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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis

Epiphanius (1) , bp. of Salamis in Cyprus, zealous champion of orthodox faith and monastic piety, was born at Besanduke, a village near Eleutheropolis in Palestine. As in 392, twelve years before his death, he was an aged man, we may conjecturally date his birth between 310 and 320. Much of his early lifetime was spent with the monks of Egypt, among whom he not only acquired a burning zeal for ecclesiastical orthodoxy and the forms of ascetic life then coming into favour, but also first came in contact with various kinds of heretics. When twenty years old he returned home and built a monastery near Besanduke, of which he undertook the direction. He was ordained presbyter by Eutychius, then bp. of Eleutheropolis. With St. Hilarion, the founder of Palestinian monasticism, Epiphanius early stood in intimate relation, and at a time when the great majority of Oriental bishops favoured Arian or semi-Arian views, he adhered with unshaken fidelity to the Nicene faith, and its persecuted champions, Eusebius of Vercelli and Paulinus of Antioch, whom Constantius had banished from their sees. In 367 he was elected bp. of Constantia, the ancient Salamis, in Cyprus, where for 36 years he discharged the episcopal office with the zeal he had shewn in his monastery. The whole island was soon covered with monastic institutions. With the monks of Palestine, and especially of his own monastery at Eleutheropolis, he continued as bishop to hold uninterrupted communication. People consulted him on every important question. Some years after his elevation to the episcopate, he addressed a letter to the faithful in Arabia, in defence of the perpetual virginity of Mary, afterwards incorporated in his great work, Against all Heresies ( Haer. lxxviii.). Soon after, several presbyters of Suedra in Pamphylia invoked his assistance in their controversy with Arians and Macedonians. Similar applications came from other quarters; e.g. by an Egyptian Christian named Hypatius, and by a presbyter, Conops, apparently a Pisidian, who, with his co-presbyters, sought instruction in a long series of disputed doctrines. This was the origin of his Αγκυρωτός ( Ancoratus ) in 374, an exposition of the faith, which, anchor-like, might fix the mind when tossed by the waves of heresy. A similar occasion produced his great heresiological work, written in the years 374-377, the so-called Πανάριον , on which his fame chiefly rests. He wrote this at the request of Acacius and Paulus, two presbyters and heads of monasteries in Coele-Syria, and in it attacks the Gnostic sects of the 2nd and 3rd cents., and the Arians, semi-Arians, Macedonians, Apollinarians, Origenists, of his own time. About 376 he was taking an active part in the Apollinarian controversies. Vitalis, a presbyter of Antioch, had been consecrated bishop by Apollinaris himself; whereupon Epiphanius undertook a journey to Antioch to recall Vitalis from his error and reconcile him to the orthodox bp. Paulinus. His efforts, however, proved unsuccessful. Though not himself present at the oecumenical council of Constantinople, 381, which ensured the triumph of the Nicene doctrine in the Oriental churches, his shorter confession of faith, which is found at the end of his Ancoratus (c. 120) and seems to have been the baptismal creed of the church of Salamis, agrees almost word for word with the Constantinopolitan formula. He took no part in the synod held at Constantinople in 382; but towards the end of that year we find him associated with St. Jerome, Paulinus of Antioch, and the three legates of that synod, at a council held under bp. Damasus at Rome, which appears to have dealt with the Meletian and Apollinarian controversies. At Rome he was domiciled in the house of the elder Paula, who, under the spiritual guidance of St. Jerome, had dedicated her ample fortune to the poor and sick, and Epiphanius seems to have strengthened her in a resolution to forsake home and children for an ascetic life at a great distance from Rome. Early in 383, when the bishops were returning to their sees, Paula went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She stayed with Epiphanius in Salamis about 10 days. Somewhat later St. Jerome also visited Epiphanius, on his way to Bethlehem, bringing a train of monks to Cyprus, to salute "the father of almost the whole episcopate, the last relic of ancient piety." Thenceforward we find Epiphanius in almost unbroken intercourse with Jerome, in alliance with whom he began his Origenistic controversies. He had indeed already, in his Ancoratus (c. 54) and still more in his Panarion , attacked Origen as the ancestor of the Arian heresy.

