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Chapter Two "Manichaean" Charge and Countercharge in Priscillian's Tractates
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Priscillian's Defense

Among the Würzburg tractates is a second major apologetic work attributed to Priscillian or a close associate of his: the so-called Apology .[46] Unlike the Letter to Damasus , this document is difficult to place within the framework of the chronology of the Priscillianist controversy and includes little narrative material. It is, therefore, of less use in reconstructing the sequence of events that led to the ultimate execution of Priscillian and his followers. However, the Apology is of great help in interpreting the content of the accusations brought against Priscillian's circle in Spain in the early stages of the controversy. Whereas the Letter to Damasus glosses over the unsavory charges circulating in the Lusitanian communities, it is precisely the purpose of the Apology to respond in detail to a series of accusations brought against the Spanish ascetics. Whereas the Letter to Damasus is a carefully constructed appeal addressed to a powerful bishop distant from the heart of the conflict, the Apology was intended for an audience of local bishops. Whereas the tone of the Letter to Damasus is sober and controlled and its language replete with legal terminology, the Apology is a spirited and loosely organized work that interweaves exegesis with preacherly exhortation, and passionate anathemas with fervent professions of faith. If the Letter to Damasus provides the characters and basic plot for the early stages of the Priscillianist controversy, the Apology supplies the dialogue.

Determining the exact circumstances of composition of the Apology is difficult.[47] Scholars have argued that it was written by Priscillian or one of his companions before the Council of Saragossa,[48] at the request of some Spanish bishops immediately following the conflict at Merida,[49] as part of the defensive campaign following the rescript of Gratian, or for the Council of Bordeaux;[50] in other words, the document has been dated to almost every stage of the Priscillianist controversy and its authorship attributed to various members of Priscillian's circle. The most likely context for the Apology is, however, the conflict at Merida after the Council of Saragossa and before Priscillian's ordination, and the most likely author is Priscillian himself.[51] The treatise was therefore probably composed earlier than the Letter to Damasus and may be the work referred to at the end of that letter,


where Priscillian appeals to "what we have written against the Manichaeans."[52] A date before the Council of Saragossa is possible but more difficult to support since, as we shall see, the Apology replies to charges of Manichaeism as well as charges of sorcery raised by Ithacius of Ossonuba, and there is no evidence that Ithacius was an active part of the opposition to the Priscillianist circle or that explicit charges of Manichaeism or sorcery were raised before the council. A later date is also possible, but much less likely than a date before Priscillian's ordination and Gratian's rescript, since the Apology seems to have been written by a layperson, makes no reference at all to the quasi-legal issues that are of such great concern in the Letter to Damasus , and is generally more confident and combative in tone.

Like the Letter to Damasus , the Apology is written on behalf of a group by an individual—presumably Priscillian—who seems naturally to assume the role of leader or spokesperson for the group. The author's sense of identity emerges most clearly in the introduction, where he offers his personal credentials. While protesting that "it is not proper to boast of what we have been," he nevertheless emphasizes his former social status and education: "We were not placed in such an obscure position in regard to the world or called so foolish that faith in Christ and the knowledge of belief could bring death to us rather than salvation."[53] Compare Severus' statement that Priscillian was wealthy, well-educated, and of noble birth.[54] In the Apology , these worldly credentials are transformed through their apparent rejection into the ascetic authority of one who has been converted in baptism to a "road" of life mapped out by the catholic creed and consisting of total surrender to Christ. Priscillian expresses a reluctance to respond to the bishops' request that he "go through each item" in defending his own orthodoxy: how could one with his credentials not "condemn the silly dogmas of the heretics"? This professed reluctance has a rhetorical function, but also appears to reflect a real ambivalence on the author's part. On the one hand, he clearly feels that his ascetic life and his past professions of orthodox belief, which are not secret but "established in the light of faith," grant him a certain authority and freedom. On the other hand, he acknowledges that scripture calls him to give witness whenever requested, both for the further perfecting of his own faith and for the sake of those who might sin through their mistaken opposition to him.[55]

