Historical setting: A Dark Age On the Road in Iberia
“So, Brother Lazarus, you haven’t yet explained how the ‘Gospel of John’ cures the Iberian heresy. If the sin is dualism, or judging everything either good or bad, a Gospel hardly seems a cure.”
“The worry over that heresy started when a cult was observed. A young aristocrat, Priscillian [Footnote 1] gathered followers based on divisiveness and exclusion. I think it was around the year 380 when Priscillian was actively writing and gathering the original cult following. That was, of course, way before I was called here.”
I won’t mention that having a scrambled mind I’m still not really sure when it was that I was called on. Was it in the 5th century, or the 6th? I’ll continue my explanation as though my mind is clear.
“This dangerous cult leader was looking for personal power. At first he had his own churches but the bishops closed them so the followers met in private villas which is what continued long after he was gone.
“The version of Gnosticism he was teaching was already deemed to be heresy. With all things of earth evil, even taking food and water was considered sin. So the deadly side of this full-on devotion led to starvation of the body. And worse yet, the withering of one’s body was viewed as a virtue by followers.
“In 380 twelve bishops had a Synod in Zaragoza to deal with this. Priscillian didn’t go, but he sent them a tract defending his theology. Of course his argument couldn’t hold up to orthodox theological scrutiny, since he was basing his argument on a heretical Gnostic, apocryphal text. But strangely, the Synod, possibly intimidated by his intellectual prowess, or simply confused by the theology chose to deal only with the political issues. They forbad things like calling oneself, ‘doctor’; making clerics into monks and requiring women to be forty years old before the title of “virgin” was given. [Footnote 2] When he was excommunicated, Priscillian, being a self-invested power fiend, simply doubled-down and took the title of Bishop — Bishop of Avila. [Footnote 3]
Both sides of the controversy sought affirmation from church leaders of the time: St. Ambrose, St. Martin of Tours, and even a pope. Then, in 384 it all morphed political and Priscillian was tried for magic in a secular court and was executed.
Nic asks, “So why are they still bothered all these centuries later and why did they send for the gospel?”
[Footnote 1] Priscillian (died c. 385) was a wealthy nobleman of Roman Hispania who promoted a strict form of Christian asceticism. Certain practices of his followers (such as meeting at country villas instead of attending church) were denounced at the Council of Zaragoza in 380. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillian Retrieved 5-16-2019.
[Footnote 2] In or about 380 a council of Spanish and Aquitanian bishops adopted at Saragossa eight canons bearing more or less directly on the prevalent heresy of Priscillianism. https://theodora.com/encyclopedia/s/councils_of_saragossa.html Retrieved 9-26-2019
[Footnote 3] He became bishop of Ávila in 380. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillian Retrieved 5-16-2019.