The Council of Elvira, ca. 306

The textual history of these canons is complicated.  Hamilton Hess discusses the problems of the textual transmission of the canons in The Early Development of Canon Law and the Council of Serdica (Oxford Early Christian Studies, Oxford: 2002) 40-42.  He summarizes the research of Samuel Laeuchli (who prints the Latin text and translates it), Sexuality and Power:  The Emergence of Canon Law at the Synod of Elvira (Philadelphia: 1972) and of Maurice Meigne, "Concile ou collection d'Elvire," Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 70 (1975) 361-387.  Meigne argues that the Council of Elvira issued only the first 21 canons; the other canons were added to the "collection" later, probably taken from other Iberian councils.   For those who read German, see Eckhard Reichert, Die Canones der Synode von Elvira:  Einleitung und Kommentar (Dissertation, University of Hamburg: 1990).  The date of the council is also not certain.  Scholars have placed it between 300 and 309.

 

CANONS

Pagans c.1-4 Murder c.5-6 Sexual Misconduct c.7 Marriage/Divorce c.8-11
Sexual abuse c.12 Female Virginity c.13-14 Marriage Pagans c.15-17 Sexuality Priests c.18
Clergy and Trade c.19-20 Discipline of laity c.21-26 Clergy and women c.27 Clerical sexuality c.30-33

1.       A baptized adult who commits the capital crime of sacrificing to the idols is not to receive communion even when death approaches.

2.       Flamens (a priest in a temple) who have been baptized but who then offer sacrifices will double their guilt by adding murder (if they organize public games) or even triple it with sexual immorality, and they cannot receive communion even when death approaches.

3.       Flamens who have not offered sacrifices but who have presided at public games have kept themselves from complete destruction and may receive communion when death approaches if they have done the required penance.  If they commit sexual offenses after completing the penance, they shall be denied any further communion since receiving communion would make a mockery of the Sunday communion.

4.       Flamens who have been catechumens for three years and who have abstained from sacrifices may be baptized.

5.       If a woman beats her servant and causes death within three days, she shall undergo seven years' penance if the injury was inflicted on purpose and five years' if it was accidental.  She shall not receive communion during this penance unless she becomes ill.  If so, she may receive communion.

6.       If someone kills another by sorcery or magic, that person shall not receive communion, even at the time of death, for this action is a form of idolatry.

7.       If a Christian completes penance for a sexual offense and then again commits fornication, he or she may not receive communion even when death approaches.

8.       Women who without acceptable cause leave their husbands and join another man may not receive communion even when death approaches.

9.       A baptized woman who leaves an adulterous husband who has been baptized, for another man, may not marry him.  If she does, she may not receive communion until her former husband dies, unless she is seriously ill.

10.     If an unbaptized woman marries another man after being deserted by her husband who was a catechumen, she may still be baptized.  This is also true for female catechumens.  If a Christian woman marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may receive communion only at the time of her death.

11.     If a female catechumen marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may not be baptized for five years unless she becomes seriously ill.

12.     Parents and other Christians who give up their children to sexual abuse are selling others' bodies, and if they do so or sell their own bodies, they shall not receive communion even at death.

13.     Virgins who have been consecrated to God shall not commune even as death approaches if they have broken the vow of virginity and do not repent.  If, however, they repent and do not engage in intercourse again, they may commune when death approaches.

14      If a virgin does not preserve her virginity but then marries the man, she may commune after one year, without doing penance, for she only broke the laws of marriage.  If she has been sexually active with other men, she must complete a penance of five years before being readmitted to communion.

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

16.     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.

17.     If parents allow their daughter to marry a pagan priest, they shall not receive communion even at the time of death.

18.     Bishops, presbyters, and deacons, once they have taken their place in the ministry, shall not be given communion even at the time of death if they are guilty of sexual immorality.  Such scandal is a serious offense.

19.     Bishops, presbyters, and deacons shall not leave the area where they work, or travel in the provinces, in order to engage in profitable ventures.  If it is an economic necessity, let them send a son, a freedman, an employee, a friend, or someone else.  They should engage only in business activities within their own area.

20.     If any clergy are found engaged in usury, let them be censured and dismissed.  If a layman is caught practicing usury, he may be pardoned if he promises to stop the practice.  If he continues this evil practice, let him be expelled from the church.

