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Chapter Five "Gnostic" Priscillian Reinterpreted by Sulpicius Severus and Jerome
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Chapter Five
"Gnostic" Priscillian Reinterpreted by Sulpicius Severus and Jerome

While the Spanish churches were establishing "priscillianism" as a new category of Christian deviance, other Latin-speaking Christians were applying the time-hallowed label of "gnosticism" to Priscillian's movement. Sulpicius Severus and Jerome are the primary representatives of this stream of tradition. Neither author identifies Priscillian or his followers as "Manichaeans" or "Priscillianists." Instead, they invoke the classic heresiological discourse of the second and third centuries, supplying Priscillian with the genealogical credentials and conventional characteristics of an insidious gnostic seducer. Jerome explicitly acknowledges the Irenaean foundations of his portrait, while at the same time going beyond Irenaeus in his use of 2 Tim. 3.6–7 to make gender and sexuality central to his depiction of the Spanish heretic. Severus' dependence on the Christian heresiological tradition is subtler and more complex, and his unnamed sources are more difficult to identify; nevertheless, it is clear that both 2 Tim. 3 and the traditional image of the gnostic heretic strongly influenced Severus' portrait of Priscillian as well.

Since the 1909 publication of E.-Ch. Babut's Priscillien et le priscillianisme , Ithacius has been identified as the originator of the gnosticized portrait of Priscillian transmitted by Severus and Jerome. We know through a brief summary by Isidore of Seville that Ithacius composed an Apology in which he denounced Priscillian:


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, 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.[1]

Babut suggests that this Apology , which was probably written in the course of events leading to Ithacius' deposition circa 389,[2] offers a highly fictionalized depiction of Priscillian based directly on Irenaeus' portrait of the second-century gnostic Mark. Thus, according to Babut, the distorting influence of anti-gnostic heresiology on the portrait of Priscillian was already established in the tradition by 389, and the parallels between the accounts of Severus and Jerome arise from their common dependence on Ithacius' Apology .[3]

The brilliant creativity of his source theory, which has long won Babut adherents,[4] rests on a speculative freedom that also leaves that theory open to question on a number of points. Isidore in fact makes no mention of Ithacius' supposed use of Irenaeus and furthermore specifies that Ithacius identified Priscillian not as a gnostic but as a Manichaean. I suggest that we cannot therefore simply assume, with Babut, that Ithacius' Apology was the source for Severus' and Jerome's parallel depictions of Priscillian as a gnostic . The two authors probably relied in part on prior traditions in constructing their gnosticized portraits of Priscillian: Filastrius, for example, seems to have associated Priscillian with gnosticism as well as with Manichaeism at a very early stage in the controversy.[5] However, Severus' and Jerome's exclusive use of the label of gnosticism and careful avoidance of any reference to Manichaeism is unprecedented in the extant literary references to Priscillian.

How, then, does one explain the emergence of these parallel portraits of the gnostic Priscillian? The answer, I think, is most helpfully sought, not in hypothetical common sources, but rather in certain commonalities of context that encouraged Severus and Jerome to utilize the resources of their Christian tradition in similar ways. Both men met with opposition in their roles as ascetic scholars, and both struggled to counter that opposition with innovative ecclesiological constructs intended to resolve the conflict between private and public and alienated and accommodating strategies of Christian self-definition. To a certain extent, each succeeded, in part by linking public authority with an accommodated private authority through the glorification of the ascetic bishop or cleric, and in part by symbolically distancing bishops from ascetics through the advocation of a theoretical separation of the spheres of urban church and rural monastery. The harmonizing of public and private understandings of community and


authority remained, however, incomplete, and ambivalence and inconsistency persisted in Severus' and Jerome's attitudes toward both the official clergy and women. Gender receives particular emphasis as Severus and Jerome each invoke the rhetoric of women's separation and subordination in order to legitimate their distinctive ecclesiologies. At the same time, both struggle with the conflicting experience of women's relative independence and authority in the privatized sphere of ascetic Christianity, and the internal dissonance resulting from each man's ambivalent relationship to the public sphere intensifies his preoccupation with the theme of the separation and subordination of women.

Within this context, the distant figure of the condemned Priscillian—although central to neither man's concerns—once again serves as a lightning rod for tensions over gender and authority. Severus' and Jerome's portraits of Priscillian as a disorderly, traitorous seducer become projections of feared accusations, and as such reveal their particular vulnerability in contemporary ecclesiastical debates: the two authors construct these portraits as pieces of larger strategies to dissociate themselves from similar characterizations. Neither Severus nor Jerome are involved in direct attempts to exclude Priscillian or Priscillian's purported followers from the Christian community. In their works, the archaic label of gnosticism attached to Priscillian functions more subtly not to exclude but to circumscribe and control the role of the ascetic and scholar in the Christian community. At the same time, implied accusations of gnosticism are invoked to control the behavior of women by casting them in the role of unchaste "little women" misled both morally and doctrinally by the gnostic seducer. By exerting control over women's behavior, Severus and Jerome seek to resolve the internal conflict resulting from their contradictory ideals for and experiences of women.

This chapter temporarily disrupts the contextualized narrative account of the heresy of Priscillian, undertaking an initial comparative, chronologically ordered examination of the depictions of Priscillian in the writings of Severus and Jerome. Such an examination illumines both the overlapping contours and the divergent elaborations of Severus' and Jerome's gnosticized portraits of Priscillian, in such a way as to demonstrate their original independence as well as their fundamental compatibility. A brief consideration of the respective careers of Sulpicius Severus and Jerome follows the review of their parallel treatments of Priscillian and returns us to the historical narrative. Both the conflicts the two men experienced and their responses to those conflicts provide a crucial context for interpreting Severus' and Jerome's novel and distinctive portrayals of Priscillian as a gnostic seducer. At the same time, their lives open windows


onto the broader ecclesiastical arenas in which issues of gender and authority played themselves out in the west in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.

The Texts and the Question of Influence

Jerome mentions Priscillian briefly in some ten different works written in Palestine between 392 and 415. Severus gives a single, more lengthy account of Priscillian, which serves as the dramatic conclusion to his Chronicle , published in Aquitaine between 403 and 406. A careful examination of the two authors' references to Priscillian demonstrates the weaknesses of Babut's source theory and allows the proposal of certain modifications of that theory, while at the same time clarifying the distinctive shape of the portrait of Priscillian as a gnostic seducer. While Severus seems to have been familiar with Ithacius' Apology , he apparently does not owe his gnosticized depiction of Priscillian to that work, and it is quite possible that Jerome did not know Ithacius' Apology at all. There is furthermore no evidence of any other common source or of direct borrowing between the two authors until sometime between 410 and 415, when Jerome appears to have become familiar with elements of Severus' account. Instead, preexisting and independently established parallels between his own portrait of Priscillian and Severus' portrait facilitated Jerome's assimilation of Severus' material in his final depiction of Priscillian as a gnostic seducer.

Jerome's earliest reference to Priscillian occurs in his biographical encyclopedia On Famous Men , written for a Spanish patron in 392 or early 393, some six years after Priscillian's death.[6] The brief chapter devoted to Priscillian is notable for its neutral tone: "Priscillian, bishop of Avila, who at the instigation of Hydatius and Ithacius was slain at Trier by the tyrant Maximus, published many brief works, some of which have reached us."[7] Jerome had probably come into contact with Priscillian's works during his three-year sojourn in Rome (382–84), immediately following Priscillian's own visit to that city. His later writings reveal an awareness of Priscillian's defense of the use of apocryphal scriptures, a theme surfacing in all three of Priscillian's apologetic works and comprising the central focus of the Book on the Faith and the Apocrypha . If Jerome had indeed read some of Priscillian's writings by 392, he does not seem to have found them blatantly heretical, since he offers no personal judgment on the issue of Priscillian's orthodoxy and seems confident that such neutrality will please his Spanish addressee.


While he stops short of condemning Priscillian personally, Jerome does report that others accuse Priscillian of the gnostic heresy, offering the further explanation that this is the heresy of Basilides and Mark: "He is still accused by some of the gnostic heresy—that is, of the heresy of Basilides or Mark, concerning whom Irenaeus wrote—while others maintain that he did not think in the way that is claimed."[8] Jerome's language suggests that the explanatory gloss is his own and, despite the claims of Babut, there is no evidence that anyone before him had identified Priscillian with the Alexandrian Basilides or the Mark whose teachings were influential in Gaul.[9] Jerome cites Irenaeus as his authoritative source on the two second-century gnostics, although Irenaeus does not in fact describe Mark as being of the school of Basilides, as Jerome seems to think.[10] Simple geographical proximity may have suggested this connection between Priscillian of Spain and the "Basilidean" Mark of Gaul.[11] Alternatively, Jerome may have known that Ithacius identified a certain Mark of Memphis as Priscillian's teacher. If so, the common name could have suggested the connection between Priscillian and Irenaeus' Mark, while the Egyptian origins of Priscillian's supposed teacher may have led Jerome to identify the Irenaean Mark with Basilides. However, any such hypothesis remains extremely speculative.[12] Regardless of his source or inspiration, Jerome chose at an early date to link Priscillian with the gnostic Mark described by Irenaeus, and this choice proved crucial in shaping the portrait of Priscillian that subsequently emerged from Jerome's pen.

