The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

By Kathy L. Gaca | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
The Fornicating Justice
of Epiphanes

A Christian Platonist disputation from the second century memorably reflects the incompatibility between the principles of sexual order envisioned by Plato and the early Stoics and those of the Septuagint as reinterpreted by Clement of Alexandria in support of Paul and Philo. This debate concerns whether Christians should adopt the sexual mores advocated by Plato and the early Stoics or those championed by Clement. The main participants were Clement and a little-known philosopher named Epiphanes, both of whom had strong Christian Platonist leanings. Epiphanes' sexual principles were associated with those of the Gnostic Carpocratians,1 while Clement's amailgam later helps define orthodox sexual morality in the church. Epiphanes' argument appears in his now fragmentary treatise On Justice, which Clement cites and denounces in the Stromateis. Their conflicting views draw upon a varietyof Greek biblical and Middle Platonist tenets, which for Epiphanes includes Plato's proposals in Republic 5 and early Stoic political theory. The controversy shows that it was a live question in the second century

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1
Epiphanes is little known except for having written On Justice, fragments of which are preserved by Clement, Strom 3.6–9. He was a younger contemporary of Clement and purportedly died prior to the age of twenty, Clement, Strom 3.5.1–3. Biographical testimony that is not above question on several matters associates Epiphanes with the Carpocratians, Irenaeus, Adv haeres 1.25; Clement, Strom 3.5.1–3, 9.2, 3.10.1; J. Oulton and H. Chadwick, eds., Alexandrian Christianity: Selected Translations of Clement and Origen (1954), 25–9; G. Bardy, “Carpocratiens” (1949); A. Torhoudt, “Άpiphane” (1963); F. Bolgiani, “La polemica di Clemente Alessandrino contro gli gnostici libertini nel III libro degli Stromati” (1967), 95–9; and H. Liboron, Die karpokratianische Gnosis: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Anschauungswelt eines spätgnostischen Systems (1938), 15–8. The entry on Epiphanes in W. Smith and H. Wace, eds., (The Dictionary of Christian Biography: Literature, Sects, and Doctrines [1880–1900; reprint, 1984]) remains useful as well.

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