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Chapter X.—Origin of the World; Basilides’ Account of the “Sonship.”

All things, therefore whatsoever it is possible to declare, and whatever, being not as yet discovered, one must omit, were likely to receive adaptation to the world which was about to be generated from the Seed. And this (Seed), at the requisite seasons, increases in bulk in a peculiar manner, according to accession, as through the instrumentality of a Deity so great, and of this description. (But this Deity) the creature can neither express nor grasp by perception. (Now, all these things) were inherent, treasured in the Seed, as we afterwards observe in a new-born child the growth of teeth, and paternal substance, and intellect, and everything which, though previously having no existence, accrues unto a man, growing little by little, from a youthful period of life.  But since it would be absurd to say that any projection of a non-existent God became anything non-existent (for Basilides altogether shuns and dreads the Substances of things generated in the way of projection for, (he asks,) of what sort of projection is there a necessity, or of what sort of matter818818    Or, “of what sort of material substance,” etc. must we assume the previous existence, in order that God should construct a world, as the spider his web; or (as) a mortal man, for the purpose of working it, takes a (piece of) brass or of wood, or some other of the parts of matter?),—(projection, I say, being out of the question,) certainly, says (Basilides), God spoke the word, and it was carried into effect. And this, as these men assert, is that which has been stated by Moses: “Let there be light, and there was light.”819819    Gen. i. 3. Whence he says, came the light? From nothing. For it has not been written, he says, whence, but this only, (that it came) from the voice of him who speaks the word. And he who speaks the word, he says, was non-existent; nor was that existent which was being produced.820820    Or, “being declared.” The seed of the cosmical system was generated, he says, from nonentities; (and I mean by the seed,) the word which was spoken, “Let there be light.” And this, he says, is that which has been stated in the Gospels: “He was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”821821    John i. 9. [See translator’s important note (1), p. 7, supra.] He derives his originating principles from that Seed, and obtains from the same source his illuminating power. This is that seed which has in itself the entire conglomeration of germs. And Aristotle affirms this to be genius, and it is distributed by him into infinite species; just as from animal, which is non-existent, we sever ox, horse, (and) man. When, therefore, the cosmical Seed becomes the basis (for a subsequent development), those (heretics) assert, (to quote Basilides’ own words:) “Whatsoever I affirm,” he says, “to have been made after these, ask no question as to whence. For (the Seed) had all seeds treasured and reposing in itself, just as non-existent entities, and which were designed to be produced by a non-existent Deity.”

Let us see, therefore, what they say is first, or what second, or what third, (in the development of) what is generated from the cosmical Seed. There existed, he says, in the Seed itself, a Sonship, threefold, in every respect of the same Substance with the non-existent God, (and) begotten from nonentities. Of this Sonship (thus) involving a threefold division, one part was refined, (another gross,) and another requiring purification. The refined portion, therefore, in the first place, simultaneously with the earliest deposition of the Seed by the non-existent one, immediately burst forth822822    Literally, “throbbed.” and went upwards and hurried above from below, employing a sort of velocity described in poetry,—

“…As wing or thought,”823823    Odyssey, vii. 36.

and attained, he says, unto him that is nonexistent. For every nature desires that (nonexistent one), on account of a superabundance of beauty and bloom. Each (nature desires this), however, after a different mode. The more gross portion, however, (of the Sonship) continuing still in the Seed, (and) being a certain imitative (principle), was not able to hurry upwards. For (this portion) was much more deficient in the refinement that the Sonship possessed, which through itself hurried upwards, (and so the more gross portion) was left behind. Therefore the more gross Sonship equipped it105self with some such wing as Plato, the Preceptor of Aristotle, fastens on the soul in (his) Phædrus.824824    See Plato, vol. i. p. 75 et seq., ed. Bekker. Miller has “Phædo;” an obvious mistake. And Basilides styles such, not a wing, but Holy Spirit; and Sonship invested in this (Spirit) confers benefits, and receives them in turn. He confers benefits, because, as a wing of a bird, when removed from the bird, would not of itself soar high up and aloft; nor, again, would a bird, when disengaged from its pinion, at any time soar high up and aloft; (so, in like manner,) the Sonship involved some such relation in reference to the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit in reference to the Sonship. For the Sonship, carried upwards by the Spirit as by a wing, bears aloft (in turn) its pinion, that is, the Spirit. And it approaches the refined Sonship, and the non-existent God,825825    [Foretaste of Cent. IV.] Miller’s text has, instead of τοῦ οὐκ ὄντος (non-existent), οικοῦντος (who dwells above). even Him who fabricated the world out of nonentities. He was not, (however,) able to have this (spirit) with (the Sonship) itself; for it was not of the same substance (with God), nor has it (any) nature (in common) with the Sonship. But as pure and dry air is contrary to (their) nature, and destructive to fishes; so, in contrariety to the nature of the Holy Spirit, was that place simultaneously of non-existent Deity and Sonship,—(a place) more ineffable than ineffable (entities), and higher up than all names.

Sonship, therefore, left this (spirit) near that Blessed Place, which cannot be conceived or represented by any expression. (He left the spirit) not altogether deserted or separated from the Sonship; nay, (far from it,) for it is just as when a most fragrant ointment is put into a vessel, that, even though (the vessel) be emptied (of it) with ever so much care, nevertheless some odour of the ointment still remains, and is left behind, even after (the ointment) is separated from the vessel; and the vessel retains an odour of ointment, though (it contain) not the ointment (itself).  So the Holy Spirit has continued without any share in the Sonship, and separated (from it), and has in itself, similarly with ointment, its own power, a savour of Sonship. And this is what has been declared: “As the ointment upon the head which descended to the beard of Aaron.”826826    Ps. cxxxiii. 2. This is the savour from the Holy Spirit borne down from above, as far as formlessness, and the interval (of space) in the vicinity of our world. And from this the Son began to ascend, sustained as it were, says (Basilides), upon eagles’ wings, and upon the back. For, he says, all (entities) hasten upwards from below, from things inferior to those that are superior. For not one of those things that are among things superior, is so silly as to descend beneath. The third Sonship, however, that which requires purification, has continued, he says, in the vast conglomeration of all germs conferring benefits and receiving them. But in what manner it is that (the third Sonship) receives benefits and confers them, we shall afterwards declare when we come to the proper place for discussing this question.

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