Some seven years later, Jerome mentions the "filthy heresy of Basilides," which has ravaged Spain "like a plague and a sickness."[13] The shift in his attitude toward Priscillian, whom he does not identify by name either here or in his next five allusions to the Spanish heretic, may be owing in part to negative reports received circa 397. The source of these reports was Lucinus, a wealthy Spanish ascetic and student of scripture, who died only two years after initiating a correspondence with Jerome. In a letter written in 399 to Lucinus' widow, Theodora, Jerome praises Lucinus for having upheld the pure faith of the church in the face of the gnostic heresy. He notes that Lucinus rejected the heretics' claim to derive the portentous names of Armazel, Barbelos, Abraxas, Balsamus, and Leosibora from "Hebrew sources."[14] Three of these five names—Armazel, Barbelos, and Balsamus—also occur in Priscillian's denunciation of gnostic interpretations of scripture, and a fourth—Leosibora—is mentioned uncritically in his citation of Job;[15] it is therefore likely that Lucinus knew something of the controversies surrounding Priscillian's use and interpretation of apocryphal scriptures.[16] Jerome may rely on Lucinus, but more probably offers his own interpretation when he remarks scornfully that the heretics in-


voke such barbarous words in order to mystify and astonish women and other ignorant folk.

The reference to Lucinus' anti-gnostic stance seems intended as an indirect—although hardly subtle—warning to Theodora, and Jerome leans heavily on the theme of women's particular vulnerability to the deceits and seductions of the heretics. As in 392, he identifies the contemporary Spanish "gnosticism" with the gnosticism of the "Basilidean" Mark, again making explicit reference to his source, Irenaeus, whom he inaccurately endows with an apostolic pedigree.

Irenaeus . . . reports that a certain Mark, descendant of the stock of Basilides the gnostic, first came to Gaul and polluted the Rhône and Garonne regions with his teachings. He especially seduced noblewomen with this error, promising certain mysteries in secret and winning them over with magic arts and the secret pleasure of the body. From there, he crossed the Pyrenees and occupied Spain, and his goal was to approach the houses of the rich, and in them especially the women, who are led by various desires, always learning and never reaching knowledge of truth [2 Tim. 3.6–7].[17]

Irenaeus actually reports only that the Marcosians were active in the district of the Rhône.[18] Jerome either misremembers or, more likely, feels at liberty to extend Mark's activity not only into the Garonne region, home of Priscillian's patron Euchrotia,[19] but even across the Pyrenees into Spain. He furthermore generalizes the role of Mark as a seducer of noble women[20] by capping Irenaeus' account of Mark with a quotation from 2 Tim. 3.6–7, which refers to the false teachers who will come at the end of time and lead women astray.[21] Mark is presented as one of many heretical seducers, and Jerome can use the stereotyped role to create an easy link between Mark and his supposed imitator Priscillian, whose teachings, Jerome implies, threaten to "seduce" the wealthy Theodora. With this letter, most of the crucial elements of Jerome's gnosticized portrait of Priscillian are in place.

In the decade that follows the writing of the letter to Theodora, Jerome's objections to Priscillian and his disciples shift to the topic of the Spanish heretics' invocation of pseudo-Hebrew names drawn from the apocryphal scriptures. A series of five scattered passages dating circa 400 to circa 410 refers scornfully to "the absurdities of the apocrypha,"[22] "Spanish incantations,"[23] "Spanish foolishness,"[24] "Egyptian portents,"[25] and "the portents of Basilides."[26] Jerome's contempt for the amateur Hebrew derivations attributed to Priscillian's followers and his particular sensitivity on the subject of their use of the apocrypha are not surprising in a period in which Jerome was completing his translation of the Hebrew


scriptures. During these years, Jerome was particularly eager both to establish his authority as a Hebrew scholar and to defend his preference for the Hebrew text, which not only diverged from the Septuagint at many points but also included fewer books in its canon.[27] With these concerns in mind, he invoked the negative example of the Spanish heretics who misused both Hebrew names and apocryphal scriptures. Here Jerome may have relied not only on Lucinus' account but also on Priscillian's own works. In the preface to his translation of the Pentateuch, completed in 404, he opposes the adherents of "Spanish incantations" who agree with Origen that the New Testament citations of prophecies not contained in the Septuagint constitute a scriptural legitimation for the consultation of the apocrypha[28] —an argument strikingly close to Priscillian's line of reasoning in his Book on the Faith and the Apocrypha .[29] In the Commentaries on Isaiah , written between 408 and 410, Jerome similarly insists that the canonical Isa. 64.4–5—not the apocryphal Apocalypse of Elijah and Ascension of Isaiah,[30] as the followers of "Spanish absurdities" claim—is the source of Paul's paraphrased citation in 1 Cor. 2.9.[31] Finally, Jerome's allusion to the "portents of Basilides" occurs in the context of his objection to Vigilantius' use of 4 Esdras;[32] since 4 Esdras is also an apocryphal work used and defended by Priscillian,[33] this allusion may provide further support for the thesis that Jerome knew Priscillian's third tractate.

As just noted, Jerome's interest in Priscillian during the first decade of the fifth century was driven primarily by an eagerness to denounce an exegete who misused the apocrypha and mishandled Hebrew terms. But during these years Jerome also introduces a new theme—Priscillian's false teachings concerning the soul—and returns to an old theme—Priscillian's supposed forerunner, the gnostic seducer Mark. In a letter responding to twelve exegetical questions posed by a certain Hedibia, Jerome opposes the false views of (1) Pythagoras, Plato, and "their disciples" (presumably the followers of Origen), who teach that souls fall from heaven, and (2) "the heresy of Basilides and Mani and the Spanish foolishness and Egyptian portents."[34] Jerome does not here specify the teaching of Basilides, Mani, and the Hispano-Egyptian heresy; however, in a closely parallel passage written a few years later, he explicitly identifies Mani and Priscillian with the false doctrine of the consubstantiality of human souls and God.[35] His motive in including the unnamed Priscillian among the list of more notorious philosophers and heretics may stem from his awareness of Hedibia's family connections with Euchrotia.[36] As in the letter to Theodora, the reference to Priscillian's heresy appears to represent an indirect warning to a woman whom he perceives as vulnerable to heretical corruption. But Euchrotia, like Priscillian, remains discreetly unnamed. Jerome


invokes instead the less controversial figures of Hedibia's esteemed pagan forefathers Patera and Delphidius—Euchrotia's father-in-law and husband respectively: "Your ancestors Patera and Delphidius—of whom the former taught rhetoric at Rome before I was born, [and] the latter made all Gaul famous with his talent in prose and verse while I was still a young man—now, sleeping and silent, justly reproach me for daring to whisper anything to their descendant."[37]

In his Commentaries on Isaiah , Jerome returns explicitly to the comparison of Priscillian with the Irenaean Mark:

And through . . . [arguments in support of the apocryphal, little women of Spain and especially of Lusitania have been deceived, burdened with sins, who are led by various desires, always learning and never reaching the knowledge of truth, so that they accept the portents of Basilides: Balsamus and Thesaurus, as well as Barbelo and Leusibora, and the rest of the names. The apostolic man Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons and martyr, wrote most thoroughly concerning these things, explaining the origins of many heresies, especially the gnostics. Through Mark the Egyptian, they deceived noblewomen, first in the Rhône region of Gaul, then in Spain; the women mixed pleasure with stories and claimed the name of knowledge for their own wantonness.[38]

The parallels between this passage and the letter to Theodora are close, including the citation of 2 Tim. 3.6–7, the list of supposed Priscillianist "portents" or "names," the invocation of the authority of the "apostolic" Irenaeus, the extension of Mark's mission from Gaul into Spain, the account of Mark's sexual and doctrinal corruption of noblewomen, and the avoidance of Priscillian's name. Jerome has also added a few new details. He has inserted the Manichaean Thesaurus —in fact, a book, not a title of divinity—into the list of portentous names, hinting at a connection between Priscillian and Mani.[39] Jerome also now identifies Lusitanians as prominent among the "little women" deceived by "Mark," a geographical specification probably intended to provide an unmistakable allusion to the unnamed Priscillian.[40] A third new element is Jerome's identification of Mark as "the Egyptian." The epithet may simply refer to the link between Mark and Basilides, whose Alexandrian provenance was well known. Jerome had already introduced the Egyptian epithet in his letter to Hedibia, in which he refers to the false teachings concerning the soul represented by "the heresy of Basilides and Mani" and those who "follow Spanish incantations and Egyptian portents."[41] But it is also possible that Jerome had in mind the Ithacian tradition, perhaps now mediated through Severus, that Priscillian's forerunner Mark was from Egypt.

As we shift our textual focus from Jerome to Severus, certain stylistic


contrasts immediately become evident. Jerome's relatively brief and scattered references to Priscillian often give the impression of having been drafted impulsively, if not carelessly. Severus' portrait of Priscillian, on the other hand, is set in a meticulously crafted narrative, which concludes his Chronicle . The well-read Jerome is free with his citation of scriptural passages and quick to state the authority of an ecclesiastical source such as Irenaeus. Severus weaves a subtler text of literary allusions, avoiding direct quotations or explicit references to sources, while at the same time engaging in intimate dialogue with a world of literature more often classical than Christian. Yet, I would argue, heresiological traditions and scriptural texts—above all, 2 Tim. 3—are just as crucial for Severus as they are for Jerome in shaping the portrait of Priscillian.

