Saint Epiphanius, Bishop

May 12

Today is the feast day of Saint Epiphanius.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Epiphanius was born about the year 315, of Israelite parents, in Palestine. He lost his father while very young, and was raised by a wealthy man who later made him his heir when he died. In his youth he began the study of Holy Scripture, and became a Christian in circumstances which remain unknown. With his sister he received Baptism; and then, leaving a part of his inheritance to her, he sold the rest, gave the money to poor, and kept only what he needed to buy books for his studies. He knew several languages, and could read Scripture in all its texts.

With a desire for perfection, he visited the solitaries of Egypt, and when formed for monastic life, returned in 333 to his homeland. He was ordained a priest and founded a monastery in his native region of Eleutheropolis, which he governed for long years as Abbot. (1)

In 367 his reputation for asceticism and learning brought about his nomination as Bishop of Constantia (Salamis) the metropolis of the Island of Cyprus. For nearly forty years he fulfilled the duties of the episcopate, but his activity extended far beyond his island. His zeal for the monastic life, ecclesiastical learning, and orthodoxy gave him extraordinary authority; hence the numerous occasions on which his advice was sought, and his intervention in important ecclesiastical affairs. He went to Antioch, probably in 376, to investigate Apollinarianism and to intervene in the schism that divided that church. He decided in favour of Bishop Paulinus, who was supported by Rome, against Meletius, who was supported by the episcopate of the East. In 382 he assisted at the Council of Rome to uphold the cause of Paulinus of Antioch. About 394, carried away by an apparently excessive zeal, he went to Jerusalem to oppose the supposed Origenism of the bishop, John. In 402 he was at Constantinople to combat the same pretended heresy of St. John Chrysostom. He died on his return journey to Cyprus.

His character is most clearly shown by the Origenist controversies, which demonstrated his disinterested zeal but also his quickness to suspect heresy, a good faith which was easily taken advantage of by the intriguing, and an ardour of conviction which caused him to forget the rules of canon law and to commit real abuses of power. He saw in Origen the chief cause of the heresies of his time, and especially of Arianism. He was particularly opposed to his allegorical method, his doctrines concerning the Son, in which he saw the subordination of the Son to the Father, his doctrines concerning the pre-existence of souls and the resurrection (“Ancoratus”, 54, 62; “Haer.”, lxiv). He did not confine himself to this condemnation of Origen. He reproached the monks and bishops of his time with accepting the Origenist errors. Thence resulted at the end of his life the conflict with John of Jerusalem and with St. John Chrysostom. Apart from the injustice of the controversy, he encroached on the jurisdiction of these bishops. He was made use of by Theophilus of Alexandria, the irreconcilable enemy of Chrysostom. The chief sources relative to this controversy are: St. Jerome, “Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum” in P.L., XXIII, 355; Idem, “Ad Theophilum” in Pl L., XXII, 736; Epiphanius, “Ad Joannem Hierosolymitanum” in P.G., XLIII, 379; Socrates, “Hist. eccl.”, VI, x-xiv; Sozomen, “Hist. eccl.”, VIII, xiv-xv. The chief editions of Epiphanius’s works are those of Petavius (Paris, 1622); Greek text, Latin tr., and notes reproduced with additions in P.G., XLI-XLIII; and of Dindorf (Leipzig, 1859-62), 5 vols., giving only the Greek text, improved in some parts. (2)

Image: Crop of Epiphanius of Salamis (church father, ca. 310–20 – 403), fresco at Gracanica monastery, near Lipljan in Kosovo (3)

Research by REGINA Staff



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