Caesaraugustanum / Zaragoza

Caesaraugustanum I / Zaragoza I (Caesaraugusta)

Provincial Council of the Roman Province in Tarragona; 380


The Council of Zaragoza I that met on 4 October 380, not long after the Council of Elvira (306), survives in a brief text. It is not accompanied by the name of any ruling Roman governor or Emperor or the specific place where they met in the city, only saying it was in a sacristy. There is not a single speech by anyone to open or close the proceedings. The names of twelve bishops who attended are included without identifying their respective episcopal seats. We are able, however, from other councils name the cities that most of them were from- they represent a wide geographical area: Agen, Bordeaux, Toledo (?), Astorga, Zaragoza, Córdoba, Gallaecia (?), Mérida, and Faro. There are only eight canons that were promulgated by the bishops that reflect disparate issues. Canon 1 was directed at Catholic women prohibiting them from attending any lectures of meetings of men who were not their husbands. The women were also not to meet on their own to learn and teach among themselves, according to what the Apostle [Paul] had prohibited - Ut mulieres omnes ecclesiae catholicae et fideles a virorum alienorum lectione et coetibus separentur, vel ad ipsas legentes aliae studio vel docendi vel discendii convenient, quoniam hoc Apostolus iubet. Violators were declared anathema. Who was organizing or encouraging these women to do so was not revealed. Canon 2 prohibited fasting on Sunday in preference for another day or for superstitious reasons, missing liturgy during Lent – Ne quis ieiunet die dominica causa temporis aut persuasionis aut suprestitionis, aut quadragesimarum die ab ecclesiis non desint. The bishops added that no one was to attend any meetings in isolated villas, hills, or in isolated parts of their own homes. Anyone who did so was declared anathema. Canon 4 repeated the unease over clandestine meetings in remote places be it in urban or rural spaces. Canon 3 anathemized perpetually anyone who did not consume the Eucharist at the time it was offered at Mass – Eucaristiae gratiam si quis probatur acceptam in ecclesiam non sumsisse, anathema sit in perpetuum. This generic prohibition applied to anyone and was not associated with any specific group of people. Canon 4 decreed that in the twenty-one days between 17 December until the Epiphany of 6 January no one was to be absent from church all day, hide in their home, nor depart to their villa, or to the hills, walk barefoot and must attend church – continuis diebus nulli liceat de ecclesia absentare, / nec latere in domibus, nec sedere in villam, nec montes petere, nec nudis pedibus incedere, sed concurrere ad ecclesiam. It essentially repeated the alarm over believers attending clandestine meetings not organized and presided by the Church. This canon was seeking to control the strong pagan influences that still prevailed in the form of meetings in the countryside perhaps in sacred groves and the like. Or any liturgies not presided by clergy approved by the bishop. Canon 5 prohibited any bishop from receiving anyone who had been separated from the Church by another bishop. Any bishop knowingly doing this was deprived of communion for an unspecified time – quod si scientes episcopi fecerint, non habeant conmunionem. This order was to prevent bishops from engaging in conflict with each other over jurisdiction and discipline in their respective diocese. Canon 6 ordered that any clergy was to be expelled from the Church and not readmitted after a long time of supplications and pleading who of their own decision – without the consent of the bishop – adopted a monastic type of life to appear more observant – ac se velut observatiorem legis in monaco videre voluerit esse quam clericum. This directive was intended to discourage the proliferation of self-styled ascetics. At this juncture we are a long way from institutionalized monasticism that is still to fully develop, notably in the West. Benedict and his Rule is still about two centuries away; there was a great deal freestyle asceticism that needed to be reined in. Canon 7 prohibited anyone from conferring upon themselves the title of ‘doctor’ or teacher – Ne quis doctoris sibi nomen inponat praeter has personas quibus concessum est, secundum quod scribtum est. It was the bishops, it went without saying specifically here, who had the authority to designate anyone an authorized teacher of the faith; it was intended to prevent persons conferring it upon themselves. The punishment for doing so was not articulated. The bishops, moreover, did not name a specific person or group who may have adopted the title for themselves without episcopal approval. Lastly, in Canon 8 the bishops agreed that a consecrated virgin could not receive the veil until they could prove to the bishop that they were forty years old – Non velandas esse virgines, quae se Deo voverint, nisi quadraginta annorum probata aetate, quam sacerdos conprobaverit. There is no insinuation of any virgin seeking the veil from any clandestine or secretive group outside of the Church. No anathema or disciplinary measures accompany this requirement.

