Epiphanius Against all Heresies 78

Against Antidicomarians1 58, but 78 of the series

1,1 Certain other problems have been caused, especially in Arabia, by this sect—which some call the sect of the Dimoerites, or the sect which confesses Christ’s human nature without a mind—and they have been referred to my modest self by some of the godly. (2) And first I have already written a letter on this subject. But to keep to my order of the enumeration [of sects] I shall discuss this one here too, < by inserting > the letter in its entirety, with the appropriate additions or omissions.

1,3 As though they had a grudge against the Virgin and desired to cheapen her reputation, certain Antidicomarians, inspired by some envy or error and intending to sully men’s minds, have dared to say that St. Mary had relations with a man after Christ’s birth, I mean with Joseph himself. (4) And as I have already mentioned, it is said that the claim has been made by the venerable Apollinarius himself, or some of his disciples. Indeed I doubt it but I have to speak about those who are saying this. But so as not to involve myself in a second hard task I subjoin the letter to Arabia which I have mentioned. It is as follows:

2,1 Greetings in the Lord from Epiphanius, least of bishops, to my most honored Masters and beloved children and brothers in Arabia who share my orthodox faith, clergy, laity and catechumens!

2,2 There is reason to wonder at present, and reason not to wonder. There is reason to wonder, since all things are being fulfilled in our generation, and reason not to wonder, since they must be fulfilled. For day after day we are now increasingly faced with the speculation of human reasonings and fancies, sophistical in its nature and growing worse, which deserts the apostolic doctrine, as the most holy apostle foretold, “Many shall depart from sound doctrine, giving heed to fables and doctrines of devils,” and so on. (3) For if it is possible to look for evil ways and think them up, men exert themselves < in the search > for these, rather than obeying the commandment which bids them seek the good and acceptable, and < the injunction >, “Let thy speech be seasoned with salt, that it may give grace to the hearers.”

2,4 And if we wonder why it is that new ills arise for us each day, we our- selves shall be like the uninstructed, who pay no heed to the sacred, prophetic words. These things must be fulfilled. “When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find the faith on earth?” must be fulfilled in all parts of the faith. (5) For where has “the mind of man that is bent on evil from his youth” got to? Which articles of the faith has it not destroyed? In which works has poor judgment not marred the usefulness of the seemliest writers, of a rationality such that it ought to be reflecting on godly things and making every effort to add to them, (even if it should do so contrary to their nature) rather than forcibly turning truths into impieties, to their detriment.

3,1 For finally, since all that is blasphemous and without the Holy Spirit has been accomplished in our generation, they are turning to other, new blasphemies. (2) For some blaspheme the Father, the God and creator of all—those who are said to be Gnostics and the so-called Marcionites and Archontics in their turn, and their companions the Manichaeans, who have been named with entire appropriateness by a righteous providence of God, and < bear > the name of madness. (3) All of these, along with further sects—I mean of Cainites, Sethians, Melchizedekians, Colorbasians, Cerdo- nians and the rest—< venture > to blaspheme the Father of all by denying that he is < the > God who has spoken in the Law and the prophets, and that he is rightly worshiped by all creatures as their maker and artificer. (4) Together with his worship they try also to do away with his sovereignty, and deny the God who exists while, by their false thinking, imagining one who does not, so that they are deprived of the true God and do not find the one they imagine.

3,5 For it is in this way that foolishness, and the seed of the devil’s words, is wont to cause such disturbance and confusion, and with blasphemous thoughts incite the minds of created human beings to war < on > their Master with clumsy conjectures and denials of God.

3,6 But while avoiding this, some in their turn have dared to proceed to other evils by the denial of their Master who alone redeemed them, the only-begotten Child Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, the truly existent Son—begotten of the Father without beginning and not in time, forever 

of the Father and with the Father, begotten incomprehensibly and without defilement, co-essential with the Father and not different from the Father. (7) Some, again, have gone mad and bark at their own Master like rabid dogs—as the Jews did at the first, and have been called “dumb dogs” for not knowing him. They were awarded this name by the prophet, as is plain to see, < because of> their shameless rage at the Lord and his coming. (8) For they say that mad dogs are called “dumb” because they are left toothless by their mind on its departure.

4,1 For dogs are like this when they go mad. Though they once knew their master, his children, his household, all the householder’s other kin, when the madness takes them these persons’ faces seem different to them, and they attack even their owner’s kinsfolk, in whose honor they once wagged their tails, and to whose ways they once submitted. (2) When those who were awaiting the coming of Christ beheld their Master’s arrival—though they were prepared to receive the bridegroom, boasted of having seen the prophets, professed to obey their sacred oracles, and covenanted with Moses, “Be thou [for us] to the Lord,” and, “All that the Lord saith unto thee we will hear and do”—[nonetheless] when they saw their Master’s arrival they did not know the appearance and marks of the truth which the prophets before him had portrayed, depicted, proclaimed and pointed to before his incarnation, and at once said to him, first, “Who is this that speaketk blas- phemies?’’ (3) But on another occasion they shamelessly ventured to say that he had a demon, and did not blush to call him a Samaritan as well. (4) Finally, as I have said, they set on him like mad dogs, nailed his hands < and struck him in the face* >, as a dog in its madness always fastens < on the person before it* > and attacks his hands, and is not ashamed to scratch the faces of its owners.

