Hey Peguy - What you said cleared things up for me somewhat. I mostly already knew you weren't an average devout Catholic, but I was wondering as you were referencing a heresiologist.
If you'd like, I'd be interested in discussing Irenaeus at some point. I've never studied the heresiologists to any great extent. I've only ever read them as quotes... which serves them right as the Gnostics were only known as quotes throught their writings for the longest time. It is funny that the heresiologist hold more interest for many people in studying the Gnostics. The heresiologists were quite helpful in saving the Gnostics from oblivion. If Homer Simpson were an early Heresiologist he would say: "Doh!"
I too differentiate ancient Gnosticism from modern Gnosticism. That is an important distinction to note. Then again, I also differentiate between ancient Christianity and modern Christianity. All around, the the experience of ancient people is beyond our imaginations. It was a different cultural context that no longer exists.
GK Chesterton's definiton of heresy is quite intriguing. An exaggerated truth? What exactly does that mean? Does that imply that truth is moderate, balanced, and nuanced? Could you offer an example? "Heresy does not mean one is 100% incorrect." That reminds me of something Ken Wilber said (paraphrased): "No one is stupid enough to be wrong all of the time."
I'll add another point about Valentinus. I don't think he believed in self-salvation. I'm not even sure if self-salvation applies to any of the Gnostics actually. Experiencing God inwardly isn't the same as experiencing God as self. However, it depends on what you mean by self. Offhand, I don't know how Gnostics defined "self". I know that some Gnostics (like Kabbalists) believed that people had a spark of God within, but I've heard some Christians say the same thing... in particular Christian mystics.
As for the greater issue on my mind, I do wonder what exactly happened at the end of the second century. The heresiologists seemed to have taken over the Church at that time. It's really strange to me. Valentinus was accepted, respected, and even praised by many Christian authorities and then within a short time the whole atmosphere of the Catholic Church shifted. Why was he a good Christian one moment and a heretic the next?
It's also strange how the heresiologists went about it all. Basically, any Christian who was outside of the Church by defintion became labelled Gnostic and that's why the label is so confusing even today. Any Christian who revered a text that suddenly was declared non-canonical or was not the approved version, that person was no longer a Christian even if they thought they were. Any scripture that happened to be revered by someone a heresiologist personally didn't like suddenly became a Gnostic scripture.
Gnosticism became a massive blank dismissal. Gnostics, like Commies and Terrorists, were everywhere... and they had to be ferreted out. The Gnostics who thought they were Christians and quoted Christian texts were the worse, but they couldn't fool the heresiologists who saw the conniving plans in their dark hearts. As Jesus said the true Christians would be persecuted, it does make one wonder.
The early "Gnostic" scriptures in many cases weren't really any different than Christian scriptures because no one necessarily thought of them as distinct when they were being written. In fact, Gnostics and Christians often accepted the same scriptures because many Gnostics at the time didn't realize they weren't Christians. The Pauline scriptures may have been more popular amongst Gnostics than Christians and it was possibly because of the popularity of Valentinianism that the Church was forced to accept mystical Paul as canonical. It took some major redaction and harmonizing to make Paul fit in with the other gospels. So, I guess Valentinus was successful at least in saving Paul from the heresiologists' book burning even if he couldn't save his own Christian reputation.
The Roman Empire was known for being accepting of a variety of religions. Why didn't the Catholic Church follow in that tradition? If the early Church hadn't been so oppressive, then Christianity would look more like Hinduism is now with many traditions with a common heritage. Tradition and diversity need not be opposed. What happened to the Church after the second century that made it so oppressive when some other religions allow diversity, even seemingly take strength in diversity?
In my opinion, the inspiration of early Christianity was lost after the heresiologists took control. Thank God the Gnostic tradition survived as vague memories through the Catholic mystics. Also, thank God for the Coptic Christian monks who probably were the ones that saved the Nag Hammadi library from the Catholic book burners. And what the heck I'll give some praise to the Mandaeans for being the only Gnostics to survive beyond the Catholic annihalation into modernity. While I'm at it, I should also praise the Muslims that saved the Greek texts that had originally inspired many Gnostics and Christians alike. You can't keep a good thing down forever.