originated in Spain in the fourth century and was derived from the Gnostic-Manichaean doctrines taught by Marcus, an Egyptian from Memphis. His first adherents were a lady named Agape and a rhetorician named Helpidius, through whose influence Priscillian "a man of noble birth, of great riches, bold, restless, eloquent, learned through much reading, very ready at debate and discussion (Sulpicius Severus, "His. Sac.", II, 46) was also enrolled. His high position and great gifts made him the leader of the party and he became an ardent apostle of the new doctrines. Through his oratorical gifts and reputation for extreme asceticism he attracted a large following. Among those drawn to him were two bishops, Instantius and Salvianus.
The foundation of the doctrines of the Priscillianists was Gnostic-Manichaean Dualism, a belief in the existence of two kingdoms, one of Light and one of Darkness. Angels and the souls of men were said to be severed from the substance of the Deity. Human souls were intended to conquer the Kingdom of Darkness, but fell and were imprisoned in material bodies. Thus both kingdoms were represented in man, and hence a conflict symbolized on the side of Light by the Twelve Patriarchs, heavenly spirits, who corresponded to certain of man's powers, and, on the side of Darkness, by the Signs of the Zodiac, the symbols of matter and the lower kingdom. The salvation of man consists in liberation from the domination of matter. The twelve heavenly spirits having failed to accomplish their release, the Saviour came in a heavenly body which appeared to be like that of other men, and through His doctrine and His apparent death released the souls of the men from the influence of the material.
These doctrines could be harmonized with the teaching of Scripture only by a strange system of exegesis, in which the liberal sense was entirely rejected, and an equally strange theory of personal inspiration. The Old Testament was received, but the narrative of creation was rejected. Several of the apocryphal Scriptures were acknowledged to be genuine and inspired. The ethical side of the Dualism of Priscillian with its low concept of nature gave rise to an indecent system of asceticism as well as to some peculiar liturgical observances, such as fasting on Sundays and on Christmas Day. Because their doctrines were esoteric and exoteric, and because it was believed that men in general could not understand the higher paths, the Priscillianists, or at least those of them who were enlightened, were permitted to tell lies for the sake of a holy end.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon