ELVIRA, SYNOD OF: A synod held at Iliberris (Elvira) or Municipium Florentinum, the modern Granada, on May 15, shortly before 303 (?) or about 310 (?). It was attended by nineteen bishops and twenty-four presbyters, mostly from southern Spain, Bætica, and Carthago Nova; of the northern dioceses, Legio (Leon) and Cæsar-augusta (Saragossa) were represented, but not Tarragona. It takes rank among the more important provincial synods. Its broad outlook over the whole field of Christian life and attempt to codify the rules for it may have been due to the influence of Hosius of Cordova (q.v.), who was present, although the presidency was held not by him but (presumably on the ground of seniority) by Felix, bishop of Accis (Guadix). The canons, numbering eighty-one, were proclaimed by the bishops. At least at the outset, a systematic treatment seems to have been attempted; canons i.-iv. dealt with idolatry, v.-vi. with homicide, and vii.-x. with unchastity; xi. on prohibited marriages being a supplement to these. All of them breathe a spirit of great strictness, almost of Novatianism. In a large number of cases exclusion from communion is imposed as a penalty, while in others an exactly graduated system of penance is worked out with the allowance of restoration after a number of years varying from one to ten; the synod seems, following the earliest Christian practise, to deny the possibility of restoration after a second fall. Mitigations are contemplated only in case of mortal illness and for women who marry the partner of their guilt; but practise was probably milder than theory. The synod permitted the traditional civil and religious ordinances to stand, but made an earnest effort to guard the Christian flock from any public participation in action contrary to the faith, especially from active or passive assistance at heathen sacrifices, which were still performed in all the larger cities of Spain. The whole attitude points to a time of peace, not to one immediately following a persecution; the complete absence of any provisions as to the case of the lapsed is enough to exclude the modern theory as to the date. The synod can thus not have been held in 305 or 306, but must have taken place either before the Diocletian persecution (in 300, as the oldest investigators and Duchesne say), or several years later, though before 316, in which year Bishop Valerius is known to have been dead. It is probable that it occurred after official toleration of Christianity on an equal footing with other religions had been proclaimed by Constantine in the other parts of the Western empire, or was at least in contemplation i.e., about 310. The work of the synod suggests the attempt to draw up, under the guidance of a distinguished adviser of the emperor, a sketch of Christian principles applied to the limits of a provincial church, which might serve as a model for the carrying out of a similar program on a larger scale. According to this view, its work is in the main the prelude to a greater and more universal policy, and its aim is more political and moral than purely spiritual.
Bibliography: Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, i. 148-192, Eng. transl., i. 131-138; P. B. Gains, Kirchengeschichte von Spanien, ii. 1-136, Regensburg, 1864; A. W. W, Dale, The Synod of Elvira, London, 1882; L. Duchesne, Le Concile d'Elvire, in Mélanges Renier, pp. 159-174, Paris, 1887; Mansi, Concilia, ii. 57-397; Meander, Christian Church, i. 198 et passim; Schaff, Christian Church, ii. 180-181; Harnack, Litteratur, i. 803; idem, Dogma, ii., iii. 123-124, v. 26.