St. Epiphanius of Cyprus’ Infiltration into the Borborite Gnostic Sect (Bernard Simon)

NOTE: This article is taken from The Essence of the Gnostics, pp. 79-82:

epiphanius

   Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in AD 374-377, formulated the Panarion or ‘Medicine Chest’—which was a stock of ‘Remedies’ to offset the so-called poisons of heresy.  This work is divided into three books, comprising in all seven volumes, that deal with eighty heresies—not all of them Gnostic.  The first twenty heresies are prior to the time of Jesus and the remaining sixty deal with Christian doctrine.

Epiphanius claimed to have secretly joined a Gnostic sect [Borborites], subsequently reporting on its practises which, he claimed, included the sharing of women in sex orgies.  These rites included the practice of coitus interruptus, when semen was collected and offered to the Lord as the body of Christ, as well as the consumption of menstrual blood.  This, interestingly, has overtones of some of the fertility rites practised by pagans.

Apparently this particular sect even believed that Jesus taught these practises, and that he probably took Mary Magdalene to a mountain, removed a woman from his side, had sex with her and then drank his own sperm (with the knowledge we have today, this sounds very much like a crude variation of the creation myths).  It seems that the life of a voyeur ultimately did not appeal to Epiphanius.  He prayed, resisted and ultimately reported the members of the sect to the bishops.  Eighty of them were driven away, leaving only the writings of Epiphanius as a record.  In his reports, which deliberately set out to shock, it is possible to see the sect’s basic attempts to fuse pagan beliefs with only half-understood spiritual teachings, which makes its Gnostic status questionable.

Despite his antagonism, Epiphanius quotes from the Gospel of Eve, a text now lost, which shows Gnostic thought:

I stood upon a high mountain and saw a tall man, and another of short stature, and heard something like the sound of thunder and went nearer in order to hear.  Then he spoke to me and said: I am thou and thou art I, and wherever thou art, there am I and I am sown in all things; and whence thou wilt, thou gatherest me, but when thou gatherest me, then gatherest thyself.

However, the following quote shows Epiphanius’ lack of understanding of the Gnostic concept that there is a part of the Divine in everything:

They say that the same soul is scattered about in animals, beasts, fish, snakes, humans, trees, and products of nature.

In a further reference to ancient pagan fertility rites, semen was ritually spilt on the ground as an offering to Mother Earth in order to ensure bountiful crops.  We must therefore make the assumption that the following ritual was simply a transfer of those rites to ‘the body of Christ’:

   And the pitiful pair, having made love, then proceed to hold up their blasphemy to heaven, the woman and the man taking the secretion from the male into their own hands and standing looking up to heaven.  They hold the impurity in their hands and pray…and say ‘We offer you this gift, the body of Christ.’  And then they consume it, partaking of their shamefulness, and they say : ‘This is the body of Christ and this is the Pascha for which our bodies suffer’…When they fall into a frenzy among themselves, they soil their hands with the shame of their secretion, and rising, with defiled hands pray stark naked, as if through such an action they were able to find a hearing with God.

   Early Gnostics thought that the power of the soul was to be found in sexual body fluids, semen and menses.  Allowing semen to beget children in this world would play into the hands of the evil archon or intermediary god, so the sect would abort the foetus if a woman became pregnant by accident, thus making this entrapment impossible.  This practise is diametrically opposed to the Valentinian idea that sex was to be used to bring spiritual awareness into the world.  One cannot help but feel that Epiphanius deliberately sets out to shock his readers:

If one of them fails to anticipate the emission of the seed from the natural effluence and the woman becomes pregnant, then listen to something even more dreadful which they dare do.  Extracting the foetus at whatever time they choose to do the operation, they take the aborted infant and pound it up in mortar with a pestle, and mixing in honey and pepper and some other spices and sweet oils so as not to become nauseous, all the members of that herd of swine and dogs gather together and each partakes with his finger of the crushed-up child.

Illuminated Manuscript

See:

  1. The Gospel of Philip
  2. Epiphanius Against Heresies 26.8.2f
  3. Epiphanius, Panarion, 26.3.1
  4. Epiphanius, Panarion, 26.9.1

Borborites

According to the Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (ch. 26), and Theodoret’s Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium, the Borborites or Borborians (Greek: Βορβοριανοί; also Koddians; in Egypt, Phibionites; in other countries, Barbalites, Secundians, Socratites, etc.) were a libertine Gnostic sect, said to be descended from the Nicolaitans. The word “Borborite” comes from the Greek word Βόρβορος, meaning “mud”; thus “Borborites” could be translated as “filthy ones”.