On hearing that Origenism had appeared in Palestine, he hastened thither, in old age (a.d. 394) to crush it. His appearance sufficed to drive the ci-devant Origenist Jerome into the bitterest enmity with his former friends, who refused to repudiate their old attachment. Epiphanius, received with all honours by the bp. of Jerusalem, preached in the most violent manner in the church of the Resurrection. Bp. John, after expressing his disapproval by gestures only for a time, sent his archdeacon to beg him to abstain from speaking further on these topics. The sermon being over, Epiphanius, as he walked by the side of John to the church of the Holy Cross, was pressed upon by the people, as Jerome tells us, from all sides with tokens of veneration. Bp. John, irritated by the sermon, evidently preached against himself, took the next opportunity to preach against certain simple and uneducated persons who represented God to themselves in human form and corporeity. Whereupon Epiphanius rose, and expressing his full concurrence with this, declared that it was quite as necessary to repudiate the heresies of Origen as of the Anthropomorphists. He then hastened to join Jerome at Bethlehem, and required the monks there to renounce at once all church fellowship with the bp. of Jerusalem; but they entreated him to return to John. Epiphanius went back to Jerusalem the same evening, but immediately regretting the step, and without so much as speaking to the bishop, left Jerusalem again at midnight for his old monastery of Eleutheropolis. From there he continued to press the monks of Bethlehem to renounce church fellowship with the Origenist bp. John, and finally availed himself of the occasion provided by a deputation from Bethlehem, to ordain as presbyter Jerome's brother Paulinianus, and impose him on the community, as one who should administer the sacraments among them. This intrusion into the rights of another bishop Epiphanius endeavoured subsequently to excuse in a letter to John. His excuses were far from satisfying the bishop, who reported to other bishops this violation of the canons, and threatened the monks of Bethlehem with ecclesiastical penalties so long as they should recognize Paulinianus or persist in separation. Epiphanius and Jerome, continuing to insist on John publicly purging himself of Origenistic heresy, proceeded to invoke the mediation of Theophilus bp. of Alexandria. Theophilus's legate, a presbyter named Isidore, openly sided with John, and Theophilus himself, who at that time was reckoned an Origenist, designated Epiphanius, in a letter to the bp. of Rome, a heretic and schismatic.

According to another account, Theophilus accused him, as well as John, of Anthropomorphism. Epiphanius certainly received in this controversy little or no support from other bishops. He returned to his diocese, followed by Paulinianus. In this way the chief source of dispute between John and the monks of Jerusalem was removed, and Jerome provisionally renewed communion with the bp. of Jerusalem, as well as with his old friend Rufinus. A few years after the close of this first Origenist controversy, Epiphanius found himself involved in much more unpleasant transactions. Among the monks of Egypt the controversy between Anthropomorphists and Origenists continued to rage. Theophilus of Alexandria having in 398 directed a paschal epistle against the Anthropomorphists, a wild army of monks from the wilderness of Scete rushed into Alexandria, and so frightened the bishop that he thought his life depended on immediate concession. From that time Theophilus appears as a strong opponent of Origenism. In his paschal epistle of 399 he opposes the heresies of Origen in the most violent manner. [See Theophilus (9).]

Great joy was expressed by Epiphanius. "Know, my beloved son," he writes to Jerome, "that Amalek is destroyed to the very root; on the hill of Rephidim has been erected the banner of the cross. God has strengthened the hands of His servant Theophilus as once He did those of Moses." Epiphanius was soon drawn yet more deeply into these transactions. The bishops began on all sides to speak against the heresies of Origen.

