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2nd century
Ancient Christian Church

Of Isidore there is no preserved memory in either Eusebius or Jerome, but as "the true son and disciple of Basilides" [Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies VII.8.1; ANF V (1885) 103; Stevenson 1957: 75] he is encountered in those who first preserved the heritage of Christian "gnosis" or attacked the rising phenomenon of Christian "heresy." Like his father he is known for the writing of "Exegetics," which becomes the standard conceptual term (in Greek: exegetika) by which the earliest Christian commentators refer to their own works on Scripture, for example, "Origen refers to his own Commentary on John in the same way" (Grant 1957: 127). Moreover, the exegetical method employed is allegorical, so that already Origen's teacher and predecessor, Clement of Alexandria, "never criticized them for allegorizing scripture, presumably because his own view was so much like theirs," specifically agreeing with Isidore, who had already noted, "that the ancient poet Pherecydes spoke allegorically" of Homer and others [Grant 1957: 88, with reference to Stromateis VI.53.5; on Pherecydes of Athens of the fifth century B.C. (TLG 1584) and the "allegorical" method applied to Homer, cf. Clarke 1981: 61-62].

Much else that is preserved by Clement, specifically of Isidore's thought, reflects his other interest in questions arising from topics of "Ethics," some of which seem to move in that same ascetic direction which came to characterize Christian monasticism, though even suggestive of the kind of tendency which prompted Origen to castrate himself, and formulated in a mode, for example, that affirmed "The need of clothing is necessary and natural, while the need of sexual intercourse is natural but not necessary" (Grant 1961b: 139-140, quoting Stromateis III.i.1-3). Other references, however, illustrate that Isidore was also moving away from the mainstream of the Christian Tradition, not only by his specific use of Socrates and Aristotle, but more particular by his "Expositions of the Prophet Parchor," which might be an amplification of those "barbarous" names found in Basilides, whose historical specifics lacked certainty (Grant 1946: 23-24, citing Stromateis VI.vi.53; cf. Frend 1984: 205).

In contrast to the somewhat later development of a school of Valentinus, the most that can be said of developments deriving from that of Basilides, aside from the interpretation of Scripture and the tendency towards an ethically more ascetic Christianity, is that he "did not attract as many followers as Valentinus did; indeed, the church fathers tell us of only one, his son Isidore, who wrote treatises on ethics and on the allegorical interpretation of Greek and oriental literature" (Grant 1970: 125). "Irenaeus, in a curious passage in Adv. Haereses (I.24.6), records that 'the followers of Basilides had declared that they had ceased to be Jews but not yet become Christians'" (Frend 1954: 27; cf. Frend 1984: 205), which might just provide some clue to their status and the situation early in the second century.

However, we do need to note that Basilides had taught "that originally there was nothing," in which Isidore was connected as having concurred [Grant 1961b: 125, citing Hippolytus, Refutation VII.8-9; ANF V (1885) 103-104], which as summarized can be understood to conclude, "A nonexistent God then produced a nonexistent seed out of nothing, and from this seed proceeded various kinds of existent things, including a 'three-fold Sonship' whose goal was to return to the nonexistent God" (Grant 1970:125). But that kind of apophatic tendency within their theology also comes back into the fore within Christianity with the fully developed thought of the fourth century Cappadocian Fathers though then purged of its more "gnostic" way of putting this "language of negation" (Pelikan 1993: especially 40-56). Thus one needs to examine this "school of Basilides and Isidore" for the origins of its philosophy and the intent of its expressions, mediated unfortunately merely by its ultimate opponents, beginning with Agrippa Castor and Irenaeus (Carrington 1957: II.63-67).

Clyde Curry Smith

Bibliography (see abbreviations table below):

PG 7; TLG 1448
Q1.7.2.2; DECL 308 (RHanig); OEEC 419 (CGianotto); GEEC 593 (FWNorris)

Supplementary Bibliography:
ANF V 1885 Hippolytus, translated by Stewart Dingwall Fordyce Salmond, in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo and New York: Christian Literature. Volume V, pp. 100-109.
Carrington 1957 The Early Christian Church, by Philip Carrington. Cambridge: At the University Press. 2 volumes.
Clarke 1981 Homer's Readers: A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey, by Howard Clarke. Newark: University of Delaware Press.
Frend 1954 "The Gnostic Sects and the Roman Empire", by William Hugh Clifford Frend. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History V/1 25-37.
Frend 1984 The Rise of Christianity, by William Hugh Clifford Frend. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Grant 1946 Second-Century Christianity: A Collection of Fragments, by Robert McQueen Grant. London: SPCK.
Grant 1957 The Letter and the Spirit, by Robert McQueen Grant. London: SPCK.
Grant 1961b Gnosticism: A Sourcebook of Heretical Writings from the Early Christian Period, by Robert McQueen Grant. New York: Harper and Brothers.
Grant 1970 Augustus to Constantine: The Thrust of the Christian Movement into the Roman World, by Robert McQueen Grant. New York, Evanston, and London: Harper and Row.
Pelikan 1993 Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism, by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Stevenson 1957 A New Eusebius : Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church to A.D. 337, by James Stevenson. London: SPCK.

This article, received in 2001, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

Click here for Abbreviations and Source References for Ancient African Christians.