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The Pilgrim Church — Priscillian
22 December 2014
In three previous articles we have been looking at Satan’s war against God and the human race. The first article — Satan: Mankind's Greatest Enemy — examined what the Bible says about who Satan is, and about his obsessive desire to rule the universe, and receive the worship of mankind, in God’s place.
In Ancient Battles in the Cosmic War we reviewed some of the major attacks Satan has made upon humanity, and more specifically, upon the people of God. This culminated with Satan’s hostile takeover of the Ekklesia (Church) of Yeshua (Jesus), resulting in a second, parallel, satanically-inspired, man-made, institutional church, as we saw in The Empire Strikes Back. This is the primary “church” which the world has known for the past 1,700 years.
After Satan’s crushing blow and stunning victory, the Ekklesia was down but not out. Since that time there has always remained a remnant of true followers of Yeshua, although their story has often been obscured by the institutional church through suppression, lies, persecution and murder.
In a separate series of articles, starting with an introduction to The Pilgrim Church, I brought to your attention E.H. Broadbent’s book which documents the amazing history of the Ekklesia, which the author refers to as the Pilgrim Church. In the follow-up article, we looked at the early centuries of the Pilgrim Church.
Today’s article initiates the merging of these two series of articles. Once Satan had established his parallel, counterfeit church, it became his primary tool for thwarting God’s purposes concerning mankind, and for attacking the people of God, who are not in rebellion against God as Satan and much of humanity are.
Therefore, because the rest of the history of Satan’s campaign against God and the followers of Yeshua is the history of the persecuted Ekklesia, that story will be told in this and future articles about the Pilgrim Church.
The following excerpts from The Pilgrim Church are significant because the primary hero of the story, Priscillian, along with some of his companions, were the first followers of Yeshua to be martyred by Satan’s newly-created institutional Harlot Church. They may have been the first such martyrs, but they most definitely were NOT the last!
Spain, spread into Lusitania (Portugal) and to Aquitania in France, making itself felt in Rome also.
Priscillian was a Spaniard of wealth and position, a learned and eloquent man of unusual attainments. In common with many of his class, he was unable to believe the old heathen religions, yet was not attracted by Christianity, and preferred classic literature to the Scriptures. He had sought refuge for his soul in the prevalent philosophies such as Neo-Platonism and Manichaeism.
He was converted to Christ, was baptized, and began a new life of devotion to God and separation from the world. He became an enthusiastic student and lover of the Scriptures, lived an ascetic life as a help towards fuller union with Christ by making his body more fit to be a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and though a layman, preached and taught diligently.
Soon conventicles were organized and meetings held with a view to making religion a reality which should affect the character, and large numbers of persons, especially of the educated class, were drawn into the movement. Although Priscillian had written voluminously, it was thought that all his writings had disappeared. In 1886, Georg Schepss discovered in the library of the University of Würzburg eleven of Priscillian’s works, which he describes as being “contained in a precious Uncial manuscript ... which until now had remained unknown.” It is written in very old Latin and is one of the oldest Latin manuscripts known to exist.
The style of Priscillian’s writing is vivid and telling, he constantly quotes Scripture in support of what he advances, and shows an intimate acquaintance with the whole of the Old and New Testaments. He maintained, however, the right of the Christian to read other literature, and this was made the occasion of accusing him of wishing to include the Apocrypha in the Canon of Scripture, which he did not do.
He defends himself and his friends for their habit of holding Bible readings in which laymen were active and women took part, also for their objection to taking the Lord’s Supper with frivolous and worldly-minded persons.
For Priscillian, the theological controversies in the Church had little value, for he knew the gift of God, and had accepted it by a living faith. He would not dispute as to the Trinity, being content to know that in Christ the true One God is laid hold of by the help of the Divine Spirit.
He taught that the object of redemption is that we should be turned to God and therefore an energetic turning from the world is needed, lest anything might hinder fellowship with God. This salvation is not a magical event brought about by some sacrament, but a spiritual act.
The Church indeed publishes the confession [of faith], and baptizes, and conveys the commands or Word of God to men, but each one must decide for himself and believe for himself. If communion with Christ should be broken, it is for each one to restore it by personal repentance. There is no special official grace; laymen have the Spirit as much as clergy.
He exposes at length the evil and falsity of Manichaeism and its teaching from the Scriptures, and is entirely opposed to it. Asceticism he regarded not as a chief thing in itself, but as a help towards that entire union of the whole person with God or Christ, from which the body cannot be excepted, because of its being the habitation of the Spirit. This is rest in Christ, experience of divine love and leading, incorruptible blessing.
Faith in God, who has revealed Himself, is a personal act which involves the whole being in acknowledgment of dependence on God for life and for all things. It brings with it the desire and the decision to be wholly consecrated to Him. Moral works follow of themselves because in receiving the new life, the believer has received into himself that which contains the very essence of morality.
