Preferred Citation: Burrus, Virginia. The Making of a Heretic: Gender, Authority, and the Priscillianist Controversy. Berkeley:  University of California,  c1995 1995.

Chapter Three "Sorcerer" Alliances, Enmities, and the Death of Priscillian

Milan, Spain, and Bordeaux Revisited

Leaving a Christian Rome whose doors had remained closed to them, Priscillian and his companions returned to Milan. This time, Gratian's capital proved friendlier. Whether through bribery, persuasive argument or clever political maneuvering around Ambrose to reach his adversaries at court, the Spanish bishops were able to win the support of the powerful Macedonius, magister officiorum .[70] Macedonius procured a rescript direct-


ing that the Spanish bishops be restored to their churches—an act of legislative incoherence not unusual for a government that exercised power within the context of complicated networks of patronage relationships.[71] Subsequent to the issuing of the new imperial rescript, "Instantius and Priscillian returned to Spain (for Salvianus had died in the city), and then without any strife they took back the churches over which they had presided."[72]

Severus' report that Priscillian and Instantius experienced no opposition upon their return to their episcopal sees is remarkable and strengthens the suggestion that Priscillian had not technically been either deposed or exiled, although threatened with both. Priscillian's claim that he and his fellow bishops had the support of their churches and did not fear to argue their case before a Spanish council seems, moreover, justified. The majority of the Spanish Christians must have remained either neutral or supportive of Priscillian and his friends, despite—or perhaps partly because of—Hydatius' initial success in invoking imperial authority against them.[73]

The period immediately following the return of Priscillian and Instantius from exile is perhaps the most obscure stage of the controversy. Severus makes no mention of any conflict between Hydatius and Priscillian or Instantius following their return to Spain. Their dispute with Ithacius continued, however, for reasons that Severus either did not know or does not report. He merely remarks that Ithacius did not lack the spirit, although he did lack the power, to resist the return of the two bishops. Whatever the origins of this second round of conflict, a chain of political events similar to that following the earlier conflict at Merida was soon set into motion, as each party again appealed to the imperial court for support. The proconsul Volventius, governor of Lusitania, attempted to arrest Ithacius as a "disturber of the churches."[74] Ithacius was sufficiently alarmed at the prospect of a trial in Lusitania that he fled to Gaul, where he succeeded in gaining the ears of both Bishop Britannius of Trier and the praetorian prefect, Gregory. The latter, after determining to look into the affair personally, sent a report to the emperor Gratian—who was now probably residing in Gaul—in an apparent effort to persuade him to intervene directly and thereby to enforce a more consistent imperial policy in relation to the Spanish disturbance. Such direction and coherence on the issue was not, however, forthcoming from this emperor. Although Gregory now issued an order for Priscillian's party to appear in Trier, Priscillian and his companions again appealed to Macedonius, who arranged for the case to be transferred back to Spain and sent officials to escort Ithacius to the trial. Ithacius managed to elude arrest. Hearing rumors of Maximus Magnus' rebellion in Britain, he decided to remain quiet until it became


clear who would win the battle for imperial power. By August of 383, matters were decided: Gratian was dead, and Maximus entered Trier as emperor.[75]

Yet another round of conflict then began. Ithacius, still in Trier, succeeded in bringing his interests to the new emperor's attention with "petitions full of ill-will and accusations directed against Priscillian and his associates."[76] Maximus, in marked contrast to Gratian, eagerly seized this opportunity to portray himself as a staunch defender of orthodoxy and thus to win the powerful support of the western episcopacy—as well as of the ardently pro-Nicene emperor Theodosius in the east.[77] Accordingly, he sent orders to the governors of Gaul and Spain to escort all the parties involved to Bordeaux, where an episcopal council would judge the dispute; and this time, the orders were carried out effectively.[78] It has been suggested that Maximus' response was crafted to appeal to the two major episcopal constituencies of his realm. First, he appeased the majority of the Spanish episcopacy by acknowledging Priscillian and Instantius as legitimate bishops whose orthodoxy could be judged only by a council of their episcopal colleagues. Second, he appeased the bishops who supported Ithacius, seemingly a majority in Gaul, by ordering that the council be convened not in Spain but in Bordeaux, territory that we have seen was potentially less friendly to Priscillian and his followers.[79]

The council, which probably took place in 384, proved unfriendly indeed. No official records survive, but Severus' account implies that the principal matter at hand was to decide whether or not Instantius and Priscillian were guilty of heresy—probably, more specifically, of Manichaeism. Instantius spoke first, and failed to persuade the gathered bishops, who judged him "unworthy of the episcopacy." Priscillian perceived that he would not get a sympathetic hearing from the council and chose to appeal to the emperor rather than submit to the judgment of the bishops present.[80] He may have hoped, as did the Donatists and Athanasius in analogous situations, that the emperor would convene a new, more impartial council to hear his case.[81] The bishops allowed the appeal to go through and the case to be taken from their hands.[82] Meanwhile, there were outbreaks of violence in Bordeaux if, as seems most likely, the stoning of Urbica occurred in connection with the council.[83]

Chapter Three "Sorcerer" Alliances, Enmities, and the Death of Priscillian

Preferred Citation: Burrus, Virginia. The Making of a Heretic: Gender, Authority, and the Priscillianist Controversy. Berkeley:  University of California,  c1995 1995.