Monday, April 1, 2013


Giuliano Chiapparini, Valentino gnostico e platonico: il valentinianesimo della 'Grande notizia' di Ireneo de Lione: fra esegesi gnostica e filosofia medioplatonica. Temi metafisici e problemi del pensiero antico. Studi e testi, 126. Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 2012. Pp. xv, 490. ISBN 9788834320594. €32.00.

Reviewed by J. Montserrat-Torrents, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (

Version at BMCR home site

This book is aimed at scholars fully versed in the field of ancient Gnosticism. General readers could draw a lot of interesting information from it, but the full enjoyment of the richness of its insights is reserved for the specialists in the intricate history of Christian gnosis. The book is divided into three parts. Part one provides an account of the role of the "Great Notice" of Irenaeus about the Valentinians (Adversus Haereses book I) in the framework of the modern historical and doctrinal reconstruction of Valentinianism. The first two chapters are mostly historiographical. Chiapparini provides an exhaustive account on the debates about Gnosticism and Valentinianism through the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, the philological-historical turn, the rise of Nag-Hammadi studies, and the recent attempts at "deconstruction" of the ancient Gnosticism, ending with the rather optimistic assertion of a contemporary renewal of interest on Valentinianism.

The heart of part one lies in the last three chapters, where Chiapparini turns his attention to the core of the philological and historical problems. He breaks little new ground, but brings a fresh and convincing perspective to the available evidence. Irenaeus stayed in Rome between 153 and 173, where he became acquainted with Polycarp and with Justin, whose Sintagma he probably knew. While an encounter with Valentinus himself is ruled out, a direct contact with some of his disciples is not. During his Roman sojourn Irenaeus wrote Adversus Haereses I 1-12 (excluding I 11,1). The remainder of Book I as well as Book II were composed in Lyons after 177, but not sequentially; Tertullian seems to ignore I 23-31 (on the "fathers" of the Valentinians).

The second part of the book is entitled "Synopsis of the Great Notice of Irenaeus and of the parallel text of Tertullian's Adversus Valentinianos". Chiapparini's stated aim is to improve upon the critical Greek text of the Great Notice by building on the reasserted reliability of the long citation of Epiphanius' Panarion. On this basis, the extant critical text is given a rough hundred emendations, none of them however affecting the essential understanding of the doctrines. The synopsis is arranged in three panels, each exhibiting a segment of the text: the Greek text, the Latin text and the parallel passages of Tertullian. In this respect, the book affords an extremely useful tool to the researchers. The text is accompanied with a copious set of philological notes. I dare to suggest, however, that the usefulness of this scheme would be enhanced by the addition of a fourth panel showing the parallel passages of Adversus Haereses Book II. In his Roman lectures, in fact, Antonio Orbe urged that one should never forget Irenaeus II while working with Irenaeus I. Chiapparini, however, appeals but rarely to the text of Book II. As he himself asserts in his convincingly historical reconstruction, Book II belongs to the second stage of the shaping of Adversus Haereses, when Irenaeus had gathered further information from the disciples of Valentinus in Gaul. It is therefore to be expected that Book II afford valuable data about the extant Greek text of Book I. I will limit myself to pointing out some of the items:

a) Adversus Haereses I 2,2: Quella passione que aveva avuto inizio fra coloro (ἐν τοῖς) che stavano con Intelletto e Verità. The Latin version understands ἐν τοῖς as neuter: in is quae. The masculine is however confirmed by Book II 17,7: a Logo quidem coepit.

b) I 3,3: Si sarebbe dissolta nell'essere di quella (Tétrade). The Greek text of Rousseau-Doutréleau has (ὅλην) οὐσίαν. Latin: advenisset in omnem substantiam. Book II 20,1 (per omnem substantiam dissolvi) should be considered in deciding whether or not to accept the addition of ὅλην.

c) I 4,5: τὴν τε (ἐκ) τῆς ἐπιστροφῆς. The editorial addition of (ἐκ) is sustained by Book II 29,3: alterum autem de impetu.

The Italian translation is highly sensitive. ἐν ἀοράτοις καὶ ἀκατονομάστοις (I 1,1) is rendered che non si possono osservare ne descrivere. ἠρεμία is understood as quies and not solitudo, on the basis of coherence: the First Principle is not alone. The imaginative Gnostic names of the Aeons are skilfully rendered: mai-vecchio; simile-al-Padre. μητροπάτωρ is rather interpreted than translated: Colui-che-ha-la- Madre-come-Padre. And so on. The Italian readers will find here the best existing translation of this abstruse piece of Gnostic thought.

The third part of the book is devoted to a complete and masterly description of the doctrines of the Great Notice. In this part the footnotes, mainly on secondary literature, amount to twice as much as the main text. It is difficult to do justice to the abundance of interpretative material in these chapters. The essential lines of the interpretation run on the track of the great masters of the fifties and sixties (Sagnard, Orbe, Quispel...). Moreover, on the basis of his rigorous philological analysis Chiapparini distinguishes three main immediate sources of the Great Notice: source T: Ptolemaeus himself; sources T1 and T2: the disciples. He nevertheless doesn't conceal the doctrinal problems. The ambiguous figure of the devil is boldly resolved: the devil is a true spiritual being. The deterministic anthropology of some passages is honestly assumed. One topic should perhaps be offered a deeper development: the function of the Horos. Ὅρος, "definition", is an essential term of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. The Horos, in the postplatonic confusion of logic and ontology, determines the substantiality of a being. Through Horos, the Valentinian Intellect and Sophia become "hypostases"; Valentinianism, in this sense, rejoins the trinitarian theology of the Great Church. On the contrary, the "sethian" systems, inasmuch as they are devoid of the figure of Horos, keep closer to the modalism of the late Jewish sapiential speculation.

The title of this book leads the reader to expect a full treatment of the topic of Middle Platonism in connection with Valentinianism. It must ultimately be said that it is not the case. Chiapparini, indeed, mentions the term frequently, but he does not develop the subject. In pages 304-305 he gives a brief insight into Plato's unwritten doctrines, not sufficiently distinguishing unwritten doctrines and Old Academy. Plato is mentioned by Chiapparini with surprising parsimony, and references that are significant for the Middle Platonists are not worked out: Republic 509b (the Good beyond the being); Republic 597e (the image of the image); Theaetetus176b (the likeness to God). Middle Platonism has indeed become an ambiguous historiographical term. It means, lato sensu, Platonic philosophy between the Old Academy and Plotinus; stricto sensu it means a set of philosophical streams of the I-III centuries that profess a system involving three principles: deus, mens, materia( Philo, Alcinous, Maximus of Tyre, Apuleius, Numenius, Poimandres...). The Gnostic Anthology of Föster gathers the following under the label of "systems involving three principles": Monoimus, the Megale Apophasis, the Naassenes, the Peratae, the Sethians, the Archontics, the Docetists. In what sense, then, is Valentinianism a Middle Platonic system? On one hand, its divine principles are three, not two; such systems have been labeled with the rather sophisticated term of "pre-neoplatonism". On the other hand, Valentinianism shows many acquaintances with the aforementioned Gnostic systems.

In page 299 Chiapparini gives a complete list of the transcendental attributes of the First Valentinian Principle, but he doesn't proceed to explain their philosophical sources. In fact, one of the best achievements of Middle Platonism is apophatic theology. The Middle Platonists distinguished three ways of approach to transcendence: via negationis, via eminentiae, via allegoriae. Recently, M. Tardieu has discovered a Middle Platonic apophatic source for both the Adversus Arium of Marius Victorinus and the tractate Zostrianos of Nag Hammadi (M. Tardieu, Recherches su la formation de l'Apocalypse de Zostrien et les sources de Marius Victorinus, Res Orientales IX, 1996). This important contribution has not found its place in Chiapparini's extensive bibliography.

Another Middle Platonic argument deserves more attention: the topic of image-model. Chiapparini, in pages 350- 351, consistently develops this theme in the framework of the Valentinian system, but he does not place it in the context of Middle Platonism. The Platonic Demiurge looking at the perfect model (Timaeus 29a-b) gives the textual basis, hereafter captured, among others, by Philo, De opificio 25; Numenius, fr. 16 DP; the Peratae, ap. Hippolytus, Refutatio V 17,2, and even by the recently discovered Gospel of Judas pages 48-49.

In short, Chiapparini's work is an excellent piece of scholarship as well as a useful tool for study and research; but it has a somewhat misleading title.

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