Sunday, 29 September 2013

Localization of the Pleroma: Where do the Gnostics stand?

If anyone had carefully read my posts I repeatedly assert that Pleroma has a local existence, what do I mean by that? Well, if you have read "On the meaning of the Pleroma" by J.B Lightfoot you would probably get an idea as to from where I'm coming from. I did gave a link in an another post to this work but I think most of them do not care to read it.

Thanks to J.B Lightfoot,

On the meaning of the word Pleroma

"When we turn from Catholic Christianity to the Gnostic sects we find this term used, though (with one important exception) not in great frequency. Probably however, if the writings of the earlier Gnostics had been preserved, we should have found that it occupied a more important place than at present appears. One class of early Gnostics separated the spiritual being Christ from the man Jesus ; they supposed that the Christ entered Jesus at the time of His baptism and left him at the moment of His crucifixion. Thus the Christ was neither born as a man nor suffered as a man. In this way they obviated the difficulty, insuperable to the Gnostic mind, of conceiving the connexion between the highest spiritual agency and gross corporeal matter, which was involved in the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation and Passion, and which Gnostics of another type more effectually set aside by the theory of docetism, i.e. by assuming that the human body of our Lord was only a phantom body and not real flesh and blood.

Irenaeus represents the former class as teaching that 'Jesus was the receptacle of the Christ', and that the Christ 'descended upon him from heaven in the form of a dove and after He had declared (to mankind) the nameless Father, entered (again) into the pleroma imperceptibly and invisibly. Here no names are given. But in another passage he ascribes precisely the same doctrine, without however naming the pleroma, to Cerinthus. And in a third passage, which links together the other two, this same father, after mentioning this heresiarch, again alludes to the doctrine which maintained that the Christ, having descended on Jesus at his baptism, 'flew back again into His own pleroma' In this last passage indeed the opinions of Cerinthus are mentioned in connexion with those of other Gnostics, more especially the Valentinians, so that we cannot with any certainty attribute this expression to Cerinthus himself. But in the first passage the unnamed heretics who maintained this return of the Christ 'into the pleroma are expressly distinguished from the Valentinians ; and presumably therefore the allusion is to the Cerinthians, to whom the doctrine, though not the expression, is ascribed in the second passage. Thus there seems to be sufficient reason Connexion for attributing the use of the term to Cerinthus This indeed is probable of this use on other grounds. The term pleroma, we may presume, was common to St Paul and the Colossian heretics whom he controverts. To both alike it conveyed the same idea, the totality of the divine powers or attributes or Colossiaa agencies or manifestations. But after this the divergence begins. The heretics, maintained that a single divine power, a fraction of the pleroma, resided in our Lord : the Apostle urges on the contrary, that the whole pleroma has its abode in Him-. The doctrine of Cerinthus was a development of the Colossian heresy, as I have endeavoured to show above. He would therefore inherit the term pleroma from it. At the same time he seems to have given a poetical colouring to his doctrine, and so doing to have treated the pleroma as a locality, a higher spiritual region, from which this divine power, typified by the dove-like form, issued forth as on wings, and to which, taking flight again, it reascended before the Passion. If so, his language would prepare the way for the still more elaborate poetic imagery of the Valentinians, in which the pleroma, conceived as a locality, a region, an abode of the divine powers, is conspicuous.

The attitude of later Gnostics towards this term is widely divergent. The term The word is not, so far as I am aware, once mentioned in connexion with avoided by the system of Basilides. Indeed the nomenclature of this heresiarch, longs to a wholly different type ; and, as he altogether repudiated the doctrine of emanations*, it is not probable that he would have any fondness for a term which was almost inextricably entangled with this doctrine.

On the other hand with Valentinus and the Valentinians the doctrine of the pleroma was the very key-stone of their system; and, since at first in sight it is somewhat difficult to connect their use of the term with St Paul's, a few words on this subject may not be out of place.

Valentinus then dressed his system in a poetic imagery not unlike the myths of his master Plato. But a myth or story involves action, and action requires a scene of action. Hence the mysteries of theology and cosmogony and redemption call for a topographical representation, and the pleroraa appears not as an abstract idea, but as a locality.