In the end, Priscillian agrees to comply with the "most blessed bishops"; he indicates that they leave him little choice. Undertaking to condemn a series of errors of which he and his associates have been accused, Priscillian hopes thereby to persuade the bishops of the falseness of those accusations. Indeed, he announces that he will take the opportunity, not


only to respond to the specific items with which he has been presented, but also to "speak more broadly" in professing his faith and opposing heresy.[56] The large number of errors condemned in the Apology supports the impression that Priscillian does indeed "speak more broadly": while many of these condemnations function as a direct defense against actual accusations, others are included to serve more complicated rhetorical purposes or arise out of interests unrelated to the controversy at hand. A brief overview of the document will provide a sense of its structure in relation to the apologetic purpose of Priscillian's condemnation of heresies, while also allowing us to identify and explore more fully those condemnations that seem most certain to reflect actual accusations against Priscillian and his circle.

Priscillian's introductory remarks include a condemnation of the "Binionites," those who divide Christ from God.[57] All the tractates place great stress on the unity of Christ and God, and Priscillian may well have created the Binionites—who appear only in his writings—as a fitting counterpart to his own highly unitive theology.[58] At any rate, he never suggests that he has been charged with this heresy. Priscillian next moves to the main body of his work, opening with four relatively brief condemnations of heresies that may likewise have little or nothing to do with the controversy between Priscillian's circle and their opponents: the Patripassian heresy, the Novatian heresy, the heresy of those who deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and the Nicolaitans.[59] Priscillian's strong emphasis on the unity of God does, in fact, leave him somewhat vulnerable to the accusations of Patripassianism (an error Priscillian does not even seem to understand) and Docetism, and both of these were doctrinal errors associated with Manichaeism,[60] of which he was certainly accused. The possible charge of Novatianism—which Priscillian describes as a heresy characterized by multiple baptisms—may reflect disagreements between Priscillian's circle and their opponents on the subject of baptism.[61] Finally, the brief reference to the Nicolaitans may reflect charges of immorality being levied against Priscillian and his circle. Nevertheless, the connection between these four anathemas and the accusations actually brought against Priscillian and his associates is never made explicit and must therefore remain uncertain.[62]

Most of the weight of Priscillian's anathematizing efforts in the Apology falls on the next four errors condemned: worship of animals, worship of gentile gods, worship of demons, and Manichaeism. The errors of animal-, idol-, and demon-worship are treated at great length, and here finally Priscillian makes it clear that in each case the errors condemned represent actual accusations brought against his circle. The condemnation


of the followers of Mani is more concise, but quite violent; in both respects it anticipates the condemnation of sorcery later in the work, where Priscillian again makes it quite clear that he is responding to an actual charge, even naming his accuser. Between the condemnations of Mani and of sorcery, Priscillian inserts a catalogue of ten heresies, including some (but not all) of the heresies already condemned, as well as several not previously mentioned; this list again does not seem to represent a response to actual charges against Priscillian but rather functions rhetorically to suggest the inclusiveness of Priscillian's condemnation of heresy, to deflect attention from the heresies of which Priscillian and his circle were actually being accused, and to separate all the foregoing condemnations from the discussion of the terrible accusation of sorcery that follows.

Priscillian's closing remarks include a positive profession of his own orthodox belief and a discussion of the criteria by which one distinguishes orthodoxy and heresy. Embedded in the statement of his own orthodoxy is a final condemnation of those who are led by an overly "carnal" interpretation of scripture to consider God masculo-feminine. These heretics also deny the Resurrection and take demons (Armaziel, Mariame, Joel, Balsamus, Barbilos) to be God. The subsequent discussion of how to distinguish orthodox and heretical teaching appears to engage one of Priscillian's favorite topics, as well as to respond to a point on which he has been attacked. Priscillian gives a brief treatment of his distinctive views concerning the canon, the apocrypha, prophecy, and revelation, in the course of which he condemns those who add a fifth gospel to the canon—an error of which he has also been accused.

