Valentinus the learner? LO27366

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 10/10/01

Replying to LO27300 --

Dear Organlearners,

Mark Feenstra <> writes:

>Thank you for your reply. I'm often in awe of
>the ground you encompass in your responses,
>and appreciate your efforts to reach out of your
>frame of reference to meet in the space in

Greetings dear Mark,

Thank you for your reply. The reason why I cover so much ground is not to
impress anyone. (I am aware of the intimidation effect of complexity.) The
reason is rather in my own metamorphosis (digestive and emergent
development) since childhood. I will explain it in a different topic under
the name "One-to-many-mapping in Learning", also referring to LO27300.

I hope that explanation will change your awe into understanding the road
of one-to-many-mapping in learning which I had been following for almost
50 years of my life. At secondary school in the subject German we also had
to study poems. I did not know why Goethe's poems draw me so much. Today I
understand. In some of them is "Steigerung", the result of the
one-to-many-mapping in learning -- to sit on the chairs of many subjects,
to walk in the moccasins of many people and to wear the hats of many

Mark, you wrote:

>In my understanding Gnosticism as you state it
>therefore requires "belief" in direct knowledge as
>the way to salvation (and perhaps only knowledge -
>although I think that I do not see the same exclusivity
>in what I have explored of Gnosticism). I presently
>hold the view that to cultivate a learning orientation
>in a world where Gnostic beliefs conflict with other
>beliefs, I find that I need to hold them softly.

I wonder whether this "learning orientation" which you speak of is not
related to Goethe's "Steigerung"? Perhaps some time we can have a
LO-dialogue on it.

Anyway, I also hold the gnostics softly, but for other reasons. One is
that the world in those days was far different from ours. For example,
that world did not have electricity, print or plastic. People in it did
not have concepts like energy, genes or drifting continents. Hence we
should be very careful not to assume that the act of learning in their
world was exactly the same as in our world.

I want to beg each of you fellow learners who want to participate in the
this dialogue to be very careful. We will enter the domain of beliefs,
faith and religion. Our focus will be on learning by using religion as
example to understand it. We will also have to understand religion self,
whether our own or that of others, which is complex and hence treacherous.
But with love in our hearts we will do it in a gentle and patient manner.

Why should we try to understand learning by focussing on its role in
religion of which the understanding is complex and thus treacherous? Well,
when we think of all kinds of organisations which may be transformed into
Learning Organisations, each retaining its kind, it becomes complex and
treacherous too. For example, when a community, business, university or
church transforms into a LO, it does not stop functioning like a
community, business, university or church. So what has changed in the
organisation which does not change its kind? The change was in the
consciousness to learning of that organisation's members. Every kind of
organisation as a LO understands that learning is not only essential to
keep it alive, but also that learning is complex.

I believe that we can learn much on this topic of Gnosticism for our
understanding of a LO. I will take as illustrations quotes from the Bible
because it is a document from those ancient times commonly available
today. I do not imply that fellow learners must adhere to what the Bible
says in these quotes. Nor do I imply that these quotes cannot be
questioned. Read them in context and make up your own mind. Otherwise just
press the ESC key and then the DEL key.

Two millennia ago the creation of documents and copies of them were
tedious and expensive. They had to be made by hand. Few people could read
and write and even less owned written sources of information. Thus people
had to rely largely on information by word of mouth and memorising it
self. Teachers="didaskalos" (see Mat 8:19, Mat 22:16) who memorised
writings="gramma" (see Acts 26:24, Rom 2:29) and traditional
doctrines="didaskalia" (see Mat 15:9, Col 2:22) were indispensable for the
learning of people.

Even though it was necessary to memorise most information, rote learning
(in the sense of not questioning what was memorised) was as rampant in
those days as today. I think that to distinguish between
"knowledge-within" and "information-outside"was even more difficult in
those days than today. But there was already an awareness to "authentic
learning"="manthano" (see Mat 11:29, Mat 13:29). Such learning among young
children was called "paiduo" (see Luk 23:16, Heb 12:6). It is a word which
got translated with chasten, but for which in my opinion perhaps
"upbringing" should have been used.