Doctrine

The Borborites possessed certain sacred books, one called Noria (the name they gave to Noah’s wife), a Gospel of Eve, Books of Seth, Revelations of Adam, etc. They used both the Old and New Testament, but did not acknowledge the God of the Old Testament as the supreme deity.

They taught that there were eight heavens, each under a separate archon. In the seventh reigned Sabaoth, creator of heaven and earth, the God of the Jews, represented by some Borborites under the form of an ass or a hog; hence the Jewish prohibition of swine’s flesh. In the eighth heaven reigned Barbelo, the mother of the living; the Father of All, the supreme God; and Jesus Christ. They denied that Christ was born of Mary, or had a real body; and also the resurrection of the body.

The human soul after death wanders through the seven heavens, until it obtains rest with Barbelo. Man possesses a soul in common with plants and beasts. According to Augustine they taught that the soul was derived from the substance of God, and hence could not be polluted by contact with matter.

Sexual sacramentalism

Epiphanius says the Borborites were inspired by Sethianism and had as a distinct feature of their rituals elements of sexual sacramentalism, including smearing of hands with menstrual blood and semen, and consumption of the same as a variant of eucharist. They were also said to extract fetuses from pregnant women and consume them, particularly if the women accidentally became pregnant during related sexual rituals.

Epiphanius claimed to have some first-hand knowledge of the sect, and to have run away from certain Gnostic women who reproached him thus:

We have not been able to save the young man, but rather, have abandoned him to the clutches of the ruler!

—Epiphanius, Panarion, 26, 17.6

Epiphanius later reported the group to the bishops, resulting in the expulsion of around 80 people from the city of Alexandria.

As all these tellings about the Borborites come from their opponents, it is unknown if they are true or exaggerated. Stephen Gero finds them plausible and connected with earlier Gnostic myths.[1]

Barbelo

It is unlikely they would have called themselves Borborites, yet this, their alternative names, and the descriptions of their beliefs, reveals a connection to Barbelo. Some of the Gnostic scriptures have been called “Barbeloite” because of her appearance in them, such as the Apocryphon of John and Trimorphic Protennoia. The last of these seems to have undergone Sethian revision, although similar, fully Sethian texts have their own distinct perspective—maybe suggesting some Sethians were inspired by Barbeloite writings. These writings do not mention any sexual rituals, but neither any moral codes. Trimorphic Protennoia does describe the divine as a sexual being, but being a highly esoteric work leaves much to the imagination. If the Barbelognostics were libertines and these are their writings, then the unfriendly account of Epiphanius has to be contrasted with the elegant spiritual writings they produced.

Against Sethians (St. Epiphanius of Cyprus)

NOTE: This article is taken from The Panarion, Anacephelaeosis III, 39, written ca. 374-377:

Forefathers Adam, Adel, Seth
Forefathers Adam, Adel, Seth

I

“Sethians” is yet another Sect, of that name. It is not to be found everywhere, nor is the one before it, the so-called sect of “Cainites”; most of these too have probably been uprooted from the world by now. For that which is not of God will not stand; it flourishes for a while, but has no permanence at all.

I think I may have met with this sect in Egypt too—I do not precisely recall the country in which I met them. And I found out some things about it by inquiry in an actual encounter, but have learned other things from treatises.

For these Sethians proudly trace their ancestry to Seth the son of Adam, glorify him, and attribute to him whatever < is held > to be virtuous—the marks of virtue and righteousness, and anything of the kind. What is more, they even call him Christ and maintain that he is Jesus. And they give their teaching in the following form: all things, they say, are the work of angels4 and not of the power on high.

00

II

For in this regard they agree with the previous sect, the sect of the Cainites: Two men were born at the very beginning, and Cain and Abel were the sons of the two. And in quarreling about them the angels went to < war with > each other, and so brought it about that Abel was killed by Cain. For the angels’ quarrel was a struggle over the human stocks, since these two men, the one who had sired Cain and the one who had sired Abel, < were at odds with each other >. But the power on high has won, the one they call Mother and Female. For they have the idea that there are both mothers on high, and females and males, and they all but say “kindreds and patriarchies” too.

