CONCERNING BASILIDES


EXCERPTS FROM HIPPOLYTUS

EXCERPTS FROM EARLY CHURCH FATHERS


Excerpts from Hippolytus of Rome

01.  On the tenets of the philosophers.

02.  On the systems of the astrologers.

03.  On the Gnostics.

04.  On Peratae and Sethians.

05.  Concerning Simon Magus.

06.  Concerning Valentinus.

07.  Concerning Basilides.

08.  Concerning Marcion and Carpocrates.

09.  Concerning the Docetae.

10.  Concerning the Noetians.

11.  On Elchasai and the Jews.

12.  Hippolytus, the rightful bishop in opposition to Callistus.

 


07. CONCERNING BASILIDES.

Since, therefore, in the six books preceding this, we have explained previous (heretical opinions), it now seems proper not to be silent respecting the (doctrines) of Basilides, which are the tenets of Aristotle the Stagyrite, not (those) of Christ (Refutation of all heresies 7.2).

The world is divided, according to Aristotle, into very numerous and diversified parts. Now the portion of the world which extends from the earth to the moon is devoid of foresight, guideless, and is under the sway of that nature alone which belongs to itself. But another (part of the world which lies) beyond the moon, and extends to the surface of heaven, is arranged in the midst of all order and foresight and governance. Now, the (celestial) superficies constitutes a certain fifth substance, and is remote from all those natural elements out of which the cosmical system derives consistence. And this is a certain fifth Substance, according to Aristotle, -as it were, a certain super-mundane essence (R7.7).

The definition, however, which Aristotle furnishes of the Deity is, I admit, not difficult to ascertain, but it is impossible to comprehend the meaning of it. For, he says, (the Deity) is a "conception of conception;" but this is altogether a non-existent (entity). The world, however, is incorruptible (and) eternal, according to Aristotle. For it has in itself nothing faulty, inasmuch as it is directed by Providence and Nature ... When, therefore, Basilides has been discovered, not in spirit alone, but also in the actual expressions and names, transferring the tenets of Aristotle into our evangelical and saving doctrine, what remains, but that, by restoring what he has appropriated from others, we should prove to the disciples of this (heretic) that Christ will in no wise profit them, inasmuch as they are heathenish? (R7.7).

These (Basilidians) "non-existent,"-inconceivably, insensibly, indeterminately, involuntarily, impassively, (and) unactuated by desire, willed to create a world ... In this way,"non-existent" God made the world out of nonentities, casting and depositing some one Seed that contained in itself a conglomeration of the germs of the world (R7.9).

There existed, he (Basilides) 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 gross portion) was much more deficient in the refinement that the Sonship possessed, which through itself hurried upwards, (and so it) was left behind ... the (gross) 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, even Him who fabricated the world out of nonentities (R7.10).

Existing things were distributed by Basilides into two continuous and primary divisions, and are, according to him, denominated partly in a certain (respect) world, and partly in a certain (respect) super-mundane (spaces). But the spirit, a line of demarcation between the world and super-mundane (spaces), is that which is both holy, and has abiding in itself the savour of Sonship. While, therefore, the firmament which is above the heaven is coining into existence, there burst forth, and was begotten from the cosmical Seed, and the conglomeration of all germs, the Great Archon (and) Head of the world (R7.11).

This (Archon), when begotten, raised Himself up and soared aloft, and was carried up entire as far as the firmament. And there He paused, supposing the firmament to be the termination of His ascension and elevation, and considering that there existed nothing at all beyond these ... he was not aware that there is (a Sonship) wiser and more powerful, and better than Himself. Therefore imagining Himself to be Lord, and Governor, and a wise Master Builder, He turns Himself to (the work of) the creation of every object in the cosmical system (R7.11).

The account, therefore, which Aristotle has previously rendered concerning the soul and the body, Basilides elucidates as applied to the Great Archon and his Son ... All things, therefore, have been provided for, and managed by the majesty of the Great Archon; (I mean) whatever objects exist in the aethereal region of space as far as the moon, for from that quarter onwards air is separated from aether (R7.12).

And it must needs be that the (portion of) Sonship which had been left behind ought likewise to be revealed and reinstated above ... Now, we who are spiritual are sons, he says, who have been left here to arrange, and mould, and rectify, and complete the souls which, according to nature, are so constituted as to continue in this quarter of the universe ... the Great Archon exercised dominion and possesses an empire with limits (only) extending as far as the firmament. And He imagines Himself alone to be God, and that there exists nothing above Him, for (the reason that) all things have been guarded by unrevealed Siope. This, he says, is the mystery which has not been made known to former generations (R7.13).

The Archon learned that He was not God of the universe, but was begotten. But (ascertaining that) He has above Himself the deposited treasure of that Ineffable and Unnameable (and) Non-existent One, and of the Sonship, He was both converted and filled with terror ... He (the Son of the Great Archon) proclaimed the Gospel to the Archon of the Hebdomad ... it was necessary, likewise, that afterwards the Formlessness existent in our quarter of creation should have radiance imparted to it, and that the mystery should be revealed to the Sonship, which had been left behind in Formlessness (scattered among human beings) (R7.14).

Gospel with them (Basilidians), as has been elucidated, is of super-mundane entities the knowledge which the Great Archon (of the Hebdomad) did not understand. As, then, it was manifested unto him that there are likewise the Holy Spirit -that is, the conterminous (spirit)- and the Sonship, and the Non-Existent God, the cause of all these, he rejoiced at the communications made to him, and was filled with exultation ... And through him (the Saviour) there was purified the third Sonship, which had been left (behind among human beings) for conferring benefits, and receiving them (R7.15).

But one Saturnilus, who flourished about the same period with Basilides, but spent his time in Antioch, (a city) of Syria, propounded opinions akin to whatever (tenets) Menander (advanced). He asserts that there is one Father, unknown to all -He who had made angels, archangels, principalities, (and) powers; and that by certain angels, seven (in number), the (visible) world was made, and all things that are in it. And (Saturnilus affirms) that man was a work of angels ... And the Saviour he supposed to be unbegotten and incorporeal, and devoid of figure. (Saturnilus,) however, (maintained that he) was manifested as man in appearance only. And he says that the God of the Jews is one of the angels, and, on account of the Father's wishing to deprive of sovereignty all the Archons, that Christ (the Saviour) came for the overthrow of the God of the Jews, and for the salvation of those that believe upon Him (R7.16).


 

From his own writings, Hippolytus appears as the rightful Bishop of Rome who upheld the true apostolic tradition against the unworthy pontiff Callistus, an impostor and a villain no less than a laxist and a heretic. The surprising reconciliation of the two bitterly opposing groups subsequently took place, following which the Callistians endorsed him as another glorious martyr in a united Church. However, he was only acknowledged as a presbyter or, at most, as a bishop in some uncertain see.

 

An alternative stance that relates these events to the struggles that rent the Roman Christians in the times of Maxentius is examined in Did Tertullian really exist? Did Cyprian? Did Hippolytus? Once more tolerant tetrarchs overthrew Diocletian’s system in the west, African and Roman rigorists forcefully attempted to depose the prelates that yielded or fled under persecution. Whereas in North Africa Donatus Magnus and Caecilian of Carthage attacked one another through the works of Tertullian and Cyprian respectively, the conflicting Roman ecclesiastical heads Heraclius and Eusebius contended under the figures of Hippolytus and Callistus.

 


 

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