This overview of the Apology suggests, then, that the condemnations that represent direct responses to actual accusations include the anathemas aimed against worshippers of animals, gentile gods, and demons, the condemnation of the followers of Mani, the anathematization of sorcerers, and the objection to the addition of a fifth gospel to the canon. The first and most lengthy of these is the condemnation of those who worship animals, which opens as follows: "Let the one be anathema who, upon reading about griffins, eagles, asses, elephants, serpents, and unnecessary beasts, has been captured by the emptiness of confused respect and constructed, as it were, a mystery of divine religion—though their works and abominableness of form are the nature of the demons, not the truth of the divine glories."[63] Priscillian here vehemently denounces exegetes who identify certain scriptural animals as symbols of God or the sacraments, implying that such exegetes thereby condone the worship of animals.[64] He insists that any scriptural mention of animals or fabulous beasts must instead be understood as a reference to demonic powers and moral vice:


"We have renounced what we have renounced in the devil, and that is what is called a wild animal."[65] The interpreter who fails to recognize this meaning confuses demons with God and evil with virtue and thereby condemns him or herself. "The prophets wanted all that was put in their visions to be read by all and, having been understood, to be avoided; and therefore the hearts of those who investigated those things and did not understand rightly what it was that they read have been given to the beast and their flesh will be devoured," Priscillian explains, citing the apocalyptic visions of bestial adversaries described in Daniel and Revelation.[66] Those who interpret scriptural beasts correctly, on the other hand, are enabled to attain the virtue of the true Christian and ascetic: "The one who understands the natures of beasts that have been described in parables may reject the things of this world and purify the character defects in him or herself."[67]

In defending his position, Priscillian is able to marshal an impressive, if also somewhat tedious, number of scriptural passages mentioning animals or fabulous beasts. He presents himself self-consciously as an authoritative interpreter of scripture who is called to the interpretive task by the canon itself, which urges him to "search the scriptures" (cf. John 5.39)[68] and to strive to understand the "turns of speech and the interpretation of parables" (cf. Wisd. of Sol. 8.8 and Ecclus. 39.2–3),[69] since "the law is spiritual" (cf. Rom. 7.14) and "all prophecy requires interpretation" (cf. 2 Peter 1.20).[70] If scripture calls him to his task, it is the God Christ who empowers him: "we have the God Christ in our minds as guide, through whom even if we should think otherwise, these things will also be revealed to us."[71] Priscillian is clearly satisfied that his long labor to interpret the scriptural references to animals has produced fruit, and his words reflect both confidence and inflexibility on a topic crucial to his exegetical defense of asceticism.

It is unlikely that either the idiosyncrasy or the intolerance of Priscillian's exegetical stance would have been enough to provoke an accusation of heresy, much less of animal-worship. The explanation for his accusers' hostile response lies, I suggest, in Priscillian's probable use of gnostic apocrypha to interpret canonical references to animals. His emphasis on his own authority as interpreter hints that the use of apocrypha may here be at stake, since it recalls similar language in his Book on the Faith and the Apocrypha , in which he twice cites John's exhortation to "search the scriptures" and concludes that the scriptures themselves command him to study even noncanonical texts in his search for knowledge of God.[72] Moreover, we shall see that elsewhere in the Apology , Priscillian identifies scriptural beasts both with the seven planetary gods and with demons called


by the gnostic names Saclas, Nebroel, Samael, Belzebuth, Nasbodeus, and Belial.[73] A gnostic work like the Apocryphon of John would have suggested precisely such an identification: according to this work, the lustful chief archon Yaltabaoth, also known as Saclas or Samael, has the form of a lionfaced serpent; in addition, six of the seven planetary "powers" of Yaltabaoth take bestial shapes, bearing the faces of lion, donkey, hyena, serpent, dragon, monkey, and fire, respectively; and, finally, the two archons Yave and Eloim, produced through the adulterous union of the chief archon and Eve, have the faces of cat and bear.[74] Salvation in the gnostic text hinges on the recognition that the bestial archons are not gods but ignorant and despicable demons whose rule drags humanity down under the weight of temporality, immorality, and animal nature. If some such form of gnostic cosmology does indeed influence Priscillian's interpretation of the canonical scriptures, it is not surprising that he considers the question of the true identity of scriptural beasts to be crucial to salvation.

