ART. XV. -- Buddhist Gnosticism, the System of Basilides.

By J. Kennedy.
The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of
Great Britain and Ireland for 1902
p. 377-415

p.377 "Up from Earth's centre through the seventh Gate I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn ate; And many a Knot unravel'd by the Road; But not hte Master-knot of Human Fate." Two questions, the early contact of Buddhism with Christianity, and the origins and character of Gnosticism, have attrracted much attention of late. Although these questions are independent of each other in the main, they happen to join hands in the case of the great Gnostic Basilides. I propose to show that the famous scheme of that arch-Gnostic was an attempt at fusing Buddhism with Christianity, and thus to throw some light upon the one question and the other.(1) The universal charity enjoined by the Buddha, and the occasional parallelisms of doctrine or story in the Buddhist writings and the Old and New Testaments, (2) have awakened much curiosity regarding the possible contact of the two religions. So much so, indeed, that the Congres International d'histoire des religions has called attention to the matter by a special resolution.(3) Moreover, such speculations are not devoid of a certain historical basis. Asoka states in an inscription, four times repeated, that between 260 ----------------------------- 1. Basilides occupies a considerable place in all works dealing with early Church history or the Gnosties. For the special bibliography regarding him see Bardenhewer's Patrologie, and the admirable article on Basilides by Dr. Hort in Smiths's Dict. of Christian Biography. 2. A useful collection of Parallel texts will be found in "Chirstianity and Buddhism," by Dr. T. Sterling Berry (S.P.C.K., London). 3. Upon the motion of M. Camerlynck, of Amiens, the Congress agreed to the following resolution: "That at the next Congress attention be drawn to the relations which may have existed, at the commencement, between Buddhism and Christianity." p. 378 and 256 B.C. he despatched preachers of `the law' to five Greek kings.(1) At the other end of the chain we have the proselytizing efforts of Nestorian and Buddhist monks in Central Asia between the fifth and twelfth centuries A.D., which resulted in that curious syncretism of religious ceremonies and legends ascribed by the brhood Abbe Hue to the machinations of the devil. The widespread story of Barlaam and Josaphat is the earliest literary proof of this syncretistic activity. But Barlaam and Josaphat were unknown saints before the seventh century A.D. Prior to that date we have nothing certain, although much has been conjectured.2 Unfortunately these conjectures seldom conform to the historical conditions of the problem. And three reasons may be adduced to show that before the birth of our Lord any considerable importation into the West was an unlikely thing. Firstly, Indians and Arabs kept up a lively exchange across the Indian Sea, but Indian merchants and sailors were not to be found beyond the shores of Arabia and the Persian Gulf; while the trade by land was chiefly in the hands or Bactrians, and the Bactrians were zealous Zoroastrians until converted to Buddhism by the Kushan kings in the first century A.D. In either case direct intercourse with Alexandria and the Roman Empire was practically nil. Secondly, the agents who might be supposed to carry Buddhism to the West were few. We have none of the soldiers, the officials, the women and slaves who spread the rites of Isis and Mithras, and for that matter Christianity itself, throughout the --------------------------- 1. Epigraphia Indica, vol. ii. The latest transliteration and translation of the test with which I am acquainted is given in McCrindle's "Invasion of India by Alexander the Great," pp. 372-374. I understand that it was supplied by the late Dr. Buhler. 2. Some of the Celtic gods are occasionally represented as sitting cross-legged an attitude resembling that of Buddha. These rude representations probably date from the first, or the beginning of the second century A.D.; and are in any case posterior to the time of Julius Caesar. The resemblance is limited to the general attitude; the figures themselves with their symbolism are purely Gallic, and they cannot have been borrowed from Buddhism, since figures of Buddha are unknown in India until the first century A.D. (v. pls. xxv and xxvii, "La Religion des Gaulois," par M.A. Bertrand, pp. 314 and 318). The swastika and the aureole were not peculiar to Buddhism, and the swastika travelled to Gaul before Buddha was born. p. 379 Empire. Hindoo merchants and sailors alone visited the West, and of these the merchants only were Buddhist. Thirdly, down to the battle of Actium India received much of its civilization and its impulse from the West, from Persia first and foremost, and in a lesser degree from the Bactrian Greeks. It was the long peace with the Parthians inaugurated by Augustus, and the destruction of Aden and of the Arab monopoly of the Indian trade, in the time of Tiberius or Claudius, which first opened up those direct communications between India and the Empire that lasted with such brilliancy for two centuries(1) Therefore, although it would be unsafe to deny tile possibility of an earlier contact between Buddhism and Christianity, the probability of it is exceedingly small. We must look to the two centuries succeeding Tiberius for the earliest fruitful contact between the two religions, and it is precisely to this era that Basilides belongs. If Buddhism was to influence Christianity, Gnosticism might be supposed to furnish the most likely channel. Gnosticism was anterior to Christianity, and was open to Indian influence. In the period immediately preceding and following the commencement of the Christian era Syria, Mesopotamia, and Babylonia became a breeding - ground of religious ideas. The ferment was primarily due to Hellenism, which had weakened or destroyed the national religions and stimulated thought, but it stimulated chiefly through the antagonism it evoked. And in this fermentation, which affected Essenism and the later developments of the Zoroastrian religion as well as Mithraism, and the Syrian solar cults, and sowed the germs of the future Kabbala, the Jewish and the Syro-Babylonian religious were the strongest elements and took the leading part. Their disintegration --------------------- 1. I have discussed the earliest communications between India and the West in an article on "The Early Commerce of Babylon with India, " in J.R.A.S., 1898, p. 241 ff.; and I gave a sketch of its subsequent history in a lecture delivered before the Royal Asiatic Society in March, 1900. I hope some day to deal with the whole subject in a more extended form. For the opening up of the Egyptian trade with India under Augustus, v. Mommesen's masterly account in the " Provinces of the Roman Empire," vol. ii, p. 298 ff., Eng. trans. p. 380 and their contact created a religious syncretism which strove to unite Judaic monotheism and the problems of the Fall and the origin of sin with Babylonian ideas of the spirit world, of destiny, and the future life. The process was a natural one, the work of nameless men, and it took many forms and created many schools,(1) Jewish and pagan, some of which took the name, and all received the collective designation, of Gnostic. Morally this syncretism was apt to run into those extremes of asceticism and libertinism so characteristic of the Syro-Babylonish culls. Intellectually it followed two main tendencies. It took from the ancient religions a theory of the spirit world which was essentially magical. The disembodied soul wandered by the dark path or the bright, through many realms and among many perils, from which the magic word alone could save it. Magic is essentially cosmopolitan, and it was this magic which in after days gave popular Gnosticism its vitality, when it was transported to the West, and its polypous faculty of assimilating strange religions. The Syrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, the peoples who held the belief in a future life with the greatest earnestness and plenitude of knowledge, Were the peoples among whom Gnosticism flourished longest. The second great subject of Gnostic speculation was the Fall, the origin of man, and the origin of sin -- questions which reveal their full significance only from the monotheistic standpoint. Hence the important part which theories of the flesh, of cosmogony, of emanation play in all these Gnostic systems. In this fluid mass of primitive Gnosticism it is possible to find many Indian analogies. We have similar theories of emanation, the same threefold division of souls, the same --------------------- 1. We must not conceive of the Gnostic schools either now or afterwards as in any way akin to the Stoa and the Porch or the other schools of Greek philosophy. They are of the Oriental type, the religious family, the Mohant and his Chelas, the master and his disciples. The only Hellenic thing about Gnosticism is the approximation, by certain schools in later days, of the Gnostic mysteries to the Greek. But the Greek mysteries had borrowed most of their contents from the East; they were mainly Oriental themselves, even the Eleusinian, and they represent the most Oriental aspect of the many-sided Greek intellect. Here, therefore, a rapprochement was easy. P. 381 belief in transmigration, and an almost identical scale of ascent for the soul after death. Emanation theories are not peculiar to India, the threefold division of souls is natural, the belief in transmigration may have been derived from India, but has nothing specifically Indian, and was moreover always subordinate to Chaldaean astrology and planetary fate; but the resemblance between the Indian and the Gnostic history of the soul is striking. According to the Chandogya Upanishad the soul of the ascetic-the initiated --travels upwards by the way of the Gods through ever- increasing spheres of light. From death it passes to the sunlight, from the sunlight to the region of day, from the day to the bright half of the month, and thence to the summer, when the sun travels north; further on it passes through the world of the Gods, of the sun, of the lightning, to enter the world of Brahma, from which it will return no more. Virtuous souls that lack initiation travel by the darker path-the way of the Fathers. Through the smoke of the funeral pyre they ascend to the night--the dark half of the month, the winter of the year, the world of the Fathers, the aether and the moon, where the Devas feed upon their spiritual substance; and they descend again to earth by the way they had trodden.