Saint Epiphanius was born about the year 310, in the territory of Eleutheropolis, in Palestine. To qualify himself for the study of the holy scriptures, he learned in his youth the Hebrew, the Egyptian, the Syriac, the Greek, and the Latin languages. His frequent conversation with Saint Hilarion and other holy anchorets, whom he often visited to receive their instructions, gave him a strong inclination to a monastic life, which he embraced very young. If he made his first essay in Palestine, as M. Gervaise is persuaded upon the authority of the saint’s Greek life attributed by many to Metaphrastes; at least it is certain he went soon into Egypt to perfect himself in the exercises of that state, in the deserts of that country. He returned into Palestine about the year 333, and built a monastery near the place of his birth. His labours in the exercise of virtue seemed to some to surpass his strength; but his apology always was: “God gives not the kingdom of heaven but on the condition that we labour; and all we can do bears no proportion to such a crown.” To his corporal austerities he added an indefatigable application to prayer and study.1
Most books then in vogue passed through his hands; and he improved himself very much in learning by his travels into many parts. The great Saint Hilarion had spent twenty-two years in the desert when God made him known to the world by the lustre of his virtues and an extraordinary gift of miracles, about the year 328. Saint Epiphanius, though the skilful director of many others, regarded him as his master in a spiritual life, and enjoyed the happiness of his direction and intimate acquaintance from the year 333 to 356, in which Tillemont, who seems to have settled most correctly the chronology of Saint Hilarion’s life, places the departure of that great saint out of Palestine. Saint Jerom gives us to understand in his life, that never was union of two friends more intimate or more constant, which even this separation was not able to interrupt. The church of Salamis seems to have been determined by Saint Hilarion to demand Epiphanius for their bishop, and this latter consecrated his pen after the death of Saint Hilarion, to make known his virtue to the world. In the dreadful persecution which the Arians raised against the Catholics in the reign of Constantius, Saint Epiphanius often left his cell to comfort and encourage the latter; and his zeal obliged him to separate himself from the communion of his diocesan Eutychius, bishop of Eleutheropolis, who, against his own conscience, out of human political motives, entered into a confederation with Acacius and other heretics against the truth. In reading the works of Origen, he was shocked at many errors which he discovered in them, and began early in his life to precaution the faithful against the same.
Saint Epiphanius in his monastery was the oracle of Palestine and the neighbouring countries; and no one ever went from him who had not received great spiritual comfort by his holy advice. The reputation of his virtue made him known to distant countries; and about the year 367, he was chosen bishop of Salamis, then called Constantia, in Cyprus. But he still wore the monastic habit, and continued to govern his monastery in Palestine, which he visited from time to time. He sometimes relaxed his austerities in favour of hospitality, preferring charity to abstinence. No one surpassed him in tenderness and charity to the poor. Many pious persons made him the dispenser of their large alms. Saint Olympias, to have a share in his benediction, made him great presents in money and lands for that purpose. The veneration which all men had for his sanctity, exempted him from the persecution of the Arian Emperor Valens in 371; but he was almost the only Catholic bishop in that part of the empire who was entirely spared on that occasion. In 376, he undertook a journey to Antioch to endeavour the conversion of Vitalis the Apollinarist bishop; and in 382, he accompanied Saint Paulinus from that city to Rome, where they lodged at the house of Saint Paula; our saint in return entertained her afterward ten days in Cyprus in 385. The saint fell into some mistakes on certain occasions, which proceeded from zeal and simplicity, as Socrates observes. The very name of an error in faith, or the shadow of danger of evil affrighted him. At Jerusalem, in 394, he preached against Origenism in presence of the patriarch John, whom he suspected to lean towards that heresy. At Bethlehem he persuaded Saint Jerom to separate himself from his communion, unless he publicly purged himself. He also ordained by compulsion, Paulinian the brother of Saint Jerom, priest; but, upon the complaint of John, carried him into Cyprus to serve his church at Salamis. At Constantinople he impeached the tall brothers for Origenism, having been prepossessed against them by the clamours of Theophilus. He even blamed Saint Chrysostom for affording them his protection; but a mild expostulation of that saint opened his eyes, and he hastened back to Salamis, but died on the voyage thither in 403, having been bishop thirty-six years. His disciples built a church in his honour in Cyprus, where they placed his and many other pious pictures. Sozomen testifies that God honoured his tomb with miracles. Saint Austin, Saint Ephrem, Saint John Damascen, Photius, and others, called him a Catholic doctor, an admirable man, and one filled with the spirit of God. 2
- Father Alban Butler. “Saint Epiphanius, Archbishop of Salamis, Confessor”. , 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 12 May 2013. Web. 1 September 2014. <>
- He wrote his Anchorate to be, as it were, an anchor or stay to fix unsettled minds in the true faith, that they might not be tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, which is always the case of heresy. In this work he explains, and proves in short the principal articles of the Catholic faith. But his great work appeared in 374, under the title of Panarium; or, Box of Antidotes against all heresies. He gives the history of twenty heresies before Christ, and of fourscore since the promulgation of the gospel. If in his account of Arianism he sometimes falls into historical mistakes, we must remember how difficult it often is to discover the truth in points wherein so many factions find it their interest to adulterate it. These heresies he confutes both by the scriptures and tradition. “Tradition,” says he, “is also necessary. All things cannot be learned from the scriptures, therefore the apostles left some things in writing, others by tradition, which Paul affirms, saying, ‘As I have delivered to you, etc.’” By the latter, he justifies the practice, and proves the obligation of praying for the dead. He admires how Aërius could presume to abolish the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays, “which are observed by the whole earth, and that by apostolical authority.” “The style of this work, says Godeau, is not much polished; but the doctrine is pure and excellent. They are diamonds, which without being cut, sparkle by their natural beauty. We are much indebted to the author for the distinct knowledge he has given us of the ancient heresies, and the solid confutation he has left us of them. These, it is true, are no longer known to us but by their names: but others take their place, and are a continual trial: and the spirit of heresy is always like itself, full of obstinacy, self-conceit, and pride.” Saint Epiphanius’s book on Weights and Measures explains the measures and ancient customs of the Jews: that on Precious Stones is an inquiry concerning the rational or square ornament worn by the Jewish high-priest, and the qualities of the twelve precious stones set in it. In his letter to John of Jerusalem (inter op. S. Hieron.) he relates how he saw at Anablatha, in the diocese of Jerusalem, a curtain over the church door, on which was painted an image, whether of Christ or of some saint he had forgotten when he wrote this: but he tore the curtain or hanging, and gave others in its place. It is certain, from the famous statue of the woman cured by our Saviour of the bloody flux, which stood at Paneas in that very country, mentioned by Eusebius as honoured with miracles, and from the writings of Saint Prudentius, Saint Paulinus, Saint Ephrem, etc., that the use of holy images was common in the church at that very time, as Le Clerc in their lives acknowledges. But Saint Epiphanius here discovered, or at least apprehended some superstitious practice or danger of it among converts from idolatry; or, of scandal to Jewish proselytes: for, upon this last consideration, it might sometimes seem prudent to forbear a practice of discipline in certain places, as Salmeron observes ↩
- His works are published by the learned Petavius, in two vols. folio: but the original Greek must be consulted by those who desire to avoid all mistakes, as the judicious prelate Albaspinæus, or Aubespine, has taken much pains to convince the world with regard to that translation. The commentary of Saint Epiphanius on the book of Canticles was lately discovered among the manuscripts of the Vatican library, by Monsignor Foggini, prefect of that library, who has favoured us with an accurate edition of the same at Rome, in 1750, with a learned preface. ↩