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Leovigild, Arian King of the Visigoths

Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

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Leovigild (LEUVICHILD), Arian king of the Visigoths in Spain from 569 to Apr. or May 586. His reign and that of his successor, the convert RECCARED), represent the crisis of Visigothic history, religious and political.

Upon the death of Athanagild in the winter of 567, the Gothic throne remained unfilled until in 568 Leova, dux of the Septimanian province, was made king by the magnates of Gallia Gothica. In 569 he assigned to his younger brother Leovigild the government of the Spanish portion. In the first year of his reign Leovigild married Goisvintha, the widow of his predecessor Athanagild and a strong Arian (Greg. Tur. H. F. v. 39). By a previous marriage he had two sons, Hermenigild and Reccared. Leovigild faced the situation with success. His first campaign (a.d. 569) was against the Byzantine settlers and garrisons of the Baza and Malaga districts. For 20 years Cordova had refused to acknowledge the lordship of the Goths, and the great town of the Baetis had been the headquarters of the Imperialist and Catholic power in the Peninsula. Its fall (early in 572?) was a heavy blow to the imperial cause in Spain (Joannes Bicl. Esp. Sagr. vi. 377). In 572 (573 according to J. Biel.) Leova died, and Leovigild remained master of both divisions of the kingdom.

Hermenigild's Rebellion .—In 572 (or 573) the king had made both the sons of his first marriage "consortes regni" (J. Bicl. p. 378), and before 580 both were betrothed to Frankish princesses, Hermenigild to his step-niece Ingunthis, granddaughter of Goisvintha, Leovigild's second wife, Reccared to Ingunthis's first cousin, Rigunthis, daughter of Chilperic and Fredegonde. In 580 Hermenigild's bride, a girl of 12 or 13, passed the Pyrenees, "cum magno apparatu" (Greg. Tur. v. 39), having been exhorted on her way by bp. Fronimius of Agde to hold fast her orthodox profession in the midst of the Arian family into which she had married, and who no doubt expected her to become an Arian. She stood firm, and dissension speedily arose with her Arian grandmother. In order to secure family peace Leovigild assigned to Hermenigild and Ingunthis the town of Seville, where the influence of his wife, says Gregory of Tours—of the famous metropolitan of Baetica, Leander, according to Gregory the Great, Dial. iii. 41 converted Hermenigild to Catholicism ( Hist. Fr. v. 39; Paul. Diac. W. iii. 21). He was confirmed in the orthodox faith by Leander. The son thus placed himself in opposition to his father and to all the Gothic traditions, and was brought into natural alliance with the forces threatening the Gothic state, with the Byzantines in the S., the Suevi in the N., and the disaffection smouldering among Leovigild's provincial subjects. The young couple may well have appeared to the Catholics convenient instruments for dealing a deadly blow at the heretical Gothic monarchy; while in the case of the Byzantines a strictly political motive would also be present.

The peril was a grave one. Leovigild, with a combination of energy and prudence, assembled a council of Arian bishops (581, mentioned in C. Tol. iii. as occurring in the 12th year of Leovigild), which drew up a formula designed to facilitate the conversion of Catholics to Arianism. Rebaptism was no longer demanded as heretofore. Converts should give glory to the Father "per Filium in Spiritu Sancto." (The Gloria Patri plays an important part in the history of Spanish Arianism. Cf. Greg. of Tours's conversation with Leovigild's envoy, the Arian Oppila—Hist. Franc. vi. 40, and C. Tol. iii.) A libellus containing the decisions of the council was widely circulated (C. Tol. iii. 16; Tejada y Ramiro, ii.) and other temptations were offered to the Catholic bishops and clergy. Isidore and Joannes mournfully confess that many yielded. The king also began to pay scrupulous respect to Catholic feeling and belief and to Catholic saints, and to pray in Catholic churches (Greg. Tur. vi. 18). "I believe," he is reported to have said, "with firmness that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, equal to the Father, but I do not at all believe that the Holy Ghost is God, since in no book of Scripture do we read that He is God." By such means Leovigild endeavoured to secure the Catholic party within the territory outside Hermenigild's influence.

