The Basilidians[ pronunciation?] or Basilideans were a Gnostic sect founded by Basilides of Alexandria in the 2nd century. Basilides claimed to have been taught his doctrines by Glaucus, a disciple of St. Peter.

Of the customs of the Basilidians, we know no more than that Basilides enjoined on his followers, like Pythagoras, a silence of five years; that they kept the anniversary of the day of the baptism of Jesus as a feast day [1] and spent the eve of it in reading; that their master told them not to scruple eating things offered to idols. The sect had three grades – material, intellectual and spiritual – and possessed two allegorical statues, male and female. The sect's doctrines were often similar to those of the Ophites and later Jewish Kabbalism.

Basilidianism survived until the end of the 4th century as Epiphanius knew of Basilidians living in the Nile Delta. It was however almost exclusively limited to Egypt, though according to Sulpicius Severus it seems to have found an entrance into Spain through a certain Mark from Memphis. St. Jerome states that the Priscillianists were infected with it.

Cosmogony of Hippolytus

The descriptions of the Basilidian system given by our chief informants, Irenaeus ( Adversus Haereses) and Hippolytus ( Philosophumena), are so strongly divergent that they seem to many quite irreconcilable. According to Hippolytus, Basilides was apparently a pantheistic evolutionist; and according to Irenaeus, a dualist and an emanationist. Historians such as Philip Shaff have the opinion that "Irenaeus described a form of Basilidianism which was not the original, but a later corruption of the system. On the other hand, Clement of Alexandria surely, and Hippolytus, in the fuller account of his Philosophumena, probably drew their knowledge of the system directly from Basilides' own work, the Exegetica, and hence represent the form of doctrine taught by Basilides himself". [2]

The fundamental theme of the Basilidian system is the question concerning the origin of evil and how to overcome it. [3] A cosmographical feature common to many forms of Gnosticism is the idea that the Logos Spermatikos is scattered into the sensible cosmos, where it is the duty of the Gnostics, by whatever means, to recollect these scattered seed-members of the Logos and return them to their proper places [4] (cf. the Gospel of Eve). "Their whole system," says Clement, "is a confusion of the Panspermia (All-seed) with the Phylokrinesis (Difference-in-kind) and the return of things thus confused to their own places."


According to Hippolytus, Basilides asserted the beginning of all things to have been pure nothing. He uses every device of language to express absolute nonentity. [5] Nothing then being in existence, "not-being God" willed to make a not-being world out of not-being things. This not-being world was only "a single seed containing within itself all the seed-mass of the world," as the mustard seed contains the branches and leaves of the tree. [6] Within this seed-mass were three parts, or sonships, and were consubstantial with the not-being God. This was the one origin of all future growths; these future growths did not use pre-existing matter, but rather these future growths came into being out of nothing by the voice of the not-being God.

First sonship

Part subtle of substance. The first part of the seed-mass burst through and ascended to the not-being God.

Second sonship

Part coarse of substance. The second part of the seed-mass to burst forth could not mount up of itself, but it took to itself as a wing of the Holy Spirit, each bearing up the other with mutual benefit. But when it came near the place of the first part of the seed-mass and the not-being God, it could take the Holy Spirit no further, it not being consubstantial with the Holy Spirit. There the Holy Spirit remained, as a firmament dividing things above the world from the world itself below. [7]

Third sonship and the Great Archon

Part needing purification. From the third part of the seed-mass burst forth into being the Great Archon, "the head of the world, a beauty and greatness and power that cannot be uttered." He too ascended until he reached the firmament which he supposed to be the upward end of all things. There he "made to himself and begat out of the things below a son far better and wiser than himself". Then he became wiser and every way better than all other cosmical things except the seed-mass left below. Smitten with wonder at his son's beauty, he set him at his right hand. "This is what they call the Ogdoad, where the Great Archon is sitting." Then all the heavenly or ethereal creation, as far down as the moon, was made by the Great Archon, inspired by his wiser son. [8]

Another Archon arose out of the seed-mass, inferior to the first Archon, but superior to all else below except the seed-mass; and he likewise made to himself a son wiser than himself, and became the creator and governor of the aerial world. This region is called the Hebdomad. On the other hand, all these events occurred according to the plan of the not-being God. [9]


The Basilidians believed in a very different Gospel to that of orthodox Christians. Hippolytus summed up the Basilidians' Gospel by saying: "According to them the Gospel is the knowledge of things above the world, which knowledge the Great Archon understood not: when then it was shewn to him that there exists the Holy Spirit, and the [three parts of the seed-mass] and a God Who is the author of all these things, even the not-being One, he rejoiced at what was told him, and was exceeding glad: this is according to them the Gospel."

That is, the Basilidians believed from Adam until Moses the Great Archon supposed himself to be God alone, and to have nothing above him. But it was thought to enlighten the Great Archon that there were beings above him, so through the Holy Spirit the Gospel was conveyed to the Great Archon. [10] First, the son of the Great Archon received the Gospel, and he in turn instructed the Great Archon himself, by whose side he was sitting. Then the Great Archon learned that he was not God of the universe, but had above him yet higher beings; and confessed his sin in having magnified himself. [11] From him the Gospel had next to pass to the Archon of the Hebdomad. The son of the Great Archon delivered the Gospel to the son of the Archon of the Hebdomad. The son of the Archon of the Hebdomad became enlightened, and declared the Gospel to the Archon of the Hebdomad, and he too feared and confessed. [12]

Fra Angelico's Baptism of Christ. Sonship, or divine filiation, is the condition of being a child of God.

It remained only that the world should be enlightened. The light came down from the Archon of the Hebdomad upon Jesus both at the Annunciation and at the Baptism so that He "was enlightened, being kindled in union with the light that shone on Him". Therefore, by following Jesus, the world is purified and becomes most subtle, so that it can ascend by itself. [12] When every part of the sonship has arrived above the Limitary Spirit, "then the creation shall find mercy, for till now it groans and is tormented and awaits the revelation of the sons of God, that all the men of the sonship may ascend from hence". [13] When this has come to pass, God will bring upon the whole world the Great Ignorance, that everything may like being the way it is, and that nothing may desire anything contrary to its nature. "And in this wise shall be the Restoration, all things according to nature having been founded in the seed of the universe in the beginning, and being restored at their due seasons." [14]


As for Jesus, other than a different account of the Nativity, the Basilidians believed in the events of Jesus' life as they are described in the Gospels. [15] They believed the crucifixion was necessary, because by the destruction of Jesus' body the world could be restored. [16] [17] The Basilidian belief was thus that someone other than Christ was crucified instead i.e. Simon of Cyrene [18] [19]

Other Languages
Ελληνικά: Βασιλειδιανοί
español: Basilideanos
français: Basilidiens
galego: Basilidiano