Valentinus founded a school of speculative Christian theology in the second century AD. Because he and his followers drew a distinction between the true God and the creator of the world, they are classified by modern scholars as “Gnostics”. In common with other Gnostics, they believed that the material world was created by a lesser deity which they call the Demiurge (literally “public craftsman”).
However, the Demiurge in Valentinianism is quite different in character from the hostile creator figure familiar from other schools of Gnosticism. In the Sethian school, for example, the Demiurge is a hostile demonic force who creates the material world in order to trap the spiritual elements. In contrast, Valentinians “show a relatively positive attitude towards the craftsman of the world or god of Israel” (Layton 1987). Valentinians insisted that while the Demiurge may be a bit foolish, he certainly could not be considered evil. Instead, he has a role to play in the process of redemption.
The Valentinian teacher Ptolemy strongly criticizes non-Valentinian Gnostics who taught that the Demiurge was evil. In his view, those who view the creator as evil “do not comprehend what was said by the Savior…Only thoughtless people have this idea, people who do not recognize the providence of the creator and so are blind not only the eye of the soul but even in the eye of the body” (Letter to Flora 3:2-6). They are as “completely in error” as orthodox Christians who taught that the Demiurge was the highest God (Letter to Flora 3:2).
In contrast, he and other Valentinians steadfastly maintained that “the creation is not due to a god who corrupts but to one who is just and hates evil” (Letter to Flora 3:6). He carefully distinguished the Demiurge from both God and the Devil. According to Ptolemy, “he is essentially different from these two (God and the Devil) and is between them, he is rightly given the name, Middle” (Letter to Flora 7:4). He is “neither good nor evil and unjust, can properly be called just , since he is the arbitrator of the justice which depends on him” (Letter to Flora 7:5).
In his excellent book on Gnosticism, Giovanni Filoramo (1990) compares the negative portrayal of the Demiurge in the Sethian school with the more positive Valentinian view:
The image of Demiurge usually portrayed in the Sethian texts is negative. Apart from anti-Jewish and anti-Christian polemic there are some internal reasons for this, specifically the function of the psychic (soul) element represented by the Demiurge. This element is not, as for Valentinians and other Christian Gnostics, the seat of free will, but a moment (that of animation) in the hylic dimension and, like it, destined to perdition. This is the radical difference from the Valentinian Demiurge, the latter being a representative of the psychic element that is also called upon to participate in the work of salvation. Devoid of scarifying characteristics, Ptolemy’s Demiurge is simply the Creator of the Seven Heavens, who lives above them (Filoramo 1990)
Filoramo links the more positive view of the Demiurge in the Valentinianism to the relatively positive of the soul substance (psyche) of which he is formed. It would seem that in order to understand the teaching on the Demiurge, it is necessary to have at least a basic understanding of the Valentinian teaching on the soul (psyche) and its position within the overall structure of the cosmos.
(continue reading at the above link)
Content authored by David Brons