Priscillian of Avila: Heretic or Early Reformer? -- By: Brian Wagner

Journal: Chafer Theological Seminary Journal
Volume: CTSJ 12:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: Priscillian of Avila: Heretic or Early Reformer?
Author: Brian Wagner

Priscillian of Avila:
Heretic or Early Reformer?

Brian Wagner

Brian Wagner was ordained at Limerick Chapel, Limerick, PA, in 1983. He has served as a church planter in Ireland with Biblical Ministries Worldwide and is presently pastoring at Mt. Carmel Baptist, Haywood, VA. He is also presently a fulltime instructor of Church History and Theology at Virginia Baptist College. Brian recently received a Th.M. in Church History at Liberty Baptist Seminary and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at Piedmont Baptist Graduate School. His wife of thirty years is Lori, and their two grown daughters are Jessica and Jeanette. His e-mail address is [email protected]


The Lord Jesus Christ said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).1 Though He was speaking of the last judgment, the principle of letting someone be judged, even in this life, by his own testimony is a sound one. The Bible also speaks of establishing one’s testimony in the mouth of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19), which is to be a safeguard against a false witness damaging someone’s reputation.

History is a study of testimony. The primary source material written by an individual is often the best evidence by which to judge what that person believed and taught. Other contemporaries to that individual could also be used to evaluate whether he was presenting a consistent and coherent message at all times and whether his actions matched his words. As with all historical judgment of this kind, the testimony by friends or foes must be weighed with at least some suspicion of bias.

Priscillian of Avila, from the fourth century, has been designated by most of history as a Christian heretic. This conclusion, made by many of his contemporary foes, led to his beheading by the civil authorities. After his death in A.D. 365, his writings were searched out for destruction, along with anyone promoting his teaching. Copies of some of his writings still survive. Very early ones, judged as possibly made within just a century of Priscillian’s martyrdom, were recovered at the University of Würzburg by Georg Schepss in 1885. These still are without translation into English, and thus the opportunity for Priscillian to defend himself in an unfiltered way before a wider jury in Christendom remains unavailable. This paper is an attempt to provide an overview of the historical testimony concerning Priscillian, along with some of the more recent contributions that have taken Priscillian’s own words into account. The hope is to provide help to...

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