Epiphanius Adv. haer. 54

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Against Theodotians. 34, but 54 of the series

1,1 One Theodotus arose in his turn. He was an offshoot of the “Dumb” sect I have spoken of, which denies John’s Gospel and the divine Word who it <declares> was “in the beginning,” and John’s Revelation. (2) He was also associated and contemporary with the other sects we have discussed, and was their successor in time. The Theodotians, as they are called, derive from him. I do not know whether the sect is still in existence, but shall say what I have learned about it from written works.

1,3 Theodotus was from Byzantium, which is now called Constantinople. He was a shoemaker by trade, but a man of broad learning. (4) At the outset of a persecution—I cannot say which one—he with some others was arrested by the governor of the city, and was subjected to examination for Christ’s sake along with the rest. All the other servants of God won their victory and attained heavenly rewards by their witness for Christ. (5) Theodotus, however, fell into transgression by denying Christ and missing the mark of the truth and, deeply ashamed because of his censure by many, fled his native land, moved to Rome and lived there.

1,6 But when he was recognized by the Christians in Rome, he once again incurred the same censure there; for he was charged, by those who knew him for his learning, with being a very learned man who had lost his grip on the truth. (7) But as a supposed lame excuse for himself he invented the following new doctrine that said, “I didn’t deny God, I denied a man.” Then, when they asked him, “Which man?” he answered, “I denied the man Christ.”

1,8 Thereafter he, and the Theodotians whose founder he was, taught this doctrine of his and said that Christ is a mere man begotten of a man’s seed. (9) Next, as a weak defense for himself, he collected whatever texts he found useful—not that he honestly thought [this was what they meant], but he amassed them as an excuse for his defection. He said, [for example], “Christ said, ‘But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth.’ You see,” he said, “that Christ is a man.”

2,1 But the wretch does not know that the Lord says in the same verse, “the truth which I have heard of my Father.” He is saying that God is his father—not a man. (2) If he had heard the truth from a man he would not have boasted of his witness to the truth by saying that he had heard the truth from men. Instead he boasts of it to show that he is God, begotten of the Father on high but become man for us, and slain in the flesh, but living forever in his Godhead.

2,3 Theodotus says next that he has not committed sin by denying Christ. “For,” says he, “Christ himself has said, ‘All manner of blasphemy shall be forgiven men,’ and, ‘Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he that blasphemeth the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him here or in the world to come.’”

2,4 And the unfortunate man does not know that, from a superabundance of meekness and loving-kindness, the Lord is saying this prophetically, in his desire to ensure in advance the salvation of those who have at one time blasphemed him and [then] returned to repentance, thus not sentencing them to condemnation. (5) [He is saying it besides] because he knows that certain persons will arise and blaspheme the Holy Spirit and place him in a slave’s status, making him alien to the essence of God. (6) And so, as a precaution, he said, “He that blasphemeth against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him here or in the world to come”—not to commend those who blaspheme him, but to show his foreknowledge and loving-kindness by assuring in advance the salvation of those who blaspheme him and [then] repent. (7) For he himself, again, says, “He that hath denied me before men shall be denied before my Father,” and, “I will deny him,” and again, “He that confesseth me I will confess before my Father.”

3,1 And again this same Theodotus says, “The Law too said of him, ‘The Lord will raise up unto you a prophet of your brethren, like unto me; hearken to him.’12 But Moses was a man. Therefore the Christ whom God raised up was this person but, since he was one of them, was a man just as Moses was a man.”

3,2 Because of his lapse into transgression Theodotus has no understanding of the way in which each text has its safeguard. (3) The Lord raised Christ “from among his brethren” in the sense that he was born of Mary, as the scripture says, “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” While still remaining a virgin “she shall conceive”—not from a man’s seed—“and bear a Son;” it is plain that the Virgin’s offspring was born in the flesh. But “They shall call his name Emmanuel which being interpreted, is God with us.” (4) For he is God and man: God, begotten of the Father without beginning and not in time; but man, born of Mary, because of the incarnation.

3,5 Next Theodotus says, “And the Gospel itself said to Mary, ‘The Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee’; it did not say, ‘The Spirit of the Lord shall enter into thee.’” (6) For in his contentiousness the stupid man is deprived of the truth in every respect. In every way the scripture is protecting our salvation. To show that the Trinity is altogether and entirely co-existent and co-operant, and make sure that no one will echo the evil allegations which many make (7) to separate the Holy Spirit from Christ and <the> Father, the angel says to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee,” and after that, “Therefore also that which is born of thee shall be called holy, the Son of God.”