4,5 They gave their own Lord up to crucifixion; and of the prophets, the household of that same Master, they sawed one in half, stoned another, and slew another with the sword. (6) But their successors, the new Jews after them, are now behaving in the same way. The actual Jews by birth denied him; and those who, utterly mad and crack-brained, are now denying the truth of the Son’s perfect relation to the Father, maintain without intermission that he is a creature and something made, and different from the Father.

5,1 Others in turn have abandoned those blasphemous doctrines, and have still, as it were, seen the sight surpassing the nature of heaven itself, visited the heavenly realms, and pried into them. They make their arrogant announcement and confident affirmation as though they had come from the heaven, and banish the Holy Spirit from the Godhead. (2) They have not denied the Father or the Son’s relation to him, but they go by another route to ensure the complete fulfillment of the prophecy, “Faith hath failed from their lips.” (3) For what can this mean but that now—as though they had the authority—instead of being commanded by God they wish to command God about the Holy Spirit, who is not different from the Father and the Son, who is of the same Godhead, and who cannot possibly be alien to the Godhead? For they shamelessly say that the Spirit is alien to God, a servant, a creature, of recent origin, and something made, and contrive to get hold of anything else that is shameful, as an opinion of him.

5,4 Thus, because of its incurable wound of unbelief, the world of our day has inclined more < and more to evil* >. And that the wickedness which is destroying humanity through perversity, ignorance and unbelief may leave no stone unturned, an idle, foolish notion has diverted those who have, as it were, escaped the blasphemy of the holy Trinity, to other things, leaving no one’s sin undetected.

5,5 For I hear that someone has a new notion about the holy, ever-virgin Mary, and dares to cast a blasphemous suspicion on her, so that our genera- tion will be exactly like a dangerous serpent and poisonous snake lurking in a dark den and striking everyone with its bites—one near the face, another near the heel, another near the hand—(6) so that no one can escape the bite of unbelief. Though one suppose he has escaped it in one way he does not avoid the poison in another, while one whose faith is sound in one respect is exposed to some other form of harm.

6,1 Why this ill will? Why so much impudence? Isn’t Mary’s very name (i.e., “Virgin”) a testimony, doesn’t it convince you, you trouble-maker? Who, and in which generation, has ever dared to say St. Mary’s name and not add “Virgin” at once when asked? The marks of excellence show from the titles of honor themselves. (2) For the righteous received the honors of their titles appropriately for each and as it became them. “Friend of God” was added to the name, “Abraham,” and will not be detached. The title, “Israel,” was awarded to “Jacob” and will not be changed. To the apostles the title, 

Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder,” was given and will not be discarded. And St. Mary was given the title, “Virgin,” and it will not be altered, for the holy woman remained undefiled. “Doth not nature itself teach you?” Oh, this new madness, these new troubles!

6,3 There are many other things which the fathers did not venture to say in times gone by. Now, however, one blasphemes Christ’s incarnation by talking heresy about the Godhead itself, while another considers the entire matter of the incarnation defective; another is troubled about the resurrection of the dead, and someone else < by another > point. (4) And in a word, woe to our troubled generation with its salvation in peril, swamped on every side by the wicked second sowings of the devil’s sick fancies and heretical reasonings! (5) How dare they < so degrade* > the undefiled Virgin who was privileged to become the Son’s habitation, and was chosen for this from all the myriads of Israel, so that something deemed worthy to be a vessel and dwelling place is to become a mere sign of child-bearing?

7,1 For I have heard from someone that certain persons are venturing to say that she had marital relations after the Savior’s birth. And I am not surprised. The ignorance of persons who do not know the sacred scriptures well and have not consulted histories, always turns them to one thing after another, and distracts anyone who wants to track down something about the truth out of his own head. (2) To begin with, when the Virgin was entrusted to Joseph—lots having compelled her to take this step—she was not entrusted to him for marriage, since he was a widower. (3) He was called her husband because of the Law, but it is plainly follows from the Jewish tradition that the Virgin was not entrusted to him for matrimony. (4) It was for the preservation of her virginity in witness to the things to come—[a witness] that Christ’s incarnation was nothing spurious but was truly attested, as without a man’s seed < but> truly brought about by the Holy Spirit.

7,5 For how could such an old man, who had lost his first wife so many years before, take a virgin for a wife? Joseph was the brother of Cleopas but the son of Jacob surnamed Panther; both of these brothers were the sons of the man surnamed Panther. (6) Joseph took his first wife from the tribe of Judah and she bore him six children in all, four boys and two girls, as the Gospels according to Mark and John have made clear. (7) His firstborn son was James, whose surname was Oblias, or “wall,”  and who was also surnamed “The Just” and was a nazirite, or “holy man.” (8) He was the first to receive the episcopal throne, the first to whom the Lord entrusted his throne on earth. (9) He was also called the Lord’s brother, as the apostle agrees by saying somewhere, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother,” and so on. But he is called the Lord’s brother not by nature but by grace, because of being brought up with him. (10) For because she had been betrothed to Joseph Mary appeared to be the wife of a husband, but she had no sexual relations with him. For this reason the degree of the kinship of Joseph’s sons to the Savior was called, or rather, regarded as, that of brotherhood.

