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THE

GNOSTIC
THREEFOLD
ENLIGHTENMENT

The Ascent of Mind

PATH

TO

and the Descent of Wisdom


BY

JOHN

D. TURNER

Lincoln, Nebraska
come in threes: three levels of
Many things in Late Antiquity
three
of
three
into the
being,
periods
stages of initiation
history,
and
into
the
of
three
mysteries
study
philosophy,
stages of the
mystical ascent, even the Christian Trinity. Such triads are to be
found in a number of Gnostic systems as well. Significant instances
of these triads have now come to light in gnostic documents
at
home in the so-called Barbeloite Gnosticism of the second century
A.D. Because some of these documents
were read by Plotinus'
in
circle
Rome during the third century A.D., the question of the
of these documents
to contemporary
relationship
Neoplatonism
is immediately
raised. Yet these systematized
triads go back a
at least as far back as Plato.
long way in Western
antiquity,
with
and
a good deal before him, the
him,
Beginning
perhaps
of
the
into stratified
universe
levels of
systematic
tripartition
of the process by which one comes to
reality and the tripartition
know this universe becomes more widespread
and increasingly
in
western
and
The
that
dogmatic
philosophy
religion.
pattern
is
what
one
call
the
to
emerges
might
three-stage
path
spiritual
a sort of tripartite
structure
of spiritual paidaeia by
fulfillment,
man might come to know himself, his world,
which Hellenistic
and his place in it. This three-fold path is, of course, found in both
Greek and Jewish non-gnostic
literature.
however, I
Specifically,
that
when
literature
this
suggest
gnostic
portrays
path as a threeascent
of
to
the
soul
the
we
have
to
do
with
the Platonic
stage
deity,
when it portrays
this path as a three-fold
descent of
tradition;
the deity (or some aspect thereof) to the soul in the lower world,
we have to do with primarily Jewish traditions.
The gnostic documents
to which I wish to call attention
are
five treatises
from the Nag Hammadi
Gnostic
Coptic
Library,

325
all of which are available in translation
1), and all of which seem
or
to
a
to belong
sect, the so-called Barbelosingle gnostic group
in book i., ch. 29 of Irenaeus'
Gnostics described
Against the
of John
Heresies. The treatises are: the well-known
Apocryphon
the
less
well-known
treatises
and
from
Codex
II,
(ApocryJn)
from Codex XIII,
Protennoia
Allogenes
(TriProt)
Trimorphic
Zostrianos
(Zost) from Codex VIII and
(Allog) from Codex II,
from Codex VII. Strictly
The Three Steles of Seth (3StSeth)
Marsanes
from Codex X, and the
two
other
treatises,
speaking,
the
Bruce
Codex belong to this
tractate
of
concluding
anonymous
fund
of mytholegumena
on
the
same
since
draw
they clearly
group,
Invisible
found in the other five treatises (e.g.
Spirit, Triple Power,
Barbelo,
Triple Male and the Kalyptos-Protophanes-Autogenes
Triad), but their position in the group seems to be derivative
about
I begin with some observations
rather than constitutive.
main
of
the
five
the contents and genealogical
interrelationships
the
of
their
Barbeloite treatises, and then turn to
affinity
question
with Platonic metaphysics.
I. The Barbeloites
Carl SCHMIDT showed that the
Near the turn of the century
in the then
of John contained
Christian-Gnostic
Apocryphon
a version
Berlin Gnostic Codex represented
discovered
recently
Gnostic system described around 180 A.D. by
of the Barbeloite
Irenaeus in his Against the Heresies (I, 29.1-4) 2). Since the Nag
Hammadi find, we now possess three more copies of this ApocryJn.
1) In The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited by J. M. ROBINSON,
(San Francisco: Harper & Row and E. J. Brill, 1977). Other translations:
ApocryJn in W. C. TILL, Die gnostischen Schriften des koptischen Papyrus Berolinensis 8502 (TU 60; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1955) and in
M. KRAUSEand P. LABIB, Die drei Versionen des Apokryphon des Johannes
im Koptischen Museum zu Alt-Kairo (Abh. des Deutschen Archol. Instituts
Kairo, Koptische Reihe I; Wiesbaden, 1962); TriProt in G. SCHENKE,
"Die dreigestaltige Protennoia," ThLZ 99 (1974), 731-746; Y. JANSSENS,
"Le Codex XIII de Nag Hammadi," Le Muson 87 (1974), 341-413; 3StSeth
in M. TARDIEU, "Les Trois Stles de Seth," RevSchpth 57 (1973), 545-575.
The Coptic text and English translation with notes of Allog (by O. S.
WINTERMUTEand J. D. TURNER), of Zost (by J. SIEBER), of 3StSeth (by
J. M. ROBINSON) and of TriProt (by J. D. TURNER) are forthcoming in
The Nag Hammadi Codices to be published in the "Nag Hammadi Studies"
series by E. J. Brill.
2) C. SCHMIDT "Irenus und seine Quelle in adv. haer. I, 29," Philotesia:
Paul Kleinert zum LXX Geburtstag dargebracht. Berlin: Weidmann, 1907,
pp. 315-336.

326
One of them (NHC III, z: I, 1-40, II ) is nearly identical with the
of the Berlin Codex (BG 8502, 2: 19,6-77,7),
with
ApocryJn
which it witnesses
a shorter recension
of ApocryJn.
The other
two copies (NHC II, z: I, 1 - 32, 9 ; NHC IV, z: I, i - 49, 28) belong
to a longer recension of ApocryJn.
In the text common to all four versions of ApocryJn,
the central
who
initiates
the
salvation
of
the
Gnostic
is
the
First
figure
Thought
of the Invisible Spirit, Barbelo, often called Pronoia, Metropator,
the merciful Father of the All. The saving drama is motivated
to rescue her productive
by Barbelo's
attempt
power of thought
from the clutches of Sophia's ignorant offspring Yaldabaoth,
who
has captured
it in the lower world by incarnating
it into Adam,
his counterfeit
copy of Barbelo's male aspect. Her saving mission
is conceived in three descents which mark three successive saving
first as the Autogenes Christ who causes the Archon
dispensations:
to blow 7t'VEfLa.
into the inert Adam (BG, 51, 1 - 52, 1); second, as
the Epinoia of Light who appears in the form of the spiritual
Eve (Zoe) or of the tree of knowledge (BG, 52, 18 - 53, 20; 59, 6 60, 20) ; and third, as the Christ of the frame story who now reveals
the gnosis to John (BG 75, IT-I5).
In the longer versions of ApocryJn,
this third saving descent
is spelled out in the form of a concluding
of
hymnic composition
three stanzas (II, 30, m - 31, 25), which in effect recapitulates
the
three descents just narrated.
Each stanza narrates
in the first
descent of Pronoia, the First Thought
of the
person a separate
Unknown God, into the world of chaos to gather up her lost members. At the first two descents
(II, z: 30, 11-21; 21-32) this
divine First Thought shakes up the world of chaos and its ruling
she does
powers; however, because the time is not yet propitious,
not rescue her members, but re-ascends to the light. On the third
descent
the First Thought
descends to
(II, r: 30, 32-31,25),
the prison, said to be the body; she awakens the soul from its
reminds it of its origins, and raises it up
corporeal forgetfulness,
to the light by a sort of mystery initiation called the five seals.
This triadic Pronoia hymn had a further history, for it was soon
into a larger independent
the Trimorphic
tractate,
expanded
Protennoia
of Codex XIII (J, 35, 1 - 50, 24) 3). Instead of a short
3) It is more reasonable to suppose TriProt is an expansion of ApocryJn
(II, 30, 11 - 31, 25) than that the latter is an abridgement of the former.
The Pronoia hymn is clearly added to the conclusion of ApocryJn. The first
subtractate of TriProt ("The Logos of the Protennoia" XIII, 35, 1 - 42, 3)

327
hymn each of whose stanzas relates a single descent of the saving
First Thought of God, TriProt is a full treatise. It is divided into
each one relating a separate descent
three separate sub-tractates,
of the First Thought of the Unknown God into the lower world.
Each descent seems to depict not only a separate saving dispensaof the First Thought.
She
tion, but also a different
modality
the Voice of the Unknown
descends
first as Father,
Barbelo,
God's First Thought;
she reaches down to chaos and loosens the
bonds of her members by explaining to them the evil powers that
enslave them ("The Discourse on Protennoia",
XIII, 35, 1 - 42, 3).
She descends second as Mother, Meirothea, the Sound of the Voice
of the First Thought, and inaugurates
the shift from the old Aeon,
ruled by the powers of Destiny, to the new Aeon of salvation whose
advent she announces
to her fallen members
("On the Heimarmene," XIII, 42, 4 - 46, 4). She descends the third time as Son,
Christ, the Logos or Word of the Voice of the First Thought, and
herself from successively
lower levels of evil powers,
disguising
she leads her members back into the light by means of the noetic
ascent ritual of the five seals ("The Discourse on the Appearance,"
XIII,

