The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
Hippolytus, in accordance with his theses that all these "heresies" were mere plagiarisms from the more ancient philosophical systems, declares that Basilides stole the entire of his scheme from Aristotle, and proceeds to establish his charge by the following comparative analysis of the two.
"Aristotle divides all substance into the Genus, the Species,
and the Individual. The Genus is, as it were, a heap composed of many and different seeds, from which heap all the Species are taken; and the genus is the sufficient cause to all things that exist. For example, 'Animal' is used absolutely, not signifying any particular animal. 'Animal' does not signify a horse, an ox, or a man, but simply 'animal.' From this abstract 'animal' all the species of animals universally derive their origin, and this 'animal' without species is the origin of all animals generated according to their species, and not any one thing of things generated. Thus, Man is an animal, deriving his origin from the 'animal,' and Horse is an animal in the same manner. Similarly all other animals are derived from that 'animal,' who yet in itself is none of them. If therefore that 'animal' is none of these, then, according to Aristotle, the substance of all things that are proceeds out of things that are non-existent, inasmuch as the 'animal,' out of which they all proceed individually, is not one thing (or 'is nothing at all'). And this, being Nothing, is the origin of all that be.
"Now substance being divided into three classes--the genus, the species, and the individual--we have defined the genus as 'animal,' 'man' as the species picked out of the heap of animals, but as yet undiscriminated, and not separated into the form of a particular being. But when I define by a special name, like Socrates, or Diogenes, a man taken from the species (missing word?--JBH) the genus, then that being is termed the 'individual.' Thus the genus is divided into species, the species into individual.; but the individual once being defined by name cannot be divided any further. This is what Aristotle calls justly and properly 'Substance,' that which cannot be predicated 'of the subject,' nor 'in the subject.' By the term 'of the subject' he means such an idea as 'animal,' which can be predicated of all the subject animals individually--as a horse, an ox, a man--all being called by the same name, 'animal.' Hence, what can be predicated 'of the subject' is that which applies to many and different species indiscriminately. 'In the subject' means that which cannot be predicated without the previous existence of something else wherein it may exist, as 'white,' 'black,'
[paragraph continues] 'just,' 'unjust;' which are the 'accidents' to substance, and therefore called 'qualities,' because expressing what sort of thing each thing is. But no one quality can exist in itself; there must be something else for it to exist in. If, therefore, neither the genus 'animal,' which is predicated of all animals existing individually, nor 'accident,' which is only to be found in things that exist, can either of them exist by themselves; and if individuals are made up of these two, namely genus and accident, then it follows that substance, which is made up of these three, and nothing besides, is made up of things that are non-existent.
"If, therefore, what is properly and primarily termed 'substance' (the Individual) is made up of these, it is, according to Aristotle, made up of things non-existent.
"Besides the terms Genus, Species, Individual, Substance is further designated as 'Matter' and 'Formation.' Upon this definition rests the Basilidan theory of the Universe. The Universe Basilides divides into several parts: That part which extends from the earth up to the moon is destitute of foresight and of conduct, and is content with its own nature. The part beyond the moon is constituted with foresight, reason, and conduct, up to the surface of heaven. This 'surface' is a fifth substance, free from all the elements out of which the world was created; this, therefore, is the 'fifth and supra-mundane substance.' These three divisions Aristotle has treated of in three separate works: his 'Physics,' 'Metaphysics,' and 'On the Fifth Substance.' Not merely his ideas, but his words and terminology have been borrowed by Basilides, and applied to the Scriptures. How, then, can his disciples, being in reality heathens, expect to be benefited by Christ?
