May 12, 2010

The "Panarion" of St. Epiphanios of Salamis

The most important work of St. Epiphanios is his Panarion. It treats 80 religious sects, either organized groups or philosophies, from the time of Adam to the latter part of the fourth century, detailing their histories, and rebutting their beliefs.

The number of sects covered in the work is based on Song of Songs 6:8-9, "There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and maidens without number. My dove, my undefiled, is but one." Epiphanios interpreted the fourscore (80) concubines as sects, who take the name of Christ without being truly matrimonial; the threescore queens as the generations from Adam to Jesus; the one dove as the true wife, the church; and the numberless virgins as all the philosophies unrelated to Christianity.

The first section of the first of the three books contains an account of 20 heretical sects before the time of Jesus; the remaining portion is occupied with the description of 60 sects of Christianity. However, the total number of sects is actually 77, because three of the first 20 are general names: Hellenism, Samaritanism, and Judaism. In the editions of the Panarion, each heresy is numbered in order; hence it is customary to quote the Panarion as follows: Epiphanius, Haer. N [the number of the heresy].