Epiphanius (Επιφάυιος), bishop of Constantia, one of the Church fathers, was born in Palestine, near Eleutheropolis, in the early part of the 4th century (between 310 and 320). His parents are said to have been Jews, but in his sixteenth year he embraced Christianity; the only case of the kind among the fathers, for the rest of them were either converts from heathenism, or born of Christian parents. He went to Egypt, and there gave himself to ascetic life among the monks; one record also says that he imbibed Gnostic errors, from which he was reclaimed by the monkish discipline. He became an earnest patron and friend of monasticism, and founded a monastery near his native village, of which he became abbot. In 367 he was elected bishop of Constantia (Salamis), the metropolis of Cyprus. Here he remained thirty- six years, busy with the duties of his episcopate, and especially busy with his pen. He devoted himself to the vindication of orthodoxy with unquestioned learning, but with intemperate zeal and violence. He cherished a special hatred for Origen and his doctrines, and wrote, preached, and traveled in order to destroy their influence in the Church. This hatred led him into a quarrel with John, bishop of Jerusalem. "A report that Origen's opinions were spreading in Palestine, and sanctioned even by John, bishop of Jerusalem, excited Epiphanius to such a pitch that he left Cyprus (A.D. 394) to investigate the matter on the spot. At Jerusalem he preached so violent a sermon against any abettors of Origen's errors, and made such evident allusions to the bishop, that John sent his archdeacon to beg him to stop. Afterwards, when John preached against anthropomorphism (of a tendency to which Epiphanius had been suspected), he was followed up to the pulpit by his undaunted antagonist, who announced that he agreed in John's censure of anthropomorphites, but that it was equally necessary to condemn Origenists. Having excited sufficient commotion at Jerusalem, Epiphanius repaired to Bethlehem, where he was all-powerful with the monks; and there he was so successful in his denunciation of heresy, that he persuaded some to renounce their connection with the bishop of Jerusalem" (Smith, Dict. of Biog. s.v.). He also interfered with the diocesan jurisdiction of John, by ordaining one Paulinianius in Palestine. The quarrel became very bitter, and was for many years a source of great trouble and injury to the Church. Epiphanius formed an alliance with the violent and unscrupulous Theophilus of Alexandria (q.v.), who had been an Origenist, but, for his own purposes, changed his professed opinions on the subject, and ordered the Nitrian monks to give up all Origen's writings. They refused, and he called a council at Alexandria, A.D. 399, which condemned Origen, his writings, and his followers. Soldiers were sent to drive the monks from Nitria. Some of them went to Constantinople, where Chrysostom (q.v.) gave them his protection. Theophilus persuaded Epiphanius (now over 80 years old) to call a council of Cyprian bishops (A.D. 401). Here Origen was again condemned. Epiphanius wrote to Chrysostom to join in this condemnation. As Chrysostom did not reply, Epiphanius took it for granted that he favored Origenism, and determined to go in person to Constantinople to "crush Amalek," to use his own words (in a letter to Jerome). Sozomen (Eccl. Hist. 8:14) gives a pretty full account of this visit, saying that, on the arrival of Epiphanius, Chrysostom went out with all his clergy to meet the visitor and do him honor; "but Epiphanius declared that he would neither reside with John, nor pray with him, unless he would denounce the works of Origen, and expel Dioscorus and his companions from the city. Not considering it just to act in the manner proposed until judgment had been passed on the case, John tried to postpone the adoption of further measures to some future time. In the mean time his enemies met together, and arranged that on the day when the people would be assembled in the Church of the Apostles, Epiphanius should publicly pronounce condemnation on the works of Origen, and on Dioscorus and his companions as the partisans of this writer; and also denounce the bishop of the city as the abettor of Dioscorus. By this means it was hoped that the affections of the people would be alienated from their bishop. The following day, when Epiphanius was about entering the Church, in order to carry his design into execution, he was stopped by Serapion, at the command of John, who had received intimation of the plot. Serapion proved to Epiphanius that while the project he had devised was unjust in itself, it could be of no personal advantage to him, for that, if it should excite a popular insurrection, he would be regarded as responsible for the outrages that might follow. By these arguments Epiphanius was induced to relinquish his designs." About this time the empress Eudoxia sent for Epiphanius to pray for her son Theodosius, who was ill; Epiphanius replied that her son would recover provided she would not patronize the defenders of Origen. To this message the empress answered that Epiphanius had failed to save that of his own archdeacon, who had recently died. Finally, some of the Origenists had a conversation with Epiphanius, in which they seem to have convinced him that he had acted rashly. Soon after (Sozomen, 1.c.), he embarked for Cyprus, either because he recognised the futility of his journey to Constantinople, or because, as there is reason to believe, God had revealed to him his approaching death, for he died while on his voyage back to Cyprus. It is reported that he said to the bishops who had accompanied him to the place of embarkation, "I leave you the city, the palace, and the stage, for I shall shortly depart." He died at sea, on his return to Cyprus, A.D. 403. He is commemorated as a saint in the Church of Rome on May 12.
