For the Ethiopian emperor, see Fasilides. For the martyr, see Basilides and Potamiana.

Basilides (Greek: Βασιλείδης) was an early Christian Gnostic religious teacher in Alexandria, Egypt[1] who taught from 117 to 138 AD,[* 1] and claimed to have inherited his teachings from the Apostle Saint Matthias.[2][3] He was a pupil of either Menander,[4] or a supposed disciple of Peter named Glaucias.[5] The Acts of the Disputation with Manes state that for a time he taught among the Persians.[6] He is believed to have written over two dozen books of commentary on the Christian Gospel (now all lost) entitled Exegetica,[4] making him one of the earliest Gospel commentators. Only fragments of his works are preserved that supplement the knowledge furnished by his opponents.[citation needed]

The followers of Basilides, the Basilidians, formed a movement that persisted for at least two centuries after him[7]Epiphanius of Salamis, at the end of the 4th century, recognized a persistent Basilidian Gnosis in Egypt. It is probable, however, that the school melded into the mainstream of Gnosticism by the latter half of the 2nd century.[8]



The descriptions of the Basilidian system given by our chief informants, Irenaeus (in his Adversus Haereses) and Hippolytus (in his Philosophumena), are so strongly divergent that they seem to many quite irreconcilable. According to Hippolytus, Basilides was apparently a pantheistic evolutionist[clarification needed]; and according to Irenaeus, a dualist[clarification needed] and an emanationist.[9]

His view of creation, according to the orthodox heresiologists, was likely similar to that of Valentinus, whom he rivaled, being based on a "doctrine of emanations" proceeding from an uncreated, ineffable Pleroma. Like his rival, Basilides taught that matter, and the material universe, are evil, and that the God of the Old Testament, who was responsible for creation, is a misguided archon or lesser deity.[10]

Historians, such as Philip Shaff, have the opinion that: "Irenaeus described a form of Basilideanism 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".[11]

Faith and Election

Like other gnostics, Basilides taught that salvation comes through knowledge and not faith.[12] This knowledge, or gnosis, was considered esoteric, a revelation to human beings by the divine being, Jesus Christ. Faith played no part in salvation. Indeed, Basilides believed faith was merely "an assent of the soul to any of the things which do not excite sensation, because they are not present". He also believed faith was a matter of "nature," not of responsible choice, so that men would "discover doctrines without demonstration by an intellective apprehension".[13] Basilides also appears to have accumulated forms of dignity in accordance with ones' faith.[14]

Because Basilides believed faith was a matter of nature, doubtlessly he pushed election so far as to sever a portion of mankind from the rest, as alone entitled by Divine decree to receive a higher enlightenment. In this sense it must have been that he called "the election a stranger to the world, as being by nature supermundane".[15]


Basilides likewise brought in the notion of sin in a past stage of existence suffering its penalty here, "the elect soul" suffering "honourably through martyrdom, and the soul of another kind being cleansed by an appropriate punishment." To this doctrine of metempsychosis the Basilidians are likewise said to have referred the language of the Lord about requital to the third and fourth generations;[16] Origen states that Basilides himself interpreted Romans 7:9 in this sense,[17]

The Apostle said, 'I lived without a law once,' that is, before I came into this body, I lived in such a form of body as was not under a law, that of a beast namely, or a bird.[18]

However, if there be any who suffers without previous sin, it will not be "by the design of an [adverse] power", but as suffers the babe who appears to have committed no sin. The infant is said to receive a benefit when it is subjected to suffering, "gaining" many hardships.[17]


Origen complained that Basilides deprived men of a salutary fear by teaching that transmigrations are the only punishments after death.[19]


Because Basilides held to a fatalistic view of metempsychosis, he believed the Christian martyrs were being punished not for being Christians, but for sins they had committed in the past.[20] This is why Origen says that he depreciated the martyrs.[21]


The Basilideans were accustomed to call the passions Appendages, stating that these are certain spirits that append (προσηρτημένα) themselves to rational souls in a certain primitive turmoil and confusion. Then, they imitate the actions of those they are appended to, and not only acquire the impulses of the irrational animals, but even imitate the movements and beauties of plants. These Appendages can also have characteristics of habit [derived from stones], as the hardness of adamant.[22]

It is impossible to determine the precise origin of this singular theory, but it was probably connected with the doctrine of metempsychosis, which seemed to find support in Plato's Timaeus.[23] St. Clement of Alexandria stated that the plurality of souls makes the body a Trojan horse.[17]

Other Languages
العربية: بازيليد
български: Василид
español: Basílides
Esperanto: Bazilido
français: Basilide
galego: Basílides
한국어: 바실리데스
Bahasa Indonesia: Basilides
italiano: Basilide
Nederlands: Basilides
português: Basílides
русский: Василид
српски / srpski: Василид
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Bazilid
suomi: Basilides
svenska: Basilides