Priscillian's symbolic interpretation of scriptural animals in relation to a text like the Apocryphon of John by no means implies his acceptance of a distinctly gnostic cosmology and mythological schema. Nevertheless, his use of gnostic apocrypha must have caused some alarm and given rise to the accusation that Priscillian regarded the scriptural beasts as divine powers. When asked to respond to this accusation, Priscillian suggests that it is not he but his "schismatic" opponents who worship animals—or rather, who fail to reject what the animals clearly symbolize—when they refuse to acknowledge the demonic significance of scriptural beasts. "Let no one attribute to us the understanding of his or her own perversity," he admonishes.[75]

Having concluded his lengthy discussion of the proper interpretation of animals in scripture, Priscillian moves on to consider the "idolatrous images, Saturn, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, and the other gods of the gentiles" that have been "produced" in the accusations of his opponents. Priscillian expresses astonishment that "even in these things the faithfulness of our profession is questioned." However, this protest is preceded by an elaborate set of qualifying clauses that refer to a time when Priscillian "lived indifferent to God and uninstructed in the faith through the scriptures," "took delight in dealings of mundane foolishness," and—significantly—was educated in works of classical literature that included allusions to the pagan gods. In this way Priscillian suggests, but does not explicitly state, that such readings took place only in the distant past, and he furthermore insists that even when he read these works, he "recognized that these things were against our faith" and both "disparaged the gods of the gentiles" and "laughed at the worldly foolishness and misfor-


tunes of those whose works we nevertheless read for the sake of education." Despite his disclaimers, Priscillian seems to be aware that his readings in pagan literature leave him vulnerable to accusations of idolatry, and his language allows for the possibility that such readings were not confined to his youth.[76]

It is probably no accident that Priscillian's initial mention of only five gentile gods—Saturn, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Mars—deflects attention from the astrological associations of the deities he denounces. In fact, he is most acutely interested in two deities he does not immediately mention—the sun and moon—and in the seven gods who correspond to the seven days of the week and the seven planetary spheres. Important to Priscillian's condemnation is the construction of an opposition between temporal existence, which is under the control of demons and the seven planetary gods, on the one hand, and the life of the ascetic Christian, who is liberated by the immortal God Christ from these bonds of temporal existence, on the other. The following passage is excerpted from a lengthier section in which Priscillian denounces each of the seven planetary gods in turn, contrasting the bondage of the temporal deities with the freedom of the eternal God Christ.

Let those whose dwelling is the fire of Gehenna say that the sun is their god, and let those who do not want the God Christ to be their foundation confess themselves the sun's elements: for us, all things which are under the sun are futile and the presumption of a perverse wind, since we know that the sun will die with the world. Let those who, having been led about by every wind of doctrine, determine to observe the days and the seasons and the years and the months confess that the moon is god in their evil deeds; let those who have pleased themselves with the adulterous Mars and who in their addiction are bound by the fornications of the desire of the flesh, say that Mars is their god. . . . However, for us, the Christ Jesus is God, who when we had died from our sins, made us alive with him, forgiving all our sins and destroying the bond that was against us, that was opposed to the decrees, and abolished it, nailing it to the cross; he exposed the principalities and powers to ridicule confidently, triumphing over them in himself.[77]

As was the case with his passionate condemnation of animal worshippers, it is difficult to imagine that Priscillian is insincere in this condemnation of the worshippers of planetary deities. The very passion of his denunciation offers a clue to the origin of the accusation that he himself worshipped the planetary deities. Like animals, the seven planetary gods—and particularly the sun and moon—seem to have played a prominent role in Priscillian's scriptural support for asceticism. Through the life of Christian dis-


cipline, he argues, men and women are freed from the bonds of the temporal realm symbolized by the dominance of the beastly rulers of the planetary spheres. Priscillian's eclectic reading habits and his development of the negative symbolism of the planetary powers must have provided the basis for his opponents' claim that he considered the seven planetary gods divine.

