Epiphanius, Letter to Jerome

Translation by Andrew S. Jacobs

This brief letter from Epiphanius, bishop of Constantia on Cyprus, to Jerome, a monk and priest residing in Bethlehem, is one of the few surviving pieces of the bishop’s correspondence. It survives in a Latin translation presumably executed by Jerome himself. Jerome had, a few years earlier, translated another letter by Epiphanius to John of Jerusalem (available here). Given the pushback he received for freely adapting Epiphanius’s Greek into Latin we may assume this later translation more accurately reflects Epiphanius’s original Greek style.

This letter, contained in Jerome’s collected correspondence as Epistula 91, is a cover letter for a short synodical letter from Theophilus detailing the publicly affirmed charges against the writings of Origen. (Jerome also translated that synodical letter; it is Epistula 92 in his correspondence). Epiphanius’s tone here is light and jovial; he had, at this point, been Jerome’s friend and colleague for almost twenty years. The tone is also distinctly gleeful, as Epiphanius anticipates the successful conclusion of a decades-long crusade against Origen and Origenism.

Entangled in Theophilus’s network of professional grudges, Epiphanius would sail three years later to Constantinople to confront the bishop, John Chrysostom, who was sheltering “Origenist” opponents of Theophilus. After a painful confrontation with John, Epiphanius would sail home but die on board ship. This letter, then, may be his last extant piece of writing.

I have translated from the text of the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, part 2, vol. 55, ed. Isidore Hilberg and updated in 1996.

You may link to, share, or reproduce this translation with attribution. You may not make any commercial use of this work. Any suggestions for corrections or additions to the text or annotations are more than welcome: andrew [at] andrewjacobs [dot] org.

Letter of Epiphanius to Jerome

To my most beloved Lord, my son and brother Jerome, priest, and to all the brothers who dwell with you in the monastery, from Epiphanius: greetings in the Lord.

A general letter, which was written to all the orthodox, Jerome uses catholicos here, a word which Epiphanius never used in his extant Greek texts as a substantive noun, except when quoting others. I think it more likely the original Greek had his more common ὀρθόδοξοi (orthodoxoi). belongs to you especially since you possess a zealous faith against all heresies, but you especially oppose that of Origen and the disciples of Apollinarius; Apollinarius of Laodicea’s teaching that Christ lacked a human soul was condemned at the Council of Constantinople. their poisonous roots and impiety planted deep down Almighty God has drawn out into our midst so that, once exposed in Alexandria, they might wither away throughout the whole world. Know well, dearest child, that Amalek has been annihilated down to the root and the trophy of the cross has been raised up on Mount Rephidim (cf. Exod 17:8-16). Just as Israel conquered while the hands of Moses were extended up high so too the Lord greatly strengthened the one enslaved to him, Theophilus, so that he might post over the altar of the church of Alexandria a banner against Origen and that saying might be fulfilled in him: “write this sign, that I shall utterly annihilate Origen’s heresy from the face of the earth and Amalek with him” (Exod 17:14).

So that I might not seem to repeat myself again and compose a very wordy letter, I have sent you the text itself so that you might know what he wrote to us and what great goodness the Lord has granted to me in my final years: that it is proven by the witness of the archbishop pontificis testimonio what I have been shouting about forever. At this point, Epiphanius had been writing against Origenism for nearly a quarter-century and probably preaching about it even longer. Now I think you have already published some work and that, along the lines of my earlier letter, in which I was encouraging you over this matter, you have completed books which people who speak your language might read. For I hear also that a shipwreck of certain people has arrived in the West, Metaphors of ships and ship-wrecks are common in Epiphanius’s work, as in his earliest extant treatise Ancoratus or “Well-Anchored Treatise.” Epiphanius may be referring here to Rufinus, Jerome’s erstwhile friend who had returned from his monastery in Jerusalem to Aquileia; there, in 397, he published a redacted translation of Origen’s On First Principles that drew Jerome once more into conflict with him. people who, not satisfied with their own ruin, want to have many share in their death, as if a multitude of sinners might divvy up an act of wickedness and a greater flame in hell would not rise up from their numerous pieces of kindling!

We send many greetings with you and through you to the holy brothers who serve the Lord with you in the monastery.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License