Since the so-called Mother and Female had won, finding that they had killed Abel, they say, she reflected, caused the generation of Seth, and put her power in him—planting. in him a seed of the power from above, and the spark that was sent from above for a first planting and origin of the seed. And this is the origin of righteousness, and the election of a seed and stock, so that the powers of the angels who made the world and the two primordial men would be purged by this origin and this seed. For this reason the stock of Seth is derived separately from this origin, since it is elect and distinct from the other stock.

For as time went on, they say, and the two stocks, Cain’s and Abel’s, were together, < and > had come together because of great wickedness and had intercourse, the Mother of all, who had kept watch, wanted to make the seed of men pure, as I said, since Abel had been killed. And she chose this Seth and made him pure, and planted the seed of her power and purity in him alone.

coptic-codex-with-magic-spells

III

But once more, seeing a great deal of intercourse and unruly appetition on the part of angels and men since the two breeds had come together for intercourse, and seeing that their unruliness had caused certain origins of (new) breeds, Mother and Female returned and brought the flood, and destroyed the entire human race < and > all of the opposing stock—in order that, supposedly, only the pure stock that derived from Seth and was righteous would remain in the world, for the origin of the stock from on high and the spark of righteousness.

But without her knowledge the angels in their turn slipped Ham, who, was of their seed, into the ark. For they say that of the eight persons who were saved in Noah’s then ark, seven were of the pure stock but one was Ham, who belonged to the other power and got in unknown to the Mother on high. A plan of this sort, of the angels’ contrivance, was thus carried out. For, they say, since the angels had learned that all their seed would be wiped out in the flood, they smuggled Ham in by some knavery to preserve the wicked stock they had created.

And for this reason forgetfulness and error have overtaken men, and the inordinate impulses of sins and a conglomeration of evil have arisen in the world. And thus the world reverted to its ancient state of disorder, and was as filled with evils as it had been at the beginning, before the flood. But from Seth by descent and lineage came Christ, Jesus himself, not by generation but by appearing miraculously in the world. He is Seth himself, who visited men then and now13 because he was sent from above by the Mother.

Book of Noah (Dead Sea Scroll)

IV

This is the way they say all this came about. But doctrines like these are foolish, weak and full of nonsense, as everyone can plainly see. Two men were not formed (at the beginning) but one man, Adam, and from Adam came Cain, Abel and Seth. And < the human stocks > up until the flood cannot derive from two men but must derive from one, since all the stocks have their own origins in the world < from > Adam. And in turn, every human breed since the flood derives from Noah, the one man not derive—not from different men but from one, Noah, Seth’s lineal descendant; and it is not divided into two, but is one stock. And so Noah’s wife, his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, and the three wives of his sons, are all trace their ancestry to Seth, not to the two men of the Sethians’ mythology, who never existed.

V

They compose certain books in the names of great men and say that there are seven books in Seth’s name, and give the name, “Strangers,” to other, different books. And they compose another in the name of Abraham which they call an “apocalypse” and is full of wickedness, and others in the name of Moses., and others in others’ names.

Lowering their own minds to great absurdity they say that Seth’s wife is a certain Horaia. Take a look at their stupidity, beloved, so that your will despise their melodrama, mythological nonsense and fictitious claptrap in every way. There are certain other sects which say there is a power to whom they give the name “Horaia.” Now these people say that the one whom others regard as a power and call Horaia, is Seth’s wife!

Thus we can show—as you know, beloved—both that Seth was a real man and that he got no unusual endowment from above, but was the blood brother of Cain and Abel, from one father and one mother. For scripture says, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare Cain”; and she named him Cain, meaning “acquisition,” saying, “I have acquired a son through the Lord God.” Again, in the case < of > Abel, “Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and bare a son and called his name Abel.”  And much farther on, after the death of Abel, “And Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived and bare a son, and called his name Seth,” meaning “recompense.” “For,” she said, “God hath raised up for me a seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.”  But the expression, “I have acquired through God,” and “God hath raised up for me,” show that the one God, the maker of all is also the giver of these offspring. And that Cain and Seth, at least, took wives is plain—for Abel was killed in his early youth, not yet married.