46, 5 - 48, 35).


division into three subderives its structural
Clearly TriPot
tractates
from the three stanzas of the Pronoia hymn concluding
the longer ending of ApocryJn.
seams
Furthermore,
compositional
and other formal and material
considerations
enable one to see
that after the short opening aretalogy
(XIII, 35, 1 - 32), each
an aretalogy
sub-tractate
is also composed of three sub-sections:
cast in the Eyw el,t style of self-predication
32
37, 3 on the
(35,
on
the
on
the
Voice; 42, 4-16
Sound; 46, 5-32
Logos); a doctrinal
on
Barbeloite
exposition
(37, 3 - 40, 29
cosmology;
42, 17 - 44, 29
on eschatology;
on soteriology);
and a closing
46, 33 - 48, 35
in which Protennoia
narrates
her saving deeds in the
aretalogy
first person (40, 29 - 42, 2; 44, 29 - 46, 3; the final section seems
to be a later Sethian-Christian
conclusion,
48, 35 - 50, 20). The
doctrinal exposition of the first sub-tractate
constitutes
the other
main point of contact
between TriProt
and ApocryJn,
since it
contains the cosmology of ApocryJn II, 4, 10 - 12, 9 (= Iren. Haer. I, 29,
1-4) as an inserted section (XIII, 37, 20 - 40, 18) without which TriProt
would reproduce little more than the Pronoia hymn of ApocryJn. This
suggests that the author of TriProt is dependent on the longer version of
ApocryJn in which he found the Pronoia hymn ready-to-hand.

328
a version of the Barbeloite
cosmogony and Sophia myth
to the portions
of ApocryJn
that parallel Iren. Her.
=
BG,
II,
26, 14 - 44, 19
4, 19 - 13,13). Glosses conLzg.i-4
(=
the
name
of
Christ
inserted
into
this Barbeloite cosmogony
taining
in TriProt, a process
a
of
at
work
Christianization
betray
process
conclusion
which is most evident in the later Sethian-Christian
raises Jesus
of the entire treatise, according to which Protennoia
the originally
non-Christian
aloft from the cross. In ApocryJn,
was
made
serviceable
to
Christian
Barbeloite
Pronoia
hymn
Gnosticism simply by being appended to a treatise already of that
In TriProt,
a framework
the Pronoia hymn provided
character.
which was expanded in the form of lengthy aretalogies, then drawn
of the Barbeinto the Barbeloite sphere through the interpolation
means
of
the
loite cosmogony, and then Christianized
Christianby
Sethian conclusion.
At this point, two other Barbeloite documents call for comment.
In Codex XI, we find the treatise Allog, and in Codex VIII a
document
much the same doctrine,
Zost. Now these
containing
of the
documents
are very probably
those gnostic revelations
in his Life of Plotinus 16 says were
same name which Porphyry
displayed before Plotinus' circle in Rome around A.D. 244-26g 4).
a cosThe first section of Allog (XI, 45, 1 - 49, 38) contains
with
and
inhabitants
are
identical
whose
structure
nearly
mology
those of Zost and 3StSeth, and to a lesser degree with those found
in Irenaeus'
Barbeloite
source and in the ApocryJn.
Although it
contains
a brief sketch relating
the unfolding
of the supreme
into its subordinate
principle
powers, Allog mostly confines its
attention
to a cosmology which analyses the cosmos into three
levels. The highest level is occupied by the Unknown God and/or
the Invisible Spirit, who seems to be related to the immediately
contains
common

4) "There were in his town many Christians and others, and sectarians
who had abandoned the old philosophy, men of the schools of Adelphios
and Aculinos, who possessed many treatises of Alexander the Libyan and
Philocomos and Demostratos and Lydos and produced revelations by Zoroaster and Zostrianos, and Nicotheos, and Allogenes and Messos, and other
people of the kind ... " Zoroaster and Zostrianos probably refer to Zost of
Codex VIII (hendiadys) ; Allogenes and Messos probably refer to Allog of
Codex XI; for Nicotheos, see Anon. Bruc. 342:2-H SCHMIDT-TILL.See also
J. H. SIEBER, "An Introduction to the Tractate Zostrianos from Nag
Hammadi," Novum Testamentum 15 (1973), 233-240, and F. G. BAZAN,
"Gnostica: El Capitulo XVI de la Vida de Plotino de Porfirio," Salesianum
36 (1974), 463-478.

329
world through
a mediating
intelligible
principle called
subjacent
the Triple Power, a single being who exists in three modalities,
The second level is occupied by
Being, Vitality and llZentality5).
of the Unknown God, who
the Aeon of Barbelo, the self-knowledge
consists of three aspects or hypostases:
Kalyptos,
Protophanes
and Autogenes
(a fourth being, Triple Male, is present in the
Aeon of Barbelo, but its position therein is uncertain 6). The third
but only alluded to as the
level of the world is not described,
realm of Nature, Physis. The second section of Allog contains a
revelation
of the way to the divine vision, related by a figure
named Youel, who figures as a minor power in Zostrianos and the
of the Bruce Codex. The final section
Gnostic tractate
anonymous
of Allog reports the successful completion
of Allogenes' visionary
ascent through the intelligible world of the Aeon of Barbelo, and
then through the modalities of the Triple Power, from the level of
(i.e. blessedness or Mentality),
through the level of
self-knowledge
level
to
the
of
at
the
summit
of the world of
Existence;
Vitality,
being, the Triple Power reveals itself and the Unknown One above
it to Allogenes by a primary revelation of the Unknown God (XI,
revelation
is a negative
58, 26 - 61, 2o). This primary
theology
with
which contains a word-for-word
the Coptic text of a
parallel
similar negative theology at the beginning of all versions of ApoII, 3, 18-35).
cryJn
(XI, 62, 28 - 63, 23 = BG, 23, 3 - 26, 13 =
Thus not only TriProt, but also Allog is documentarily
dependent
on some version of ApocryJn.
In Allog, the triad of the Unknown
God, his self-knowledge,
and Nature is rather close to Plotinus'
triad of the One, Intellect
and Soul, in which the lower soul is called Nature. Furthermore,
Plotinus a number of times alludes to a tripartition
of Intellect,
5) Triple Power is frequent in such Gnostica as the Bruce and Askew
Codices (passim, see Index in SCHMIDT-TILL,p. 397), 3StSeth (VII, 121,
31-33; 122, 13; 123, 23-25), Zost (VIII, 24, 12-13; 79, 21; 87, 15-16; 97, 2;
118, 11-12; 128, 20), and Marsanes (X, 1: passim).
triad, cf. Zost, VIII, 15,
6) For the Kalyptos-Protophanes-Autogenes
4-17; 22, 4-14; 44, 24-31; 58, 14-16; 60, 13-17; (also 25, 10-18; 125, 12-17;
129, 4-17); Allog. XI, 45, 31 - 47, 7; 31, 7-38; 58, 12-26; in 3StSeth the names
do not occur in a triadic context: Kalyptos VII, 122, 14; 123, 1; 126, 5;
Protophanes, VII, 123, 5-6; Autogenes, VII, 119, 16. Cf. also Marsanes X, 3,
25 - 4, 12 and Anon. Bruc. 341, 5-7 SCHMIDT-TILL.For Triple Male, cf.
3StSeth, VII, 120, 17-19.29-30; 121, 8-9; Zost, VIII, 24, 4; 44, 30; 51, 22;
52, 16; 61, 17-18; Allog, XI, 45, 37; 51, 33; 55, 36; 58, 15; ApocryJn, BG,
27, 21; II, 5, 8; TriProt, XIII, 37, 26; Anon. Bruc. 341, 8 SCHMIDT-TILL.

