Ebionites according to the Church Fathers

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Ebionites according to the Church Fathers
Excerpts from the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers about the Ebionites.

Sources[edit]

Primary sources for the Ebionites are found in the works of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers:

What are the opinions propounded by the Ebionæans, and that they in preference adhere to Jewish customs. How Theodotus has been a victim of error, deriving contributions to his system partly from the Ebionæans, (partly from Cerinthus.)

—Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies 7 Prol.

The Ebionaeans, however, acknowledge that the world was made by Him Who is in reality God, but they propound legends concerning the Christ similarly with Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They live conformably to the customs of the Jews, alleging that they are justified. according to the law, and saying that Jesus was justified by fulfilling the law. And therefore it was, (according to the Ebionaeans,) that (the Saviour) was named (the) Christ of God and Jesus, since not one of the rest (of mankind) had observed completely the law. For if even any other had fulfilled the commandments (contained) in the law, he would have been that Christ. And the (Ebionaeans allege) that they themselves also, when in like manner they fulfil (the law), are able to become Christs; for they assert that our Lord Himself was a man in a like sense with all (the rest of the human family).

—Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies 7.22

But the Ebionæans assert that the world is made by the true God, and they speak of Christ in a similar manner with Cerinthus. They live, however, in all respects according to the law of Moses, alleging that they are thus justified.

—Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies 10.18

Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.

—Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.2

The matter in debate, therefore, or I should rather say your opinion regarding it, is summed up in this: that since the preaching of the gospel of Christ, the believing Jews do well in observing the precepts of the law, i.e. in offering sacrifices as Paul did, in circumcising their children, as Paul did in the case of Timothy, and keeping the Jewish Sabbath, as all the Jews have been accustomed to do. If this be true, we fall into the heresy of Cerinthus and Ebion, who, though believing in Christ, were anathematized by the fathers for this one error, that they mixed up the ceremonies of the law with the gospel of Christ, and professed their faith in that which was new, without letting go what was old. Why do I speak of the Ebionites, who make pretensions to the name of Christian? In our own day there exists a sect among the Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe. But while they desire to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other. I therefore beseech you, who think that you are called upon to heal my slight wound, which is no more, so to speak, than a prick or scratch from a needle, to devote your skill in the healing art to this grievous wound, which has been opened by a spear driven home with the impetus of a javelin. For there is surely no proportion between the culpability of him who exhibits the various opinions held by the fathers in a commentary on Scripture, and the guilt of him who reintroduces within the Church a most pestilential heresy. If, however, there is for us no alternative but to receive the Jews into the Church, along with the usages prescribed by their law; if, in short, it shall be declared lawful for them to continue in the Churches of Christ what they have been accustomed to practise in the synagogues of Satan, I will tell you my opinion of the matter: they will not become Christians, but they will make us Jews.

—Jerome, Epistle to Augustine 112.13

But if, Trypho," I continued, "some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them. But I believe that even those, who have been persuaded by them to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved.

—Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho The Jew 47.4, 48

the Ebionites, who derive the appellation of "poor" from their very name (for "Ebion" means "poor" in Hebrew)

—Origen, De Principiis 4.3.8

The evil demon, however, being unable to tear certain others from their allegiance to the Christ of God, yet found them susceptible in a different direction, and so brought them over to his own purposes. The ancients quite properly called these men Ebionites, because they held poor and mean opinions concerning Christ. For they considered him a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue, and who was the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary. In their opinion the observance of the ceremonial law was altogether necessary, on the ground that they could not be saved by faith in Christ alone and by a corresponding life. There were others, however, besides them, that were of the same name, but avoided the strange and absurd beliefs of the former, and did not deny that the Lord was born of a virgin and of the Holy Spirit. But nevertheless, inasmuch as they also refused to acknowledge that he pre-existed, being God, Word, and Wisdom, they turned aside into the impiety of the former, especially when they, like them, endeavored to observe strictly the bodily worship of the law. These men, moreover, thought that it was necessary to reject all the epistles of the apostle, whom they called an apostate from the law; and they used only the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews and made small account of the rest. The Sabbath and the rest of the discipline of the Jews they observed just like them, but at the same time, like us, they celebrated the Lord’s days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour. Wherefore, in consequence of such a course they received the name of Ebionites, which signified the poverty of their understanding. For this is the name by which a poor man is called among the Hebrews.

—Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Chp. 27

As to these translators it should be stated that Symmachus was an Ebionite. But the heresy of the Ebionites, as it is called, asserts that Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary, considering him a mere man, and insists strongly on keeping the law in a Jewish manner, as we have seen already in this history. Commentaries of Symmachus are still extant in which he appears to support this heresy by attacking the Gospel of Matthew. Origen states that he obtained these and other commentaries of Symmachus on the Scriptures from a certain Juliana, who, he says, received the books by inheritance from Symmachus himself.

—Nicene Fathers, The Translator Symmachus, Chp. 17

Ebionites are very like the Cerinthians and Nazoraeans; the sect of the Sampsaeans and Elkasaites was associated with them to a degree.

—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30

For since they wish Jesus to be in reality a man, as I have said before, Christ came in him having descended in the form of a dove and was joined to him (as already we have found among other heresies also), and became the Christ from God above, but Jesus was born from the seed of man and woman.

—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30.14.4-5

They do not say that he was born of God the Father, but that he was created as one of the archangels, that he rules both the angels and all those things created by the Almighty, and he came and gave instructions to abolish sacrifices as the gospel which they recognize contains the provision that "I came to abolish sacrifices, and unless you cease sacrificing, my anger will not cease from you". These and such like them are their deceitful conceptions.

—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30.16.4-5

They say that the Christ is the True Prophet and that the Christ is son of God by spiritual progress and a union which came to him by a lifting up from above; but they say that the prophets are prophets through their own intelligence and not from truth. Him alone they wish to be both prophet and man, and son of God and Christ, and mere man, as we have mentioned before, but because of excellence of life he came to be called the Son of God. And neither do they receive the whole pentateuch of Moses, but cast out certain passages. But whenever you speak to them about food which has life in it, "How therefore did Abraham set before the angels the calf and the milk?" Or , "How did Noah eat, and he heard God saying, 'Sacrifice and eat'? How did Isaac and Jacob sacrifice to God? Likewise, also Moses in the desert?" It is incredible to them and he says, "What need is there for me to read the things in the Law since the gospel has come?" "Whence is it to you to know the things concerning Moses and Abraham? For I know that you confess them to be righteous and to acknowledge them as your own fathers." Then he replies and says that Christ revealed it to me, and he discredits even more the matters pertaining to Mosaic Law and the accounts concerning Sampson, David, Elijah, Samuel, Elisha, and the others.

—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30.18.5-9

Again the Lord himself says, "I have eagerly desired to eat this passover with you". And he does not say simply "passover" but "this passover", lest someone treat it according to his own opinion. However, it was a passover, as I said, with meat broiled in fire and all the rest. But they, having removed from themselves the sequence of truth, changed the saying, which is manifest to all from the readings joined to it, and they make the disciples say, "Where do you wish that we should prepare for you to eat the passover?" And he then replies, "I have no desire whatsoever to eat this passover meat with you." For what reason will their fraud not be detected, when the sequence cries out that the negative has been added? For instead of saying, "I have eagerly desired", they added the word "no".

—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30.22.3-5

Vain also are the Ebionites, who do not receive by faith into their soul the union of God and man, but who remain in the old leaven of [the natural] birth, and who do not choose to understand that the Holy Ghost came upon Mary, and the power of the Most High did overshadow her: wherefore also what was generated is a holy thing, and the Son of the Most High God the Father of all, who effected the incarnation of this being, and showed forth a new [kind of] generation; that as by the former generation we inherited death, so by this new generation we might inherit life. Therefore do these men reject the commixture of the heavenly wine, and wish it to be water of the world only, not receiving God so as to have union with Him, but they remain in that Adam who had been conquered and was expelled from Paradise: not considering that as, at the beginning of our formation in Adam, that breath of life which proceeded from God, having been united to what had been fashioned, animated the man, and manifested him as a being endowed with reason; so also, in [the times of] the end, the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God, having become united with the ancient substance of Adam's formation, rendered man living and perfect, receptive of the perfect Father, in order that as in the natural [Adam] we all were dead, so in the spiritual we may all be made alive. For never at any time did Adam escape the harms of God, to whom the Father speaking, said, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." And for this reason in the last times (fine), not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man, but by the good pleasure of the Father, His hands formed a living man, in order that Adam might be created [again] after the image and likeness of God.

—Ireneaus, Against Heresies 5.1.3

Indeed they perform the mysteries annually in imitation of the holy [eucharist] in the church by using unleavened bread and for the other part of the mystery, by using water only.

—Epiphanius, Panarion 30.16.1