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Chapter Four "Priscillianist" Heresy Inquisitions at Toledo and Tarragona
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The Council of Toledo (400)

Our knowledge of the first Council of Toledo derives from two edited selections from its minutes. The formal Acts of the Council of Toledo has been transmitted in the Hispana collection, which also preserves the records of the Council of Saragossa. The twenty published judgments recorded in the Acts reflect the council's concern with such matters as the process of ordination, requirements for eligibility for clerical office, relations within the ranks of the clergy, participation in the public liturgy of the Eucharist, the behavior of ascetic women, and the communal disciplining of sinners. The editor of the document—perhaps the person who selected these judgments for inclusion in the Hispana —notes that the nineteen bishops gathered at Toledo were "the ones who also in other acts directed a written decision against the followers of Priscillian and the heresy he had established."[9] These words reflect awareness of the council's investigations of the orthodoxy of certain Galician bishops, recorded elsewhere in the council's original minutes.[10] Fortunately, fragments of these minutes have also survived through a separate manuscript tradition,[11] and they allow us a remarkable glimpse into the trial of a group of bishops and presbyters accused of belonging to a "sect of Priscillian."

Investigation of the Orthodoxy of the Galician Bishops

The Transcript of the Professions Held in the Council of Toledo against the Sect of Priscillian was "excerpted from the full acts" by a redactor whose primary


goal appears to have been the documentation of the orthodoxy of the bishops of a certain Galician city, probably Astorga.[12] This redactor compiled the document at a time when the bishops under suspicion were already dead, recording "the professions of the lord Symphosius and of the lord Dictinius, bishops of sacred memory, and of the lord Comasius of sacred memory, then presbyter." Presumably relying on the complete minutes, the redactor reports that the Council of Toledo met from the first through the third of September in the year 400. Subsequently, "various investigations" were held; and, finally, on the sixth of September, the anti-Priscillianist professions of Dictinius, Symphosius, and Comasius were heard.[13] On September seventh, these professions were repeated, and the assembled bishops delivered their final verdict concerning the various bishops and clergy who had been held under suspicion of Priscillianist leanings.[14]

The minutes record the accusing bishops' account of the events that had led to their own gathering at Toledo. In this context, the bishops refer to the earlier council at Saragossa "in which judgment was pronounced against certain ones." Symphosius was present at the Saragossan council only one day, and he later refused to listen to the judgment of that council, they note disapprovingly; this refusal had made it difficult for the bishops gathered at Toledo to listen to what Symphosius and his associates had said.[15] The implication that the Council of Saragossa—which was remembered, rightly or wrongly, for its judgments against Priscillian—marked the beginning of Symphosius' separation from the majority of the Spanish bishops is misleading, as becomes apparent in what follows.

The bishops invoke the authority of the now-dead bishops of Milan and Rome, Ambrose and Siricius "of sacred memory." They recall that "after that council," Ambrose wrote certain letters advising that the bishops under suspicion be restored to peace with their fellow bishops "if they condemned what they had falsely done and satisfied conditions that the letters contained in writing"; Siricius seemingly seconded Ambrose's counsel. The conditions are specified in the lines following, in which the bishops at Toledo lament the fact that Symphosius and his associates have failed to fulfill them: the Galicians were to omit Priscillian and his associates from the list of martyrs read aloud in the church; they were to read neither condemned apocrypha nor the writings of Priscillian; Dictinius was to remain a presbyter rather than be consecrated bishop; and Symphosius and his associates were to cease to ordain bishops, at least until the other conditions had been satisfied. Such conditions, together with the invocation of the authority not of Damasus but of Siricius, reveal that the bishops are using the phrase "after that council" loosely: in fact, they refer


not to the period immediately following the Council of Saragossa, but rather to the years following Priscillian's death. The bishops at Toledo likewise mention that Symphosius and his associates proposed these conditions in Ambrose's presence.[16] One can infer, then, that the Galicians were criticized by other bishops in Spain sometime in the late 380s or early 390s. The attack seems to have been sufficiently serious that the Galicians travelled to Milan to appeal to Ambrose, who attempted to mediate a compromise between emergent episcopal factions in order to preserve the unity of the churches in Spain.