(1) All this corresponds closely to the ascent of the Gnostic soul, and the soul of the simple, by the right-hand path or the left through the Archon-guarded spheres of light. By the right-hand path the Gnostic attains the eternal silence-the divine pleroma-- and will never return. The obscure path on the left-- the dishonourable hand--leads the simple through the intermediate worlds, where the Archons feed themselves by sucking out his light, and he is presently returned, shorn of his brightness, to the earth. Now whether these coincidences be accidental or not, they have nothing Buddhist. The ordinary Gnosticism may owe something to India, with which it was in contact, but what it owes ----------------------------- 1. v. Professor Rhys Davids' article on "The Soul in the Upanishads," J.R.A.S., 1899, pp. 79-80. p. 382 is due to popular mythology and to the Vedanta; Buddhism contributed nothing to it.(1) Original Gnosticism had two great divisions, the Jewish and the pagan, and the pagan schools were either magical or ascetic, as the speculative element or the moral tendency prevailed. Judaic Gnosticism first came into contact with Christianity, but it was the pagan Gnosticism which most materially affected and was affected by it. In reality neither the Judaic nor the pagan Gnosticism underwent any fundamental change. The popular Gnostic schools, however fluid, assimilative, indeterminate in details they might be, always conformed to one or other of a few main types, and these types essentially Eastern. But in the commencement of the second century A.D. we come upon a new phenomenon. Christianity had entered the world as a mighty vivifying power, but it wanted a philosophy. Basilides and Valentinus, then Marcion, and later still Tatian and Bardaisan, supplied it with one on a so-called Gnostic basis. These men were endowed with fresh and vigorous minds, in no ways inferior to their contemporaries, and if Tatian be excepted, the intellectual equals of Plutarch, Epictetus, and Dio. They were each the founder of a philosophic school, their influence was far- reaching, and some of them had illustrious successors; but their philosophy was far above the comprehension of the commonplace vulgar that took their name, and it has come down to us only in detached fragments preserved by Clement or Origen and others, or in imperfect precis, which often represent the average belief of the common Gnostic rather than the teaching of the founder. Here, then, me have a twofold task, to reconstruct the system and to explain the phenomenon. are we to say that Christianity had set out to conquer the Hellenic world, and that the Hellenic -------------------- 1. Lassen's attempts (Ind. Alter., iii, ii. 379 ff.) to connect Gnosticism with Buddhism have not met with general acceptance; v. Gorbe, "Die Sankhya- Philosophie," p. 96 ff. The resemblances are, some unreal, some superficial, and others are more easily accounted for otherrwise. The emanation theories of the Gnostics are totally opposed to everything Buddhist. p. 383 world required a philosophy? But these philosophies were presented, not to outsiders, but to Christians. Is this Gnosticism, then, an intrusion of Hellenic philosophy into the Christian faith? These arch-Gnostics mere men of learning and of culture, they had the Hellenic spirit in so far as they were philosophers, and the method, the form, the symmetry, above all, the inward necessity they felt for a philosophy, is Greek. But the substance? The controversialist Fathers of the Church, men of Hellenic education, and unacquainted with Oriental theosophy, gave various answers. The majority declared that the archheresiarchs had borrowed and disguised ideas from every Greek school of thought, as Plato and Aristotle in turn had stolen their ideas from Moses and the Hebrew Prophets. Others stoutly pot down everything to the religion of Zoroaster. The opinions of the moderns are equally divided. It is undeniable that Valentinus and Marcion largely employed Oriental elements, but Basilides is usually held to have been "steeped in Greek philosophy," although a few, on the strength of the "Acta Archelai," have claimed a Zoroastrian origin for him. It is the purpose of the present essay to prove that the system of this supposed coryphaeus of the Greek philosophy was Buddhist pure and simple--Buddhist in its governing ideas, its psychology, its metaphysics; and Christianity reduced to a semi-Buddhist ideal for result. The moment we apply this key every fragment takes its place, the system is complete, and we can reconstruct the whole. If the form is Creek the positive Greek element is altogether wanting. Christianity was represented to the Hellenic world as a "barbarian philosophy"; and the first attempts at its intellectual comprehension, the first efforts of dogma, were based on a philosophy profounder and more venerable far than the juvenile wisdom of the Greeks, a wisdom which the Greeks regarded with the reverence of ignorance. Gnosticism is not pure Hellenism, as some say; it is rather pure Orientalism in a Hellenic mask. If the `true Gnostic' of Clement is a Hellen, the genuine Gnostic of Basilides and Valentinus is a thorough Oriental. p. 384 Let me state at the outset what I consider it is that I have to prove. I assert, then, and shall try to show. that Basilides had opportunities of becoming acquainted with Buddhism; next, that pessimism and transmigration, the two basal doctrines of his philosophy, are held by him in specifically Indian forms, which cannot have been derived from any other quarter; and lastly, that the system is developed on Christian-Buddhist lines with many Buddhist coincidences, great and small. And the correctness of this view is proved by the fact that the master key of Buddhism effects what no other key has done; it resolves difficulties, reconciles conflicting opinions,(1) assigns each fragment to its proper place, and gives us a complete, symmetric, and intelligible whole, a revivification and restoration of one of the greatest of Gnostic philosophies. Basilides flourished at Alexandria under Hadrian (117- 138 A.D.), and is said to have been the disciple of Glaucias-- the "interpreter of S. Peter."(2) He belonged therefore to the second generation after the Apostles, and to the great age of the Gnostics (Clem. Strom., vii, 17. 106, p. 325). Possibly he was somewhat senior to his contemporary, Valentinus, and his death occurred before or soon after the accession of the elder Antonine.(3) His great work, the "Exegetica," in twenty-four books, is said to have been "a commentary on the Gospel"; and Origen says that he composed odes-probably like those of the Gnostic Valentinus and of Bardaisan. The doctrines of Basilides were to be found not only in his own " Exegetica," but in the numerous writings of his son and chief disciple, Isidore. -------------------------- 1. According to Baur, Basilides laid special stress upon free-will, according to Neander upou fate; Dr. Hort finds his psychology "curious"; some hold Basilides for a Pantheist, others find dualism in him. These and other hypotheses are all justified, explained, and modified by the Buddhist theory. 2. Clement affects to doubt the tradition, but apparently only from a general suspicion of such claims. There are no chronological difficulties, the tradition was accepted by the Basilidians in Clement's time, and as they professed to base their doctrines on the secret teachings of S. Matthew and not of S. Peter, they had no reason to invent a fable. 3. A comparison af Clem. Strom., vii, 17. 106, and Justin Martyr, Ap. i, 26, makes this almost certain. p. 385 And when we have said this, we have said all that is known with certainty regarding him. But we may advance a little further by conjecture.(1) Epiphanius will have it that he was a Syrian, but Epiphanius wished to connect him with Menander, and made other wrong guesses about him. And as Basilides named his son Isidore after the great tutelary goddess of Alexandria,(2) we are probably correct in considering him a Hellenized Egyptian. Basilides had a perfect command of the ordinary Alexandrian Greek and wrote it with vigour, but his predilections, if not his training, were mainly Oriental. Eusebius and Theodoret tell us, on the authority of Agrippa Castor, that Basilides had a special regard for the prophecies of Barcabbas and Barcoph and other barbarous apocryphal writers.(3) His son Isidore wrote a commentary on the Prophet Parchor, and quotes the prophecies of Ham, and although Isidore knew something of Aristotle, he studied by preference the poems of Pherecydes, the singer of the wars of the Titans and the teacher of Oriental metempsychosis to the Greeks (Clem. Strom., vi, 6. 53, p. 272). It is clear that father and son took their stand on the wisdom of the East, and that the sources of their knowledge were unfamiliar to the Christian writers and historians. Alexandria, the home of Basilides and Valentinus, was the second city of the Empire in the age of Hadrian. It was famous for its situation and its sky, a marble-fronted city rising from the sands that fringe the shallow Egyptian sea. It was a city of harbours and dockyards, of broad streets and echoing arcades, of palaces and shady gardens. -------------------- 1. A very ingenious penson might conjecture that Basilides is merely a translation of Rajput. The conjecture would be on a par with a good many others that have been hazarded. But unfortunately the Rajputs are not heard of in India for five centuries after this. 2. Egyptians usually retained their heathen names after their conversion to Christianity, even although the name was taken from a god. Ammonius, Serapion, Pachomius, are instances in point. But I am not sure that they gave heathen names to children born after the conversion of the parent. Isidore must have been born when his father was ons a comparatively young man, and probably before Basilides joined the Christian Church. 