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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Basilides, Gnostic Sect Founder


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Basilides ( Βασιλείδης ), the founder of one of the semi-Christian sects, commonly called Gnostic, which sprang up in the early part of the 2nd cent.

1. Biography. —He called himself a disciple of one Glaucias, alleged to be an interpreter (ἐρμηνέα ) of St. Peter (Clem. Strom. vii. p. 898). He taught at Alexandria (Iren. p. 100 Mass.; followed by Eus. H. E. iv. 7; Epiph. Haer. xxiv. 1, p. 68 c; cf. xxiii. 1, p. 62 B; Theod. Haer. Fab. i. 2): Hippolytus ( Haer. vii. 27, p. 244) in general terms mentions Egypt. Indeed Epiphanius enumerates various places in Egypt visited by Basilides; but subsequently allows it to appear that his knowledge of the districts where Basilidians existed in his own time was his only evidence. If the Alexandrian Gnostic is the Basilides quoted in the Acts of the Disputation of Archelaus and Mani (c. 55, in Routh, Rell. Sac. v. 196; see later, p. 276), he was reported to have preached in Persia. Nothing more is known of his life. According to Epiphanius (62 B, 68 D, 69 A), he had been a fellow-disciple of Menander with Saturnilus at Antioch in Syria; but this is evidently an arbitrary extension of Irenaeus's remarks on the order of doctrines to personal relations. If the view of the doctrines of Basilides taken in this article is correct, they afford no good grounds for supposing him to have had a Syrian education. Gnostic ideas derived originally from Syria were sufficiently current at Alexandria, and the foundation of what is distinctive in his thoughts is Greek.

Several independent authorities indicate the reign of Hadrian (a.d.117-138) as the time when Basilides flourished. To prove that the heretical sects were "later than the Catholic church," Clement of Alexandria (l.c. ) marks out early Christian history into different periods: he assigns Christ's own teaching to the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius; that of the apostles, of St. Paul at least, ends, he says, in the time of Nero; whereas "the authors of the sects arose later, about the times of the emperor Hadrian (κάτω δὲ περὶ τοὺς κ .τ.λ. γεγόνασι ), and continued quite as late as the age of the elder Antoninus." He gives as examples Basilides, Valentinus, and (if the text is sound) Marcion, taking occasion by the way to throw doubts on the claims set up for the two former as having been instructed by younger contemporaries of St. Peter and St. Paul respectively, by pointing out that about half a century lay between the death of Nero and the accession of Hadrian. Again Eusebius (l.c. ) places Saturnilus and Basilides under Hadrian. Yet his language about Carpocrates a few lines further on suggests a doubt whether he had any better evidence than a fallacious inference from their order in Irenaeus. He was acquainted with the refutation of Basilides by Agrippa Castor; but it is not clear, as is sometimes assumed, that he meant to assign both writers to the same reign. His chronicle (Armenian) at the year 17 of Hadrian (a.d.133) has the note "The heresiarch Basilides appeared at these times"; which Jerome, as usual, expresses rather more definitely. A similar statement without the year is repeated by Jerome, de Vir. Ill. 21, where an old corrupt reading ( mortuus for moratus ) led some of the earlier critics to suppose they had found a limit for the date of Basilides's death. Theodoret (l.c. ) evidently follows Eusebius. Earliest of all, but vaguest, is the testimony of Justin Martyr. Writing in or soon after a.d.145, he refers briefly (Ap. i. 26) to the founders of heretical sects, naming first the earliest, Simon and Menander, followers of whom were still alive; and then apparently the latest, Marcion, himself still alive. The probable inference that the other great heresiarchs, including Basilides, were by this time dead receives some confirmation from a passage in his Dialogue against Trypho (c. 35), a later but probably not much later book, where the "Marcians," Valentinians, Basilidians, Saturnilians, "and others," are enumerated, apparently in inverse chronological order: the growth of distinct and recognized sects implies at least the lapse of some time since the promulgation of their several creeds. It seems therefore impossible to place Basilides later than Hadrian's time; and, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we may trust the Alexandrian Clement's statement that his peculiar teaching began at no earlier date.

II. Writings.—According to Agrippa Castor (Eus. H. E. l.c.) Basilides wrote "twenty-four books (βιβλία) on the Gospel." These are no doubt the Exegetica from the twenty-third of which Clement gives an extract (Strom. iv. §§ 83 ff. pp. 599 f.). The same work is doubtless intended by the "treatises" (tractatuum) the thirteenth book of which is cited in the Acta Archelai if the same Basilides is referred to. The authorship of an actual Gospel of the "apocryphal" class is likewise attributed to Basilides on plausible grounds. The word "taken in hand" (ἐπεχείρησαν) in Luk_1:1 gives Origen occasion to distinguish between the four evangelists who wrote by inspiration and other writers who "took in hand" to produce Gospels. He mentions some of these and proceeds "Basilides had even the audacity" (ἤδη δὲ ἐτόλμησεν more than ἐπεχείρησεν) "to write a Gospel according to Basilides"; that is he went beyond other fabricators of Gospels by affixing his own name (Hom. in Luc. i.). This passage is freely translated though without mention of Origen's name by Ambrose (Exp. in Luc. i. 1); and is probably Jerome's authority in an enumeration of the chief apocryphal Gospels (Com. in Matt. praef. t. vii. p. 3); for among the six others which he mentions the four named by Origen recur including that of the Twelve Apostles otherwise unknown (cf. Hieron. Dial. cont. Pelag. iii. 2 t. ii. p. 782). Yet no trace of a Gospel by Basilides exists elsewhere; and it seems most probable either that Origen misunderstood the nature of the Exegetica or that they were sometimes known under the other name (cf. Hilgenfeld Clem. Rec. u. Hom. 123 ff.).