"Basilides and his true son and disciple Isidorus, assert that Matthew (the Evangelist) revealed to them certain secret doctrines which had been specially communicated to himself by Christ. 'There was a time when there was Nothing; nay, not even that "Nothing" was anything of being, but barely and without reserve, and without any sophism, there was altogether Nothing. When I use the term "was," I do not mean to imply that this Nothing was, but in order to explain what I wish to set forth, I employ the expression "there was absolutely
[paragraph continues] Nothing." Now that which is called "Ineffable" is not absolutely ineffable, for we ourselves give it that name of ineffable; whereas that which is not even ineffable is not "ineffable," but infinitely above every name that can be named. Even for the Visible world, so multifarious are its divisions that we have not names enough; but we are reduced to conceive many of its properties from the names of the properties already named, these (other) properties being ineffable. For an identity of names occasions a disorder and confusion of ideas in the mind of the learner.' (This is a direct plagiarism from Aristotle's discussion of synonyms in his book 'On the Categories.')
"When therefore Nothing was--no substance, no non-substance, no simple, no compound, no incomprehensible, no sensible, no man, no angel, no God--when there was nothing whatever of what is called by name, perceived by sense, conceived by the mind, but all, and even in a more refined sense than this, being put out of the question--then this No-being God (Aristotle's 'thought of a thought,' which Basilides alters into his 'No-being'), without thought, without purpose, without counsel, without passion, without desire, willed to make the world. I use the word 'willed' merely to express my meaning, it being without thought, without sensation, without will, that this was done; and by 'world' I do not mean that world created afterwards and divided by latitude and longitude, but I understand by it 'the Seed of the World.' This 'Seed of the World' contained the All within itself, just as the germ of the mustard-seed contains the root, the stalk, the leaves, the grain, the last containing again the rudiments of others innumerable. Thus the No-being God created the No-being world out of No-being things, when he deposited the seed containing within itself the complete seeds of the universe. And to give an illustration of my meaning: the egg of any bird of diversified plumage--the peacock, for example--although itself single, yet includes within itself the many-coloured, multifarious forms of multifarious substances; so, in like manner, did this seed of the world deposited by the No-being God include within itself the multiform, multifarious seeds of the universe.
"This seed, then, contained all things that can be named; nay more, all things that can not be named, as yet hidden in futurity, and to come forth after their kind by accretion, and by growth, after the manner in which we see the new-born infant acquire his teeth, his flesh, his father's form, and all his understanding, and all such things that come to the child as it grows up, not apparent in him at the beginning. Now, inasmuch as it is impossible to use the term 'projection' of the No-being God (in fact, Basilides is opposed to all schemes of creation by means of a 'projection'), for we must not suppose Matter necessary to his operations in the same way as her threads are to the spider, or as timber and metal to man when he sets about any work; but 'He spake and it was made'; and this is what Moses means by his 'Let there be light, and there was light.' Whence, then, was this light? Moses saith not whence it was, but that it was from the word of the speaker; but neither He that spoke was, neither was that which was made. The seed of the world was this word that was spoken, 'Let there be light.' And to this the evangelist refers by his 'And that was the true Light which enlighteneth every man coming into the world.' For man draws his beginning out of that seed, and is illuminated thereby." (This "seed," therefore, divided into infinite other seeds, is nothing else than Aristotle's "genus," which is divided into infinite other "species," as "animal," the genus, itself non-existent, is divided into "species," as ox, horse, man, &c.)