3. Euseb. H.E., iv, 7, and Theodoret, Haer. Fab., i, 4. p. 386 The architectural magnificence and the variegated splendours of the royal halls and piazzas which lined the shore and overlooked the moving waters at their feet, fell not short of the subsequent glories of Venice; the Pharos and the Serapeum were accounted among the wonders of the world; and the town could boast of the tomb of Alexander and the mausolea of the Ptolemies. A city of commerce, of philosophy, of bustle, and of pleasure. Greeks, Jews, and Egyptians streamed noisily from their separate quarters to view the horseraces and the pantomimes; and charioteers, harpers, and flute-players, male and female, like the jockeys and the divas of a modern capital, were the idols of a witty and turbulent populace. Filthy cynics lay outside the temples or in the streets, exchanging coarse repartees with the jesting crowd. Dignified philosophers discoursed in private lecture-halls or wrote books (which have rarely survived) in cool libraries. But the chief occupation, although not the chief passion of the city, was trade. Dio Chrysostom calls it the world's agora, and Hadrian, or the pseudo-Hadrian, says that among the innumerable sects and cults which congregated there, one only was supreme--the worship of 'hard cash.' The great corn ships for Rome were laden at the quays, and the piers moro crowded with merchant craft from the AEgean and Syrian seas, and from the distant Euxine. The bazars were filled with motley crowds, rough mariners, inquisitive Greeks, bearded Jews, and tattered Bedouin. Blear-eyed Egyption boatmen and peasants thronged the canals. But being above all the great emporium of the trade with the East, Alexandria was the chief resort of Oriental merchants, and Dio Chrysostom, in an oration which he delivered to the Alexandrians in the reign of Trajan, when Basilides was a youth, gives us the following enumeration of them: "I see among you not only Hellenes and Italians, and men who are your neighbours, Syrians, Libyans, and Cilicians, and men who dwell more remotely, Ethiopians and Arabs, but also Bactrians, Scythians, Persians, and some of the Indians 'Ivsws,Tvas', who are among the spectators, p. 387 and always residing here."(1) This colony of resident Indians must have been a colony of merchants from the west coast of India--probably from Ceylon or Barygaza, the chief depots of the Alexandrian trade. Colonies of this sort have been dotted along the shores of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf from the earliest days of intercourse with India, and we have literary evidence of the existence of similar colonies in Socotra, and Armenia in the first and second centuries A.D. We can therefore form a fair estimate of the character of this Alexandrian colony. Now Indian merchants, as a rule, have always been Buddhists or Jains. Buddhism was a merchant religion par excellence; there are few parables or birth-stories in which a Buddhist merchant does not figure,(2) and Ceylon and Barygaza were head-centres of the Buddhist faith. If we find that Basilides was a Buddhist philosopher it is easy to discover the source from which he learned his philosophy. Before proceeding with my exposition of Basilides teaching, it is necessary that I should advert to, although I need not discuss, a question which has evoked much literary criticism. It is universally admitted that the accounts given us by Clement and Hippolytus are irreconcilable with those given by Irenaeus and Epiphanius; and it is very generally, but not universally, admitted that while the former state the doctrines of Basilides himself, the latter are reporting the opinions of the later Basilidians. Personally I have no doubt of the correctness of this view, and I might shelter myself behind the authority of the greatest names.(3) But it will be found that the question solves itself. If I discover Buddhist pessimism and transmigration in Clement, Buddhist metaphysics in Hippolytus, ------------------------ 1. Dio Chrysos., Orat. xxxii, ad Alexandrinos (Teubner ed., vol. i, p. 413). I have said something of these Indian merchant colonies in "The Early Commerce of Babylon with India" (J.R.A.S., 1898, p. 269 f.). 2. Mrs. Rhys Davids gives a number of examples in her essay "Economic Conditions in Northern India" (J.R.A.S., 1901, p. 859 ff.), and it would be easy to extend the list. 3. Baur, Mansel, Hort, and others. p. 388 and Buddhist psychology in both, it is evident that both are describing a single system--the system of the master.(1) It must also be borne in mind that Basilides was a sincere Christian, utterly ignoring Buddha and all Indian mythology. If me forget this, we shall utterly misunderstand him. He adopts the Buddhist philosophy, but not the Buddhist religion; the Buddhist faith is nothing to him. And it is as a metaphysic, not as a religion, that Buddhism first penetrated to the West. I now proceed with the main subject of this essay--the exposition -of Basilides' teaching. I shall first consider the general presuppositions which lie at the root of all his doctrines. I shall then consider his Psychology, next his Metaphysic, and lastly his Theology. I. PRESUPPOSITIONS. The Basilidian system is based upon certain fundamental conceptions of the nature of sin, of suffering, and rebirth. 1. The universality of suffering is for Basilides the cardinal fact of the world. "Pain and Fear are as inherent in human affairs as rust in iron."(2) ------------------- 1. The literary question is fully discussed in Dr. Hort's article. Clement wrote his "Stromata" at Alexandria some sixty years after the death of Basilides, and had excellent opportunities for knowing the facts. He gives extracts from the "Exegetica'' and from Isidore's works; he repeatedly refers to or summarizes the opinions of Basilides and the Basilidians, using the terms usually as synonymous, and sometimes interchanging them. In one passage he pointedly contrasts the degenerate teachings of the later Basilidians with the doctrines of their master. Clement's object was ethical and practical, while Hippolytus dealt with the speculative part of the Basilidian philosophy. The two therefore seldom deal with the same subject, but where they do they agree. They also agree in undesigned ways, as, for instance, in the use of terms which had a technical significance in the Basilidian teaching. The extracts given by Hippolytus are evidently from the "Exegetica," although Hippolytus does not give the name of the work. Moreover, Hippolytus expressly distinguishes in one passage a work circulating among the later Basilidians from the works of Basilides and Isidore. The only serious objection to the general opinion is the Greek character (so-called) of the Hippolytian extracts, but if they turn out to be not Greek at all, but Buddhist, this objection vanishes. 2. Clem. Alex. Strom., iv, 12.90, p. 218. Clement denies the doctrine (i.e. the Basilidians). p. 389 Buddha laid the same foundation--"Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, to be united with the unloved is suffering, to be separated from the loved is suffering, not to obtain what one desires is suffering. In brief, the conditions of individuality and their cause, the clinging to material form, sensations, abstract ideas, mental tendencies, and mental powers involve suffering."(1) The universality of suffering is the fundamental fact, the extinction of suffering the goal, of the Basilidian theology. 2. But Basilides' pessimism takes a distinctively Christian cast. If suffering accompanies all action, it is especially the concomitant of sin. This theory lies at the bottom of Basilides' famous paradox--"the Martyrs suffer for their sins"--a paradox which shocked the conscience of the Church, and was utterly perverted by Basilides' followers.(2) Basilides thought no scorn of martyrdom; it had its consolations and was a good. But still the martyrs suffered for their sins, although they might be unconscious of them, or like the new-born babe might be innocent of actual trasgresions. But why must the infant suffer? Why must the martyr have committed sin? Because, ---------------------- 1. From the Buddha's First Sermon, translated in "Buddhist Suttas." Compare Dhammapada, 186 ff. 2. Basilides' views on martyrdom were grossly misrepresented. The extracts given by Clement (Strom., iv, 12. 83-85, p. 217) from the 23rd book of the "Exegetica" show this clearly. "For I say that all those who undergo the aforesaid tribulations have undoubtedly sinned, though they be ignorant of it , in other ways; but are led to this particular good by the goodness of Him who directs (them); being really accused of other faults (than those they have committed); so that they suffer not as malefactors for confessed iniquities, nor as the murderer and adulterer reproached by all, but as Christians--a fact so consoling that they appear not to suffer at all. And even granting that the sufferer is entirely innocent of actual sin (which rarely happens), yet not even will this man suffer by the design of any (evil) power, (the orthodox held that persecutions were the work of the devil), but he will suffer as suffers the infant apparently innocent of sin." Further on Basilides says that as the infant, although obviously incapable of sinning "and gains the benefit of suffering",so the perfect man, innocent of actual sin, because he has a sinful nature, suffers for his evil propensities. According to Clement, Basilides admitted that his argument applied even to the Lord Himself, althought in the extract Clement gives us Basilides will not mention Him by name taking refuge in the text "none is free from stain." Dr. Hort has some excellent remarks on the whole subject. p. 390 so Basilides says, suffering is the consequence and the proof of sin, if not of actual sin committed in this life, yet of an inherited tendency to sin; otherwise we accuse the Divine Constitution of the world. "And I will admit anything," he cries, "rather than admit that the Divine Constitution of the world is evil" (Strom., iv, 12. 84, p. 217).(1) 3. And this leads us to the keystone of the Basilidian as of the Buddhist system--the fatal law of transmigration which governs all things in heaven and earth. Every act produces fruit, so every life bears the burden of its fruitage in the following rebirth. "Basilides lays down that the soul has previously sinned in another life, and endures its punishment here, the elect with honour by martyrdom, and the rest purified by appropriate punishment" (Clem. Strom., iv, 12. 85, p 217). And again, "If any, then, of the Basilidians, by way of apology, should say that the martyr is punished for the sins committed before this present embodiment and that he will hereafter reap the fruit of his doing during the present life, for thus has the constitution (of the world) been ordained, then we would ask him," etc. (Clem. Strom., iv, 12. 90, p. 218). Origen says that Basilides interpreted Romans vii, 9 as an apostolic reference to transmigration,(2) and he complains in his Commentary on S. Matthew iii that Basilides "deprived men of a salutary fear by teaching that transmigrations are the only punishments after death."(3) The Basilidians interpreted the phrase "unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me" of this series of rebirths (Clem. ---------------- 1. The Divine Providence plays a great part in the Stoic and rhctoricai literature of the second ccutury A.D., but it always applies to the universe, and not to the individual. With Basilides, Providence in the ordinary sense is an impossibility; he means by it the constitution of the world "involuntarily willed" by "not-being God." 2. Origen expressly mentions transmigration into beasts and birds. "Dixit enim, inquit, Apostolus, quia ego vivebam sine lege aliquando, hoc esset, antequam in istud corpus venirem, in ea specie corporis vixi quae sub lege non esset, pecudis scilicet vel avis." 3. Dr. Hort. p. 391 Alex. Frag., 28, p. 338); and Basilides was logical when he said that the only sins which can be forgiven re involuntary sins and sins of ignorance (Clem. Strom., iv, p. 229). Every act is fruitful, and every sin of commission bears its fruit in a future life. 4. We shall presently see that the Basilidian soul is not a simple, but a compound composed of various entities. These warring entities influence the actions of the man; and as some of them have the character of animals and others of plants (Clem. Strom., ii, 20. 