Background to controversy
Most of the early heresies were Trinitarian and
nature, but Collyridianism stood alone as a heresy
that sought to
deify the Blessed Virgin Mary. Little is known about the
theology. Not even the names of the group's leaders are
writers of the time. This sect's excessive Marian devotion
into the idolatry of Mary worship. This aberration grew out
Church's rightful veneration of Mary as ever-virgin, Mother of
and powerful heavenly intercessor, but crossed the line of
when certain Christians began to worship Mary as divine.
about the Collyridians are scanty, but one of the few specifics
know of them is that at their liturgical service bread was offered
a sacrifice to Mary.
The heresy of the Collyridians was very simple: They
This was in direct conflict with the Catholic Church's
of idolatry, which had been condemned by God himself: "You
no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a
image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or
is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God
a jealous God" (Ex. 20:3-5; cf. Deut. 5:7 6:14; 1 Cor.
10:19-20; Eph. 5:5). This proscription applies not just to
worship, but to the worship of anything besides God.
It is ironic that the most diligent opponent of the
Epiphanius (315- 403), the bishop of Salamis. He was
for his learning and holy asceticism and was a close
Jerome, but he was also a rude and querulous man who garnered
enemies, some of whom were fellow bishops.
Though Epiphanius's efforts to quash the Collyridians
and his theological and scriptural reasoning against
was sound, he himself was not free from error in the
area of honoring
God's friends. The vehemence of his opposition to the
idolatry was rivaled by his fanatical opposition to
In a description that is reminiscent of certain
Fundamentalist foes of Catholic Marian doctrines and of
icons and images, patristics scholar Aloys Dirksen,
describes Epiphanius as having a "fiery temperament and
impetuosity . . . that made the calm objectivity necessary
scholarly work impossible for him. His narrow-mindedness is
in the part he played in the Origenist controversy and the
with which he attacked the veneration of images.
"He considered this idolatry, and in his testament he
anyone who would even gaze upon a picture of the
temperament made him suspicious of heresy everywhere,
and he made
capital of even the smallest inaccuracy of statement. It
impossible for him to see any viewpoint but his own. Since he
critical acumen and was a poor, even a tiresome writer, his
would be of little value if it were not for his many quotations
others]. He thus saved much that would otherwise have been lost
us" (Elementary Patrology [St. Louis: Herder, 1959], 117).
Epiphanius wrote against the Collyridians in his most
apologetic work, Panarion (Medicine Box [374-377]), a
refutation of over eighty heresies known to him. He
refuted the two
extreme and diametrically opposed Marian heresies of
Collyridianism (which overly exalted Mary) and
an Arabian movement that debased Mary's status and
virtues, to the
point of claiming "that holy Mary had intercourse with
a man, that is
to say, Joseph, after the birth of Christ" (Panarion
The Collyridians were primarily women who developed a
combination of Catholicism and pagan goddess cult customs.
describing the "awful and blasphemous ceremony," in which they
a chair or a square throne and spread a linen cloth over it for
ritual, Epiphanius writes, "Certain women there in Arabia
introduced this absurd teaching from Thracia: how they offer up
sacrifice of bread rolls in the name of the ever-Virgin Mary, and
partake of this bread" ( 78:13). He emphasizes the
between Mary and God: "It is not right to honor the saints
due" (ibid. 78:23); "Now the body of Mary was indeed
holy, but it was
not God; the Virgin was indeed a virgin and revered,
but she was not
given to us for worship, but she herself worshiped
him who was born in
the flesh from her.... Honor Mary, but let the
Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit be worshiped, but let no one
worship Mary, . . . even
though Mary is most beautiful and holy and
venerable, yet she is not to
be worshiped" (ibid. 79:1, 4).
With Epiphanius we can say that anyone who worships
Mary or any other
creature is committing idolatry and must be rebuked.
We should look
to Scripture, at the case of the angel who rebuked John
temptation to idolatry, to see how to admonish
Collyridians: "At this I fell at his feet to worship him.
But he said
to me, 'Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and
brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!'"
19:10). No doubt, our Lady herself would say this to any who
seek to worship her.
Collyridianism is seen today in various forms. Those
groups and writers who overly exalt Mary and focus on
her to the
exclusion (or near exclusion) of Christ are guilty of
approaching idolatry. Modern feminism is the source of a
Collyridianism that worships a "mother goddess" and seeks
"re-image" God in female terms.
This article was taken from the October, 1994 issue of
published by Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego,
(619) 541-1131, $24.00 per year.
electronic form of this document is copyrighted.
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