Codex 5 of the Nag Hammadi Codex contain the Apocalypse of Adam, an apparently Sethian gnostic revelation received by Adam and transmitted to Seth
Codex 5 of the Nag Hammadi Codex contain the Apocalypse of Adam, an apparently Sethian gnostic revelation received by Adam and transmitted to Seth

VI

But as we find in Jubilees which is also called “The Little Genesis,” the book even contains the names of both Cain’s and Seth’s wives, so that the persons who recite myths to the world may be put to shame in every way. For after Adam had sired sons and daughters it became necessary at that time that the boys marry their own sisters. Such a thing was not unlawful, as there was no other human stock. Indeed, in a manner of speaking Adam himself practically married his own daughter who was fashioned from his body and bones and had been formed by God in conjunction with him, and it was not unlawful. And his sons were married, Cain to the older sister, whose name was Saue; and a third son, Seth, who was born after Abel, to his sister named Azura.

And Adam had other sons too as the Little Genesis says, nine after these three, so that he had two daughters but twelve sons, one of whom was killed but eleven survived. You have the reflection of them too in the Genesis of the World, the first Book of Moses, which says, “And Adam lived 930 years, and begat sons and daughters, and died.”

inman_serp_plate_1_fig_4

VII

But when humanity had expanded and Adam’s line was growing longer, the strict practice of lawful wedlock was gradually extended. (2) And then, since Adam had had children and children’s children, and daughters were born to them in direct descent, they no longer took their own sisters in marriage. Even before the written Law given by Moses the rule of lawful wedlock was reduced to order, and they took their wives from among their cousins. And now, while humanity was expanding in this way, the two stocks were commingled—Cain’s with Seth’s and Seth’s with the other, and so were the other stocks of Adam’s sons.

Then finally, when the flood had destroyed all of mankind at once, Noah alone, who found favor with God, was preserved, because he had been found righteous in that generation. And as I said before, he prepared his ark by God’s decree, as the true scriptures tell us. The same book of the truth states that he was preserved in it, and with him the seven souls I have mentioned—I mean his own wife and three sons, and their wives, likewise three. And the truth affirms that for this reason remnants of the generation of men were again left in the world. And so, as time went on from generation to generation and with son succeeding father, the world had come to span five generations.

seven-headed-dragon

VIII

And the foundation of Babylon in Assyria took place at that time, and the tower that they built then. And, as I have already explained in the foregoing Sects with regard to the series of generations I dealt with earlier, all humanity then consisted of 72 men, who were princes and patricians—32 of Ham’s stock, 15 of Japheth’s, and 25 of Shem’s. And so the tower and Babylon were built.

After this tribes and languages were dispersed over the entire earth. And since the 72 < who > were then building the tower were scattered by the languages—because they had been confused, and < divorced > from the one language that they knew—each one, by God’s will, was infused with a different language and acquired it. The existence of the (various) languages from then until now began with them, so that < anyone who > cares to, can discover the originator of each language. For example Iovan, for whom the Ionians who possess the Greeks’ ancient speech are named, acquired Greek. Theras acquired Thracian; Mosoch, Mossynoecian; Thobel, Thessalian; Lud, Lydian; Gephar, Gasphenian; Mistrem Egyptian; Psous, Axomitian; and Armot, Arabian. And not to mention them individually, each of the rest was infused with his own tongue. And thus the continuation of every language in the world was extended.

A lion-faced deity representing Yaldabaoth, a depiction of the Demiurge in Sethianism.
A lion-faced deity representing Yaldabaoth, a depiction of the Demiurge in Sethianism.

IX

Why is it, then, that these people have told their lies, interpolating their own mythology, imagining and dreaming of unreal things as though they were real, and banishing what is real from their own minds? But the whole thing is an idea of the devil which he has engendered in human souls. It is amazing to see how he deceived man into many offenses and dragged him down to transgression, to fornication, adultery and incontinence, to the madness of idols, to sorcery and bloodshed, to rapine and insatiate greed, to trickery and gluttony, and any number of such things—but never before Christ’s coming ventured to say a blasphemous word against his own Master or meditate open rebellion. For he was awaiting Christ’s coming as he says, “It is written of thee that he shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up.” He had always heard the prophets proclaim the coming of Christ < and > that there would be a redemption of those who had sinned and yet repented through Christ, and he thought that he would obtain some mercy. But when the wretch saw that Christ had not accepted his turnabout for salvation’s sake he opened his mouth against his own Master and spewed the blasphemy out, implanting in men the suggestion that they deny their real Master and seek the one who was not real.