Already in the first years of Christianity apostles like Peter, John and
Paul had to warn in their letters against putting too much blind emphasis
on traditional "didaskalia"=doctrines. Likewise they also warned against
putting too much bind emphasis on the "gnosis"=knowledge of a cult leader
who claimed that with his "gnosis" he replaces Jesus as the
Christ=Messiah=Saviour. In the latter we thus see the early beginnings of
what would eventually become known as gnosticism.

I wish I had some of these original gnostic writings to enquire whether
some of their authors also struggled to articulate authentic learning as I
did. I could not find any. I found commentaries on gnostic literature to
be silent on this struggle as they are silent to, for example, Einstein's
equation E=mc^2. I suspect that most of these commentators were oblivious
to the difference between authentic and rote learning. Thus I think their
judgement that all gnosticists considered knowledge="gnosis" as the only
road to salvation to be shortsighted.

I think that those who struggled against rote learning as even the
apostles did, could easily had been mistaken for gnosticists if the
commentator self was a rote rather than authentic learner. Rote learning
replaces "gnosis"=knowledge with information="gramma". But the authentic
learner will seek further "gnosis" among such "gramma" by digestive
learning. This will appear to the rote leaner as a preoccupation with
"gnosis" as the means for salvation.

However, there were certain gnosticists like Simon Magus who each clearly
claimed that he with his own "gnosis" was a superior replacement for the
sacrifice and atonement of Jesus on the cross rather than helping to
understand Jesus as the Christ. They also lived in ways which starkly
contrasted that of the prophets in the OT, the apostles in the NT and
Jesus himself. They were, as the apostle John put it, the first
antichrists to appear on the scene.

This concept of "antichrist" is in my opinion difficult, if not
impossible, to understand with an inappropriate paradigm. Should we trace
through the Old Testament all prophesies on the Messiah, a complex rather
than simple picture comes to light. Hence the concept
Messiah=Christ=Saviour is very complex or hopelessly confusing for those
who think in terms of simple paradigms. The "antichrist" denies this
complexity and substitutes it with his own simplistic version in which he
reaps self all the benefits without paying the ultimate price --

I was surprised to find no copies of the original writings of the
gnosticists and supposed gnosticists. I would not have understood except
for studying the history of the thousand year old famous library of
Alexandria, the Bibliotheca. (See the LO-topic "Burn all except the one".)
The very first bishops of the Church in Rome did what the Romans did. They
were quick in claiming their authority over Christian teachings all over
the world, thinking that they had the chair of Peter to do so. Thus they
forbade the possession of any literature which they judged to be gnostic.
Would that also include literature which questioned their own unlearned,
yet authoritative judgements?

Consequently copies of gnostic literature and perhaps many of the original
manuscripts themselves were kept in the gigantic Bibliotheca of Alexandria
rather than in Rome. Here learning cultivated tolerance. Clement, Origenes
and others in their studies at the Bibliotheca studied these documents and
commented upon them. But when the Bibliotheca went up in flames in the 8th
century a curtain had been drawn over gnosticism because of the lack of
authentic documents themselves. Some copies might also must have
circulated in other Christian centres like Antioch in Syria, but none of
these have survived. However, the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls brought
new light on the Essenes in particular and Gnosticism in general.
Gnosticism is far more complex than had been suspected.

People who focussed in those days on knowledge="gnosis" as a result of
their own "authentic learning"="paiduo"&"manthano" may easily be labelled
as gnosticists. According to the language rules of English the names
"gnosticists" and "gnosticism" are related. For example, reductionists can
be associated with reductionism. But what is gnosticism itself.

Gnosticism is a phenomenon solely within Christianity itself. Gnosticism
surfaced because Christianity was fast becoming an international religion.
The apostles in their days as well as their students tried to protect as
well to advance the character of the Christian faith in terms of the
Hebrew faith of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew faith a knowledge of
nature and culture was essential. The Lord also made Him known through
nature. The apostles were able to expound the Christian character because
of the patient teaching of Jesus himself. Jesus was a Jew who understood
the Torah (Old Testament) better than the Rabbis including the foremost
among them -- Nicodemus.