7,11 Similarly Joseph himself is held by dispensation to be in the position of a father, though he had had no part in the fleshly generation of the Savior. Thus Luke the evangelist says of the Savior himself that he was “the son of Joseph, as was supposed” and Mary too said to him the Gospel according to Luke, “Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” (12) Who, then, can call Joseph the Lord’s father when he had no responsibility for his generation, especially when the incarnation took place without a man’s seed? But by the dispensation of providence this is how matters fell out.

8,1 Joseph begot James when he was somewhere around forty years old. After him he had a son named Joses—then Simeon after him, then Judah, and two daughters, one named Mary and one, Salome; and his wife died. (2) And many years later, as a widower of over eighty, he took Mary. So we are told in the Gospel, for it says, “Mary, his espoused wife;” it didn’t say, “married wife.” And again, in another passage it says, “And he knew her not.” (3) One can only wonder at all < the allegations* > of those who look for wicked allegations, who < strive* > to discover the causes which need no discovery and to investigate the uninvestigable, but who turn from the essentials to foolish questions, so that we may surely catch the plague of every kind of unbelief and blasphemy because of the dishonoring of the saints. 

8,4 In the first place, the course of nature entirely confutes them. To begin with, an old man of over eighty did not take a virgin as a sexual partner; she was committed to his protection. Secondly, he himself was surely “just”; and when he had heard that that which was in her was “of the Holy Spirit” he would not have dared to keep wanting her after such a providence, < and > use the vessel that had contained him whom heaven and earth can- not contain because of his transcendent glory. (5) Even if today many of the faithful strive to remain virgin in his name, and pure and continent, wasn’t Joseph more faithful? And Mary herself who, as scripture says, “pondered all things in her heart.” After a dispensation of that sort, of such great- ness and importance, < how could it not be wrong> for an elderly man to have relations once more, with a pure and honored virgin, a vessel which had contained the Uncontainable and had received such a mystery of a heavenly sign and man’s salvation?

9,1 Where can I not find proof that the Virgin remained pure? For a starter, let them show me that Mary bore children after the Savior’s birth! Let these designers and reciters of deceit and mischief make the names up and give them! But they can’t show them because she was still a virgin and, perish the thought, had no sexual relations! (2) If she had ever born children even though she was always with the Savior himself, her children too would be said to be with < him >.

But the text, “Lo, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee,” misleads them. (3) Besides, they do not know the earlier passage, “His brethren believed < not > on him. As I myself grow older and wonder at the triviality of the things in the sacred scriptures—I can tell you, as I become fully acquainted with them I thank God for taking the precaution to prove the truth of every text in the sacred scripture by the seemingly trivial words. (4) I always heard that James was called the Lord’s brother, and I said in wonderment, “What’s the use of this?” But now I understand why the sacred scripture said this beforehand. When we hear, “Lo, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee,” (5) let us by all means learn that it is speaking of James and the other sons of Joseph, and not of sons of Mary whom she never had. For it was plain that, in comparison with the [ years of ] the Lord’s incarnation, James was the elder. (6) The scripture calls them brothers to con- found [our opponents], and names James, Joses, Simeon, Judah, Salome and Mary, so that they will learn whose son James is and by which mother, and understand who is the elder.

Jesus was crucified in the thirty-third year of his incarnation, but it was the twentieth year of Herod the son of Archelaus. (10,1) For the Savior was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the thirty-third year of the first Herod, the son of Antipater, which was the forty-second of the emperor Augustus. (2) And at the age of two he was taken to Egypt by Joseph because of what the magi had told him, since Herod was seeking < to destroy > the child.

10,3 King Herod died in the thirty-seventh year of his reign, but his son Archelaus reigned for nine years after him. (4) And the work [of salvation] was finished, and Jesus was crucified in the eighteenth year of Tiberius Cae- sar; it was the twentieth year of Agrippa called “The Great,” or Herod the Younger, the son of Archelaus. (5) But nowhere have we heard that Joseph fathered [more] sons. Indeed, he did not live many years after his return from Egypt, for it was the Savior’s fourth year, while Joseph was over eighty- four when he arrived from Egypt. (6) And Joseph survived for another eight years; and in Jesus’ twelfth year, as it says in the Gospel according to Luke, he was sought for on their journey to Jerusalem, when he could not be found on the road.

10,7 But Joseph died during these years, and Jesus was no longer brought up by Joseph, but in Joseph’s home. This is why the Gospel can no longer say that his father and mother and brethren came, but says, “Lo, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee.” (8) Nor did it say that his father and brothers had spoken to him, when they said to him in Galilee, “No one that doeth these things would be in secret; if thou doest these things, show thyself.” It said that his brothers had spoken to him; Joseph was no longer alive in the flesh. (9) But then at his perfecting itself, when the Savior was on the cross, the Lord turned, as the Gospel according to John tells us, “and saw the disciple whom he loved, and said to him of Mary, “Behold thy mother”. And to her he said, “Behold thy son.” (10) If Mary had children and her husband was alive, why did he entrust Mary to John and John to Mary? And why not rather entrust her to Peter’? Why not to Andrew, Matthew and Bartholomew? But it is plain that he entrusted her to John because of virginity.