Topogra- The Valentinian system accordingly maps out the universe of things great regions, called respectively the pleroma and the kenoma, the 'fulness' and the 'void'. From a Christian point of view these may be described as the kingdoms of light and of darkness respectively. From Antithesis the side of Platonism, they are the regions of real and of phenomenal of pleroma existences — the world of eternal archetypes or ideas, and the world of material and sensible things. The identification of these two antitheses was rendered easy for the Gnostic ; because with him knowledge was one with morality and with salvation, and because also matter was absolutely bound up with evil. It is difficult to say whether the Platonism or the Christianity predominates in the Valentinian theology ; but the former at all events is especially prominent in their conception of the relations between the pleroma and tlie kenoma. The pleroma is the abode of the AEons, who are thirty in number. These AEons are successive emanations, of which the first pair sprang immediately from the pre-existent Bythus or Depth. This Bythus is deity in itself, the absolute first principle, as the name suggests ; the profound, unfathomable, limitless, of whom or of which nothing can be predicated and nothing known. Here again we have something like a local representation. The AEons or emanations are plainly the attributes and energies of deity ; they are, or they comprise, the eternal ideas or archetypes of the Platonic philosophy. In short they are deity relative, deity under self-imposed limitations, deity derived and divided up, as it were, so as at length to be conceivable.

The topographical relation of Bythus to the derived AEons was differently given in different developments of the Valentinian teaching. According to one representation he was outside the pleroma; others placed his abode within it, but even in this case he was separated from the rest by Horus {"Opos), a personified Boundary or Fence, whom none, not even the AEons themselves, could pass^ The former mode of representation might be thought to accord better with the imagery, at the same time that it is more accurate if regarded as the embodiment of a philosophical conception. Nevertheless the latter was the favourite mode of delineation; and it had at least this recommendation, that it combined in one all that is real, as opposed to all that is phenomenal. In this pleroma every existence which is supra-sensual and therefore true has its abode.

Separated from this celestial region by Horus, another Horus or Kerwma, Boundary, which, or who, like the former is impassable, lies the ' kenoma ' the region or void '—the kingdom of this world, the region of matter and material things, the land of shadow and darkness Here is the empire of the Demiurge or Creator, who is not a celestial Man at all, but was born in this very void over which he reigns. Here reside all those phenomenal, deceptive, transitory things, of which the eternal counterparts are found only in the pleroma.

It is in this antithesis that the Platonism of the Valentinian theory Platonism reaches its climax. All things are set off one against another in these two of this antithesis.

The swan on still St Mary's lake
Floats double, swan and shadow.

Not only have the thirty AEons their terrestrial counterparts; but their subdivisions also are represented in this lower region. The kenoma too has its ogdoad, its decad, its dodecad, like the pleroma. There is one Sophia in the supra-mundane region, and another in the mundane; there is one Christ who redeems the AEons in the spiritual world, and a second Christ who redeems mankind, or rather a portion of mankind, in the sensible world. There is an Aeon Man and another Aeon Ecclesia in the celestial kingdom, the ideal counterparts of the Human Race and the Christian Church in the terrestrial. Even individual men and women, as we shall see presently, have their archetypes in this higher sphere of intelligible being.

The localisation of the plerOma carried out in detail. 

The topographical conception of the pleroma moreover is carried out in the details of the imagery. The second Sophia, called also Achamoth, is the desire, the offspring, of her elder namesake, separated from her mother, cast out of the pleroma, and left ' stranded ' in the void beyond^, being prevented from returning by the inexorable Horus who guards the frontier of the supra-mundane kingdom. The second Christ — a being compounded of elements contributed by all the AEons— was sent down from the pleroma, first of all at the eve of creation to infuse something like order and to provide for a spiritual element in this lower world ; and secondly, when He united Himself with the man Jesus for the sake of redeeming those who were capable of redemption^. At the end of all things Sophia Achamoth, and with her the spiritual portion of mankind, shall be redeemed and received up into the pleroma, while the psychical portion will be left outside to form another kingdom under the dominion of their father the Demiurge. This redemption and ascension of Achamoth (by a perversion of a scriptural image) was represented as her espousals with the Saviour, the second Christ; and the pleroma, the scene of this happy union, was called the bridal-chamber Indeed the localisation of the pleroma is as complete as language can make it. The constant repetition of the words * within * and 'without', 'above' and 'beneath', in the development of this philosophical and religious myth still further impresses this local sense on the term^.

In this topographical representation the connexion of meaning in the word pleroma as employed by St Paul and by Valentinus respectively seems at first sight to be entirely lost. When we read of the contrast between the pleroma and the kenoma, the fullness and the void, we are naturally reminded of the plenum and the vacuum of physical speculations. The sense of pleroma, as expressing completeness and so denoting the aggregate or totality of the Divine powers, seems altogether to have disappeared. But in fact this antithesis of Keuwfia was, so far as we can make out, a mere afterthought, and appears to have been borrowed, as Irenaeus states, from the physical theories of Democritus and Epicurus^. It would naturally suggest itself both because the opposition of ifK-qpr^s and K€vos was obvious, and because the word Kevcofia materially assisted the imagery as a description of the kingdom of waste and shadow. But in itself it is a false antithesis. The true antithesis appears in another, and borrowed probably an earlier, term used to describe the mundane kingdom.