Later detractors were to maintain that Priscillian, like Mani, indulged in elaborate astrological speculations. Orosius not only accused Priscillian of astrological speculation but also supported his accusation with a citation from a purported letter of Priscillian's.[78] This claim is neither proved nor disproved by Priscillian's Apology or by his other works. On one level, Priscillian simply takes for granted the cosmology of his day.[79] On another level, we have seen that he uses this cosmology symbolically to express the profound disjunction between the bonds of the temporal world and the free reign of the God Christ. But in the end, Priscillian challenges the validity of traditional cosmic piety altogether, emphasizing that sun and moon are in fact neither divine nor powerful, good nor evil, but are merely part of the order of God's creation, as their visible mutability clearly reveals. In the passage cited above and at two other places in his works, Priscillian invokes Ecclus. 17.31 to underline this point: "What is brighter than the sun? Yet its light will fail."[80] And in the Tractate on Exodus , Priscillian offers the examples of solar and lunar eclipses and of the monthly waxing and waning of the moon as evidence of the created nature of sun and moon: "All that shrinks or grows—sun of day, moon of night—is not the rule of our captivity, but the working order of nature."[81] These somewhat divergent and even contradictory tendencies within Priscillian's own works are typical of Christian attitudes toward astrology and do not in themselves place Priscillian outside the mainstream;[82] in addition, a certain productive inconsistency, or rather multiplicity, of interpretations is completely in keeping with Priscillian's flexible and multilayered exegetical method.

As we have seen, Priscillian's condemnation of idolatry identifies the sun, moon, and other gentile gods, not only with the idols prohibited in scripture, but also with the animals and demons already described in the previous section. The continuity provided by the equation of the pagan gods, scriptural beasts, and demons extends into the next section, in which Priscillian anathematizes "those who worship Saclas, Nebroel, Samael, Belzebuth, Nasbodeus, Belial, and all such, because they are demons, by the unfruitful sanctification of religious ceremonies, or who say that they should be worshipped. . . . For whatever shapes, forms, or names the devil


changes himself into, we know that he can be nothing else but the devil . . . whether he is regarded as a beast . . . or a serpent or a dragon, we know that he is the devil."[83]

Evidently, some of Priscillian's opponents had requested that Priscillian respond to "the individual things that have been written" about creation in a certain apocryphal text, which Priscillian had probably been accused of reading.[84] This text seems to resemble portions of the Apocryphon of John[85] —which we have seen also contains striking bestial representations of the archons of the planetary spheres—and extant accounts of the Manichaean creation myth.[86] It includes the story of the chief archon Saclas' seduction of Eve and the subsequent birth of Cain and Lamech, and perhaps also the creation of Adam and Eve through the union of the archons Saclas and Nebroel.

