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Chapter Three "Sorcerer" Alliances, Enmities, and the Death of Priscillian
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Even if this had been a "simple" case of heresy, the emperor Maximus might have felt justified in investigating it himself on the basis of Priscil-


lian's personal appeal and the council's acquiescence. The ambiguity of the accusation brought against Priscillian further facilitated the intervention of an emperor and, ultimately, the execution of a heretic in a case that seems in retrospect both shocking and ominous.[84] The charge of Manichaeism defied the neat boundaries separating "heresy" and "crime" and the respective jurisdictions of bishop and emperor. As we have seen, Priscillian felt strongly that matters of faith should be judged by bishops, yet he himself noted approvingly that the Manichaeans had been condemned by secular as well as divine judgments and urged that Manichaeans, like magicians, should be punished with the sword for their "turpitudes."[85]

This ambiguity inherent in the charge of Manichaeism was exploited by Ithacius' anti-Priscillianist propaganda in Gaul. Severus states specifically that Ithacius, like Hydatius earlier, attacked both ascetic practices and private reading as heretical or Manichaean: "His foolishness went so far that he labeled all—even holy men—who possessed a zeal for reading or were determined to struggle by fasting associates or disciples of Priscillian."[86] Even Martin of Tours was accused of Manichaeism on these grounds, and Severus protests the emptiness of the label. "For at that time judgments were based on appearances alone, since one was considered a heretic on account of pallor or dress rather than faith."[87]

Meanwhile, the charges of sorcery and sexual immorality, originally secondary to the charge of Manichaeism, gained prominence in Ithacius' rhetoric as he addressed a Gallic populace not personally familiar with Priscillian. Ithacius' earlier accusations of participation in fertility rites seem to have been elaborated considerably at this point, if the story of Priscillian's youthful study of sorcery, known and partially discounted by Severus, originated during Ithacius' Gallic sojourn.[88] Charges of sexual immorality would have been particularly effective with those Aquitanians already outraged by the ascetic conversions of women like Euchrotia and Procula, and perhaps it was only during Ithacius' residence in Gaul that the rumors of Priscillian's sexual relations with Procula were coupled with charges of abortion.[89] Priscillian "the magician" might well be thought to command a knowledge of abortifacient herbs, whose use was part of both the magician's and the physician's lore. And many Gallic Christians would readily believe that Priscillian the "Manichaean" secretly indulged in promiscuous sexual relations and condoned the use of contraception or abortion, while publicly exhorting Christians to live lives of continence.[90]

The triple charges of Manichaeism, sorcery, and sexual immorality are highlighted in Isidore's summary of Ithacius' Apology , which was probably written several years after Priscillian's execution, in the face of serious attacks on Ithacius' role in the civil process against Priscillian.[91] "Ithacius,


bishop of the Spains, famous in name and eloquence, wrote a certain book in apologetic form in which he demonstrates the cursed dogmas of Priscillian and his arts of sorcery and his disgraceful acts of lechery, showing that a certain Mark of Memphis, expert in the magic art, was the student of Mani and teacher of Priscillian."[92] Although some details, such as the introduction of the figure of Mark of Memphis, may have been added after Priscillian's death, the summary of Ithacius' Apology confirms the general impression of the nature of his anti-Priscillianist propaganda in Gaul in the years prior to Priscillian's trial and execution.

The charge officially under investigation at Bordeaux and initially at Trier as well was almost certainly Manichaeism, but accusations of sorcery and sexual immorality must also have been in the air from the start of the process at Trier. Severus reports that Martin of Tours, who was present in Trier during the early stages of Maximus' investigation, immediately feared that bloodshed would result from the civil process the emperor had initiated:

He did not cease to rebuke Ithacius, urging that he cease from his accusation, or to beg Maximus to refrain from shedding the blood of the unfortunate ones; he said that it was enough and more than enough that, judged heretical by episcopal decision, they should be thrown out of the churches, and that it was a new and unheard of evil for a secular judge to judge an ecclesial case.[93]

