May 12, 2012

The Rocky Relationship Between John Chrysostom and Epiphanios of Salamis

By John Sanidopoulos

When St. John Chrysostom was Patriarch of Constantinople he became involved in the Origenistic controversies. The object in dispute was the orthodoxy of the great Origen, which long after his death was violently defended and as violently assailed.

Theophilus of Alexandria, an able and vigorous but domineering, contentious and unscrupulous prelate, was at first an admirer of Origen, but afterwards in consequence of a personal quarrel joined the opponents, condemned his memory and banished the Origenistic monks from Egypt. Some fifty of them, including the four “Tall Brethren,” so-called on account of their extraordinary stature, fled to Constantinople and were hospitably received by Chrysostom (401). He had no sympathy with the philosophical speculations of Origen, but appreciated his great merits, and felt that injustice was done to the persecuted monks. He interceded in their behalf with Theophilus, who replied with indignant remonstrance against protecting heretics and interfering in another diocese.

Theophilus, long desirous of overthrowing Chrysostom, whom he had reluctantly consecrated, set every instrument in motion to take revenge. He sent the octogenarian bishop Epiphanios of Salamis, a well-meaning and learned zealot for orthodoxy, to Constantinople, as a tool of his hierarchical plans (402). Socrates Scholasticus, the historian and a defender of Origen, admits that it was due to Epiphanios' simple mindedness that he became a tool of Theophilus. The historian Sozomen further tells us: "Epiphanios had long regarded the writings of Origen with peculiar aversion, and was therefore easily led to attach credit to ... Theophilus."

While in Constantinople Epiphanios ordained a deacon, without the permission of Chrysostom and contrary to canon law. He also refused Chrysostom's hospitality to remain at the episcopal palace. According to Socrates: "He [Epiphanios], however, replied that he would neither stay nor pray with him, unless he would expel Dioscorus and his brethren from the city, and with his own hand subscribe the condemnation of Origen's books." John's position was that "nothing ought to be done rashly before investigation by a general council". This led Epiphanios to condemn Chrysostom's behavior towards the Origenists, and prompted Chrysostom to write the following letter to Epiphanios:

You do many things contrary to the canons, Epiphanios. In the first place you have made an ordination in the churches under my jurisdiction: then without my appointment, you have on your own authority officiated in them. Moreover, when heretofore I invited you hither, you refused to come, and now you take that liberty yourself. Beware therefore, lest a tumult being excited among the people, you yourself should also incur danger therefrom.

Socrates then informs us of the following shocking details, which took place in 403:

Epiphanios becoming alarmed on hearing these admonitions, left the church; and after accusing John of many things, he set out on his return to Cyprus. Some say that when he was about to depart, he said to John, "I hope that you will not die a bishop": to which John replied, "Expect not to arrive at your own country." I cannot be sure that those who reported these things to me spoke the truth; but nevertheless the event was in the case of both as prophesied above. For Epiphanios did not reach Cyprus, having died on board the ship during his voyage; and John a short time afterwards was driven from his see, as we shall show in proceeding.

However, Sozomen reports further details that show a certain repentance on the part of Epiphanios. He says that Epiphanios met with the Tall Brothers, who asked Epiphanios why he considers them heretics and if he had ever read their books on the disputed subject. Epiphanios replied that he had not. The Tall Brothers then went on to speak of their admiration for Epiphanios and his writings, which they read and defended, and asked for a fair appraisal of their writings as well. This led Epiphanios to have a change of heart and Sozomen tells us that it was for this reason he decided to abandon hs plans in Constantinople and leave again for Cyprus.

Sozomen then tells us:

Soon after he [Epiphanios] embarked for Cyprus, either because he recognized the futility of his journey to Constantinople, or because, as there is reason to believe, God had revealed to him his approaching death; for he died while on his voyage back to Cyprus. It is reported that he said to the bishops who had accompanied him to the place of embarkation, "I leave you the city, the palace, and the stage, for I shall shortly depart." I have been informed by several persons that John predicted that Epiphanios would die at sea, and that this latter predicted the deposition of John. For it appears that when the dispute between them was at its height, Epiphanios said to John, "I hope you will not die a bishop", and that John replied, "I hope you will never return to your bishopric".

Whether these last words recorded by both Socrates and Sozomen are true or not is debateable, since they are based on hearsay. But we are sure of the conflict between these two great saints of the Church, who it seems died unreconciled on this issue of conflict, but are still recognized by the Church throughout history, even by their contemporaries, as holy men of God who defended the Faith with the right intentions. Perhaps they both were right on certain issues, and both were wrong in areas as well. Of course, Epiphanios was an extremist, whose anti-Origenism went so far as to condemn icons in churches. Perhaps Chrysostom was also an extremist for not condemning certain works of Origen which indeed showed heresy. Many profitable lessons can be learned from this dispute, and the avoidance of extremes may be the most clear one.