Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm? Deconstruction of a Myth


Doctor of Iconoclasm?^1^[
Deconstruction of a Myth]

By Steven Bigham


Published by:
Steven Bigham at Shakespir
Copyright © 2008-2015 by Steven Bigham


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1.1 Who was St. Epiphanius of Salamis?

1.2 The Authentic Works of St. Epiphanius of Salamis

1.3 The Theological Profile of St. Epiphanius of Salamis

1.4 The Problem


2.1 Translations

2.1.1 Post-Scriptum of the Letter of Epiphanius Written to John, Bishop of Jerusalem

2.1.2 The Treatise of St. Epiphanius Against Those Who, Following an Idolatrous Practice, Make Images with the Intention of Reproducing the Likeness of Christ, the Mother of God, the Angels and the Prophets

2.1.3 The Dogmatic Letter

2.1.4 The Letter of Epiphanius, Bishop of the Cypriots, to the Emperor Theodosius

2.1.5 The Will of Epiphanius Addressed to the Members of His Church

2.2 A General Portrait of Epiphanius of Salamis as He is Presented in the Iconophobic Documents


3.1 The Timeline of the Byzantine Controversy

3.2 The Arguments of Byzantine Authors against the Authenticity of the Iconophobic Documents Attributed to Epiphanius, in Chronological Order

3.2.1 St. John of Damascus

3.2.2 The Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787

3.2.3 St. Nicephorus of Constantinople, between 815 and 820

3.2.4 St. Theodore Studite restates two arguments already presented

3.2.5 Summary of the arguments of St. Nicephorus against authenticity, as presented in the Refutation and Destruction of the Arguments of Eusebius and Epiphanides, Stupidly Put forward against the Incarnation of Christ Our Savior

I. Introduction: Chapters 1-3

II. Chapter 4: the Will

III. Chapter 5: the Dogmatic Letter

IV. Chapters 6-13: the Treatise

V. Chapters 14-23: the Letter of Epiphanius to the Emperor Theodosius

VI. Chapters 24-30: Patristic Texts

3.2.6 The Post-Scriptum of the Letter to John of Jerusalem


4.1 The Structure of the Debate

4.2 The History of the Modern Debate

4.2.1 Daniel Serruys

4.2.2 Simon Vailhé

4.2.3 Otto Bardenhewer

4.2.4 Karl Holl Holl’s arguments against Serruys and Vailhé Holl’s Arguments in Favor of Authenticity Holl’s Arguments against Nicephorus

4.2.5 Joseph Wilpert

4.2.6 George Ostrogorsky The Enumeration of Categories of Saints Two Iconodule Theses Two Camps at War Where Are the Iconodule Writings of the Fourth century? Epiphanius Anticipates the Iconoclastic Arguments The Greek Text is not a Bad Translation of the Latin Variety of Models “After the heresies and the idols”: a Reference to the Panarion Ostrogorsky Evaluates Certain Arguments Epiphanius’s Attitude toward Images in the Panarion Documents Full of Life Judas’s Kiss Parallel Expressions Proposal for a Date

4.2.7 Henri Grégoire

4.2.8 Franz Dölger

4.2.9 Edward James Martin

4.2.10 Paul Maas

4.2.11 Venance Grumel

4.2.12 Hans von Barion The Contradictions Alleged by Nicephorus Holl’s Positive Arguments in Favor of his Position Ostrogorsky’s Arguments in Favor of his Position Points Put forward by Barion to Decide in Favor of Holl

4.2.13 George Ostrogorsky (Revised Position)

4.2.14 Edwyn Bevan

4.2.15 Paul Alexander

4.2.16 Ernst Kitzinger

4.2.17 Roger Tandonnet

4.2.18 John Meyendorff

4.2.19 Charles Murray

4.2.20 George Florovsky

4.2.21 Hans Georg Thümmel

4.2.22 Jaroslav Pelikan

4.2.23 Istvan Bugar

4.2.24 Oliver Kösters

4.2.25 Paul Speck


5.1. The Arguments against Authenticity

5.1.1 Style or doctrine?

5.1.2 The Accusation of a New Idolatry in the Church

5.1.3 The Absence of a Heresy of Christian Images in the Panarion

5.1.4 Epiphanius’s Attitude toward Images in the Panarion

5.1.5 The Transformation of the Historical Epiphanius into a Radical Iconophobe The Latin Translation of the Post-Scriptum of the Letter to John of Jerusalem Prostrating Oneself in Front of a Person or Thing A Sentence in the Panarion

5.1.6 A Genealogical Question

5.1.7 An Archeological Question

5.1.8 The Letter to Theodosius: “…to have God painted in colors. Who ever heard of such a thing?”

5.1.9 Precious but Unexploited Data Epiphanius’s Ethnic Origin The controversy over images in the fourth century The Data Found in the Letter to Theodosius Data Found in the Will Data Found in the Dogmatic Letter