330
his second

into Being, Life and Intellect, much as the


hypostasis,
and Mentality
triad
of Allog (XI, 49, 28-38)
Being, Vitality
the tripartition
of the Triple Power of the Invisible
represents
Spirit.
The triadic scheme of Allog is also present in Zost, although
Zost seems to interpret
the ascent through
various levels by a
series of baptisms.
The 3StSeth utilizes a triadic ontology similar
to the one found in Allog, but instead of systematically
expounding
it, 3StSeth conveys glimpses of it in the course of three lengthy
to Adamas
aretalogical
doxologies addressed respectively
(a sort
of ideal Anthropos
and
the
Unknown
God.
figure), Barbelo,
lastly
The concluding
of
3StSeth makes it clear that these
paragraph
three doxologies
are to be used in connection
with a spiritual
ascent and descent, consisting of three stages. Besides the threelevel cosmology and the use of the Kalyptos-Protophanes-Autogenes
all witness the triad Being or
triad, Allog, Zost, and 3StSeth
and
found incipiently
in Plotinus
Existence,
Vitality,
Mentality
and perhaps Porphyry,
and rampantly
in Proclus and Damascius.
We have an interlocking
web of five Barbeloite Gnostic treatises.
Zost and 3StSeth clearly display the same cosmology and terminology found in Allog; Allog and TriProt are both literarily dependent
on some version of ApocryJn,
and the central figure that relates
them all is Barbelo, the First Thought of the Unknown God. As
his Intellect
or Self-Knowledge,
Barbelo constitutes
the focus of
the Gnostic experience
of salvation.
All five treatises
possess a
three-level
of
a
level
ontology consisting
beyond being, an intelor
aeonic
and
a
lower
realm
of Nature sometimes so
level,
ligible
devalued as to be called Chaos or the prison. In each, the intelligible
whether structurworld, the Aeon of Barbelo, is also tripartitioned
three
levels
of
or
Zost,
ally (the
Allog,
3StSeth)
narratively
(the
three descents of Pro [ten]noia
in ApocryJn
and TriProt). The goal
of each treatise is to reunite the Gnostic's intellect to its source in
the aeonic world by the reception of a revelation of and from the
highest realm made available to the lowest.
Yet in spite of these similarities,
these five treatises
are all
different. They all deck out their ontological structure with various
and deployment
constitute
aeons, whose coming-to-be
hypostatic
a myth that predominates
in varying degrees in the various tractates. The major mythological
feature I take to be a cosmogony
the successive begetting of personified
narrating
powers or Aeons

331
occupy ever lower levels of being. Under this definition,
with Zost,
ApocryJn and TriProt would be the most mythological,
to the
and Allog as the least mythological,
according
3StSeth
narrative
which
this
to
precosmogonic
mythological
degree
or is alluded to. In the most mythological,
dominates
ApocryJn
descent of a
and TriProt, revelation occurs through the three-stage
divine noetic principle into the world of mortals, while in the less
and especially
treatises,
Zost, 3StSeth
Allog, the
mythological
ascent of the Gnostic's
revelation occurs only after the three-stage
intellect to its own proper ontic level. Once one has caused one's
of the
mind to ascend to the highest level of being, a revelation
unknown God who is beyond being is disclosed to the successful
is a negative theologyGnostic. In Allog, this "primary revelation"
one knows the Unknown God by not knowing him (XI, 59, 30-32;
Oracles
from the Chaldean
61, 17-19), a motif known already
a
vacant
("It is necessary to know [that one] ... by stretching
mind to the object of knowledge"
(p. m KROLL; frg. i, 7-9 DES
who

PLACES).
the saving gnosis is mediated
In the main body of ApocryJn,
the
merciful Father (-Mother), in
descents
of
Barbelo:
by the three
into Adam;
Christ who blows 7t'VEfLa.
the guise of the Autogenes
the Epinoia of Light who appears as the spiritual Eve (Zoe) or as
and finally as the Christ of the framethe tree of knowledge;
descent of the
of the threefold
In
the
narrative
hymnic
story.
First Thought (Pronoia) added to the longer version of ApocryJn,
on the third descent of the First
the saving gnosis is manifested
the mysterious five seals. TriProt
Thought where she communicates
is essentially
an expansion of the same scheme, except that here
the three descents of the First Thought are interpreted
by a threeis
identified
which
each
of
revelation
by
stage
stage progressive
the
the Father
or Voice who awakens
an auditory
metaphor:
Gnostics from the bonds of oblivion; the Mother or Sound of the
the shift
the rule of Fate and announces
Voice who overthrows
of the ages; and the Son or Logos of the Voice, who strips away
the corporeal and psychic accretions and puts the garment of light
on the Gnostic through the five seals.
and Allog,
On the other hand, in the treatises
Zost, 3StSeth
but
is not brought
below by a descending
revelation
revealer,
rather occurs only after the Gnostic has ascended to the peak of
and selfthe world of being in successive stages of detachment

332
unification
by an autonomous
mystical
technique;
only at this
does
revelation
of
the
Unknown
God
occur. To be sure,
point
revelation
is brought
down to the gnostic in the form of these
treatises themselves according to which a famous mortal, Dositheus,
Zoroaster
or Allogenes, has achieved the vision and redescended
to communicate
it by depositing a record of their experience with
a trusted disciple who teaches it to others. But the means by which
What occupies
gnosis is achieved is a self-performable
technique.
the center of attention
in these treatises is the structure
of the
divine world, not its production,
and the spiritual ascent through
the intelligible
levels of that divine world-here
there are no
no
fall
of
the
no
secret
no
dissolution
archons,
soul,
passwords,
of the bonds of oblivion by a Redeemer.
II. The Platonic

Legacy
The achievement
of gnosis in three stages of enlightenment,
whether conveyed by a descent or an ascent, is not as such the
treatises, since this feature is
legacy of Plato to these Barbeloite
and Christian
found also in Jewish
the
Rather,
apocalyptic.
peculiar legacy of Plato is to be found in the basically emanationistic metaphysical
the transcendent
ontology that structures
world of these treatises.
In the final section, it will be suggested
that the three-stage
descent scheme of these treatises is basically
on the other hand, in these treatises, the three-stage
un-Platonic;
is of
ascent, although found in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic,
Platonic inspiration
insofar as the knower at each stage assimilates
to his own being the form of being proper to the level at which he
finds himself. First we turn to the ontology of these treatises, and
then to their epistemology.
A. Ontology
All five treatises seem to display at least a three-level
ontology:
a level beyond being occupied by the Unknown God or Invisible
Spirit; a level of pure being occupied by the First Thought of the
Unknown
level
God, Barbelo and her Aeon, and a perceptible
of
the
material
world.
A
interlevel
fourth,
consisting
psychic
mediate
between the aeons and the material
world is possible,
but is not consistently
In
accordance
with the gnostic
portrayed.
ambivalence
toward the soul and psychic existence, the metaphysical status of the soul is ambiguous in these texts.

333
or perhaps four-level ontology seems to be present
in ApocryJn
and TriProt,
but in a less systematic
manner. For
the psychic and/or
them, the sphere of revelation is predominantly
material sphere in which gnosis is conveyed through a series of
or some aspect thereof. In Allog,
descents of the First Thought
Zost and 3StSeth, the three- or four-level ontology is very promiis obtained
nent, since it forms the staircase by which revelation
at
the
level
from
it
the
Gnostic
which
derives,
directly
by
through
a gradual ascent.
KRAMER has pointed
out that there are two
Hans Joachim
in the Platonism
basic ontological
structures
of Late
prevalent
One consists of three levels: i) the sphere of pure
Antiquity').
the
principle containing
being consisting of a monadic intellectual
the
of
the
ideal forms and numbers;
World
2)
demiurgic sphere
Soul, often considered to be the lower level of a bipartite Intellect
rather than a separate sphere; and 3) the sphere of the material
This structure,
represented
principle.
by most Middleplatonists
Maximus
and Numenius)
and by
Celsus,
Apuleius,
(Albinus,
is
said
to
derive
from
the
successor
of
Aristotle,
Xenocrates,
as
of
after
The
leader
the
Old
Plato's
death.
Academy
Speusippus
other basic structure consists of four levels and is the same as the
three-level
structure
except that a highest level beyond being,
"the
dominates
the other three. This structure
One,"
occupied by
is typical of Neopythagoreans
Moderatus,
(Nicomachus,
pseudoPhilo and many Gnostics (Basinymous numerological
treatises),
the Megale Apoof Hippolytus,
lides, the monistic Valentinians
phasis), and is said to derive from the esoteric teaching of Plato
The four-level structure
of course
and his successor Speusippus.
in Plotinus with his spheres of the
found its clearest exponent
the Soul, and Matter.
It appears
that the
One, the Intellect,
Barbeloite
treatises
structure,
bearing
belong to the four-level
In ApocryJn
in mind that the position of soul is ambiguous.
and
TriProt, soul has its roots in the Intellect, yet it has fallen into the
realm of matter
the abortive
work of the
through
demiurgic
Yaldabaoth.
In
indiscrete
Sophia and the arrogant
Allog and in
3StSeth, which omit the Sophia myth, the soul is not mentioned
This

three

7) H. J. KRMER,Der Ursprung der Geistmetaphysik: Untersuchungen zur


Geschichte des Platonismus zwischen Platon und Plotin (Amsterdam: P.
Schippers, 1964).

