St Valentine & the Gnostics

cupid14th February has been a holiday since ancient Roman times. The Roman festival of Lupercalia, a spring festival coincided with this date.

As with many pagan festivals, St. Valentine’s Day appears to be an example of the Roman Catholic Church substituting a saint’s feast day for a popular pagan holiday. There were three saints called Valentine who could be associated with the theme of love. Valentinus, the Gnostic mystic is a less likely contender as he would have been condemned as heretical by the Nicenes (Catholics), however if he was the inspiration for this date, it is the only Gnostic Christian day in the Christian calendar.

Valentinian literature is filled with the imagery and metaphor of spiritual love and marriage.

Valentinus did not deny the physical dimension of love, but sought something greater, something transcendent and hidden, which can be missed if we do not penetrate beneath the surface of sexual union.

‘That fire burns only at night and is put out. But the mysteries of this marriage are perfected rather in the day and the light.’ (The Gospel of Philip)

Two books in RUFIUS were possibly Valentinian: The Gospel of Philip and the Pistis Sophia.* 

Both The Gospel of Philip and the Pistis Sophia were condemned as heretical by the bishops and after much destruction of temples and libraries across the ancient world, on 4 March 398 A.D., a law was promulgated that condemned all heretical books to the pyres. That would have included not only religious books, but books of mathematics and astrology.

‘We command that the books containing the doctrine and matter of all their crimes shall immediately be sought out and produced, with the greatest astuteness and with the exercise of due authority, and they shall be consumed with fire immediately under the supervision of the judges.’ (Theodosian Code, Law 16.5.34)

Thanks to book-loving monks and, of course, thanks to Rufius, the Pistis Sophia survived. When I first came across it in the British Library in 2004, I was intrigued as to how it got there. It must have had an interesting journey from ancient Egypt to Georgian London (it was probably copied in the Ancient Library of Alexandria.)

Rufius tells the story of the Pistis Sophia’s survival. In the novel I call it The Book of Wisdom.

The story of the Pistis Sophia, or the Askew Codex (named after Dr Askew, the collector who bequeathed it to the British Library) is fictional, but thanks to many experts including the curator of the manuscript at the British Library, Dr. Nersessian, it is a plausible tale.

Askew Codex Image 

Askew Codex (MS 5114) 


*In RUFIUS, I assign the Pistis Sophia to the Ophites, but it is just as likely to be the work of Valentinus, or another Gnostic group.

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