3,8 And he did not say merely, “that which is born,” but, “therefore also that which is born <[shall be] holy>,” to show that < the > divine Word from above also entered the womb and formed his own human nature in his image according to his good pleasure. And because of his human nature which he took for our salvation, the scripture adds, “Therefore also that which is born shall be called holy, the Son of God.” (9) For if the angel had said, “The Holy Spirit shall enter into thee,” it would not be possible to think that the Son of God had come in the flesh, but [only] that the Holy Spirit had come in the flesh.

3,10 But since he is the Word come from on high, John, to clarify what we hear from the angel in the Gospel, said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made.” (11) Then, after this, “And the Word was made flesh.” And he did not say, “The Spirit was made flesh;” nor did he say, “Christ was born as a man.” (12) On its guard at every turn, the sacred scripture knows him as God and man: God come from God on high, but man born of Mary without a man’s seed. Whoever departs from these two truths is not of the truth.

4,1 The wretched Theodotus, once more, says by way of allegation, “Jeremiah too said of him, ‘He he is a man and who will know him?’ ” Because <he> had estranged himself from the truth <he> did not know that each verse, as I said, is self-interpreting. Whoever is a man is of course known by many acquaintances—I mean by his father and mother, brothers and relatives, friends and neighbors, fellow townsmen, household servants. (3) But here, to describe the marvel of Christ’s whole work, the scripture called him “man” because of the incarnation, but gave indication of his incomprehensible Godhead by saying, “Who will know him?” (4) For since “No man knoweth the Son save the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him,” no one will know Christ unless <Christ himself > reveals it to him. (5) But by the Holy Spirit he reveals his own and his Father’s Godhead and glory to his servants, and his eternal life to come, his mysteries, his teaching, and his true advent in the flesh for our sakes; for he is God from on high, and man from Mary.

5,1 Then Theodotus says in turn, “Isaiah too called him a man, for he said, ‘A man acquainted with the bearing of infirmity; and we knew him afflicted with blows and abuse, and he was despised and not esteemed.’ ” (2) But the oaf does not know how he is confounded once more. In that very passage Isaiah said the following: “He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is dumb so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment was taken away”—(3) then he says, “Who can declare his generation, for his life is taken from men?” And he didn’t say, “His life was taken <from> him,” but, “from men.” (4) For the Word is forever living and in being, has life of himself, and gives life to those who love him. His life was taken from men, but <as God he lives> and is life of himself. For “The Word is living,” and provides life to all who have truly placed their hopes in him..

5,5 And the words, “Who can declare his generation?” <cannot be applied to a man>. If he were a mere man born of Mary, it would be easy to declare his generation. But since he is before David, <and> before Abraham—(6) “Your father Abraham,” he says, “desired to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” And then, when they said in astonishment, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou see Abraham?” in refutation of Theodotus and the unbelieving Jews who deny God he said, “Verily, verily I say unto you, before Abraham, I am.” (7) For he was truly before Abraham, and before Noah, Adam, the world, heaven, the time of the universe, and the time of all creatures, for he is not in time. (8) And this is why, through Isaiah, he is declared incomprehensible by the Holy Spirit: “Who can declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.”

5,9 Theodotus, however, says, “The holy apostles called him ‘a man approved among you by signs and wonders;’ and they did not say, ‘God approved.’” (10) But Theodotus, you are foiled again. On the contrary, the same apostles [said that he was God] in the same Acts, as the blessed Stephen said, “Behold, I see heaven open, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.”

6,1 His next allegation is that ‘The apostle called him the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.’” (2) And he does not realize how he is attacking himself once more. The apostle who said, “mediator between God and man, <the man> Christ Jesus,” clarified this himself by saying, “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ;” and again, “made of a woman, made under the Law.” (3) And in confirmation of these statements he says, “If there be that are called gods many and lords many, yet to us there is one God, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things <and we for him>.” (4) But if “All things are by him and we are for him,” the Only-begotten cannot be a mere man <who dates> from Mary, or the product of a man’s seed. If he was a mere man, how could all things be by him when, as you say, they were before him? Or how could all things be for him, when they were known and made before him? And Theodotus’ foolishness fails completely.

6,5 During the debate itself I have both said what I know of Theodotus, and given the refutation of each of his arguments. In the manner of the series I shall pass him by as though, with the hope and faith of the truth, I had struck and killed part of a still wriggling snake. Let us investigate the rest, and hurry on to take a look at the sects in all their savagery.