An interesting question remains in what relation the Exegetica stand to the exposition of doctrine which fills eight long chapters of Hippolytus. Basilides (or the Basilidians) we are told (vii. 27) defined the Gospel as "the knowledge of supermundane things" (ἠ τῶν ὑπερκοσμίων γνῶσις) and the idea of the progress of "the Gospel" through the different orders of beings plays a leading part in the Basilidian doctrine (cc. 25 ff.). But there is not the slightest reason to think that the "Gospel" here spoken of was a substitute for the Gospel in a historical sense any more than in St. Paul's writings. Indeed several passages (p. 238 1. 28 ff.; 239 42 58; 240 79 ff. of Miller) with their allusions to Rom_5:14; Rom_8:19; Rom_8:22-23; 1Co_2:13; 2Co_12:4; Eph_1:21; Eph_3:3; Eph_3:5; Eph_3:10 prove that the writer was throughout thinking of St. Paul's "mystery of the Gospel." Hippolytus states distinctly that the Basilidian account of "all things concerning the Saviour" subsequent to "the birth of Jesus" agreed with that given in "the Gospels." It may therefore be reasonably conjectured that his exposition if founded on a work of Basilides himself (see § III.) is a summary of the opening book or books of the Exegetica describing that part of the redemptive process or of the preparation for it which was above and antecedent to the phenomenal life of Jesus. The comments on the Gospel itself probably containing much ethical matter as we may gather from Clement would have little attraction for Hippolytus.

The certain fragments of the Exegetica have been collected by Grabe ( Spicil. Patr. ii. 35-43), followed by Massuet and Stieren in their editions of Irenaeus; but he passes over much in Clement which assuredly has no other origin. A single sentence quoted in Origen's commentary on Romans, and given further on (p. 275), is probably from the same source. In an obscure and brief fragment preserved in a Catena on Job (Venet. 1587, p. 345), Origen implies the existence of Odes by Basilides and Valentinus. No other writings of Basilides are mentioned.

III. Authenticity of the Hippolytean Extracts. —In endeavouring to form a clear conception of the work and doctrine of Basilides, we are met at the outset by a serious difficulty. The different accounts were never easy to harmonize, and some of the best critics of the first half of the 19th cent. considered them to refer to two different systems of doctrine. But till 1851 their fragmentary nature suggested that the apparent incongruities might conceivably be due only to the defects of our knowledge, and seemed to invite reconstructive boldness on the part of the historian. The publication of Hippolytus's Refutation of all Heresies in 1851 placed the whole question on a new footing. Hardly any one has ventured to maintain the possibility of reconciling its ample statements about Basilides with the reports of Irenaeus and Epiphanius. Which account then most deserves our confidence?

Before attempting to answer this question it is well to enumerate the authorities. They are Agrippa Castor as cited by Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, the anonymous supplement to Tertullian, de Praescriptione, the Refutation of Hippolytus, Epiphanius, Philaster, and Theodoret, and possibly the Acta Archelai, besides a few scattered notices which may be neglected here. This ample list shrinks, however, into small dimensions at the touch of criticism. Theodoret's chapter is a disguised compilation from previous Greek writers. The researches of Lipsius have proved that Epiphanius followed partly Irenaeus, partly the lost Compendium of Hippolytus, this same work being also the common source of the Latin authors pseudo-Tertullian and Philaster. Our ultimate authorities therefore are Irenaeus (or the unknown author from whom he took this section of his work), the Compendium of Hippolytus (represented by Epiphanius [part], Philaster, and pseudo-Tertullian), Clement and the Refutation of Hippolytus, together with a short statement by Agrippa Castor, and probably a passing reference and quotation in the Acts of Archelaus.

It is now generally allowed that the notices of Clement afford the surest criterion by which to test other authorities. Not only does his whole tone imply exact personal knowledge, but he quotes a long passage directly from the Exegetica. Is then his account, taken as a whole, consistent with other accounts? And does it agree best with the reports of Irenaeus and Hippolytus in his younger days, or with the elaborate picture drawn by Hippolytus at a later time? This second question has received opposite answers from recent critics. A majority have given the preference to Hippolytus; while Hilgenfeld (who three years before, in his earliest book, the treatise On the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, pp. 125-149, had described the Basilidian system from the then known records, endeavouring with perverse ingenuity to shew their virtual consistency with each other) has prided himself on not being dazzled by the new authority, whom he holds to be in effect describing not Basilides but a late development of his sect; and Lipsius takes the same view.

It should be observed at the outset that the testimony of Clement is not quite so homogeneous as is generally assumed. Six times he criticises doctrines of "Basilides" himself; eight times he employs the ambiguous plural (οἱ ἀπὸ Β., οἱ ἀμφὶ τὸν Β .). Are we to suppose a distinction here, or is the verbal difference accidental? Both views might be maintained. The quotation from the Exegetica ( Strom. iv. pp. 599 f.) is a piece of moral argument on Providence, wholly free from the technical terms of Gnostic mythology. In the succeeding discussion Clement eventually uses plurals ( εἰ . . . τις αὐτῶν λέγοι—πέπτωκεν ἡ ὑπόθεσις αὐτοῖς—ὡς φάναι , apparently a misreading for ὡς φασιν—ὡς αὐτοὶ λέγουσιν ), which might equally imply that he employs both forms indifferently, or that he distinguishes Basilides from his followers within the limits of a single subject. The other references to "Basilides" are likewise of a distinctly ethical character, while several of the passages containing the plural name abound in technical language. Yet the distinction is not absolute on either side. "Basilides" furnishes the terms "the Ogdoad," "the election," "supermundane"; while such subjects as the nature of faith, the relation of the passions to the animal soul, and the meaning of Christ's saying about eunuchs, occur in the other group, though they remind us rather of Basilides himself. In the last passage, moreover (Strom. iii. pp. 508 ff.), the ambiguous plural ( οἱ ἀπὸ Β. φασί—λέγουσι—᾿ξηγοῦνται—φασί bis ) is applied to a quotation intended to shame by contrast the immoral Basilidians of Clement's own time; and a similar quotation from Basilides's son Isidore immediately follows; the authors of the two quotations being designated as "the forefathers of their (the late Basilidians') doctrines." It is hard to believe that mere anonymous disciples, though of an earlier date, would be appealed to in this manner, or would take precedence of the master's own son. On the whole, there can be no reasonable doubt that all the doctrinal statements in Clement concern Basilides himself, when not distinctly otherwise expressed, and depend on direct knowledge of the Exegetica. With good reason therefore they may be assumed as a trustworthy basis for the whole investigation. The most doubtful instances are the passages cited presently on the Baptism and (in the Exc. Theod. ) on the descent of the Minister (διάκονος ), i.e. the Holy Spirit.