But from the third generation the converts to Christianity from many
nations often could not unlearn their past religions like the Theosophy of
Philo, Zarathrustrian from Persia, Hinduism of India and Buddhism of the
far east. Unlike today, and often with serious consequences, people in
those days did not fragment their religions from their knowledge on nature
and culture. Furthermore, few teachers were able to remind them of the
example set by the teacher Jesus -- whatever the religion, question the
beliefs reflected by it.

The influx of these other religions caused several flavours of gnosticism
just as there are several flavours in any other "-ism". However,
gnosticists upheld certain patterns common to all flavours of gnosticism,
patterns which Jesus clearly pointed out to be misconceptions. One such a
definitive pattern is that they rationalised an infinite separation
between God and Creation. (Jesus showed by miracles and using parables
that he and the Father were not separated, but one.) They even put the
ascended Jesus on the other side of that infinite separation. Heaven is
far away. Hence the gnostic cult leader with his "gnosis" had to step in
as mediator between God and humans. Obviously, this seemed to the
gnosticists exactly what Jesus did. This is why the Christian faith in
contrast to other major religions was so vulnerable to the gnosticism.

But Jesus did not do it. He actually patiently taught with deeds of love
how all the prophecies of the OT pointed to him as the Messiah. For
example, when in prison John the Baptist asked him if he were the Messiah,
he did not rationalise with a theoretical answer. He gave John a practical
answer. He said that John should look how care is taken of the physical
and spiritual needs of the people. Look at the deeds and not the words.

Here is a short list of Gnosticists which I compiled from the criticisms
on Gnosticism: Simon Magus, Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Cerinthus,
Carpocrates, Justinus, Marcion, Valentinus, etc. There were also cults
like the Nicolaitans, Naasseni, Peratae, Sethiani and Ophites. The odd
person in the list branded by Rome as a gnostic is Valentinus. Why?
Clement and Jerome (translator of the Bible into Latin) speak with great
respect of him as a Christian in words and deeds.

The names of both Simon Magnus and Valentinus in the list should warn us
that all is not proper with this list. Simon Magnus was an opportunistic
charlatan already in the days of the apostle Peter. He misformed and
misused the Christian faith for his own fortunes. He considered himself
with his "gnosis" far superior in saving people than the "gnosis" of the
prophets, apostles and Jesus as well as Jesus' sacrifice. On the other
hand, Valentinus seemed to have struggled with the question how believers
can come to "gnosis" (direct knowledge through authentic learning) in
harmony with scripture ("gramma") without falling in the trap of not
questioning one's understanding ("noesis") or these sources of

Among all these criticisms of gnosticism with all its flavours I found a
strange duality. There were many gnostics who insisted upon rote learning
so that their "gramma"=doctrines could become their followers'
"gnosis"=knowledge by which they then will be saved. The historical Jesus
who matched the eschatological Messiah was simply a convenience to usurp
the glories of the Messiah=Christ=Saviour. Yet there was also some
gnostics who seemed to have kept the lessons of Socrates in mind. They
were usually labelled as Platonists. It seems to me that they sought
through questioning and hence authentic learning for "gnosis" ("knowledge
within"), thinking of it as spirituality="pneuma" (see 1 Col 14:12).

The fact that they considered "gnosis" as their whole "pneuma" rather than
a part of it is for me not an issue of being wrong, but rather of not
having become spiritually mature enough. Even the apostles had to help
fellow Christians struggling with this problem. Were it not for Paul's
explanation in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 Christians would have easily
conflated "pneuma" with "gnosis". Immaturity is not wrong. Some
immaturities can be outgrown in a person's life time. But others take
generations and even ages to mature. For example, it took more almost two
millennia before Polanyi could articulate the tacit dimension of
"gnosis"=knowledge. Another example, nobody in those times had even a word
for what we today call creativity, something which is for me also part of
my spirituality="pneuma".