10,11 For < he says >, “Behold thy mother,” even though physically she was not John’s mother; [he says this] to show that < as > the originator of virginity she was his mother, since the life began with her. (12) And lest it be supposed that the work [of salvation] was appearance and not reality he said this to John to teach him to honor his own mother, even though, physi- cally speaking, John was not his kin; for the Lord was truly born of her in the flesh. (13) For if she had not truly been the mother who bore him, he would not have taken care to entrust the Ever-virgin to John—his mother because of the incarnation, but undefiled in his honor and the wondrous vessel. But the Gospel says, “And from that day he took her unto his own home.” But if she had a husband, a home, children, she would return to her own home and not to someone else’s.

11,1 But this must not be twisted to the harm of any who suppose that, by a clumsy conjecture, they can find an excuse here to invent their so-called “adoptive wives” and “beloved friends.” The things done there were done by dispensation, and the case is different from all the other godly stringent rules that ought to be observed. Indeed, when this had been done and John had taken her to himself, she was not yet living with him. (2) If any think < I > am mistaken, moreover, let them search through the scriptures and neither find Mary’s death, nor whether or not she died, nor whether or not she was buried—even though John surely traveled throughout Asia. And yet, nowhere does he say that he took the holy Virgin with him. Scripture simply kept silence because of the overwhelming wonder, not to throw men’s minds into consternation.

11,3 For I dare not say—though I have my suspicions, I keep silent. Perhaps, just as her death is not to be found, so I may have found some traces of the holy and blessed Virgin. (4) In one passage Simeon says of her, “And a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” And elsewhere the Revelation of John says, “And the dragon hastened after the woman who had born the man child, and she was given the wings of an eagle and was taken to the wilderness, that the dragon might not seize her.” Perhaps this can be applied to her; I cannot decide for certain, and am not saying that she remained immortal. But neither am I affirming that she died.

11,5 For scripture went beyond man’s understanding and left it in suspense with regard to the precious and choice vessel, so that no one would suspect carnal behavior of her. Whether she died, I don’t know; and [even] if she was buried, she never had carnal relations, perish the thought! (6) Who will choose, from self-inflicted insanity, to cast a blasphemous suspicion [on her], raise his voice, give free rein to his tongue, flap his mouth with evil intent, invent insults instead of hymns and glory, hurl abuse at the holy Virgin, and deny honor to the precious Vessel?

12,1 But if we need to take the matter up from another point of view, let’s examine the findings of the naturalists. They say that a lioness never gives birth but once, for the following reason. A lion is very fierce, grim of visage, of extremely violent strength, and, as it were, the king of the other beasts. (2) A lioness conceives by one mate, but the implanted seed remains in the womb for a full twenty-six months. Thus the cub comes to maturity inside its mother because of the time, and already has all its teeth before it is born, and its claws fully developed, and, as they call them, its “incisors, eye-teeth and molars,” and all the beast’s remaining features. (3) Thus while it is in the belly it rakes it with its claws in the course of its upward and forward movements and its other twists, and scrapes the wombs and ovaries that are carrying it. And so, when the mother has come to birth, that very day her belly becomes incapable of labor. (4) For the naturalists say that the ovaries and wombs are expelled with the cub, so that the lioness no longer feels desire unless, perhaps, she is forced. And even if it should happen that she is forced to mate, she can never conceive again because she has no wombs or ovaries.

12,5 Now even this series of events has given me a notion, beneficial rather than harmful, on the subject in question. (6) If Jacob says, “Judah is a lion’s whelp,” symbolically of Christ, and somewhere in John’s Revelation it says, “Behold, the lion of the tribe of Judah, and the seed of David, hath prevailed”—(when the Lord is compared to a lion it is not because of his nature, but symbolically, and because of the kingliness of the beast, < the > boldest, strongest, and in all other respects the handsomest of the animals.) [If the Lord is a lion], then, I should call the mother who bore him a lioness; (7) how can any lion be born if the mother is not to be called a lioness? But a lioness does not conceive a second time. Therefore Mary never conceives again; the holy Virgin cannot have had marital relations.

13,1 But let us look to other considerations too, to < make the truth evident in every way* >; since it was always with him, the truth < was* > a follower of Jesus. “Jesus was called to a marriage,” and “his mother < was > there.” And < nowhere > are his brothers mentioned, and nowhere Joseph. < For he says >, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come” He didn’t say, “People, what have I to do with you?”

13,2 Mary Magdalene stood by the cross, and Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary the mother of Rufus, and the other Mary, and Salome, and other women. And it didn’t say, “Joseph was there”—or “James the Lord’s brother,” < who > died in virginity < at the age > of ninety-six. (3) No iron implement had touched his head, he had never visited a bath house, had never eaten meat. He did not own a change of clothing and wore only a threadbare linen garment, as it says in the Gospel, “The young man fled, and left the cloth wherewith he was clad.”