112, p. 176) they explain how rebirth in another than a human form is philosophically conceivable. I notice more especially the transmigration into plants, because this is a specifically Indian doctrine, although found occasionally among savage tribes of the Eastern seas.(1) 5. Man is enthralled in the fatal bondage of rebirth, but during the present life his will is free. This is stated in the clearest manner. "If I persuade anyone that the soul is not a single entity, and that the sufferings of bad men are occasioned by the violence of the 'appendages' (a technical word of which more hereafter), then the wicked will have no small excuse to say I was compelled, carried away, involuntarily acted, nor did I will my deed, although the man was led by his lust for evil, and did not struggle against the compulsion of the 'appendages.' It behoves us to rise superior by virtue of our rationality, and to appear triumphant over the baser creature within us" (Clem. Strom., ii, 20. 113, 114, p. 176). And again, "Only let a man will to achieve the good, and he will obtain it" (Clem. Strom., iii, 1. 2, p. 183). Man's will is free to act, but the consequence of his action is inevitable: that is the sum and substance of the doctrine. 6. With the freedom of the will comes the possibility of salvation, but the elect alone are saved, and the mass of mankind will remain bound everlastingly in the endless cycle ------------------------- 1. Tylor ("Primitive Culture," 2nd.ed., ii, p. 6) says that they may possibly have been influenced by Indian ideas. Ovid mentions transmigration into plants, but this is the only instance I can remember among Western writers. p. 392 of causation and rebirth--n subject which I shall discuss at length in connection with the Basilidian theology. These are the fundamental tenets of Basilides, and they are also the foundations which the Buddha laid. The inherency of suffering in existence, its cause rebirth, the freedom of the will, the salvation of the few, and, (if I may anticipate,) nirvana form an essential and the most important part of both their systems. There is, however, a divergence from the outset in one point, and in one point only. The Buddha had a practical end in view; he wished to discover and to preach the mode of liberation. For Basilides the way of salvation had been found in Christianity, and his purpose is purely philosophical. The burden of existence weighs upon him; how shall he harmonize the constitution of the world and the universality of suffering, how "justify the mays of God to men." But granting the identity of Buddha's and Basilides' ideas of suffering and transmigration, it may be urged that the coincidence is natural and accidental, that the origin of sin formed the starting-point of every form of gnosis, and that transmigration was a theory known to Hellenes and Egyptians. I reply that pessimism, the inherency of evil in all action, was alien to Greek modes of thought, and was never the basis of any Greek philosophy; while it has always been a marked peculiarity of Indian speculations. And I next proceed to show that the Basilidian theory of transmigration is exclusively Indian. I have already pointed out that Basilides adopted that rare form of metempsychosis, transmigration into plants, universal in India, but sporadic elsewhere. But let that pass. It is with the various stages in the transmigration theory that I wish to deal. It is usual to confound two very different sets of ideas, a series of rebirths and the temporary or permanent lodgment of a spirit in a foreign body. Most nature- religions assume that the gods can take the form of men or beasts at pleasure, and that certain men can change their shape into that of the inferior animals. Apollo and Athene, p. 393 changed for the nonce into birds upon a tree, overlook the windy plains of Troy; or the transformations of Procris, of Narcissus, and of Daphne may serve for Greek examples. The much-imperilled soul of the ancient Egyptian had to put on many an animal shape and many a disguise to escape its ghostly enemies on the road to the blessed fields of Aru. Men everywhere believe in lycanthropy, the wandering of the soul in sleep, the power of witches to assume the shape of animals. In magic the process is reversed. Spirits no longer assume inferior shapes alone: they have the power of putting on the higher forms of gods and demons; but with this we are not here concerned. Suffice it to say that such temporary embodiments of the spirit in foreign forms refer to a totally different line of thought from a series of rebirths. They belong to animism--to the savage philosophy which distinguishes only between animate and inanimate, and which accounts for the travels of the soul in trance and dreams. They have nothing to do with the belief in a future life. Metempsychosis properly so called is of three kinds. Men have at all times and everywhere believed in the rebirth of a departed spirit. The soul of the deceased returns to earth in the person of a new-born infant of the family, whose looks and ways recall a thousand times a beloved memory. Or the soul may come to earth again in some stranger, the double of the dead. But this return of the soul is occasional and sporadic; it has not been systematized into a theory of the future life. It is a floating semi-conscious belief. Among the great nations of antiquity only two advanced further on this path-the Indians and the Ganls. Both held the doctrine of a future life with firmness, they knew it in detail, and with both of them transmigration is the universal law of humanity.(1) It is no part of the common Aryan tradition (if such tradition or stock there ever was), nor does it occur in the earlier Vedas. The Greeks first ------------------------------ 1. For Gallie and Celtic beliefs v. "La Religion des Gaulois." par A.Bertran, p. 270 ff., and Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, 1881. p. 394 learned the doctrine from Pherecydes and Pythagoras; and these great doctors doubtless learned it from the Cymri or Cimmerians of Asia Minor, who taught them other Gallic lore. But there is a third stage in the history of the doctrine. From the universal belief of India the Brahmans.(1) evolved a profoundly philosophical theory peculiar to themselves. In the popular belief each successive transmigration is occasioned by, but is not the result of, the previous life. The Indian philosophers introduced the law of causality; causes are equalled by their effects; and each rebirth is the exact resultant of the preceding life. Transmigration is for them the reign of causal law in tile spiritual world; it has the rigour, the universality, the invariability of Fate; it is the self-made destiny which overshasows man from the cradle to the grave: and it is this law which enabled Buddha, and Basilides after him, to explain the origin of evil, and the method of salvation.(2) II. PSYCHOLOGY. From this digression, necessary to avert any suspicion of a non-Indian origin, I proceed to consider the Basilidian psychology. The Buddhist doctrine of personality has mightily puzzled modern scholars, and the Basilidian theory of the soul was equally puzzling to Clement. He compares it to the Trojan horse which was full of warriors, and a little further on he says that the Basilidians, like the Pythagoreans, believed in two souls (Strom., ii, 20. 113, 114, p. 171;). Three passages contain all that we know of Basilides' psychology. The first consists of Clement's summary. The Basilidians "are accustomed," Clement says, "to call the ----------------------- 1. Or more probably the Khshatriyas. 2. On the Indian ideas of transmigration v. chap. xiv of Dr. P. Deussen's excellent work "Die Philosophie der Upanishad's (Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. i, pt. 2), and Garbe, "Die Samkhya-Philosophie,' p.174 ff. p. 395 passions Appendages, (1) stating that these are certain spirits which have a substantial existence, having been `appended' to the rational soul in a. certain primitive turmoil and confusion, and that again other bastard and alien natures of spirits grow upon these, as of a wolf, an ape, a lion, a goat, whose characteristics (say they) create illusions in the region of the soul, mid assimilate tie desires of the soul to the animals: for they imitate the actions of those whose characteristics they wear, and not only are they familiar with the impulses and impressions of the irrational animals, but they even ape the movements and beauties of plants, because they likewise wear the characteristics of plants appended to them. Moreover [these Appendages] have properties of a particular state like the hardness of a diamond."(2) (Strom., ii, 20. 112, 113, p. 176.) According to Clement, then, there is a rational soul. There are also certain appendages adhering to it. These parasitic appendages are the various affections which have a substantial entity of their own. They are intermixed with the rational soul by a primaeval confusion, intermixed, be it noted, and not intermingled, since the whole process of evolution is to disentangle them. These entities, as well as the rational soul, remain always separate and distinct. The second passage is the extract (Strom., ii, 20. 113, 114, p. 176) from the work of Isidore "On the Attached (or Parasitic) Soul", already quoted in connection with free-will. From it we learn that the soul is not a simple entity, that it suffers from the violence of the parasitic appendages, and that it can rise superior to them by virtue of its rationality. These extracts find their explanation and complement in tile statements of Hippolytus (Haer., vii, c. 15, cf. vii, c. 12). --------------------------- 1. a technical word employed by Basilides and by Isidore. Tertulian translates it as `appendices' ("ceteris appendicihus sensibus et affectibus," Adv. Mare., i, 25); and Dr. Hort also refers to M. Aurelius, xii, 3, with Gataker's note. might be translated as parasites which attach themselves externally. 