The range of possible contact between the quotations and reports of Clement and any of the other authorities is not large. His extant writings contain nothing like an attempt to describe the Basilidian System. The Stromates, which furnish the quotations from Basilides, expressly limit themselves to moral and practical questions ( ὁ ἠθικὸς λόγος ); and reserve for a future work, i.e. the lost Hypotyposes, the exposition of the higher doctrine ( τῆς κατὰ τὴν ἐποπτικὴν θεωρίαν γνώσεως ,—τὴν τῷ ὄντι γνωστικὴν φυσιολογίαν ) belonging to the department of knowledge which the Stoics called Physics, beginning with the Creation and leading up to Theology proper (Strom. i. p. 324; iv. pp. 563 f., 637; vi. pp. 735 f., 827; vii. 829, 902; cf. Bunsen, Anal. Antenic. i. 159 ff.). Now it is precisely to this latter department that the bulk of Gnostic speculation would belong, and especially such theories as Hippolytus ascribes to Basilides; and moreover Clement distinctly promises that in the course of that loftier investigation he will "set forth in detail the doctrines of the heretics ( τῶν ἑτεροδόξων ), and endeavour to refute them to the best of his power" (iv. § 3, p. 564). We have therefore no right to expect in the Stromates any cosmological or even theological matter respecting Basilides except such as may accidentally adhere to the ethical statements, the subjects treated of in the various books "against all heresies" being formally excluded by Clement. His sphere being thus distinct from theirs, the marked coincidences of language that we do find between him and Hippolytus afford a strong presumption that, if the one account is authentic, the other is so likewise. Within the narrow limits of Clement's information we meet with the phrases "primitive medley and confusion" ( σύγχυσις ), and on the other hand "separation" (differentiation) and restoration (σοφία φυλοκρινητική, ἀποκαταστατική ); with a division of the universe into stages (διαστήματα ), and prominence given to the sphere of "super-mundane" things; with an "Ogdoad" and an "Archon"; all of these terms being conspicuous and essential in the Hippolytean representation. Above all, we hear of the amazement of the Archon on receiving "the utterance of the ministering Spirit" or "Minister" (διάκονος , cf. Ecl. Theod. p. 972) as being that fear of the Lord which is called the beginning of wisdom ( Strom. ii. p. 448) ; the utterance itself being implied to be a Gospel ( εὐηγγελισμένον ); while Hippolytus describes the same passage as interpreted of the amazement of the Great Archon on receiving "the Gospel," a revelation of things unknown, through his Son, who had received it from a "power" within the Holy Spirit (vii. 26). The coincidences are thus proportionately great, and there are no contradictions to balance them: so that it would require strong evidence to rebut the conclusion that Clement and Hippolytus had the same materials before them. Such evidence does not exist. The coincidences between Clement and the Irenaean tradition are limited to the widely spread "Ogdoad" and a single disputable use of the word "Archon," and there is no similarity of doctrines to make up for the absence of verbal identity. The only tangible argument against the view that Hippolytus describes the original system of Basilides is its Greek rather than Oriental character, which is assumed to be incompatible with the fundamental thoughts of a great Gnostic leader. We shall have other opportunities of inquiring how far the evidence supports this wide generalization as to Gnosticism at large. As regards Basilides personally, the only grounds for expecting from him an Oriental type of doctrine are the quotation in the Acts of Archelaus, which will be discussed further on, and the tradition of his connexion with Saturnilus of Antioch, which we have already seen to be founded on a misconception. The fragmentary notices and extracts in Clement, admitted on all hands to be authentic, are steeped in Greek philosophy; so that the Greek spirit of the Hippolytean representation is in fact an additional evidence for its faithfulness.

It may yet be asked, Did Hippolytus consult the work of Basilides himself, or did he depend on an intermediate reporter? His own language, though not absolutely decisive, favours the former alternative. On the one hand it may be urged that he makes no mention of a book, that occasionally he quotes by the words "they say," "according to them," and that his exposition is immediately preceded by the remark, "Let us then see how openly both Basilides and [his son] Isidore ( Β. ὁμοῦ καὶ Ἰ . ) and the whole band of them not merely calumniate Matthias [from whom they professed to have received records of Christ's secret teaching], but also the Saviour Himself" (c. 20). Against these indications may be set the ten places where Basilides is referred to singly, and the very numerous quotations by the words "he says." It is true that Greek usage permits the occasional use of the singular even when no one writer or book is intended. But in this case the most natural translation is borne out by some of the language quoted. The first person singular (ὅταν δὲ λέγω, φησίν, τό Ἦν, οὐχ ὅτι ἦν λέγω, ἀλλ᾿ ἵνα σημάνω τοῦτο ὅπερ βούλομαι δεῖξαι, λέγω, φησίν, ὅτι ἦν ὅλως οὐδέν· . . . καὶ οὐ δέχομαι, φησίν κ .τ.λ. ) proves the book in Hippolytus's hands to have been written by an original speculator; yet this very quotation is immediately followed by a comment on it with the third person plural which here at least can mean no more than that Hippolytus held the Basilidians of his own day responsible for the doctrines of his author. The freshness and power of the whole section, wherever we touch the actual words of the author, strongly confirm the impression that he was no other than Basilides himself. Thus we are led independently to the conclusion suggested by the correspondence with the information of Clement, whom we know to have drawn from the fountain-head, the Exegetica. The fancy that the book used by Hippolytus was itself the Traditions of Matthias has nothing to recommend it. The whole form is unlike that which analogy would lead us to expect in such a production. If it was quoted as an authority in the Exegetica, the language of Hippolytus is justified. Nor is there anything in this inconsistent with the fact vouched for by Clement ( Strom. vii. p. 898) that Basilides claimed to have been taught by Glaucias, an "interpreter" of St. Peter.