13,4 John, James and James, these three, lived in virginity—the two sons of Zebedee and James, who was the son of Joseph and the Lord’s brother because he had lived with him, had been brought up with him, and had the status of a brother because of Joseph’s only relationship to Mary, her betrothal to him. (5) Only this James was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies once a year since he was a nazirite and a member of the priesthood. Thus Mary was related to Elizabeth in two ways and James was distinguished by priesthood, since only the two tribes intermarried, the kingly with the priestly and the priestly with the kingly. Thus long ago the head of the tribe of Judah, Naason, took < the > ancient Elizabeth, Aaron’s daughter, to wife during the exodus. (6) Hence many sects are unaware of <the> Savior’s earthly genealogy, and because of their puzzlement disbelieve, and suppose that they can contradict the truth by saying “How could Mary, of the tribe of David and Judah, be related to Elizabeth, of the tribe of Levi?”

14,1 James also wore the priestly diadem. And once he raised his hands to heaven and prayed during a drought, and heaven immediately gave rain. He never put on a wo0llen garment. From their continual kneeling before the Lord with extreme piety, his knees grew as hard as camels’. (2) He was no longer addressed by name; his name was “The Just.” He never washed in the bath house, did not eat meat, as I have already said, and did not put on a sandal. And a great deal could be said about James and his virtuous life.

14,3 You see, then, that Joseph’s home was most remarkable in every way. For if Joseph’s sons knew the state of virginity and the practice of the nazirites, how much more did the elderly and honorable Joseph know how to pre- serve the Virgin in purity, and pay honor to the vessel in which humankind’s salvation had once dwelt? “Doth not nature itself teach you?” (4) The man was aged, very far advanced in years, and a man of standing, faithful character and pious demeanor. For the Gospel says, “From fear of God the man sought to put her away privily.”

14,5 This James, the Lord’s brother and Joseph’s son, died in Jerusalem, after living for about twenty-four years after the assumption of the Savior. For at the age of ninety-six he was struck on the head with a fuller’s rod, was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple (6) and fell without injury, but knelt in prayer for those who had thrown him down and said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Meanwhile Simeon, his cousin but the son of Cleopas, stood at a distance and said, “Stop! Why are you stoning the Just? And look, he’s praying for you the best he can!” And this was the martyrdom of James.

15,1 Now if Joseph’s son lived for so many years, how could his father dare to abuse and insult a holy body in which God had dwelt, after he had seen awesome sights, angels standing guard at the birth of the Son, singing hymns from heaven and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men?” And the shepherds had come to the cavern where Christ was born (2) and told these things, so many signs and wonders, in the hearing of the aged Joseph, who was far advanced in years. (3) The incarnate Christ’s human nature was taken from Mary’s body for us—the body from which the holy and undefiled flesh was formed for us, in the Savior’s Godhead. As the angel Gabriel < says > in the relevant passage, “The Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

15,4 Now how could Joseph dare to have relations with the Virgin Mary who was of such, and so great, holiness? But even if she had sexual relations—and perish that thought!—what good would it do us to inquire into this? Which is the better choice, to leave the matter to God, or to insist on what is bad for us? Plainly, scripture has not told us that we may not have eternal life, but will go to judgment, unless we believe that Mary had relations again. (5) It has, however, told us < to seek > what is good and righteous, what is holy, “that we may give grace unto the hearers also.” But people have abandoned the essentials, things that relate to faith in the truth, that are to the glory of God, and provide themselves with harmful things wherever they can find them. How disgusting it is even to think of < them >, especially as scripture says nothing of the sort.

16,1 For if the scripture said it, I would expound the proof-text truth< fully*> and think nothing of it. Is marriage unholy, after all? Is the marriage bed profane? Isn’t “the bed undefiled?” Is marriage debased? But prophets and high priests refrain from it because their service is for a higher purpose. (2) After Moses became a prophet he had no more relations with his wife, she bore no more children, and he fathered no more. For he had adopted a way of life which afforded more leisure for his Master. How could he remain on Mount Sinai “for forty nights and forty days” and still attend to his mar- riage? Or how [else] could he ready for ministry to God in the wilderness for forty years, and find the leisure for priesthood? 

If he was married, how could be continually expound the mysteries and converse with God? (3) For if the holy apostle speaks expressly of us, and says, “< Let them be continent* > for a time, that they may be free for prayer,” how much more will the saying be true of prophets?

Moreover, Mary was a prophetess. (4) Scripture says, “He went in unto the prophetess, and she conceived and bare a son. And the Lord said unto me, Call his name, Spoil Speedily, Plunder Fiercely, “and so on. (5) The meaning here, however, is Gabriel’s visit to Mary, when he went forth to bring her the tidings that she would bear God’s Son, a Savior, for the world, not by the seed of a man but through the Holy Spirit.

16,6 Moreover, Philip the evangelist had “four daughters that did prophesy,”  but they prophesied because of the virginity that was vouchsafed them. (7) Thecla too met St. Paul and dissolved her marriage, although her betrothed was most handsome, the leading man in the town, extremely rich, of excellent family, and very prominent. And yet the saint despised earthly things to gain the heavenly. (8) Now if these persons [did] these things, how much more Mary, to whom the whole wondrous providence has come? But where can I find ideas to benefit them? How can I dispel the darkness of those who have spawned these dreadful doctrines, as the scripture says, “He hath conceived pain and brought forth iniquity?” For these people do indeed conceive the pain of sick fancies, and bring forth the iniquity of blasphemies.