334
as such, although it may occupy the lowest level of Barbelo's Aeon.
treatises,
Among the Barbeloite
Allog certainly
displays the
interest
in a systematic
Because
of its
greatest
metaphysics.
to Plotinus'
and
because
this
treatise
as
similarity
metaphysics
well as Zost was almost certainly known to Plotinus and Porphyry
structure
of Allog merits some
(Vita Plot. 16), the metaphysical
extended comment.
The cosmology of Allog is tripartite,
but belongs to the fourlevel metaphysic of Speusippus, the Neopythagoreans
and Plotinus.
The highest being, corresponding
to Plotinus' One, is the Unknown
God or Invisible
existence,
Spirit, characterized
by non-being
silence and stillness; he is not an existing thing and is completely
unknowable
(XI, 62, 23 - 64, 14). The second major level is that
of the Aeon of Barbelo, corresponding
to Plotinus' Intellect, which
consists of three personae:
the domain
Kalyptos
(the
of "the authentic
existents"
(the
Protophanes
(the
the domain of "those who
0empr<ixlq or x'LVOUfLEVO
exist together"
(cf. Enn. IV.r.z:
[scil. iv Tw
6?to5 fLv 7c6Eq
and Autogenes (the vo5q 8cavou?.evo5),
vo5q ... 6[Lo5 8e 7t'eXcrelL
the domain of the "individuals"
individuated
(perhaps
souls).
The third level, Nature, is only alluded to, and appears to hold
no interest for the author of Allog.
feature of Allog's metaphysics,
and
Clearly the most intriguing
perhaps the crucial feature by which it can be placed at a definite
is the Triple Power. This being is
point in the Platonic tradition,
mentioned
sometimes
sometimes
in conjunction
independently,
with the Invisible Spirit, and once in conjunction
with Barbelo.
the Triple Power becomes the Aeon of
By a static self-extension,
Barbelo
it is said that the Triple
(XI, 45, 21-30). Furthermore
Power traverses
the boundlessness
of the Invisible
Spirit that
subsists in the Triple Power, so that this "boundlessness"
might
(in turn) surround the Invisible Spirit as his self-knowledge
(XI,
49, 7-21). Thus the Triple Power probably is the potency
of the Unknown One and/or Invisible Spirit by which he unfolds
himself into the world of Being and Intellect. The Triple Power is
said to consist of three modalities:
That-which-is
(Being), Vitality
and Mentality
(XI, 49, 26-38).
Now according to Plotinus' doctrine of Intellect, there emanates
from the superabundant
of the One a "trace"
called
potency
"Life." This Life, declining from the One, is at first boundless,

335
but once it has turned back to the One in an act of vision, it reLife" becomes
ceives a limit. By receiving a limit this "boundless
definable
Intellect
being and at the same time thinking
(Enn.
to
the
This
seems
to
the
function
of
correspond
VI.7.17).
exactly
in
Power
that
while
in
Plotinus
the
triad
Triple
Allog, except
is an aspect of the second hypostasis
Being-Life-Mind
(Intellect),
in Allog the Triple Power of Being-Vitality-Mentality
seems to
exist above the second hypostasis
(Barbelo) as a sort of quasiThis quasi-hypostatic
status of the Triple Power seems
hypostasis.
to find its analogy for the first time in the metaphysics
of Porphyry,
Plotinus' disciple.
According to Pierre Hadot, Porphyry
posited the existence of
a triadic being called "Life" as a mediating
between
hypostasis
the Plotinian One and Intellect, because he wished to demonstrate
that the Intellect, which for Plotinus is completely
discontinuous
with the transcendent
is
at
the
same time
One,
paradoxically
with the One 8). In effect, Porphyry
discontinuous
and continuous
attributed
three modalities
or phases to the Intellect,
which he
and
into
the
Life
Intellect.
triad,
Existence,
analyzed
Porphyry's
term existence
which is also used of the Triple Power
in Allog and Zost, is meant to refer to the absolute being (oc6-c6To
clvai) of the One, which is the 18a of the derived being (TO ov)
Intellect
thus unfolds from the absolute
proper to the Intellect.
in
of
the
One
three
being
phases according to which each modality
8) P. HADOT, "La mtaphysique de Porphyre," Porphyre (Entretiens
sur l'antiquit classique XII; Vandoeuvres-Geneva:
Fondation Hardt,
1960), pp. 127-157; "Discussion," pp. 158-163. HADOT does not discuss
here the possible role of the Chaldean verse
[sc.
],
(Procl. Theol. Plat. 365, 3) which LEWY
relates to Anon. Taur. IX, 1 (Chaldean Oracles and Theurgy: Mysticism,
Magic and Platonism in the Later Roman Empire [Recherches d'archologie,
de philologie et d'histoire XIII; Cairo: Institut Franais d'Archologie
is an emanaOrientale, 1956], p. 79, n. 47). Although LEWY thinks this
tion of the
of the Chaldeans, it is also possible that it is the
itself. If the verse is authentic, it may have formed, along with
ApocryJn and Neopythagorean speculation, the basis on which Allog or
perhaps Porphyry (or even Plotinus) developed the Being or Existence-Life
or Dynamis-Mind triad. While the present article suggests that Allog may
be the source of the triad, HADOTclaims Porphyry as the originator on the
basis of HADOT'S theory that the anonymous Parmenides commentary
(Anon. Taur.) is by Porphyry ("Fragments d'un commentaire de Porphyre
sur le Parmnide," REG 74 [1961], 410-438; extensive treatment and texts
in the second volume of his Porphyre et Victorinus [tudes Augustiniennes,
1968]).

336
at a given stage. First, qua
of the Intellect predominates
in and identical
is purely potential
resident
Intellect
Intellect
with its idea, the absolute being of the One. Last, qua Intellect,
it has become identical with the derived being (,r6 6v) of Intellect
as the hypostatic
exemplification
proper, the second hypostasis,
of its idea, the absolute being of the One. The transitional
phase
a
between the first and last phases of intellect in effect constitutes
median modality of Intellect in which it is "boundless
thinking"
or Intellect qua Life. Porphyry
conceived this transiapparently
tional phase of Intellect qua Life to have hypostatic
reality, and
to see the Triple Power of Allog in the same light.
it is tempting
with the Invisible
Thus in Allog, the Triple Power is continuous
with the Invisible
discontinuous
Spirit qua its Existence-modality,
but
continuous
with
Barbelo
its
Spirit
qua
Mentality-modality,
it is simultaneously
continuous
and
and qua its Vitality-modality,
discontinuous
with both the Invisible Spirit and Barbelo. Hence
of the
the Triple Power serves to emphasize
the transcendence
Invisible Spirit, but at the same time to prevent
any ultimate
in
the
chain
of
Since
Plotinus
in
his
treatise
"Against
being.
gap
the Gnostics" (Enn. II. 9.i and 6) rejects such attempts to partition
and posit more than three hypostases,
it is quite
the Intellect
that
his Being-Life-Intellect
triad to the
possible
by restricting
entities
he is reacting against such hypostatic
second hypostasis,
median phase of
as the Triple Power of Allog and the Porphyrian
the triad in which Life predominates
(significantly,
Allog also calls
the Triple Power an "Eternal
Life," XI, 66, 32-36). If so, it is
this triad to
that
have
Allog may
originally introduced
possible
Plotinus and his circle.
If Allog be considered as one of the sources from which Plotinus
for its
could have derived this triad, one must try to account
in
To
it
to
answer
this
is
Allog.
recognize
appearance
necessary
in Allog. The Being or
two different kinds of triads functioning
triad
Existence-Vitality-Mentality
represented
by the Triple
Power belongs to the subject of first principles
(apzoct) or what
where
one might call "stoicheology,"
that branch of metaphysics
to show how all things originate
from primal
one is concerned
of Intellect or Barbelo
principles. On the other hand, the tripartition
belongs
by means of the triad Kalyptos-Protophanes-Autogenes
more properly to ontology, or better, to "noology."
Now the "stoicheic"
triad seems to derive from contemporary

337
on the origin of all things from the
Neopythagorean
speculation
monad. Thus the second-century
A.D. Neopythagoreans
Nicomachus of Gerasa (Eisagoge, II.8.I)
and Theon of Smyrna
(Expositio, p. 37, 15-18 HILLER) posit a triad (-rp'tywvoq) to be potentially resident in the original monad. This triad is evidently com"even" and "odd,"
which in the
posed of the old Pythagorean
Old Platonic Academy were called the "one" and the "indefinite
dyad," two principles whose interaction
produces the transcendent
ideas conceived as numbers, and from them, all else. Xenocrates
identified this "one" with a transcendent
Mind who imposed limit
on the "indefinite
or
material
thus producing
dyad"
principle,
the world-soul or definite dyad, which he regarded as a self-moving
number. This stoicheic metaphysics
was later modified
(as early
as Eudorus of Alexandria
in the first century B. C. ) in such a way
as to incorporate
the doctrine of a transcendent
One beyond being
at the NeoPlato
and
Thus
one
arrives
espoused by
Speusippus.
stoicheic
of
a
One
pythagorean
metaphysics
beyond being from
whom derives a pair of elements, the monad and indefinite dyad;
from this triad all else derives 9).
On the other hand, the "noetic"
of the divine intripartition
tellect has little to do with the Neopythagorean
on
speculation
first principles,
but derives from contemporary
Middle-Platonic
exegesis of Plato, Timaeus 39E: "the Nous beholds (xoc0opa) the
ideas resident in the veritable living being (0 E6T?
such and
so many as exist therein he purposed
that the universe
should contain." As one can judge from the noology of the Chaldean
Albinus and Maximus, the Timaeus passage
Oracles, Numenius,
was taken to imply two intelligences
or Gods, one inert, the other
vous 6v
demiurgic. The first God, an inert intelligence
(vo5q
was found in the "living being" of the Timaeus. The second
was regarded
as double: as conGod, a demiurgic
intelligence,
intellect
cf.
he is
templative
(vo5q voouv, vo5q 6E<.P"fJ't"Lx'6;
directed upwards in contemplation
of the first God or inert intelligence, and as the planning intellect
8vvou?,evos) he is directed
downward
to his creation.
Plotinus
himself plays with such a
notion (Enn. III.9.I)
which he later attributes
to the Gnostics
9) On this, see A. J. FESTUGIRE, La rvlation d'Herms Trismgiste:
Vol. 1 Le dieu inconnu et la gnose (tudes bibliques; Paris: J. Gabalda, 1954).
pp. 18-53; KRMER,Der Ursprung der Geistmetaphysih, pp. 193-369.

