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Chapter Three "Sorcerer" Alliances, Enmities, and the Death of Priscillian
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The local conflict at Merida stands at the beginning of the construction of Priscillian as a heretic. In the early 380s, the Meridan Christians appear to have been deeply divided over their self-definition as a community. The public liturgy and the hierarchy of ecclesiastical office provided the focus of communal identity for some. These Christians looked to Bishop Hydatius to embody their public definition of community and authority and, like him, were scandalized by the insubordinate men and women who implicitly challenged his leadership. Others defined the Christian community as the private gathering of men and women dedicated to Christ; they located authority primarily in the learning, eloquence, and exemplary life of the well-read ascetic teacher who might most appropriately be chosen to fill the office of bishop. These Christians looked to individuals like Priscillian to embody the authority of superior culture, talent, and discipline and, like him, were scandalized by the ignorant and worldly Christians who denied the legitimacy of his leadership.

The questions raised in the early stages of the controversy surrounding Priscillian were not easily answered, and the two perspectives persisted side by side for some time, championed with equal strength and tenacity within the Meridan community. Two developments ensued as the community searched for resolution to its internal conflict. First, labels were invoked in order to create consensus by associating the opponents with easily vilified enemies: hence, in an attempt to discredit both Priscil-


lian's learning and his asceticism, there arose the charge of Manichaeism and, some time later, the even more injurious accusation of sorcery. Second, the conflict moved beyond the boundaries of the local community, as both Hydatius and Priscillian sought to strengthen their own local prestige and credibility and weaken the position of their rivals by activating alliances with other leaders outside the community. This process of alliance and opposition between bishops and other elites proved difficult to limit or control, with the ultimate result that the Meridan dispute was settled by a usurping emperor who probably understood very little of the original source of disagreement.

As Priscillian sought the support of Christians in Aquitaine and Italy, his teachings as well as his personal influence seem to have tapped similar conflicts about the nature of community and authority among the Christians in those regions. There are indications that the local conflict may have run deep at Bordeaux. In 380, Delphinus was already concerned enough about the issues raised by Hydatius to cross the Pyrenees to attend the Council of Saragossa along with his neighbor Phoebadius. When Priscillian, Instantius, and Salvianus subsequently arrived in Bordeaux, he drove them out of town—a dramatic public act that may have been calculated to intimidate factions within his own community. Finally, we know that some of Priscillian's strongest support came from Euchrotia, a wealthy Christian woman of the well-educated circles of Bordeaux, who was eventually executed alongside Priscillian at Trier; some of the most virulent rumors were directed against her daughter Procula; and the most violent popular reaction against any of Priscillian's followers was directed against the well-born Urbica, who was stoned to death by a mob in Bordeaux. Clashes between the male-dominated public authority of office and the relatively ungendered private authority of education and aristocratic culture appear to have been central to the conflict in Bordeaux as in Spain.

In the more distant cities of Italy, the response to Priscillian seems to have been equally ambivalent, if less dramatically expressed. In Milan, Bishop Ambrose was unsupportive and the praetorian prefect, Gregory, prevaricated, while another powerful palatine official, the master of offices, Macedonius, finally procured for the Spanish bishops a rescript intended to prevent their persecution by Hydatius and his allies in Spain. In Rome, Priscillian seems to have had less success in winning support; Severus mentions only that the bishop refused to see him. In both Italian cities, as in Bordeaux, the opposition of bishops appears to reflect underlying conflicts in their own communities. I have suggested that Ambrose and Damasus responded negatively to Priscillian at least partly out of


awareness of their own vulnerability to similar charges and their own strong—and ultimately successful—personal interests in consolidating an episcopacy that would subsume the authority of the ascetic and learned teacher under a publicly defined authority of office.

For reasons that now seem impossible to recover, Priscillian's primary opposition in Spain shifted from Hydatius to Ithacius upon his return from Italy. With the entry upon the scene of Maximus as emperor, the focus of the conflict between Priscillian and his opponents similarly moved away from Spain again, and at the same time the labeling strategies of his opponents also seem to have shifted subtly. No longer, as in Merida, was the dispute carried out in a face-to-face community where accusations bore at least some remote resemblance to reality. In Gaul, Priscillian was an outsider, and Ithacius and his other detractors were correspondingly freer in their construction of a condemning portrait. The charge of Manichaeism was maintained, along with the issues of authority, education, and ascetic life that it evoked, and Priscillian was further used as an excuse to direct the charge of Manichaeism against problematic Gallic leaders such as Martin of Tours. But other accusations, with still less basis in fact, were also elaborated—namely, the charges of sorcery and sexual immorality.

Discomfort with the role of women in Priscillian's circle lent particular power to conventional charges of sexual immorality. In Spain, as early as the Council of Saragossa, there had been rumblings of unease with the mingling of the sexes and the lack of hierarchical distinction between men and women among Priscillianists and other ascetic Christians. Severus is probably conveying the views of Aquitanian contemporaries of Priscillian when he expresses similar discomfort at the mingling of ascetic men and women in Euchrotia's household and in the company that journeyed from Aquitaine to Italy. His work, together with Prosper's brief mention of the stoning at Bordeaux, documents strong disapproval of the behavior of particular Aquitanian women of prominence: Euchrotia, Procula, Urbica. Similarly, through the indirect medium of literary allusion, Ausonius casts aspersions on "Tanaquils" suspected of Priscillianist leanings. The private authority of women of wealth and social influence here stands in juxtaposition, not only to a narrowly public definition of authority, but also to the ambivalent attitudes of men like Ausonius and Severus, whose own lives and strategies of self-authorization located them ambiguously in relation to the public and private spheres.

The invocation of the label of sorcerer added an edge of violence to the message already implicit in the label of Manichaeism: Priscillian was an outsider, a dangerous manipulator of demonic forces, one completely


in opposition to the traditional virtues of Romans and Christians. When they succeeded in thus identifying Priscillian as a sorcerer, Ithacius and Hydatius did not merely achieve the death of a rival. They also constructed as private and subversive those models of community and leadership that competed with the particular public definition of church and office in which their own authority was embedded.


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Chapter Three "Sorcerer" Alliances, Enmities, and the Death of Priscillian
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