21.     If anyone who lives in the city does not attend church services for three Sundays, let that person be expelled for a brief time in order to make the reproach public.

22.     If people fall from the Catholic church into heresy and then return, let them not be denied penance, since they have acknowledged their sin.  Let them be given communion after ten years' penance.  If children have been led into heresy, it is not their own fault, and they should be received back immediately.

23.     In order to help those who are weak, the rigorous fasting that requires no eating for a whole day shall be dropped during the months of July and August.

24.     Individuals shall not be admitted as clergy in a province other than the one where they were  baptized.  Otherwise their life would not be known by those who examine them.

25.     Those who have letters of recommendation referring to them as "confessors" should obtain new letters affirming them as “communicants" instead.  Simple people are deceived by the honored title of "confessor."

26.     The rigorous form of fasting is to be followed every Saturday.  This will correct a mistake in our present practice.

27.     A bishop or other cleric may have only a sister or a daughter who is a virgin consecrated to God living with him.  No other woman who is unrelated to him may remain.  Cf. Nicaea c.3

28.     A bishop may not receive the offerings of those who are not allowed to receive communion.

29.     Persons who have an erratic spirit shall not have their name added to the list of those making offerings, nor shall they be allowed to exercise any form of ministry in the congregation.

30.     Those who sinned sexually as youth may not be ordained as subdeacons.  This will guard against their being promoted to higher offices later on.  If they have already been ordained, they shall be removed from their office.

31.     Young men who have been baptized and then are involved in sexual immorality may be admitted to communion when they marry if they have fulfilled the required penance.

32.     Anyone who has fallen into mortal ruin because of sin must seek penance from the bishop and not a presbyter.  In extreme illness a presbyter may offer communion or may direct a deacon to do so.

33.     Bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children.  If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office.

34.     Candles are not to be burned in a cemetery during the day.  This practice is related to paganism and is harmful to Christians.  Those who do this are to be denied the communion of the church.

35.     Women are not to remain in a cemetery during the night.  Some engage in wickedness rather than prayer.

36.     Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.

37.     Those who have suffered from an evil spirit may be baptized as death approaches.  If they have been baptized, they may be given communion.  Such people are not, however, to light the church candles in public.  If they do so, they are to be denied communion.

38.     A baptized Christian who has not rejected the faith nor committed bigamy may baptize a catechumen who is in danger of death, if they are on a sea voyage or if there is no church nearby.  If the person survives, he or she shall go to the bishop for the laying on of hands.

39.     A pagan who requests the laying on of hands at a time of illness, may receive the imposition of hands and become a Christian if his or her life has been reasonably honest.

40.     Landlords may not receive as rent anything that has already been offered to idols.  If they do so, they shall be excluded from communion for five years.

41.     Christians are to prohibit their slaves from keeping idols in their houses. If this is impossible to enforce, they must at least avoid the idols and remain pure.  If this does not happen, they are alienated from the church.

42.     Those with a good reputation who seek to become Christians shall remain as catechumens for two years before being baptized.  Should they become seriously ill, they may request and receive baptism earlier.

43.     In accordance with the Scripture we shall celebrate Pentecost and not continue the false practice [of celebrating the fortieth day after Easter rather than the fiftieth]. If one does not accept this practice, it will be considered a new heresy.

44.     A former prostitute who has married and who seeks admission to the Christian faith shall be received without delay.

45.     A catechumen who has stayed away from the church for a long time may be baptized if one of the clergy supports his or her claim to be a Christian, or if some of the faithful attest to this, and it appears that the person has reformed.

46.     If a Christian gives up the faith and stays away from the church for a long time, provided he or she has not become an idolater, he or she may be received back and commune after ten years of penance.

47.     If a baptized married man commits adultery repeatedly, he is to be asked as he nears death whether or not he will reform should he recover.  If he so promises, he may receive communion.  If he recovers and commits adultery again, he may not commune again, even as death approaches.

48.     Those being baptized are not to place money in the baptismal shell since it seems to indicate that the priest is selling what is a free gift.  The feet of the newly baptized are not to be washed by the priests or clerics.

49.     Landlords are not to allow Jews to bless the crops they have received from God and for which they have offered thanks.  Such an action would make our blessing invalid and meaningless.  Anyone who continues this practice is to be expelled completely from the church.