In this earlier representation, which there is good reason for ascribing to Valentinus himself, it is called not Kevafia ' the void', * the deficiency, incompleteness '1. Moreover the common phraseology of this appears in Valentinian schools shows that the idea suggested by this opposition to theirs was not the original idea of the term. They speak of the whole aggregate of the AEons. And this (making allowance for the personification of the Aeons) corresponds exactly to its use in St Paul.

Again the teaching of the Valentinian schools supplies other uses which serve to illustrate its meaning. Not only does the supra-mundane kingdom as a whole bear this name, but each separate AEon, of which that shown kingdom is the aggregation, is likewise called a pleroraa This designation is given to an AEon, because it is the fullness, the perfection, of which its mundane counterpart is only a shadow and defective copy. Nor does the narrowing of the term stop here. There likewise dwells in this higher region a pleroma, or eternal archetype, not only of every comprehensive mundane power, but of each individual man; and to wed himself with this heavenly partner, this Divine ideal of himself, must be the study of his life. The profound moral significance which underlies the exaggerated Platonism and perverse exegesis of this conception will be at once apparent.

But the manner in which the theory was carried out is curiously illustrated by the commentary of the Valentinian Heracleon on our Lord's discourse with the Samaritan woman"*. This woman, such is his explanation, belongs to the spiritual portion of mankind. But she had had six husbands, or in other words she laid entangled herself with the material world, had defiled herself with sensuous things. The husband however, whom she now has, is not her husband; herein she has spoken rightly: the Saviour in fact means 'her partner from the pleroma'. Hence she is bidden to go and call him ; that is, she must find ' her pleroma, that coming to the Saviour visit him (or it), she may be able to obtain from Him the power and the union and the combination with her pleroma' {rfiv bvvap.iv Koi TTjv evcocriv koI ttjv avaKpacriv rffv Trpbs to irKr^papa avTTjs), * For', adds Heracleon, ' He did not speak of a mundane {KoaptKov) husband when He told her to call him, since He was not ignorant that she had no lawful husband'.

Impossible as it seems to us to reconcile the Valentinian system with the teaching of the Apostles, the Valentinians themselves felt no such difficulty. They intended their philosophy not to supersede or contradict Apostolic doctrine, but to supplement it and to explain it on philosophical principles. Hence the Canon of the Valentinians comprehended the Canon of Catholic Christianity in all its essential parts, though some Valentinian schools at all events supplemented it with Apocryphal writings. More particularly the Gospel of St John and the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians were regarded with especial favour; and those passages which speak of the pleroma are quoted more than once in their writings to illustrate their teaching. By isolating a few words from the context and interpreting them wholly Without reference to their setting, and quote they had no difficulty in finding a confirmation of their views, where we see them in only an incongruity or even a contradiction. For instance, their second Christ — the redeemer of the spiritual element in the mundane world — was, views. as we saw, compacted of gifts contributed by all the Aeons of the pleroma. Hence he was called ' the common fruit of the pleroma', ' the fruit of all the pleroma'^, 'the most perfect beauty and constellation of the pleroma; hence also he was designated 'All' (natf) and 'All things' (navTay.

Accordingly, to this second Christ, not to the first, they applied these texts; Col. iii. 11 * And He is all things', Rom. xi. 36 'All things are unto Him and from Him are all things'. Col. ii. 9 ' In Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead', Ephes. i. 10 ' To gather together in one all things in Christ through God '2. So too they styled him EvdoKrjTos, with a reference to Col. i. 19, because 'all the pleroma was pleased through Him to glorify the Father'^ And inasmuch as this second Christ was according to the Valentinian theory instrumental in the creation of the mundane powers, they quoted, or rather misquoted, as referring to this participation in the work of the Demiurge, the passage Col. i. 16 ' In Him were created all things, visible and invisible, thrones, deities, dominions'*. Indeed it seems clear that these adaptations were not always afterthoughts, but that in several instances at least their nomenclature was originally chosen for the sake of fitting the theory to isolated phrases and expressions in the Apostolic writings, however much it might conflict with the Apostolic doctrine in its main lines°. "

Saint Paul was right, all the pleroma(totality of divine powers or Aeons) of deity(Father) dwells in Christ and form his body and moreover this pleroma has a local existence, it locally exists just as it is said in the Gospel of Thomas - "The kingdom of God is spread out upon earth but men don't see it".

As anyone can see Christ is at the very heart of the doctrine of Valentinian theology it is ridiculous to assert that there is no special place for Christ in Valentinian theology or in gnosticism as a whole. Christ is at the very soul of their doctrine.