Epiphanius and the veil – a 4th century attitude to images

While searching for old commentary on Epiphanius and the Borborites, I stumbled across something even more interesting.

In The Catholic Layman in 1853[refTwo articles are referenced: ]”The Story of St. Epiphanius and the Veil”, The Catholic Layman, 2.17 (1853), 50, 56.[/ref] appear a couple of quotations from Epiphanius.

The first (p.56) appears in a discussion of purgatory.

… we refer to Epiphanius’s letter to John, bishop of Jerusalem* (works, vol. ii., p. 314, Paris, 1622) in which, after calling Origen the father of Arius, and the root of other heresies, he goes on: “And this, too, which he maintains, I know not whether to grieve or laugh at ; for this excellent teacher, Origen, dares to teach that the Devil will again be what he was once, and will return to the same dignity, and will ascend the kingdom of heaven!  O shocking!  Who can be so senseless and so foolish as to believe that John the Baptist, and Peter, and John the Apostle, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets shall be co-heirs with the Devil in the kingdom of God ?”

The second (p.50) is more interesting still:

Having had occasion, in another column, page 56, to quote the letter of St. Epiphanius to John of Jerusalem, we give here, according to our promise, an extract which will explain some of the circumstances which gave rise to the letter.

“I heard that some are murmuring against me, for the following reason:-

When we were going together, to the holy place, which is called Bethel, that I might there hold a service with you, according to the ecclesiastical custom, and when I had come to the village called Anablatha, I saw, as I was passing by, a light burning there.  So I asked what place it was, and, being told that it was a church, I entered in, to pray there; and I found there a veil, hanging on the doors of the same church, dyed and painted, and having the likeness of Christ, I believe, or of some saint or other, for I don’t exactly remember whose likeness it was.

So, when I saw this–the likeness of a man hanging in the church of Christ, contrary to the authority of the Scriptures–I tore it, and I gave directions to the keepers of the place, to roll up some poor dead person in it, and bury him in it.

But they murmured against me, and said, ‘If you wished to tear our veil, it would be only right that you should give us another in exchange for it.’  So, when I heard this, I acknowledged that it was reason.able, and promised that I would give it, and would send one forthwith. Some delay, however, has taken place, because I was anxious to send a very good veil, instead of it, for I thought I ought to send one from Cyprus [his own diocese]; but now I send the best veil I could find, and I beg you will give directions, to the priests of that place, to’ take it from bearer, and will give orders that no veils of that kind, which are contrary to our religion, should henceforth be hung up in the church of Christ, for it becomes you to be more careful to take away this cause of offence, which is unworthy of the church of Christ, and of the people who have been committed to you.”

It’s worth noting that Epiphanius was not on the best of terms with John of Jerusalem.   But evidently this was something of no relevance to their disagreement.

I shall have to locate that letter in full and see what else it says.