338
and abandons
(Enn. I1.9.1 and 6) by equating the lower planning
intellect
with his Soul-hypostasis,
and interpreting
the upper
and
intellects
as two
(inert) contemplated
(active) contemplating
indivisible phases of his Intellect-hypostasis.
Now it is quite possible that behind Allog there stands a group
whom Plotinus mentions as "others"
who view the living being,
the intellect and the planning principle as a single being (Enn.
cf. 11.9.1, 14-57; 9.6, 14-35). For in Allog, the
III.9.1, 26-27;
intellective
level called the Aeon of Barbelo is tripartitioned
into
three levels. The highest,
contains
"those who truly
Kalyptos,
this level would be the inert vo5q
exist";
(but which can
somehow
"act,"
XI, 45, 32). The median level, the male Mind
would be the vous voo5v (cf. vOEp6v, XI, 51, 18). The
Protophanes,
lowest level, Autogenes, would be the vous 8Lxvo5?tevoq (who "works
and individually"
on nature
successively
(XI, 51, 28-32; cf. the
Enn. III.9.I) . This scheme comes very close to that
vo?q
mentioned
and rejected by Plotinus.
Yet according
to the earliest version of the Barbeloite
coscontained
in
and
Iren.
mogony
ApocryJn
(BG, 26, 14 - 29, 18)
Haey. L2g.i, Barbelo is not actually tripartitioned.
Rather, once
she appears on the stage, she requests what appear to be three
and Aionia Zoe (a
powers or faculties:
Prognosis,
Aphtharsia,
is only redundant
of Barbelo's
fourth, Ennoia,
hypostatization
When
one
in
reads
further
that
cognomen
Ennoia).
ApocryJn
Barbelo is associated
with three powers and three names, one
begins to think of the Triple Power, which in Allog is called Being
or Existence,
Now conceptually
Vitality or Life, and Mentality.
the term Prognosis is close to the term Mentality
of
(derivatives
and
characterizes
vo respectively);
yv45atq
Aphtharsia
certainly
the permanence
of pure being as opposed to becoming, and Aionia
Zoe already contains the term Life. It is therefore
to
tempting
as a specularegard the "stoicheic" triad Being-Vitality-Mentality
of the "noological" triad Prognosis-Aphtharsiative Analogiebildung
Aionia Zoe. Owing to its more abstract
it could be
character,
"
into
the
service
of
a
pressed
Gnostic-philosophical
"stoicheology"
whose intent would be to show how the intellectual Aeon of Barbelo
derives from the Unknown God or Invisible Spirit. In ApocryJn,
Barbelo derives from the thought
of the Invisible
Spirit which
arises from his image reflected in the Water of Life that surrounds
him. By means of the triad Being-Vitality-Mentality,
Allog merely

339
than
spells out the nature of this process in a monistic rather
dualistic fashion. In place of the dual principles of Invisible Spirit
and Water of Life, Allog conceives in the Triple Power a single
principle, the boundless power of the Invisible Spirit, which obreversion to its source.
jectifies itself in an act of contemplative
The high deity does not objectify himself in an act of conception;
rather his potency objectifies itself in three phases of spontaneous
emission.
It is possible that Plotinus, in his desire to emphasize the absolute
transcendence
of the One, may have accepted
the generative
function of the Triple Power triad of Allog, but not its hypostatic
status between the One and Intellect. Thus he demoted the triad
to his second hypostasis,
Being-Life-Mind
taking his lead from a
favorite passage of Plato, Sophist 248E : "Are we really to be so
that change, life, soul and intelligence
have no
easily persuaded
that it has neither life
place in the perfectly real
nor intelligence,
but stands solemnly aloof, devoid of inWhile for Allog "perfectly
real" means
telligence
for
Plotinus
this
could
be Intellect
something
beyond Intellect,
and
no
more.
only,
If this hypothetical
process accounts for the role of the Triple
it
Power in Allog, one must yet account for the nomenclature
attaches
to the tripartite
Aeon of Barbelo. How was the triad
in Allog
attached
to Barbelo
Kalyptos-Protophanes-Autogenes
for the Prognosis-Aphtharsia-Aionia
Zoe triad
of
substituted
Apocry Jn ?
To begin with, if the triad Being-Vitality-Mentality
was formed
on analogy with the Prognosis-Aphtharsia-Aionia
Zoe triad, the
latter triad may have been abandoned
to avoid conaltogether
fusion with the new triad that transcended
it. Thus a new triad
of names had to be substituted
for it, or even conceivably
displaced it. This is the triad Kalyptos-Protophanes-Autogenes.
These names in this particular
triadic arrangement
are witnessed
in
the
final
tractate
of
the Bruce
only
Allog, Zost,
anonymous
Codex ("the ninth Father has a xClu7t''t"6-aspect, a
aspect, and an oc6-royev?q-aspect," SCHMIDT-TILL 341, 5-7), 3S Seth,
10) For extensive analysis of this triad in Plotinus, see P. HADOT, "Etre,
Vie, Pense chez Plotin et avant Plotin," Les sources de Plotin (Entretiens
sur l'antiquit classique V; Vandoeuvres-Geneva, Fondation Hardt, 1960),
pp. 159-174; "Discussion," pp. 175-190.

340
and in Marsanes (X, 3, 25 - 4, io). While the triadic structure
of
the Aeon of Barbelo seems to have more or less clear antecedents,
the names of this triad are unattested
in the earliest Barbeloite
and
their
source
can
be
a
matter of conjecture.
literature,
only
the
term
Thus
which can mean either "hidden"
or
Kalyptos,
"that which covers," probably derives from the conception of the
veil or
the higher from the lower realm. The
separating
of
as
the
position
Kalyptos
highest entity in the intelligible Aeon
of Barbelo comes very close to that of the Valentinian
upper
Horos or Limit that separates the highest deity Bythos from the
other Aeons that derive from him (cf. Iren. Haer. 1.II.I; ValExp
XI, 27, 37-38; the "veil" of GPhil II, 3, 69, 36; 84, 23).
The term Protophanes
may be of Orphic origin: in the Orphic
Phanes
was
Rhapsodies,
(called also Eros, Metis, and Erikepaios)
so-called because he was "first to appear"
yap
Orph. Arg. 14-16 HERMANN) from the cosmic egg. Bisexual, he was
regarded as "always two-formed,"
"looking this way and that,"
and called (according to Proclus) "the key of Mind" (Oyph. frag.
72-89; 167; Synesios,
Hymn. 2.63 calls the "Son"
7t'p<.'t"ocpClv
Both the Orphic etymology
and his
"first-appearing"
characterization
as mind and as mediating
between above and
below are clearly reflected
in Protophanes'
in Allog,
position
where as "the great male Mind" (XI, 45, 34-36; 46, 24-25) he represents the progression
from the psychic ("individuals"
in Autoto
the
in
who
exist"
genes)
intelligible
("those
truly
Kalyptos)
levels of the aeon of Barbelo (XI, 46, 25-34).
derives from the AutoFinally, the term Autogenes
probably
genes-Monogenes
light (identified with Christ) who according to
is generated in Barbelo by the Father. Irenaeus
ApocryJn
(Haer.
adds
the interesting
comment
that the production
of
L2g. r )
was
the
of the ye'vzatq of all things,"
that
Autogenes
"beginning
is the origin of the world of becoming and multiplicity.
In Platonic
this would be the role of the Demiurge who shapes
metaphysics,
the World Soul (Tim. 39E ff.). The Valentinians
attribute
this
role to Jesus, the Fruit of the Pleroma,
who fashions Sophia's
passions into the psychic (and material) world. One may therefore
adduce relevant mythological
sources for the names contained in
the triad, but since the names are not associated
in a
together
triad prior to Allog and Zost, one must assume that it was the