As noted, no emperor since Diocletian had threatened to punish Manichaeism with death, whereas death was commonly the penalty for various practices of sorcery. Martin must, then, have known or suspected that sorcery accusations would surface in the investigation at Trier, although he himself insisted that the question about Priscillian was essentially a question of orthodoxy and heresy, appropriately judged by bishops. According to Severus, his protests had some effect on Maximus. The emperor hesitated, neither canceling the civil investigation and convening a new council, as Martin seems to have urged, nor proceeding with the investigation. Finally, Martin left Trier with a promise from Maximus that he would shed no blood. Severus reports, however, that bishops by the names of Magnus and Rufus "corrupted" Maximus after Martin had left.[94]

It was perhaps at this point that Ambrose visited Trier and, despite his earlier coolness toward Priscillian, claimed to have angered Maximus by holding himself aloof from "the bishops who were in consultation with [Maximus] and were asking that certain persons, having admittedly strayed from the faith, be put to death."[95] As in his initial convening of the Council of Bordeaux, the emperor seems to have followed a policy of com-


promise. He allowed the trial to proceed but withdrew himself from direct participation, placing the new prefect Evodius in his place as judge. Ithacius also seems to have seen the wisdom in withdrawal, and he was replaced by the secular official Patricius, fisci patronus , as prosecutor.[96] The trial was probably redefined at this point explicitly as a trial for sorcery rather than heresy or Manichaeism.

Under questioning, and perhaps torture, Priscillian "did not deny that he had studied obscene doctrines, held nocturnal gatherings even of disgraceful women, and prayed naked."[97] All three of the confessions recorded by Severus could plausibly derive from some documented or at least probable activity of Priscillian; and at the same time, their vague yet suggestive wordings seemed to confirm the essentially false triple accusations of Manichaeism, sorcery, and sexual immorality. The ambiguous phrase "obscene doctrines" recalled the suspicions of unorthodoxy provoked by Priscillian's private and extracanonical reading and at the same time hinted at immoral behavior. "Nocturnal gatherings" could describe either ascetic vigils or magicians' rituals performed by the light of the moon, while the modifying phrase "of disgraceful women" evoked the sexual promiscuity commonly assumed to accompany the meetings of both magicians and Manichaeans.[98] Finally, the practice of "praying naked" may, as Henry Chadwick has suggested, relate to the council of Saragossa's prohibition against going with naked feet and derive from an ascetic practice that could also have been perceived to have magical significance;[99] when "naked feet" became simply "naked" and was conjoined with a confession to nocturnal meetings with women, the phrase again evoked graphic images of sexual immorality. The essential reliability of Severus' report that Priscillian was convicted by his own confessions is strengthened by Maximus' letter to Bishop Siricius of Rome, in which he records that certain "Manichaeans" have been convicted after confessing to deeds "so foul and disgusting" that he cannot repeat them without blushing and must instead refer the Roman bishop to the minutes of the trial.[100] In Rome in the late 380s, Augustine also heard about certain "Manichaeans" in Gaul who confessed to deviant sexual practices (which included eating semen, he implies); his informant may have derived his report from the minutes sent to Siricius.[101]

On the basis of his confessions, Priscillian was, then, convicted of maleficium , or sorcery. He was imprisoned, and Evodius referred the case to the emperor for the pronouncement of punishment. Maximus determined that Priscillian and his associates should be condemned to death, and Priscillian was subsequently executed by sword, along with two clergymen—Felicissimus and Armenius—and two laypeople—Euchrotia and the


Spanish poet Latronianus.[102] Euchrotia's death received particular notice from the outraged Gallic rhetorician Pacatus, who rails sarcastically against Maximus in his panegyric to Theodosius:

Do I speak of the deaths of men , when I recall that he descended to the blood of women and raged in peace against the sex wars spare? But undoubtedly there were serious and odious reasons that the wife of a famous poet was seized with the criminal's hook for punishment. For the widowed woman's excessive piety and overly diligent worship of divinity was alleged and even proven![103]

The sentiments of Pacatus' friend Ausonius were probably similar, though rather differently expressed in the understated congratulation offered to his former colleague Delphidius for a timely death that had enabled him to escape the ignominy of his wife's punishment.[104]

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