A Gnostic Christian sect that revered the mystical Abraxas and sought spiritual enlightenment through esoteric knowledge.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Early Church
Founder: Basilides
Founded: 2nd century CE
Ended: Declined in influence by the 4th century CE
Location: Alexandria, Egypt (originally)
Other Names: Basilidians

The Basilideans were a Gnostic sect founded in Alexandria, Egypt in the second century. They were named after their founder Basilides, a notable figure within early Christian Gnosticism, who claimed to have received esoteric teachings directly from Glaucias, an interpreter of the Apostle Peter.

Basilides’s belief system was complex, intertwining elements of Neoplatonism, the New Testament, and various Gnostic beliefs into a unique theological framework. Central to his teachings was the concept of the Unborn Father, the highest deity, from whom emanated a hierarchy of divine beings and the material world. This supreme deity was associated with the mystical name Abraxas, a figure believed to rule over 365 heavens, symbolizing the days of the year and encapsulating the cosmos’s divine order​​​​. Basilides also introduced the concept of the Not-Being God, a deity beyond existence, from whom the seed that became the world originated. This Not-Being God, through a process of emanation, brought forth the material and spiritual worlds, underscoring the Basilideans’ belief in a deeply interconnected universe spanning multiple realms of existence​​.

The Basilideans held a dualistic view of the universe, where matter was considered the principle of all evil, contrasting sharply with the spiritual realm, which was the source of all good. According to their teachings, Jesus Christ was a purely spiritual being who only appeared to have a physical body, emphasizing the sect’s distinction between the material and the divine​​. In contrast to other Christian sects, which held martyrdom in high esteem​​, Basilides deemed martyrdom and imitation of Christ’s suffering as futile by Basilides, arguing that such acts were performed in the name of Simon of Cyrene, not Christ himself.

The sect also developed a structured spiritual hierarchy among its followers, categorized into material, intellectual, and spiritual grades. This stratification mirrored the Basilideans’ cosmological and theological principles, with the ultimate goal of enlightenment and reunion with the divine​​​​.

Despite their contributions to early Christian thought, the Basilideans, like many Gnostic groups, faced criticism and opposition from other Christian leaders, resulting in the movements influence waning in the 4th century.

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