Against Cainites (St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, 403)

NOTE: This article is taken from The Panarion, Anacephelaeosis III, 38, written ca. 374-377:

Cain and Abel. Envy is the mother of murder.
Cain and Abel. Envy is the mother of murder.


Certain persons are called Cainites because they have taken the name of their sect from Cain. For these people praise Cain and count him as their father—since they too, in a manner of speaking, are being driven by a different surge of waves without being outside of the same swell and surf; and are peering out of thorny undergrowth, without being outside of the whole heap of thorns even though they differ in name. For there are many kinds of thorn, but the painfulness of being pricked by thorns is in them all.

Cainites say that Cain is the scion of the stronger power and the authority above; so, moreover, are Esau, Korah and his companions, and the Sodomites. But Abel is the scion of the weaker power. < They acknowledge > all of these as worthy of their praise and kin to themselves. For take pride in their kinship with Cain, the Sodomites, Esau and Korah. And these, they say, represent the perfect knowledge from on high. Therefore, they say, though the maker of this world made it his business to destroy them, he could do them no harm; they were hidden from him and translated to the aeon on high, from which the stronger power comes. For Wisdom allowed them to approach her because they were her own.

And they say that because of this Judas had found out all about them. For they claim him too as kin and regard him as possessed of superior knowledge, so that they even cite a short work in his name which they call a Gospel of Judas. And they likewise forge certain other works against “Womb.” They call this “Womb” the maker of this entire vault of heaven and earth and say, as Carpocrates does, that no one will be saved unless they progress through all (possible) acts.

First page of the Gospel of Judas (Page 33 of Codex Tchacos).
First page of the Gospel of Judas (Page 33 of Codex Tchacos).


For while each of them is doing some unspeakable thing supposedly with this excuse, performing obscenities and committing every sin there is, he invokes the name of each angel—both real angels, and the ones they fictitiously call angels. And he attributes some wicked commission of every sin on earth to each of them, by offering his own action in the name of whichever angel he wishes. And whenever they do these things they say, “This or that angel, I am performing thy work. This or that authority, I am doing thy deed.” And this is what they call perfect “knowledge,” since, if you please, they have taken their cue for venturing without fear on wicked obscenities from the mothers and fathers of sects whom we have already mentioned—I mean the Gnostics and Nicolaus, and their allies Valentinus and Carpocrates.

Further, I have now learned of a book in which they have forged certain assertions which are full of wickedness, containing such things as “This is the angel who blinded Moses. These are the angels who hid the companions of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and removed them elsewhere.’’

But again, others forge another brief work in the name of the apostle Paul, full of unspeakable abominations, which the so-called Gnostics also use, (and) which they call an Ascension of Paul—taking their cue from the apostle’s statement that he has ascended to the third heaven and heard ineffable words, which man may not speak. And these, they say, are the ineffable words.

But they teach these things and others of the sort for the sake of honoring the wicked and repudiating the good. For < they claim >, as I said, that Cain is the offspring of the stronger power and Abel of the weaker. These powers had intercourse with Eve and sired Cain and Abel; and Cain was the son of the one, Abel of the other. And < both > Adam and Eve were the offspring of powers or angels like these. And the children the powers had begotten, I mean Cain and Abel, quarreled, and the scion of the stronger power murdered the scion of the lesser and weaker.

Korah, Dathan and Abiram
Korah, Dathan and Abiram


But they too interweave the same mythology with their gift of ignorance about these same deadly poisons by advising their followers that everyone must choose the stronger power, and separate from the lesser, feeble one—that is, from the one which made heaven, the flesh and the world—and rise above it to the uttermost heights through the crucifixion of Christ. For this is why he came from above, they say, so that the stronger power might act in him by triumphing over the weaker and betraying the body. And some of them say this; others, other things. For some say that Christ was betrayed by Judas because Christ was wicked, and wanted to pervert the provisions of the Law. For they commend Cain and Judas, as I said, and they say, “This is why he has betrayed him; he intended to abolish things that had been properly taught.”

But others say, “No, he betrayed him even though he was good, in accordance with the heavenly knowledge. For the archons knew,” they say, “that if Christ were surrendered to the cross the weaker power would be drained. And when Judas found this out,” they say, “he eagerly did everything he could to betray him, performing a good work for our salvation. And we must commend him and give him the credit, since the salvation of the cross was effected for us through him, and for that reason the revelation of the things on high.”