Now the Sethians too will be exposed in every way as victims of deception, by the following argument: Seth has died, and the years of his life are recorded. He went the way of all flesh after living for 912 years, having fathered sons and daughters as sacred scripture says. And next his son, his name was Enosh, also lived for 905 years, and departed this life after fathering sons and daughters, as the same book of the truth says.

X

Therefore if Seth died then, and his sons in succession also lived and departed this life, how will it be found that he is the Lord who was conceived of the ever-virgin Mary after consenting to human life—who was begotten at no point in time, who is always with the Father as the divine Word subsistent; but who came in the last days, fashioned flesh in his own image from a virgin womb and, having taken the human soul, thus became perfect man? The Lord who proclaimed the mysteries of life to us, appointed his disciples as workers of righteousness, and instructed the human race in his teaching, himself and through them—not by revealing the teachings of the Sethians or calling himself Seth as they, foolishly and overcome by a sort of drunkenness, have lost the truth.

But now, though the < rebuttal of the > sect is brief, I do not need to extend its refutation, and am content with just what is here. Their stupidity is easy to puncture and is self-refuting and self-exposing, not only with regard to their kidnapping of Christ and their falsely alleged belief and affirmation that he is Seth, but because of the two men as well. For if the powers had their origin from above, nothing which was done by the two powers was made and done without the one power—whom, indeed, they call the Mother of all. For the one power is plainly the cause of the two powers, and nothing that has been done, has been done without it. And once the beginning is shown to be one, they will return to the confession that the Master of all, and the Creator and Maker of the whole, is one.

But since we have said these things about this sect as well, beloved, and have exposed the poison of their reptilian brood of the asp family, let us once more go to another, in the same order of the treatise.

This is the Diagram of the Gnostic Myth found in "The Gnostic Scriptures" by Bently Layton. The similarities to the situation described in Sethian Gnosis is evident.
This is the Diagram of the Gnostic Myth found in “The Gnostic Scriptures” by Bently Layton. The similarities to the situation described in Sethian Gnosis is evident.

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.

I

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).

II

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

III

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''

IV

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.

V

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

VI

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.

VII

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.

VIII

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

Against Ophites (St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, 403)

NOTE: This article is taken from The Panarion, Anacephelaeosis III, 37, written ca. 374-377:

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I

As I promised by the power of God, with God’s help I shall also describe the Ophite sect, which follows next after the last stupidities. In some ways it takes the same course but in others, the customs and gestures of its members, it is different—so that everyone can see from the erratic wandering of the disagreement between them that these sects are guided by error, not truth. The Ophites will now be detected by the treatise, and their sort of stupidity refuted.

As I said, the Ophites took their cue from the sects of Nicolaus and the Gnostics and the ones before those. But they are called Ophites because of the serpent which they magnify. For they too disgorge strange things as though they were stuffed with the stinking food we mentioned before; and in their error, as I said, they glorify the serpent as a new divinity.

And see how far the serpent, the deceiver of the Ophites, has gone in mischief! Just as he deceived Eve and Adam at the beginning so even he does now by concealing himself—both now and in the Jewish period up until Christ’s coming.  Then, even in later times, he seduces greedy humanity further with the food they got through him by disobedience; and he provokes them to further treachery and makes them rebels against the true God. He always promises big things, as he did also at the beginning. Even then he cheated them by saying, “Ye shall be as gods”; then, in time, he completed the multiform, monstrous illusion for them. For he had spawned the blasphemous nonsense of idolatry and polytheism long before, by detaching them from the one true God. They were not gods (then), just as they are not (now); < only > God is God. But he was spawning polytheism, the madness for idols, and a deceitful doctrine beforehand.

But the snake which was visible at that time was not the only cause of this. It was the snake who spoke in the snake—I mean < the > devil—and disturbed the man’s hearing through the woman. And the tree was not sin either—God plants nothing evil—but the tree gave them knowledge so that they would know good and evil.

