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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

And Priscillian himself became bishop of ?vila


Beginnings of the Christian church in Spain.]

Even though Rome for a long time resisted it, she gave Christianity to the world almost as surely as she did her Roman laws, for the very extent and organization of the empire and the Roman tolerance (despite the various persecutions of Christians) furnished the means by which the Christian faith was enabled to gain a foothold. In the fourth century the emperors gave the new religion their active support, and ensured its victory over the opposing faiths. There is a tradition that Saint Paul preached in Spain, but at any rate Christianity certainly existed there in the second century, and in the third there were numerous Christian communities.[8] The church was organized on the basis of the Roman administrative districts, employing also the Roman methods and the Roman law. Thus, through Rome, Spain gained another institution which was to assist in the eventual development of her national unity and to play a vital part in her subsequent history,--that of a common religion. In the fourth century the church began to acquire those privileges which at a later time were to furnish such a problem to the state. It was authorized to receive inheritances; its clergy began to be granted immunities,--exemptions from taxation, among others; and it was allowed to have law courts of its own, with jurisdiction over many cases where the church or the clergy were concerned. Church history in Spain during this period

centres largely around the first three councils of the Spanish church. The first was held at Iliberis (Elvira) in 306, and declared for the celibacy of the clergy, for up to that time priests had been allowed to marry. The second, held at Saragossa in 380, dealt with heresy. The third took place at Toledo in 400, and was very important, for it unified the doctrine of the Christian communities of Spain on the basis of the Catholic, or Nicene, creed. It was at this time, too, that monasteries began to be founded in Spain. The church received no financial aid from the state, but supported itself out of the proceeds of its own wealth and the contributions of the faithful.

[Sidenote: Priscillianism.]

As in other parts of the Roman world, so too in Spain, heresies were many and varied at this time. One of the most prominent of them, Priscillianism, originated in Spain, taking its name from its propounder, Priscillian. Priscillian was a Galician, who under the influence of native beliefs set forth a new interpretation of Christianity. He denied the mystery of the Trinity; claimed that the world had been created by the Devil and was ruled by him, asserting that this life was a punishment for souls which had sinned; defended the transmigration of souls; held that wine was not necessary in the celebration of the mass; and maintained that any Christian, whether a priest or not, might celebrate religious sacraments. In addition he propounded much else of a theological character which was not in accord with Catholic Christianity. It was to condemn Priscillianism that the Council of Saragossa was called. Nevertheless, this doctrine found favor even among churchmen of high rank, and Priscillian himself became bishop of ?vila. In the end he and his principal followers were put to death, but it was three centuries before Priscillianism was completely stamped out. In addition to this and other heresies the church had to combat the religions which were already in existence when it entered the field, such as Roman paganism and the indigenous faiths. It was eventually successful, although many survivals of old beliefs were long existent in the rural districts.

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