341
these documents
Gnostics
behind
who developed
this triad.
Be these theories concerning the nomenclature
of the Barbeloite
triads as they may, it cannot be doubted that the structure
and
of
these
triads
in
and
derive
Zost,
3StSeth
deployment
Allog,
in the Platonic Academy.
from the metaphysics
The
originating
triad of the Triple Power belongs to the "stoicheological"
speculation
of the Alexandrian
and the triad of the Aeon of
Neopythagoreans,
Barbelo belongs to the "noological"
of the Middlespeculation
of
Plato's
Timaeus.
The
platonic interpretation
general ontology
and cosmology of the upper world in ApocryJn
and TriProt also
intersects with the general Platonic ontological stratification
of the
is clearly
cosmos, but the center of gravity in these documents
and soteriological
rather than metaphysical.
Acanthropological
the
of
a
to
the
these
documents
is
cordingly,
cosmology
prelude
in
of
the
of
man's
condition
the
material
myth
Sophia,
description
world and the saving initiatives
of the higher world in response to
that condition. Here, there is no contemplative
or ecstatic ascent
through the intelligible world. Man has been so tightly bound in
matter that his intellect cannot raise itself above it; he is dependent
on the descent of the divine intellect to his own level. Yet, oddly
and TriProt, this descent of the divine intelenough, in ApocryJn
lect takes place in three stages, just as in Allog, Zost and 3StSeth,
the ascent of the Gnostic intellect occurs in three stages. In Allog,
Zost and 3StSeth these stages are conceived vertically,
while in
and
are
described
as
a
horizontal
TriProt, they
ApocryJn
temporal
succession.
B. Epistemology
We now turn

to a consideration
of the epistemology
of these
the
feature
whether
tractates,
that,
specifically
conveyed
by
in three steps. First, the
descent or ascent, gnosis is achieved
threefold ascent.
in progressively
The attainment
of enlightenment
higher levels
of ecstatic ascent is a feature not only of the Platonic tradition,
but also of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic
literature
(I Enoch
II
Enoch ii-xxiii; Test. Levi. ii-v; Asc. Is.; Apoc. Bar vi;
lxxi;
3 Bar i; Vita Ad. et Ev. xxv; Apoc. Sophonias afiud Clem. Alex.
Strom. V.m; Apoc. Abraham
xv; Apoc. Moses xxxvii; often in
rabbinic Merkaba and Hekhaloth speculation;
2 Cor xii and numerous

342
Christian and Gnostic Apocalypses)
11). Here the levels of ascent
are usually called heavens, thrones or palaces and vary in number
between three and ten. But even in the cases when apocalyptic
literature
a three-stage
ascent, the object of vision is
portrays
a
or
his
throne
generally
personal deity
(who is not ontologically
with the seer's soul), the course and end of history,
consubstantial
11) See W. BOUSSET, Die Himmelreise der Seele (Archiv fr Religionswissenschaft 4 [1901], 136-169; 229-273; reprint Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1960). Bousset tries to show that the three-heaven
cosmology is original in the earliest Jewish apocalyptic and is of Iranian
origin; only later was it displaced by the Neo-Babylonian seven-heaven
cosmology. Carsten COLPE has attempted to establish a phenomenological
criterion for the gnostic version of the ascent of the soul ("Die Himmelreise
der Seele," Le Origini dello Gnostismo: Colloquio di Messina, 13-18 Aprile
1966; Testi e Discussioni. Ed. by Ugo BIANCHI.[Supplements to Numen XII;
Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967], pp. 429-445). He points out that in Iranian and
Jewish sources depicting the ecstatic ascent of the soul through the heavens,
the soul of the visionary is never aboriginally consubstantial with the object
of vision. When assimilation occurs, as in investiture with the cloak of
glory (1 Enoch 62; 2 Enoch 22), it is conferred, not achieved by mental
praxis. In Greek and Gnostic sources, the ascending soul is as a rule consubstantial with the object of vision according as these sources reflect the notion
of the analogy between the microcosmos (= highest part of the visionary's
soul) and the macrocosmos (the highest level of the cosmos). The notion of
consubstantiality is also found in Jewish wisdom literature, but except for
Philo, these sources depict neither the microcosmos-macrocosmos conception
nor the ascent motif, portraying instead the descent motif. The gnostic
descent and ascent scheme is distinguished by the motif of the redeemed
redeemer, according to which the upper macrocosmic soul becomes the
redeemer of the lower microcosmic soul by awaking the latter from the
sleep of incarnation so as to release it for its ascent to its origin. In this
respect, Allog, Zost and 3StSeth cannot be regarded as truly gnostic. On
the other hand, ApocryJn and TriProt are gnostic, since they depict the
descents of the First Thought (like the descent of Wisdom) as redemptive of
its fallen (consubstantial!) portions
In this connection, it is
.
perhaps significant that TriProt and the Pronoia hymn of ApocryJn depict
the ascent of the redeemed soul by means of the mystery initiation motif
of the five seals (cf. Apuleius, Metam. XI, 24). The five seals are not portrayed
as a self-performable ascent. Rather the soul must be raised up from its
sleep by a succession of celestial helpers or psychopomps located at various
levels of the ascent; it cannot raise itself, as in Allog, Zost and 3StSeth. It
therefore appears that Jewish wisdom literature forms the pre-gnostic
prototype for the descent motif of ApocryJn and TriProt, while the Greek
visionary literature provides the pre-gnostic prototype for the ascent motif
of Allog, Zost and 3StSeth. The visionary ascent motif of Jewish apocalyptic,
lacking the motif of the consubstantiality of knower with known seems to
stand apart here, but on the other hand may indeed have contributed to
the gnostic descent motif through its eschatological speculations rather than
its ascent motifs (see note 18 below).

343
the nature of the heavens,
the abode of souls, the last judgment,
and the divine glory. Similar visionary
ascents are also part of
such
as
the
the Platonic
tradition,
myth of Er in Republic X,
Plutarch's
"Poseidonian"
of
myths
Thespesius (De sera num. vind.)
and Timarchus
(De gen. Soc.) and so on, but unlike Jewish visionary
the Platonic literature
conceives the ascending soul to
literature,
be returning to its point of origin, and the supreme object of vision
is not a personal deity.
The three-stage
ascent of Allog, Zost and 3StSeth
seems to
have as its object not so much a vision of the upper world, but
of the state of one's own being to
rather the actual assimilation
the state of being that characterizes
each level; one undergoes
to a prescribed
the ascent according
sequence of mental states
and mental abstraction.
characterized
by increasing self-unification
The movement
from multiplicity
to solitariness
and from motion
with the ontological character
to stillness is precisely coordinated
of each level of the ascent. The progressively
higher levels of being
of
mental
a
scale
self-performable
require
corresponding
ascending
evolving
states. Because the monistic ontology is emanationistic,
and reintefrom one to many, the ascent is a gradual purification
self, alienated from its ground, back up
gration of the timebound
to its atemporal
The structure
of such a movement
self-identity.
but in the mystery religions, except
is at home, not in apocalyptic,
that the stages of the ritual have been interiorized 12).
A firm prototype
of this threefold
ascent is certainly
to be
in the speech where
found in Plato's Synafiosiuna (21oA-2I2A)
Socrates recounts the path to the vision of absolute beauty into
The method
which he had been initiated
by the wise Diotima.
and quantitative
consists of a three-stage
qualitative
purification
or purgation
of the soul by a redirection
of Eros, the moving force
of the soul, away from the lower realm to the higher. The qualitative
is a progressive
shift of attention
from the sensible to
purgation
the intelligible realm in three levels of knowing, which correspond
to three levels of life: physical beauty, moral beauty and intelthese are the objects respectively
of the bodily
lectual beauty;
of the soul, and the intelligizing,
senses, the ethical components
12) See the analysis of H. JONAS, "Myth and Mysticism: A Study of Objectification and Interiorization," Philosophical Essays : From Ancient Creed
to Technological Man (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1974), pp. 291-304.