17,1 But no one should have those suspicions and say, in his attempt to implant them within himself in a different way, “Why does the Gospel say, ‘Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost before they came together?’ ’’ Their coming together was expected, and this is why it said, ‘before they came together.’ (2) Furthermore, the same Gospel says once more, in another passage, ‘She brought forth her son, the firstborn,’ and, ‘He knew her not until she had brought forth her son, the firstborn.’ ”

17,3 And yet those who profess to distinguish between the senses of the scriptures (i.e., literal, allegorical etc.) and try to meddle with the loftiest and the deepest matters, do not know that the sense of this is as follows. (4) For if Mary had given birth again, scripture should have given the other brothers’ names too. But never fear, if the Only-begotten < is called “firstborn” >, don’t worry, it is because he is the “firstborn of all creation.” The Gospels did not say, “She brought forth her firstborn,” but, “He knew her not until she had brought forth her son”—and it didn’t say, “her firstborn,” but, “the firstborn.” (5) By “her son,” scripture meant what had been born of her in the flesh. But it didn’t add another “her” to the term, “firstborn,” but said imply, “firstborn.” For he is the One the apostle calls, “firstborn of all creation”—not united with creation but begotten before creation. (6) The apostle didn’t say, “first-created,” but, “firstborn”; and the passage is divided for its better and sounder interpretation by saying “firstborn” first, and then mentioning creation as inferior. For “firstborn” is understood of the Son, but “creation” < was made > through the Son. (7) Thus “She brought forth her son, the firstborn;”—but not “her firstborn,” as though she was to bear another.

“And he knew her not.” For how could he know that a woman would receive so much grace? Or how could he know that < the > Virgin would be so highly glorified? (8) He knew that she was a woman by her appearance, and her womanliness by her sex, and knew that her mother was Ann and her father, Joachim, that she was related to Elizabeth, that she was of the house and lineage of David. But he did not know that anyone on earth, especially a woman, would be honored with such glory. (9) He did not know her, then, until he had seen the wonder; he did not know how wondrous she was until he had seen “that which was born of her.” But when she gave birth he also knew the honor God had done her, for it was she who had been told, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee.”

18,1 It is Mary who is intimated by Eve, for she was symbolically given the title, “mother of the living.” For Eve was called “mother of the living” in that passage,” and this after being told, “Earth thou art, and unto earth shall thou return” following her transgression. And yet, it was a a won- der that she received the great title after this transgression. (2) Physically speaking, every birth of human beings on earth is from that Eve; but here life itself has truly been born into the world of Mary, so that Mary brings forth the Living One and becomes the mother of the Living. (3) Mary, then, was mystically called the “mother of the living.” For “Who has given the woman the wisdom < of weaving > and skill in embroidery?” was said of the two women. The first wise woman, Eve,< was > the weaver of earthly garments for Adam whose nakedness she had caused; for this task was assigned to her. (4) Since the nakedness was her fault, she had been given the task of clothing the physical body to hide its physical nakedness. But God’s assignment to Mary was that she bear a lamb and sheep for us, and that, by his virtue, we receive a garment of immortality wisely made—as though from his fleece— from the glory of the lamb and sheep.

18,5 But there is another marvel to ponder in connection with these women, Eve and Mary. Eve has become the occasion of human deaths, for “Death entered into the world” through her. But Mary, through whom Life was born for us, is the occasion of life. (6) And this is why the Son of God came into the world; and “Where sin hath abounded, grace did much more abound.” And in the place from which death came, life got the start of it, so that there might be Life in place of death. He who, in his turn, had become our life through a woman, shut out the death that came from a woman.

18,7 And since Eve in Paradise fell into the sin of disobedience while still a virgin, the obedience of grace in its turn has come through the Virgin, when she was told of the descent from heaven, of the coming in the flesh and eternal life. (8) For in Paradise God tells the serpent, “And I shall put enmity between thee and her, and between thy seed, and her seed.” But there is no instance of a woman’s seed < with an enmity toward the physical seed of a snake* >, unless, as the riddle suggests, the “enmity” is taken to mean Eve’s enmity towards the progeny of the snake itself, and of the devil who dwelt in the snake, and his envy.

19,1 And in fact, the whole cannot have its complete fulfillment in Eve. But it will truly be fulfilled in the holy Seed, the elect Seed, the unique Seed, the Seed which originated from Mary alone, and not from union with a man. For he came to “destroy” the “power of the dragon and crooked serpent which flees” saying that it has taken the whole world captive. (2) And so the Only- begotten came from a woman for the destruction of the serpent— that is, of heresy, corruption and deceit, imposture and iniquity. (3) It is he who truly “opens a mother’s womb.” All the firstborn who have ever been born—to put it delicately—could not manage this; none but the Only-begotten, who “opened a virgin’s womb.” That has been accomplished in him alone, and in no one else.