Evidently Symphosius and his fellow bishops were unable to satisfy the conditions they themselves had proposed. Although Symphosius claimed to have ceased reading Priscillian's name from the list of martyrs, it was revealed that he had not in fact done so. Furthermore, he was "forced" to ordain Dictinius as bishop, as well as to ordain other bishops to some of the surrounding sees, including the prestigious see of Braga.[17] Symphosius remained innocent only of the reading of apocrypha and Priscillian's works; and, there, the letters of his son and episcopal colleague Dictinius proved that he had "fallen."[18] Eventually, perhaps in 396,[19] Symphosius' and Dictinius' opponents' "great patience" ran dry, and they summoned the Galician bishops to give an account of themselves before a council of bishops at Toledo. Initially, the Galicians refused to attend.[20] But sometime later, in 400, with both Ambrose and Siricius dead, Symphosius and his allies felt the need to make their peace with the other Spanish bishops, and they agreed to be present at another council, known traditionally as the first Council of Toledo.

The editor of the anti-Priscillianist professions has preserved only those statements in which the Galicians most strongly separate themselves from Priscillian. The accused evidently comply with requests that they condemn certain heretical books and teachings attributed to Priscillian, "together with the author himself" (cum ipso auctore ).[21] Dictinius, in addition, condemns his own writings in which he has claimed—in language that indeed seems to echo Priscillian's emphasis on the "divine birth" of humanity—that "the nature of God and humanity is one."[22] He makes much of the bishops' right to "correct" those who have erred and begs for such correction in his own case, so that he may be included in the kingdom of heaven.[23] His use of biblical citations likewise recalls Priscillian,[24] and he hedges a bit in his condemnation of Priscillian's teachings: "all which has been discovered against the faith I condemn with the author himself"; "all that Priscillian either wrongly taught or wrongly wrote I condemn with the author himself."[25] In the end he, like the presbyter Comasius, professes his allegiance to Symphosius: "I follow the opinion of my lord


and my father and begetter and teacher. . . . Whatever he said, I say."[26] Symphosius himself seems even more anxious than the others to comply with the bishops' requests. He is particularly eager to clear himself of the charge of claiming, with Priscillian, that the Son is "unbegettable" (innascibilis ),[27] a term whose monarchian or docetic associations the Toledan bishops exploit in order to demonstrate the unorthodoxy of Priscillian's teachings. "In accordance with what was read a little before on some parchment, in which it was said the Son is unbegettable, I condemn this doctrine, which claims either that there are two principles or that the Son is unbegettable, along with the very author who wrote it."[28] Symphosius asks for the piece of paper on which the charges have been written, so that he can condemn them word for word; his presbyter Comasius does likewise, reiterating that he follows the authority of his bishop.[29]

Not all the Galician bishops were as compliant as Symphosius and Dictinius, who were rewarded with reacceptance into communion conditional upon the approval of the bishops of Milan and Rome, as well as their continued compliance with the rulings of the council.[30] The clergy of bishop Herenias shouted out spontaneously that Priscillian was a catholic and a saint; Herenias agreed and added that Priscillian "suffered persecution by bishops." At this point three other bishops were emboldened to speak up in support of Priscillian's memory, and all four were deposed from the episcopacy by decree of the council; their testimony was furthermore declared unreliable. Galician bishops in communion with Symphosius who had failed to attend the council were given the chance to sign a statement issued by the council. Upon signing, they would be readmitted into communion, with their acceptance again conditional upon the approval of the bishops of Milan and Rome. If they refused to sign, the Galician bishops were to be expelled from their churches along with Herenias and his three episcopal cohorts.[31]

The bishops at Toledo close their verdict with a call for vigilance on the part of their fellow bishops, warning that those whom they have excommunicated are not to be allowed to gather in the homes of women, that condemned apocrypha are not to be read, and that Christians in communion with the bishops of Toledo are not to associate with those whom those bishops have excommunicated. In addition, the bishops specify that their fellow bishop Ortygius, who has been driven out of his churches, is to be returned to his see.[32] These closing lines, which at first seem strangely unrelated to the preceding investigations, suggest that the bishops gathered at Toledo perceived Galician Christianity as threatening not least because of its potentially unsettling effect on those bishops' authority in their own communities.