     There has been a great amount of discussion among scholars on the question of whether this council was directed at the Priscillianists. Some scholars are emphatic that this council met to expressly condemn Priscillian and his form of asceticism, while others have serious reservations about that thesis. We have seen already that all eight canons never identify any specific group as their target audience, not Priscillianists or even Arians. The council was convoked just at the time that the Priscillianist movement was about to shake the Church in Gallaecia (Northwestern Hispania) and Gallia; it was already proliferating and just five years later its founder Priscillian of Avila (340-385) and some followers were executed in Trier in 385. The evidence strongly indicates that it had not become a major issue in Zaragoza in 380 when the bishops gathered there. Two bishops who became the leading opponents, Hydatius of Mérida and Ithacius of Ossonoba (Faro) were present at Zaragoza, they relentlessly pursued the Priscillian and his followers to its tragic end. That means for some scholars the canons had two-fold purpose, to condemn practices of the emerging ‘sect’ and to warn people to it. The view that bishops had Priscillianism at front and center is difficult to sustain, however. First, Priscillian is not named at all in the council and not a single canon of the council identifies Priscillianism as its subject as noted already. Second, the heavier charge of Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and magic that became standard against Priscillian are not found in Zaragoza, they appear later. They are the accusations that made it possible to have Priscillian and his companions executed in Trier in 385. The evidence becomes even more problematic, however. Sulpicius Severus recorded that they were condemned in Zaragoza at the council. The First Council of Toledo (400) refers to a Zaragoza council where the Priscillianist had been previously condemned. For some scholars there is no doubt that they meant Zaragoza I (380), still others propose that another Zaragoza meeting met in 395/396 to condemn outright the growing Priscillianist ascetical movement. The acts of this alleged second council in Zaragoza are not extant anywhere, it is doubtful that it ever met, nor is it necessary to propose one. It seems Sulpicius and the bishops in Toledo I (400) were retroactively reporting the false information spread mainly by Hydatius and Ithacius that in 380 Priscillianism was condemned. Add to these dubious claims that Priscillian in his missive to Pope Damasus, Tractatus II Priscilliani Liber ad Damasum Episcopum, informed the pope that he or any of his followers were not in Zaragoza and that his teachings were not condemned there. Sulpicius expressed the view that Priscillian’s foremost opponents, Hydatius and Ithacius were driven personal hatred, greed, and jealousy. Sulpicius held them in utter contempt while at the same time was not an apologist for Priscillianism. Hydatius and Ithacius persuaded Sulpicius, Pope Damasus, and the usurper Maximus who will execute Priscillian and companions in 385 that they had been condemned in Zaragoza I and were a dangerous detestable sect. One thing is certain after 380 the persecution against Priscillian and his followers was relentless, spearheaded especially by Hydatius of Mérida and Ithacius of Ossonoba who spread false accusations of every manner of heresy and witchcraft to secure the executions. It is obvious that when Zaragoza I (380) was convened, Priscillianism had not yet arrived in full force to require immediate condemnation, nor did it take took long to do so. Some councils soon after 380 will have Priscillianism as a major focus of their legislation. Priscillianism, however, continued to flourish in Gallaecia where he was hailed a martyr and even remembered in the liturgy at a shrine in his honor in Gallaecia. Priscillianism was still present in the late sixth century, enough to require yet another conciliar intervention in 561 in Braga, soon after it was no longer mentioned as a threat. The eight canons at Zaragoza were issued in such a way that it addressed each of the concerns broadly without naming any person or even a potential sect. Another aspect that is scarcely or ever mentioned about the canons is that they were not in any way aimed at Arians specifically. Yet the Arians, in fact, posed a more serious threat as a parallel church to the Catholic, an aspiration that Priscillian never pursued. Priscillianists always considered themselves mainstream Catholic, not a sectarian refuge for disgruntled Catholics. The canons, however, have value in themselves as they reveal some of the issues that the bishops considered in need of attention in the late fourth century. In just a short five years Priscillianism will be considered a major challenge in Hispania and Gallia eliciting the attention of major ecclesiastics from within and outside Hispania; that was not the case in Zaragoza in 380.


QQ: Vives/Marín Martínez/Martínez Díez (eds.), Concilios Visigóticos e Hispano-Romanos, 16–18; Martínez Diez/Rodríguez, La Colección Canónica, IV/1: Hispana 269–281; Weckwerth, Clavis Conciliorum Occidentalium 187–188; Tractatus II Priscilliani Liber ad Damasum Episcopum, in: M. Conti (ed.), Priscillian of Avila. The Complete Works, Oxford 2010, 69–81; Chronicorum II, 46–51, in: Sulpicii Severi Libri qui supersunt, ed. C. Halm (= CSEL 1), Vienna 1866, 99–105.

Lit.: Orlandis/Ramos-Lissón, Concilios de la España Romana y Visigoda 68–80; H. Chadwick, Priscillian of Avila. The Occult and the Charismatic in the Early Church, Oxford 1976, 23–30; I Concilio Caesaraugustano: MDC aniversario, ed.G. Fatás Cabeza, Zaragoza 1981; A. Ferreiro, Petrine Primacy, Conciliar Authority, and Priscillian, in: XXX Incontro dell’Antichità Cristiana, Rome 3-5 May 2001, Rome 2002 (= SEAug 78), 631–645; Id., Martin, Ithace et Maxime après l’exécution de Priscillien, in: Un Nouveau Martin: Essor et renouveaux de la figure de saint Martin, IVe-XXIe siècle (La figure martinienne. Essor et renaissances de l’Antiquité tardive à nos jours. Colloque International, 1700ème anniversaire de la naissance de saint Martin (316-2016), 12-15, Octobre 2016, Tours), Tours 2019, 217–247; Id., Epistolae Plenae. The Correspondence of the Bishops of Hispania with the Bishops of Rome (Third through Seventh Centuries), Leiden 2020, 260–291; José Freire Camaniel, Gallaecia: Antigüedad, intensidad y organización de su cristianismo (Siglos I-VII), A Coruña 2013, 209–254; M. Girardet, Das Schicksal Prizillians und seiner Anhänger 380 in Saragossa, 384 in Bordeaux und 385 in Trier, in: AHC 49 (2018/19), 29–57, at 32–39 (who therein argued the thesis that Zaragoza I was explicitly directed against Priscillian); DizCon 6 (1967) 195f. [Francisco M. Tulla]; DHEE 1 (1972) 575–576é [G. Martínez]. 


Ferreiro, Alberto

April 2024


Empfohlene Zitierweise:

Ferreiro, Alberto, Caesaraugustanum I / Zaragoza I (Caesaraugusta): Provincial Council of the Roman Province in Tarragona; 380, in: Lexikon der Konzilien [Online-Version], April 2024; URL: http://www.konziliengeschichte.org/site/de/publikationen/lexikon/database/595.html