Basilides

Basilides

 Svetoslav Ribolov

 

University of Sofia “St Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria                                          DOI                                                   
Fuculty of Theology  20 June 2020
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Abstracta: Basilides was an early Christian Gnostic. He was active in Alexandria during the 2nd c. AD and apparently he was acquainted with Christianity. This can be seen from his theoretical speculations where he incorporated many biblical personalities and events. He was considered very dangerous by the Christian Anti-Gnostic polemicists because, according to them, he was falsifying the apostolic tradition. Probably his teaching had two versions. The one was monistic and the other one dualistic.

Keywords: Gnosticism, Early Christianity, Late Antiquity, Religion, Dualism, Mysticism, Basilides

It is possible that Basilides is the first Christian Gnostic in history. We do not have any biography written about him and the information on his personality is very scarce. Probably he established his own school in Alexandrina in the middle of the 2nd c. AD. According to his Christian critics he had traveled through Persia and studied in Antioch with another Gnostic teacher named Menander. It is likely that he wrote his gospel according to the New Testament versions and attached to it his detailed interpretation in 24 books. He also wrote liturgical poetry for the purposes of his community.[1]

According to Eusebius of Caesarea, he boasted that he had received an exclusive secret tradition from Jesus Christ himself through Glaucus, an acolyte of Apostle Peter during his missionary work. Apart from this, he also invented his own prophetic characters and among them the most famous is Barcabas (Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 4.7 (PG 20, 316C-317B)).

The Christian Anti-Gnostic polemicists Ireneaus and Hippolytus argue that Basilides professed an apparent ontological dualism, in which, however, he interwined a number of characters and episodes from biblical narratives. Nevertheless, according to church heresiologists, Basilides follows in his teaching the ancient philosophical examples (Irenaeus, Adv. Haerses 1.24 (PG 7, 43BC); Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium, 7.20-27). In any case, what is preserved by this author is extremely scarce and this information comes mainly from hostile and polemical sources, so it is very difficult to restore his thought systematically. According to some reasearchers of the Basilidean Gnosticism, Basilides professed actually two different teachings: the first can be considered more Christian in nature, preaching about one God while the second was intended for his closest disciples and it was based on the existence of two Gods one of them good and the other one evil.[2]  

According to Basilides during the creation of the World the good Father gave birth to the angels and other spiritual beings. Initially they were six and constituted the divine “fullness” (pleroma-πλήρωμα) – the Mind, which represents Jesus Christ, Thought, Word, Prudence, Wisdom and Power (Irenaeus, Adv. Haerses 3.16.6 (PG 7, 925B-926A)). Their successor beings are the archons of this world, who emerged from Wisdom and Power, the angels, who form the 365 heavens and make up the cosmic cycle. The angels are subject to the God of the Old Testament, whose name according to Basilides is Abrasax. These creatures do not only hold human beings captive in the material world but also keep them in a state of intoxication. The good God-Father sends Christ to urge human beings to self-knowledge and to assist them to liberate their souls from this world. Moreover, while Christ was on the cross he escaped and in his place Simon of Cyrene was crucified. According to Basilides the Holy Spirit is the soul of Christ, emanating from the good God, the Supreme Father. Salvation consists in the restoration of the light particles, which are personified as souls, in the heavenly realms. These souls have fallen into the lower material world who belongs to the Old Testament God. For this restoration to be accomplished Jesus Christ went through all the spheres to free all the fallen particles from the original seed of the Logos created by the God of light.[3]

The work of Basilides was continued by his disciple Isidore, who wrote at least three works – “On the Attached Soul,” “Ethics” and “An Explanation of the Prophet Parchor.” Only fragments of all these three works have been preserved a fact that does not allow us to restore the basic theological ideas of his system. The religious faction has disappeared because of its esoteric form of organization and the lack of ambition to form a vast network of believers. However, a similar gnostic community was witnessed in Alexandria during the 4th c. AD but we do not have any information about its later existence[4].

 

[1] See Kelhoffer (2005), 115–134.

[2] Стефанов (2008), 162–163.

[3] See. Стефанов (2008), 165; Grant (1979), 201–216.

[4] Стефанов (2008), 167.

 

Sources

Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica (PG 20, 9-909).

Hippolytus (1986), Refutatio omnium haeresium, ed. Miroslav Marcovich, Berlin: W. De Gruyter.

Irenaeus, Adversus haerses (PG 7, 423-1224).

Secondary Sources

Стефанов, П. (2008) Ялдаваот. Итория и учение на гностическата религия (София: Омофор) / Stefanov, P. (2008) Yaldavaot. Istoria i uchenie na gnosticheskata religia (Sofia: Omofor)

Grant. R. (1979), “La place de Basilide dans la théologie chretienne ancienne”, Revue des études augustiniennes, 2, 202–216.

Kelhoffer, J. (2005), “Basilides’ Gospel and Exegetics (Treatises)”, Vigiliae Chirtianae 59, 115–134.


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