In Priscillian's discussion of scriptural beasts, one glimpses how he may have used apocryphal scriptures as an aid to the interpretation of canonical texts. Here, on the other hand, he uses canonical texts in order to control his reading of an apocryphal text. Priscillian begins by affirming that those who worship demons are "rightly related to the earthly Adam" and rightly identified as the product of Eve's intercourse with the demon Saclas. Instead of rejecting the apocryphal creation story outright, Priscillian moves to offer an explicitly canonical interpretation. First, he identifies the unfaithful Eve of the apocryphal text with the allegorical representation of Israel as the unfaithful wife of God in the canonical prophets. Next, he complements the apocryphal account of Eve's adultery with the canonical affirmation that she will return to her rightful husband and God through childbearing. Finally, Priscillian avoids a literal interpretation of childbearing by further equating Eve with the mother church whose children are identified by their good works. Thus, in retelling the apocryphal creation story, Priscillian does not reject the dualism of the gnostic-Manichaean myth that pits the archons of the world against the heavenly pleroma and attributes the creation of humanity to a joint effort of heavenly agents and evil archons; but he gives that dualism a symbolic and predominately moral interpretation, affirming that "we are the creation of God in our good works." Furthermore, insists Priscillian, having been created by the God Christ, humanity was worthy to be his temple. He then invokes canonical scripture again in order to anathematize the one who denies the fleshly existence or the real suffering of the crucified Christ, thus rejecting the materialist or essentialist cosmological dualism commonly attributed to the Manichaeans.[87]

Priscillian's use of apocryphal scriptures is defended briefly in both the Letter to Damasus and the Apology and at length in his Book on the Faith


and the Apocrypha . He points out that the canonical scriptures contain many allusions to extracanonical texts, and that some of these are explicitly given prophetic authority. In this manner, the canon is continually pointing beyond itself, Priscillian argues; it not only allows but mandates the reading of extracanonical works.[88] Many apocryphal works have, however, been interpolated by heretics, as is the case with passages reflecting a docetic christology: "The schismastics or heretics, falsifying scriptures and inserting their own unfruitful interpretation into the divine discourses, mix false lies with catholic truths."[89] Apocryphal texts must, therefore, be interpreted in relation to the canon—"Moses, the gospels, or the prophets."[90] While Priscillian acknowledges that certain texts "ought not be committed to inexperienced ears,"[91] he does not doubt the ability of a skilled exegete like himself to separate the wheat from the tares. Moreover, to fail to read the interpolated texts, according to Priscillian, is to play into the hands of the devil, who "introduced his own words among the holy for the very reason that, if it were not under a careful reaper, the grain would die with the tares and he would make the good perish with the very bad."[92]

Following his condemnation of the worshippers of demons, Priscillian offers a brief but harsh condemnation of the Manichaeans:

Let the one who does not condemn Mani and his works, doctrines, and principles be anathema. If it could be done, we would punish their turpitudes in particular with the sword and send them to the lower world and whatever is worse than Gehenna and sleepless torment, where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not perish. Their evil deeds have been exposed by divine judgment, so that the impurity would not be concealed, as well as by secular judgments. For besides those things that they asserted by erring perceptions, they considered the sun and moon, governors of the whole world, to be gods, although it is written, "What is brighter than the sun, and it will fail?" They magnified the follies of their miserable sacrileges to such an extent that they said that they dedicated their minds, which were crushed by blindness, more piously whenever they bound them more execrably.[93]

The reference to the importance of the sun and moon in Manichaean cult and myth links this passage with Priscillian's earlier denunciation of sun- and moon-worshippers. However, his tone here is considerably harsher. By invoking the threat of the imperial sword, Priscillian distinguishes the Manichaeans from other heretics and associates them instead with the nefarious crimes of sorcerers.[94] He implicitly endorses the right of the secular courts to judge the Manichaeans, like sorcerers, although he elsewhere expresses the conviction that matters of religion should be judged by the


church alone.[95] He recommends death for Manichaeans as well as sorcerers, despite the fact that no imperial law after Diocletian's rescript had threatened the Manichaeans with death, while sorcerers were typically threatened with capital punishment.[96] In the Letter to Damasus , Priscillian expresses still more clearly his conviction that the Manichaeans are completely alien to the Christian community, having passed beyond even the pale of heresy: "The Manichaeans are no longer heretics, but idolaters, sorcerers, and slaves of the sun and moon."[97]