2. I have adopted Dr. Hort's translation with a few alterations. p. 396 Basilides held that there were five separate entities in Jesus (and therefore in all the elect who are the sons of God). At His death the Sonship ascended into what, by anticipation, I shall call Nirvana; another part ascended to the Firmament, a third to the Aether, a fourth to the Air, and the corporeal part which suffered and died reverted to Formlessment, i.e. to matter. It would seem, therefore, that Basilides conceived of' the elect, if not the natural man, as a compound of five entities--the highest being the rational part (also called the subtle part and the Sonship), the lowest the material body. The resemblance of this conception to the Buddhist theory of the Skandhas is remarkable. Man is a compound, say the BUddhists, of five Skandhas--or `aggregates' as Professor Rhys Davids translates the word. The highest is reason, the lowest the material body. The other three, in an ascending scale, are the Sensations, Abstract Ideas, and Potential Tendencies. So far as one can judge, the Basilidian analysis of man is identical with the Buddhist. Did Basilides go further? Did he, like the Buddhist, deny the existence of' the soul? We cannot say. Clement certainly talks of 'the rational soul,' as he naturally would; but Isidore neither mentions nor implies it, and he employs when we should have expected We learn from Hippolytus that the proper region of the was the air; and in Basilides' fivefold division of man there is no room for a soul in the ordinary sense. I may here note the employment of two technical expressions, Ignorance and Formlessness. The Great Ignorance which (as we shall see) makes the world content to exist without a thought of Nirvana is a translation of the Buddhist Avijja (Avidya). Avijja has a double aspect.(1) It is at the root of all desire for a sensuous existence, and is therefore the origin of all evil. On the other hand, take consciousness away and there is --------------------------- 1. For the double aspect of Avidya, v. Deussen, "Die Philosophie der Upanishad's, p. 217 (Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie). p. 397 left neither knowledge of Nirvana nor feeling of suffering. It is with this latter connotation that Basilides talks of 'the great ignorance.' The second word is Formlessness, used six times in Hippol. Haer., vii, c. 14, 15, as an equivalent for the blind material world. Now the words Rupam and Arupam, Form and Formlessness, play a greet part in Buddhist psychology, but with a different signification. Natural objects when present to perception have form; ideas presented to the reason are formless.(1) The Basilidian is different, it corresponds more closely to the conception of Prakriti--nature unperceived in consciousness. III. METAPHYSICS. Whether Basilides postulates a soul or not, he certainly postulates a God. But his God is the most abstract, the most remote that ever was imagined. Like Philo and the Alexandrian Jews, the Gnostics, and the later Kabbalists, he declares the Absolute God to be unknowable and unutterable, unpredicable, inconceivable. But no one has equalled Basilides in the energy of his expression. He strains negations to the utmost. `Not-being God' is Basilides' name for Him. He will not use the article, although Hippolytus does so. To assert that God exists is to affirm a predicate, and He who is unknowable is above all predicates. But there is an earlier stage than `not-being God.' "Was when was nothing," nor was that nothing any kind of entity, but in plain, unreserved, unequivocal language, there was altogether nothing. And when I say `was,' I do not assert that `there was,' but I merely indicate myy meaning when I affirm that there was --------------------------- 1. v. "A Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethichs" (translation of the Dhanuna. Sangani), Or. Trans. Fund, vol. xii, by Mrs. Rhys Davids: Introd., p. xli ff. p. 398 altogether nothing." Absolute existence is absolute nothing, said Basilides, anticipating Hegel. From nothing one passes to the germ of something. Beside `not-being God' there exists the world conceived as a seed-mass, posterior to Rim in thought, but co-eternal with Him in reality. This seed-mass is conceived both as an ideal cosmic germ and as a mass of individual seeds, the world of actuality, precisely as Prakriti bears the same double signification in the Sankhya philosophy.(l) The relation of not-being God to the cosmic germ is described as followss:--"When there was nothing, neither matter, nor substance, nor entity, nor simple, nor compound, nor incomprehensible, nor imperceptible, nor man, nor angel, nor a God, nor anything that has a name, or can be perceived by sense, or conceived by mind, or what is of more subtle still, when every [predicate] has been removed, not-being God without or act of mind or sense, without plan, without purpose, withouut affection, without desire, willed to make the world. And when I say willed, I mean [an act] involuntary, irrational, insensible; and by the `world' I mean, not the world of' length and breadth [thte ehe world of space], and which existed subsequently, and has a separate existence, but the germ of a world And the seed of the world held all things in itself, just as a grain of mustard-seed contains within the smallest body all things at once [in embryo], the roots, the trunk, the branches, and the leaves, the numberless seeds of other plants born of that one plant, each seed in its turn the parent of innumerable other seeds, a process many times repeated. Thus not-being God made a not-being world out of things that are not, casting down and depositing a certain single seed containing in itself the whole germ of the universe (Hippol. Haer., vii, 9). This cosmic seed, ---------------------- 1. "Hinter der als Lingam individualisierten Prakriti steht die allgemeine, Kosmische Prakriti, ohne dass von ihr weiter die Rede ware" (Deussen, "Die Philosophie der Upanishad's," p. 217). p. 399 this not-being world, is purely ideal, like not-being God; it is beyond all predicate; "the not-being seed of the world which had been deposited by not-being God" (Haer., vii, c. 9). From the transcendental cosmic seed we pass to the individual seeds which in their aggregate form the actual world. "The non-existent seed of the world constitutes the same time the germ of a multitude of forms and a multitude of substances" (Haer., vii, c. 9). "It had all seeds treasured up and reposing in itself just as not-being entities, and designed to come into being by 'not-being God'" (Haer., vii, c. 10) . But how existence evolves itself from non-existence Basilides cannot say. "Whatsoever I affirm to have been made after these, ask no questioe as to whence" (Haer., vii, c. 10). The Buddhists also asserted that from the non-existent the existent is evolved.(1) But "Buddhism does not attempt to solve the problem of the primary origin of all things. `When Malunka asked the Buddha whether the existence of the world is eternal or not eternal, he made him no reply.'"(2) The actual world, then, according to Basilides, is preceded by an ideal world deposited by an ideal God. But this is evidently a mere accommodation to the infirmity of human thought. We shall see hereafter that the world of actuality has no end. We may conclude that it had no beginning, and that creation is a mere fiction of the mind. But neither Basilides nor the Buddha definitely say so. From cloudland we pass to reality. This spawn of the world, this chaotic and conglomerated seed-mass, has all entities, all realities stored up, entangled, and confounded in itself. It evolves these entities by a process of discrimination and differentiation, and it has three fundamental qualities which correspond with the three Gunas. This last --------------------------- 1. "Nach der Ansicht der Buddhisten geth das Seiende aus dem Nichtseicnden hervor," says Garbe, quoting Vacaspatimicra ("Die Samkhya Philosophie," 2. "Buddhism," by Professor T. W. Rhys Davids, p.87 Compare onrparr his "Dialogues of th Buddha," pp. 187, 188. p. 400 is evident from the description of the triple Souship. We have the light or subtle and the dense (1) = Sattvam and Tamas. Between these two is the second Sonship in the region of Rajas.(2) This seed-mass proceeds to evolve itself in obedience to a double law. First: each individual seed, eternal in itself, eternally acts in accordance with its original nature, and without exterior government or aid. "The things which are generated are produced according to nature, as has been declared already by Him who calculates things future, when they ought [to be], and what sort they ought [to be], and how they ought [to be]. And of these no one is superintendent, or thought-taker, or demiurge; for sufficeth to them that calculation which the not-being One calculated when He made them" (Haer, vii, c. 12). The second law is that everything ascends, and nothing descended. The whole scheme of salvation, according to Basilides, is founded upon this. "Nothing descended from above," he says, speaking of the Gospel (Haer, vii, c. 13). And again, "All things press from below upwards, from the worse to the better. Nor among things superior is any so senseless as to descend below" (Haer, vii, c.10). Basilides classifies all existences as either mundane or supra-mundane. The supra-mundane corresponds to Lokuttara, which is the same as the region of Nirvana; the mundane includes everything below it. This is Basilides' primary classification,(3) and it is also the chief division of the Buddhists. But we find another and --------------------------- 1. Basilides (or rather Hippolytus) does not give us the exact Greek equivalents for the second and third Gunas. The second Sonship is called (Haer., vii, c.10). The third Sonship is the Sonship "left behind in Formlessness" (Haer., vii, c. 14). The second Sonship is less deeply embedded in the material world, and resides in the Aether, the region of the Great Arehon (Haer, vii, c. 10 and 11). 2. Prakriti, says Deussen, "besteht aus den drei Guna's (am besten als Faktoren zu ubersetzen..) Sattvam (das Leichte, Helle, Intellektuelle) , Rajas (das Rewegliche, Treibende, Leidenschaftliche) und Tamas (das Schwere, Dunkle, Hemmende), und auf der verschiedenen Mischung der drei Guna's beruht die ursprungliche Vershiedenheit der Linga's." ("Die Philosophie der Upanishad's," pp. 218-219.) 3. Basilides divides (Haer, vii, c. 11). p. 401 subsidiary division, peculiar to Basilides, which carries us much father. According to this there are five spheres. The highest is the region of `not-being God,' of the supra-mundane, of the Lokuttara, that is NIrvana. It is separated from the mundane world by the second sphere, which is the Firmament -- the abode of the Holy or Limitary Spirit. The Aether forms the third sphere, the region called the Ogdoad, extending from the Firmament to the Moon. This is the sphere of the Great Archon, "more potent than things potent, wiser than things wise," the unutterable. The fourth sphere embraces the region of the Air -- the Bebdomad and habitation of the Lesser Archon, whose name is speakable and who inspired the Prophets. Lastly, we have the Earth, the place of Formlessness and Matter, "where men sit and hear each other groan."