5.1.10 Are the Iconophobic Documents Docetic?

5.1.11 Did Epiphanius Think Jesus Was a Nazirite?

5.1.12 Disdain for Matter

5.1.13 Why Do Some Saints Refuse to Have People Prostrate Themselves in front of Them?

5.1.14 The Explanations of the Letter to John of Jerusalem

5.1.15 Epiphanius, Origenism, and Iconoclasm

5.2 Excursus on the Will: Authentic, Forgery, or Composite?

5.3 Interesting but not Very Convincing Arguments

5.3.1 The Metropolitan of Sardis

5.3.2 The Will is absent from the Life of St. Epiphanius

5.3.3 Idols are dead

5.3.4 The destruction of the relation type-prototype

5.3.5 The omission of the word eikôn

5.3.6 The commandment to paint images

5.3.7 The image made for Abgar

5.3.8 The Carpocratians show that Christians had images

5.3.9 Knowledge of Christian images





Since the creation of the Chair of the History of Liturgical Arts and Iconology at St. Sergius Institute of Orthodox Theology in Paris, which I have occupied since 1986, our research has been oriented in two directions: on the one hand, studies of a specifically iconographic nature, as defined by the famous Russian iconographic school whose best-known representatives have been F. Bouslaeff, N. Kondakoff, and D. Aïnaloff in Russia along with A. Grabar in France; and on the other, studies of a more theological nature which deal especially with the status and doctrine of the image in the Church, studies carried out in the perspective elaborated by L. Ouspensky, the creator of a new academic discipline which he himself called “the theology of the icon.”

It is especially in the framework of this second orientation that the visits of Fr. Steven Bigham to the Institute have been a precious enrichment for the research and teaching of our Chair. From the beginning, we sensed a deep agreement with Fr. Steven on the perverse nature of confessional prejudices which have carefully maintained and repeated, from generation to generation, a good number of myths: for example, the supposed, doctrinal aniconism of the first Christians or the existence of a theologically motivated hostility toward images which goes back to the apostles and was preached by the most “enlightened” of the Fathers. It was this hostility which finally burst forth for everyone to see in the great movement of Byzantine iconoclasm which, being concerned with a “pure and spiritual” Christianity, rejected as pagan and idolatrous the making of any liturgical images and, even more, their veneration. What is more, I have always felt that any serious study of the theology of the icon requires a detailed analysis of the “founding documents” of iconoclasm just as much as the answers of the holy apologists. We were thus immediately faced with the very serious question of the authenticity of these documents and have noted, with a certain relief, that in the final analysis, according to the most recent research, there are only three documents which deserve a detailed study: canon 36 of the Council of Elvira, the so-called letter of Bishop Eusebius2 in Palestine to the Empress Constantia, and finally a group of writings attributed by the iconoclasts to St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, a prolific writer, Father of the Church, and specialist on Christian heresies.

This latter group of writings has already been the object of a rather violent controversy between the German Protestant historian, Karl Holl, and the young, Russian Orthodox scholar, George Ostrogorsky, who, in his famous Studien zur Geschichte des byzantinischen Bilderstreites (Breslau, 1929), felt he had proved, against Holl, the inauthenticity of the “pseudo-Epiphanian” corpus. Let us remember that his arguments impressed such eminent scholars as Fr. G. Florovsky and Fr. J. Meyendorff. The former spoke of these writings as “being most certainly inauthentic” while the latter qualified them as being of “a doubtful authenticity.” In the final analysis, it was less the unquestionable scholarly respectability of Holl than the inertia of the German academic world and its confessional solidarity which brought about the nearly unanimous rejection of Ostrogorsky’s arguments by the disciples of Adolf von Harnack and those who followed his lead. The reader can follow the stages and the argumentation in this present work.

I would therefore like to underscore here the merit of Fr. Steven for having been receptive to my proposition to open once again the thorny dossier of the so-called “iconoclasm of Epiphanius” despite the nearly 80 years of peaceful, “scholarly consensus.” Enthusiastic and full of self-effacement, he refused the easy solution which has been adopted by the vast majority of those who have seen fit to deal with the question by simply aligning themselves with the opinion of one or the other main authors: Holl or Ostrogorsky. On the contrary, he did not hesitate to take up the challenge of reconsidering the vast dossier with its two sections. The first, of course, is the Byzantine controversy, but he knew quite well that it constitutes in its own right the determining element in a correct understanding of the second section, the modern debate, and this is what Holl did not want to recognize. The courage of our Canadian friend has been rewarded. His deconstruction of the myth of “Epiphanius’s iconoclasm” cannot be ignored by any scholar who will henceforth deal with this subject to which Fr. Steven has been able to bring new elements and a personal reflection.

This postdoctoral study, with a rich bibliography and very useful annexes for further research, is intended not only for the scholarly public, knowledgable about the intricacies of Byzantine iconoclasm, but also for those of the larger public, obviously educated, who desire to delve more deeply into a problem whose real scope was missed by a good number of historians, Byzantinists, and theologians of all categories. In this sense, all readers will appreciate in the first part the English translation of the corpus delicti itself, that is, all the iconophobic writings attributed to Epiphanius, which are completed by his astute “general portrait—as it is presented in the iconophobic writings.” The second part deals with the Byzantine controversy, its chronology, and the arguments of the ancient authors against the authenticity of the writings, among whom the lion’s share goes obviously to the patriarch St. Nicephorus and his major work—still under appreciated—Refutation of Eusebius and Epiphanides. The third part contains a detailed dossier of the modern controversy which presents for all researchers not only a gold mine of precious information on a debate, which as Fr. Steven has proved is still not closed, but also a vast fresco of the astonishing twists and turns that the paths of knowledge and its transmission have often taken. In the fourth part, the author gives us his personal evaluation of all the arguments against the authenticity of the iconophobic writings attributed to Epiphanius.