Theophilus having involved himself in a separate conflict of his own with Chrysostom at Constantinople and finding his cause there opposed by the "Long Brothers" from Egypt [See Chrysostom], made strenuous efforts to gain the assistance of Epiphanius against the action of those Origenistic monks, calling upon him to pass judgment upon Origen and his heresy by means of a Cypriote synod. Epiphanius assembled a synod, prohibited the works of Origen, and called on Chrysostom to do the same. He was then moved by Theophilus to appear personally, as an ancient combatant of heresy, at Constantinople. In the winter of 402 Epiphanius set sail, convinced that only his appearance was required to destroy the last remains of the Origenistic poison. Accompanied by several of his clergy, he landed near Constantinople. Chrysostom sent his clergy to give him honourable reception at the gates of the city, with a friendly invitation to take up his abode in the episcopal residence. This was rudely refused by the passionate old man, who declared himself unable to hold church communion with Chrysostom until he had expelled the "Long Brothers," and had subscribed a condemnation of the writings of Origen. This Chrysostom gently declined, with a reference to the synod about to be holden; whereupon Epiphanius at once assembled the many bishops already gathered at Constantinople, and required them all to subscribe the decrees of his own provincial council against the writings of Origen. Some consented willingly, others refused. Whereupon the opponents of Chrysostom urged Epiphanius to come forward at the service in the church of the Apostles, and openly preach against the Origenists and their protector Chrysostom. Chrysostom warned Epiphanius to abstain, and the latter may by this time have begun to suspect that he was but a tool in the hands of others. On his way to the church he turned back, and soon after, at a meeting with the "Long Brothers," confessed that he had passed judgment upon them on hearsay only, and, growing weary of the miserable business, determined to return home, but died on board ship in the spring of 403.

His story shews him as an honest, but credulous and narrow-minded, zealot for church orthodoxy. His frequent journeys and extensive reading enabled him to collect a large store of historical information, and this he used with much ingenuity in defending the church orthodoxy of his time. But he exercised really very small influence on dogmatic theology, and his theological polemics were more distinguished by pious zeal than by penetrating intelligence. His refutation of the doctrine of Origen is astoundingly superficial, a few meagre utterances detached from their context being all he gives us, and yet he boasted of having read 6,000 of Origen's works, a much larger number, as Rufinus remarks, than Origen had written.

Those of his time regarded Epiphanius as a saint; wherever he appeared, he was surrounded by admiring disciples, and crowds waited for hours to hear him preach. His biography, written in the name of Polybius, an alleged companion of the saint (printed in the edd. of Petavius and Dindorf), is little more than a collection of legends.

Among his writings the most important are the Ancoratus and Panarion. The Ancoratus comprises in 121 sections a prolix exposition full of repetitions of the doctrines of the Trinity the true humanity of Christ and the resurrection of the body with a constant polemic against Origen and the heresiarchs of his own time especially Arians Sabellians Pneumatomachi and Dimoirites (Apollinarians). The whole concludes with the Nicene creed in a twofold form with various additions. This work is chiefly of interest as a witness to the orthodoxy of its time. The Panarion is of much greater importance. It deals in three books with 80 heresies. The catalogue is essentially that already given in his Ancoratus (cc. 11 and 12). He begins with heresies existing at the time of our Lord's birth—Barbarism Scythianism Hellenism Judaism Samaritanism. The last three are subdivided; Hellenism and Samaritanism into four each Judaism into seven. Then follow 60 heresies after the birth of Christ from the Simonians to the Massalians including some which as Epiphanius acknowledges were rather acts of schism than heresies. The extraordinary division of pre-Christian heresies is founded on a passage he often quotes (Col_3:11). Barbarism lasted from Adam to Noah Scythianism from Noah to the migration of Peleg and Reu to Scythia. Hellenism he thinks sprang up under Serug understanding thereby idolatry proper. Of the various Greek schools of philosophy which he regards as particular heresies belonging to Hellenism and offers a complete list of them in the conclusion of his work he shews himself but poorly informed. His communications concerning the various Jewish sects are for the most part worthless; and what he says of the Nasarenes and Ossenes (Haer. xviii. and xix.) is derived purely from respectable but misunderstood narratives concerning the Ebionites and Elkesaites. His accounts of the Jewish-Christian and Gnostic sects of the 2nd and 3rd cents. mingle valuable traditions with misunderstandings and fancies of his own. His pious zeal to excel all previous heresiologers by completing the list of heretics led him into strange misunderstandings adventurous combinations and arbitrary assertions. He often frames long narratives out of very meagre hints. The strangest phenomena are combined with a total absence of criticism and cognate matters are arbitrarily separated. Yet he often copies his authorities with slavish dependence and so enables critical commentators to collect a rich abundance of genuine traditions from his works. For the section from Dositheus to Noetus (Haer. xiii.-lvii.) he used a writing now lost but of very great importance which is also used by a contemporary writer Philastrius of Brixia—viz. the work of Hippolytus Against all Heresies. Besides this he used the well-known work of Irenaeus of Lyons. These narratives are often pieced together in very mechanical fashion resulting in frequent repetitions and contradictory statements.

