EPIPHANIUS ON THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY

In this post I shall share Epiphanius’ somewhat lengthy comment where he alludes to the blessed Mother’s assumption by likening her to Elijah, in the context of condemning a heretical group called the Collyridians who had deified Mary and offered sacrificed to her as a goddess. The readers will further see how Epiphanius also spoke out against there being female bishops and priests governing the Church.

3,1 But I shall also go on to the New Testament as well. If it were ordained by God that women should offer sacrifice or have any canonical function in the church, Mary herself, if anyone, should have functioned as a priest in the New Testament. She was counted worthy to bear the king of all in her own womb, the heavenly God, the Son of God. Her womb became a temple, and by God’s kindness and an awesome mystery was prepared to be the dwelling place of the Lord’s human nature. But it was not God’s pleasure [that she be a priest]. (2) She was not even entrusted with the administration of baptism—for Christ could have been baptized by her rather than by John. But John the son of Zacharias dwelt in the wilderness entrusted with baptism for the remission of sins, while his father offered sacrifice to God and saw a vision at the time of the offering of incense.

3,3 Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas, Thaddaeus, James the son of Alphaeus, Judas the son of James and Simon the Zealot, and Matthias who was chosen to make up the number of the Twelve—all these were chosen to be apostles and “offer the Gospel”3 < throughout > the world, together with Paul, Barnabas and the rest, and with James, the Lord’s brother and the bishop of Jerusalem, [they were chosen] to preside over mysteries.

3,4 Successors to the episcopate and presbyterate in the household of God were appointed by this bishop and these apostles, and nowhere was a woman appointed. (5) Scripture says, “Philip the evangelist had four daughters which did prophesy,”4 but they were certainly not priests. And “Anna the daughter of Phanuel was a prophetess,”5 but not entrusted with the priesthood. For the words, “Your sons shall prophesy, and your daughters shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions,”6 required fulfillment.

3,6 <It is plain> too that there is an order of deaconesses in the church. But this is not allowed for the practice of priesthood or any liturgical function, but for the sake of female modesty, at either the time of baptism or of the examination of some condition or trouble, and when a woman’s body may be bared, so that she will be seen not by the male priests but by the assisting female who is appointed by the priest for the occasion, to take temporary care of the woman who needs it at the time when her body is uncovered. For the ordinance of discipline and good order in the church has been well protected with understanding, by the standard of our rule. For the same reason the word of God does not allow a woman “to speak”7 in church either, or “bear rule over a man.”8 And there is a great deal that can be said about this

4,6 Yes, of course Mary’s body was holy, but she was not God. Yes, the Virgin was indeed a virgin and honored as such, but she was not given us to worship; she worships Him who, though born of her flesh, has come from heaven, from the bosom of his Father. (7) And the Gospel therefore protects us by telling us so on the occasion when the Lord himself said, “Woman, what is between me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”11 < For >to make sure that no one would suppose, because of the words, “What is between me and thee?” that the holy Virgin is anything more [than a woman], he called her “Woman” as if by prophecy, because of the schisms and sects that were to appear on earth. Otherwise some might stumble into the nonsense of the sect from excessive awe of the saint.

5,1 For what this sect has to say is complete nonsense and, as it were, an old wives’ tale. Which scripture has spoken of it? Which prophet permitted the worship of a man, let alone a woman? (2) The vessel is choice but a woman, and by nature no different [from others]. Like the bodies of the saints, however, she has been held in honor for her character and understanding. And if I should say anything more in her praise, [she is] LIKE ELIJAH, who was virgin from his mother’s womb, always remained so, AND WAS TAKEN UP AND HAS NOT SEEN DEATH. She is like John who leaned on the Lord’s breast, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”12 She is like St. Thecla; and Mary is still more honored than she, because of the providence vouchsafed her. (3) But Elijah is not to be worshiped, even though he is alive. And John is not to be worshiped, even though by his own prayer— or rather, by receiving the grace from God—he made an awesome thing of his falling asleep.13 But neither is Thecla worshiped, nor any of the saints.

For the age-old error of forgetting the living God and worshiping his creatures will not get the better of me. (4) They served and worshiped the creature more than the creator,” and “were made fools.”14 If it is not his will that angels be worshiped, how much more the woman born of Ann,15 who was given to Ann by Joachim16 and granted to her father and mother by promise, after prayer and all diligence? She was surely not born other than normally, but of a man’s seed and a woman’s womb like everyone else. (5) For even though the story and traditions of Mary say that her father Joachim was told in the wilderness, “Your wife has conceived,”17 it was not because this had come about without conjugal intercourse or a man’s seed. The angel who was sent to him predicted the coming event, so that there would be no doubt. The thing had truly happened, had already been decreed by God, and had been promised to the righteous.

