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


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