The Nation of God

Named for the Spanish town that hosted it, the Council of Elvira is the first recorded gathering of Church elders to enact and publish laws. Given the list of attendees - including Hosius who went on to great renown as Constantine’s Christian adviser - it was held between 300 and 309.

From different manuscripts, eighty one canons have been attributed to it, making it the most prolific ever. However, this eighty one has contradiction and redundancy a plenty. Maurice Meigne argued persuasively that only the first twenty one come from the original synod. Let’s accept this.

In this first group, Jews only appear once, in a canon on marriage …

Heretics shall not be joined in marriage with Catholic girls unless they accept the Catholic faith. Catholic girls may not marry Jews or heretics, because they cannot find a unity when the faithful and the unfaithful are joined. Parents who allow this to happen shall not commune for five years.

Compare this to the previous canon, which also dictates who a good (Catholic) Christian girl may marry …

Christian girls are not to marry pagans (gentilibus), no matter how few eligible men there are, for such marriages lead to adultery of the soul.

Ah mixing with idol worshipers. Brings to mind …

And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them … Neither shalt thou make marriages with them … For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.

So no Heretics, no Jews, no Pagans. Notice the grouping. Jews and Heretics bunched together. Believers in God, though unfaithful, are a different breed than the unbelievers, the Pagans. Or should I say, the Gentiles, Gentilis.

Using Pagan, as this translation does, is anachronistic. This yokel label wouldn’t be hurled at unbelievers until much later in the fourth century, when the countryside was the last bastion of traditional “backward” ways.

Gentilis originally meant a clan or family or tribe. Later it morphed. Ammianus mentions the Gentiles, a corp of the Army made up of foreign tribesmen, non-Roman. This is the sense of the Bishops of Elvira, although for them, the foreign tribes are the unbelievers, those outside the nation of God, a nation that still included errant believers, the Jews, the Heretics, however undesirable they were.

Different strands of Christian and the Jews, mixed, debated, were part of one extended family, as the fourth century broke. In tension yes, but still one family. Now go beyond Meigne’s 21, go to Canons made later in the century …

If a Christian confesses adultery with a Jewish or pagan woman, he is denied communion for some time. If his sin is exposed by someone else, he must complete five years’ penance before receiving the Sunday communion.

Jew and Gentile, together at last. Jews were out of God’s Nation. Only Christians belonged. Good Christians. Catholic Christians. Only they owned God. Yes, the Gentiles lost out as Christianity ascended. But they weren’t alone.

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