Besides these two, he had access to many original works of heretics themselves and numerous trustworthy oral traditions. Very valuable are his extracts (Haer. xxxi.) from an old Valentinian work, the Ep. of Ptolemaeus to Flora, which is quoted entire (xxxiii.), and the copious extracts from Marcion's gospel (xlii.). Against the Montanists (xlviii.) he uses an anonymous controversial work of great antiquity, from which Eusebius also ( H. E. v. 17) gives large extracts; in his article on the Alogi ( Haer. li.) he probably uses the work of Porphyry against the Christians. In the section against Origen (xliv.) copious extracts are introduced from Methodius, περί ἀναστάσεως . Several notices of heresies existing in Epiphanius's own time are derived from his own observation. The last main division of the Panarion ( Haer. lxv.-lxxx.), where he carefully notes the different opinions of Arians, semi-Arians, Photinians, Marcellians, Pneumatomachi, Aerians, Aetians, Apollinarists, or Dimoirites, is one of the most important contemporary authorities for the Trinitarian and Christological controversies since the beginning of the 4th cent. Although a fanatical partisan, and therefore not always to be relied on, Epiphanius speaks almost everywhere from his own knowledge and enhances the value of his work by the literal transcription of important documents. Of far inferior value are his attempted refutations, which are further marred by fanatical abuse, misrepresentation of opinions, and attacks on character. He takes particular pleasure in describing real or alleged licentious excesses on the part of heretics; his refutations proper contain sometimes really successful argument, but are generally weak and unhappy. The work concludes with the section περί πιστεως , a glorifying description of the Holy Catholic Church, its faith, its manners, and its ordinances, of great and manifold significance for the history of the church at that time. Each section is preceded by a short summary. An Ἀνακεφαλαίωσις , probably the work of Epiphanius himself (preceded by a short extract from an epistle of Epiphanius to Acacius and Paulus, and followed by an extract from the section setting forth the Catholic faith), almost literally repeats the contents of these summaries. This Ἀνακεφαλαίωσις , a work used by St. Augustine and St. John Damascene, apparently circulated as an independent writing, as did bk. x. of the Philosophumena and the summary added to Hippolytus's σύνταγμα against all heresies and preserved in a Latin translation in the Praescriptiones of Tertullian. Of another more copious epitome—midway between the brevity of the Ἀνακεφαλαίωσις and the details of the Panarion , a large fragment was pub. by Dindorf from a Paris MS., No. 854, in his ed. of Epiphanius, vol. i. pp. 339-369 from a transcript made by Fr. Duebners (cf. also the various readings given by Dindorf from a Cod. Cryptoferrar. vol. iii. p. 2, praef. pp. iv.–xii.).

The best ed., that of W. Dindorf (Leipz. 1859-1862, 5 vols. sm. 8vo), contains all the genuine writings (the Ancoratus, Anacephalaeosis, Panarion , and de Mensuris et Ponderibus in the Gk. text, de Gemmis in all three text forms, and the two epistles in Jerome's trans.), and also the spurious homilies, the epitome, and the Vita Epiphanii of Polybius. Of works and treatises concerning Epiphanius may be mentioned the book attributed to the abbé Gervais, L’Histoire et la vie de St.Èpiphane (Paris, 1738); Tillemont, Mémoires , t. x. pp. 484 seq., 822 seq.; Fabricius, Bibl. Graec. ed. Harl. viii. pp. 261 seq.; Schröckh, Christliche Kirchengeschichte , t. x. pp. 3 ff.; Eberhard, Die Betheiligung des Epiphanius an dem Streite über Origenes (Trier, 1859); Lipsius, Zur Quellenkritik des Epiphanios (Wien, 1865).


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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