More on Christian sects in the second to 5th centuries

The Christian sects;

Continuing my mini series on what was happening to the “christian” faith and the various political struggles between the sects, cults and claimants of the “truth” in the 1st to 5th centuries. Contrary to the current evangelist views there was not an exponential growth of just any one sect. Even in Rome there were schisms, sects and cults in the early 1st century, all claiming to have the “truth” much to to the chagrin and annoyance of the orthodox Roman Churchites who were just one (albeit very influential) of the many cults in town.

I have already explored the Ebionites and the Marcionites on these forums so lets go to another big one now: The Valentinians or followers of Valentinus.

Valentinus was born in about 100CE, in Egypt, he died in 180CE, a good age! and started his ministry quite young. Like the majority of ‘Christians’ at the time he was an ardent follower of Paul and a Gnostic. He went to Rome, an educated and erudite young man. He was in line for a Bishopric but was passed over.

He appeared to be trying a combination of the philosophy of both Plato and Philo ;The Valentinian philosophy* posited that in the beginning there was a Pleroma, ( literally a fullness*),* that the Jesus figure was not “God” but as the “logos” (Word) which was emitted by “the Father” to create the Universe.

Even by his critics (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, and Tertullian, and friends such as Marcellus of Acyra and) he was acknowledged to be a prolific writer and an engaging and personable character.

Irenaeus in particular loathed his work and attacked him refuting his arguments…which is where we had the most idea of Valentinus’s writing until the late 20th century.

About the 5th Century CE, Valentinus’s teachings had split into an Eastern and Western School, but his temples and philosophy was spread throughout the Empire and beyond, much like the Marcionites. Together they dwarfed the nascent ‘Orthodox’ Roman and Eastern Churches.

Valentinus was also, reputedly, a fan of Paul’s 'secret teachings ’ (see Corinthians 4.1). Valentinus did not consider himself heretic although many others in the Roman Church did indeed consider him such. He was not formally declared heretic until the late 4th century…

He and his teachings were finally declared heretic in 380CE under Theodosius , and in 428 CE Valentinians were forbidden to congregate on pain of death, and all the books and practices of the Valentinans declared anathema, and once again this sentence was repeated by the Bishop of Rome in 492CE. All the complete texts were thought to have been destroyed until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi trove.

428CE saw the decline of Valentiniasm, like the Marcionites and all the others. Death was not an attractive alternative I would think. Valentinianism probably continued much later, like Marcionism well in to the 10th Century.

A Coptic copy of “The Gospel in Truth”** from the Nag Hammadi Library is arguably by Valentinus and some other writings by him and his followers have been collated in a book :

Valentinian Christianity - University of California Press (

*. The Rise of the Early Christian Theology of Arithmetic: The Valentinians (

** free copy of Gospel of Truth

If you have a look at @sherlocks maunderings I think he may have been trying to express Valentinian thoughts, but without the actual knowledge that he was utterly unoriginal.

Edited spelling and grammar


Next: the Ophites, be about a week.


At the start of the Second Century there were a myriad of religions, cults, hundreds of gods available to worship. There was no “Christian Church”, in fact there were no “Christians” that we would recognise as such, there were gnostics who acknowledged a very human Jesus, there were Messianic Jewish sects that self described as “Followers of the Way” and considered Jesus as an adopted (very human) son of their god. Other and much older religions left their mark on this unrestricted storytelling, as was the tradition of nearly every religion of the time, except the Jews, who of course claimed to have the words of their god preserved from antiquity in their Holy Books. At the start of the 2nd century CE there were no codex, no orthodox texts until Marcion half way through the century.
Each “church/Temple/Synagogue had and venerated their own texts. The gentile ‘Christians’ each had their own rituals and venerated different texts. The Jewish ‘Christians’ reviled Paul as he was apostate. The Roman ‘Christians’’ added the “born of virgin” and of course the actual physical resurrection…and son of god. But then the Romanised Christians were certainly not in the majority, they were not powerful…yet. They were dwarfed by popular traditions in the East and schisms on their home turf.

There was indeed an explosion of the new religion but not as the evangelists like to think. It was not a steady spreading of the same texts and stories it was a chaotic spread of stories without license, some of them so far removed from todays “Christian” mainstream as to be a separate order of belief entirely. It was a time of chaos that persisted until the military takeover of the Roman church in the mid 4th Century.

One can see where some of these traditions have persisted right down to the resent day, distorted through time but still recognisable for their origins. Which brings us to this group, Number 3 in my series:

The Ophites, also known as Ophians (from the Greek word “ophis” meaning “snake”), were a Gnostic sect, in fact there were several sects and cults lumped together that existed from about 100CE and persisting to the present day under the umbrella title of ‘Ophites’.

Most numerous in Syria and Egypt they shared along with the Marcionites and Valentinians and other Gnostic cults a dualistic view of the gods, with the Jesus figure being of entirely spiritual significance.

They were rumoured depicted by Hippolytus of Rome in a lost work called the Syntagma.

The Ophites held a dualistic theology that proposed a purely spiritual Supreme Being (The unknown God), who was both the origin of the cosmic process and the highest good, to a chaotic and evil material world.

They regarded the Jehovah of the Old Testament as a demiurge, or lesser deity who had created the material world.

They did attach great importance to the serpent in the Book of Genesis because it had enabled men to obtain the important knowledge of good and evil, that Jehovah had withheld from them. Some used live serpents in their rituals according to their critics and considered the serpent to be a physical representation of the Jesus figure.

They believed that man’s dilemma results from his being a mixture of these conflicting spiritual and material elements.

They saw the serpent as the true liberator of mankind since it first taught men to rebel against Jehovah and seek knowledge of the true, unknown God.

The Ophites beleived the Christ figure to be a spiritual being who, through his union with the man Jesus, taught the saving gnosis.

This collection of gnostic, snake orientated sects was condemned by Hippolytus, Origen, Irenaeus, and Sad Old Clement of Alexandria.

Condemned by the Roman Church the Ophites were mostly a memory, or, practising deep underground by the turn of the 6th Century. Shades of their practices can be seen in the Appalachians and some extreme sects (churches) in the US and Philippines, as well as Africa where snake dancing continues.


Thank you, @Old_man_shouts_at_cl, these are wonderful posts!

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I think that the earliest mention of the church is from Paul in 50’s, where it is mentioned in symbolic way as Christ’s bride. However scholars have suggested that church assembly used to be an in house gathering usually organised by women but lead by men.


The Roman church and the Pauline tradition was mostly small, home gatherings, occasionally, when allowed in Jewish Synagogues.


Yes proto-orthodoxy or apostolic christianity as they call it here in orthodox environment, was very small part of it all. They started a new wave in second half of 3rd century.


Which is exactly the point I am making. There was no, one “christian tradition”, in fact most of the sects and cults in the 1st to third centuries would not be recognised as “Christian” today yet the evangelists and uneducated beleivers claim the spread of christianity as proof of the truth of their particular godofchoice.