We shall therefore assume that the eight chapters of Hippolytus (vii. 20-27) represent faithfully though imperfectly the contents of part at least of the Exegetica of Basilides; and proceed to describe his doctrine on their authority, using likewise the testimony of Clement wherever it is available.

IV. Doctrine. —Basilides asserts the beginning of all things to have been pure nothing. He uses every device of language to express absolute nonentity. He will not allow the primitive nothing to be called even "unspeakable": that, he says, would be naming it, and it is above every name that is named (20). Nothing then being in existence, "not-being God" (or Deity, οὐκ ὢν θεός : the article is omitted here) willed to make a not-being world out of not-being things. Once more great pains are taken to obviate the notion that "willing" implied any mental attribute whatever. Also the world so made was not the extended and differentiated world to which we gave the name, but "a single seed containing within itself all the seed-mass of the world," the aggregate of the seeds of all its forms and substances, as the mustard seed contains the branches and leaves of the tree, or the pea-hen's egg the brilliant colour of the full-grown peacock (21). This was the one origin of all future growths; their seeds lay stored up by the will of the not-being God in the single world-seed, as in the new-born babe its future teeth and the resemblances to its father which are thereafter to appear. Its own origin too from God was not a putting-forth ( προβολή ), as a spider puts forth its web from itself. (By this assertion, on which Hippolytus dwells with emphasis, every notion of "emanation" is expressly repudiated.) Nor was there an antecedent matter, like the brass or wood wrought by a mortal man. The words "Let there be light, and there was light" convey the whole truth. The light came into being out of nothing but the voice of the Speaker; "and the Speaker was not, and that which came into being was not."

What then was the first stage of growth of the seed? It had within itself "a tripartite sonship, in all things consubstantial with the not-being God." Part of the sonship was subtle of substance (λεπτομερές ), part coarse of substance (παχυμερές ), part needing purification (ἀποκαθάρσεως δεόμενον ). Simultaneously with the first beginning of the seed the subtle sonship burst through (διέσφυξεν ) and mounted swiftly up "like a wing or a thought" (Odyss. vii. 36) till it reached the not-being God; "for toward Him for His exceeding beauty and grace (ὡραιότητος ) every kind of nature yearns (ὀρέγεται ), each in its own way." The coarse sonship could not mount up of itself, but it took to itself as a wing the Holy Spirit, each bearing up the other with mutual benefit, even as neither a bird can soar without wing, nor a wing without a bird. But when it came near the blessed and unutterable place of the subtle sonship and the not-being God, it could take the Holy Spirit no further, as not being consubstantial or of the same nature with itself. There, then, retaining and emitting downwards the fragrance of the sonship like a vessel that has once held ointment, the Holy Spirit remained, as a firmament dividing things above the world from "the world" itself below (22).

The third sonship continued still within the heap of the seed-mass. But out of the heap burst forth into being the Great Archon, "the head of the world, a beauty and greatness and power that cannot be uttered." He too raised himself aloft till he reached the firmament which he supposed to be the upward end of all things. Then he became wiser and every way better than all other cosmical things except the sonship left below, which he knew not to be far better than himself. So he turned to create the world in its several parts. But first he "made to himself and begat out of the things below a son far better and wiser than himself," for thus the not-being God had willed from the first; and smitten with wonder at his son's beauty, he set him at his right hand. "This is what they call the Ogdoad, where the Great Archon is sitting." Then all the heavenly or ethereal creation (apparently included in the Ogdoad), as far down as the moon, was made by the Great Archon, inspired by his wiser son (23). Again another Archon arose out of the seed-mass, inferior to the first Archon, but superior to all else below except the sonship; and he likewise made to himself a son wiser than himself, and became the creator and governor of the aerial world. This region is called the Hebdomad. On the other hand, in the heap and seed-mass, constituting our own (the terrestrial) stage, "those things that come to pass come to pass according to nature, as having been previously uttered by Him Who hath planned the fitting time and form and manner of utterance of the things that were to be uttered (ὡς φθάσαντα λεχθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ τὰ μέλλοντα λέγεσθαι ὅτε δεῖ καὶ οἷα δεῖ καὶ ὡς δεῖ λελογισμένου ): and these things have no one to rule over them, or exercise care for them, or create them: for sufficient for them is that plan (λογισμός ) which the not-being One planned when He was making" [the seed-mass] (24).

Such is the original cosmogony as conceived by Basilides and it supplies the base for his view of the Gospel as well as of the interval before the coming of the Gospel into the world. When the whole world had been finished and the things above the world and nothing was lacking there remained in the seed-mass the third sonship which had been left behind to do good and receive good in the seed; and it was needful that the sonship thus left behind should be revealed (Rom_8:19) and restored up yonder above the Limitary Spirit to join the subtle and imitative sonship and the not-being One as it is written "And the creation itself groaneth together and travaileth together expecting the revelation of the sons of God." Now we the spiritual he said are sons left behind here to order and to inform and to correct and to perfect the souls whose nature it is to abide in this stage. Till Moses then from Adam sin reigned as it is written; for the Great Archon reigned he whose end reaches to the firmament supposing himself to be God alone and to have nothing above him for all things remained guarded in secret silence; this is the mystery which was not made known to the former generations. But in those times the Great Archon the Ogdoad was king and lord as it appeared of all things: and moreover the Hebdomad was king and lord of this stage; and the Ogdoad is unutterable but the Hebdomad utterable. This the Archon of the Hebdomad is he who spoke to Moses and said "I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the name of God did I not make known to them" (for so says Hippolytus they will have it read) that is of the unutterable God who is Archon of the Ogdoad. All the prophets therefore that were before the Saviour spoke from that source (ἐκεῖθεν).

