Against the Valentinians background information.

Early Christian Writings

Title: Adversus Valentinianos (Against the Valentinians)


From: (

Ante-Nicene Fathers

Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council

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By: Roger Pearse  

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ECST: 167.14.1.T77

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Against the classical gnostics, the Valentinians.


Valentinians are shifty types who profess to be enquirers simply to bamboozle you, while keeping quiet their own agenda.  If you ask them what they believe, they say they believe as you do.  They are impossible to pin down.  When you find out what they do believe, they treat it like a great discovery.  So Tertullian, following Irenaeus, proceeds to describe their ‘secret knowledge’, as that is enough to refute it.


One of the older Gnostic cults, and perhaps already becoming a bit obsolete in Tertullian’s day (although Epiphanius tells us there were still Valentinian groups in the Egyptian delta in his day).  The details given imply that Ptolemy had already modified the classic Valentinian position. (Tertullian also wrote against Valentinus’ disciple Apelles, but in a lost work).

Valentinus had originally been a Christian, eminent in genius and eloquence, who turned to spinning mythology when he failed to be elected a Bishop, due to the merit of a rival who had been imprisoned for the gospel. Others had then shaped it in their own varied fashions, most not even retaining the original conceptions of Valentinus. (Ch. 4)

Chapters 1-6 form the introduction. Tertullian makes clear how each gnostic feels able to innovate and rearrange the basic material, and chooses to describe the basic version, using material from Justin, Irenaeus, Miltiades, and “our own Proculus”. He particularly protests at the secrecy and formlessness of the heresy. He states that in view of their attempts at secrecy, exposure is the most effective refutation, and describes the mass of mythology as that condemned by the apostle (1 Tim 1,4) as “the fables and endless genealogies”. (ch.3)

From Chapter 7 onwards, he baldly describes the teachings of the heresy, and makes fun of it.

He winds up in ch. 39 by pointing out that they have no agreement even as to who Christ is: 

• “One party form Him of the blossoms of all the aeons.

• “Another party will have it that He is made up only of those ten [aeons] whom ‘Word‘ and ‘Life’ produced; from which circumstance the titles of the Word and the Life were suitably transferred to Him.

• “Others, again, that He rather sprang from the twelve, the offspring of Man and the Church and therefore, they say, He was designated “Son of man.”

• “Others, moreover, maintain that He was formed by [the aeons] Christ and Holy Spirit, who have to provide for the establishment of the universe, and that He inherits by right His Father’s appellation.

• “Some there are who have imagined that another origin must be found for the title “Son of man”; for they have had the presumption to call the Father Himself Man, by reason of the profound mystery of this title: so that what can you hope for more ample concerning faith in that God, with whom you are now yourself on a par?”


• In chapter 6 Tertullian refers to writing the Greek words for the Valentinian aeons in the “margins of the pages” (limitis paginarum). He also refers to other notes to be read between the lines. This would seem to suggest that the word was originally written in a codex, rather than a roll, and that it was intended to be read as a modern book is read, rather than aloud:

For the most part, therefore, we shall use the Greek names; their meanings will be seen on the margins of the pages. Nor will the Greek be unaccompanied with the Latin equivalents; only these will be marked in lines above, for the purpose of explaining the personal names, rendered necessary by the ambiguities of such of them as admit some different meaning.

• This work bears some traces of Montanism: there is a reference to “our own Proculus” (Proculus noster). Eusebius refers to a Proclus as a Montanist leader (HE II,25; III, 31; VI, 20) during the same period.1)Criteria for assessing the Montanism of Tertullian’s works are given in Barnes, p.43-44, of which the use of ‘Nos’ or ‘noster’ as a way to refer to Montanists is one. The discussion is based on De Labriolle, P., La crise montaniste (1913), 354 ff., and Barnes himself in Journal of Theological Studies New Series XX (1969), 113 f., according to the references. (Not checked).

• Ch. 3 makes reference to childrens’ stories:

Now, even suppose that you are initiated into the entire fable, will it not occur to you that you have heard something very like it from your fond nurse when you were a baby, amongst the lullabies she sang to you about the towers of Lamia, and the horns of the sun?

• There is a reference to a famous appartment block in Rome, the Insula Felicles, in ch.7 (not recognised in Holmes’ translation, but evident in Riley’s).2)1. Humphrey, John W; Oleson, John P. and Sherwood, Andrew N, Greek and Roman Technology : A Sourcebook, Routledge, London and New York, 1998. Checked.

• Tertullian points out the imprudence of taking every assertion at its face value, and argues for the value of laughter (ch.6):

There are many things which deserve refutation in such a way as to have no gravity expended on them. Vain and silly topics are met with especial fitness by laughter. Even the truth may indulge in ridicule, because it is jubilant; it may play with its enemies, because it is fearless. Only we must take care that its laughter be not unseemly, and so itself be laughed at; but wherever its mirth is decent, there it is a duty to indulge it.

• In chapters 3 and 6 there are suggestions that this is just a first work, in which demolition is deferred in place of simple description, but we do not know of any further work on Valentinianism, and it may be that it was thought unnecessary.

• In ch.16 there is a reference to argument made against Hermogenes:

This [stuff created] will prove to be Matter, which has set us in battle array against Hermogenes, and all others who presume to teach that God made all things out of Matter, not out of nothing.

