Tripartite Tractate

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The Tripartite Tractate "was probably written in the early to mid third century." It is a Gnostic work found in the Nag Hammadi library. It is the fifth tractate of the first codex, known as the Jung Codex. It deals primarily with the relationship between the Aeons and the Son. It is divided into three parts, which deal with the determinism of the Father and the free-will of the hypostatized aeons, the creation of humanity, evil, and the fall of Anthropos, and the variety of theologies, the tripartition of humanity, the actions of the Saviour and ascent of the saved into Unity, respectively.


Commentary on the Tractate

The work is introduced by Harold W. Attridge and Elaine H. Pagels in the James M. Robinson version of the Nag Hammadi Library. They state that the Tractate is, "an elaborate, but untitled, Valentinian theological treatise which gives an account of devolution from and reintegration into the primordial godhead. The text is divided by scribal decoration into three segments which contain the major acts of the cosmic drama; hence its modern title." As for the date of the codex, it can really only be "determined within broad limits." It represents a previously unknown revision of Valentinian theology in the above-mentioned scholars' opinions. They even posit that the text may be "a response to the criticism of orthodox theologians such as Irenaeus of Lyons or Hippolytus."

They also notice that the text "displays some affinities with Origen's doctrines". No author is named in the treatise. Some have even speculated that pupils of Valentinus may have written it. Heracleon or an adherent of the western branch of the Valentinian school may be the one responsible for hashing it together. It is thought to have been originally written in Greek and was later translated into Coptic.

"The first part describes emanation of all supernatural entities from their primal source. It begins with the Father, described primarily as through a via negativa as an utterly transcendent entity. What can be affirmed is that he is unique and monadic. The insistence on the unitary character of the Father distinguishes the text from most other Valentinians who posit a primal masculine feminine dyad, although some members of the school, such as those mentioned by Hippolytus, also hold to a monadic first principle." The godhead is thus less complex. The Son and the Church (Ekkeslia) then emanate from the Father. Rather than an ogdoad, a trinity is affirmed. While Eusebius of Caesarea mentions that Valentinus taught a trinity in his work 'on the three natures', this was likely a trinity of natures in one godhead rather than three persons. [1]

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  1. Robinson, James M.; 'The Nag Hammadi Library in English'. Pg. 58


Further reading