From the conclusion, we would especially like to highlight the following points:

1.“We take it for that it is not credible that Epiphanius of Salamis could have claimed that no one, at the end of the fourth century, had ever heard of Christian images.”

2.“We accept that the iconophobic writings manifest a docetic Christology, that is, a one-sided Christology, leaning in favor of the divinity, which thus diminishes the full reality of the humanity. This orientation clearly contrasts with the opinions of Epiphanius.”

3.“However eccentric Epiphanius of Salamis may have been, there is no authentic witness that allows us to see him as an extreme iconophobe or an iconophobe of any sort, nothing that allows us to call him “Doctor of iconoclasm.”

4.“We accept Nicephorus’s point that the key to solving the authenticity question is found in the doctrinal differences between the two corpora [the true and the false writings of Epiphanius: N. Ozoline] and not in the similarities of literary style.”

It is in fact this last argument, proof of the holy patriarch’s clear vision, which seems to me to be decisive for solving the authenticity question regarding the “iconophobic corpus” falsely attributed to Epiphanius. We also note that the doctrinal similarity with the so-called Letter of Eusebius to Constantia was not lost on the scholarly Nicephorus. It seems to me that this allows a common appreciation of both the pseudo-Eusebian letter and the pseudo-Epiphanian corpus. The obvious anachronism of their overall problematic is glaringly visible, for it is there that the question of venerating icons is central. However, as we know from archeological and liturgical sources, icons, in the technical sense of portable portraits of Christ and the saints as well as the liturgical veneration of these images, did not yet exist either at the end or, even less, at the beginning of the fourth century. What is more, Christ’s material, human body is seen to have been dissolved in his divine nature, which indicates a clearly Monophysite tendency, and this had already previously been noted by Ostrogorsky and in our own time strongly underscored by von Schönborn. The iconoclastic forgers thus succeeded, even without using the word aperigraptos, in proclaiming the indescribability of the Savior, for “we must not abase with lifeless and dead colors the blinding brightness of the radiant, unspeakable divine glory of Christ and the saints.” And finally, all the writings in question express the same dualistic revulsion, typically Neo-Platonic and Origenistic, toward the body and the flesh for which there is no hope of salvation.

The conclusion is obvious to everyone: the iconoclasts lacked patristic quotations that witnessed to an unquestionable condemnation of the veneration of icons. In their eyes, the two famous bishops, Eusebius and Epiphanius, under whose names fraudulent documents were composed, lent themselves better than any others to such a hoax. It seems clear to me that the decisive arguments for or against a fraud are not found on the side of philological “proofs.” The Byzantine falsifiers easily imitated the style and terminology of the fourth-century authors. Nonetheless, besides the unquestionably anachronistic character of the supposed practice of venerating images at the time of Eusebius and Epiphanius, the most irrefutable indication of forgery consists, as Fr. Steven has also said, in their identical theological argumentation. Falsely attributed to the two bishops, this argumentation perfectly coincides with the theses of the “choir director” of iconoclasm, Constantine V Copronymus and his entourage. It is they, in my opinion, who are the real authors of the pseudo-Epiphanian writings as well as the so-called letter of Eusebius to Constantia.

Fr. Nicholas Ozoline



1.1 Who was St. Epiphanius of Salamis?

St. Epiphanius was born around 315 in Eleutheropolis, Palestine. We know nearly nothing of this period, and the little information we do possess is disputed, as we will see later on. Very young—we cannot say more—he went to Egypt to study, and there, either on finishing them or interrupting them, he adopted the monastic life. Around the age of 20 to 30—scholars do not agree—he returned to Palestine where he founded a monastery at Besanduc, near Eleutheropolis, and he became its higumen. For unknown reasons, St. Epiphanius left Palestine and immigrated to Cyprus3 where, in 3674, the bishops of the island elected him head of the Church of Salamis, that is, archbishop of Cyprus, and he remained at that post until his death in 403.

The life of St. Epiphanius is therefore divided into four periods of varying lengths the dating of which is only approximate, except for the last period:

1. 315 to 330: his earliest years in Palestine;

2. 330 to 340: his education and monastic training in Egypt;

3. 340 to 367: his leading of the monastery in Besanduc, Palestine;

4. 367 to 403: his episcopate in Salamis, Cyprus, lasting nearly 40 years5.

As a result of his written works, his travels, his asceticism, and his fight against any and all heresies, St. Epiphanius acquired a worldwide reputation for holiness of life and purity of doctrine6. Even though many revered him, from the greatest of this world to the most humble, he was not appreciated by everyone. His unbending opinions and the ferocious determination of his fight against heresies and those he considered heretics made for him many enemies. He was no doubt sometimes the source of his own problems.

1.2 The Authentic Works of St. Epiphanius of Salamis

St. Epiphanius’s reputation rests primarily on his written works. Chronologically, his first is called Ancoratus^7^ (The Anchored Man). It was written in 374 at the request of the Christians in Syedres in Pamphylia; they wanted a treatise on the traditional doctrines of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit.

St. Epiphanius’s second work, finished in 377, is called the Panarion^8^ (pharmacy, medicine box or cabinet). In answer to the request of two priests from Chalcis and Berea (the modern city of Aleppo) who begged him to write a book on the heresies9, St. Epiphanius speeded up the research and composition he had already started. The Panarion is a catalogue of 80 heresies, along with a refutation of each one.