This short interpretation of the times before Christ, which has evidently suffered in the process of condensation by Hippolytus, carries us at once to the Gospel itself. "Because therefore it was needful that we the children of God should be revealed, concerning whom the creation groaned and travailed, expecting the revelation, the Gospel came into the world, and passed through every principality and power and lordship, and every name that is named." There was still no downward coming from above, no departure of the ascended sonship from its place; but "from below from the formlessness of the heap the powers penetrated (διήκουσιν ) up to the sonship" (i.e. probably throughout the scale the power of each stage penetrated to the stage immediately above), and so thoughts ( νοήματα ) were caught from above as naphtha catches fire at a distance without contact. Thus the power within the Holy Spirit "conveyed the thoughts of the sonship, as they flowed and drifted (ῥέοντα καὶ φερόμενα ) to the son of the Great Archon" (25); and he in turn instructed the Great Archon himself, by whose side he was sitting. Then first the Great Archon learned that he was not God of the universe, but had himself come into being, and had above him yet higher beings; he discovered with amazement his own past ignorance, and confessed his sin in having magnified himself. This fear of his, said Basilides, was that fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom (wisdom to "separate and discern and perfect and restore," Clem. Strom. ii. 448 f.). From him and the Ogdoad the Gospel had next to pass to the Hebdomad. Its Archon's son received the light from the son of the Great Archon, he became himself enlightened, and declared the Gospel to the Archon of the Hebdomad, and he too feared and confessed, and all that was in the Hebdomad received the light (26).

It remained only that the formlessness of our own region should be enlightened and that the hidden mystery should be revealed to the third sonship left behind in the formlessness as to "one born out of due time" (οἱονεὶ ἐκτρώματι 1Co_15:8). The light came down from the Hebdomad upon Jesus the Son of Mary. That this descent of the light was represented as taking place at the Annunciation and not merely at the Baptism is clearly implied in the express reference to the words of the angel in Luk_1:35 "A Holy Spirit shall come upon thee," which are explained to mean "that

    [? spirit] which passed from the sonship through the Limitary Spirit to the Ogdoad and the Hebdomad till it reached Mary" (the interpretation of the following words "And a power of the Most High shall overshadow thee," appears to be hopelessly corrupt). On the other hand when it is described as a result of the descent of the light from the Hebdomad "upon Jesus the Son of Mary," that He "was enlightened being kindled in union with the light (συνεξαφθεὶς τῷ φωτί) that shone on Him," the allusion to the traditional light at the Baptism can hardly be questioned; more especially when we read in Clement's Excerpta (p. 972) that the Basilidians interpreted the dove to be "the Minister," i.e. (see pp. 270 276) the revealing "power" within the Holy Spirit (26).

From the Nativity Hippolytus's exposition passes on at once to its purpose in the future and the final consummation. The world holds together as it is now, we learn, until all the sonship that has been left behind, to give benefits to the souls in formlessness and to receive benefits by obtaining distinct form, follows Jesus and mounts up and is purified and becomes most subtle, so that it can mount by itself like the first sonship; "for it has all its power naturally established in union (συνεστηριγμένην ) with the light that shone down from above" (26). When every sonship has arrived above the Limitary Spirit, "then the creation shall find mercy, for till now it groans and is tormented and awaits the revelation of the sons of God, that all the men of the sonship may ascend from hence" (27). When this has come to pass, God will bring upon the whole world the Great Ignorance, that everything may remain according to nature, and that nothing may desire aught that is contrary to nature. Thus all the souls of this stage, whose nature it is to continue immortal in this stage alone, will remain without knowledge of anything higher and better than this, lest they suffer torment by craving for things impossible, like a fish desiring to feed with the sheep on the mountains, for such a desire would have been to them destruction. All things are indestructible while they abide in their place, but destructible if they aim at overleaping the bounds of Nature. Thus the Great Ignorance will overtake even the Archon of the Hebdomad, that grief and pain and sighing may depart from him: yea, it will overtake the Great Archon of the Ogdoad, and all the creations subject to him, that nothing may in any respect crave for aught that is against nature or may suffer pain. "And in this wise shall be the Restoration, all things according to nature having been founded in the seed of the universe in the beginning, and being restored at their due seasons. And that each thing has its due seasons is sufficiently proved by the Saviour's words, 'My hour is not yet come,' and by the beholding of the star by the Magi; for even He Himself was subject to the 'genesis' [nativity] of the periodic return (ἀποκαταστάσεως , here used in the limited astrological sense, though above as 'restoration' generally) of stars and hours, as foreordained [προλελογισμένος : cf. c. 24, s. f.; x. 14] in the great heap." "He," adds Hippolytus, evidently meaning our Lord, "is [in the Basilidian view] the inner spiritual man in the natural [psychical] man; that is, a sonship leaving its soul here, not a mortal soul, but one remaining in its present place according to nature, just as the first sonship up above hath left the Limitary Holy Spirit in a fitting place; He having at that time been clothed with a soul of His own" (27).