The severe condemnation of Mani and his disciples—in which Priscillian never directly acknowledges that he is responding to an accusation—is followed by the summary catalogue of heresies discussed above.[98] Priscillian then launches into a response to the allegation of sorcery made by Bishop Ithacius. Ithacius' accusation is a "new saying," notes Priscillian, not only recent but of unprecedented gravity: something so terrible had never before been proposed "by any heretical author." While Priscillian's rhetorical sophistication should not be underestimated, there is a ring of sincerity in the horror expressed in his response to the charge of sorcery. His ears have been polluted by merely listening to Ithacius' charge, and Ithacius himself is worthy of condemnation—indeed, of punishment with the sword—simply for speaking of such things.[99]

The specific magical acts of which Ithacius accused Priscillian included consecrating the firstfruits of crops with magical enchantments and consecrating an ointment with curses to sun and moon, "with which it will fail."[100] Chadwick has suggested that this latter phrase refers to the unguent decreasing with a solar eclipse or the moon's waning through some sort of sympathetic magic. The curses were probably understood to have an apotropaic effect. In the passage immediately following his citation of Ithacius' accusation, Priscillian denounces those who believe that what is of rock, horn, or stone is a god, who are satisfied with rain from the devil, and who worship bestial demons.[101] Chadwick infers from this that the unguent of Ithacius' accusation was to be poured over a holy stone representing some god or demon—a well-documented practice—and that the purpose of the ritual was to ensure good weather for the crops.[102]

Chadwick's speculative proposal that Ithacius accused Priscillian specifically of taking part in fertility rituals related to securing good weather is plausible. But it is highly unlikely that Priscillian participated in such rituals, as he goes on to suggest. Chadwick bases this suggestion on the relative mildness of Ithacius' charge, the likelihood that ancient Christian bishops were occasionally called upon to attend such peasant rituals, and the fact that he finds other hints in the tractates that Priscillian dabbled in magical practices.[103] This last point is the most serious, but also the most


poorly founded. Chadwick claims, for example, that Priscillian was proud of the possession of a magical amulet bearing the picture of a lion and the name of God inscribed in several languages. But he bases this claim on a dubious interpretation of an exegetical passage in which Priscillian interweaves the reference to a name inscribed on a white stone in Rev. 2.17 with the reference to the title "King of kings and Lord of lords" in 1 Tim. 6.15 in order to emphasize that Christ alone is God; Priscillian goes on from this point to illustrate the metaphorical character of scriptural descriptions of God as "lion" or "deer."[104] Nor is there any evidence that Priscillian held nocturnal meetings, or was even accused of doing so at this point, although Severus does record that Priscillian confessed several years later, perhaps under torture, to holding nocturnal meetings with women.[105] Although some bishops probably did attend or even preside over peasant rituals, Priscillian's polarized view of the fundamental opposition between the God Christ and the virtuous Christians, on the one hand, and the demons and their immoral worshippers, on the other, argues in favor of the sincerity of his horrified response to Ithacius' charge that he trafficked with demons.

As for Chadwick's argument that the seeming mildness of the accusation implies its accuracy, one could just as easily claim that Ithacius was constrained by his very lack of evidence. At a stage in which the conflict was still largely local and most of his audience knew Priscillian personally, it would be difficult for Ithacius to fabricate lies that had no basis whatsoever in Priscillian's teaching or practice or in current public perceptions of Priscillian. There are indications that Ithacius' charges of sorcery at this point were closely intertwined with the accusations of Manichaeism that were also circulating. As part of his condemnation of sorcery, Priscillian denounces those who believe that rain comes from the devil[106] —a common Manichaean notion.[107] There may also be some connection between Priscillian's use of Ecclus. 7.31 to demonstrate the falseness of Manichaean veneration for the sun and moon—"What is brighter than the sun? And it will fail" (et hic deficiet )[108] —and Ithacius' accusation that Priscillian teaches that an ointment should be consecrated to the sun and moon, "with which it will fail" (cum quibus deficiet ).[109]