On Measures and Weights^10^ On the 12 Gems^11^, and Letters^12^ are all minor and fragmentary works that have nonetheless been recognized as authentic. Other documents, iconophobic in nature, attributed to St. Epiphanius, will be analyzed later. Modern, scholarly criticism has judged still other texts not to be authentic13.

1.3 The Theological Profile of St. Epiphanius of Salamis^14^

As for his theological culture, St. Epiphanius was able to inspire both admiration and scorn. This is as true for later periods as for Antiquity. Everyone agrees that he knew a great deal, that he read a lot, that he wrote volumes, but everyone does not agree about the depth of his thinking, even his intelligence. His education in Egypt, even if we say it was classical, did not make a great impression on his thinking or his works. Scholars have evaluated his Greek as only slightly above the Koine Greek of the New Testament. He received, on the other hand, a solid grounding in the Scriptures and mastered several languages, although to differing degrees. His monastic training in Egypt influenced his thinking all through his life and made him allergic to classical and pagan culture.

This Biblical and monastic education can be seen in his works in which he defends his ideas by appealing to the Scriptures, the Tradition of the Church, and the Fathers. Very little interested in metaphysics and speculative philosophy, he very early on saw Origen as the great enemy, reacting against the latter’s allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures and metaphysical speculations.

St. Epiphanius was a ferocious defender of the theology of Nicaea I (325) and of homoousios: the Son’s being consubstantial with the Father. He saw Origen’s doctrine of the Son’s subordination to the Father as the root of Arianism.

St. Epiphanius also had a great concern for the purity of the Church, especially for its doctrine. Heresies were therefore bites inflicted by poisonous snakes, and the antidotes for these bites were found in the medicine box, that is, his book the Panarion. All his life, St. Epiphanius fought against doctrines that deviated from what he thought was the true doctrine of the Church, orthodoxy.

1.4 The Problem

The problem that we propose to deal with in this study has two elements.

1.The authenticity of five iconophobic documents15. Nearly all scholars of modern times have judged these iconophobic documents, attributed to St. Epiphanius, to be authentic. Are they right in their judgment? Or are the documents false, falsified, or wrongly interpreted?

2.The attitude of St. Epiphanius toward Christian images. Since these same scholars recognize the authenticity of the iconophobic documents, they logically conclude that St. Epiphanius was a dogmatic iconophobe, that is, he considered a Christian image to be an idol. What is more, they claim that St. Epiphanius is an eminent witness to the fundamental iconophobia of ancient Christianity. Here again are they right? The answer given to the first question obviously conditions the answer to the second one, but it is to be noted that the iconophobic reputation of Epiphanius rests uniquely on these documents.

The problem, however, is not new. These documents entered history only 300 years after the death of St. Epiphanius in 403. It was during the period of Byzantine iconoclasm16 (730843), in the bloody controversy over the legitimacy of Christian images—their very existence and their veneration—that these documents were quoted for the first time. It was the Byzantine iconoclasts who attributed them to St. Epiphanius. The adversaries of the iconoclasts, the iconodules, answered that the documents were forgeries invented or falsified by the iconoclasts and attributed to the Father of orthodoxy in order to support their cause. At the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, and even today, these documents are quoted as a witness to the iconophobia of the ancient Christian tradition and as a justification for every kind of iconoclasm, whether moderate or radical.

We said earlier that “nearly all scholars of modern times” accept the authenticity of these iconophobic documents attributed to St. Epiphanius of Salamis. Other scholars, very much in the minority, have expressed doubts on the subject. In this present study, we hope to study more deeply the question of the authenticity of the iconophobic documents attributed to St. Epiphanius. Are scholars justified in classifying them among St. Epiphanius’s authentic works and, consequently, in recognizing in him a “doctor of iconoclasm”17?



2.1 Translations

Toward the end of the fourth century, Epiphanius of Salamis, archbishop of the Church of Cyprus, supposedly wrote five documents that express, among other things, an iconophobic and iconoclastic attitude toward Christian images. During his life, Epiphanius had the reputation of being a great defender of orthodoxy; he wrote the Ancoratus, a defense of the traditional faith of the Church, and the Panarion, a catalogue of 80 heresies with a refutation of each one. In the light of the definition of Nicaea II (787) concerning Christian images, the iconophobic documents attributed to Epiphanius stand in singular contrast. For the iconoclasts of every century, these documents are a tremendous support for their cause, and, for the iconodules, an immense burden. The question of authenticity is at the heart of the debate. Are they really from Epiphanius? We present them here in English translation based on the Greek texts assembled and published by Herman Hennephof in the collection Textus Byzantinos ad Iconomachiam Pertinentes, Leiden, Épiphane J. Brill, 1969, pp. 44-49. We present the documents in chronological order—assuming that Epiphanius wrote them—rather than in the order of the Textus.

2.1.1 Post-Scriptum^18^ of the Letter of Epiphanius Written to John, Bishop of Jerusalem

The Letter to John of Jerusalem^19^ is made up of two unequal parts: in the first part, sections 1-2, Epiphanius defends himself against the accusation of having uncanonically ordained St. Jerome’s brother, Paulinian, deacon and priest while he, Epiphanius, was in the jurisdiction of John of Jerusalem, without the latter’s knowledge or permission. In the second part, sections 3-8, Epiphanius refutes Origenism and invites John to repudiate this heresy. We then have the following text which we present here as the Post-Scriptum, section 9 in which Epiphanius tells us about an incident that took place at Anautha in Palestine where he tore down a door curtain in a church. On the curtain, there was “represented something idolatrous, in human form.” The parishioners objected to his impulsive gesture, and he promised to replace it with another curtain. The incident, the Letter to John of Jerusalem, and the Greek Post-Scriptum are dated to 393.

