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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.



Content authored by David Brons