These last two remarks, on the subjection to seasons and on the ultimate abandonment of the immortal but earth-bound soul by the ascending sonship or spiritual man, taking place first in the Saviour and then in the other "sons of God," belong in strictness to an earlier part of the scheme; but they may have been placed here by Basilides himself, to explain the strange consummation of the Great Ignorance. The principle receives perhaps a better illustration from what purports to be an exposition of the Basilidian view of the Gospel, with which Hippolytus concludes his report. "According to them," he says, "the Gospel is the knowledge of things above the world, which knowledge the Great Archon understood not: when then it was shewn to him that there exists the Holy Spirit, that is the Limitary Spirit, and the sonship and a God Who is the author (αἴτιος ) of all these things, even the not-being One, he rejoiced at what was told him, and was exceeding glad: this is according to them the Gospel." Here Hippolytus evidently takes too generally the special form under which Basilides represented the Gospel as made known to the Great Archon. Nor, when he proceeds to say that "Jesus according to them was born in the manner that we have previously mentioned," is it clear that Basilides gave a different account of the Nativity itself from that accepted by the church, because he gave a peculiar interpretation to the angel's words. "After the Nativity already made known," adds Hippolytus, "all incidents concerning the Saviour came to pass according to them [the Basilidians] as they are described in the Gospels." But all this is only introductory to the setting forth of the primary principle. "These things" (apparently the incidents of our Lord's life) "are come to pass that Jesus might become the first fruits of the sorting of the things confused" (τῆς φυλοκρινήσεῶς τῶν συγκεχυμένων ). For since the world is divided into the Ogdoad and the Hebdomad and this stage in which we dwell, where is the formlessness, "it was necessary that the things confused should be sorted by the division of Jesus. That therefore suffered which was His bodily part, which was of the formlessness, and it was restored into the formlessness; and that rose up which was His psychical part, which was of the Hebdomad, and it was restored into the Hebdomad; and he raised up that which belonged to the summit where sits the Great Archon (τῆς ἀκρωρείας τοῦ μ. ἄ . ), and it abode beside the Great Archon: and He bore up on high that which was of the Limitary Spirit, and it abode in the Limitary Spirit; and the third sonship, which had been left behind in [the heap] to give and receive benefits, through Him was purified and mounted up to the blessed sonship, passing through them all." "Thus Jesus is become the first fruits of the sorting; and the Passion has come to pass for no other purpose than this [reading γέγονεν ἢ ὑπέρ for γέγονεν ὑπό ], that the things confused might be sorted." For the whole sonship left behind in the formlessness must needs be sorted in the same manner as Jesus Himself hath been sorted. Thus, as Hippolytus remarks a little earlier, the whole theory consists of the confusion of a seed-mass, and of the sorting and restoration into their proper places of things so confused (27).

Clement's contributions to our knowledge of Basilides refer chiefly as has been said to the ethical side of his doctrine. Here "Faith" evidently played a considerable part. In itself it was defined by "them of Basilides" (οἱ ἀπὸ Β.) as "an assent of the soul to any of the things which do not excite sensation because they are not present" (Strom ii. p. 448); the phrase being little more than a vague rendering of Heb_11:1 in philosophical language. >From another unfortunately corrupt passage (v. p. 645) it would appear that Basilides accumulated forms of dignity in celebration of faith. But the eulogies were in vain Clement intimates because they abstained from setting forth faith as the "rational assent of a soul possessing free will." They left faith a matter of "nature," not of responsible choice. So again while contrasting the honour shewn by the Basilidians to faith with its disparagement in comparison with "knowledge" by the Valentinians he accuses them (οἱ ἀμφὶ τὸν Β.) of regarding it as "natural," and referring it to "the election" while they apparently considered it to "discover doctrines without demonstration by an intellective apprehension" (τὰ μαθήματα ἀναποδείκτως εὑρίσκουσαν καταλήψει νοητικῇ). He adds that according to them (οἱ ἀπὸ Β.) there is at once a faith and an election of special character (οἰκείαν) in each "stage" (διάστημα) the mundane faith of every nature follows in accordance with its supermundane election and for each (? being or stage) the

    [Divine] gift of his (or its) faith corresponds with his (or its) hope (ii. 433 f.). What "hope" was intended is not explained: probably it is the range of legitimate hope the limits of faculty accessible to the beings inhabiting this or that "stage." It is hardly likely that Clement would have censured unreservedly what appears here as the leading principle of Basilides the Divine resignment of a limited sphere of action to each order of being and the Divine bestowal of proportionally limited powers of apprehending God upon the several orders though it is true that Clement himself specially cherished the thought of an upward progress from one height of being to another as part of the Divine salvation (Strom. vii. p. 835 etc.). Doubtless Basilides pushed election so far as to sever a portion of mankind from the rest as alone entitled by Divine decree to receive the higher enlightenment. In this sense it must have been that he called "the election a stranger to the world as being by nature supermundane"; while Clement maintained that no man can by nature be a stranger to the world (iv. p. 639). It is hardly necessary to point out how closely the limitation of spheres agrees with the doctrine on which the Great Ignorance is founded and the supermundane election with that of the Third Sonship.

The same rigid adhesion to the conception of natural fixity and inability to accept Christian beliefs which transcend it led Basilides (ὁ Β.) to confine the remission of sins to those which are committed involuntarily and in ignorance; as though says Clement (Strom. iv. p. 634) it were a man and not God that bestowed the gift. A like fatalistic view of Providence is implied in the language held by Basilides (in the 23rd book of his Exegetica as quoted by Clement Strom. iv. pp. 599-603) in reference to the sufferings of Christian martyrs. In this instance we have the benefit of verbal extracts though unfortunately their sense is in parts obscure. So far as they go they do not bear out the allegations of Agrippa Castor (ap. Eus. H. E. iv. 7 § 7) that Basilides taught that the partaking of food offered to idols and the heedless (ἀπαραφυλάκτως) abjuration of the faith in time of persecution was a thing indifferent; and of Origen (Com. in Matt. iii. 856 Ru.) that he depreciated the martyrs and treated lightly the sacrificing to heathen deities. The impression seems to have arisen partly from a misunderstanding of the purpose of his argument partly from the actual doctrine and practices of later Basilidians; but it may also have had some justification in incidental words which have not been preserved. Basilides is evidently contesting the assumption probably urged in controversy against his conception of the justice of Providence that the sufferers in "what are called tribulations" (ἐν ταῖς λεγομέναις θλίψεσιν) are to be regarded as innocent simply because they suffer for their Christianity. He suggests that some are in fact undergoing punishment for previous unknown sins while "by the goodness of Him Who brings events to pass" (τοῦ περιάγοντος) they are allowed the comfort of suffering as Christians "not subject to the rebuke as the adulterer or the murderer" (apparently with reference to 1Pe_3:17; 1Pe_4:15-16; 1Pe_4:19); and if there be any who suffers without previous sin it will not be "by the design of an