344
of the reflective
soul. The quantitative
contemplative
faculty
away from individual instances of
purgation is a shift of attention
beauty, to the ideal beauty of all forms, and finally to absolute
beauty itself, which then discloses itself as a sudden and immediate
intuition. The next higher stage is therefore achieved by a purifying
and unifying synthesis of the experience of the lower stage.
Indeed Plato seems to have applied this three-stage
progression
not only to his own study of philosophy but also to the program of
study in the Academy he founded 13). In the seventh book of the
he lays down the plan for educating
the
Republic (533E-54oB)
guardians of the ideal state. After the propaedutic
study of mathematics up till the stable and mature age of fifty, one took up the
study of dialectic for five years, and then after a fifteen year period
of fieldwork, one is at age fifty ready for the goal, the highest
of the ideas.
philosophy,
contemplation
Plato's successors such as Xenocrates
and Aristotle also maintained a threefold
to philosophy,
it into
approach
subdividing
and
or
mathematics
into
physics
(Aristotle)
theology,
physics
(including the idea theory), ethics, and logic (Xenocrates)
14). The
latter became the standard
division of subject matter in the Acadand Stoic traditions;
even
emy as well as within the Peripatetic
the Epicureans
into physics, ethics, and epidivided philosophy
stemology
x'a.vovLx'6v).Since Aristotle, physics was the domain
at its summit was "first philosophy,"
of theoretical
philosphy;
then mathematics,
called theology
or metaphysics,
including
and
then
astronomy,
physics proper.
In the first four centuries
of our era to which the Barbeloite
tradition
or
treatises
belong, the Platonic
regarded
metaphysics
three
of
or
as
the
of
the
highest
stages
enlightenment
theology
to the highest stage of initiation
spiritual progress. It corresponded
into the mysteries
and was in fact called 7t'o7t''t"da.,the supreme
vision of the highest reality (Plut., De Is. et Os. 382d ; Theon of
Smyrna, Expos. p. 14 HILLER; Clem. Alex., Strom. L28.y6, i-2;
on this
Origen, In Cant. cant. p. 75,6 BAEHRENS). Commenting
13) On this, see H. CHERNISS,The Riddle of the Early Academy (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1945), pp. 60-85.
14) On this division and its history in western thought, see P. MERLAN,
From Platonism to Neoplatonism (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1953),
pp. 53-77. Cf. Aristotle, Met. 1026a 6-19; 1064b 1-3; Xenocrates apud Sext.
Emp. Adv. math. VII, 16, 147 (= frags. 1 and 5 Heinze).

345
Pierre HADOT points out that Porphyry's
systematic
phenomenon,
scheme
Enneads
conforms
to
this
of
Plotinus'
(Enn.
arrangement
I = ethics; Enn. II, III = physics; Enn. IV, V, VI = epoptic,
as do certain Neoplatonic
the objects of contemplation),
prescriptions for the order of the study of Plato's dialogues (Republic =
= theology; cf. Chalcidius,
ethics; Timaeus = physics; Parmenides
In Tim. 272 & 335; Proclus, In Tim. I, p. 202 DIEHL) 15).
of the highest reality was thus the object of
Vision or
for
The methods
of Late Antiquity.
the Platonic
metaphysics
this vision of the divine by means of dialectic were
achieving
of ascent (cf. Albinus, Didasc. X.5.6, p. 165, 14 ff.
called "paths"
HERMANN; Origen, Contya Cels. VII, 42; Maximus of Tyre, Dial.
was based
XI, lib) 16). The via analogiae or way by comparison
on the parable of the sun in the sixth book of Plato's Republic.
The via negation is (xaT' vaauaw or cicpocL'peatv),or way by abstracwas
affirmative
of all perceptible
tion or negation
predicates,
to
the
self-sufficient
as
the
divine,
path
only logically
regarded
although it was not based on any of Plato's works. This method
in the negative theologies at the beginning of
figures prominently
the via negationis
ApocryJn and at the end of Allog. Complementing
or
or way by apwas the via additionis
(xoc-ra 7t'p66EO"LV O"UV6EO"LV)
via
eminentiae
or way by
to
cause.
The
from
effects
proximation
Plato's
was
based
on
Sym?osium,
ascending
degrees
to
to the stage by stage withdrawal
and corresponds
the highest level of the Triple Power in Allog as well as to the ascents
There is perhaps yet a final
in Zost and 3StSeth.
presupposed
the
via imitationis
or way by
which
transcends
dialectic,
way
based
on
Plato's
Theatetus
assimilation,
(I76B) where
probably
the goal is said to be flight from this world to the other, to be
to the divine so far as possible. This
assimilated
or nonto the "primary
revelation"
method seems to correspond
One
in
and
of
the
Unknown
perhaps to
Allog
knowing knowledge
of
The
the "command"
of 3StSeth
sequence
(VII, 125, 15-16).
is illustrated
these methods
(Styom.
by Clement of Alexandria
15) HADOT, "La mtaphysique de Porphyre," pp. 127-129.
16) For these "ways," see H. DORRIE, "Die Frage nach dem Transzendenten im Mittelplatonismus," Les sources de Plotin (Entretiens sur l'antiquit classique V; Vandoeuvres-Geneva: Fondation Hardt, 1960), pp. 213214; A.-J. FESTUGIRE,Le dieu inconnu et la gnose, pp. 92-140; KRMER,
Der Ursprung der Geistmetaphysik, pp. 105-108.

346
of the given; second,
V.m.y,
2): first, purification
by acceptance
dialectical contemplation
consisting of the analysis of
the given leading to primary
intellection
and abstraction
of all
dimension
and position pertaining
to corporeal
and incorporeal
objects (the via negationis)
leading to the pure monad;
finally
one achieves the intellection of the highest being in terms of knowing
what he is not. So also Plotinus suggests a similar approach
(Enn.
VI, 7.36): one begins by instruction
through analogies, negations,
syntheses and ascending degrees; he draws near by purifications,
of the intelligible
virtues, orderings
(of the soul) and gradations
until one "stands firmly" upon it (the via eminentiae;
cf. Allog
59, 18-20; 6o, 28-31); at that point where one becomes simultaneously subject and object of one's own vision, all learning is abandoned and "suddenly"
(cf. Synafi. 21oE) one sees the source of
itself
via
The culmination
of the vision, the
light
(the
imitationis).
via imitationis
or way of assimilation,
transcends
for
philosophy
or ecstasy. Since it involves contemplative
imitation
mysticism
of the virtues of which the divine is the source, and since his only
virtue is oneness, aloneness,
and absolute goodness,
tranquillity
the via imitationis is the ascetic way, a purgative
stripping away
of all powers of soul and intellect, a self-concentration
into pure
solitariness where no object of knowledge exists outside the knower.
At this point, to know is not to know. This appears to be the culminating experience envisaged in Allog and 3StSeth. It has its roots
in the three-stage
ascent to the vision of the Beautiful described
in Plato's Symposium. To be sure, the roots have been bent in a
very ascetic direction,
perhaps by Neopythagorean
rigorism and
the gnostic spirit itself, but the fruit continues to bear the stamp
of the Platonic tradition.
When we turn to the other main Barbeloite vehicle for enlightenof gnosis through the threefold descent of a
ment, the revelation
of the divine intelligence
as depicted in ApocryJn and
hypostasis
To be sure,
TriProt, we seem to have left the Platonic territory.
the ontology of these treatises still resembles that of late Platonism,
but the triple descent motif is foreign to it.
Recent scholarship
locates the descent
motif in the Jewish
myth of the descending and demiurgic figure of the divine wisdom
(Sophia) that works itself out in Proverbs viii, I Enoch xlii, Sirach
xxiii, Wisdom of Solomon vi-x and other Jewish sources (cf. also

347
the descent of God's Name and Shekinah) 17). This myth seems
to have influenced
Philo's doctrine of the Logos (especially the
as
a6Yo5 7t'pocpopLx'6) well as that of the author of the Johannine
who interpreted
Christ
Fathers,
prologue and the Alexandrian
as the Logos.
In general the three-stage
advent of redemption
into the world
is depicted in two basic schemes. The first scheme is horizontal
and temporally
where redemption
is conveyed
successive,
by
descents of separate figures or by repeated descents of the same
figure. The second is a more vertical and modalistic scheme in which
a single revealer is manifested
in each of the three levels of the
cosmos in a form and modality suited to the being and needs of
each level. Generally neither the first nor the second scheme is
found in pure form; they almost always occur in some combination.
The first (horizontal) scheme clearly predominates
in the Pronoia
of
where
the
same
makes rehymn
figure (Pronoia)
ApocryJn,
descents.
The
same
in
scheme
occurs
peated
GEgypt
(III, 63, 4 64, 9 = IV, 74, 17 - 75, 24) where the same figure, Seth, is said to
pass through three 7t'ClpouO"lClL
experienced
by his seed, the incorthe
the
and finally the
flood,
ruptible generation:
conflagration,
of
in
the
hostile
Seth
the
form
of Jesus. On
judgment
powers by
the other hand, in ApocAdam there are three saving descents, but
in each case the redeeming figures appear to be different:
at the
flood the seed of Seth is rescued by great angels (V, 69, 1-25); at
the conflagration,
the seed of Seth is rescued by Abrasax,
Sablo
and Gamaliel (V, 75, 9 - 76, 7); thereafter
"for the third time" at
the advent of the days of death the Illuminator
will save their
souls (V, 76, 8 - 77, 3). However, the modalistic scheme is already
inroads
in ApocAdam,
the successive
since, although
making
descents are each ascribed to separate
the
figures,
phrase "the
third time" is clearly a device to cause the reader to see them all
as manifestations
of a single figure, the Illuminator.
Moreover, GEgypt and ApocAdam provide a clue concerning the
scheme of three successive descents, of
origin of the horizontal
17) See G. W. MACRAE, S.J., "The Jewish Background of the Sophia
Die Mutter
Myth," NovTest 12 (1970), 86-101; but cf. H. CONZELMANN,
der Weisheit," Zeit und Geschichte: Dankesgabe an Rudolf Bultmann zum
80. Geburtstag. Ed. E. DINKLER (Tbingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck],
1964, pp. 225-234, who argues that the prototype of the hypostatized Sophia
is Is)is.