And death did not come because of knowledge, but because of disobedience. Indeed the adversary’s whole plot at that time was laid, not for the sake of food but to make them disobedient. Hence they disobeyed then, and as an entirely just punishment were expelled from Paradise—not from God’s hatred of them but from his care. For the Lord tells them, “Earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return.” Like a potter the true Craftsman has charge of his own handiwork and vessel, and if this is later rendered defective by disobedience he must not leave it in that condition—when the vessel is still clay, as we might say, and has been rendered unuseable, as though by a crack. Instead he must change the vessel into the original lump, to restore it to its pristine splendor and better still in the regeneration at the resurrection—that is, < renew > the bodies of those who have committed the most grievous sins, and have repented, renounced their errors and been perfected in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the resurrection of the body from the earth may take place as though the lump, softened by the Craftsman, were being restored to its original form and even better.

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II

Such was the serpent’s scheme against Eve. For the human race is greedy from the first, and always open to seduction by absurd doctrines and empty professions. And in ancient times the serpent remained in hiding and did not disclose the full extent of its poison. But later, after Christ’s incarnation, it coughed up and spat out the entire poisonous, wicked invention of its malice, for it proposed itself in the minds of its dupes for glorification and worship as God.

But the same serpent is recognizable as the author of the deception, both from this school of its followers and from the visible snake. Indeed, sacred scripture calls the devil a serpent; certainly not because he looks like one, but because he appears extremely crooked to men, and because of the treacherous fraud which was at the first perpetrated through a snake.

In the eyes, then, of those who recognize the truth, this doctrine is a ridiculous thing and so are its adherents who honor the serpent as God. No longer able to deceive the masculine reason which has received the power of the truth from the Lord, the devil turns to the feminine—that is, to men’s ignorance—and convinces the ignorant, since he cannot deceive sound reason. He always makes his approach to feminine whims, pleasure and lust—in other words, to the womanish ignorance in men, not to the firm reason which understands everything logically and recognizes God by the law of nature. For their snake says it is Christ. Or rather, it does not—it cannot talk—but the devil does, who has prepared their minds to think in this way.

Thus, on seeing the snake, who will not recognize the adversary and flee? This is why the Lord assigned enmity against the human race to this particular snake—since, being his pet, it was wholly the devil’s instrument, and through it he deceived the man in Paradise—so that, because they had seen the enmity of this visible snake they would flee the plot of its treachery and practically hate even the sight of it.

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III

These so-called Ophites too ascribe all knowledge to this snake, saying that it became the beginning of men’s knowledge, and through mythology they slip the things in that they think are mysteries,5 though they are mimes, full of absurdity and nonsense.

For these are certainly myths: They claim that Aeons were emitted from the Aeon on high, and that Ialdabaoth came into being on a lower level. But he was emitted in accordance with the weakness and ignorance of his own mother, that is, the supernal Prunicus. For they say this Prunicus had come down into the waters and become mingled with them, but could not go back up because of being mingled with the weight of matter. For she has been intermingled with the waters and matter, and can no longer withdraw. But she heaved herself up with an effort and stretched herself out, and thus < the > upper heaven was formed. And as she was fixed in place, no longer able either to go up or to come down but fixed and stretched out in the middle, there she remained. For she could not sink down because she had no affinity (with what was below her); but she could not go up because she was heavy from the matter which she had taken on.

But when Ialdabaoth had been emitted in her ignorance he went to the very bottom and begot seven sons, who begot seven heavens. And he closed off the space above him and hid it from view, so that the seven sons he had emitted, being lower down than he, would not know what was above him, but no one at all but him. And he, they say, is the God of the Jews, Ialdabaoth. But this is not so, of course not! God the Almighty will judge them, for he is God both of Jews and Christians, and everyone, and not any Ialdabaoth, as their silly story has it.

A lion-faced deity found on a Gnostic gem in Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures may be a depiction of the Demiurge
A lion-faced deity found on a Gnostic gem in Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures may be a depiction of the Demiurge

IV

Then, they say, when the heights had been closed off by Ialdabaoth’s design, these seven sons he had begotten—whether they were aeons, or gods, or angels, they use various terms for them—fashioned the man in the image of their father Ialdabaoth. Not easily or quickly, however, but in the same way in which the earlier sects had made it out in their drivel. For these people too say, “The man was a creeping thing like a worm, not able either to look up or get to his feet.’” But as a scheme against Ialdabaoth the supernal Mother, the one called Prunicus—wishing to empty Ialdabaoth of his power which he had gotten from her by participation— worked in him on the man his sons had formed, intending to drain his power and send a spark from him, the soul supposedly, upon the man. And then, they say, the man stood on his feet, rose in mind above the eight heavens, and recognized and praised the Father on high who is above Ialdabaoth.

And then, distressed because the things high up above him had been recognized, Ialdabaoth stared bitterly down at the dung of matter and sired a power with a snake-like appearance, which they also call his son. And so, they say, this son was sent on his mission and deceived Eve. And she listened to him, believed him as a son of God, and because of her belief ate from the tree of knowledge.

1d

V

Then, whenever they are describing this foolishness and the absurdity of this practice—now that they have composed the tragic piece, as we might say, and this comic opera—they begin to point certain things out to us in support of their false so-called “gods.” They say, “Are not our intestines also, by which we live and are nourished, shaped like a serpent?”And in support of their imposture and silly opinion they introduce any number of further points for their dupes. “We glorify the serpent for this reason,” they say; “because it has been a cause if their knowledge for the many.”

Ialdabaoth, they say, did not want the Mother on high, or the Father, remembered by men. But the serpent convinced them and brought them knowledge, and taught the man and the woman the whole of the knowledge of the mysteries on high. Hence his father—Ialdabaoth, that is—was angry because of the knowledge he had given men, and threw him down from heaven. And therefore these people who possess the serpent’s portion and nothing else, call the serpent a king from heaven. And so, they say, they glorify him for such knowledge and offer him bread.

For they have a real snake and keep it in a basket of some sort. When it is time for their mysteries they bring it out of the den, spread loaves around on a table, and call the snake to come; and when the den is opened it comes out. And then the snake—which comes up of its own accord and by its villainy—already knowing their foolishness, crawls onto the table and coils up on the loaves. And this they call a perfect sacrifice.

And so, as I have heard from someone, not only do they break the loaves the snake has coiled on and distribute them to the communicants, but each one kisses the snake on the mouth besides—whether the snake has been charmed into tameness by some sort of sorcery, or coaxed by some other act of the devil for their deception. But they worship an animal of that sort and call what has been consecrated by its coiling around it the eucharistic element. And they offer a hymn to the Father on high—again, as they say, through the snake—and so conclude their mysteries.

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VI

But anyone would call < this > foolishness and sheer nonsense. And it will not require refutation by research in sacred scripture; to anyone with godly soundness of mind its absurdity will be self-evident. For all their drivel will at once appear as something silly. If they say that there is a “Prunicus,” as I have already remarked, how can one fail to detect the unsoundness of their notion from the very name? Anything called “seductive” is unseemly. But if it is unseemly it cannot be ranked among things to be preferred. And how can an unseemly thing be praiseworthy?

And how can it be anything but mythology to say that Prunicus drained Ialdabaoth, and that the spark went down below from him when he was drained; but that once it had lodged in the man, it recognized the person above the person who had been drained? What a very great surprise that the man, with the tiniest of sparks in him, recognizes more than the angels who fashioned him! For the angels, or sons of Ialdabaoth, did not recognize the things above Ialdabaoth; but the man they had made did, by means of the spark!

Ophites refute themselves with their own doctrines by glorifying the snake at one moment, but at the next making him a deceiver who came to Eve when they say, “he deceived Eve.” And they sometimes proclaim him Christ, but sometimes a son of the higher Ialdabaoth, who wronged his sons by shutting off the knowledge of < the > realms on high from them and despised both the Mother and the Father on high, in order to keep the sons he had sired from honoring the Father above him.

How can the serpent be a heavenly king if he has rebelled against the Father? And if he gives knowledge, why is he denounced as having fooled Eve with a deception? Someone who instills knowledge through deceit is no longer giving knowledge, but ignorance instead of knowledge; and one can truly see that, among them, this is the case. For they have ignorance and think it is knowledge—though when they call their own “knowledge” deceit and ignorance, in this they are telling the truth!

Tau shaped serpent crozier from Koeln, Germany, circa 1000
Tau shaped serpent crozier from Koeln, Germany, circa 1000

VII

They cite other texts as well, and say that Moses too lifted the bronze serpent up in the wilderness and exhibited it for the healing of persons who had been bitten by a snake. For they say that that sort of thing serves as the cure for the bite. But once more, they are making these declarations against themselves. For if the bites were snake’s bites, and these were harmful, then the serpent is not good. The thing Moses held up in those days effected healing by the sight of it—not because of the nature of the snake but by the good pleasure of God who, by means of the snake, was making a sort of antidote for those who were bitten at that time. It is no surprise if a person is cured through the things by which he was injured. And let no one speak ill of God’s creation—as other erring persons do in their turn.

