Valentinus was a leading Christian Gnostic who taught in Egypt and later in Rome. His school was the most popular in Egypt and it attracted much attention in Rome. He expressed the idea that the disciples were a sort of initiatory school in which Christ taught them the Word. This is consistent with the following biblical quotation from Luke 8: 10, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Valentinus claimed to have received his teachings from a student of Paul named Theudas. Valentinus argued that according to the secret knowledge he received from Theudas, the Orthodoxy who would later unify with the Roman government and become the Catholics misunderstood the teachings of the Christ. Rather than interpret Christianity through the misogynistic lenses of Greco-Roman and Judaic cultures, he used Afrikan culture to interpret the Christ. The followers of Valentinus or Valentinians, as they were called, held worship services that offered women full participation. Opposed to a church hierarchy, the Valentinians structured their services based on egalitarianism. Instead of ranking their members, they rotated spiritual authority based on divination. At one meeting one person performed the duties of bishop, at another he or she may act as priest. Men and women participated in the Gnostic rituals with equal authority. Consequently women flocked to their services in large numbers.
Although Valentinus believed the Supreme Being was essentially unknowable, he also conceived of the him/her as a dyad that consisted of both masculine and feminine aspects. The masculine aspects of divinity embodied the Depth and the Primal Father, while the feminine embodied Silence, Grace, the Womb and “Mother of All.” The Valentinian materials found at Nag Hammadi abound in reproductive metaphors concerning the nature of the divine. This indicates clearly that they had never removed the feminine from their notion of the divine. Valentianian Gnostics prayed to a divine Father and Mother because some had asked, “how is it that a single masculine God states in Genesis 1: 26, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’?” That same God then created humanity, “male and female.” Many concluded God must be both masculine and feminine. Another Gnostic text referring to Creation, describes it as follows: From the power of Silence appeared “a great power, the Mind of the Universe, which manages all things, and is a male . . . the other . . . a great Intelligence ... is a female which produces all things.” . . . [T]hese powers, joined in union, “are discovered to be duality . . . .This is Mind in Intelligence, and these are separable from one another, and yet are one, found in a state of duality.”
Various Gnostics had interpretations of the above text. Some said the Supreme Being was essentially androgynous, others said he/she could manifest as either, depending upon the situation, while still others, said “it” was in reality neither. The essential point is the divine should be understood as the reciprocal and harmonious interaction of complements. Since this idea is foreign to Orthodox Judaism, Christianity and Greek philosophy, we must attribute its origin within Gnosticism to Afrikan thought.
Valentinian Gnosticism recognized the Holy Spirit of the Trinity as the feminine principle; thus they expressed their trinity as a divine family consisting of the Father, the Son and the Mother. In the Orthodox translation of the word for Holy spirit, the Greek term pneuma is used, which denotes asexuality. However, in the Gnostic text, the Secret Book, the Hebrew term for spirit ruah, a feminine word, is used. Here we see how a translation can alter the meaning of a text. In another Gnostic text, Gospel to the Hebrews, Jesus calls his mother “the Spirit.”
It should be clear that the Christianity Valentinus preached, that it was free of the sexism and misogyny of other schools during the period. Valentinus used his own Egyptian culture as a prism to view and understand Christianity. He was being African centered in a world that was dominated by Hellenistic thought. This is a lesson we must learn, to find our center in the midst of foolishness.
If Black folks are going to celebrate a Valentine, then it should be the Egyptian Christian Gnostic because it is in his teachings that we see a genuine respect and reciprocal love for men and women.