6,1 And everywhere we see the scriptures saying <the same>. Isaiah predicted the things that would be realized in the Son of God and said, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.”18 (2) And as the woman who bore him was a virgin, and the name of < the > child the woman had conceived meant, “God is with us,” the prophet saw them in a vision and was compelled by the Holy Spirit to describe them, so that he would not doubt the meaning of the truth. He said, “And he went in unto the prophetess.” He was describing Gabriel’s entrance in the Gospel, who was sent by God to announce the entrance into the world of God’s only-begotten Son, and his birth of Mary. And Isaiah said, “And she conceived and bare a son. (3) And the Lord said unto me, Call his name Spoil Speedily, Ravage Fiercely. For before the child shall know how to cry Father, or Mother, he shall take the power of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria,”19 and so on.

And all of these things were still unfulfilled. But this would be realized in the Son of God, and fulfilled about 1600 years later. (sic) (4) And the prophet was seeing what would < happen > after so many generations as though it had already happened. Was it a lie, then? Never! God’s providence was announced with confidence as though it had already taken place, so that the truth would not be disbelieved, and the arrival of such an astounding, awesome event would not come to seem uncertain in the prophet’s estimation.

Was it a lie, then? Never! God’s providence was announced with confidence as though it had already taken place, so that the truth would not be disbelieved, and the arrival of such an astounding, awesome event would not come to seem uncertain in the prophet’s estimation.

6,5 Or don’t you see the very next declaration, as the holy Isaiah himself says, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so opens he not his mouth. But who can tell his generation? For his life is taken from the earth, and I shall give the evil for his grave,”20 and so on. And see how he describes the earlier events as though they came later, and explains the later ones as though they had already taken place, by saying, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.” (6) For this is said to be a past event; he didn’t say, “is led,” and the subject of Isaiah’s pronouncement had yet to be led.

But this was said to the prophet as though it had already happened. God’s revelation was unalterable. But when he went on he no longer spoke as of past events, so as not to cause an error in his own turn, but said, “His life is taken from the earth.”

He is giving the truth in the two ways, because “was led” was already done, and “is taken” was done later. Thus from its pastness you will know the truth and the sureness of God’s promise, and from its futurity you will imagine the time of the mysteries’ revelation.

7,1 And so in Mary’s case. The angel foretold what her father would receive from God on his return home—the favor her father and mother had asked in prayer, “Lo, thy wife hath conceived in her womb,”21 as a sure fulfillment, by the promise, of the faithful man’s purpose. But for some this became an occasion of error. No one in the world can be born in any but the normal human way. Only < the Son* > was fit <for this*>; nature allowed it to him alone. (2) As Maker and Master of the thing [to be made] he formed himself from a virgin as though from earth—God come from heaven, the Word who had assumed flesh from a holy Virgin.

But certainly not from a virgin who is worshiped, or to make her God, or to have us make offerings in her name, or, again, to make women priestesses after so many generations. (3) It was not God’s pleasure that this be done with Salome, or with Mary herself. He did not permit her to administer baptism or bless disciples, or tell her to rule on earth, but only to be a sacred shrine and be deemed worthy of his kingdom. (4) He did not order the woman called the mother of Rufus to advance < to* > this rank22 or the women who followed Christ from Galilee, or Martha the sister of Lazarus and [her sister] Mary, or any of the holy women who were privileged to be saved by his advent < and > who assisted him with their own possessions—or the woman of Canaan, or the woman who was healed of the issue of blood, or any woman on earth.

7,5 Again, where has this coiled serpent come from? How are its crooked counsels renewed? Mary should be honored, but the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit should be worshiped; NO ONE SHOULD WORSHIP MARY. There is no commandment to < offer > the Eucharist even to a man, < as though > to God, let alone to a woman; not even angels are allowed such glory. (6) The bad writing on the hearts of the deluded should be erased, the sliver removed from their eyes. The creature must return to its Master; Eve, with Adam, must take care to honor only God, and not be influenced by the voice of the serpent but abide by God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not eat of the tree.”23 (7) And yet the tree was not error; the disobedience of error came by the tree. Let no one eat of the error which has arisen on St. Mary’s account. Even though the tree is “lovely”24 it is not for food; and even though Mary is all fair, and is holy and held in honor, SHE IS NOT BE WORSHIPED.

3 Rom 15:16.

4 Acts 21:9. 5 Luke 2:35.

6 Joel 3:1; Acts 2:17.

7 1 Tim 2:12.  

8 1 Tim 2:12.  

9 πάλιν θήλεος. Eltester suggests that this is corrupt.

10 Job 2:10. 11  John 2:4.

12 John 13:23.

13 Cf. Act. John 108–115.

14 Rom 1:25; 22.

15 Cf. Protevangelium of James 4.1–3.

16 Cf. Protevangelium of James 4.1–3.

17 Cf. Protevangelium of James 4.2.

18 Isa 7:14.

19 Isa 8:3–4.

20 Isa 53:7; 8; 9.

21  Protevangelium of James Codex B 4.2.

22 Holl <εἰς τοῦτο>προάγειν, MSS τοῦτο ποιεῖν.

23 Gen 2:17.

24 Gen 2:9 (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis Books II and III. De Fide (Second, revised Edition), translated by Frank Williams [Brill, Leiden-Boston 2013], Volume 39, pp. 638-644 https://archive.org/details/EpiphaniusPanarionBksIIIII1; bold, capital and underline emphasis mine)

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