19,4 But this can also be seen from the subject itself. The expression, [“mother of the living”], is to be understood of Mary, and I shall take the one that says, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” as a reference to the church. (5) The holy apostle also says, “This is a great mystery, but I say it concerns Christ and the church.” (6) And see the precision of the scriptures! It says, “formed,” of Adam, but of Eve it no longer speaks of being “formed,” but of being “built.” For it says, “He took one of his sides and built it into a wife for him,” to show that the Lord formed his body from Mary, but the church has been built from his side itself—when his side was pierced, and the mysteries of blood and water became atonements for us.

20,1 But in any case Joseph knew Mary, not with any knowledge of physical intimacy, not with the knowledge of intercourse—he knew her, and honored her whom God had honored. For he did not know how glorious she was until he saw the Lord who was born of a woman. (2) And “Before they came together she was found with child” is said to keep the argument of those who think that the God-ordained mystery came from sexual commerce from prevailing. For it meant, “before this thing that was expected took place— but the thing did not take place.” (3) For even if it was expected that the Virgin would have relations with Joseph, an impossibility because of his age, the holy scripture shows us in advance, and confirms our notion, < to > convince < us > that, although the thing is possible despite the sacred childbirth, no man < may > ever again approach the Virgin for sexual relations—convincing us in the same way in which the angel convinced Joseph that his suspicion was unfounded. (4) For there is a similarity between “before they came together,” which means that this was expected but did not happen, and, “Being a righteous man he sought not to make her a public example but to put her away privily,” which means that he would become evil if he made her a public example, but he did not. In the same way the angel teaches him, “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife’ ” though she had not yet become his wife, “even if you suspect her of a fall”; but she is not what you think,” and so on. (5) For he says directly after that, “for that which was conceived in her,” as though it had already occurred, but then, “she shall bear a son,” as of a future event; and she did. (6) And the prediction < has come down to us* > because its truth has been demonstrated, just as “before they came together” < has come down to us* > because we are satisfied that no such thing has occurred. “Until she brought forth her son, the firstborn,” is to be interpreted along the same lines, because of the marvel of the knowledge of the Virgin, with her honor in the sight of God.

21,1 But no one should suppose that because it says, “before they came together,” they came together later on. No one can prove this or show it; scripture has provided this added confirmation to show that the Savior’s conception was undefiled. “[ Joseph] knew her not” is said to her glory; (2) “first- born “ is said because he is the Firstborn, before there are any creatures, and the “firstborn among many brethren”  as the apostle said—not brethren by < birth > from Mary as though she bore other sons, but the brethren who were vouchsafed adoption as sons through him when, to remove any suspicion of docetism, he truly became her son in the flesh. (3) What is more, he was the firstborn and the son of the Virgin herself—not, as I said, because she had other sons. For this is similar to his first birth before the incarnation. He who is truly the Father’s heavenly Firstborn before all creation, is not called Firstborn because there were others begotten of the Father after him. Because he is Only-begotten, he has no second brother. (4) Thus he was always Mary’s firstborn during his sojourn on earth, but since he had no second brother bom of her, he was Mary’s only child.

Those who have invented things that will hurt and not help them must stop. Don’t do it! Please don’t! (5) He who honors the Lord, also honors his holy < vessel >; he who dishonors the holy < vessel >, dishonors his own Master as well. Leave Mary the holy vessel, the holy Virgin, alone! These harmful < contrivances > are of no use to us; we must think more reverently, or we will become proud, or contentious, or garrulous. (6) For as the scripture says, We shall “give account for every idle word. Let us look after ourselves, <then>, and mind our own business. Let us not attribute our behavior to the saints, not look at the saints’ lives in terms of our own.

22,1 For some who are who are constrained and inclined to sensuality and have within them a pernicious expectation [of it], would doubtless like to smear the saints as well, to provide a plausible excuse for their wicked, weak-willed expectation. To them the apostle says, “I would that all men were as myself.” But why does he say, “myself,” except because of his purity?

22,2 “But because of fornication, let each have his own wife!” But the pronoun has been left out; Paul said this for a reproof, and to convert them. He could have said, “because of your fornication.” He left “your” out, however, not to appear to have said this as abuse of anyone. (3) But the words were spoken in condemnation of certain persons who were unwilling to free themselves for God, as our fathers of old used to do after living in accordance with the Law and knowing their own vessels fittingly for procreation. I have found a scripture somewhere that says, “Rebecca conceived of one.” (4) By saying, “of one,” he described it politely but showed that her conception was a righteous one. He is telling us that, once he had children, Jacob had no further relations with his wife.

22,5 But it is a simple and easy matter for our minds to be diverted to evils instead of the essentials. Our human reason is shaky, and not quick to direct its zeal into the Lord’s straight path. It veers sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, and finds it hard to obey Solomon’s injunction, “Turn not to the right hand, nor to the left. (6) Since our wickedness is taking another turn with regard to the same thoughts, and urges our good sense to go off on other paths, let us make sure that excessive praise of the Virgin does not become another occasion of delusion for anyone.

23,1 For in blasphemy of the Son, some, as I have already indicated, have done their best to make him literally different from the Father’s Godhead. Others again, whose views are different, have said that the Father is the same, the Son is the same, and the Holy Spirit is the same, as though, if you please, they had been encouraged to honor the Son too highly. In both cases the plague is incurable.