With respect to learning itself, only during the 14th century Christians
began to comprehend that even though salvation is through Jesus Christ
alone, it was very difficult for an uneducated person to become a
Christian by accepting this salvation. Ignorance stood between that person
and Christ revealed by scripture. Today we have almost reached the
opposite end where it is very difficult for a much informed person to
become a Christian. Too much information may also stand between that
person and Christ revealed by scripture. I have the gut feeling that
Valentinus self was also deeply aware of how both too little and too much
information may come between people and the Messiah=Christ=Saviour.

Please, let us not get the impression that I am not presenting here merely
a Christian issue concerning Christ and salvation. I rather use it as an
historical example. The problem in this example goes far beyond it into
the very heart of a Learning Organisation. For example, let us think of
vision. We often had LO-dialogues on vision since Shared Vision is one of
the 5 disciplines of a LO. Both ignorance and information can become a
barrier between people and the realisation of their vision. In the case of
ignorance they have too little knowledge to work with and in the case of
information they have too much "external knowledge"=information to work
with. In both cases they seemingly fail to understand that knowledge
gained by authentic learning (Personal Mastery and Team Learning) opens up
the vision for them so that they can share it.

Information (out there) and knowledge (within) will never be the same
thing for me. When they are considered to be the same thing, it will be
easier for a rat to transform into an elephant than for an Ordinary
Organisation to transform into a Learning Organisation. To think that
authentic learning and rote learning (memorization+application of
information) is the same thing, is to expect a rat to become an elephant
by just feeding it all the food which an elephant eats.

>I find that such softness is often not seemingly
>available to people who appear to have given
>their allegiance to a particular set of beliefs (as
>embodied in a religious our spiritual tradition).
>So perhaps some Gnostics will make exclusive
>claims, whereas others will not.

Mark, the softness which you speak about also lies very close to my heart.
I do hope that we will sometime have a LO-dialogue on it. I have suggested
in the past such a dialogue to fellow learner D P Dash of India. But I
will not take the initiative in all suggestions. There are extraordinary
correspondences between the chemical phenomenon known as "hard-soft" and
the softness of someone with a comprehensive knowledge obtained through
authentic learning.

The more complex a system becomes, the more its properties change from
hard to soft. It is almost for me as if there is a fourth law of
complexity apart from the LRC (Law of Requisite Complexity), the LSC (Law
of Singularity of Complexity) and LTC (Law of Temporality of Complexity).
We might call it the LPC (Law of Pliability of Complexity).

>But for me this does not make Gnosticism any less
>valuable, particularly given that most of these belief
>systems seem to share in common the attribute of
>making exclusive claims. What it does cause me to
>come back to is this view to a particular set of exclusive
>beliefs (such as are represented by religious and spiritual
>traditions) tend to get in the way of a learning orientation.

I agree. I would have added the word "unquestioned" between "set of" and
"exclusive beliefs". I think it is the lack of questioning that gets in
the way of a learning orientation. In this case it is the lack of
questioning LEM (Law of Excluded Middle) which caused the exclusivity.

I am often astounded by the role which LEM plays in the mindsets of
extremists for some or other religion. I think that even Christians have
to question carefully how much they invoke LEM. The Bible (both OT and NT)
is very clear that one and only person is the perfect
Christ=Messiah=Saviour. Thinking of the Christ=Messiah=Saviour in relation
to the rest of humankind seems to invoke LEM. However, it rather involves
the upper limit of singularity. (See LSC.) The OT could not point to the
exact person, but for that we have the NT. It is Jesus of Nazareth. Except
for cleaning the Temple, the deeds of Jesus never invoked LEM. Thus those
who follow Jesus as the Christ should refrain like Jesus from invoking
LEM. They should become more like Jesus who loved unconditionally.

>I find this difficult to reconcile with your view that
>knowledge (direct knowing is perhaps more the
>flavour of it) is a rationalistic reduction. The way
>I understand it rationalisation requires a separation
>between the rationaliser and the rationalised whereas
>Gnosticism, and other paths advocating direct knowing,
>tend to advocate that we human beings are capable of
>moving beyond this separation. It is this tendency
>towards promoting the value of direct knowing that
>leads in that direction that I was suggesting as being
>supportive of a learning orientation.

