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Exile and Identity: The Origins of the Luciferian Community

Colin Whiting

Travel is not always voluntary, and it is worth examining the consequences of involuntary travel – in this case, the exiles of Nicene bishops of western sees in the 350s under Constantius II to Oxyrhynchus, Eleutheropolis in Palestine, and other eastern locations. One major consequence of their exiles and returns westward (following the leniency of the Council of Alexandria in 362), was the hardening of attitudes among more rigorist factions within the broader Nicene community.

In my paper I will focus on the Luciferians, one such understudied rigorist community of the latter half of the fourth century. They are variously named heretics, schismatics, or catholics, depending on whom one asks. A petition written by them to Theodosius I in 383 or 384, the Libellus precum, details the community’s history.

By examining the locations of Luciferian communities as reported in the Libellus precum and setting them alongside the routes taken by Lucifer of Cagliari and other Nicene Christians in their exiles of the 350s and returns of the 360s, we can see that that these communities emerged directly out of this exilic context throughout the Mediterranean. Travel, then, could serve to bond geographically-disparate but likeminded communities within a single communal identity.

But travel did not only inform the communal identity of the Luciferians, it also shaped the way they structured their petition. In the first half of their petition, they move geographically from west to east as they narrate the persecutions and exiles suffered by Nicene Christians in the 350s. In the second half of their petition, they provide a similar narration in terms of its geographical progression but this time detailing catholic persecution of Luciferians in the decades following Julian’s decision to allow exiled bishops to return to their sees. The connection the Luciferians wish the reader to draw between the individuals of the 350s and their own communities is thus made clear. In this way, travel allows for passage over not only space but time as well.

Both the geographic connections between these exiles and these rigorist communities and the ways by which the Luciferians themselves connect these exiles to their own communities, suggest that the communities in question were continuously in existence from the 360s to the 380s and that the petition does not, as has recently been argued, reflect a separate community of the 380s modeling themselves on Lucifer and others.

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Travel, Travelers and Traveling in Late Antique Literary Culture

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