May the God of peace always act in us according to his love for man so as to crush Satan under our feet and drive away every evil pretext, in order that the bond between us—the bond of sincere love for Christ and his peace, the bond of right faith and truth—may not be broken.

I have heard that, during our20 trip to the holy place of Bethel, some people have been complaining. When we entered the village called Anautha, we saw there a burning lamp. We inquired about this and learned that there was a church in that place. We went in to pray and found a colored door curtain hanging in front of the door. On the door curtain, there was something idolatrous in the form of a man. They [the parishioners]^21^ said that it was perhaps a representation of Christ or of one of the saints; I don’t remember22. Knowing that such things are detestable in a church, I tore the door curtain down and suggested that it be used as a burial cloth for a poor person, but the parishioners, who have been complaining, said that I should have replaced the door curtain out of my own pocket before tearing it down. So, I promised to send a new door curtain to replace the first one, but I waited awhile because I needed to search for one. I waited until a curtain was sent to me from Cyprus. Having now found it, I sent it on. Therefore, please see fit to ask the priest of the parish to accept the new door curtain that the reader is bringing. I exhort you [John] also to order that such things no longer be put up in the churches, for it is proper for your Honor to be concerned about everything and to examine carefully what is profitable for the Church of God and for the faithful.

2.1.2 The Treatise^23^ of St. Epiphanius Against Those Who, Following an Idolatrous Practice, Make Images with the Intention of Reproducing the Likeness of Christ, the Mother of God, the Angels and the Prophets

If, on the basis of the sequence of the documents, we follow not only the dates established by Holl but also the scenario that he proposed24, the Treatise was written in 394. It is thus assumed to be Epiphanius’s theological defense justifying his gesture at Anautha.

Let us examine the patriarchs and prophets, who acted according to the will of God, and let us imitate them so that we can truly be called the sons of the catholic and apostolic Church. I therefore speak to those who know the law.

Those who run around without knowing where they are going, let them answer. Who among the holy fathers ever prostrated himself in front of a representation made by men’s hands or allowed his own disciples to prostrate themselves in front of it? Who among the saints, having abandoned the inexhaustible treasure—that is, the hope in the knowledge of God—ever had his portrait painted and ordered people to prostrate themselves in front of it? Abraham, the leader of the faithful, was he not called the friend of the living God, and did he not flee dead things? Or Moses did he not refuse to take pleasure at that time (in these things) by fleeing such an error?

But you will say to me, “The fathers detested the idols of the nations, but we make images of the saints in their memory, and we prostrate ourselves in front of them in their honor.” Precisely by this reasoning, some of you have had the audacity, after having plastered a wall inside the holy house, to represent the images of Peter, John, and Paul with various colors, as I can see by the inscriptions written on each of the images which falsely bare the name [image]. The inscriptions have been written under the influence of the painter’s insanity and according to his [twisted] way of thinking. And first of all, as for those who believe they are honoring the apostles by doing such things, let them realize that, instead of honoring the apostles, they are dishonoring them even more, for Paul insulted him who was falsely called “priest,” and Paul called him “white-washed wall” [wall covered with plaster, Acts 23: 3]. So then, with virtue, let us put their commandments in the place of their images. But you will say, “We contemplate their images in memory of their external forms.” So then, where do you get the order to do such things? We have already accused such men of working in vain, carried away by ignorance.

For we know, says John, that “when he appears, we will be like him” (1 Jn 3: 2), and Paul has proclaimed that the saints will be likened to the form of the Son of God25. (Rm 8: 29) How then do you want to see the saints, who are going to shine in glory, represented in something vile, dead, and voiceless since the Lord said of them, “They will be like the angels of God”? (Mt 22: 30)

But I say that the angels do not either want to have people prostrate themselves in front of them. “Be sure not to do that! I am a servant like you and like your brothers who are witnesses for Jesus.” John says, “Prostrate yourself only in front of God.” (Rv 22: 9)

On the subject of angels, the fathers who gathered at Laodicea spoke precisely on this question. “If anyone abandons the Church of God and invokes angels, let him be anathema because he has abandoned our Lord Jesus Christ and has given himself to idolatry.26

Again, how can you prostrate yourselves in front of angels, who are spiritual, ever-living beings; how can you draw their images in dead matter since the prophet said, “He who made his angels spirits and his servants flames of fire”? (Ps 103: 4)

Such a person [the artist] must answer, from his own knowledge, where did the idea come from to represent on the image of the archangel his bones and nerves so well adjusted to each other.

But neither did the apostles want to have people prostrate themselves in front of them when they were sent out to evangelize. They did not want people to prostrate themselves in front of them, but in front of Christ who had sent them, for he who had received from Christ the power to bind and to loose on earth and in heaven [Peter] said to Cornelius, “I am a man standing in front of you who has feelings like you,” and he taught him not to prostrate himself in front of him but in front of Christ the Savior. (Ac 10: 26)

I have heard it said that some people have ordered that the incomprehensible Son of God be represented: to hear and believe such a blasphemy makes one shiver.