REFERENCES (See bibliography)


This text is found only in the members of the Cluny collection. (q.v.).  The primary witnesses, therefore, are:

• The 11th century Payerne MS, Codex Paterniacensis 439, now at Selestat.

• The 15th century Florence MS, Codex Florentinus BNC Conventi soppressi J.6. 9 (N). (From the Alpha branch).  The text is not in P or M, the earlier codices.  (I don’t know if there are readings from D or G for this work).

• The 15th century Luxembourg MS, Codex Luxemburgensis 75 (X).

• The 15th century(1426) Florence MS, Codex Florentinus BNC Conventi soppressi J.6. 10 (F).

• Rhenanus edition of 1521.  This is because his only source for this work was the now lost Hirsau MS (H), the ancestor of F and X.

Possibly also to be considered are:

• The Naples MS, Codex Neapolitanus, Mus. Naz. 55, portions of which were once in Vienna as Codex Vindobonensis 4194 (V).

• The BPL Leiden MS, Codex Leidensis latinus 2 (L) has been considered independent but is merely a copy of V.

which may or may not have some independent witness.  Many consider them simply copies of F, however.


. Montepessulanus H54 (M)
Incipit liber eiusdem Q. Septimii Florentis Tertulliani aduersus Valentinianos Florentinus Magliebechianus, Conventi soppressi VI, 10 (F)

Note: The MSS have the overscore above the letter, but you need a modern browser (N4/IE4+) to see it. It signifies an abbreviation.


This runs up to 1955.  Where not otherwise indicated, details are from Quasten’s Patrology, 2 (1955). See also Editions page and Critical Editions page for more information, particularly on collected editions of more than one work.


A. KROYMANN, CSEL 47 (1906) 177-212. Checked.

A. KROYMANN, CCSL 2 (1954), pp. 751-778. Checked.

J.-C. FREDOUILLETertullien: Contre les Valentiniens, Sources Chretiennes 280 (1980), notes in vol. 281 (1981).  Excellent  critical edition with extensive analysis of the manuscript tradition.  ISBN: 2-204-01679-9 and 2-204-01690-X.  391 pages in all.  Checked.

• M.T. RILEYQ. S. Fl. Tertulliani Adversus Valentinianos: Text, translation, and commentary.  Dissertation, Stanford University 1971.   Dr. Mark Riley’s web page is at He tells me that in fact much of the work is a direct translation of Irenaeus Adversus Haereses, with added comments by Tertullian.  This edition is available from University Microfilms Inc (UMI) at The entry is number 7123548 in the catalogue, and is listed as Q.S.Fl. Tertulliani adversus Valentinianos 1971 186pp.  This is now online.  Checked.

A. MARASTONI, Q.S.F. Tertulliani Adversus Valentinianos, Padova, Gregoriana (1971).  (Details from SC280). 300 pp., 23 cm. (Extra details from Dr Andrea Nicolotti)



A, ROBERTS, ANCL 15 (1870), 119-162; ANF 3 (1885), 503-520. Online.

M.T. RILEYloc. cit., 1971.  Online.


E.-A. DE GENOUDEContre les Valentiniens, Tertullien: Oeuvres. Paris, (1852) t.3.  pp.103-135. Online.

J.-C. FREDOUILLEloc. cit., 1980.


Heinrich KELLNERGegen die Valentinianer, in: Tertullians sämtliche Schriften aus dem Lateinischen übersetzt. Cologne (1882).  2 Vols.  2. Die dogmatischen u. polemischen Schrr. übers. v. Karl Ad. Heinrich Kellner [Köln 1882], pp. 101-127.


H. U. MEYBOOM, Tegen de aanhangers van Valentinus (Oudchristel. geschritten, dl. 42). Leiden, 1924.


A. MARASTONI, loc. cit., 1971.

C. MORESCHINI, Opere scelte di Quinto Settimo Florente Tertulliano. (Classici UTET). Turin, 1974. (Details from CTC 99, 5).


László VANYÓ &c, Tertullianus muvei (The works of Tertullian), Budapest: Szent István Társulat (1986) 1100pp. (Ókeresztény frók 12). (Details CTC 2002.75).  The older translations of István Városi (Pat, Apol, Orat, Ux, Cult) and Marcell Mosolygó (Mart) have been recycled; the rest are new.


F. J. DÖLGER, Unserer Taube Haus. Textkritik und Kommentar zu Tertullian Adversus Valentinianos 2. 3: AC 2 (1930) 41-56.

A. D’ALÈS, Symbola (Tertullien, Adv. Valent. 12) : RSR 25 (1935) 496.

F. J. DÖLGER, Der Rhetor Philoso-phus von Karthago und seine Stilübung über den tapferen Mann. Zu Tertullianus, Adv. Valent. 8: AC 5 (1936) 272-274.

G. QUISPEL, De humor van Tertullianus: Nederl. theol. Tijdschr. 2 (1948) 280-290.

References   [ + ]

1. Criteria for assessing the Montanism of Tertullian’s works are given in Barnes, p.43-44, of which the use of ‘Nos’ or ‘noster’ as a way to refer to Montanists is one. The discussion is based on De Labriolle, P., La crise montaniste (1913), 354 ff., and Barnes himself in Journal of Theological Studies New Series XX (1969), 113 f., according to the references. (Not checked).
2. 1. Humphrey, John W; Oleson, John P. and Sherwood, Andrew N, Greek and Roman Technology : A Sourcebook, Routledge, London and New York, 1998. Checked.

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