"There follow the grave and dangerous times of our own age, during which the churches were polluted by an uncustomary evil and all things were thoroughly disturbed," Severus begins his tale of the Priscillianist controversy. "For then for the first time was that infamous heresy of the gnostics detected within Spain: a deadly superstition, shrouded in secret mysteries. The origin of that evil was the Orient and Egypt."[42] Severus here borrows language directly from Tacitus' contemptuous description of Christianity as a "deadly superstition," which erupted not only in Judea, "the origin of the evil," but also in Rome.[43] This allusion functions simultaneously as a simple literary play, a radical expression of denunciation of the Spanish heretics, and a subtle questioning of that very denunciation by its association with the pagan persecution of Christianity.[44] Nor do the allusions end with the invocation of Tacitus: still more layers of meaning are at work in this text. With the reference to "dangerous times," Severus evokes the eschatological context of 2 Tim. 3: "But know this, that in the last days there will come dangerous times."[45] This scriptural passage continues to influence the subsequent presentation of Priscillian and his movement.

Severus moves immediately to qualify his neat identification of the origin of the heresy, acknowledging that "its roots and beginnings [in the Orient and Egypt] are by no means easy to investigate"[46] —a difficulty probably stemming in part from the silence, confusion, or unreliability of Severus' sources. Ithacius' Apology must have been among these sources, for Severus goes on to explain that "Mark, who came from Egypt and was born in Memphis, first brought [the heresy] into Spain."[47] Although he passes on the tradition that Mark of Memphis was the originator of Priscillian's heresy, Severus does not follow Ithacius on every point: he makes no mention of Mani, he distances himself from the charges of magic brought against Priscillian, and like Jerome he continues throughout his


account to label the adherents of the Spanish movement as "gnostics" or simply "heretics." Nor does he present Mark as Priscillian's immediate teacher. Instead, he identifies the noblewoman Agape and the rhetorician Elpidius as followers of Mark who in turn passed the heresy on to Priscillian. Whether Agape and Elpidius likewise figured in Ithacius' account is unknown. Severus certainly had access to other sources of information about Priscillian, and his subsequent reference to Elpidius[48] seems to place these figures on firmer historical ground than Mark.[49] Whatever his source, it is in keeping with Severus' overall portrait of Priscillian that Priscillian's immediate instructors included a noblewoman and a man of notable education and eloquence.

Unlike Jerome, Severus is not content to make vague references to Spanish gnostics. He introduces Priscillian himself in a passage rich in allusions to Sallust's portrait of the villainous Catiline.[50]

Priscillian . . . was of noble family, very rich in property, keen, restless, eloquent, learned through much reading, very prompt to discuss and debate: fortunate in his birth, if he had not corrupted his excellent nature with perverse pursuits. In short, you might discern in him many good qualities of mind and body: he was able to make many vigils and to endure hunger and thirst; he had very little desire for possessions and was very frugal in his consumption. But he was likewise extremely vain, and he was more inflated by knowledge of profane things than was appropriate—indeed, it is believed that he also practiced magical arts from his youth.[51]

Severus' allusive style is subtle, consisting in the echo of a single word or phrase, the repetition of a syntactical pattern, or the paraphrase of a familiar passage. Such delicate allusions work together to create—to borrow Jacques Fontaine's metaphor—a "dotted outline" of Sallust's Catiline upon which the portrait of Priscillian is painted.[52] Like Catiline, Priscillian is identified as coming from a noble family and possessing great strength of mind and body, on the one hand, and a nature depraved from youth, on the other.[53] However, there are hints of differences as well as similarities between Catiline and Priscillian. While Severus echoes Sallust's description of Catiline in his report of Priscillian's ability to endure fasts and vigils,[54] he also immediately goes on to emphasize Priscillian's frugality, thereby drawing an implicit contrast with Catiline's notorious greed and love of luxury.[55] By thus comparing Priscillian favorably with Catiline, Severus accentuates an ambivalence already present in Sallust's attitude toward his heroic villain. He emphasizes that ambivalence still further by depicting Priscillian's opponents Hydatius and Ithacius as Catilinian villains even more reprehensible than Priscillian.[56] Out of this complex pre-


sentation emerges the following suggestion: Priscillian is a gnostic heretic; however, like Catiline, he possesses not only deplorable vices but also many characteristics worthy of admiration; indeed, he is more admirable than Catiline; and, paradoxically, he is far more virtuous than his opponents among the orthodox bishops.

A second allusion to 2 Tim. 3 fills one break in the dotted outline of the Sallustian portrait of Priscillian. We have seen that Severus stresses that Priscillian, unlike Catiline, was not greedy or desirous of possessions. He goes on to make it clear that Priscilian was , however, greedy for knowledge.[57] It was this fatal flaw that, in Severus' view, marked him as a man overly "vain and inflated by knowledge of profane things." Here Severus echoes the description of the self-absorbed individuals who, according to 2 Tim. 3.2–4, will appear in the last times: "greedy, proud, arrogant, blasphemers, . . . traitors, bold, puffed up."[58] Severus goes on to note that the proud Priscillian gave "the appearance of humility in countenance and dress"; his language recalls 2 Tim. 3.5: "they have the appearance of piety while refusing its virtue."[59]

In describing the success of Priscillian's movement, Severus again interweaves Sallustian allusions with allusions to 2 Tim. 3:

When he entered upon the deadly teaching, he enticed many nobles as well as common people into his company by the authority of his persuasiveness and the art of flattery. In addition, women—desirous of new things, of unstable faith, and by nature curious about everything—flocked to him in masses. Indeed, pretending to an appearance of humility in countenance and dress, he inspired honor and reverence in all people. And now, little by little, the disease of his treachery had pervaded most of Spain; in fact, some of the bishops were perverted, among whom Instantius and Salvianus supported Priscillian not merely by agreement but also with a kind of oath.[60]

Priscillian's very eloquence, like Catiline's, is suspect.[61] Using archaic political terminology reminiscent of republican Rome, Severus notes that Priscillian was able to draw together an alliance of both "the nobles" and "the people" through use of his persuasive powers.[62] Severus describes the shared ascetic vow that joined Priscillian to his supporters as a conspiratorial oath, terminology that again evokes memories of Sallust's Conspiracy of Catiline . There are also Sallustian overtones in his observation that Priscillian's supporters included both men and women: Catiline, notorious for his promiscuous sexual relationships,[63] is said to have attracted the support not only of many men of all ranks but even of some women,[64] and Sallust characterizes these noble matrons—epitomized by the figure of Sempronia—as luxury-loving "prostitutes" by whose support Catiline


hoped to win the allegiance of their husbands as well as the slave population of Rome.[65] Sallust elsewhere makes frequent use of the phrase "desirous of new things" to describe the psychological instability of those who support political rebellion.[66] Severus' delicate allusion to Catiline's female supporters is thus accomplished not only by his previous, more explicit allusions to Sallust's text but also by his use of this familiar Sallustian language. The particular phrase "desirous of new things" is not, however, applied by Sallust to women in particular: it is Severus who distinctly genders the stereotypical restless and curious rebel as female.

In emphasizing the women among Priscillian's followers, Severus has 2 Tim. 3.6–7 in mind: "For among them are those who enter into homes and lead captive little women, burdened with sins, who are led by shifting desires, always learning and never reaching knowledge of truth."[67] Unlike Jerome, Severus is unwilling to cast the ascetic Priscillian crudely in the role of the sexual seducer. However, his allusions to Sallust and 2 Tim. 3 work together to characterize Priscillian as a "seducer" in a more metaphorical sense: treacherous and deceptive, with the appearance of piety, he works from within the church to lead its most vulnerable—that is, its most "feminine"—members astray. Here Severus, like Jerome, evokes the thought world, if not the specific text, of Irenaeus.[68] The second-century heresiologist was the first to articulate coherently the role of the gnostic heretic as a peculiarly intimate and paradoxical enemy: an impostor who plays the role of a true Christian, or an apostate who betrays a faith once loyally maintained.[69] Like Irenaeus' gnostics, Severus' Priscillian appears in the roles of both the seducer and the traitor, the one who deceives and the one who is perverted; his dupes are the simple and women. Severus returns to the theme of Priscillian's "seduction" of women in two subsequent passages. While distancing himself from malicious rumors regarding Priscillian's sexual relations with Euchrotia and Procula, he nevertheless uses those rumors to construct an image of Priscillian travelling in the company of a disgraceful band of "wives and even unrelated women." He again touches on the theme of Priscillian's female followers in his report of Priscillian's confession to having held "nocturnal gatherings of disgraceful women."[70]

Severus concludes his narrative with a richly eschatological passage that evokes the following verses of 2 Tim. 3: "And all who want to live piously in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, while the evil ones will grow worse, erring and sending others into error."[71] He perceives himself to be living in a time when holy people like his mentor Martin are accused of heresy, while the evil go unpunished: "only Ithacius was removed from the episcopacy." Corrupt bishops and their followers have placed the


Christian world in a state of confusion and disgrace with their scandalous quarrels and dissensions. By contrast, "the people of God and every excellent person are held up for abuse and laughter."[72] The question of whether Priscillian might be included among the pious Christians who are persecuted is left tantalizingly open.