How can anyone say that God, incomprehensible, inexpressible, ungraspable by the mind, and uncircumscribable, can be represented, him whom Moses could not look at?

Some people say that since the Word of God became perfect man born from the ever-virgin Mary, we can represent him as man.

Did the Word become flesh so that you could represent by your hand the Incomprehensible One by whom all things were made?

So then, is not Christ similar to the Father and does he not give life to the dead?

During his time on earth, when did Christ ever give the order to make an image of his likeness, to prostrate oneself in front of it, and to look at it? The order itself27 comes from the Evil One so as to dishonor God.

People should therefore prostrate themselves in front of Him who lives, as it is said, “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4: 24)

May the gangrene not spread. For God, in all the Old Testament and the New Testament, suppressed these things, saying exactly, “You will prostrate yourself in front of the Lord, and you will worship him alone.” (Mt 4: 10) And again, “By my life, says the Lord, every knee will bend before me…” (Rm 14: 10) We cannot serve two masters, one who is living and the other dead. For damned, he says, is the man who worships a creature instead of the Creator, for He contains all things and is contained by none.

2.1.3 The Dogmatic Letter^28^

Should we place the Dogmatic Letter in the third or fifth position, before or after the Letter to Theodosius? It is difficult to decide, but if, again, we follow the chronology of those who accept the authenticity of the documents, it seems more logically satisfying to put it in the third position. The incident of the door curtain (the Post-Scriptum written in 393) provoked the theoretical justification of the Treatise, written in 394 and was quickly followed by the Dogmatic Letter, also written in 394.

If anyone busies himself with representing the divine features of the Word of God in the incarnation with material colors, “let him be anathema.”

2.1.4 Letter of Epiphanius, Bishop of the Cypriots, to the Emperor Theodosius

Since the Emperor Theodosius died in January 395, the Letter to Theodosius must be placed in 394, if it is authentic.

By his evil cleverness, the devil introduced idolatry into the world where he sowed it, established it on a firm foundation, and turned men far away from God. Now again, after the heresies and the idols, he is leading the faithful back into the old idolatry and is seducing them. In your piety and the wisdom that God has given you, you will reflect on this, and you will search even in the depths of [your heart] to see if it is right for us to have God painted with colors. Who has ever heard of such a thing?

[Nicephorus comments on a section of the Letter:] (In the Letter, he [Epiphanius] adds that from his early childhood, he himself followed the same faith as the Fathers of Nicaea, just like his parents who were conceived29 in the same confession and who held fast to it.) Since the faith is forever, has been protected in the past by a small number of people, has been confessed because of the false doctrine of Arius by the Ecumenical Council of our holy fathers the bishops in the city of Nicaea, here is [that faith] as it was confessed and signed by the 318 bishops who did not proclaim a new faith, but proclaimed the one that has been forever. Following them, we also—like sons from our earliest childhood—as well as our parents who were conceived in this faith, we confess the same faith and hold it firmly like you too, O very pious Emperor. Here then is that faith:

“We believe in one, single God, the Almighty Father [the rest of the creed…]

[Nicephorus of Constantinople quotes the Letter to Theodosius and comments on it:] (First of all, Epiphanius confessed that laughter and mockery spread throughout the assembly because of his vain blabbering, and then he added…) I have often advised those who are reputed to be wise—bishops, doctors, and concelebrants—to take down those things. Not everyone paid attention to me, actually only a few.

Who has ever heard of this? Who among the ancient fathers has painted an image of Christ in a church or placed it in his own house? Who among the ancient bishops has painted Christ on door curtains, dishonoring him in this way? And who has ever painted on door curtains or on walls Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the other prophets and patriarchs, or Peter, Andrew, James, John, Paul, or the other apostles? Who has ever dishonored them this way and exposed them to public ridicule30?

Do you not see, O Emperor beloved of God, that these works are not proper for God? This is why I pray you, O very pious Emperor and enemy of evil, to reject every error by the zeal for God which is truly in you and by your unshakable law which also sets punishments. If it is possible—I believe that by God you can do it if you want—[I pray you] to collect all those lying door curtains, wherever they exist, even if they show the images of the apostles, prophets, the Lord Christ himself. [I pray you again to take them out of] churches, baptisteries, houses, and martyrs chapels, and to use them for burying the poor. I pray you to whitewash the images painted in colors on walls. As for the mosaic images that people are hoping to make—because it is difficult to remove them—you will know what to command according to the wisdom God has given you. If it is possible to remove these things, that will be very good. If, on the other hand, it is impossible, people should be happy with the mosaics that have already been put up, but not to make any more. In fact, our fathers drew nothing other than the sign of Christ, the cross, on walls and that, everywhere.

At the same time, on the basis of their own conceptions, they lie, those who represent the physical characteristics of the saints in various ways. Sometimes they paint them old; sometimes they paint the same people young. As for these forms, they [the artists] have adopted them as their own without ever having seen them. For example, they represent the Savior with long hair, following their imagination, because he was called a Nazirite. Now the Nazirites did have long hair, but the artists lie when they try to associate the types with the Lord, for the Savior drank wine and the Nazirites did not.

Indeed these thinkers lie because they make images according to their own ways of thinking. They draw the holy apostle Peter like an old man, his hair and beard cut short. Others represent St. Paul a little bald on the front of his head while others represent him bald and with a beard. Other disciples simply have short hair.