The fifth-century Galician bishop and chronicler Hydatius specifies that Ortygius was driven out by the Priscillianists because of his catholic faith.[33] Ortygius' case was probably exceptional and unlikely to have arisen outside Galicia. However, the Toledan bishops were ready to believe that even Symphosius had been unable to resist demands that he ordain Dictinius as bishop. In Dictinius, the people had chosen a leader who seems to have been noted for his study of the apocrypha and the writings of Priscillian[34] as well as for his own theological compositions. As already noted, Dictinius refers to his writings (scriptis meis ) at the council, stating that they belong to the early days of his conversion; in their summary statement, the Toledan bishops refer to these writings as "letters" (epistolis ).[35] Some twenty years after the Council of Toledo, when Dictinius was dead, one of his works, known as the Libra , which consisted in a discussion of twelve questions, was still read and discussed in Galicia and beyond.[36] Unfortunately, little is known about the content of the Libra or the circumstances of its composition, although Augustine claimed it included a defense of lying about religious beliefs.[37] In the mid fifth century, Bishop Turribius of Astorga complained to Leo of Rome that the Priscillianist "tractates" (tractatus ) of Dictinius were still greatly respected and read by many.[38]

The people's insistence that Dictinius be consecreated bishop suggests that while authority was more firmly consolidated in the clergy than it had been some twenty years earlier—note again that all of the main actors in this drama are bishops or presbyters—an individual of exceptional learning, eloquence, or ascetic piety could still provide a significant challenge to the official hierarchy of the church. A weak sense of ecclesial hierarchy seems to have been particularly characteristic of the churches of Galicia, probably owing both to the relatively late establishment of Christianity in that province and to the distinctively rural cast to fourth-century Galician social organization.[39] Now, even more than in Priscillian's day, there was pressure in the broader Spanish community to resolve the tension between public and private sources and models of authority by incorporating the ascetic teacher into the official hierarchy. Nevertheless, some threat of competition remained, and the bishops gathered at Toledo were particularly anxious to prevent members of their own communities from receiving the excommunicated Galicians. They warned that any who did so would be considered guilty by association; indeed, they could expect to be burdened with even heavier penalties. The Toledan bishops feared that the Galicians would challenge their own public authority of office: they might encourage private meetings with women as well as men, and they might promote the study of apocryphal literature, two activities that supported


the authority of learned teachers.[40] Thus anxieties about decentered forms of community life, destabilized gender roles, and privatized sources of authority continued to arise on the margins of even a strengthened ecclesiastical hierarchy. Divergent and shifting strategies of extralocal alliance further complicated the conflict. The Spanish bishops who gathered at Toledo attempted to ally themselves with the authority of Milan and Rome and opposed the Galician bishops in communion with Symphosius. Symphosius, for his part, succeeded at one point in gaining at least the qualified support of the Milanese bishop, and he had still greater success at swelling the ranks of his episcopal supporters with new ordinations in Galicia, in the case of Ortygius perhaps even replacing a hostile bishop with one sympathetic to his faction.[41]

The bishops at Toledo combated the threat represented by Galician Christianity not only by invoking the authority of the Italian bishops but also by utilizing the figure of Priscillian to insinuate accusations of heresy more locally.[42] The council insisted that the Galician clergy condemn the heretical content of Priscillian's teachings—of which Priscillian's designation of the Son as "unbegettable" (innascibilis ) seems to have been their primary evidence—and that they "condemn the author himself." Priscillian himself was made to personify heresy, and denunciation of Priscillian became the touchstone of orthodoxy in the repetitious cadences of the council's acts. Priscillian's own writings were now condemned as heretical alongside the apocryphal scriptures. Images of a pernicious "sect of Priscillian" emerged to challenge the cult of Priscillian and the private authority of leaders like Dictinius.

The Judgments of the Council of Toledo

The formal judgments published in the Acts of the Council of Toledo pertain to matters more generally applicable to the church as a whole and reveal the broader concerns that were uppermost in the minds of the bishops gathered at Toledo. An analysis of these judgments both confirms and nuances impressions of the anxieties and disagreements relating to authority and gender that continued to trouble Spanish churches in the early fifth century.

The discussions that resulted in the council's twenty formal judgments probably took place on the three initial days of meeting, September 1–3, as is suggested by the minutes of the investigation of the Galician bishops.[43] The title of the conciliar Acts indicates that the judgments were presented and given final approval on September 7, at the close of the council,


at the same time that the final verdict concerning the Galician bishops was delivered.[44] The Acts opens with a statement by the presider, Patruinus, bishop of Merida, that different customs regarding ordination have produced schism in the church; he urges that the ordinances of Nicea henceforth be followed by all.[45] Patruinus probably refers to the fourth canon of Nicea—which requires that a minimum of three bishops be present for an episcopal ordination[46] —and intends thereby to curtail the ordinations performed by Symphosius or Symphosius and Dictinius alone.[47] The conflict with the Galician bishops appears to have been on the minds of those gathered at Toledo from the start.

The remaining twenty judgments are recorded in the indirect placuit form.[48] The dominant concern in the meetings over the first three days seems to have been the definition of terms of eligibility for clerical office, a topic discussed in the first four judgments, and then again in the eighth and tenth. In these six judgments, the bishops make particular use of standards of sexual behavior to define the different grades of the hierarchy and to separate the members of the hierarchy, not only from one another and from the mass of the laity, but also from holders of secular office. This advocacy of varying degrees of sexual continence for the ranks of the clergy is distinct from the broad call to asceticism preached by Priscillian and perhaps by such later followers of Priscillian as Dictinius. However, it too represents a response to the influence of ascetic ideals on the Spanish churches and, indeed, can be seen as continuous with the impulse already evidenced at Saragossa to relocate the disciplined authority of the ascetic life at the center rather than on the margins of the ecclesiastical structures. As Samuel Laeuchli comments in reference to an earlier Spanish council, "by setting sexual taboos the synod meant to limn the image of an ascetic clerical leadership."[49]

Most of the judgments regarding eligibility for clerical office are fairly complex, and their wording indicates involved discussion. The first judgment, for example, begins with the statement that deacons are to observe sexual continence "even if they have wives": only those who live chastely are to be appointed to the ministry. The bishops go on to discuss the special case of deacons who had sexual relations with their wives "even before the prohibition was decreed by the Lusitanian bishops" and the similar case of presbyters who had children before the Lusitanian decision, apparently referring to the judgment of an otherwise unknown local synod. They conclude that neither deacons nor presbyters with a history of sexual activity are to be promoted to a higher clerical office.[50] The Toledan bishops did not need to specify punishment beyond the denial of office or promotion.


Another issue on the minds of the bishops at Toledo was the control of the bishop over his clergy, especially presbyters. This issue did not draw the same kind of sustained discussion as did the topic of eligibility for ecclesiastical office, but did reappear at three different points in the course of the meeting. The fifth judgment requires that all clergy attend a daily Eucharist in the church or face possible expulsion by the bishop; the twelfth forbids a member of the clergy to separate voluntarily from his bishop—so long as that bishop is orthodox—and communicate with another bishop; and the twentieth judgment addresses the problem of presbyters who usurp the episcopal right of anointing. The twelfth judgment in particular seems to have the Priscillianist faction in mind and suggests that the Toledan bishops were concerned about members of their own clergy defecting to Priscillianist bishops. This judgment goes on to prohibit any catholics from entering into communion, whether openly or secretly, with excommunicated Christians, a ruling that recalls the concern about the influence of excommunicated supporters of Priscillian expressed in the minutes of the investigation of the Galician bishops.[51]

The bishops were anxious to maintain their authority not only over their clergy but in the community at large. Four of the judgments—the fifth (discussed above), the ninth (discussed below), the thirteenth, and the fourteenth—highlight the liturgy as the focus of the solidarity of the public community gathered around the bishop. Some or all of these may have had the private gatherings of supporters of Priscillian in mind. The thirteenth and fourteenth seem to represent a continuous discussion of the problem posed by those who attend the eucharistic service without partaking of the Eucharist, a practice also denounced at Saragossa.[52] The punishment in the fourteenth judgment is stated in particularly strong terms: "let that one be considered sacrilegious."[53] Also as at Saragossa, the bishops are concerned that their acts of excommunication not be circumvented. This issue is addressed, not only in the twelfth judgment, discussed above, but also in the fifteenth and the related discussions of the sixteenth, in which the bishops warn that those who refuse to follow the command to shun a sinner will also themselves be shunned. Finally, two judgments refer to the relations between clergy and local secular leaders. The tenth judgment acknowledges the right of a patron to grant or deny permission for a dependent to be ordained. The eleventh threatens excommunication to secular leaders who exploit members of the clergy economically.

The remaining seven judgments concern women in one way or another and occur in two clusters: the sixth, seventh, and ninth reflect issues raised relatively early in the meetings, following upon the initial pro-


tracted discussion of eligibility for clerical office. Another series of discussions took place near the end of the meetings, culminating in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth judgments. Anxiety concerning the roles of women of notable authority and independence of action is the unifying thread running through the first cluster of judgments regarding women. The sixth reads as follows:

Likewise let no maiden of God [puella dei ] have intimacy with a confessor or any layman of strange blood or go to a social gathering alone, except where there is a large number of respectable older men or widows, where any confessor can respectably take part with the witness of many. Moreover, the maidens are not to be allowed inside the homes of readers or to be seen with them, unless perhaps she is a sister related by blood or of the same mother.[54]

The emphasis here, as earlier in the first judgment of the Council of Saragossa, is on the relations between men and women in private gatherings. Some virgins, designated puellae , were evidently in the habit of meeting with certain Christian men on intimate terms: literally, they had "familiarity" with them, relating to them as if they were members of the same family or household. These men are described as belonging either to the laity or to the ambiguous category of "confessors," a rare title, which seems sometimes to have been applied informally to ascetics.[55] The virgins were also accustomed to meet with readers, men with special access to the books of scripture; these meetings commonly took place in the homes of the readers. Although the readers were members of the lower ranks of the hierarchy, their authority in such private meetings, like the authority of the confessors and laymen, would have derived primarily from their ascetic accomplishments or devotion to the study of scripture.[56] In opposing intimate relationships between virgins and confessors or readers, the bishops at Toledo reinforce a strictly biological definition of family, which excludes the possibility of intimate relationships between young virgins and their male friends. Blood and womb define the areas within which men and women can mingle freely. Christian virgins cannot have "familiarity" (familiaritas ) with men of "strange blood" (sanguinis alieni ) but only with brothers "of the same blood" (consanguineus ) and "of the same uterus" (uterinus ). Their private interactions with unrelated men are to take place only under the watchful eyes of older men and women.

The seventh judgment targets the wives of clergy, who, it is feared, have "freedom to sin more."[57] The implication may be that these women—who in the upper ranks, at least, were in theory required to be continent by virtue of their husbands' vows—might fall back into sexual


relations with their husbands, if not with other men. Whatever the precise nature of the sin feared, the council acted to prevent a transgression by explicitly granting to clerical husbands the right to punish their wives in any way short of death. Specifically, the bishops recommend that sinning wives be imprisoned in their own homes, given only meager rations of food, and denied the companionship of their husbands. There are clear connections here with the foregoing judgment, in which the freedom of ascetic women is likewise restricted and the rights of the family defended. However, the harsh violence directed toward the wives of the clergy reflects their greater potential threat to the honor of the male clergy and their distinctive role in bearing the displaced burden of male shame.

