Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 100
Canon 7 of the First Council of Toledo (Iberian Peninsula, AD 400) gives clerics the power over their wives if the latter have sinned.
Canon 7
Ut clericus cui uxor peccaverit praeter necem potestatem habeat distringendi eam, et cum ea cibum non sumat
Placuit, ut si cuiquumque clericorum aliorum uxores peccaverit, ne forte licentiam peccandi plus habeant, accipiant mariti earum hanc potestatem praeter necem custodiendi, legandi in domo sua, ad ieiunia salutaria non mortifera cogentes, ita ut invicem sibi clerici pauperes auxilium ferant, si servitia forte non habeant; cum uxoribus autem ipsis quae peccaverint nec cibum sumant, nisi forte ad timorem Dei acta paenitentia revertantur.
(ed. Vives 1963: 21-22)
Canon 7
Let a cleric whose wife has sinned (besides murder) have power to punish her and to exclude her from his meal
We commend that if wives of clerics have sinned, in order that they do not have freedom to sin anymore, their husbands should use power to hold them in custody, bind them in the house and force them to salutary, not fatal, fasting. In such situation poor clerics, if they do not have perchance the servants, should help one another. They shall not eat with these unruly wives, unless having done penance they come back to the fear of God.
(trans. M. Szada)


It is not defined what kind of sin may be punished so severely and why exactly the clergyman are granted so much power over their wives. The council deals mainly with the Priscillianist heresy, so probably Canon 7 should be read as an official reaction to the egalitarian ascetic movement which especially attracted women (Hillner 2015: 160). The involvement of some of the clerical wives into the new forms of asceticism might have been interpreted as scandalous and disgracing the honour of the clerical office (Burrus 1995: 112-113).
The phrase praeter necem is difficult to interpret. It can mean that the clerical prerogatives to punish their wives are not applicable if they committed murder. On the other hand, praeter necem may be understood as referring to the remark about "salutary and not fatal fasting". In other words, it would forbid clerics to kill their sinful wives.

Place of event:

  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Toledo

About the source:

Title: Council of Toledo I, Concilium Toletanum I, First Council of Toledo
Origin: Toledo (Iberian Peninsula)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
The First Council of Toledo was convened to deal with divisions among the Spanish episcopate caused by the conviction and execution of Priscillian in 385. Many people in Spain, the bishops among them, considered the judgement unfair and venerated Priscillian as a martyr. The acts of the council consist of the twenty canons with the preface and the subscriptions of the bishops, the creed (regula fidei) with 18 anathemas against Priscillian, the professions of faith declared by the former adherents of Priscillian and the closing sententia definitiva. The last two are excerpts from the full version of the conciliar acts which has not survived and has been transmitted in the manuscript tradition separate from canonical collection of Hispana (Chadwick 1976: 179-181; Burrus 1995: 104-105).
The date of the council is given in the beginning of the preface - it is the time of Arcadius and Honorius (then between 395-408) and of the consulship of Stilicho (400 or 405). The date given in the Spanish era is unreliable, because a lot of different versions survived in manuscripts. G. Martínez Díez and F. Rodríguez (1984: 326) thought that it was a later addition. Moreover, Ambrosius of Milan and Siricius are both already dead (the title sanctae memoriae is added before their names), therefore the council must have been held after 399. Also Hydatius in Chronicle dates the council to 400, so this is the most probable solution (Weckwerth 2004: 89-90).
G. Martínez Díez, F. Rodríguez, eds., La colección canónica Hispana, Monumenta Hispaniae sacra. Serie canónica 5, Madrid 1966.
J. Vives, Concilios visigóticos e hispano-romanos, Barcelona-Madrid 1963.
V. Burrus, The making of a heretic: gender, authority, and the Priscillianist controversy, Berkeley 1995.
J. Hillner, Prison, punishment and penance in late antiquity, Cambridge 2015.
A. Weckwerth, Das erste Konzil von Toledo: philologischer und kirchenhistorischer Kommentar zur Constitutio concilii, Münster, Westfalen 2004.


Family life - Marriage
    Family life - Permanent relationship continued after ordination
      Food/Clothes/Housing - Food and drink
        Described by a title - Clericus
          Ritual activity - Reconciliation/Administering penance
            Economic status and activity - Indication of poverty
              Economic status and activity - Slave ownership
                Relation with - Wife
                  Relation with - Slave/Servant
                    Relation with - Woman
                      Administration of justice - Ecclesiastical
                        Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: M. Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER100,