So, if the Savior had long hair while the disciples had short hair—if he did not have short hair and did not have the same appearance as the disciples—why did the Pharisees and the Scribes have to give 30 pieces of silver to Judas to show them, by kissing Jesus, that he was the one they were looking for? Could they not themselves, as well as others, recognize the one they were looking for by his long hair? Then they would not have had to pay money to have him pointed out.

[Nicephorus of Constantinople comments:] (So therefore, if they [the iconoclasts] who accept the horrible thinking contained in this letter maintain their position, they will also have to follow the other absurdities that it contains: like allowing people to fast up to the ninth hour on Saturdays not only during Lent but also all the rest of the year.

Concerning the final paragraph of the Letter to Theodosius, St. Nicephorus, Holl, Ostrogorsky, and Thümmel have all included this fragment in their reconstruction of the Letter. They have also commented on its content, but Hennephof does not include it in his collection of texts. The fragment is found in St. Nicephorus’s refutation where he does not quote the Letter word for word but seems to give a summary of other points in the text that he had in front of him. Hennephof did not include these sentences probably because they are not really a quotation of the Letter to Theodosius. The summary is, however, important because it shows that the Letter to Theodosius contained other points than those quoted here. We have chosen to include the fragment.

2.1.5 The Will of Epiphanius Addressed to the Members of His Church

So, according to the scenario of those who believe in Epiphanius’s iconophobia, he arrived at the end of his life disappointed that hardly anyone had paid attention to him on the question of images. He therefore prepared a final message to his flock in the form of a will. It would have been written somewhat before his death in 403.

Be very careful and stand firm in the traditions that you have received, turning neither to the right nor to the left.

And on this subject, remember, my beloved children, not to put up images in churches or in cemeteries of the saints, but through remembering, always keep God in your hearts, but not in a common house31 [residence?]. For it is not permitted for a Christian to become distracted through the eyes or by the agitation of the mind, but all of you, inscribe and chisel the things of God in your innermost parts.

2.2 A General Portrait of Epiphanius of Salamis as He is Presented in the Iconophobic Documents

According to the preceding documents, Epiphanius the iconophobe believed the following:

1. No Christian has ever prostrated himself in front of an object made by men’s hands.

2. To paint the images of holy people and to prostrate oneself in front of them dishonors these people.

3. The Fathers drew only the cross.

4. The commandment to paint images and to prostrate oneself in front of them comes from the devil.

5. The insanity and perverse imagination of Christian artists are the cause of the production of Christian images.

6. Christians should reproduce in their hearts the virtues and the commandments of Christ and the saints.

7. In the Old and New Testaments, God forbids his people to produce images and to prostrate oneself in front of them.

8. To prostrate oneself in front of angels and the apostles is to misdirect the worship which is meant only for God.

9. The devil invented idolatry, seduced men through it, and, once it had been destroyed among Christians, reintroduced it among Christians.

10. Christians should not let their eyes be distracted or their minds wander by looking at images.



3.1 The Timeline of the Byzantine Controversy

At the beginning of the iconoclastic crisis in the eighth century, the iconoclasts started to quote documents which they attributed to St. Epiphanius of Salamis, the great doctor of orthodoxy and fearless fighter against heresies. Naturally, the iconodules immediately recognized the importance of these documents, for if these texts were authentic and if the great doctor of orthodoxy really had a radical, iconophobic attitude toward Christian images, they would be in serious difficulty in their struggle against the arguments set forth by the iconoclasts.

1. Before 730: Some iconophobic documents attributed to St. Epiphanius were in circulation.

2. Around 730: St. John of Damascus was the first to bear witness to the fact that the iconoclasts were quoting iconophobic documents which they attributed to St. Epiphanius. Certain documents, probably the Post-Scriptum and maybe the Treatise, were already in circulation. In his commentaries, St. John did not actually quote any of them but reacted to the affirmations of the iconoclasts.

3. 754: The iconoclastic Council of Hiereia quoted the Will as proof of the iconophobic attitude of St. Epiphanius and claimed that there were also other documents. We only have these quotations thanks to the Council of Nicaea II which quoted Hiereia in order to refute its arguments.

4. 787: Some 30 years after the Council of Hiereia, the Seventh Ecumenical Council took place in Nicaea. It mentioned the Letter to Theodosius as well as “little statements that are flying around against the venerable images…” without naming them specifically.

5. 792: Only five years after the Council of Nicaea II, at the other end of Europe, Charlemagne published the Libri Carolini in which we find the Latin translation, supposedly made by St. Jerome, of the Post-Scriptum of the Letter to Theodosius.

6. 815: The iconoclastic Council of St. Sophia of Constantinople32 quoted four of the five documents attributed to St. Epiphanius. These are found in a long list of patristic texts put forth by the iconoclastic bishops of the Council of St. Sophia to bolster their case.

7. 815-820: The second to last moment in the Byzantine controversy concerns Patriarch Nicephorus himself. While he was in prison between 815 and 820, he wrote two works to combat the claimed authenticity of the iconophobic documents, in particular, and iconoclasm, in general: Refutation and Destruction of the Arguments of Eusebius and Epiphanides and Refutation and Destruction of the Decree of the Council of 815.

8. 820: St. Theodore Studite33 wrote three treatises, like St. John of Damascus, to defend images in the Church.

