Priscillian (c. 430-c. 385) is believed to have been born into a wealthy family in Galicia, Spain. Though he probably received no formal theological education, it is apparent that he studied the Bible on his own. Before 370 he converted to Christianity and was baptized. Around this time he began preaching his own form of strict asceticism, which greatly angered such bishops as Idatius (Hydatius) of Mérida and Ithacius of Ossonuba. Opponents of Priscillianist doctrine accused it of being gnostic in nature (comparable to Manicheism), criticizing the followers’ rejection of Christ’s true humanity, disapproval of marriage and use of apocryphal books.

The issue was formally addressed in 380 at the Council of Saragossa. Priscillianism itself was condemned, though it would seem that no direct measures were taken against Priscillian or his followers. Afterwards in early 381, bishops Instantius and Salvianus (sees unknown) arranged to have Priscillian appointed as bishop of Avila. Idatius and Ithacius meanwhile convinced emperor Gratian to issue a decree against the Manichees, and the wording contained in the document was ambiguous enough to also implicate the Priscillians. Priscillian and his followers appealed to Ambrose of Milan and pope Damasus, but neither would grant them an audience. When Maximus usurped Gratian, he called for a council at Bordeaux. Instantius was deposed from his see, and Priscillian, having been accused of sorcery, was sentenced to death and executed.

The following table lists Priscillian’s surviving works, including the identification number in the CPL. The links provide more information on each of the documents. Spurious works are indicated by as asterisk.

The Writings of Priscillian of Avila


CPL Number

11 Tractates 785
Canons on the letters of the apostle Paul 786
Letter (fragment) 787
*On the Trinity of the Catholic Faith 788
*The Faith of St. Ambrose 789

CPL also includes the following Priscillianist texts in the appendix:


CPL Number

A collection of diverse thoughts 790
Apocalypse 791
Discourse of Bishop Augustine 792
Sermon on the Jews 793
On the Parable of Solomon 794
Priest Hieronymus’ book “Canon on Hebrews” 795
Titus’ letter on the disposition of piety 796
Apocalypse of Thomas 796a
Fragment on the creation of the world 796b
Life of St. Helia 796c


Chadwick, Henry. Priscillian of Avila: The Occult and the Charismatic in the Early Church. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.

McHugh, Michael P. “Priscillian.” In Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Edited by Everett Ferguson. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1990, p. 756-757.

Simonetti, M. “Priscillian – Priscillianism.” In Encyclopedia of the Early Church. Edited by Angelo Di Berardino. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 711-712.

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Last updated: 5-1-2012

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