Jerome must have read Severus' dazzling narrative by 414 or 415, when he penned his letter to Ctesiphon, a Palestinian supporter of Pelagius, at that point Jerome's primary theological rival. He had also received a visit from the Galician Orosius, who had supplied Jerome with further information concerning the Spanish heresy.[73] In his letter to Ctesiphon, Jerome twice mentions Priscillian, using his name for almost the first time since his initial reference in 392.[74] In the first of the two passages, he identifies "Priscillian in Spain, who shares in Manichaeus' immorality," as Pelagius' forerunner, along with Evagrius and Origen: both Priscillian and Pelagius call their followers to perfection and knowledge, he claims, while masking their true moral depravity:

[Priscillian's] followers greatly admire [Pelagius], rashly claiming the word of perfection and knowledge for themselves. They shut themselves up alone with little women and sing this to them between intercourse and embraces: "Then the almighty father, Heaven, descends with fruitful showers into the womb of his fertile wife, and the great one, mingled with her great body, nourishes all offspring."[75] Indeed, they also have a share of the gnostic heresy that derives from the impiety of Basilides—whence [the Pelagians] too claim that those who are without knowledge of the law cannot avoid sin. Why do I speak of Priscillian, who was condemned by both the secular sword and the authority of the whole world?[76]

In the second part of this passage, elements of Jerome's earlier presentations of Priscillian recur: he associates Priscillian with the gnostic Basilides and repeats a line he had used in 406 in his work against Vigilantius: "he was condemned by the authority of the whole world."[77] The opening lines, however, seem to betray evidence not only of Jerome's preoccupation with the Pelagian controversy but also of his recent encounters with Orosius, as he both links Priscillian more closely with Mani and recalls the Priscillianists' supposed use of a Manichaean myth. Orosius writes to Augustine that one of the apocryphal books used by the Priscillianists tells of a "prince of wetness" and a "prince of fire."

For it says that there is a certain virgin light, whom god, when he wants to give rain to humanity, shows to the prince of wetness. The prince of wetness desires to grasp her, and in his excitement he sweats profusely and makes rain; when he is forsaken by her, he produces thunder from his groaning.[78]


Orosius may well have passed this story on to Jerome. Jerome, in turn, apparently transforms it into a Virgilian reference, which, he claims, the followers of Priscillian invoke in order to seduce vulnerable women. Jerome makes no mention of the Manichaean origins or the doctrinal content of the myth, but uses it simply to present Priscillian's followers as worldly and immoral.

In his second reference to Priscillian in the letter to Ctesiphon, Jerome alludes briefly to Priscillian's "Zoroastrian" training; here he is probably inspired by Orosius' report of Priscillian's interest in astrology.[79] The influence of Severus' narrative, however, predominates—not least in the very prominence Jerome gives to the heresy of Priscillian, which he positions as the final and most lengthy entry in a historical review of notorious heretical "couples" beginning with Simon Magus and Helen. This review is ultimately targeted at Pelagius and his female adherents, although they remain unnamed, and is introduced with a paraphrase of 2 Tim. 3.6–7, interwoven with allusions to Eph. 4.4, 2 Tim. 4.3, and Ezek. 13.10–16:

What do they intend, those miserable little women, burdened with sins, who are carried about by every wind of teaching, always learning and never reaching knowledge of truth; and the others, associates of the little women, with itching ears, ignorant of what they hear or say, who take up the oldest mud as if it were a new concoction—who, as Ezekiel says, smear the wall with unmixed mortar and, when the flood of truth comes upon them, are destroyed?[80]

Here Jerome's generalizing use of 2 Tim. 3.6–7 to implicate all heretics in the crime of sexual immorality is at its most explicit and extreme.[81] Following a litany of five earlier heretical pairs and two more recent examples, Jerome introduces Priscillian:

In Spain, Agape led Elpidius, the woman led the man, the blind led the blind, into a ditch; and she had as her successor Priscillian, most devoted student of a magus of Zoroaster, who from a magus became bishop. A Gallic woman was connected with him, and she left as heir of another, neighboring heresy a "sister"—not by birth but by name—who ran hither and thither.[82]

In this passage, Jerome makes no mention of either Mark or Basilides but now joins Severus in identifying Agape and Elpidius as Priscillian's immediate teachers. The two fit neatly into his scheme. Mark and his unnamed female adherents, on the other hand, cannot be linked with Priscillian chronologically, at least according to Jerome's earlier accounts, which place Mark either two or three hundred years before his own time; the awkwardness of chronological inconsistencies with Severus' account of his


Mark may have further encouraged Jerome to drop Mark from this particular genealogical list.[83] Severus names Agape before Elpidius. Jerome picks up this subtle nuance and here, as nowhere else in his list of heretical couples, he places the woman in the dominant and initiating role. His language draws attention to this anomaly through the threefold repetition of nominative and accusative nouns—"Agape led Elpidius, the woman led the man, the blind led the blind"—and through the identification of Priscillian as the successor not of Agape and Elpidius but merely of Agape.[84]

Jerome also now seems to be familiar with rumors concerning immoral relations between Priscillian and a certain "Gallic woman" with whom he pairs Priscillian. He exploits ambiguity by calling to mind a number of possible referents from Severus' account: Euchrotia, Procula, or the other members of the band of women who accompanied Priscillian from Gaul.[85] By leaving the "Gallic woman" unnamed, Jerome also tactfully avoids explicitly associating descendants of Delphidius like Hedibia with Priscillian. In addition, he is able to construct a play on the word "Galla," which can indicate either a proper name or a place of origin. This wordplay is sufficiently complex that its meaning is no longer easy to discern. Adhémar D'Alès suggests that Jerome intends to imply a tenuous "sisterly" connection between Euchrotia, a Gallic woman, and the empress Galla, wife of Theodosius the Great, who was not Gallic but was named Galla, and who was furthermore associated with the heresy of Arianism; "Galla" (i.e., Arianism) had become a "neighbor" of Priscillianism with the entry of the Goths into Gaul and Spain.[86]

Aside from a brief mention in a lineup of heretics that includes Mani, Evagrius, Jovinian, and the "Syrians," this is Jerome's last reference to Priscillian.[87] In this late treatment of the Spanish heretic, he has abandoned both his interest in Priscillian's use of the apocrypha and his explicit identification of Priscillian with the Irenaean Mark, elements also absent from Severus' account; he has also given new attention to Priscillian's supposed emphasis on human "perfectibility" in the context of the Pelagian controversy. Yet the portrait of Priscillian as a gnostic seducer remains constant from its first introduction in the letter to Theodora of 399 to its final articulation in the letter to Ctesiphon of 414. There are other points of similarity between the accounts of Jerome and Severus—e.g., in the portrayal of Priscillian's worldly learning. But it is the common identification of Priscillian as a seducer of "little women" that facilitates Jerome's assimilation of Severus' material and creates the impression of a strong underlying harmony between the two authors' accounts.


Commonalities of Context

The similar contexts of Severus' and Jerome's lives, and to a lesser extent their reception of the same tradition about Priscillian, interpreted within the framework of a shared heresiological heritage, made their portraits of him profoundly compatible: parallel social and theological pressures nudged the two men toward similar adaptations of their cultural and textual resources. It remains now to examine the conflicts faced by Severus and Jerome as they each attempted to define and defend their authority as ascetics and scholars in the Christian community.

Sulpicius Severus

In 394 or 395, Sulpicius Severus withdrew from public life at the height of a successful rhetorical career.[88] Influenced by the ascetic zeal of Paulinus of Nola, Martin of Tours, and his own mother-in-law, Bassula,[89] Severus divested himself of most of his landed property[90] and determined to dedicate himself wholly to Christ. Within a few years, he had established an ascetic household on a country estate at Primuliacum in southern Aquitaine.[91] Severus may have been living there by the time of his publication of the Life of Martin in 396; it was certainly at Primuliacum that he wrote his account of Priscillian in the Chronicle , published between 403 and 406, as well as the contemporaneous Dialogues .[92]

The evidence for life at Primuliacum is meager, deriving primarily from Paulinus' letters to Severus and secondarily from the fictionalized depiction of Primuliacum in Severus' Dialogues . It is difficult to know to what extent the social organization of the community differed from that of a typical country estate—or, in other words, how far Primuliacum had moved along the path toward the more formalized social organization of "cenobitic monasticism." Primuliacum was, in ideal, a community composed entirely of Christian ascetics in which a new spirit of equality reigned. Severus gave up his legal ownership of the property and rejected the social privilege of a luxurious life;[93] Paulinus goes so far as to claim that Severus lived as a fellow slave to his slaves and as a slave to his poorer "brothers."[94] But Paulinus' description of Severus' servant Victor's attention to Paulinus' physical needs contradicts his own rhetoric.[95] In fact, Primuliacum appears to have retained much of the social structure of an aristocratic country estate, and Severus presided over the community with


the natural grace of assumed class superiority. His household consisted largely of slaves and other social inferiors, including young boys sent for an education in Christian discipline.[96] In addition, Primuliacum housed frequent visitors, notables of the local ascetic community and travellers from further afield;[97] several of these possessed some clerical rank, and one later source reports that Severus himself was an ordained presbyter.[98]

It is not known whether the community at Primuliacum included women. Neither Severus nor Paulinus explicitly mentions female residents, but if Severus' mother-in-law, Bassula, did not actually live at Primuliacum, she must have resided nearby, and other women may also have belonged to the community.[99] Bassula provided her son-in-law with stenographers,[100] and she was intensely interested in Severus' literary activity,[101] as well as in his building projects at Primuliacum.[102] Paulinus was ready to detect analogies between Severus' partnership with Bassula and his own relationship with his wife and "fellow servant" Therasia, who lived with Paulinus in the ascetic community founded by the couple at Nola.[103]

Even less is known of the daily routine at Primuliacum than of its social structure, but it is fairly certain that no formalized rule was employed. Severus constructed a new basilica and baptistry,[104] but the sources do not indicate whether daily offices were observed communally. If Severus followed Paulinus' recommendation, he and his fellow "monks" were tonsured, dressed in uniform simplicity, and lived on a diet of gruel and beans; however, Paulinus seems to have had reason to fear that this was not always the case.[105]