50.     If any cleric or layperson eats with Jews, he or she shall be kept from communion as a way of correction.

51.     If a baptized person has come from heresy, he must not become a cleric.  One who has already been ordained is to be removed from office immediately.

52.     Anyone who writes scandalous graffiti in a church is to be condemned.

53.     A person who has been excluded from communion for an offense can be readmitted only by the bishop who ordered the excommunication.  Another bishop who readmits him or her without obtaining the consent of the first bishop is liable to bring tension among his brothers and may be removed from office.

54.     Parents who fail to keep the betrothal agreement and who break their child's engagement are to be kept from communion for three years.  If the bride or groom has committed a serious crime, the parents are justified in such an action.  If both the bride and groom are involved in the sin, the first rule applies and the parents may not interfere.

55.     Priests who continue to wear the secular wreath [as former flamens] but who do not perform sacrifices or make offerings to idols may receive communion after two years.

56.     Magistrates are not to enter the church during the year in which they serve as duumvir [the government official who presides at public occasions and national feasts].

57.     Women and men who willingly allow their clothing to be used in secular spectacles and processions shall be denied communion for three years.

58.     In all places, and especially where the bishop resides, those who bring letters indicating their right to commune shall be examined to affirm the testimony.

59.     A Christian may not go to the capitol and watch the pagans offer their sacrifices.  If a Christian does, he or she is guilty of the same sin and may not commune before completing ten years of penance.

60.     If someone smashes an idol and is then punished by death, he or she may not be placed in the list of martyrs, since such action is not sanctioned by the Scriptures or by the apostles.

61.     A man who, after his wife's death, marries her baptized sister may not commune for five years unless illness requires that reconciliation be offered sooner.

62.     Chariot racers or pantomimes must first renounce their profession and promise not to resume it before they may become Christians.  If they fail to keep this promise, they shall be expelled from the church.

63.     If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice.

64.     A woman who remains in adultery to the time of her death may not commune. If she breaks the relationship, she must complete ten years' penance before communing.

65.     If a cleric knows of his wife's adultery and continues to live with her, he shall not receive communion even before death in order not to let it appear that one who is to exemplify a good life has condoned sin.

66.     A man who marries his stepdaughter is guilty of incest and may not commune even before death.

67.     A woman who is baptized or is a catechumen must not associate with hairdressers or men with long hair.  If she does this, she is to be denied communion.

68.     A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches.

69.     A married person who commits adultery once may be reconciled after five years' penance unless illness necessitates an earlier reconciliation.

70.     A husband who knows of his wife's adultery and who remains with her may not commune even prior to death.  If he lived with his wife for a period of time after her adultery and then left her, he may not commune for ten years.

71.     Those who sexually abuse boys may not commune even when death approaches.

72.     If a widow has intercourse and then marries the man, she may only commune after five years' penance.  If she marries another man instead, she is excluded from communion even at the time of death. If the man she marries is a Christian, she may not receive communion until completing ten years' penance, unless illness makes earlier communion advisable.

73.     A Christian who denounces someone who is then ostracized or put to death may not commune even as death approaches.  If the case was less severe, he or she may commune in less than five years.  If the informer was a catechumen, he or she may be baptized after five years.

74.     Those who are false witnesses commit a crime and are to be excluded. If their action did not bring about death, and they explain the reasons for their testimony, they shall be excluded for two years.  If their explanation is not accepted by the assembled clergy, they are excluded for five years.

75.     If someone falsely accuses a bishop, presbyter, or deacon of a crime and cannot offer evidence, he or she is excluded from communion even at the time of death.

76.     If a deacon confesses that he had committed a mortal crime before ordination, he is excluded from communion and must complete three years' penance.  If, however, the sin is disclosed by someone else, he must complete five years' penance before being accepted as a layman to receive communion.

77.     If a deacon serving a community without a bishop or presbyter baptizes, the bishop shall then give his blessing to those baptized.  If someone dies before receiving the blessing, that person is to be regarded as justified by his or her faith.

78.     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.

79.     Christians who play dice for money are to be excluded from receiving communion.  If they amend their ways and cease, they may receive communion after one year.

80.     Slaves who have been freed but whose former masters are yet alive may not be ordained as clergy.

81.     A woman may not write to other lay Christians without her husband's consent.  A woman may not receive letters of friendship addressed to her only and not to her husband as well.