St. Epiphanius, Archbishop of Salamis, Confessor

Author: Alban Butler


Feast: May 12

From his works, Socrates, Sozomen, and St. Jerome. See Tillemont. t. 9. Ceillier, t. 8, and La Vie de S. Epiphane, avec l'Analyse des Ouvrages de ce Saint, et son Apologie, in 410. Paris, 1738, by M. Gervaise, formerly abbot of La Trappe.

St. 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 St. 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 labors 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 labor; 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.

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 St. 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. St. 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 St. Hilarion's life, places the departure of that great saint out of Palestine. St. Jerome 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 St. Hilarion to demand Epiphanius for their bishop, and this latter consecrated his pen after the death of St. 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, St. 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.1 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.2

St. Epiphanius in his monastery was the oracle of Palestine and the neighboring 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 favor 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. St. 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 endeavor the conversion of Vitalis the Apollinarist bishop; and in 382, he accompanied St. Paulinus from that City to Rome, where they lodged at the Louse of St. Paula; our saint in return entertained her afterwards 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 Jerome to separate himself from his communion, unless he publicly purged himself. He also ordained, by compulsion, Paulinian, the brother of St. Jerome, 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 clamors 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 honor in Cyprus, where they placed his and many other pious pictures, (Conc., t. 7, p. 447) Sozomen testifies that God honored his tomb with miracles, (b.7 ch. 27.) St. Austin, St. Ephrem, St. John Damascen, Photius, and others. called him a Catholic doctor, an admirable man, and one filled with the spirit of God.


1 S. Epiph Haer. 73, c. 23, 27.

2 S. Jerome L. 2, In Rufin c. 6, et ep; S. Epiph Haer. 64.

(Taken from Vol. V of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company)