If the precise regime of Severus' asceticism is unclear, somewhat more is known about the response it elicited from contemporaries. Both Martin and Paulinus had provoked controversy by their zealous championing of asceticism,[106] and Severus likewise encountered serious opposition to his own choice to pursue an ascetic life. The Life of Martin was written in order to glorify and defend Martin and his disciples, including Paulinus and Severus himself. Severus had several audiences in mind: addressing the international ascetic community, he set out to prove that Gaul had produced monks as impressive as any in Egypt or the Orient; addressing the traditional Gallic aristocracy, he sought to demonstrate that Christianity could produce sophisticated literature in the tradition of the pagan classics; addressing a largely anti-ascetic Gallic clergy, he argued that it was the ascetic who was the true Christian and bishop. Not surprisingly, Severus' work seems to have intensified the controversy surrounding Martin, who died shortly after its publication. Severus found it necessary to defend the Life of Martin in his Letter to Eusebius and in the Dialogues , in


which he answers the criticism of skeptics who claim that his biography includes lies about Martin's miraculous powers.[107] Although its apologetic function is less obvious, Severus' Chronicle likewise defends Martin by placing him within the broad context of salvation history. Presenting the ascetic bishop as one of the apostolic and prophetic figures expected to appear—and to be rejected—at the end of time, Severus transforms the opposition to Martin into but another sign of the holy ascetic's power.[108]

Behind these literary defenses of Martin, we catch glimpses of the dispute, or series of disputes, that took place between Severus and the opponents of asceticism in southern Gaul. As early as 396, in concluding the Life of Martin , Severus remarks that many of those who criticize Martin, including some bishops, "are barking around me"; he protests that it is an honor to be slandered alongside Martin.[109] Similarly, some seven years later he closes his Chronicle with the observation that "the people of God and every excellent person are held up for abuse and laughter," clearly including both Martin and himself in the number of the virtuous persecuted.[110] These vague allusions give way in the Dialogues to more specific references to conflict with local bishops and clergy, on whom Severus' resentment now focuses; he complains that, of all the world, only the bishops and clergy of his own region have failed to recognize Martin's virtue and authority.[111]

In the opening passages of the first Dialogue , Severus asks the traveller Postumianus pointedly whether Christians in the east "are permitted to live even in the desert"; the clear implication is that local Christians do not enjoy the freedom to pursue their chosen way of life. Postumianus responds by asking whether the local bishops are still the same as they were before he left—i.e., actively opposed to asceticism. Not only are those bishops just as hostile as they were before, answers Severus, but one of his former friends has also grown cooler and less constant in his support.[112] Rumblings of a recent worsening of relations between Severus and local ecclesiastical authorities continue throughout the Dialogues . Severus Gallic companion refers to an associate of Severus whose anger has influenced a number of people to turn against Severus. In the same passage, Gallus makes mention of an "ungrateful" freedman who has deserted Severus, seemingly led astray by another (the angry associate?); Severus admits that it is only with great difficulty that he has restrained his own anger against the two.[113] In the third Dialogue , Postumianus mentions a notable figure in their neighborhood who, although often wise and judicious, is also quick to take offense and attack both clergy and laity—including, the context suggests, Severus' circle. Finally, the third Dialogue closes with an elaborate but enigmatic reference to a recently deceased Pomponius, who


appears to have defected from Severus' circle of supporters; he is perhaps to be identified with the freedman mentioned earlier. Severus notes that Pomponius should have listened to Severus or Postumianus and followed the example of Martin rather than "that one whom I do not wish to name"—perhaps the person who led the freedman astray. Some have blamed Severus for Pomponius' unfortunate death at sea, but they should instead examine their own role in the affair, suggests Severus.[114]

Although his references to opposition and dispute are frequent and unmistakable, Severus appears reluctant to discuss the details of the controversies in which he found himself involved. Fortunately, an external source, Jerome's polemical work Against Vigilantius , allows reconstruction of some of the issues at stake. The Vigilantius attacked in Jerome's work was a presbyter who carried a letter from Paulinus to Jerome in 395, subsequently returned to the west and accused Jerome of Origenism, and came to Jerome's attention again circa 404 by reason of his opposition to certain ascetic practices in southern Gaul.[115] Vigilantius also appears as the name of a member of Severus' community who carried letters between Severus and Paulinus in 396.[116] If the two Vigilantii are the same—which is quite possible, given the common link with Paulinus and the relative rareness of the name—then it would seem that around 403 a former member of Severus' community began to attack the way of life pursued at Primuliacum.[117] But even if the two Vigilantii are not the same, it is probable that the disputes we glimpse in Severus' Dialogues and Jerome's Against Vigilantius belong to the same context, since both reflect debates over asceticism taking place in the first few years of the fifth century in the Christian communities of southern Gaul.[118]

The practices opposed by Vigilantius, whom Jerome describes contemptuously as a humble innkeeper (caupo ),[119] can be matched on many points with those advocated and defended by the aristocratic Severus. Severus sought relics for his new basilica at Primuliacum.[120] Vigilantius attacked the veneration of relics and the associated practices of candlelighting and vigils, urging that the souls of martyrs are not dispersed in bits of bone or ash but gathered under the heavenly altar of God.[121] Severus had devoted much of his Life of Martin to the recording of the saint's miracles. Vigilantius questioned the function of miracles within the believing community.[122] Severus, like his friend Paulinus, emphasized the importance of ridding himself of his property in his conversion to the ascetic life.[123] Vigilantius criticized the irresponsible wasting of resources whose income could be managed to support the poor.[124] Severus withdrew to a country estate. Vigilantius called for faithful church attendance and active involvement in the urban communities.[125] In short, Vigilantius opposed the centrifugal dispersal of authority in the shrines of dead martyrs


and the persons of aristocrats and ascetics like Severus; in its place, he advocated centripetal focusing of authority, which might be represented by the cathedral, its public liturgy, and its official leaders. If Jerome is right in claiming that he had the support of more than one bishop, Vigilantius' campaign was not without success in southern Gaul.[126] The pro-ascetic presbyters Riparius and Desiderius—the latter perhaps the original recipient of Severus' Life of Martin[127] —seem to have felt sufficiently threatened to seek the support of Jerome in faraway Palestine.[128]

Competition between public and private understandings of community and authority is implicit in the attacks of Vigilantius and his anti-ascetic supporters; it is likewise implicit in Severus' defense. In that defense, Severus tacitly accepts the "public" terms of the debate. Invoking the rhetoric of public male and private female spheres, he uses gender to express symbolically the social legitimacy of his own privately centered life. This legitimating function of the gender hierarchy is evident above all in the Dialogues , where Severus delivers a set of surprising pronouncements on the necessity for a strict separation and subordination of women. Such a stance is hardly popular, he admits, and he warns his Gallic friend of the dangers of an open endorsement of Jerome's denunciation of intimacies between male and female ascetics.[129] Later, Severus recounts his own sobering experience:

I chastised a certain wandering and rather elegant widow who lived somewhat wantonly, and likewise a virgin who was clinging somewhat indecently to a certain young man who was dear to me—although I had indeed often heard her rebuking others who did such things. As a result, I aroused such great hatred from all women and the entirety of the monks that both bands undertook sworn wars against me.[130]

Severus declares that he had intended to remain silent from that point on, but his intention is blatantly contradicted by its recounting in a work intended for publication. He furthermore goes to considerable trouble to buttress his position on the separation of men and women with the authority of his hero Martin, framing the above account with three supporting Martinian anecdotes.

The first such anecdote occurs immediately preceding Severus' account of his criticism of the widow and virgin. Severus' friend Gallus relates how an empress, wife of the usurper Maximus, had lavished attention on Martin: following Gospel precedent, she had washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair; like a servant, she had prepared and served him his meals. No woman had ever before touched Martin, claims Gallus, yet he praises the empress for her faith. Upon hearing this tale, Postumianus questions its dangerous implications: might it not seem


to legitimate free social intercourse between male ascetics and women? Gallus answers that the circumstances mitigate any suspicions of impropriety: first, Martin was quite old; second, the empress was not a "free widow" or "wanton virgin" but was "living under a husband" and acting under his instructions; third, the empress did not enter into a relationship of equals with Martin, but restricted herself to serving him; and fourth, the event was not repeated. Gallus emphasizes the second and third points with a concise statement of the hierarchy of the genders: "Let a married woman serve, not command you; serve, not recline with you." His presuppositions are clear: a "safe" woman is one who is subordinated to a man through marriage, obedience, and symbolic posture; her subordination implies chastity, whereas a claim to equality implies lack of chastity. Postumianus applauds Gallus' defense of Martin's behavior, but doubts whether he and the other ascetics of his region would ever be sufficiently free of suspicion to be able to observe such fine distinctions in their relations with women.[131] Severus' scripting of the dialogue between Gallus and Postumianus thus defends Martin and the possibility of pure interactions between ascetic men and virtuous women, while at the same time endorsing the general need for a strict separation and subordination of women even in ascetic life.

