1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Epiphanius, Saint
EPIPHANIUS, SAINT (c. 315–402), a celebrated Church Father, born in the beginning of the 4th century at Bezanduca, a village of Palestine, near Eleutheropolis. He is said to have been of Jewish extraction. In his youth he resided in Egypt, where he began an ascetic course of life, and, freeing himself from Gnostic influences, invoked episcopal assistance against heretical thinkers, eighty of whom were driven from the cities. On his return to Palestine he was ordained presbyter by the bishop of Eleutheropolis, and became the president of a monastery which he founded near his native place. The account of his intimacy with the patriarch Hilarion is not trustworthy. In 367 he was nominated bishop of Constantia, previously known as Salamis, the metropolis of Cyprus—an office which he held till his death in 402. Zealous for the truth, but passionate and bigoted, he devoted himself to two great labours, namely, the spread of the recently established monasticism, and the confutation of heresy, of which he regarded Origen and his followers as the chief representatives. The first of the Origenists that he attacked was John, bishop of Jerusalem, whom he denounced from his own pulpit at Jerusalem (394) in terms so violent that the bishop sent his archdeacon to request him to desist; and afterwards, instigated by Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, he proceeded so far as to summon a council of Cyprian bishops to condemn the errors of Origen. In his closing years he came into conflict with Chrysostom, the patriarch of Constantinople, who had given temporary shelter to four Nitrian monks whom Theophilus had expelled on the charge of Origenism. The monks gained the support of the empress Eudoxia, and when she summoned Theophilus to Constantinople that prelate forced the aged Epiphanius to go with him. He had some controversy with Chrysostom but did not stay to see the result of Theophilus’s machinations, and died on his way home. The principal work of Epiphanius is the Panarion, or treatise on heresies, of which he also wrote an abridgment. It is a “medicine chest” of remedies for all kinds of heretical belief, of which he names eighty varieties. His accounts of the earlier errors (where he has preserved for us large excerpts from the original Greek of Irenaeus) are more reliable than those of contemporary heresies. In his desire to see the Church safely moored he also wrote the Ancoratus, or discourse on the true faith. His encyclopaedic learning shows itself in a treatise on Jewish weights and measures, and another (incomplete) on ancient gems. These, with two epistles to John of Jerusalem and Jerome, are his only genuine remains. He wrote a large number of works which are lost. In allusion to his knowledge of Hebrew, Syriac, Egyptian, Greek and Latin, Jerome styles Epiphanius Πεντάγλωσσος (Five-tongued); but if his knowledge of languages was really so extensive, it is certain that he was utterly destitute of critical and logical power. His early asceticism seems to have imbued him with a love of the marvellous; and his religious zeal served only to increase his credulity. His erudition is outweighed by his prejudice, and his inability to recognize the responsibilities of authorship makes it necessary to assign most value to those portions of his works which he simply cites from earlier writers.
The primary sources for the life are the church histories of Socrates and Sozomen, Palladius’s De vita Chrysostomi and Jerome’s De vir. illust. 114. Petau (Petavius) published an edition of the works in 2 vols. fol. at Paris in 1622; cf. Migne, Patr. Graec. 41-43. The Panarion and other works were edited by F. Oehler (Berlin, 1859–1861). For more recent work especially on the fragments see K. Bonwetsch’s art. in Herzog-Hauck’s Realencyk. v. 417.
Other theologians of the same name were: (1) Epiphanius Scholasticus, friend and helper of Cassiodorus; (2) Epiphanius, bishop of Ticinum (Pavia), c. 438–496; (3) Epiphanius, bishop of Constantia and Metropolitan of Cyprus (the Younger), c. A.D. 680, to whom some critics have ascribed certain of the works supposed to have been written by the greater Epiphanius; (4) Epiphanius, bishop of Constantia in the 9th century, to whom a similar attribution has been made.