Scripture is not only historical truth, but is at the same time a means of grace. The spirit feeds upon it and finds that every portion of it contains revelation, instruction, and guidance for daily life. To see the allegorical meaning of Scripture requires no technical training, but faith. The Messianic-typical meaning of the Old Testament and the historical progress of the New Testament are pointed out, and this not only for the sake of knowledge, but as showing that not some only, but all believers are called to complete sanctification. Avila, but it was not long before he encountered the hostility of a part of the Spanish clergy. Such teachings brought his circles into conflict with those of the Roman Church.
The clergy saw in the holy life of the ordinary believer something which attacked their specific position. The power of apostolic succession and of the priestly office was shaken by teaching which insisted on holiness and constant renewal of life by the Holy Spirit and communion with God. The distinction between clergy and laity was broken down by this, especially when the magical working of the sacraments was exchanged for a living possession of salvation through faith.
Bishop Hydatius, Metropolitan of Lusitania, led the opposition, and at a Synod held in 380 at Caesaraugusta (Saragossa) accused him of Manichaean and Gnostic heresy.
The proceedings were not successful until political necessities led the Emperor Maximus, who had murdered Gratian and usurped his place, to desire the aid of the Spanish clergy. But then, at a Synod in Burdigala (Bordeaux) in 384, Bishop Ithacus, a man of evil repute, joined the attack, accusing Priscillian and those to whom they attached the title “Priscillianists,” of witchcraft and immorality.
The breach was irreparable due to two distinct views of the Church. It was not only a question of suppressing conventicles or of opposing what threatened to become an order of monks apart from the Church, but of a complete difference of principle.
The policy of the scheming, political Hydatius was to strengthen the power of the Metropolitan as representing the See of Rome, with a view to carrying out the Roman centralizing organization. This was as yet unpopular in Spain and incomplete, and was opposed by the lesser bishops. The circles with which Priscillian was associated were in principle diametrically opposed to this; their occupation with Scripture and acceptance of it as their guide in all things led them to desire the independence of each congregation, and this they were already putting into practice.
The accused were brought to Treves (Trier), condemned by the Church, and handed over to the civil power for execution (385). The eminent bishops, Martin of Tours and Ambrose of Milan, protested in vain; Priscillian and six others were beheaded, among them a distinguished lady, Euchrotia, widow of a well-known poet and orator.
This was the first instance of the execution of Christians by the Church, an example to be followed afterwards with such terrible frequency. After this, Martin and Ambrose refused to have any fellowship whatsoever with Hydatius and the other bishops who were responsible, and when the Emperor Maximus fell, the cruel torture and murder of these saintly persons was recorded with abhorrence and Ithacus was deprived of his bishopric. The bodies of Priscillian and his companions were brought to Spain and they were honored as martyrs.
Nevertheless a Synod in Treves approved what had been done, thus giving the official sanction of the Roman Church to the execution. This was confirmed by the Synod of Braga held 176 years later, so that the ruling Church not only persecuted those whom it called Priscillianists, but handed down as history that Priscillian and those who believed as he did were punished for holding Manichaean and Gnostic doctrine and because of the wickedness of their lives. This continued for centuries to be the generally received opinion of them. The rediscovered writings of Priscillian, thought to be lost forever due to the diligence with which they they been destroyed, consists of eleven tracts (some parts are missing) of which the first four contain details of the trial, and the remaining seven his teaching.
The reading of these, Priscillian’s own writings, shows that the account handed down of him was wholly untrue, that he was a man of saintly character, sound in doctrine, and an energetic reformer, and that those associated with him were companies of men and women who were true and devoted followers of Christ. Not content with murdering these people, exiling them, and confiscating their goods, Church authorities have persistently calumniated their memory.
After the death of Priscillian and his companions, the circles of those who shared their faith increased rapidly, but, although Martin of Tours succeeded in modifying the first burst of persecution which followed that tragic event, persecution was continued and severe. Nevertheless, it was not until some two centuries later that the meetings were finally dispersed.
To the religious leaders of Judaism of His day, who imagined that they were children of God, Yeshua said,
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15‑20)
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:43‑45)
If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on My own; God sent Me. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:42,44,47)All throughout church history, and even in our day, Yeshua would say the exact same thing to those who imagine that they are the children of God and the Church of Yeshua, yet do the works of their father, the devil.
Let’s look at the fruit. Priscillian was a man who taught and lived what the New Testament teaches. He opposed Satan’s deceptions which were dominating the institutional church. For this good fruit, he was murdered, and lies about him were promoted which are still thought to be true up to this very day.
Is that murder and those lies the fruit of Yeshua? Was He a liar and a murder? Hardly! Of Yeshua, Peter wrote:
He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. (1 Peter 2:22‑23)Yeshua Himself said that Satan is the liar and murderer. So when people lie about and kill followers of Yeshua — or anybody, pagan or believer, for that matter — by their actions, by their fruit, they PROVE that they are truly children of their father, the devil, and NOT children of God. This is the tragic history and legacy of the man-made, institutional church.
Except for books like The Pilgrim Church, these lies have never been refuted, and are therefore the accepted version of history. The Wikipedia articles I have referenced promote this same false history. That is why it is so vital to get your own copy of The Pilgrim Church so you can read for yourself the true history of Yeshua’s Ekklesia.
This series on the history of Yeshua’s faithful ones continues in the following parts:
This article is 62nd a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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