The ninth judgment again reflects concern about gender relations, and here, even more than in the sixth judgment, the competition between the informal authority of ascetics and the official authority of the clergy is clear:

No professed virgin [professa ] or widow may in the absence of a bishop or presbyter chant antiphonies in her own home with a confessor or her slave; indeed, the evening prayer may not be read except in church—or, if it is read on an estate, let it be read with a bishop or presbyter or deacon present.[58]

The variation in the terminology designating ascetic women is noteworthy: perhaps by the year 400, distinctions were made between virgins with episcopal consecration (the devotae ) and virgins who have simply taken a personal vow, by reason either of youth (the puellae dei ) or choice (the professae mentioned here alongside widows). At any rate, the ninth judgment deals with ascetic women who are mistresses of their own homes, in which they hold private devotions along with male companions, who might be either slaves, and therefore legitimate members of the woman's household, or the ambiguous confessors. These private devotions constitute a challenge to the episcopal control of the liturgy. Ideally, the bishops maintain, daily prayers should be read in the church in the presence of a bishop or presbyter.[59] They were not, however, confident of being able to enforce this ideal and concede that prayers might be read on a country estate in the presence of a bishop or presbyter—or even a deacon, they add as a further concession. As in the sixth judgment, no punishment is threatened, suggesting that the bishops' authority over the private activities of ascetic men and women was still somewhat limited.

The second cluster of judgments about women reflect a concern shared by the seventh judgment—namely, that of the clergy for "their" women and "their" honor. The only exception is the seventeenth judg-


ment's ruling about men's relationships with concubines, in which the mild attempt to control male sexual behavior contrasts markedly with the council's severe punishments of female sexual transgressions. The sixteenth judgment punishes virgins (devotae ) who marry or are otherwise unchaste with ten years' penance; the eighteenth rules that the widow of a bishop, presbyter, or deacon who marries is to remain among the excommunicated until her deathbed; the nineteenth rules that if virgins (devotae ) who are daughters of a bishop, presbyter, or deacon sin by marrying they are to be shunned by their parents and—unless their husbands die—are to undergo lifelong penance and only be readmitted to communion on their deathbeds. These three judgments, like the seventh judgment and the six judgments discussed above concerning eligibility for clerical office, serve to distinguish the three highest offices by the particularly stringent demands placed on the sexuality not only of the clergy but also of their wives and daughters—whether literal or figurative.[60]

A comparison of the issues that dominate the judgments of the Council of Toledo with those that had preoccupied the bishops at Saragossa twenty years earlier reveals intriguing continuities and contrasts. In both cases, the bishops sought to promote the authority of their office and the centrality of the episcopally led liturgy for the communal identity of the church. The bishops at Toledo were, however, far more interested than their Saragossan predecessors in articulating the ranks of the clerical hierarchy—bishop, presbyter, deacon, subdeacon, reader, doorkeeper—and the relationships among members of that hierarchy. A moderated and hierarchalized sexual asceticism for both the clergy and their wives, widows, and daughters, together with other moral restrictions, was a major means of differentiating that hierarchy. There was also by 400 a heightened interest in articulating the relationships between officials of the church and local secular leaders.

While the focus was now on competition and differentiation within the ranks of the clergy, the consolidation of all ecclesiastical authority within the hierarchy was not complete. The private gatherings of ascetic Christians, in which men and women mixed with relative freedom and the informal authority of learned or exemplary individuals was acknowledged, still aroused particular anxiety. Those who attempted to defend a public model of community and authority and to eliminate competition from rivals whose authority derived primarily from the private sphere insisted on the separation and subordination of women. Women were defined by their sexuality, which was strictly controlled by segregating them from nonfamilial men, and was, furthermore, viewed primarily in terms of its consequences for male honor.


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