I still think that gnosticism would never have manifested itself and be
called gnosticism in particular should cult leaders not have substituted
their own rationalisation and even pagan speculations as the salvation for
believers rather than the sacrifice of Jesus on cross. Furthermore, we
should take care not to confuse gnosticism with mysticism. In the latter
there was little, if any, rational reduction. Mysticism also goes much
wider than merely the Christian religion. Furthermore, I can see among
some of the gnosticists (difficult though in terms of what their
criticists had to say) that they felt some mental preparation was
necessary for believers to accept Jesus as the Christ. Allow me to

Think about the disciples themselves. After three years of dedicated
teaching (not preaching!) by Jesus they were still not sure that Jesus was
actually the Christ. Upon questioning Peter declared that Jesus is the
Christ. But when the cock crowed the third time he realised his own
hubris. Only by the dedicated teaching of Jesus, his actual sacrifice and
the outpouring of the Holy Spirit fifty days afterwards were the disciples
completely convinced that the resurrected Jesus is indeed the Christ.

It always make me sad that so many Christians cannot see the significance
between a thousand days of authentic teaching and learning and fifty days
of authentic sacrifice, atonement and glorification. It also makes me sad
when they do not seek the meaning of Jesus' words in terms of his deeds,
but rather in terms of traditions and doctrines.

However, those who became missionaries among heathen nations soon realised
the immense significance of the 1000 days to the 50 days. These
missionaries soon learned to spend 95%+ of their time on deeds of
compassion to benefit authentic learning rather than to preach fire and
brimstone. I have studied dozens of missionaries working in many countries
of Southern Africa, coming from many Christian denominations like
Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal. Their zeal for helping the
indigenous people to improve their lives through learning almost surpasses
their zeal to tell them of Jesus the Christ. I am sure that should they
have known more about Learning Organisations, they would have succeeded
even more in helping the indigenous peoples to improve their own

To summarise by using present LO terminology, it seems to me that some
"gnosticists" were sensitive to Personal Mastery and Team Learning,. The
fact that these "gnosticists" could not articulate themselves with
dedicated terminology and that their criticists could not picture them
with dedicated terminology of their own, gives us no reason to lump them
with gnostic charlatans like Simon Magus or Menander.

Mark, anyway, I begin to see how much relationship there is between your
"direct knowing" and my "authentic learning". Authentic learning is
concerned with the differential steps while "direct knowing" seems to be
concerned with the integral outcome of all these steps. I think that your
"direct knowing" and the "profound knowledge" of Deming are closely
related, if not the same thing.

>Perhaps we mean different things by the term
> "a learning orientation". Is it not possible that
>the wholeness of spirit is fragmented by beliefs
>about spirit - in the sense that spirit can be
>understood as the ground of being and that beliefs
>about the ground of being only fragment me from
>that ground, whereas entering into that ground
>enables me to participate in that wholeness?

Mark, let me rather ask you a direct question to fathom your concept of
"learning orientation". What role does wholeness play in your "learning
orientation"? Perhaps a new topic Learning Orientation should be created.

As for your speculation that beliefs can fragment the spirit, I agree that
some beliefs can do it. It usually happens when they employ LEM as a
Mental Model. But the opposite is also possible, namely that other beliefs
can make the spirit whole. NT writers like John and Paul use explicitly
words like "hugiees"=whole (see Joh 5:15 and Tit 2:8) and
"hugaino"=wholeness (see 3 Joh 1:2 and Tit 1:13) to stress the wholesome
nature of the true articles of Christian faith.

>Of course this contradicts my earlier statement
>about the requirement to believe in the pathway
>of direct knowing. But then perhaps I could pass
>through this filter by suggesting that through
>separation from this belief, and the adoption of
>what I understand as a learning orientation, I can
>treat the belief as a theory which I can then test
>and refine according to the results.

I wonder if it will work. As I became older, the more I learn that the
more complex something is, the more complex should the testing/probing
system be. Perhaps a fifth law of complexity is operating here, something
which may be called the Law of the Validity of Complexity (LVC). We cannot
question, test or validate a complex system when using an instrument with
insufficient complexity self. The data generated would have too little
complexity to allow a sensible interpretation of the system's complexity.