Severus' account of his own controversial criticism of ascetic women is followed by two paired, complementary tales, which underline the position supported by Severus and only seemingly compromised by the initial story of Martin and the empress. According to the first tale, a hermit and former soldier approached Martin with his desire to live together in spiritual marriage with his former wife, who was now also leading an ascetic life. Martin convinced the monk of the falseness of his desire, demanding to know whether he had ever seen a woman fighting alongside men in the line of battle. Although addressing an ascetic couple, Martin slipped from a military analogy into language appropriate to a traditionally defined marriage relationship:

Let a woman not enter the camp of men; let the battle line of soldiers remain separate; let the female, dwelling in her own tent, be far away. For it makes an army ridiculous, if a female crowd is mixed with the regiments of men. Let the soldier be in the battle line; let the soldier fight in the plain; let the woman keep herself within the protection of the walls. She also has her own glory, if she preserves her chastity when her husband is absent; this is her first virtue and perfect victory: not to be seen.[132]

Gallus pairs this intended demonstration of Martin's wisdom with the story of a virgin who, in effect, taught Martin the same lesson that he him-


self had taught the soldierly monk. As in the case of his interactions with the empress, Martin "set aside the rigor of his way of life" and sought to honor a famed virgin with a visit to her place of withdrawal. Maintaining a chaste privacy appropriate to her gender as well as her ascetic calling, the virgin refused to see him. Martin departed in joy, moved by the unusual example of a woman who sheltered herself even from his eyes. Many women would have thrown themselves at any monk or priest in their path, notes Gallus, taking the opportunity to chastise more gregarious virgins. And many monks or priests would have labeled the virgin a heretic in outrage at her seemingly insulting and insubordinate behavior, he adds still more darkly. But both Martin and the virgin, implies Gallus, correctly valued and interpreted female privacy as signifying, not disrespect and autonomy, but respect for the public social order in which women are separate from and subordinate to men.[133]

Severus' criticism of the wandering widow and virgin, joined with the framing Martinian anecdotes, does not merely represent an attack on less rigorous ascetics. I have suggested that it also constitutes a defense of Severus' own ascetic practice in the face of the opposition of men like Vigilantius and his episcopal supporters.[134] By advocating a strict separation and subordination of women, Severus struggles to distinguish himself from the "heretical" ascetics with whom his opponents might identify him. He combats the hostile public image of the ascetic community as anarchic, as symbolized by the disorderly relations of men and women, with the alternative image of the ascetic community as carefully ordered according to the classical model of the separation and subordination of the private female sphere to the public male sphere.[135] While implicitly acknowledging that some might falsely perceive an element of impropriety or disorder in Martin's own relations with women, Severus uses the example of his hero to endorse the subordination of women to their husbands in particular and to men in general. He casts himself in the role of one who chastises ascetic women for their disorderly publicity and mingling with men, and then he returns again to the example of Martin in order to emphasize the ideal of ascetic women's strict separation from men and their restriction to the private sphere. In this effort to defend his own ascetic ecclesiology, the classically educated Severus invokes the rhetoric of public male and private female spheres even in the face of apparent contradictions with his own social experience: his close relations with Bassula, Paulinus' and Therasia's spiritual partnership, and the acknowledged and approved visits of ascetic women to the holy Martin.[136]

Severus' use of gender relations to express and defend his understanding of Christian community and authority is not only operative in


his Dialogues but also surfaces as a minor theme in his account of the Priscillianist controversy in the final passages of the Chronicle . In the first book of the Chronicle , Severus has set up a conflict between the prophets and kings of Israel that prefigures the conflict in the second book between the prophetic figures of Hilary and Martin and the corrupt bishops of Severus' own time.[137] However, in his concluding account of the Priscillianist controversy, Severus contrasts the prophetic Martin, not only with the worldly bishops who oppose him, but also with "heretical" ascetics like Priscillian, with whom Martin is falsely identified. As we have seen, Severus' Priscillian violates the boundaries that separate and subordinate private to public, female to male, ascetic to bishop. He not only leads simple and ignorant Christians astray by means of his deceptive eloquence but also further disrupts the social order by "seducing" other men's wives and daughters and mingling promiscuously with strange women. He challenges bishops and then lays claim to a false episcopal authority of his own.

By shifting from a simple contrast between Martin and the worldly bishops to a more complex positioning of Martin between the "heretics," on the one hand, and the worldly bishops, on the other, Severus is able to suggest that Martin transcends but does not eradicate the distinction between public and private spheres and alienated and accommodating stances toward the world. Martin is unmarried but careful to observe the hierarchy of genders, wise in knowledge of the scriptures yet not puffed up by worldly education, neither subversive of the social order nor corrupted by power. Severus' hero, unlike Priscillian, succeeds in uniting the private authority of the ascetic holy person with the public authority of the episcopal office. And Severus attempts to defend his own role in the Christian community by denouncing and thereby separating himself from the "heretic" Priscillian and associating himself instead with Martin. The gnostic seducer serves effectively as a receptacle for the accusations from which Severus must distance himself, and at the same time provides a fitting counterpart to his attempt to create an acceptable social ideology for the ascetic community and for authority within that community.


Jerome, like Sulpicius Severus, came from a relatively wealthy family and was trained in classical literature and rhetoric in preparation for a government career. He had not yet achieved any great worldly success when, circa 370, he turned aside to devote himself to an ascetic life. Ending a


temporary sojourn in Trier, Jerome returned to his native Stridon in the company of his friend Bonosus. In the nearby city of Aquileia,[138] Jerome and Bonosus encountered a growing and enthusiastic circle of Christian ascetics. They attached themselves to the ascetic household of the presbyter Chromatius, a household that included Chromatius' mother, sisters, and brother, the deacon Eusebius, as well as the archdeacon Jovinus and Jerome's friend Rufinus.[139] Jerome and Bonosus also formed ties with a broader network of ascetics in Aquileia and nearby towns,[140] and it was probably at Aquileia that Jerome met the wealthy Antiochene presbyter Evagrius.[141]

The restless Jerome did not remain long in Aquileia. By 374, after extensive travel in the east, he had reached Antioch, where he resided for a time in the household of Evagrius. Convinced at this point that anchoritic asceticism represented the holiest form of Christian life, Jerome soon packed up his library and took up residence among the monks of the Syrian desert. Involvement in the bitter theological controversies of the east drove Jerome back to the cities: first to Antioch, then to Constantinople, and finally, in 382, to Rome.[142] His three years in Rome were marked by close and productive relationships with patrons, above all the ascetic Bishop Damasus and the aristocratic widows Marcella and Paula. Although he had been ordained presbyter while in Antioch,[143] Jerome's position in Rome appears to have been based on his reputation as a scholar and his connection with powerful patrons rather than on any official standing as a member of the clergy.[144]

It was at Rome that Jerome must have first learned about Priscillian, who had recently submitted his unsuccessful petition to Damasus. Jerome's impressions of Priscillian at this point were probably mixed, perhaps reflecting Damasus' own ambivalent response; as we have seen, Jerome still hesitated to pass judgment on Priscillian when he wrote On Famous Men some ten years later. But it was also at Rome that Jerome became involved in controversies that crystallized the attitudes that ultimately shaped his much later and more vicious characterizations of Priscillian.[145] Although he had the support of the bishop, Jerome's incautious criticisms of the clergy and his uncompromising advocacy of the ascetic life provoked considerable opposition from within the Roman church.[146] In this context, Jerome defended himself from charges of social subversion in part by launching his own attack on undisciplined and promiscuous ascetics. The immediate success of this strategy was limited: after Damasus' death in late 384, Jerome was effectively run out of town, facing official charges of sexual immorality as well as rumors of sorcery and possibly Manichaeism.[147]


If Jerome did not succeed in preserving his informal position of authority in Rome, he nevertheless produced a provocative body of literature and a doctrinal platform for an ascetic elitism that proved extraordinarily influential. Jerome's famous Letter to Eustochium , written in Rome in 384, gives forceful expression to his opinions on asceticism and on the closely related issues of gender and authority in the Christian community.[148] As Jerome points out, the letter is not primarily a treatise in praise of female virginity, but rather a set of guidelines for the difficult task of preserving female virginity.[149] Again and again, Jerome exhorts the young virgin to guard her chastity by maintaining her privacy. Eustochium is to stay at home, foregoing even visits to the martyrs' tombs.[150] In her virginal sanctity, she should not be exposed to the profane gaze of the public eye. Taking her lesson from the Song of Songs , Eustochium should not seek Christ vainly in the streets but should await her "bridegroom" in the privacy of her bedroom. She should avoid the publicity even of a reputation for virtue, taking care that her ascetic accomplishments remain secret. She should refuse all social intercourse with worldly women, choosing her few female companions from among similarly sober-minded ascetics and shunning ostentatious monks, flattering clergy, and even overly gregarious virgins and widows. Proper subordination is a part of the restriction to the private sphere, and Jerome urges the young girl to obey her parents—and also, implicitly, her male mentor, Jerome.[151]

Jerome complements his positive exhortations to Eustochium with negative examples of the paths to be avoided. The letter begins with a caustic description of false or fallen virgins. Spiritual virginity may be lost even by a thought, Jerome warns; but many of the fallen are not only spiritual but literal prostitutes, using drugs to abort their pregnancies and thus maintain the lying semblance of virginity. These false virgins can be recognized by their self-indulgent lives, ostentatious public appearances, and irrepressible sociability. Among the worst offenders are the agapetae , women living in spiritual partnership with men who are bound to them by neither blood nor marriage.[152] The male counterparts of the false virgins are found among both ascetics and clergy. Men claiming to be monks drape themselves with chains and proudly exhibit their womanish uncut hair, bare feet, and rough clothing; but like the false teachers of 2 Tim. 3.6–7, they merely offer the appearance of virtue in order to make their way into homes and deceive noble women. Some clergy likewise use their ecclesiastical office to insinuate themselves into the homes—indeed the very bedrooms—of wealthy married women, Jerome warns. Effeminate in appearance and moral character, these men can be recognized by their fastidious dress, perfumed bodies, curled hair, jewelry, and affected gait.[153]


