Epiphanius on reading the scriptures? An item from the Apothegmata Patrum

A quotation via Twitter:

Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin…It is a great treachery to salvation to know nothing of the Divine Law…Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.” – Epiphanius of Salamis/Cyprus

Very sound… but it doesn’t sound like Epiphanius.  It is, in fact, taken from the modern Engish translation of the Apothegmata Patrum, the Sayings of the Fathers, from the version known as the “Alphabetical Collection”, in the translation published by Benedicta Ward.[1]  The Greek text may be found  in the Patrologia Graeca 65, cols. 71-440, which reprints the edition of Cotelerius, itself a transcription from Codex Paris gr. 1599 (12th c.).  In the PG the text is listed as an “appendix” to Palladius’ Lausiac History; but the material is organised in order of the letters of the Greek alphabet:

The saying comes from the section on Epiphanius, sections 4-12.  Here’s the context.  (PG 65, col. 164C; Ward p.58):

4. One day Saint Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, ‘Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body.’ When he came, they rejoiced in each other’s company. During their meal, they were brought a fowl; Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. Then the old man said to him, ‘Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed.’ Then the bishop answered, ‘Since I took the habit, I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.’ The old man replied, ‘Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine.’

5. The same old man said, ‘Melchizedek, the image of Christ, blessed Abraham, the father of the Jews; how much more does truth itself, which is the Christ, bless and sanctify all those who believe in it.’

6. The same old man said, ‘The Canaanite woman cries out, and she is heard; (Matt. 15) the woman with the issue of blood is silent, and she is called blessed; (Luke 8) the pharisee speaks, and he is condemned;(Matt. 9) the publican does not open his mouth, and he is heard.’ (Luke 18)

7. The same old man said, ‘David the prophet prayed late at night; waking in the middle of the night, he prayed before the day; at the dawn of day he stood before the Lord; in the small hours he prayed, in the evening and at mid-day he prayed again, and this is why he said, “Seven times a day have I praised you.'” (Ps. 119.164)

8. He also said, ‘The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.’

9. He also said, ‘Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin.’

10. He also said, ‘It is a great treachery to salvation to know nothing of the divine law.’

11. He also said, ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.’

12. The same abba said, ‘The righteous sin through their mouths, but the ungodly sin in their whole bodies. This is why David sings; “Set, Ο Lord, a watch before my mouth and keep the door of my lips.” (Ps. 141.3) And again, “I will take heed to my ways that I do not sin with my tongue.” ‘ (Ps. 39.1)

Good sound stuff, of course.

The attributions in any collection of “sayings” literature should all be taken with a pinch of salt, as this is not a literary genre, where the original form matters, but a practical one, where whatever is useful is included and attributed to whoever.  The same process in modern times gives us the vast number of sayings all attributed to Winston Churchill.

  1. [1]Benedicta Ward (tr.), The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: the Alphabetical Collection, 1975.

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