"Having, therefore, got this seed for his starting-point, Basilides goes on thus: 'Whatever I speak of as made after this, there is no need of inquiring out of what it was made, seeing that this seed comprehended within itself the principles of the All. Now let us examine what came out of this seed in the first, second, and third place. There was in the seed a Sonship, triple, of the same substance with the No-being God, and generated by him. In this triple Sonship one part was subtile, another gross, the third needing purification. * Upon the first projecting (emitting) of the seed, the subtile element disengaged itself, ascending aloft "like a feather or a thought,"
and arrived at the No-being One. For Him all Nature desireth, by reason of the super-eminence of his beauty and perfection. The gross part endeavoured to imitate its example, but was weighed down by its coarser nature, and detained within the seed. To assist it, therefore, the Sonship equips it with a wing, such as Plato in his "Phaedrus" wings the soul withal. Now this wing is the Holy Ghosts which the grosser part putting on, is both advantaged itself, and advantages the other. For the wings of a bird are not able to fly if severed from the bird, neither can the soul fly if separated from her wings. Such, then, is the relationship borne by the Sonship to the Holy Ghost, and also by the Holy Ghost to the Sonship. Soaring aloft, therefore, upon its wings--that is, upon the Holy Ghost, this Soul Part carried its wings, the Holy Ghost, along with it up to the No-being God, and the Sensible Sonship, but was unable to comprehend the latter, because its own nature is not constituted of the same substance with Him. But in the same way as dry and pure air is repugnant to the nature of fishes, so the place, more ineffable than the Ineffable One, and more lofty than all names that can be named, the seat of the No-being God and of the Subtile Part, was contrary to the nature of the Holy Ghost. On this account, the Sonship left it near to that place which cannot be conceived by mind, nor described by words, though. not altogether abandoned by himself, but retaining something of his power (or essence), just as a vessel once filled with a precious perfume ever retains traces of that perfume, however carefully it may have been emptied. And this is manifestly like the ointment upon the head "which ran down to Aaron's beard"--that is, the perfume of the Sonship, brought down by the Holy Ghost even into the impurity and degradation of mortality, out of which itself at the beginning had soared aloft, raised by the Sonship, as it were, on eagle's wings, being itself fastened upon his back. For all things struggle upwards from that which is below towards that which is above, from the "worse towards the better," whereas nothing of those above in the better place seeks to descend below.'
"The third part of the Sonship--namely, that requiring
purification, remained included within the infinite head (or sum) of infinite seeds, both giving and receiving benefit, in the manner hereafter to be explained. After the first and second ascensions of the Sonship, the Holy Ghost, which had been left above, became the 'firmament' between the world and the upper world. For Basilides divides all things that are into two great classes, the 'world' and the 'upper world'; the Spirit, therefore, occupying the interval between the two (namely, the Holy Ghost, which retains the odour of the Son-ship) he terms the 'Boundary Spirit.' Now after this firmament above the world had been constituted, there broke forth out of the Seed of the World the 'Great Archon,' the Head of the World, or beauty, strength, magnitude indissoluble. More ineffable is he than the Ineffable, more powerful than the Powerful, wiser than the Wise, more beautiful than any beauty that can be named. As soon as he was born he soared upwards and reached the firmament, but that was the limit of his flight; for he knew not of the existence of anything beyond the firmament, and therefore he remained more beautiful, more powerful, more wise than any of the things subjacent, always excepting the Sonship--that is, the Third impurified Person--who still lay enclosed within the immense universal seed. Imagining himself, therefore, to be Lord and Ruler and Intelligent Architect, he set about the creation of the world. In the first place, not wishing to abide alone, he generated unto himself a son out of things subjacent (mundane elements), far wiser and more beautiful than himself, for this son was in truth the Third Person yet left enclosed within the seed. This thing had been predestinated by the No-being God from the beginning; as soon as he beheld this son he was enamoured of his perfect beauty, and bade him to sit down on his right hand. This they call the 'Ogdoad,' the abode of the Great Archon. The great and wise Demiurgus then made the entire ætherial creation, being inspired and empowered thereto by his own son, so far above himself in wisdom." (This idea is copied from Aristotle's "Entelechia" of the natural organic body; the active soul in the body being itself wiser, stronger, and better than the body. The theory, therefore, propounded originally by Aristotle concerning
the body and the soul, Basilides thus applies to the Great Archon and the Son whom he had created; for as the Archon creates the Son, so does Aristotle make the soul to be the work and effect of the natural organic body.) "All things, therefore, are ruled by the providence of the Great Archon" (or rather, by the "Entelechia" of himself and son)--"all things, that is to say, which lie below the moon, and within the æther--for the moon is the division between the æther and the air.
"The creation being finished, there arose out of the seed a 'Second Archon,' but greatly inferior to the first, yet similarly ineffable. This (Archon) is designated the 'Hebdomad.' He proceeded to create all things below the æther of which he is the Demiurgus; and he, in his turn, generated a son infinitely superior to himself. The intermediate space between the regions Ogdoad and Hebdomad is occupied by the universal seed, the heap of species, the particles whereof are guided by the intelligence implanted in them by the First Creator as to the times, the natures, and the changes in which they have to come forth, and possess no other guide, guardian, or creator.