In this series of negative examples offered to the virgin Eustochium, Jerome condemns both men and women who violate the boundaries of public male and private female spheres in order to indulge their "feminine" sexuality. He suggests that sexuality is to be identified not only with female nature but also with heresy, insisting that there can be no true virgins among the heretics: "Virgins such as are said to be among the various heresies and among the followers of the vile Manichaeus must be considered not virgins but prostitutes."[154] This careful opposition of femininity, sexuality, and heresy, on the one hand, and masculinity, chastity, and orthodoxy, on the other, functions rhetorically to control Eustochium's behavior, while encouraging her to be constantly vigilant in protecting her vow. She is not to be accorded the freedom of those women who live without the restraint of either husband or ecclesiastical supervisor.[155]

It is apparent that Jerome's letter to Eustochium functions as a personal defense of his life in Rome as well as a means to advise and control a female ascetic. By his own account, Jerome was frequently surrounded by virgins with whom he enjoyed a relationship of familial intimacy.[156] "I often discussed the divine books with some of them, in so far as I was able. Reading gave rise to constant presence, constant presence created familiarity, and familiarity produced trust."[157] The appropriateness of such familylike relations between ascetic men and women was not universally acknowledged. In a letter in which he presents himself publicly as the aristocratic Eustochium's spiritual advisor, Jerome must, therefore, fend off suspicions of impropriety. He accomplishes this in part by his vehement denunciations of the monks and clergy who "seduce" the women of the Roman nobility. By implied contrast with these deceivers, Jerome suggests that he himself is modest and sober in demeanor, disciplined and austere in his manner of life, and above all respectful of the boundaries that separate male and female and public and private spheres.

Jerome appears curiously unable, however, to augment this negatively inferred self-portrait with an explicit, positive self-presentation. When he offers Eustochium his typology of monastic patterns, he finds no place for men who pursue asceticism in an informal and urban context.[158] Full of praise for both cenobitic and anchoritic lifestyles, he bitterly condemns the urban monks whom he calls "remnuoth": living together in twos or threes without any fixed rule, they are undisciplined, insubordinate, ostentatious, disrespectful of the clergy, and overly fond of socializing with virgins.[159] In this passage, Jerome appears to have accepted the application of the public-private distinction to the community of ascetic Christians, and he vigorously advocates the strict privatization of women in particular and of the ascetic community in general. However, within the terms of the


rhetoric of the separation of public and private spheres, his own role with respect to the ecclesiastical hierarchy and to his female associates in Rome is insupportable so long as he fails to clarify his relationship to the clergy and to separate himself from women.

In response to the pressures of public controversy and personal ambivalence, Jerome left Rome and returned to the east. Accompanied by Paula and her daughter Eustochium, he settled in the village of Bethlehem in 386. There he and his companions established two cenobitic communities, one for men, directed by Jerome, and one for women, directed first by Paula and then, after her death in 404, by Eustochium.[160] Jerome had finally found a resting place, and he remained at the Bethlehem monastery until his death in 420, over thirty years later. Although they were influenced by Pachomius' monastic rule, Jerome and Paula did not adhere to it rigidly, instead developing forms of monastic life suited to their circumstances and backgrounds. Paula, for example, seems to have divided her community into groups according to social class, thus echoing the hierarchical structure of the traditional aristocratic household.[161] Jerome himself neglected the Pachomian call to manual labor in favor of more scholarly pursuits. In many respects, he continued to lead the same life, pursuing his ascetic disciplines while remaining active as a scholar, teacher, and theological controversialist, intimately involved with the world around him. The structures of cenobitic monasticism provided a social space in which he could legitimately carry out such activities, relatively safe from charges of sexual immorality or social subversion, in spite of his continued close partnership with Paula and Eustochium and a lengthy conflict with the local bishop, John of Jerusalem.[162] While the separation of women from men within the monastic community must have reduced the scope of authority of such aristocratic patronesses as Paula and Eustochium, the separation of the monastic community from the urban episcopal community seems to have increased Jerome's autonomy. At one point, he and his ally Epiphanius went so far as to argue that a monastery lay outside the jurisdiction of its local bishop.[163]

Having embraced the rural cenobitic life in practice as well as in ideal, by 415 Jerome does not even mention the eccentric urban "remnuoth" in his letter to the aristocratic virgin Demetrias but discusses only the relative merits of the solitary and cenobitic lifestyles. He furthermore warns Demetrias against the dangers of the anchoritic life, which he now perceives to allow a scope of independence inappropriate for most men and for all women.[164] Once again invoking the authority of 2 Tim. 3.6–7,[165] the scriptural passage that also figures so largely in his portrait of Priscillian, Je-


rome instructs Demetrias to seek the security of communal life and to subordinate herself to the instruction of spiritual advisors.

It is therefore good to listen to your superiors, to obey those set over you, and, after the rules of the scriptures, to learn the way of life from others, and not to follow the worst teacher, namely, your own audacity. Concerning such women, the apostle says: "they are carried about with every wind of doctrine, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of truth."[166]

Jerome's has here reduced his original twofold typology of acceptable ascetic paths to one alternative. He suggests that the cenobitic life alone adequately preserves the social order through the separation and subordination of women to men and—in theory—of ascetics to bishops. In fact, the strict privatization of the ascetic community removed its leaders not only from direct competition with the urban bishops but also from their direct control, thus allowing for the construction of a separate and independent social hierarchy within the monastic community.

The relative stability of Jerome's life at Bethlehem did not preclude his nearly constant involvement in theological disputes, disputes that did not so much displace as continue the controversy over asceticism that had begun for Jerome at Rome. By 393, he found himself embroiled in a long-distance and much-publicized debate with the Italian Jovinian, centering around the question of the superiority of the ascetic over the married life. Once again escaping a controversy over asceticism with his reputation for orthodoxy just barely intact, Jerome continued in subsequent years to defend the notion of a lasting moral hierarchy over against the more egalitarian schemes that he perceived to be at the heart of the theologies of such opponents as the "Origenists" and, later, the followers of Pelagius. Rejecting both the preexistent souls and disembodied resurrection taught by Origen and the Pelagian doctrine of universal human perfectibility, Jerome persistently advocated a theological model that preserved greater continuity between the social distinctions encoded in the fleshly bodies of this life and the rewards to be enjoyed in the life to come.[167]

Throughout the Jovinianist, Origenist, and Pelagian debates, Jerome returned to the topics of gender and sexuality, using these marks of difference both rhetorically as signifiers of the limits of orthodoxy and heresy and theologically as enduring bodily indicators of the heavenly hierarchy. His evolving portrait of Priscillian—however tangential to Jerome's immediate theological concerns—is nevertheless exemplary in this respect. As noted above, Jerome's letter to the Spanish Theodora (c. 399) denounces


Priscillian as a heretic and womanizer in the tradition of Mark the gnostic. Invoking the example of the "little women" of 2 Tim. 3.6–7, Jerome warns the wealthy widow not to be seduced by Priscillian's treacherous followers, but rather to obey chaste and orthodox teachers like himself.[168] The rhetorical manipulation of gender and sexuality in this letter functions on several levels: to distance Jerome from the stereotype of the insubordinate and disorderly urban ascetic teacher; to enable Jerome to assert his hierarchical superiority over rivals among such teachers; and, finally, to persuade and control a woman whose patronage Jerome covets and whose authority of wealth and birth he seems both to admire and to resent. A similar desire to denounce potential rivals and exert control over a distant female correspondent may underlie Jerome's reference to Priscillian in his letter to the Gallic noblewoman Hedibia post 404.[169] The themes of the letter to Theodora are more explicitly echoed circa 410 in his Commentaries on Isaiah .[170]

If there are earlier hints that Jerome found Priscillian a peculiarly expressive figure, it was only in the final years of his life, during his conflict with Pelagius, that Jerome made central use of Priscillian in his polemical rhetoric. Probably inspired by Severus but also perhaps impelled by a desire to locate an easily demonized and safely dead western precursor for his new theological rival,[171] Jerome presents Priscillian as the heretical seducer par excellence in his letter to Ctesiphon of 415. Simon Magus, Nicolas, Marcion, Apelles, Montanus, Arius, Donatus—all are notorious for their dubious relations with women, and in this respect all are the forerunners of Priscillian. As the student of Agape and the teacher of "Galla," Priscillian is both seduced and seducer, an insidious magician who leads the women of the church astray, interspersing caresses with murmured phrases of Virgil, while putting on a false front of "perfection." Having painted this portrait of Priscillian, who had long since been executed by the emperor, Jerome hints darkly, "Now also the mystery of iniquity is at work. Both sexes trip each other up."[172] With these words, he points to Pelagius, who is the real target of his denunciation of Priscillian in this letter addressed to a Pelagian supporter.[173]

The portrait of Priscillian is directed not only at Pelagius and his male disciples but also, implicitly, at a powerful family of ascetic women with strong connections to Pelagius. Jerome shuns a direct attack on Demetrias, her mother, or grandmother, whose patronage he hopes to win for himself; he delicately avoids even mentioning Pelagius' name in this passage. Instead, Jerome is content to let the connections he has drawn between female nature, heresy, and sexual promiscuity stand as a gentle warning to those overly independent women, falsely convinced of their capacity


for perfection, who might presume to choose their own teachers, and perhaps—like Agape—even to teach themselves. Social intercourse with male teachers like Pelagius may leave women vulnerable to charges of physical unchastity as well as the spiritual faithlessness of heresy, he warns. Weak in mind and will, they risk seduction by false teachers. The solution, as Jerome makes explicitly clear in a letter addressed directly to Demetrias herself,[174] is to stay at home, both physically and intellectually, avoiding the company and influence of all strange men.


