TRIPARTITE TRACTATE. One of longest (138 pp.) and best-preserved documents of the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY, the Tripartite Tractate (codex I, tractate 5) offers an original Gnostic theological treatise on creation and redemption. Beginning from praise of the primal Father, it relates how all being derives from him as its source. From him derives, above all, the "first-born and only Son" (57.19) who "existed from the beginning" (57.33). The love between Father and Son, in turn, brings into being the primordial church, forming a primal trinity.
After describing the dynamic emanation of divine being, the author of the Tripartite Tractate relates how the Logos initiates a process that results in the creation of the world. Although he describes the action of the Logos as a kind of primordial transgression (he "attempted an act beyond his power," 76.7) the author is concerned to show that the action of the Logos did not violate the Father's will. Since the Logos "intended what is good," and acted, if precipitously, "from an abundant love" (76.20), his action is beyond criticism (77.6-7); it brought into being "a system that was destined to come about" (77.10-11)—cosmic creation.
The second part of the Tripartite Tractate interprets Genesis 1-3 to account for the human condition. That the spiritual Logos participated with the demiurge and his angels in creating Adam explains for this author the composite character of the human soul. Adam's soul received its spiritual element from the Logos, its psychic element from the demiurge, and its hylic (material) element from the lower powers. Yet each human soul bears all three potentialities. One's spiritual development depends on which potential one realizes in response to Christ's coming.
The third part of the tractate describes the oikonomia (arrangement) of salvation. In passages that emphasize the reality of the Incarnation, the author explains that the eternal Logos "came into being in the flesh" (113.38), was born "as an infant in body and soul" (115.10-11), and suffered passion and death to redeem humankind.
Comparison with other evidence suggests that the author of the Tripartite Tractate, although probably a theologian of the Western Valentinian tradition, attempts, in this treatise, a bold revision of earlier Valentinian theology. This author intends to accommodate his theology to that of the "great church" to demonstrate that it offers no essential contradiction.
His revision includes six major theses. First, this author stresses the uniqueness of the Father, describing him as the single One who "created the universe" (52.4-6). Second, in place of the primal dyad that Irenaeus attributes to Valentinus' teaching, here the Father generates the "only begotten Son." Third, instead of attributing creation to Sophia's fall, he traces it instead to the Logos's activity, interpreted in terms of theodicy. Fourth, like the Valentinian teacher Heracleon, this author describes the demiurge in relatively positive terms, as the Logos's (and, hence, ultimately, the Father's) agent in creation. Fifth, this author describes the "three natures" of humanity as potentials within every human being, which each realizes differently in response to the revelation in Christ. Finally, this author describes both pneumatic and psychic Christians—both the elect and the called—as members of the same church, who share a common hope for their eschatological reunion with Christ. If, as the text suggests, its author is responding to such orthodox critics as Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 160-180), the Tripartite Tractate probably dates from the third or early fourth century.
HAROLD W. ATTRIDGE
ELAINE H. PAGELS
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