9. 825: The Carolingian Synod of Paris quoted the Post-Scriptum of the Letter to John of Jerusalem—naturally the Latin version34.

Summary of the Timeline of the Byzantine Controversy

1. Before 730: Iconophobic documents circulated

2. Around 730: St. John of Damascus

3. 754: Iconoclastic Council of Hiereia

4. 787: Nicaea II

5. 792: Libri Carolini

6. 815: Iconoclastic Council of St. Sophia

7. 815-820: St. Nicephorus of Constantinople

8. 820: St. Theodore Studite

9. 825: Carolingian Synod of Paris

3.2 The Arguments of Byzantine Authors against the Authenticity of the Iconophobic Documents Attributed to Epiphanius, in Chronological Order

3.2.1St. John of Damascus

St. John opened the Byzantine controversy, from the literary point of view, by answering the affirmations of the iconoclasts on the subject of the iconophobic documents attributed to St. Epiphanius. His answer has four points.

1. Probably basing himself in part on the Life of St. Epiphanius, chapter 132, St. John claims that the disciples of St. Epiphanius decorated the churches of Cyprus with images, even Epiphanius’s own church.

2. St. John accuses the iconoclasts of having falsified an authentic work of St. Epiphanius or simply invented the Will. According to St. John, such forgeries were very common at the time.

3. St. John admits that if the Will is authentic, it should not be interpreted as a prohibition or a refusal in principle of Christian images, but rather as a disciplinary measure intended to correct an abuse.

4. And even if the Will is authentic and St. Epiphanius did in fact forbid images in churches to correct an abuse and not to eliminate idols, his opinion in and of itself cannot change the Tradition of the Church. St. John concludes that St. Epiphanius did not say that Christian images are idols.

3.2.2 The Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787

1. The first argument put forward says that in the Panarion, Epiphanius’s book which enumerates all the heresies (80 in all), published around 377, he mentions nothing indicating that Christian images are a heresy. Therefore, he did not believe that they were heretical.

2. Then, the council affirms that the Church never accepted the opinion expressed in the documents, that is, that the production and the veneration of Christian images violate the 2nd Commandment. As a corollary of the second argument, the Fathers of the council declare that the contemporaries of St. Epiphanius themselves never accepted such an opinion.

3. The Council affirms that, in contrast to all the works of St. Epiphanius that the Church has received with joy, these documents have not been found anywhere before iconoclasm.

3.2.3 St. Nicephorus of Constantinople, between 815 and 820

See below the section “Summary of the arguments of St. Nicephorus…”

3.2.4 St. Theodore Studite restates two arguments already presented.

1. The iconoclasts falsified the authentic works of St. Epiphanius, a widespread practice at the time.

2. There have always been images in the churches of Cyprus, something that would be impossible if St. Epiphanius had really been opposed in principle to Christian images.

3.2.5 Summary of the arguments of St. Nicephorus against authenticity, as presented in the Refutation and Destruction of the Arguments of Eusebius and Epiphanides, Stupidly Put forward against the Incarnation of Christ Our Savior^35^

In this section, we present a summary, chapter by chapter, of the arguments put forward by Nicephorus in his work against the authenticity of the iconophobic documents.

I. Introduction: Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

According to Nicephorus, the heretics, as they so often do, falsify the works of the Fathers to bolster their own doctrine, and, even if the iconophobic documents carry the name of Epiphanius, they are forgeries because they contain Docetic and Manichaean ideas which are not those of Epiphanius. The iconoclasts thus falsified the Will attributed to St. Epiphanius.

Chapter 2

Nicephorus gives a summary of the arguments he is going to develop.

Chapter 3

Nicephorus tells the story of the Metropolitan of Sardis who claimed to have seen documents containing heretical doctrines, and in these documents someone had changed the author’s name from Epiphanidou to Epiphanou, by clumsily erasing the letter d. Nicephorus therefore concludes that the real author of the iconophobic documents is called Epiphanides36.


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Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm? Deconstruction of a Myth

St. Epiphanius of Salamis lived in Cyprus during the 4th century. He is a Father of the Church known for his determined fight against heresy. And yet, five texts denouncing any use of images have been attributed to him. On the basis of these documents, he has been given, by some, the title of forerunner of the 8th-century Iconoclasm. He is supposed to have thought that any form of image veneration, however Christian the image may be, is a form of idolatry. In agreement with the Jewish religion, as some think, he is also said to have interpreted the 2nd Commandment as an absolute prohibition of any kind of image. In the eyes of some, he was the last witness of a primitive Christianity, aniconic and iconophobic. However, there exist numerous contradictions between the doctrine of these five iconophobic documents and that of the incontestably authentic works of St. Epiphanius. Is the Christian iconographic tradition a simple adaptation of figurative art by early Christians, in agreement with the Gospel and the faith of the Apostles, or is it a form of corruption of their pure, aniconic and iconophobic faith? The question of the authenticity of the five texts attributed to St. Epiphanius is therefore central. Only a full investigation of the five texts can decide the question. This book claims to have carried out exactly that kind of research, and the conclusion is that the iconophobic documents attributed to St. Epiphanius of Salamis are either forgeries or have been wrongly interpreted.

  • Author: Steven Bigham
  • Published: 2015-12-29 19:05:08
  • Words: 57460
Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm? Deconstruction of a Myth Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm? Deconstruction of a Myth