"The whole creation was in this way completed, of the world and of the things above the world; but there was yet left within the seed the 'Third Sonship,' who, in his turn, had to be developed, revealed, and to ascend beyond the Boundary Spirit up to the Subtile Sonship and the No-being One. This is the interpretation (meaning) of the Scripture: 'The whole creation groaneth and is in labour, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.' These 'sons' are the Spiritual Men left here below to guide and to perfect the souls that from their nature belong to this place. 'From Adam unto Moses sin reigned'--that is to say, the Great Archon, who had dominion up to the firmament, and imagined that he alone was God, and that there was none other above him--for all above him was kept in the deepest silence. This is the 'mystery not revealed unto the Fathers'; the Great Archon, the Ogdoad, was, as he supposed, the Lord and Ruler of the universe. But of the 'interval,' or middle space, the Hebdomad was the ruler; now the Ogdoad is ineffable, but the Hebdomad may be uttered by speech. This ruler of the Hebdomad was He who spake unto Moses, saying,
[paragraph continues] 'I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Name of God I have not revealed unto them'--that is, He did not reveal to them the ineffable ruler of the Ogdoad. All the prophets who were before the Saviour's coming spoke through the inspiration of the Second Archon.
"When the time was come for the manifestation of the Sons of God, the Gospel came, penetrating through every power, dominion, and name that can be named, although the Sonship did not come down from his place upon the right hand of the Incomprehensible No-being One. But, like as Indian naphtha kindles at the mere sight of fire a long way off, so do powers fly up out of the seed to the Sonship that is beyond the firmament. The son of the Great Archon of the Ogdoad thus receives, like as naphtha catches the distant flame, the emanations of the Sonship who is beyond the firmament; and this last, the Boundary Spirit, serves for the communication of the thoughts from the one to the other.
"The Gospel thus came to the Great Archon through his own son, and he was converted, and troubled, and became wise, learning his own ignorance (or want of knowledge); and this is the interpretation of 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' For the Christ, sitting by him, instructed him concerning the Ineffable No-being One, concerning the Son who is beyond the firmament, and concerning the creation of the universe. The Great Archon being thus instructed, was filled with fear, and confessed the sin he had committed in magnifying himself; and this is the meaning of 'I acknowledge my transgression and I confess my sin.' When, therefore, the Great Archon was enlightened, every creature of the Ogdoad was likewise enlightened, and then came the time for the enlightenment and evangelising of the ruler of the Hebdomad. For this end the son of the Great Archon communicated to the son of the Second Archon the light which he himself had received from above, and he communicated his instruction to his Father, who in like manner was convinced of, and confessed his sin. By this time every creature of the Hebdomad was enlightened, and had the Gospel preached unto them. For in this division (the region below the æther) also, there is an infinite creation
of powers, principalities, and dominions (concerning whom Basilides has a lengthy dissertation; who moreover in this region places the 365 heavens, and their ruler ABRASAX, so called because his name contains that sum, for which reason the year consists also of that number of days).
"After all this it was necessary that the Unformedness (ἀμορφία) existing in our region that is, the Sonship still lying enclosed in the mass like an abortion--should be enlightened in the same manner with those aforementioned. The Light therefore passed through the Hebdomad upon the son of the Hebdomad--that is, upon Jesus, the son of Mary. This is 'the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee,' namely, the power of unction, descending from the Supreme through the Demiurgus upon the Son.
"The present constitution of things will last until every particle of the Sonship enveloped in the unformed mass shall be attracted into Jesus, shall be disentangled and sublimated by him, and rendered capable of ascending by itself to the first source of Light, to which it bears a natural affinity.