After many contemplations I think that a personal belief-system (faith) is
very complex. The only advice I can give to "testing" it, is that the
creative deeds flowing forth from a belief-system are an indication of its

>Can you share a bit more about "the higher
>ordered level of believing"? This seems to be
>essential to your frame of reference, but is not
>explicit in ways that I can understand. Is this
>a bit like intuition or perhaps conscience?

It is a conclusion at which I arrived after much questioning. It was
difficult. Let me try to explain the difficulties by using Polanyi's
insight. He introduced us to the tacit dimension of personal knowledge by
writing: "We know more than we can tell". Now think of a believe-system
and of "We believe more than we can tell". In other words, think of the
possibility of a tacit dimension of faith too. Furthermore, think of
creativity and "We create more than we can tell". In other words, think of
the possibility of a tacit dimension of creativity too.

As I understand it now, my whole spirituality (of which creativity,
knowledge and faith are some of its major levels) has a tacit dimension
going through all its levels. It is this tacit dimension which makes it so
difficult to establish the order between faith and knowledge. I wish I
could tell you more about it.

I think we will have to look at as many as possible complex systems in the
"world-outside-us" to learn authentically in what manner the various
levels interact with each other as well as in what manner different
entities in the same level interact with each other. With this (direct)
knowledge we will then have to tackle the complexity of
spirituality="pneuma", the "world-inside-us". I have done it and my own
finding is that faith is of higher order than knowledge.

>But I don't see where the guiding capacity
>of belief comes from, except where the
>learner assumes that there is some direct
>connection between themselves and spirit
>through which such a higher order guidance
>can flow. Then I would say that this comes
>back to direct knowledge at some level. But
>perhaps I misunderstand.

I think I see your problem -- or should I write see my problem? You
refer to "connection between themselves and spirit..." whereas I would
have referred to "connection between knowledge and belief...". It was
in that sense that I wrote about the guiding capacity of beliefs. Hence
in that sense you seem to identify the learner with knowledge by referring
to it as "themselves" and belief with "spirit", almost as if it is "out
But I have to admit that I may be misunderstanding you very much.

To find the ordering between spiritual things I think we will sooner or
later have to sit down and write down everything which belongs to the
"world-inside-me". Here I avoid using terms such as mind, psyche, soul and
spiritual(ity). What I mean is anything of the "world-inside-me" which is
MORE THAN MERELY physical, material and concrete. I definitely do not mean
anything of the "world-inside-me" which is NOT physical, material and
concrete. There is not an entropy rift for me between the physical and
spiritual any more.

Then we will have to seek common patterns in the downward interaction of a
higher order upon a lower order as well as common patterns in the upwards
interaction. There are two patterns in downward interactions which are
becoming clear to me. They are enriching and guiding. For example, think
of parents enriching and guiding their children. That is why for me faith
(beliefs) is of a higher order than knowledge.

I often use the metaphor of the "tail of the fish" (lower order) driving
the fish and the "head of the fish" (higher order) guiding the fish. Look
again at pictures or drawings of Popes of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC)
the past millennium. They wore a hat looking like the head of a fish.
Almost three millennia ago the main god of the Phoenicians was Dagon. He
was pictured as fish, propelling it with its tail (by knowing?) and
teering it with its head (by believing?). Almost thirty years ago I
thought that through importing this symbolism the RCC took one step
further into paganising itself. But as I proceeded deeper in complexity, I
found it incredible difficult and even hopeless to articulate interactions
inside complexity with a dedicated terminology. Ask yourself, which is the
easier to picture mentally -- the head of a fish guiding its tail or
higher ordered faith guiding a person's knowledge?

>Thank you for sharing in this exploring with me.

More of the same here ;-) Alone we cannot explore the human condition. But
in the LO its makes striking sense. Thank you Mark for having patience
with me. Patience is a virtue of humanness. How did I learn it?

Some twenty years ago in our parish an old lady told me :- "God is
patient. But you At de Lange is changing so fast that it terrifies
everybody else. God is not a terrorist." Dear old auntie Taute, thank you
for your wisdom.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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