Severus and Jerome both characterize Priscillian as a gnostic. This characterization appears to derive neither from historically reliable data nor from common dependence on an unreliable source like Ithacius' Apology . Rather, Severus' and Jerome's treatments of Priscillian result from their independent utilization of a shared heresiological tradition in the face of similar conflicts experienced in their roles as Christian ascetics and scholars. These conflicts are rooted in a clash between two distinct and often contradictory strategies of Christian self-definition that I have called "public" and "private." Both Severus and Jerome attempt to resolve their conflicts by harmonizing the two strategies of communal self-definition. The resulting inconsistencies and ambivalence in their views of gender and authority lend particular depth and complexity to their portrayals of Priscillian as a treacherous gnostic seducer.

Although Jerome was a presbyter and Severus may likewise have been ordained, both derived their authority in the Christian community primarily from their reputations as men of education, eloquence, and exemplary discipline. Like their equally well-educated pagan counterparts, they were at home in a social world structured by hierarchies of class and networks of patronage that were largely indifferent to distinctions of gender. However, both men had also been trained for public life, and Severus at least had enjoyed the fruits of a successful rhetorical career, so that even in their more private roles as Christian scholars, neither Severus nor Jerome altogether abandoned the publicly centered perspective from which elite male identity was almost inevitably defined in antiquity. Moreover, this public perspective likewise shaped the self-understanding of the church's official hierarchy, with which both men were at least tenuously identified. Severus and Jerome thus experienced internal tension as they attempted to assimilate divergent understandings of Christian community that often entailed conflicting definitions of authority and gender


roles. This internal tension was accentuated by external conflicts between Severus and anti-ascetic opponents among the Aquitanian clergy, and between Jerome and the clergy of Rome. In both cases, the ascetic scholars were perceived as subversive of the ecclesiastical order and were suspected of disregard for the authority of bishops and the privacy of women.

Both men responded to these conflicts in part through the shaping of their ascetic lives. In Rome, Jerome attempted to play the role of an independent teacher within the urban community; this experience proved disastrous, and he left the city to establish a cenobitic monastery in the safely distant setting of rural Palestine. As far as we know, Severus withdrew from urban life immediately upon embarking upon his ascetic career; his community at Primuliacum remained more closely modeled on the social structure of a traditional aristocratic household than did the Bethlehem communities led by Jerome and Paula. Through the elaboration of a novel understanding of Christian community, Severus and Jerome responded to conflict discursively as well as socially. Significantly, both men invoked a public rhetoric in order to defend and legitimate their own essentially private or informal authority. They argued first for the separation of the ascetic and urban Christian communities. By privatizing the ascetic community, they removed its leaders from direct competition with the publicly constituted authority of bishops, while implying—without concretizing—the structural subordination of the private ascetic community to the public episcopally led community. Following the example of classical discussions of household economy, they likewise transferred the political model to the private sphere, supporting the separation and subordination of women even in ascetic life; in this argument were the seeds for the reshaping of the male ascetic community as a miniature monastic "city" with its own ranks of official authority.

This proposal that the ascetic community properly possessed a separate but parallel hierarchy led to the establishment of an analogous relationship between the bishop or presbyter and the leader of the monastic community, facilitating their identification in a figure like Severus' exemplary Martin of Tours. While Jerome was more hesitant than Severus to identify the two roles so closely, he too urged clerical friends like Heliodorus and his nephew Nepotianus to buttress their clerical authority with the authority of a life of Christian asceticism.[175] But at the same time that it facilitated such analogies, the strict rhetorical and symbolic separation of monastery and urban congregation also contributed to continuing unclarity about the relative authority of the ascetic leader and the bishop. Severus and Jerome both remain ambivalent in their attitudes toward the clerical hierarchy. Jerome reveres the apostolic authority of ecclesiastical


office,[176] and he sides with Bishop Theophilus in his conflict with the Egyptian monks;[177] yet he locates his own authority as ascetic and scholar outside or above the authority of his presbyterial office, and at one point he even denies the right of Bishop John of Jerusalem to dictate in matters concerning his Bethlehem monastery.[178] Severus goes far in exalting Martin's authority as bishop, even dismissing Martin's pre-episcopal life from discussion in his Dialogues .[179] Yet the authority that so overwhelms Severus when he is in Martin's presence is not the authority of episcopal office but the authority of the holy saint, and Severus comments that Martin's authority was diminished when he became bishop and when he let himself become involved in episcopal politics.[180] In his critical discussion of Theophilus of Alexandria's opposition to the Origenist monks, Severus remarks that while some might think it wrong for monks to disobey bishops, he finds it worse for bishops to persecute monks.[181]

The application of the public-private model to the ascetic community also produced ambivalence regarding gender roles. There is a large gulf between both Severus' and Jerome's social experiences and their rhetorical emphasis on women's separation and subordination. Jerome vehemently endorses the separation and subordination of women, basing this stance on a traditional misogynistic view of female nature. Yet the intimacy and intensity of this man's relationships with women are virtually unsurpassed in the records of antiquity, and he appears to hold Marcella, Paula, Eustochium, and other female friends in the greatest respect.[182] Nor is it likely that these aristocratic matrons were as humble and compliant as Jerome frequently suggests. While we know less about Severus' interactions with ascetic women, his close relationship with Bassula and his connection with powerful and independent women like Therasia and Melania seem similarly at odds with his stringent rhetoric of women's separation and subordination.

The characterization of Priscillian as a gnostic represents a partial and complex response to the conflicts and ambivalence experienced by Severus and Jerome as they attempt to assimilate public and private understandings of Christian community. First, and most concretely, the use of a second-century heresiological category enables both authors to avoid the more immediately dangerous label of Manichaeism. Severus in particular has good reason to distance himself from labeling strategies that had seriously threatened his master Martin at the time of Priscillian's trial, and that may have threatened Severus as well. Jerome is likewise sensitive to the frequent false identification of orthodox ascetics as Manichaeans,[183] and he himself was accused of Manichaeism,[184] although the seriousness of the charges is unclear.


But even more significant than the avoidance of any reference to Manichaeism is the effectiveness of the label of gnosticism in negatively defining the social role of the orthodox ascetic scholar. In heresiological tradition, the gnostic is a supremely paradoxical figure, simultaneously insider and outsider, Christian and enemy, self and other. The label of gnostic connotes the intimacy of Severus' and Jerome's relation to the figure of Priscillian, who functions as an alter ego of sorts; the label thereby also captures the subtlety of their proposed refinements of authority roles. Severus expresses a grudging admiration for Priscillian and acknowledges a sense of kinship with the learned and aristocratic ascetic of his own portrayal, going so far as to hint that Priscillian might belong to the persecuted remnant of true Christians. Jerome is initially hesitant to condemn Priscillian at all and is subsequently reluctant to name Priscillian in his denunciation of "Spanish gnostics." Typically more volatile and extreme than Severus, he eventually condemns Priscillian explicitly and bitterly and places Priscillian's heresy at the culmination of the entire history of heretical seduction, but he never changes the basic outlines of his portrayal of Priscillian as a man who bears striking resemblance to himself.

The portrait of the gnostic as an insidious seducer serves as a focus of feared accusations and a projection of Severus' and Jerome's own vulnerabilities in the controversies in which they were involved. To this extent, their treatments of Priscillian may be compared with Priscillian's own condemnation of heresies in his Apology . Severus' portrait of Priscillian is strongly shaped by an awareness of his own susceptibility to the attacks of opponents like Vigilantius, who perceive him as a threat to the authority of the ecclesial hierarchy and the stability of episcopally led communities. Jerome likewise develops his portrait of Priscillian in the aftermath of charges of illicit sexual relations with Paula brought against him by a jealous and resentful Roman clergy. Both men constructed their portraits of Priscillian in order to dissociate themselves from them. The gnostic seducer is the heretic against whom their particular orthodoxies must be defined. They suggest that the true Christian ascetic and scholar can be distinguished from the heretic by his respect for the authority of bishops and the privacy of women—or, in other words, by his accommodation to the demands of a publicly centered ecclesiology.

The figure of the gnostic seducer is particularly appropriate for the development of a rhetoric for the control of women. Severus and Jerome must both resolve their internal ambivalence regarding the relative freedom and prominence of ascetic women and defend themselves in the face of external accusations of sexual promiscuity and the subversion of gender roles. Both authors use 2 Tim. 3:6–7—a scriptural passage virtually ig-


nored in the second- and third-century debates with the gnostics—in order to emphasize gender and sexuality in their portraits of Priscillian as a gnostic heretic. By condemning Priscillian as one who "enters into homes and captures little women," Severus and Jerome present themselves as defenders of the boundaries of the public male and private female spheres. By evoking the vulnerability of the "little women who are burdened with sins and led by shifting desires, always learning and never reaching knowledge of truth," they deny women's authority and capacity for independence and urge their separation and subordination even within the ascetic community.


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Chapter Five "Gnostic" Priscillian Reinterpreted by Sulpicius Severus and Jerome
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