But they are deceived in every way in not honoring or praising anyone who is good. It is obvious that these things, I mean their ignorance and deceit, have been sown in them by the devil. The scriptural words, “Woe unto them that call good evil and evil good, that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that call sweet bitter and bitter sweet,” are applicable to them. Old and New Testaments speak out in every way in denunciation of Cain’s impiety. These on the contrary, lovers < of > darkness that they are and imitators of evildoers, hate Abel but love Cain and give their praise to Judas. And they counterfeit a pernicious “knowledge” by setting up two powers, a weaker and stronger, which quarrel with each other and see to it that there can be no changing of one’s mind in the world, but of those who are born here, some are by nature derived from evil, others from goodness. They say that no one is good or bad by choice, but by nature.

Gospel of Judas, ''Kiss of Peace''


And first, let us see how the Old Testament says of Cain, “Thou art cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood at thy hand,” and again, “Thou art cursed in thy works, and shalt go sighing and trembling upon the earth.” And the Lord in the Gospel spoke of him in agreement with the Old Testament, when Jews told him, “We have God as our father.” But the Lord said to them, “Ye are sons of your father the devil, for he is a liar because his father was a liar. He was a murderer, and abode not in the truth. When he speaketh a lie he speaketh of his own, for his father was a liar also.”

And so, from hearing this said, the other sects allege that the devil is the father of the Jews, and that he has another father, and that his father in turn has a father. But they are speaking impudently and blinding their own reason. They are tracing the devil’s ancestry to the Lord of all, the God of the Jews, the Christians and all men, by saying that he is the father of the devil’s father—the God who gave the Law through Moses and has done so many wonders!

But this is not so, beloved. To begin with, the Lord himself, who cares for us in all things, < meant > Judas when he said that their father was the devil—to keep us from deviating from the plain sense with one quibble and supposition after another. He has called Judas both “Satan” and “devil” in saying to his disciples, “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” meaning, not devil by nature but devil in intent. Again, in another passage he says, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, keep those whom thou hast given me. While I was with them I kept them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition.” Once more, he says elsewhere, “The Son of Man must be betrayed as it is written of him, but woe unto him by whom he shall be betrayed. It were better for him if he had not been born,” and so on.

Hence we know from every source that he was speaking to the Jews about Judas. “For of whom a man is overcome, of the same he is brought in bondage”; and the person one trusts, him he has as his father and the author of his belief. The Lord, then, says, “Ye are sons of your father, the devil,” because they trusted Judas instead of Christ, just as Eve at the beginning turned away from God and trusted the serpent. Then, he says it because Judas was not merely a liar but a thief as well, as the Gospel says. That was why he entrusted him with the bag—so that he would be without excuse when, from greed, he delivered his master into the hands of men.

Who is Judas’ father then, the “liar before him,” but Cain, whose imitator Judas was? Lying to his brother as though in affection, Cain deceived and cajoled him with the lie, and took him out to the plain, raised his hand and killed him. Thus Judas too says, “What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?” and, “Whomsoever I kiss, that same is he; hold him fast.” And the betrayer said, “Hail, Master,” when he came, honoring him with his lips, but with his heart far removed from God.

Cain and Abel.
Cain and Abel.


Hence this Judas, who became their father in denial of God and betrayal, a Satan and devil not by nature but in intent, has himself become a son by imitation of the murderer and liar, Cain. For Cain’s “father” before him was a liar too—not Adam, but the devil—whose imitator Cain became in fratricide, hatred and falsehood, and contradicting God by saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper? I know not where he is.” (In the same way the devil says, “Doth Job fear God for nought?” to the Lord.) For since the devil himself deceived Adam and Eve with the lie, “Ye shall be as gods and shall not die,” telling an untruth and showing pretended friendship, Cain, in imitation of him, deceived his brother with a pretense of affection by saying, “Let us go out to the plain.’’