(1) Each of these regions, has its Treasury, and is filled with innumerable beings whose nature -------------------------- 1. The not-being God and the first Sonship abide in the (Haer., vii, c. 10). The Firmament is between the and the Kosmos. It is the abode of the Holy Spirit, also called the Limitary Spirit For the division of the universe below the Firmament into Ogdoad, Hebdomad, and Formlessness, v. vii, c. 15. The highest of these regions is the Ogdoad, the region of the Aether and the seat of the Great Archon. This region extends to the moon. The greatness of the Great Archon is frequently extolled: "He is more ineffable than things ineffable, more potent than things potent, wiser than things wise, and his beauty surpassingly beautiful" (vii, c. 11). He surpasses every entity except the Sonship left behind (vii, c.11). He believes the Kosmos to be His creation, and that there is nothing higher than Himself(vii, c.11). He is called demiurge and God. The region below the Ogdoad is the Hebdomad, the region of the Air which extends from the moon to the earth The second Archon, like the first, is administrator and demiurge (in appearance) of all subject to him. He is the God of Abraham and inspired the Prophets (vii, c. 13). The distinction between the two Archons, in Basilides' opinion, probably corresponded to the Gnostic distinction between Yahve and Adonai. The Formlessness is the lowest sphere. The Gospel comes first to Ogdoad, then to the Hebdomad, and lastly to us (vii, c. 14). The body of Jesus reverts to Formlessness, and His psychical part to the Hebdomad (vii, c.15). p. 402 fits them for it. Some are destined to a further process of refinement and ascent; others have reached the final stage of which their nature is capable, and ascend no further. All this is partly Gnostic, partly the popular physics of the time, and Basilides uses Gnostic terms throughout-Archon, Ogdoad, Hebdomad, Principalities and Powers, (1) But this fivefold division, combined with the law that nothing descends from the stage in which it is, enables him to present the world-process with a sharpness of outline and firmness or detail impossible to the Buddhists, whose spirits wander aimlessly through multitudinous worlds from heaven to earth, from earth to hell. If now we return to Basilides' scheme of Metaphysics as a whole, with the exception of 'not-being God' and the fivefold division of the spheres, everything in that scheme is evidently Buddhist. It is impossible to mistake the general identity. Barth Sums up the groundwork of the Sankhya and Buddhist metaphysics thus:--"Instead of organising itself under the direction of a conscious, intelligent, divine being, the primary substance of things is represented as manifesting itself directly without the interposition of any personal agent, by the development of the material world and contingent existences. It is then simply, and by whatever name it may be called, the asat, the non-existent, the indeterminate, the indistinct, passing into existence-chaos, in other words, extricating itself from disorder by its own energies. When systematised, this solution will on one side have its counterpart in the metaphysics of Buddhism, while on the other it will issue in the Sankhya philosophy."(2) "The whole theory of the Basilidians consists of the confusion of a seed-mass, and the sorting and restoration into their proper places of things so confused." 3 The cosmic germ, the derivation of existence --------------------- 1. Even the region (Haer., vii, c. 10) of the ineffable `not-being God' had its treasury 2. "The Religions of India," by A. Barth, translated by the Rev. J. Wood (Trubner's Oriental Series), p. 69. p. 403 from non-entity, the evolution of the chaotic seed-mass by differentiation and selection, the absence of all government, the only law the law imposed on each unit by its nature, these are fundamental ideas common to Basilides and the Buddhists. But can we go further? Can we, for instance, identify 'Formlessness' with Prakriti, and the conscious spirits in earth, air, and aether with Purusha?(1) Like Prakriti `Formlessness' is always single, while the spirits and entities of the Ogdoad, the Hebdomad, and the Earth are innumerable like Purusha; in the Indian and the Basilidian scheme the Purusha and the Prakriti are closely entangled and intertwined: in both they are capable of ultimate separation. But how far the identity of the two systems went, we cannot say; our evidence is very fragmentary, and we have no right to go beyond it. So far I have followed Basilides upon purely Indian ground.(2) I now turn to him as a Christian theologian. ---------------- 1. For Prakriti and Purusha v. Deussen, "Die Philosophie der Upanishad's," pp. 216-219, and Garbe, "Die Samkhya-Philosophie," p.204 ff. 2. Basilides' repute for Hellenism is mainly founded on his Metaphysics, but it does not amount to much. The attempt of Hippolytus to affiliate the architectonic ideas of the system upon Aristotle has long been abandoned; and modern critics are divided between Plato and the Stoa. `Not-being God' and the 'not-being world' are expressions which go back through Philo to Plato, but there is little Platonism in Basilides' use of them. According to Plato that which is is the ideal good; but the of Basilides is the first stage of evolution from the Absolute; it is only in his Theology that `not-being God' becomes the ideal good. Nor has the 'not-being world' any connection with the invisible world of the Platonic ideas; it is the embryonic germ, the cosmic Prakriti. The corrective power of suffering is a Platonic idea, but it is applied for the explanation of the value of martyrdom, and not to the suffering of the world. These ideas are common to Philo, Celsus, and Clement, and were part of the mental equipment of the time; they do not necessarily imply any knowledge at first-hand of the master. The word is used by Plato (Timaeus, 73, c.) and by Aristotle with reference to Anaxagoras, but in neither case in the Basilidian sense. Baur has pointed out the analogies between Basilides and Anaxagoras. Anaxagoras starts his physical theory of the universe with an infinite number of seeds, but apart from this there is no resemblance between the two systems. The seeds of Anaxagoras are all specifically different from each other; they are moved little by little at a time by mind, which orders and arranges them. Order arises from their commixture, corruption from their separation. There is an express denial of fate and chance (Ritter, Hist. Anc. Phil., i, p. 284 ff., Eng. trans.). The alleged resemblances to Stoicism are based on the supposed Pantheism of Basilides, and are general. But `not-being God' is not consubstantial with the world, and has no further connection with it after it is started. The Buddhist hypothesis alone meets all the requirements of the case. p. 404 IV. THEOLOGY. For Basilides was a sincere Christian in his own belief. He was probably not conscious of any sensible difference from the ordinary Christians around him, at least not of any difference greater than that which might reasonably separate a philosopher from a simple believer, except in one point only. He pointedly refused to accept the belief in our Lord's impeccability. Be admitted that our Lord did not sin, but he Would not say that IIis material body was not sinful; he would not say "non potuit peccare." But in everything else he appears at first sight orthodox. He frankly accepted Christianity as a historical fact and as a rule of life. There is nothing docetic in his philosophy. "Jesus was born,"' and "all the events in our Lord's life occurred in the same manner as they have been described in the Gospels." Basilides was acquainted with a considerable portion of the New Testament. He quotes S. Luke and S. John, and the whole scheme of his theology is in reality little more than the Basilidian expansion of the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel. His great work the "Exegetica" is said to have been a. Gospel commentary. He delights to interpret some of the Pauline Epistles, especially the Epistle to the Romans, and he appears to have known the Acts of the Apostles, 1st Peter, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Moreover, he treats the Old Testament with a respect somewhat unusual among the Gnostics. His reverence for our Lord and his admiration of the moral law are marked characteristics of the man. Nor is his exegesis, startling though it be, anything extraordinary in the age of Hadrian. Unlike Marcion curd Valentinus, he did not violetly alter or mutilate the text of --------------------------- 1. It is always necessary to distinguish between Jesus and Chrestos in dealing with the Gnostics. Hippolytus uses the word `Christ' in speaking of the Son of the Great Archon (vii, c. 14), but whether Basilides gave it this limited signification is not clear. The Son of Mary is always Jesus in tile summary of Hippolytus. p.405 Scripture, so far at least us we can judge. His canon of interpretation is that of most philosophers of his time, the same canon which Dio Chrysostom and Aristides apply to the Homeric poems, an arbitrary adaptation of the meaning to a preconceived philosophy. Nay, we might go a step further and say that, granting him his own interpretation, he might have accepted considerable portions of the Nicene Creed, had it then been formulated. At first sight he is the most orthodox of all the Gnostics; a Bible Christian one might almost call him. But granting that Christianity was historically true, and an absolute rule of conduct, it wanted a philosophy. The age of Hadrian was enamoured of philosophy: it had just awakened to a general sense of human suffering, and as a rule it accepted in popular form the Stoic idea of a Divine Providence which governed the world. Christianity presented for the first time the problems of Humanity in a new and universal form. What is the origin of sin? what the method of salvation? The Basilidian scheme is an answer to these questions. Basilides bases his theology on the baptismal formula, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The "Inconceivable and Blessed not-being God" (Haer., vii, c. 13) is the Father. The Sonship is consubstantial with Him The Holy Spirit is inseparable from, but, not consubstantial with the Sonship (Haer., vii, c. 10). With this Basilides starts, and develops his philosophy by the aid of two ideas, the Sonship and the Evangel. The Fatter is inconceivable, and above all created things or human predicates. The Sonship, on the contrary, is deposited in the cosmic germ, but being consubstantial with the Father, cannot stay there; it must be restored to communion with Him, and its evolution is the history of the world-process (Haer., vii, c. 10). But this Sonship is not single; it is a collective germ, containning the seeds of many Sone within itself, and according to the Basilidian metaphysic it ought to have a twofold division, the p. 406 supra-mundane and the mundane. But Basilides insists that it is threefold: (Haer., vii, c. 10). The refined or subtle Sonship, free from all cosmic stain, ascends at once with the deposition of the seed in pre-cosmic time to the region of the Father (Haer., vii, c. 10); or in other words, seeing that the deposition of the cosmic seed is a mere figment of human thought, the primal Sonship was with the Father from eternity. The grosser Sonship is more or less entangled in the seed-mass and remains behind. But the more aetherial part of it, less heavily clogged, ascends (also in pre-cosmic time) to the region of the Great Archon, whom it illuminates and instructs. This is the second Sonship (Haer., vii, c. 10). With this second Sonship, however, must be classed the Son dwelling in the Hebdomad with the Archon of the aerial and psychic world (Haer., vii, c. 12). The third Sonship is deeply submerged in the material world of Formlessness, and first disentangles itself in the Son of Mary, the prototype of all the Sons of God on earth (Haer., vii, c. 14). Before we go further we must pause a moment. It is clear that, under the Basilidian scheme, each region of Being (except the region of the Holy Spirit) , required a Sonship for itself, whose business it was to illuminate and benefit that region; and this corresponds with the actual enumeration. Why, then, does Basilides insist on a threefold division? The logical division would have been twofold, the actual one is fourfold. Basilides was doubtless influenced by the doctrine of the three Gunas, but there was probably a Christian element at work. The first Sonship corresponds with the Son who "is in the bosom of the Father from eternity "; the second corresponds, in position at any rate, with the Son " by whom all things were made," since this is called the Son of the Great Archon, who imagines Himself to be the Creator;while the third is the historical Christ. Since the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the Sonship p. 407 There must have been a tripartite division of the Holy Spirit also. Hippolytus mentions only one, the (Haer., vii, c. 11); Clement mentions a, second, (Strom., ii, 8. 36, p. 162, and Frag., p. 337). The Limitary Spirit accompanies the first Sonship on His upward flight, but not being consubstantial with Him is left behind in the adjacent firmament.' He has a distinct entity, although scarcely a distinct personality, and the Sonship is related to the Holy Spirit as a bird to its wing, or a pot of myrrh to the fragrance it exhales (Haer., vii, c. 10). The second and third Sonships are accompanied by the `ministering' Spirit, but as the Spirit cannot descend from a higher to a lower sphere the `ministering Spirit' of each must be regarded as distinct; and it is evident that when each Sonship finally ascends to the region of `not being God' the accompanying Spirit must be left behind in the region of the Firmament. The second factor is the advent of the Gospel, for "although nothing descended from above, yet from above the Gospel really came" (Haer., vii, c. 13). It came as naphtha, catches fire from a spark, and each sphere in turn caught the glory from the sphere above it. The Ogdoad, the region of the Great Archon, was illuminated first; his ignorance was enlightened, he confessed his sin, and his awe-struck mind learned that " fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom" (Haer., vii, c. 14; cf. Strom., ii, 8. 36, p. 162). From the world of the Ogdoad the Gospel descended to the Hebdomad, and from thence to the earth. Each world has been illuminated and evangelized in turn. What, then, is this Evangel? It is the knowledge of supra-mundane and celestial things, to know what is the Father, the `not-being God,' what the Sell, and what the --------------------- 1. Hippolytus (c. 10) attaches this Limitary Spirit to the secoud Sonship But there is evidently some confusion, since he explains why this Limitary Spirit could not enter into the communion of not-being God. Moreovor, nothing could have checked the upmard flight of the second Sonship, had there been Do limit. In c. 14 the Holy Spirit is also represented apparently as Light. p. 408 Holy Spirit. To know this, and to know what is the constitution of the universe, the differentiation, the perfecting, the restoration of all things, that is the fourfold wisdom (Haer., vii, c. 14).(1) The advent of the Gospel is a world event. And here we come upon a striking application of an Indian belief. The novelty of Christianity profoundly impressed the Church of the first two centuries; it was a characteristic note of early Christianity. But none seized on it more powerfully than the Gnostics; it is a keystone in that theories of Marcion and Valentinus as well as of Basilides. With Basilides the time of Jesus' birth was determined by the conjunction of the stars, for although the stars, he holds, do not determine the destiny of man, they control the hour of his birth. And so, when Jesus was born, a new Kalpa or Yug began,(2) a world period which will end when all the Sonship has been gathered in and the consummation of all things takes place. For the third Sonship is not exhausted by Jesus any more than the second Sonship is exhausted by Christ. It embraces all the Sons of God left behind in the material mass.(3) Jesus lived the life narrated in the Gospels; he is "the first-fruits of the discrimination of the things confused" (Haer., vii, c. 15), and all the Sons of God must follow in His steps (Haer., vii, c. 14, 15). They are the elect, and their very nature ensures their ultimate salvation, although the time may be postponed by voluntary sin. It is neither the Valentinian gnosis nor the contemplative absorption of the Buddhist which enables them to apprehend the Gospel, but it is Faith. Faith, according to the Basilidian ---------------------------- 1. (Haer., vii, c. 14); cf. Clem. Strom., ii, 8. 36, p. 162; (of the Great Archon) These words recall the `fourfold path' of the Buddha, but while the latter is moral the fourfold wisdom of Basilides is intellectual. Each of the four adjectives employed by Clement bears a technical meaning in the Basilidian philosophy. 2. Haer., vii, c.15. 3. haer., vii, c.13. p. 409 definition is the intellectual apprehension of' and belief in undemonstrable truths, an intuitive grasp of the teaching of the Gospel when presented to a kindred soul (Clem. Strom., ii, 3. 10, p. 156, and ii, 6. 27, p. 160). By this faith the elect,(1) the believer by nature, arrives at a stage of serene blessedness, fulfilling tile divinely constituted law which requires him to be in a state of charity with all things, neither desiring nor hating anything (Clem. Strom., iv, 12. 88, p. 217).(2) All passion, all desire is past: surely the elect has attained to the dignity of an Arahat. If the Pauline terms Faith and Election are essential terms of Basilides' teaching, perfection and restoration are so equally. Jesus suffered and died, and His material part was restored to the Formlessness to which it belonged. The psyche ascended to the Hebdomad, and the regions of the Great Archon and of the Holy Spirit received such elements of His personality as were peculiar to them, while the third Sonship ascended through all these regions to t.he `Blessed Sonship,' which had been from the beginning with the Father--the `not-being God.' And in like manner as Jesus ascended, so must all the elect ascend (Haer., vii, c. 15). Now this region at which they arrive, and this communion with `not-being God,' `the Inconceivable and Blessed,' is none other than Nirvana. And, like Nirvana, it is a state to be passionately desired. "For every nature desires that [not-being God] on account of a superabundance of [its] beauty and [its] bloom," and "that blessed region which words connot express nor reason grasp" (Haer., vii, c. 10).(3) --------------------- 1. The and the are convertible terms; (Strom., v, 1. 3, p. 233). 2. It is one part the declared will of God " " to be in a state of charity with all things, because all [individual] things bear a relation to the whole, i.e. the general scheme of the Kosmos." This "declared will of God" is the constitution of the universe "involuntarily willed by not-being God." "Deus nec amat nec odit" is a fundamental maxim of all Indian philosophy as well as of Spinoza, and to attribute a state of charity to `not-being God,' as some commentators do, is to furnish wit morality a being above all predicates. 3. Professor Rhys Davids has pointed out to me that Nirvana is, properly speaking, a state and not a region. Now Basilides certainly conceived that p. 410 From this state the Sons of God can never more descend, for them rebirth is over, all things are at an end. When the last seed of the Sonship has been gathered in, the world-period is over, the `Kalpa' is completed, and the restoration of all things will take place. At present "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together,"(1) waiting for the manifestation of the Sons of God; it is disturbed by the birth pangs of the spiritual Sonship, and desires heights to which it can never attain. But when the Divine Light is for ever withdrawn it will cease from unavailing trouble, sorrow and sighing will flee away, and `the great Ignorance' will envelop everything (Haer., vii, c. 15). "Thy hand, Greet Anarch, lets the curtain fall, End universal darkness covers all." Basilides and the "Dunciad" arrive at the same happy conclusion.(2) This, then, is the far-famed Basilidian theology, a scheme immensely ingenious, boldly conceived, powerfully reasoned, sincerely believed. It is composed in unequal parts of Gnosticism, Christianity, and Buddhism. With the main stream of Syrian Gnosticism, which attained to Hellenic symmetry and form in the hands of Valentinus, Basilides was well acquainted. But he borrows little from it except the general problem. All the Gnostics agreed in placing the Absolute God beyond all human ken, they all assigned an inferior place to the Old Testament dispensation, they entertained somewhat similar notions of the demiurge, and -------------------- "being with not-being God" implied not only a state but a place, supramundane region with its `treasury.' We must remember that Basilides acquired his knowledge, not from learned Sramanas, but from the popular beliefs of Buddhist merchants, and that at this very time the doctrines of the older Buddhism mere falling into abeyance, and Buddha himself was widely worshipped. Even Clement was aware of that. But if Buddha were worshipped, he must be somewhere; he must have some shadowy existence in some supra-mundane region. 