Epiphanius of Salamis

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Saint Epiphanius
St. Epiphanius in a fresco painting (Gračanica Monastery)
Bishop of Salamis (Cyprus), Oracle of Palestine
Bornc. 310–320
Died403 (aged 82–93)
at sea
Venerated in Catholicism
Eastern Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy
Feast 12 May [1]
17 Pashons (Coptic Orthodoxy)
Attributes Vested as a bishop in omophorion, sometimes holding a scroll
Controversy Iconoclasm

Epiphanius of Salamis (Greek : Ἐπιφάνιος; c. 310–320 – 403) was the bishop of Salamis, Cyprus at the end of the 4th century. He is considered a saint and a Church Father by both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. He gained a reputation as a strong defender of orthodoxy. He is best known for composing the Panarion , a very large compendium of the heresies up to his own time, full of quotations that are often the only surviving fragments of suppressed texts. According to Ernst Kitzinger, he "seems to have been the first cleric to have taken up the matter of Christian religious images as a major issue", and there has been much controversy over how many of the quotations attributed to him by the Byzantine Iconoclasts were actually by him. Regardless of this he was clearly strongly against some contemporary uses of images in the church. [2]



Epiphanius was either born into a Romaniote Christian family or became a Christian in his youth. Either way, he was a Romaniote Jew who was born in the small settlement of Besanduk, near Eleutheropolis (modern-day Beit Guvrin, Israel), [3] and lived as a monk in Egypt, where he was educated and came into contact with Valentinian groups. He returned to Palestine around 333, when he was still a young man, and he founded a monastery at Ad nearby, [4] which is often mentioned in the polemics of Jerome with Rufinus and John, Bishop of Jerusalem. He was ordained a priest, and lived and studied as superior of the monastery in Ad that he founded for thirty years and gained much skill and knowledge in that position. In that position he gained the ability to speak in several tongues, including Hebrew, Syriac, Egyptian, Greek, and Latin, and was called by Jerome on that account Pentaglossos ("Five tongued"). [5]

His reputation for learning prompted his nomination and consecration as Bishop of Salamis, Cyprus, [6] in 365 or 367, a post which he held until his death. He was also the Metropolitan of the Church of Cyprus. He served as bishop for nearly forty years, as well as travelled widely to combat unorthodox beliefs. He was present at a synod in Antioch (376) where the Trinitarian questions were debated against the heresy of Apollinarianism. He upheld the position of Bishop Paulinus, who had the support of Rome, over that of Meletius of Antioch, who was supported by the Eastern Churches. In 382 he was present at the Council of Rome, again upholding the cause of Paulinus.

Origenist controversy and death

During a visit to Palestine in 394 or 395, while preaching in Jerusalem, he attacked Origen's followers and urged the Bishop of Jerusalem, John II, to condemn his writings. He urged John to be careful of the "offence" of images in the churches. He noted that when travelling in Palestine he went into a church to pray and saw a curtain with an image of Christ or a saint which he tore down. He told Bishop John that such images were "opposed . . . to our religion" (see below). [7] This event sowed the seeds of conflict which erupted in the dispute between Rufinus and John against Jerome and Epiphanius. Epiphanius fuelled this conflict by ordaining a priest for Jerome's monastery at Bethlehem, thus trespassing on John's jurisdiction. This dispute continued during the 390s, in particular in the literary works by Rufinus and Jerome attacking one another.

In 399, the dispute took on another dimension, when the Bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, who had initially supported John, changed his views and started persecuting Origenist monks in Egypt. As a result of this persecution, four of these monks, the so-called Tall Brothers, fled to Palestine, and then travelled to Constantinople, seeking support and spreading the controversy. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, gave the monks shelter. Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria saw his chance to use this event to bring down his enemy Chrysostom: in 402 he summoned a council in Constantinople, and invited those supportive of his anti-Origenist views. Epiphanius, by this time nearly 80, was one of those summoned, and began the journey to Constantinople. However, when he realised he was being used as a tool by Theophilus against Chrysostom, who had given refuge to the monks persecuted by Theophilus and who were appealing to the emperor, Epiphanius started back to Salamis, only to die on the way home in 403. [8]

The curtain incident

Letter LI in Jerome's letters gives Jerome's Latin translation, made at Epiphanius' request, of his letter, originally in Greek from c. 394, "From Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, to John, Bishop of Jerusalem" (see previous section for wider context). The final section covers the often quoted incident of the curtain, which unlike other passages attributed to Epiphanius and quoted by the Iconoclasts, is accepted as authentic by modern scholars: [9]

9. Moreover, I have heard that certain persons have this grievance against me: When I accompanied you to the holy place called Bethel, there to join you in celebrating the Collect, after the use of the Church, I came to a villa called Anablatha and, as I was passing, saw a lamp burning there. Asking what place it was, and learning it to be a church, I went in to pray, and found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints; I do not rightly remember whose the image was. Seeing this, and being loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ’s church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person. They, however, murmured, and said that if I made up my mind to tear it, it was only fair that I should give them another curtain in its place. As soon as I heard this, I promised that I would give one, and said that I would send it at once. Since then there has been some little delay, due to the fact that I have been seeking a curtain of the best quality to give to them instead of the former one, and thought it right to send to Cyprus for one. I have now sent the best that I could find, and I beg that you will order the presbyter of the place to take the curtain which I have sent from the hands of the Reader, and that you will afterwards give directions that curtains of the other sort—opposed as they are to our religion—shall not be hung up in any church of Christ. A man of your uprightness should be careful to remove an occasion of offence unworthy alike of the Church of Christ and of those Christians who are committed to your charge. Beware of Palladius of Galatia—a man once dear to me, but who now sorely needs God's pity—for he preaches and teaches the heresy of Origen; and see to it that he does not seduce any of those who are intrusted to your keeping into the perverse ways of his erroneous doctrine. I pray that you may fare well in the Lord. [10]



His best-known book is the Panarion which means "medicine-chest" (also known as Adversus Haereses, "Against Heresies"), presented as a book of antidotes for those bitten by the serpent of heresy. Written between 374 and 377, it forms a handbook for dealing with the arguments of heretics.