This is why St. John too said, “He that hateth his brother, the same is not made perfect in love, but is of Cain, who slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil and he envied  his brother’s, for they were good.” So these people who prefer to envy Abel with his good works but honor Cain—how can they not be convicted when the Savior expressly pronounces the severe sentence against them by saying , “Of this generation all righteous blood shall be required, from the blood of righteous Abel which was shed at the beginning unto Zacharias the prophet, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar,” and so on.

the martyrdom of St. Zacharias in the Temple
the martyrdom of St. Zacharias in the Temple


Hence Judas did not betray the Savior because of knowledge as these people say; nor are the Jews to be rewarded for crucifying the Lord, though we indeed have salvation through the cross. Judas did not betray him so that it would bring about our salvation, but from the ignorance, envy and greed of the denial of God. Even if scripture can say that Christ was to be surrendered to a cross—or even if the sacred scripture predicts the offenses that will be committed by ourselves in the last days—none of us, who commit the transgressions, can find any defense by alleging the testimony of the scripture that foretells the commission of them. We do not do these things because scripture < fore >told them, but scripture foretold them because we would do them—from God’s foreknowledge and to remove any suspicion that God, who is good and yet inflicts his wrath upon sinners, can be ruled by emotion. For God’s anger at every sinner does not stem from emotion. The Godhead is impassible and visits its wrath on men, not because it has been seized with irritation or mastered and overcome by anger. God shows his impassibility by telling us beforehand of the judgment to come and the just penalty to be exacted, to indicate the impassibility of the Godhead.

Hence scripture foretold these things, forewarning and teaching us in accordance with its foreknowledge, so that we need not encounter the implacable wrath of God—a wrath not determined by emotion and not the result of mastery by it, but which has been prepared beforehand, with entire justice, for men who commit sin and do not truly repent.

A 16th-century fresco depicting Judas being paid the thirty pieces of silver.
A 16th-century fresco depicting Judas being paid the thirty pieces of silver.


So also with the cross. It was not because sacred scripture said they would that the Jews crucified the Savior and Judas betrayed him; but because Judas would betray, and the Jews crucify him, sacred scripture foretold this in the Old Testament and the Lord in the Gospel. Hence Judas did not betray the Lord—as the Cainites say he did—in awareness of the benefit that would come to the world. He betrayed him knowing that he was his master, but not knowing that he would be the world’s salvation. How could he be the one who saw to men’s salvation, the man who heard “son of perdition” from the Savior himself; “Better for that man if he had not been born”; “Friend, do that for which thou art come”; “One of you shall betray me”; “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me”; (here the Gospel quotes an earlier text from the Psalter); and, “Woe unto him by whom the Son of Man is betrayed?”

For Judas himself made the whole truth about himself apparent; and even < of > himself, though unwillingly, he exposed the stupidity of those who praise him, by repenting later after getting the thirty pieces of silver as his price, and returning the money as though he had done something bad—bad for himself, and bad for the executioners as well. But to do good of himself, for us and for the world, the Lord has surrendered himself to become our salvation.

Hence we do not thank the betrayer, Judas, but the merciful Savior who laid down his life for us—for his own sheep, as he himself said. If Judas thought he had done a good thing, why did he later say, “I repent that I have betrayed innocent blood,” and return the money? As it was written of him in the prophets, “And he returned the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued of the children of Israel.” And again, in another prophet, “If ye deem proper, give me my price, or forbear.” And again, in another prophet, “And they gave the silver, the price of him that was valued, and he said, Cast it into the refiner’s furnace, and see whether it be proved, as I was proved of the children of Israel.”

Judas Iscariot, the one who is to betray Jesus to the High Priests, is depicted reaching across the table to dip into the dish.
Judas Iscariot, the one who is to betray Jesus to the High Priests, is depicted reaching across the table to dip into the dish.


And how many points can be gathered from the sacred scripture about the prophecies which have been fulfilled in our Lord—not concerning Judas’ work for good, but concerning the delivery for us, not of necessity but of his free choice, of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the provision of the cross for our salvation! But I know I am stringing the texts out too long—as one more prophet says, “Let his habitation be desolate, and his bishopric let another take,” < meaning that Judas died badly >. Thus the apostles made Matthias one of them in his stead, saying “from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”  And which “place” but the one the Savior had designated for him by saying that he was a “son of perdition?” For this “place of perdition” was reserved for him where he obtained a portion instead of a portion and, instead of apostolic office, the place of perdition.

But I think enough has been said about this, beloved. Let us go on again to another to expose once more the obscure, savage, poisonous teachings of the members of the remaining sects who, to the world’s harm, have gotten cracked by the bogus inspiration of the devil. After exposing the opinion of such people who yearn for the worst—an opinion that resembles poisonous dung beetles—and crushing it by God’s power because of its harmfulness, let us call on God for aid, sons of Christ, as we set our minds to the investigation of the others.

Judas Iscariot from Tarzhishte Monastery, Strupets, Bulgaria, 16th-century fresco
Judas Iscariot from Tarzhishte Monastery, Strupets, Bulgaria, 16th-century fresco

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