However, this served the people in the wilderness as a type, for the reason the Lord gives in the Gospel when he comes, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”—which indeed has been done. For dishonoring the Savior like a serpent they were injured by the serpent’s scheme, I mean the devil’s. And as healing came to those who had been bitten by the lifting up of the serpent, so, at Christ’s crucifixion, deliverance has come to our souls from the bites of sin which we have gotten.

But the same people cite this very text as evidence and say, “Do you not see how the Savior said, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up?’ And on this account,” they say, “he also says in another passage, ‘Be ye wise as the serpent and harmless as the dove.’” And what God has rightly ordained for us as symbols of teaching they cite in their own deluded sense.

Orthodox Bishop Staff

VIII

For our Lord, the divine Word Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before all ages without beginning and not in time, is not a serpent—heaven forbid!—but came himself to combat the serpent. If he says, “Be ye wise as the serpent and harmless as the dove,” we must inquire and learn why he introduced these two figures, of the serpent and of the dove, for our instruction. There is nothing wise about a snake except for < the > two following things. When it is being hunted it knows that its whole life is in its head, and it is afraid of the order once given about it by God for the man’s sake, “Thou shalt guard against its head, and it shall guard against thy heel.” So it coils its whole body over its head and hides its skull, but with extreme villainy surrenders the rest of its body. In the same way the only-begotten God, who came forth from the Father, wills that in a time of persecution and a time of temptation we surrender our whole selves to fire and sword, but that we guard our “head”—in other words, that we do not deny Christ, since “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God,” as the apostle says.

Again, as the naturalists say of this beast, the snake has another kind of wisdom. When it is thirsty and goes from its den to water to drink, it does not bring its poison with it but leaves it in its den, and then goes and takes its drink from the water. Let us imitate this ourselves so that, when we go to God’s holy church for prayer or God’s mysteries, we do not bring evil, pleasure, passion, enmity or anything else in our thoughts.

For that matter, how can we imitate the dove either without keeping clear of evil—though certainly, in many ways doves are not praiseworthy. Doves are insatiable and incessantly promiscuous, lecherous, given to the pleasure of the moment, and weak and small besides. But because of the harmlessness, patience and forbearance of doves—and even more, because of the Holy Spirit’s appearance in the form of a dove—the divine Word would have us imitate the will of the Holy Spirit and the harmlessness of the harmless dove and be wise in good but innocent in evil.

And their entire dramatic piece has been demolished. For straight off, by saying, “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his villainy, so your minds should be corrupted from the sincerity and simplicity of Christ, and from righteousness,” the apostle assigns villainy and treachery to none more than to the devil and the serpent. You see how the apostle pronounced the serpent’s dealings with Eve seduction, frightful villainy and deceit, and made it clear that nothing praiseworthy had been done by it.

The serpent is at the center of the resurrecting dead on the axis of the cross. Crucifixion from the V&A Museum. Rheims, France (probably, made) Date:ca. 860-870
The serpent is at the center of the resurrecting dead on the axis of the cross. Crucifixion from the V&A Museum. Rheims, France (probably, made)
Date:ca. 860-870

IX

Hence their stupidity is discernible and obvious in all respects to anyone who is willing to know the teaching of the truth and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit. But not to waste time, now that I have sailed through this fierce, hazardous storm at sea as well, I shall ready my barque for its other sea voyages, carefully guarding my tongue by God’s power and the prayers of saints, so as to espy the tossing of the wild waves as I sail by, and the forms of the poisonous beasts in the seas, but be able to cross and reach the fair haven of truth by prayer and supplication, untouched by the poison of sea eel, stingray, dragon, shark and scorpaena. In my case too, the text, “They that go down to the sea shall tell the virtues of the Lord,” will prove applicable. So I shall make my way to another sect after this, for its description.

Asclepius hold his rod/staff with a serpent coiled around it.
Asclepius hold his rod/staff with a serpent coiled around it.
Reconstruction from Histoire critique du Gnosticisme; Jacques Matter, 1826, Vol. III, Plate I, D.
Reconstruction from Histoire critique du Gnosticisme; Jacques Matter, 1826, Vol. III, Plate I, D.