    [adverse] power" (κατ᾿ ἐπιβουλὴν δυνάμεως) but as suffers the babe who appears to have committed no sin. The next quotation attempts at some length an exposition of this comparison with the babe. The obvious distinction is drawn between sin committed in act (ἐνεργῶς) and the capacity for sin (τὸ ἁμαρτητικόν); the infant is said to receive a benefit when it is subjected to suffering "gaining" many hardships (πολλὰ κέρδαινον δύσκολα). So it is he says with the suffering of a perfect man for his not having sinned must not be set down to himself; though he has done no evil he must have willed evil; "for I will say anything rather than call Providence (τὸ προνοῦν) evil." He did not shrink Clement says and the language seems too conclusive from applying his principle even to the Lord. "If leaving all these arguments you go on to press me with certain persons saying for instance 'Such an one sinned therefore for such an one suffered,' if you will allow me I will say 'He did not sin but he is like the suffering babe'; but if you force the argument with greater violence I will say that any man whom you may choose to name is a man and that God is righteous; for 'no one,' as it has been said 'is clear of defilement'" (ῥύπου). He likewise brought in the notion of sin in a past stage of existence suffering its penalty here "the elect soul" suffering "honourably (ἐπιτίμως) through martyrdom and the soul of another kind being cleansed by an appropriate punishment." To this doctrine of metempsychosis (τὰς ἐνσωματώσεις) "the Basilidians" (οἱ ἀπὸ Β.) are likewise said to have referred the language of the Lord about requital to the third and fourth generations (Exc. Theod. 976); Origen states that Basilides himself interpreted Rom_7:9 in this sense "The Apostle said 'I lived without a law once,' that is before I came into this body I lived in such a form of body as was not under a law that of a beast namely or a bird" (Com. in Rom. iv. 549 Ru.); and elsewhere (Com. in Matt 50 c.) Origen complains that he deprived men of a salutary fear by teaching that transmigrations are the only punishments after death. What more Basilides taught about Providence as exemplified in martyrdoms is not easily brought together from Clement's rather confused account. He said that one part of what is called the will of God (i.e. evidently His own mind towards lower beings not what He would have their mind to be) is to love (or rather perhaps be satisfied with ἠγαπηκέναι) all things because all things preserve a relation to the universe (λόγου ἀποσώζουσι πρὸς τὸ πᾶν ἅπαντα) and another to despise nothing and a third to hate no single thing (601). In the same spirit pain and fear were described as natural accidents of things (ἐπισυμβαίνει τοῖς πράγμασιν) as rust of iron (603). In another sentence (602) Providence seems to be spoken of as set in motion by the Archon; by which perhaps was meant (see Hipp. c. 24 cited above p. 272 A) that the Archon was the unconscious agent who carried into execution (within his own "stage") the long dormant original counsels of the not-being God. The view of the harmony of the universe just referred to finds expression with a reminiscence of a famous sentence of Plato (Tim. 31 B) in a saying (Strom. v. p. 690) that Moses "set up one temple of God and an only-begotten world" (μονογενῆ τε κόσμον: cf. Plut. ii. 423 A ἕνα τοῦτον [τὸν κόσμον] εἶναι μονογενῆ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἀγαπητόν).

We have a curious piece of psychological theory in the account of the passions attributed to the Basilidians (οἱ ἀμφὶ τὸν Β . ). They are accustomed, Clement says (Strom. ii. p. 488), to call the passions Appendages ( προσαρτήματα ), stating that these are certain spirits which have a substantial existence (κατ οὐσίαν ὐπάρχειν ), having been appended (or "attached," or "adherent," various kinds of close external contact being expressed by προσηρτημένα , cf. M. Aur. xii. 3, with Gataker's note, and also Tertullian's ceteris appendicibus, sensibus et affectibus, Adv. Marc. i. 25, cited by Gieseler) to the rational soul in a certain primitive turmoil and confusion, and that again other bastard and alien natures of spirits grow upon these ( προσεπιφύεσθαι ταύταις ), as of a wolf, an ape, a lion, a goat, whose characteristics (ιδιώματα ), becoming perceptible in the region of the soul (θανταζόμενα περὶ τὴν ψυχήν ), assimilate the desires of the son to the animals; for they imitate the actions of those whose characteristics they wear, and not only acquire intimacy (προσοικειοῦνται ) with the impulses and impressions of the irrational animals, but even imitate (ζηλοῦσι ) the movements and beauties of plants, because they likewise wear the characteristics of plants appended to them; and [the passions] have also characteristics of habit [derived from stones], as the hardness of adamant (cf. p. 487 med.). In the absence of the context it is impossible to determine the precise meaning and origin of this singular theory. It was probably connected with the doctrine of metempsychosis, which seemed to find support in Plato's Timaeus 42, 90 f.), and was cherished by some neo-Pythagoreans later in the 2nd cent. (cf. Zeller, Philos. d. Gr. v. 198 f.); while the plurality of souls is derided by Clement as making the body a Trojan horse, with apparent reference (as Saumaise points out, on Simplic. Epict. 164) to a similar criticism of Plato in the Theaetetus (184 D). And again Plutarch ( de Comm. Not. 45, p. 1084) ridicules the Stoics ( i.e. apparently Chrysippus) for a "strange and outlandish" notion that all virtues and vices, arts and memories, impressions and passions and impulses and assents (he adds further down even "acts," ἐνεργείας , such as "walking, dancing, supposing, addressing, reviling") are not merely "bodies" (of course in the familiar Stoic sense) but living creatures or animals (ζῳα ), crowded apparently round the central point within the heart where "the ruling principle" (τὸ ἡγεμονικόν ) is located: by this "swarm," he says, of hostile animals they turn each one of us into "a paddock or a stable, or a Trojan horse ." Such a theory might seem to Basilides an easy deduction from his fatalistic doctrine of Providence, and of the consequent immutability of all natures.