Epiphanius was "a man of earnest monastic piety, and of sincere but illiberal zeal for orthodoxy. His good nature. allowed him to be easily used as an instrument for the passions of others, and his zeal was not according to knowledge. He is the patriarch of heresy-hunters. He identified Christianity with monastic piety and ecclesiastical orthodoxy, and considered it the great mission of his life to pursue the hydra of heresy into all its hiding-places. His learning was extensive, but ill digested. He understood five languages — Hebrew, Syriac, Egyptian, Greek, and a little Latin. Jerome, who knew but three languages, though he knew these far better than Epiphanius, calls him πεντάγλωσσος, the five-tongued; and Rufinus reproach. fully says of him that he considered it his sacred duty to slander the great Origen in all languages and nations. He was lacking in knowledge of the world and of men, in sound judgment, and in critical discernment. He was possessed of a boundless credulity, now almost proverbial, causing innumerable errors and contradictions in his writings. His style is entirely destitute of beauty or elegance; still, his works are of considerable value as a storehouse of the history of ancient heresies and of patristic polemics" (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3, § 169). Scaliger calls Epiphanius an ignorant man, who committed the greatest blunders, told the greatest falsehoods, and knew next to nothing about either Hebrew or Greek.
Hook (Ecclesiastes Biography, 4:583) cites Epiphanius as one of the writers to whom we can refer for proof of the errors of modern Romanism, and for justification of the Reformation. For example, against invocation of saints, "Neither Elias (he says), nor John, nor Thecla, nor any of the saints is to be worshipped. For that ancient error shall not prevail with us, that we should forsake the living God and worship the things that are made by him. For they worshipped and served the creature above the Creator, and became fools. For if he will not permit angels to be worshipped, how much more would he not have her who was born of Anna? Let Mary, therefore, be had in honor, but let the Lord be worshipped." Again he observes "that the creature cannot be worshipped without injuring the true faith, and falling back to the errors of the ancient pagans, who forsook the worship of the true God to adore the creature; or without incurring the malediction spoken of by St. Paul — they worshipped, and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever; therefore God gave them up to vile affections." "Sed neque Helias, neque Joannes-neque quisquam sanctorm adoratur," etc. (Haer. 79 and 62). As decisive is his testimony against the doctrine of a purgatorial state. " In the age to come (he says) there is no advantage of fasting, no call to repentance, no display of charity; none are admitted after their departure hence, nor can we then correct what was before amiss. There Lazarus goeth not to Dives, nor Dives to Lazarus; the garners are sealed, the combat finished, the crowns distributed. Those who have not yet encountered have no more opportunity, and those who have conquered are not cast out. All is finished after we have departed hence" (Hoer. 59).