348
which the first two are preparatory
and accompanied
by purifiand the third conveys final salvation.
The
catory destructions,
of
the
of
salvation
into
three
periodization
gnostic history
saving
dispensations
by means of fire and flood seems to derive from
Jewish apocalyptic
18). This scheme seems to be present in I Enoch
10 and 99-ioo and in the legend of the steles of stone and clay
established
by the seed of Seth to preserve their wisdom against
destruction
Ev. 49-50
by flood and conflagration
(Vita Ac. et
CHARLES; Josephus, Ant. 1.2.3 WHISTON ; cf. Lk xvii 25-30 ; 2 Pt
ii 4-9). As for the Barbeloite
texts, while flood and conflagration
are not mentioned
in the Pronoia hymn of ApocryJn,
the main
the flood, and
body of ApocryJn
(BG, 72, 14 - 73, 18) mentions
TriProt
in each case
(XIII, 43, 8-12) mentions the conflagration;
these are destructions
that preface the third descent of the redeemer.
18) P. PERKINShas shown that the threefold schematization of ApocAdam
derives from Jewish apocalyptic speculation on Adam and Seth in relation
to a periodization of history based on the Genesis tradition of the flood and
of Sodom and Gomorrah; the speculative Gnostic reworking of these traditions as one moves from ApocAdam to GEgypt and on to ParaShem (VII, 25,
9-20), ApocryJn and TriProt shows increasing distance from the Jewish
roots of this periodization ("Apocalyptic Schematization in the Apocalypse
of Adam and the Gospel of the Egyptians," Proceedings of the Society of
Biblical Literature, One Hundred Eighth Annual Meeting: Book of Seminar
Papers, Vol. 2 [Society of Biblical Literature, 1972], pp. 591-595). Attention
should also be called to Pindar's second Olympian Ode (68 ff.), where only
those souls who "thrice had been courageous in keeping their souls pure
from all deeds of wrong" will achieve the Isles of the Blessed; to Plato,
Phaedrus 249A, where the soul who has chosen the life of philosophy in
each of three thousand-year periods of incarnation will regain its wings;
and to Empedocles, Fragment 115 DIELS, where the
is eligible for
heavenly bliss only after three transmigration periods of ten thousand years.
Although this Greek, perhaps Orphic or Pythagorean, eschatology certainly
involves a three-phase purification, the conclusion of each period involves
a new ethical choice of the soul, but not a judgmental visitation from without. The Stoic doctrine of the periodic
of the cosmos involves the
destruction scheme, but these periods are eternally repetitive with no salvific
goal (e.g. Nemesius, De nat. hom. 38, p. 277 = SVF II 625). Seneca (Nat.
quaest. II, 28, 7) mentions periodic destructions by flood and renewal after
the conflagration, but these occur without any schematization (solutus
legibus sine modo fertur). Significantly, following Plato, Philo denies these
destructions (De aetern. mundi 497; 508). Origen also rejects the Stoic scheme
of periodic conflagration, since destruction by fire and flood are God's way of
purging the soul's evil (Contra Celsum IV, 11-13); when Celsus appeals to
the world-catastrophes mentioned by Plato (Timaeus 22), Origen reminds
him that this myth is the product of irrational thinking, whence even Plato
put the myth into the mouth of an Egyptian priest (Contra Celsum I, 19-20;
cf. IV, 41).

349
the horizontal
scheme of the threefold
While in ApocAdam
the
vertical modalistic
scheme is bedescent still predominates,
in the tendency
to regard the
ginning to make an appearance
as separate
descent of angels, a triad of powers, and the Illuminator
of a single being, the Illuminator.
Somewhat
the
manifestations
same combination
of schemes occurs in ApocryJn
where Barbelo,
descends through the agency of the
the merciful Father-Mother,
Autogenes
(BG, 51, 1 - 52, i), the Epinoia of Light (BG, 52,18 53, 20 ; 59, 6 - 6o, 20) and Christ (BG, 75, m-z5). In the Barbeloite
it is in TriProt
that the vertical
modalistic
scheme
tradition,
becomes most prominent with the Voice, Sound and Word modalities
Yet the horizontal scheme of the underlying Pronoia
of Protennoia.
hymn remains dominant.
The vertical modalistic scheme seems to be purest in the triple
the intelVII.22.7 ff.),
system (Hipp. Ref.
Sonship of Basilidean
of
the
Naasenes
and
Christs
lectual, psychic,
(Hipp. Ref.
earthly
V.6.5-6), the Christ of three natures, three bodies and three powers
of the Peratae
(Hipp. Ref.
V.12.4) and in the pneumatic,
psychic
Haer.
and sensible Christs of the Valentinians
1.7.1-2 ; Exc.
(Iren.
redeemer
Theod. 59; Hipp. Ref. VI.36.3-4) . Generally this tripartite
next
to
the
level
and is
from
the
highest metaphysical
originates
manifested at each of the three cosmic levels (Pleroma,
subsequently
in a
Middle, Earth or sometimes
form corresponding
to the ontological status of that level and the
figures that inhabit it. In the Christian gnostic systems, the tripartite redeemer is often Christ, although just as often one finds
that Christ is identified with the final modality in which a more
exalted tripartite redeemer is manifested, as is the case with Barbelo
in the Christianized
Barbeloite
texts. Insofar
as the redeemer
next
the
from
the
to
highest ontological level, it is often
originates
with
the
divine
Mind
or
identical
Thought or some aspect thereof.
This feature seems to draw on the late Platonic noology. But even
in texts that seem to be very distant from the late Platonic noology,
one finds evidence of a three-stage
descent, auch as in the Hymn
of the Pearl, where the redeemer originates from the East, passes
and reaches
"down to Egypt"
through
Babylon
(Acta Thom.
108-113).
We conclude,
or enlightenment
this three-stage

of gnosis
then, that the motif of the attainment
in three stages is a major gnostic motif. When
in the form of a threefold
process is described

350
(horizontal, temporally
successive) or three-stage
(vertical, modalit
seems
that
one
is
with
a conception
of
descent,
istic)
dealing
This
combines
such
Jewish
basically
provenance.
conception
motifs as a tripartitioning
of historical epochs originating
within
on the
Jewish
(and Christian)
Jewish speculation
apocalyptic,
descending
figure of the Wisdom, Name and Glory of God, and
Hellenistic
on the Logos.
Jewish and early Christian speculation
To be sure, the descent pattern has prototypes
in the Greek tradiof history into world epochs as well
tion, as does the partitioning
as speculation
on the Logos. But when Greek myths recount the
descent of heroes and gods to redeem lovers and proteges from
Hades, the descents do not involve a progressive revelation of the
deity either in successive periods of history or in successive levels
of the universe.
On the other hand, the motif of the threefold
ascent in the
seems to emanate from the Platonic tradition.
gnostic literature
In cases where the stages of this ascent represent levels of being
whose characteristics
become part of the beholder's psychic state,
as in Allog, the influence of Plato as well as of Neopythagoreanism
and certain mystery religions seems undeniable.
To be sure, the
ascent through three levels is to be found in Jewish and Christian
But here the object is not to assimilate one's psychic
apocalyptic.
states to the ontic characteristics
of those levels by a progressive
of
and alienation
purgation
sensory illusion, multiplicity
leading
to an absolute unitary stasis characteristic
of deification.
When
such assimilation
does occur in apocalyptic,
as in 2 Enoch 22, it is
not regarded as an assimilation
to the deity, and it is always a gift
from the higher powers, and not a self-performable
technique.
Between Greek and Jewish portrayals
of the way to enlightenment,
there seems always to be the characteristic
respective
opposition
between nature and grace, even in the gnostic versions. In Judaism
and most mythological
Gnosis, the deity descends to the aid of
man. In the Platonic tradition
and in philosophical
Gnosis, man
ascends to the deity. Even if a higher revelation
awaits him at
the summit of the world of being, and even if the way needs to
be shown by another initiated one, it is man's duty to raise himself
to the threehold of deity, "to become like God so far as possible"
(Theat. y6B).
The progressive
attainment
of enlightenment
threefold descent of a revealer figure was preserved

the
through
in the western

351
where Christ, the pre-existent
in Christian
tradition
theology
Word of God, was seen to be active in the time of the prophets,
in the mission and message of Jesus, and in his future advent as
the eschatological
judge. Likewise the Christian mystical tradition
ascent pattern
received the three-stage
through the influence of
the pattern gained its greatest
Plotinus and the pseudo-Dionysius;
literary expression in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.