The only specimen which we have of the practical ethics of Basilides is of a favourable kind though grossly misunderstood and misapplied by Epiphanius (i. 211 f.). Reciting the views of different heretics on Marriage Clement (Strom. iii. 508 ff.) mentions first its approval by the Valentinians and then gives specimens of the teaching of Basilides (οἱ ἀπὸ Β.) and his son Isidore by way of rebuke to the immorality of the later Basilidians before proceeding to the sects which favoured licence and to those which treated marriage as unholy. He first reports the exposition of Mat_19:11 f (or a similar evangelic passage) in which there is nothing specially to note except the interpretation of the last class of eunuchs as those who remain in celibacy to avoid the distracting cares of providing a livelihood. He goes on to the paraphrase of 1Co_7:9 interposing in the midst an illustrative sentence from Isidore and transcribes the language used about the class above mentioned. "But suppose a young man either poor or (?) depressed

    [κατηφής seems at least less unlikely than κατωφερής] and in accordance with the word [in the Gospel] unwilling to marry let him not separate from his brother; let him say 'I have entered into the holy place [τὰ ἅγια probably the communion of the church] nothing can befall me'; but if he have a suspicion [? self-distrust ὑπονοίαν ἔχῃ] let him say 'Brother lay thy hand on me that I may sin not,' and he shall receive help both to mind and to senses (νοητὴν καὶ αἰσθητήν); let him only have the will to carry out completely what is good and he shall succeed. But sometimes we say with the lips 'We will not sin,' while our thoughts are turned towards sinning: such an one abstains by reason of fear from doing what he wills lest the punishment be reckoned to his account. But the estate of mankind has only certain things at once necessary and natural clothing being necessary and natural but τὸ τῶν ἀφροδισίων natural yet not necessary" (cf. Plut. Mor. 989).

Although we have no evidence that Basilides like some others regarded our Lord's Baptism as the time when a Divine being first was joined to Jesus of Nazareth it seems clear that he attached some unusual significance to the event. "They of Basilides (οἱ ἀπὸ Β.)," says Clement (Strom. i. 146 p. 408) "celebrate the day of His Baptism by a preliminary night-service of

    [Scripture] readings (προδιανυκτερεύοντες ἀναγνώσεσι); and they say that the 'fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar' (Luk_3:1) is (or means) the fifteenth day of the [Egyptian] month Tybi while some [make the day] the eleventh of the same month." Again it is briefly stated in the Excerpta (16 p. 972) that the dove of the Baptism is said by the Basilidians (οἱ ἀπὸ Β.) to be the Minister (ὁ διάκονος). And the same association is implied in what Clement urges elsewhere (Strom. ii. p. 449): "If ignorance belongs to the class of good things why is it brought to an end by amazement [i.e. the amazement of the Archon] and [so] the Minister that they speak of [αὐτοῖς] is superfluous and the Proclamation and the Baptism: if ignorance had not previously existed the Minister would not have descended nor would amazement have seized the Archon as they themselves say." This language taken in conjunction with passages already cited from Hippolytus (c. 26) implies that Basilides regarded the Baptism as the occasion when Jesus received "the Gospel" by a Divine illumination. The supposed descent of "Christ" for union with "Jesus," though constantly assumed by Hilgenfeld is as destitute of ancient attestation as it is inconsistent with the tenor of Basilidian doctrine recorded by Clement to say nothing of Hippolytus. It has been argued from Clement's language by Gieseler (in the Halle A. L. Z. for 1823 i. 836 f.; cf. K.G. i. 1. 186) that the Basilidians were the first to celebrate our Lord's Baptism. The early history of the Epiphany is too obscure to allow a definite conclusion on this point; but the statement about the Basilidian services of the preceding night receives some illustration from a passage of Epiphanius lately published from the Venice MS. ii. 483 Dind.: iii. 632 Oehler) in which we hear of the night before the Epiphany as spent in singing and flute-playing in a heathen temple at Alexandria: so that probably the Basilidian rite was a modification of an old local custom. According to Agrippa Castor (Eus. l.c.) Basilides "in Pythagorean fashion" prescribed a silence of five years to his disciples.

The same author, we hear, stated that Basilides "named as prophets to himself Barcabbas and Barcoph, providing himself likewise with certain other [? prophets] who had no existence, and that he bestowed upon them barbarous appellations to strike amazement into those who have an awe of such things." The alleged prophecies apparently belonged to the apocryphal Zoroastrian literature popular with various Gnostics.

From Hippolytus we hear nothing about these prophecies, which will meet us again presently with reference to Basilides's son Isidore, but he tells us (Haer. vii. 20) that, according to Basilides and Isidore, Matthias spoke to them mystical doctrines ( λόγους ἀποκρύφους ) which he heard in private teaching from the Saviour: and in like manner Clement (Strom. vii. 900) speaks of the sect of Basilides as boasting that they took to themselves the glory of Matthias. Origen also ( Hom. in Luc. i. t. iii p. 933) and after him Eusebius refer to a "Gospel" of or according to Matthias ( H. E. iii. 25, 6). The true name was apparently the Traditions of Matthias : three interesting and by no means heretical extracts are given by Clement (Strom. ii. 452; iii. 523 [copied by Eusebius, H. E. iii. 29. 4]; vii. 882). In the last extract the responsibility laid on "the elect" for the sin of a neighbour recalls a passage already cited (p. 275 B) from Basilides.

It remains only to notice an apparent reference to Basilides, which has played a considerable part in modern expositions of his doctrine. Near the end of the anonymous Acts of the Disputation between Archelaus and Mani , written towards the close of the 3rd cent. or a little later, Archelaus disputes the originality of Mani's teaching, on the ground that it took rise a long time before with "a certain barbarian" (c. 55, in Routh, Rell. Sac. v. 196 ff.). "There was also," he says, "a preacher among the Persians, a certain Basilides of great [or 'greater,' antiuqior ] antiquity, not long after the times of our Apostles, who being himself also a crafty man, and perceiving that at that time everything was preoccupied, decided to maintain that dualism which was likewise in favour with Scythianus," named shortly before (c. 51, p. 186) as a contemporary of the Apostles, who had introduced dualis


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Basilides, Gnostic Sect Founder'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hwd/b/basilides-gnostic-sect-founder.html. 1911.

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Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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