The extant writings of Epiphanius are the following, in the order in which they are given in the edition of his works by Petavius (Paris, 1622; Leipzig, 1682; and in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, volumes 41, 42, 43):
1. Παναριον, Panarium (medicine-chest), a treatise against heresies. It was written at the request of two monks, named Paul and Acacius, belonging to a monastery near Berea, in Lower Syria. Prefixed to the work is a letter to these monks, which serves as a preface. The whole work is divided into three books, which are subdivided into seven tomes or sections. The first book contains three of these subdivisions, and each of the others two. The whole includes an account of eighty heresies, twenty of which were before Christ:
1, the Barbarians, from Adam to Noah;
2, the Scythians, from Nimrod to Terah;
3, the Hellenists, including all who paid divine honors to the creature, including idolatry proper, and also the philosophical arts of Stoics, Platonists, Pythagoreans, Epicureans;
4, the Samaritanism, arising from a mixture of Hellenism and Judaism, and including four sects;
5, the Judaeans (Judaism), including the seven sects of Sadducees, Scribes, Pharisees, Hemerobaptists, Nazarenes, Essenes, and Herodians. Of Christian heresies he names the Simonians (followers of Simon Magus), the Basilidians, and other Gnostic sects. With the sixty- fourth heresy he begins his account of the heresies of his own age, Origenism, Arianism. A critical work of great ability on the information given by Epiphanius has been published by Lipsius, Zur Quellenkritik des Epiphanius. It limits itself to heresies 13 to 57, which are mostly Gnostic systems. Lipsius shows that Epiphanius, Philaster, and Pseudo- Tertullian made use of the same source, and that this source was the work of Hippolytus against 52 heresies called συνταγμα, which was still known to Photius.
2. Α᾿γκυρωτός, Ancoratus (anchored), i.e., anchor or defense of the faith, especially of the doctrine of the Trinity; so called "because," says Epiphanius, "I have collected, according to my slender abilities, all those passages of Scripture which are calculated to establish our faith; that this book may, like the anchor of a ship, establish believers in the orthodox faith, in the midst of the agitations and tempests of heresy."
3. Anacephalaeosis (Migne, 42:833), which is a summary or abridgment of the Panarium, the order of topics being somewhat varied.
4. Περὶ μέτρων καὶ σταθμῶν, De Mensuris et Ponderibus (of measures and weights), in which he gives an account of the weights and measures used in Scripture, a book still useful for Biblical archaeology.
5. Περὶ τῶν δώδεκα λίθων, de xii gemmis quse erant in veste Aaronis (on the 12 gems which were in Aaron's breast-plate).
A Commentary on the Song of Songs, under the name of Epiphanius, was published by Foggini, in a Latin version (Rome, 1750, 4to; and the same was published [in Greek and Latin], Rome, 1772, 4to), by Giacomellus, who attributes it to Philo Carpasius. SEE PHILO.
The complete editions of Epiphanius (by Petavius and Migne) have been named above. There is a new edition by Dindorf (Leips. 5 volumes, 8vo, 1859-1863). The Panarion is given in volumes 2, 3, of Oehler, Corpus Haeresiologicum (Berlin, 1859-1862, 5 volumes, 8vo). There is a German translation of portions of Epiphanius, with notes, by Rosler (1778, 8vo). His account of the Arian and Meletian heresies was translated into English by Whiston, in his Collection of Ancient Monuments on the Trinity (Lond. 1713, 8vo). A separate life of Epiphanius was published by Gervaise (Paris, 1738, 4to).
See Sozomen, Hist. Eccl. 6:32; 8:15; Socrates, Hist. Eccl. 6:10, 12, 14; Dupin, Ecclesiastes Writers, 2:234; the account of the Bollandists, in Migne, Patrol. Graec. 41; Oudin, De Script. Ecclesiastes 1:527; Ceillier, Auteurs Sacres (Paris, 1860), volume 6, chapter 15; Cave, Hist. Litt. (Genev. 1720), 1:147; Fabricius, Bibliotheca Grceca, ed. Harles, 8:255 sq.; Lardner, Works, 4:185 sq.; Clarke, Succession of Sacred Literature, 1:324; Neander, Church History (Torrey's), 2:680, 697; Schaff, Ch. History, volume 3, § 169; Hoffmann, Bibliog. Lexikon, 2:25 sq.