1. Apparently a favourite test with Basilides. Hippolytus twice quotes it in his summary. 2. "As a mere system of metaphysics the theory of Basilid contains the nearest approach to the conception of a logical philosophy of the absolute which the history of ancient thought can furnish, almost rivalling that of Hegel in modern times." (Mansel, "Gnostic Heresies," p. 165.) God" implied not only a state but a place, a supra- p. 411 they all set themselves to solve the problem of the origin of evil and the ascent of man. But beyond this Basilides has not much in common with the Gnostici. He borrows the terms Ogdoad and Hebdomad, and the division of' the Spheres. He may have borrowed from his contemporary and fellow-townsman Valentinus the term `Limitary Spirit,' although the term is so essential to the Basilidian theology that, if borrowing there was at all, I suspect the borrowing was the other way. But in everything else Basilides and the Gnostici are opposed. For them the great fact of human life is the fatalism of the stars, and metempsychosis takes a secondary place. The fatal nexus of rebirth determines Basilides' philosophy, and astrology is scarcely of account. They proceed by emanations, and clothe their ideas in the garb of Babylonian or Egyptian mythology. Basilides is comparatively free from mythology, (1) and argues vigorously against all emanation theories (Haer., vii, c. 10). They start with a fall from the Infinite to the Finite; he knows nothing on it. Basilides doubtless believed Christianity to he the maim factor of Iris system. He frankly accepted tile Gospel narrative, the evangelical morality, the doctrine of the Trinity, the Pauline terminology. His whole scheme is intended to show the advent of the Gospel, how the Divine Sonship came into the world and grave the power to become sons of God to as many as are born of God. And his theology throws a suggestive light upon the doctrinal teaching, anil the authority of the Gospels and Pauline Epistles in the Church of' Alexandria when Hadrian reigned. --------------------- 1. The one, directly mythological expression I find in Basilides is the remark that Righteousness and her daughter Peace dwelt in the Ogdoad (Strom., iv, p. 231). The Ogdoad was doubtless inhabited by a number of abstract entities- Nous, Phronesis, Logos, and the rest mentioned by Irenaeus--but not emanations as Irenaeus and the later Basilidians held. All these were probably treated, like the Sonship, as collective germs, anti characteristic of the sphere. But these are merely abstractions hypostatized airer the Oriental fashion. They do not necessarily wear a mythological or even an anthropomorphic dress. At the same time the spheres of the first and second Archon were inhabited by innumerable hosts of, the Gnostic counterpart of Greek demons, Jewish angels, and Buddhist devas, who were ready to supply the Inter Basilidians at once with a full-blown mythology. p. 412 But this Christianity apparent to the eye is profoundly Buddhist at the core. All things have their law of being in themselves: suffering is the concomitant of existence, rebirth is the result of former nets, and metempsychosis governs men with inflexible justice anti with iron severity. The office of Jesus is the office of the Buddha;(1) the elect alone are saved, and tile mass of mankind remains content to be born again. All things have their consummation in immense ignorance. But the Basilidian scheme is mole grandiose than its prototype: in the place of unending turmoil it substitutes a world process of diferentiation, for the release of the individual Arahat the cessation of the sorrows of the world; and it is carried out with a historical character, a clearnessof definition, and a rigour of logic which Buddhism never knew. Thus Basilides lived and taught, accounted all arch-heretic in after times, but ill his own clay all eminent doctor of the Church at Alexandria. He had constructed, so he thought, a vast theodicee, he had solved the problems of Free-will and Fate, he had explained the evolution of the Spheres, and of the innumerable spirits which dwell above and below the motions of the Moon, us well as of the Sons of God on earth, consubstantial with not-being God and desirous to return to Him. "Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy." Buddhist metaphysics found little acceptance in Alexandria; they were too foreign to Hellenic modes of thought, and it was many centuries Inter when the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat first attracted the mind of the West. The doctrines of Basilides were misunderstood by his critics, and misinterpreted by his followers. Clement and Hippolytus prove their agreement and good faith by enabling us to reconstruct the main outlines of the system, but they mere frequently much puzzled. The followers of Basilides were confined for the most part to Alexandria and -------------------- 1. "You yourselves must make the effort: the Buddhas are only preachers" (Rhys Davids, " Buddhism," p. 107). Compare the striking elaboration of the theme, " Be ye lamps unto yourselves," in the Maha Parinnabbana, translated by Rhys Davids, "Buddhist Suttas," pp. 36-39. p. 413 the Delta of the Nile; they mere men of little note, probably Egyptianized Hellenes, and Hellenized Egyptians and Jews. They turned tile Basilidian teaching into a wild farrago and an immoral cult. The doctrine of election lent itself to Antinomian licentiousness, and the moderate Clement reproaches them with their views of marriage; they scorned the sufferings of the Martyrs, anil counted it wisdom to deny Christ. They delighted in emanations and astrology, divided the spheres into 365 heavens,' and placed the solar Abrasax(2) at its head, and they were famed above all other sects for their belief in the hidden virtues of stones, in talismans and spells, and all the products of Judaeo - Egyptian Magic. These beliefs, the offspring of superstitious hearts and stuffed-up brains, bear as little resemblance to the teaching of Basilides as the confused medley called the religion of tile Mandaites bears to the teaching of ------------------- 1. It is clear from Hippolytus, vii, c. 14, that that "tedious treatise" on the 365 heavens had nothing to do with Basilides or Isidore. These 365 heavens correspond with the 365 days of the Egyptian `common' year, and are connected with Abrasax and the solar cult of the later Basilidians. 2. The Abraxoid gems are numerous, especially in the Delta of the Nile, and they are the only ones which are certainly Gnostic. Hippolytus tells us (vii, c. 14) that Abraxas, or more properly Abrasax, was supreme lord of the 365 heavens, which represent the 365 days of the year. He bears therefore a solar character, and the Greek letters of his name have 365 for their numerical value (a=1, b=2, p=100, a=1, e= 60, x=l, s=200 =365). Neilos and Meithras give the same arithmetical result. The iconic representations of Abrasax on the gems represent him in the main as an Egvptian solar deity. He has the head of tile solar hawk, the bird of Horus, or rather Horus himself, and the addition of a rude cock's comb on some gems may represent, as in other cases, not a cock's head, but flames or rays. With his left hand Abrasax advances a shield, his right haud holds a scourge upraised strike. The scourge I identify with the khu of the Egyptian gods, and the attitude recalls the attitude of Min Amen at Thebes. The Abrasax legs are snakes, the symbols of the underworld. The bark of Ra is drawn by serpents in its passage through the twelve hours of the night, and on the sarcophagus of Seti I serpents represent the hidden fires of germination in the realms of Osiris (v. "The Alabaster Sarcophagus of Oimenepthah I," by J. Bonomi & S. Sharpe, 1864, pl. vii) . Abrasax is often identified with Iao, and Iao is occasionally represented by an immense python for ever travelling-- a python such as we find on the walls of the same Seti's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. These Abraxoid gems are magical talismans for the protection of the wearer. But Abrasax is much more than; more than Amen-Ra; he is the invention of Egyptian Jews and Gnostics, and has Jewish and even Syrian elements in his composition. For Abrasax, v. King, "The Gnastics and their Remains," p. 226 ff. Also Dr. Hort s.v. Abrasax in Smith' s "Dictionary of Christian Biography." p. 414 the Baptist. The Basilidians and Basilides have little in common except the name. It is a fascinating spectacle, that inward struggle of the early Church in the generations that extend from the persecutions of Nero to the golden age of the elder Antonine. On one side was ranged the Christian consciousness, the organization, the simple faith, and solid virtues of obscure men; on the other side were learning and philosophy, poetry and genius. The Church was still largely Oriental in character, and Christian experience had not had time to formulate itself in universally accepted dogma. If the churches of Rome, of Antioch, and Asia Minor reeked with blood, these persecutions which made men shudder had not extended to the banks of the Euphrates or the Nile. While Rome and Asia Minor were engaged in building up the social and ecclesiastical organism, and in evolving the rudiments of the liturgy, the Oriental mind was busy in adapting Christianity to preconceived philosophies. Orthodox and Gnostics were sincere believers alike; alike they acknowledged the divinity of Christ, the novelty and the superiority of the Christian dispensation; they listened with curiosity and respect to the stories of those who had knowm the Apostles. But the Gnostic philosophics were pagan, no other, indeed, being then available, and for the early Christians Paganism was an instinctive barrier. Had the Gnostics prevailed Christianity would have been at an end; happily it was the Church of the simple that triumphed. And yet, perhaps, something has been lost with the disappearance of the traces of the struggle. The historian may regret the loss of traditions which threatened to occupy a place similar to that they hold in Mahommedan theology. Some great truths held alike by Orthodox and Gnostics were allowed to fall into the background. The Church resolutely set its face against all inquiries into the origin of evil. But whenever Christian poets and divines have dared to overleap the limits of our ignorance they have always begun with that first supposition of the Gnostics-- the pre-existence of the soul. p. 415 "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life's star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar. Hence, in a season of calm weather, Though inland far we be, Our souls have sight of that immortal sea Which brought us hither; Can in a moment travel hither-- And see the children sport upon the shore, And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore."