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Chapter Four "Priscillianist" Heresy Inquisitions at Toledo and Tarragona
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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.

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