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Chapter Four "Priscillianist" Heresy Inquisitions at Toledo and Tarragona
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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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