Theodoret on the Borborites / Phibionites

Epiphanius of Salamis devotes a section of his Panarion to the Borborites or Phibionites, a bunch of libertine gnostics of a pretty disgusting kind.  But few will know that Theodoret also mentions this group, in his Compendium haereticarum fabularum book 1, chapter 13.  The English translation of this is itself little known.[1] Let’s hear what Theodoret has to say.

Chapter 13: Concerning the Barbelioti,[50] that is to say the Borboriani.

The pollution of those called Barbelioti, that is to say, Borboriani, or Naasenes, or Stratiotici,[51] or Phemioniti, sprouted from the seeds of Valentinus. For they set forth a certain Aeon who continues indestructible in virginal spirit, which they call Barbeloth; and Barbeloth asked for Prognosis from him. But after Prognosis came forth, then, asking again, Aphtharsia came forth, then Zoe Aionios. And they say that after Barbeloth was rejoicing, she became pregnant and bore Phos.

They said that Phos, having been anointed by the perfection of the spirit[52] , was called Christ. Again this Christ asked for Nous, and he received (it). And the Father added also Logos. Then Ennoia and Logos, Aphtharsia and Christ, Zoe Aionios and Thelema, Nous and Prognosis were joined in pairs.  Again they said that Autogenes was emanated from Ennoia and Logos, and with him Aletheia, and again there was another pair from Autogenes and Aletheia. And why is it necessary to speak of the other emanations, (namely) those from Phos and Aphtharsia? Because the myth is long, and, in addition to the impiety, it is unpleasant.

And they had put upon them also the Hebrew names, trying to astound those more simple. And they said that Autogenes emanated a perfect and true man, whom they call Adamas. He emanated with him a yoke-mate: Perfect-Knowledge. Hence, again, (they said that) the mother, father and son were manifested. A Tree grew from Anthropos and Gnosis; and this they also called Gnosis.

But they say that the Holy Spirit emanated from the first Angel, whom they term Sophia and Prunicus.  This one, they say, desired a husband, [and] and she begot Work, in which was Ignorance and Arrogance.  And they called this Work Protarchon and they say that he is the maker of creation.

Now [they say that] this one, having coupled with Arrogance, begat Evil and the [various] categories of this. Therefore, these things I have narrated summarily, passing over the immensity of the fiction. So who is thrice-unhappy as to their mystical rites as to wish to utter orally the things that they have performed? For all the things done as divine works by those men transcend every immoral conception and every abominable thought. And to speak the name is sufficient to hint at their all-abominable adventure. For the Borboriani were so called because of this.

50.  See: Irenaeus, Adv. Her. 1.29-30; The Apocryphon of John; and Epiphanius, Pan. 25.2-5; 26.1-19. For further references see: Dizionario Patristico e di Antichita Cristiane, ed. A. di Berardino, Roma 1983, vol. 1, 474-5; W.Foerster, Gnosis: A selection of gnostic texts, tr. R. McWilson, 2 vols., Oxford, 1972-74, pp. 100-120; R. Haardt, Gnosis: Character and Testimony, tr. J.F. Hendry, Brill 1971, pp. 66-69.
51.   Epiphanius,  Pan. 25.2.
52.  Irenaeus, Adv. Her. 1.29.1, states this was done by the Father.

The obvious question is to what extent Theodoret is relying on Epiphanius, and therefore not independent of him.  To evaluate this, we need to see what Epiphanius has to say.

  1. [1]Glenn M. Cope, An analysis of the heresiological method of Theodoret of Cyrus in the ‘Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium’, (Diss.) Catholic University of America, 1990.  The title of the thesis gives no clue that an English translation of all five books is contained therein.

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