23,2 Similarly, some have dared to speak insolently of this holy and blessed Ever-virgin, as though she had had sexual relations after that greatest and unsullied providence of the Lord, his incarnation. And of all wicked- ness, this is the most impious. (3) But even as I say < that I am astonished > to learn how some have dared to give themselves to [the] sin with the utmost readiness, I am once more astonished to hear the other. For < I have heard > in turn that others, who are out of their minds on the subject of this holy Ever- virgin, have done and are doing their best, in the grip both of some madness and of folly, to substitute her for God. (4) For they say that certain Thracian women there in Arabia have introduced this nonsense, and that they bake a loaf in the name of the Ever-virgin, gather together, and < both > attempt an excess and undertake a forbidden, blasphemous act in the holy Virgin’s name, and offer sacrifice in her name with woman officiants.

This is entirely impious, unlawful, and different from the Holy Spirit’s mes- sage, and is thus pure devil’s work, and the doctrine of an unclean spirit. (5) The words, “Some shall depart from sound doctrine, giving heed to fables and doctrines of devils,” apply to these people as well. For as the scriptures say, they will be “worshiping the dead” as the dead were given divine honors in Israel. And the glory of the saints, which redounds to God in its due season, has become an error for others, who do not see the truth. 

23,6 For in Shechem, that is, the present day Neapolis, the inhabitants offer sacrifices in the name of Core, supposedly because of Jephthah’s daugh- ter who was once offered to God as a sacrifice. And for those who have been taken in by it, this has become the misfortune of idolatry and vain worship. (7) And because Pharaoh’s daughter honored God’s servant Moses, and took him up and reared him, the Egyptians honored her to excess in place of God because of the fame of the child in those days, and by an evil tradition have handed this down to the foolish as an observance. And they worship Thermu- tis the daughter of Amenophis who was Pharaoh until that time, because, as I said, she reared Moses.

23,8 And there have been many such things to mislead the deluded, though the saints are not responsible for anyone’s stumbling; the human mind finds no rest, but is perverted to evils. (9) The holy virgin may have died and been buried—her falling asleep was with honor, her death in purity, her crown in virginity. Or she may have been put to death—as the scripture says, “And a sword shall pierce through her soul”—her fame is among the martyrs and her holy body, by which light rose on the world, [rests] amid blessings. Or she may have remained alive, for God is not incapable of doing whatever he wills. No one knows her end.

But we must not honor the saints to excess; we must honor their Master. (10) It is time for the error of those who have gone astray to cease. Mary is not God and does not have her body from heaven but by human conception, though, like Isaac, she was provided by promise. (11) And no one should make offerings in her name, for he is destroying his own soul. But neither, in turn, should he be insolent and offer insult to the holy Virgin. Heaven forbid, she had no sexual relations after or before the Savior’s conception.

24,1 I have thought these few points through and put them in writing for those who are willing to learn the truth of the scripture, and not talk wildly and sharpen their blasphemous tongues to no purpose. (2) But if any prefer to object, and receive not what is beneficial but the opposite, I too will have to say, despite my insignificance, “ ‘Let him that heareth, hear, and him that disobeyeth, disobey’; ‘let no man trouble’ the apostles any more, or ‘me.’ ” (3) What I knew to be reverent and of use to the church I have said of the holy Virgin, in defense of her who is in every way favored, as Gabriel said, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee!” But if the Lord is with her, how can she be a partner in another union? How can she have intercourse with flesh, when she is preserved by the Lord? (4) The saints are in honor, their repose is in glory, their departure in perfection, their portion in blessedness, among the holy women alone. Their choir is with the angels, their dwelling in heaven, their manner of life in the sacred scriptures. Their fame is in incomparable and perpetual honor. Their rewards are in Christ Jesus our Lord, through whom and with whom be glory to the Father with the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.

24,5 All the brethren send you their greetings. And do you yourselves greet all the faithful, orthodox brethren among you, who detest pride and hate the fellowship of the Arians and the foolishness of the Sabellians, but honor the Trinity in its co-essentiality, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three entities, one essence, one Godhead, and in a word, one glory—and are not in error about our Savior’s saving incarnation and advent in the flesh, (6) but believe completely in the incarnation of Christ as perfect God and at the same time perfect man except for sin; who took his body itself from Mary, and took a soul and mind, and everything human except for sin—not a Christ who is two, but one Lord, one God, one king, one high priest, God and man, man and God, not two but one, united not as a mixture or as an unreal thing but as a great dispensation of grace. Farewell!

24,7 Since I am satisfied that the copy of my letter is correct, and am of the opinion that this much will do for a reply to them, I have also passed this sect by in God, as I would a snake peeping out of its hole. I have fully refuted it with God’s wise doctrine and his power—a power that breathes a sweet odor, like storax, on the world in the virtue < of the faithful >, holy children of the virginity which began with Mary, through the light which has dawned on the world through her. I have showed what the evil poi- son of this serpent’s reptilian wickedness is. Let us go on to the rest once more, to finish the entire work in God.