« Basilica Basilides and the Basilidians Basnage »

Basilides and the Basilidians



Basilides, a famous Gnostic, was a pupil of an alleged interpreter of St. Peter, Glaucias by name, and taught at Alexandria during the reign of Hadrian (117–138). He may have been previously a disciple of Menander at Antioch, together with Saturnilus. The Acta Archelai state that for a time he taught among the Persians. He composed twenty-four books on the Gospel, which, according to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, iv, 12), were entitled "Exegetics." Fragments of xiii and xxiii, preserved by Clement and in the Acta Archelai, supplement the knowledge of Basilides furnished by his opponents. Origen is certainly wrong in ascribing to him a Gospel. The oldest refutation of the teachings of Basilides, by Agrippa Castor, is lost, and we are dependent upon the later accounts of Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus. The latter, in his Philosophumena, gives a presentation entirely different from the other sources. It either rests on corrupt accounts, or, more probably, on those of a later, post-Basilidian phase of the system. Hippolytus describes a monistic system, in which Hellenic, or rather Stoic, conceptions stand in the foreground, whereas the genuine Basilides is an Oriental through and through, who stands in closer relationship to Zoroaster than to Aristotle.

His System.

The fundamental theme of the Basilidian speculation is the question concerning the origin of evil and how to overcome it. The answer is given entirely in the forms of Oriental gnosis, evidently influenced by Parseeism. There are two principles, untreated and self-existent, light and darkness, originally separated and without knowledge of each other. At the head of the "kingdom of light" stands "the uncreated, unnamable God." From him divine life unfolds in successive steps. Seven such revelations form the first ogdoad, from which issued the rest of the spirit-world, till three hundred and sixty-five spirit-realms had originated. These are comprised under the mystic name Abrasax, whose numerical value answers to the number of the heavens and days. Being seized with a longing for light, darkness now interferes. A struggle of the principles commences, in which originated our system of the world as copy of the last stage of the spirit-world, having an archon and angel at its head. The earthly life is only a moment of the general purification-process which now takes place to deliver the world of light from darkness. Hence everything which is bad and evil in this system of the world becomes intelligible when regarded in its proper relations. Gradually the rays of light find their way through the mineral kingdom, vegetable kingdom, and animal kingdom. Man has two souls in his breast, of which the rational soul tries to master the material or animal. For the consummation of the process an intervention from above is necessary, however. The Christian idea of the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ is the historical fact which Basilides subjects to his general thoughts. God's "mind" (Gk. nous) descended upon Jesus as dove at the Jordan, and he proclaimed salvation to the Jews, the chosen people of the archon. The suffering of Jesus, Basilides admitted as a historical fact, but he did not understand how to utilize it religiously. The Spirit of God is the redeemer, not the crucified one. Jesus suffered as man, whose light-nature was also contaminated through the matter of evil. But the belief in the redemption which came from above lifts man beyond himself to a higher degree of existence. 2How far the individual can attain it depends on the degree of pure entanglement in former degrees of the spirit-world. In the perfected spirit-world the place will be assigned to each which belongs to him according to the degree of his faith.

The Basilidians.

Among the Basilidians, Basilides' son, Isidore, occupies a prominent place. Of his writings ("On the Excrescent Soul," "Exegetics," "Ethics") some fragments are extant. The sect does not seem to have spread beyond Lower Egypt. In opposition to the rigid ethics of their master, the Basilidians seem often to have advocated libertinism. According to Clement of Alexandria they celebrated the sixth or the tenth of January as the day of the baptism of Jesus. On the importance of this fact for the origin of the ecclesiastical festival of the Epiphany, cf. H. Usener, Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen, i (Bonn, 1889).

G. Krüger.

Bibliography: The fragments of Basilides are collected in J. E. Grabe, Spicilegium SS. Patrum, ii, 35–43, Oxford, 1699; in A. Stieren's edition of Irenæus, i, 901–903, 907–909, Leipsic, 1853; and in A. Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums, pp. 207–217, Leipsic, 1884. The sources are Irenæus (Hær., I, xxiv, 1; cf. ii, 16 et passim), Clement of Alexandria (Strom., ii, 8; iii, 1; iv, 12, 24, 26; v, 1), Origen (Hom. i on Luke; com. on Romans, v), Eusebius (Chron., an. 133; Hist. ecc1., IV, vii, 7), the Acta Archelai (lv), Epiphanius (Hær., xxiii, 1; xxiv; xxxii, 3), and Hippolytus (Philosophumena, vii, 2–15). Consult A. Neander, Genetische Entwicklung der vornehmsten gnostischen Systems, Berlin, 1818 (the most exhaustive treatment); F. C. Baur, Die christliche Gnosis, Tübingen, 1835; J. L. Jacobi, Basilidis philosophi gnostici sententias ex Hippolyti libri, Berlin, 1852 (valuable); G. Uhlhorn, Das basilidianische System, Göttingen, 1855: H. L. Mansel, Gnostic Heresies, London, 1875 (has able lecture on Basilides); Hort, in DCB, i, 268–281 (very thorough); A. Hilgenfeld, in ZWT, xxi (1878), 228–250; idem, Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums, pp. 207–218, Leipsic, 1884; G. Salmon, The Cross-references in the Philosophoumena, in Hermathena, xi (1885), 389–402; H. Stähelin, Die gnostischan Quellen Hippolyts, in TU, vi, 3, Leipsic, 1890; Schaff, Christian Church, ii, 466–472; Harnack, Litteratur, i, 157–161; ii, 1, 289–297 Krüger, History, pp. 70–71; Moeller, Christian Church, i, 141–144; J. Kennedy, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1902, pp. 377–415.

« Basilica Basilides and the Basilidians Basnage »
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