As noted above, Priscillian's final condemnations of errors occur in the concluding section of the Apology . Just as in his introductory remarks, he denounces the heresy that appears to him the most contemptible—the error of the "Binionites"—here, it seems, he again removes himself partially from the context of the accusations brought against him and gives his own opinion of what is most reprehensible in the apocryphal scriptures he has read. It is not the doctrine of demons or even of creation that Priscillian


finds most problematic in these writings, although that is evidently what he has been asked to denounce. Rather, it is the false understanding of God on which he here focuses. Seeming not to know to which heresy to attribute the apocryphal scriptures that he reads, Priscillian remarks vaguely that the "unfortunate" err in ascribing to God a "masculo-feminine" nature based on an overly literal interpretation of Gen. 1.27–28. As is often the case, a salvific reading of scripture is at the heart of the issue for Priscillian: "For them, therefore, may all that they read be a confusion; for us, may it be reckoned as knowledge to understand what is written and to know the power of the living word."[110]

The heretics further err in referring to Armaziel, Mariame, Joel, Balsamus, and Barbilos as God; there is only one God, insists Priscillian, and that is the Christ Jesus, as scripture makes clear. Priscillian goes on to describe his own method for distinguishing truth and falsehood or orthodoxy and heresy in extracanonical writings: whoever condemns worldly sins, prophesies or preaches about the God Christ, and teaches in agreement with the canonical scriptures and the catholic faith is to be honored; whoever condones sin, denies that Jesus is God, or contradicts "Moses, the gospels, or the prophets" is anathema. Given the importance of canon in his thought, Priscillian is appalled at the "odium" attributed to his circle of "fabricating or confessing some fifth gospel beyond the fourth gospel."[111]

If one now steps back to observe the different fragments in the Apology's mosaic of condemnations, a discernible pattern emerges. Priscillian seems to have given an important place in his theology to demons embodying the worldly vices rejected by the true—that is, ascetic—Christian. The multiplicity of demons (who were, however, all ultimately identifiable with the one devil) was opposed to the oneness of Christ God. Their bondedness and fragmentation in the divisions of time was contrasted with the freedom and unity of the eternal God Christ. Priscillian almost certainly used apocryphal scriptures and probably also pagan literature to undergird his explication of the demonic forces, although he always interpreted all texts in light of the canonical scriptures. He presents himself as a man who derives his authority from his inspired interpretation of books. His persistent preoccupation with demons and the breadth of readings to which his quest for knowledge led him seem to have provided the excuse for accusations of Manichaeism and magic, both popularly connected with secret books as well as demons.

Priscillian evidently responded to an itemized list that contained the following accusations: interpreting the animals of canonical scripture as gnostic demons; identifying the sun and moon and planetary gods as di-


vine powers; and reading heretical apocrypha and endorsing their cosmology, including their distinctive presentations of the archons, creation, and the docetic Christ. Priscillian refutes each of these accusations and caps his refutations with a violent condemnation of Mani. The nature and position of this condemnation indicate that Priscillian is attempting somewhat delicately both to separate Mani from the controversial points already discussed, and to acknowledge that these points have become controversial in large part because of the claim that they imply that he is a Manichaean. The same delicacy is apparent in Priscillian's positioning of the accusation of magical practices relating to the sun and moon. The charges of sorcery and Manichaeism often went hand in hand, and it is evident that this is Priscillian's view: he condemns both Manichaeans and sorcerers with singular violence to execution by the sword. However, by inserting a summary catalogue of heresies before his condemnation of sorcery, he also attempts to separate the sorcery accusation from the previous charges, which culminate in the accusation of Manichaeism. Whereas he seems implicitly to acknowledge some grounds for discussion on the questions of interpretation of scriptural beasts and the sun and moon and the heretical interpolations in apocryphal scriptures, he is appalled at the fabrication of charges of sorcery that implicate him in actual dealings with the abhorred demons.

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Chapter Two "Manichaean" Charge and Countercharge in Priscillian's Tractates
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