It lists, and refutes, 80 heresies, some of which are not described in any other surviving documents from the time. Epiphanius begins with the 'four mothers' of pre-Christian heresy – 'barbarism', 'Scythism', 'Hellenism' and 'Judaism' – and then addresses the sixteen pre-Christian heresies that have flowed from them: four philosophical schools (Stoics, Platonists, Pythagoreans and Epicureans), and twelve Jewish sects. There then follows an interlude, telling of the Incarnation of the Word. After this, Epiphanius embarks on his account of the sixty Christian heresies, from assorted gnostics to the various trinitarian heresies of the fourth century, closing with the Collyridians and Messalians. [11]

While Epiphanius often let his zeal come before facts – he admits on one occasion that he writes against the Origenists based only on hearsay (Panarion, Epiphanius 71) – the Panarion is a valuable source of information on the Christian Church of the fourth century. It is also an important source regarding the early Jewish gospels such as the Gospel according to the Hebrews circulating among the Ebionites and the Nazarenes, as well as the followers of Cerinthus and Merinthus. [12]

One unique feature of the Panarion is in the way that Epiphanius compares the various heretics to different poisonous beasts, going so far as to describe in detail the animal's characteristics, how it produces its poison, and how to protect oneself from the animal's bite or poison. For example, he describes his enemy Origen as "a toad noisy from too much moisture which keeps croaking louder and louder." He compares the Gnostics to a particularly dreaded snake "with no fangs." The Ebionites, a Christian sect that followed Jewish law, were described by Epiphanius as "a monstrosity with many shapes, who practically formed the snake-like shape of the mythical many-headed Hydra in himself." In all, Epiphanius describes fifty animals, usually one per sect. [13]

Another feature of the Panarion is the access its earlier sections provide to lost works, notably Justin Martyr's work on heresies, the Greek of Irenaeus' Against Heresies, and Hippolytus' Syntagma. [14] The Panarion was first translated into English in 1987 and 1990.

Other works

His earliest known work is the Ancoratus (the well anchored man), which includes arguments against Arianism and the teachings of Origen. Aside from the polemics by which he is known, Epiphanius wrote a work of biblical antiquarianism, called, for one of its sections, On Weights and Measures (περὶ μέτρων καὶ στάθμων). It was composed in Constantinople for a Persian priest, in 392, [15] and survives in Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian translations (this last is found in Shatberd ms 1141 along with Physiologus and De Gemmis). [16] The first section discusses the canon of the Old Testament and its versions, the second of measures and weights, and the third, the geography of Palestine. The texts appear not to have been given a polish but consist of rough notes and sketches, as Allen A. Shaw, a modern commentator, concluded; nevertheless Epiphanius' work on metrology was important in the history of measurement.

Another work, On the Twelve Gems (De Gemmis), survives in a number of fragments, the most complete of which is the Georgian. [17] The letter written by Epiphanius to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, in 394 and preserved in Jerome's translation, is discussed above. [18] The collection of homilies traditionally ascribed to a "Saint Epiphanius, bishop" are dated in the late fifth or sixth century and are not connected with Epiphanius of Salamis by modern scholars. [19]

Such was Epiphanius's reputation for learning that the Physiologus , the principal source of medieval bestiaries, came to be widely falsely attributed to him. [20]



  1. (in Greek) Ὁ Ἅγιος Ἐπιφάνιος Ἐπίσκοπος Κωνσταντίας καὶ Ἀρχιεπίσκοπος Κύπρου. 12 Μαΐου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  2. Kitzinger, 92–93, 92 quoted
  3. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book I (Sects 1–46), By Epiphanius, Epiphanius of Salamis, Translated by Frank Williams, 1987 ISBN   90-04-07926-2 p xi
  4. The more famous Monastery of Epiphanius near Thebes, Egypt was founded by an anchorite named Epiphanius towards the end of the sixth century; it was explored by an expedition from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1912–14.
  5. Ruf 3.6
  6. Salamis was also known as Constantia after Constantine II.
  7. Part 9, Letter LI. From Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, to John, Bishop of Jerusalem (c. 394), http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001051.htm.
  8. Frances Young with Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background, (2nd edn, 2004), pp202-3
  9. Kitzinger, 92–93 and long note
  10. NPNF2-06. Jerome: The Principal Works of St. Jerome, CCEL
  11. Andrew Louth, 'Palestine', in Frances Young, Lewis Ayres and Andrew Young, eds, The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, (2010), p286
  12. Epiphanius, Panarion, 30 iii 7
  13. Verheyden, Joseph (2008). "Epiphanius of Salamis on Beasts and Heretics". Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. 60 (1–4): 143–173. doi:10.2143/jecs.60.1.2035279.
  14. Andrew Louth, 'Palestine', in Frances Young, Lewis Ayres and Andrew Young, eds, The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, (2010), 286
  15. Allen A. Shaw, "On Measures and Weights by Epiphanius" National Mathematics Magazine11.1 (October 1936: 3–7).
  16. English translation is Dean (1935)
  17. Frances Young with Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background, (2nd edn, 2004), p201
  18. Ep 51, available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.v.LI.html
  19. Alvar Erikson, Sancti Epiphani Episcopi Interpretatio Evangelorum (Lund) 1938, following Dom Morin.
  20. Frances Young with Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background, (2nd edn, 2004), p202

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Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Epiphanius of Salamis"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton.