Elvira, Council of
ELVIRA, COUNCIL OF
Elvira, the Roman city of Illiberis in southern Spain, near modern Granada, a bishopric in Roman and Visigothic times, was the site of a synod held either in 300–303 (L. Duchesne) or in 309 (H. Gregoire). Attending were 19 bishops and 26 priests representing 37 separate communities, all but five situated in southern Spain, the exceptions being Saragossa, León, Toledo, Calahorra, and Braga. The five provinces of Galicia, Tarragona, Baetica, Lusitania, and Carthagena also were represented. Bishop Felix of Acci (Guadix) presided, and among the delegates was Bishop Hosius of Córdoba. This is the first known council held in Spain, as well as the first council of which the disciplinary canons have been preserved, providing the first real knowledge of the Church in Spain.
The Council was evidently called to deal with disciplinary rather than doctrinal questions. It sought to combat pagan influences in the rapidly increasing Christian body, both by imposing a series of penalties based on exclusion from the Sacraments, and by reinforcing the rights and powers of the hierarchy. The success it achieved is shown by the reproduction of 14 of its 81 canons in the later Councils of arles, nicaea, and sardica.
The council has been accused of rigorism; its canons are certainly severe. Most of them deal with penitential discipline. Lesser faults were punished with deprivation of Communion for one, two, three, five, or even ten years. For certain faults no reconciliation was possible even at the hour of death. These faults included idolatry (cc. 1–3), murder by witchcraft (c. 6), repeated fornication or adultery (cc. 7, 47), divorce (c. 8), procuring (c. 12), marriage with pagan priests (c. 17), incest (c. 66), homosexual rape (c. 71), an accusation responsible for the death of the accused (c. 73), and false accusations of the clergy (c.75).
Definitive exclusion from the Communion in cases of reiterated major sin existed before the council, but it seems to have extended this penalty to cases when the sin was committed for the first time. This severity appears again in the Council of Saragossa (380); it was mitigated by c. 400. Until then the Church considered that it did not possess authority to forgive certain sins, and abandoned the sinner to God's mercy.
According to the testimony of the canons, in Spain the catechumenate normally lasted two years (c. 42), but could be extended in doubtful cases (cc. 4, 37). Circus charioteers and actors could not become catechumens without giving up their profession (c. 62). The canons mention Baptism and Confirmation (cc. 38, 77) and the indissolubility of marriage (c. 9). They insist on a holy way of life for the clergy, bishops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons. They are to be carefully selected (cc. 24, 30, 51, 80), are not to immerse themselves in trade (c. 19) or to practice usury (c.20). The purity of their life is stressed (cc. 18, 27). Canon 33 is the oldest legislation enjoining clerical continence in marriage. Canon 53 prohibits one bishop from receiving back into communion a Christian excommunicated by another. Canon 36 prohibits all paintings in churches. This regulation no doubt results from a wish to avoid the appearance of imitating paganism.
Dicing was prohibited since the dice bore images of pagan gods (c. 79). The pagan practice of lighting candles in cemeteries was forbidden (c. 34). Marriage with an ordinary pagan was condemned, but less severely than with Jews or heretics (cc. 15–16). One should not eat with Jews (c. 50), sacrifice with pagans (c. 59), or (ideally) tolerate idols in one's house (c. 41); but a Christian who was killed for public, unprovoked attacks on idols was not thereby a martyr (c. 60). A Christian magistrate was not allowed to take part in church services during his year of office (c. 56). Christians who functioned as pagan priests were more severely disciplined (cc. 2–4, 55).
Bibliography: j. d. mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31 v. (Florence-Venice 1757-98) 2:2–406. Patrologia Latina 84:301–310. a. c. vega, ed., España Sagrada, v.56 (Madrid 1957) critical ed.; ibid. v.53–54 (Madrid 1961) discussion. j. vives et al., Concilios visigóticos e hispano-romanos (Madrid 1963) 1–15. c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, tr. and continued by h. leclercq, 10 v. in 19 (Paris 1907–38) 1:212–264. g. bargille, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 4.2:2378–97. z. garcÍa villada, Historia eclesiástica de España, 3 v. in 5 (Madrid 1929–36) 1:301–325. j. grotz, Die Entwicklung des Bussstufenwesens in dervornicänischen Kirche (Freiburg 1955) 414–427. j. gaudemet, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 15:317–347. h. grÉgoire et al., Les Persécutions dans l'Empire romain (Brussels 1950).
[j. n. hillgarth]