During 581 and 582 Hermenigild had assumed a more and more formidable position, but Leovigild marched S. to the siege of Seville, which lasted through 583 into 584, and after the fall of Seville up the Guadalquivir valley to Cordova. Here the rebellion collapsed. The imperial prefect was bribed to give up Hermenigild, who took refuge in a church, whence he was tempted by the promises of his father and brother. Leovigild embraced and pardoned him within the church, but as soon as he was drawn thence is reported to have ordered him to be despoiled of his royal dress and of his servants (Hist. Franc. vi. 43). He was conveyed to Toledo, and thence exiled to Valencia (a.d. 584) (Joh. Bicl. p. 383), and in 586 met his death at Tarraco at the hands of Sisebert. Upon this brilliant success followed the final incorporation of the Suevi with the Gothic state in 585.

Persecution of the Catholics .—Leovigild had crushed the Catholic and Byzantine conspiracy of which Hermenigild had been the instrument, and there followed an outbreak of that savage and fanatical temper so characteristic of the Visigothic race. The persecuting temper of the Arian kings, however, had always some political justification. The Catholic church was the natural foe of her Arian rulers, and when her attempts to shake them off failed, it was inevitable that the penalty should fall heavily on her and on her bishops. Leander of Seville was banished, Fronimius of Agde was obliged to fly into Merovingian territory (Hist. Franc. ix. 24), an Arian bishop was sent to Merida, and Masona, after ineffectual attempts by the king to win him over to Arianism, was imprisoned (Paulus Emerit. Esp. Sagr. xiii. p. 369). >From the signatures at the conversion council it is evident that in many sees, especially within the newly annexed Suevian territory, a large but indefinite number of Catholic bishops were replaced by Arians. (On the general subject of the persecution, cf. Greg. Tur. v. 39, and for various doubtful details of it, see Greg. Tur. Glor. Conf. xii.; Glor. Mart. Ixxxii.; and de Vit. et Mir. Patr. Emerit. c. xi.)

Leovigild died in Apr. or May, 586, at Toledo, according to some reports constant to the beliefs in which he had lived, according to others—less trustworthy—a repentant convert to Catholicism, mourning over the unrighteous death of his first-born son.

"Leovigild's reign," says Dahn, "represents the last attempt to maintain the Gothic state in its traditional aspects and character by the strenuous use of all possible weapons against its traditional dangers—war with Catholicism, chastisement of the nobility, reinvigoration of the monarchy, and defence of it against its hostile neighbours" (v. 150). An Arian monarchy, strong in all directions—towards its own pillars and supporters, the Gothic nobles, towards foreign outsiders, and towards its natural enemy Catholicism—this appears to have been Leovigild's ideal. To its influence may be traced most of the actions of his government, the association of his sons, his treatment of the rebellious and murderous nobles, his attitude towards the Catholic bishops, and, above all, certain alterations in the outer aspects of Gothic kingship which mark his reign and shew him prepared to accept just so much of Roman custom as would further his ends.

The conversations which Gregory of Tours reports between himself and Leovigild's Arian envoys on their way through Tours to Soissons or Paris (H. F. v. 44; vi. 40) throw much light upon the every-day social relations between Arianism and Catholicism at the time.

Sources .—Joannes Biclarensis, abbat of Biclaro and bp. of Gerona, a contemporary of Leovigild, his Chronicon, apud Florez. Esp. Sagr. vi.; Isidore of Seville, writing c. 630, Hist. Goth. ib.; Paulus Diaconus Emeritensis, fl. 650, de Vit. et Mir. Patr. Emeritensium Esp. Sagr. xiii. Dahn's Könige der Germanen remains the best account of the reign in point of insight and treatment; an exhaustive discussion of all the moot points is that by Prof. F. Görres, " Kritische Untersuchungen über den Aufstand and das Martyrium des westgothischen Königssohnes Hermenigild ," in Zeitschrift für hist. Theol. (1873).


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Leovigild, Arian King of the Visigoths'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​l/leovigild-arian-king-of-the-visigoths.html. 1911.
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