"In this way the Three Persons of the Sonship being all united once more above the firmament, then mercy shall be shown unto the creation, 'which languishes and groans waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God'; for all men belonging to the Sonship shall ascend up unto Him. When this is accomplished, He will bring upon the world a deep ignorance, so that all things here below shall abide in their nature, and desire nothing contrary to their nature. By this means the souls appointed to abide here below will be destitute of even the slightest notion of anything existing above them, lest they should be tormented by the fruitless desire of ascending up into the same; like as though a fish should desire to pasture with the flocks upon the hills, a wish which, if gratified, would be its destruction. For all things are eternal so long as they continue in their natural place, but become mortal when they endeavour to escape beyond it. The same ignorance will envelop the ruler of the Hebdomad, in order that sorrow and grief and confusion may flee away from him; that he may no longer be troubled with the desire of things above him and contrary to
his nature. This ignorance shall also come over the Great Archon of the Ogdoad, and over all creatures subject unto him, and for the same reason. This is the 'restoration of all things; enclosed from the beginning within the seed, and disposed according to its season. This is the Saviour's meaning in 'My hour is not yet come'; it is also signified by the Magi beholding the star, inasmuch as His coming, proclaimed from the beginning, was subject to the disposition of the stars. *
"The Gospel is the Declaration of supramundane things, which the Great Archon knew not of. But when it was told him of the Sonship, of the Boundary Spirit, and of the No-being God, he rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. With respect to the birth of Jesus, all things came to pass as they are written in the Gospels. For He was the firstfruits of the division of the classes, previously all commingled here below. Now, as the world is distributed into the Ogdoad, the head of the universe, whose chief is the Great Archon, and into the Hebdomad, whose chief is the Demiurgus, chief also of our degree where Frailty (liability to error) subsists, it was necessary that this Confusion should be distributed and set in order by Jesus. That part of hint, therefore, which was of the 'Unformedness,' namely, his body suffered what it did suffer and returned again into unformedness; that part which belonged to the Hebdomad, namely, his soul, returned again into the Hebdomad after his resurrection; the part belonging to the Ogdoad remained with the Great Archon, and the part belonging to the Boundary Spirit was left there in his ascension. But the third Sonship, thus purified in his passage upwards, was reunited to the Blessed Sonship who is supreme above. (In short, the whole theory of the religion consists in the Confusion of the Seed-heap, its Redistribution into classes, and the Restoration of all things to their natural places. This division of the classes was made in the first instance by Jesus, and the sole object of his passion was the restoration of the classes, which were mixed up together, into their proper order. And for this reason Jesus himself was
distributed as we have shown, amongst the several classes. These then are the things that Basilides fables, who taught in Egypt, and, having learned his wisdom from the Egyptians brought forth such fruits as these.)"
This concluding remark of Hippolytus deserves particular notice; it shows that he regarded the Basilidan theory as the mere adaptation to present requirements of an ancient esoteric doctrine belonging to the Egyptian priesthood. That it was nothing more than a plagiarism from the Aristotelian philosophy, as the learned Father labours to demonstrate with so much ingenuity, appears to me by no means made out. But the Basilidan theory has one striking feature that distinguishes it from every other form of the Gnosis, in its entirely ignoring the existence of an Evil Principle, or of malignity and rebellion against the Supreme God. His two rulers of the upper and lower worlds, the Great Archon of the Ogdoad, and the Demiurgus of the Hebdomad, so far from opposing the Gospel receive it with joy, and humbly acknowledge their inferiority to the sender. The Passion of Jesus is not due to the malice of either of them, but is voluntary, and undertaken as the sole means of restoring confused elements of the All to the harmony indispensable for their eternal duration. Even the final withdrawing of the Divine Light from the Ogdoad and Hebdomad is done for the same beneficent purpose, in order that both they and their greatness may rest for ever in blissful ignorance, each holding himself supreme in his own creation, and knowing of nothing above it, may no longer be tormented by vain aspirations after a state of perfection for which his nature is not adapted. The benevolent spirit that pervades the whole theory strongly supports the assertion of Hippolytus, and points out for its source the Egyptian mythology, to which the notion of two principles, equal in power but antagonistic in nature, would have been unutterably shocking.
74:* Corresponding to "Immaterial, Material, and Mixed."
80:* This may allude to the Rabbinical explanation of the "sign of the coming" of the Messiah as being the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces.