatic Equation


The often-debated cosmogony of Valentinus might be most profitably understood as being based on a single existential recognition, which might be summarized thus: Something is wrong. Somewhere, somehow, the fabric of being at the existential level of human functioning has lost its integrity. We live in a system which is lacking in essential integrity, and thus is defective. So-called orthodox Christians as well as Jews recognize that there is a certain "wrongness" in human existence, but they account for it chiefly in terms of the effects of human sin, original or other. Jews and Christians hold that whatever is wrong with the world and human existence is the result of human disobedience to the creator.

This means, that all evil, discomfort, and terror in our lives and in history are somehow our fault. A great cosmic statement of "Mea Culpa" runs through this world view, which permanently affixes to the human psyche an element of titanic guilt. Valentinus, in opposition to this guilt-ridden view of life, held that the above-noted defect is not the result of our wrongdoing, but is inherent in the system of existence wherein we live and move and have our being. Moreover, by postulating that creation itself is lacking in integrity, Valentinus not only removes the weight of personal and collective guilt from our shoulders but also points to the redemptive potential resident in the soul of every human being.

Humans live in an absurd world that can be rendered meaningful only by Gnosis, or self-knowledge. When referring to the myth of the creation of the world by a god, Valentinus shifts the blame for the condition of cosmic defect from humanity to creative divinity. That God the creator could be at fault in anything is of course tantamount to blasphemy in the eyes of the orthodox. What we need to recognize, however, is that Valentinus does not view the creator with the worshipful eyes of the Judeo-Christian believer, but rather sees the creator - along with other divinities - as a mythologem. Much evidence could be adduced to demonstrate this, but one must suffice here, taken from the Gospel of Philip:

God created man and man created God. So is it in the world. Men make gods and they worship their creations. If would be fitting for the gods to worship men. (Logion 85: 1-4)

The present writer holds that Valentinian (as well as all other) Gnosticism can be understood in psychological terms, so that the religious mythologems treated by the Gnostics are taken to symbolize psychological conditions and intra-psychic powers of the mind. Taking this approach we might conclude that what Valentinus tells us is that because our minds have lost their self-knowledge, we live in a self-created world that is lacking in integrity. The word kosmos used by Gnostics does not mean "world," but rather "system," and thus can be perfectly well applied to the systematization of reality created by the human ego. We need not worry overmuch about whether Valentinus insults Jehovah by calling him a demiurge. What matters is that we act as our own psychic demiurges by first creating and the inhabiting a flawed kosmos created in the image and likeness of our own flaws.

The proposition that the human mind lives in a largely self-created world of illusion from whence only the enlightenment of a kind of Gnosis can rescue it finds powerful analogues in the two great religions of the East, i.e., Hinduism and Buddhism. The following statement from the Upanishads could easily have been written by Valentinus or another Gnostic: "This (world) is God's Maya, through which he deceives himself." According to the teachings of Buddha, the world of apparent reality consists of ignorance, impermanence, and the lack of authentic selfhood. Valentinus is in very good company indeed when he establishes the proposition of the wrong system of false reality that can be set aright by the human spirit.

This brings us to the second part of what some scholars have called the "pneumatic equation" of Valentinus. After accepting the proposition of the flawed system, the mind needs to recognize a second and complementary truth. Irenaeus in his work against heresies quotes Valentinus concerning this:

Perfect redemption is the cognition itself of the ineffable greatness: for since through ignorance came about the defect . . . the whole system springing from ignorance is dissolved in Gnosis. Therefore Gnosis is the redemption of the inner man; and it is not of the body, for the body is corruptible; nor is it psychical, for even the soul is a product of the defect and it is a lodging to the spirit: pneumatic (spiritual) therefore also must be redemption itself. Through Gnosis, then, is redeemed the inner, spiritual man: so that to us suffices the Gnosis of universal being: and this is the true redemption. (Adv. Haer. I. 21,4)

The ignorance of the agencies that create the false system is thus undone and rectified by the spiritual Gnosis of the human being. The defect can be removed from being by Gnosis. There is no need whatsoever for guilt, for repentance from so-called sin, neither is there a need for a blind belief in a vicarious salvation by way of the death of Jesus. We don't need to be saved; we need to be transformed by Gnosis. The wrong-headedness, perversity, obtuseness, and malignancy of the existential condition of humanity can be changed into a glorious image of the fullness of being. This is done not by guilt, shame, and an eternal saviour but by the activation of the redemptive potential of self-knowledge. Spiritual self-knowledge thus becomes the inverse equivalent of the ignorance of the unredeemed ego. The elaborate mythic structures of cosmogonic and redemptive content bequeathed to us by Valentinus are but the poetic-scriptural expressions of this grand proposition, which has a direct relevance to the existential condition of the human psyche in all ages and in all cultures.

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