The Roman governor of North Africa, lenient to the large Christian minority under his rule throughout the Diocletianic Persecutions
, was satisfied when Christians handed over their scriptures
as a token repudiation of faith. When the persecution ended, Christians who did so were called traditores
—"those who handed (the holy things) over"—by their critics (who were mainly from the poorer classes).
Like third-century Novatianism
the Donatists were rigorists
; the church must be a church of "saints" (not "sinners"), and sacraments administered by traditores
were invalid. In 311 Caecilian
(a new bishop of Carthage
) was consecrated by Felix of Aptungi
, an alleged traditor
. His opponents consecrated Majorinus
, a short-lived rival who was succeeded by Donatus.
Two years later, a commission appointed by Pope Miltiades
condemned the Donatists. They persisted, seeing themselves as the true Church with valid sacraments. Because of their association with the Circumcellions
, the Donatists were repressed by Roman authorities. Although they had local support, their opponents were supported by Rome and by the rest of the Catholic Church. The Donatists were still a force during the lifetime of Augustine of Hippo
, and disappeared only after the seventh- and eighth-century Muslim conquest
The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual authority
of priests and bishops who were traditores
during the persecution. The traditores
had returned to positions of authority under Constantine I
; according to the Donatists, sacraments administered by the traditores
were invalid.
Whether the sacrament of Penance
could reconcile a traditor
to full communion was questioned, and the church's position was that the sacrament could. The church still imposed years- (sometimes decades-) long public penance
for serious sins. A penitent would first beg for the prayers of those entering a church from outside its doors. They would next be permitted to kneel inside the church during the Liturgy
. After being allowed to stand with the congregation, the penitent would finally be allowed to receive the Eucharist
again. According to the Donatists, serious sin would permanently disqualify a man from leadership.
The validity of sacraments administered by priests and bishops who had been traditores
was denied by the Donatists. According to Augustine, a sacrament was from God and ex opere operato
(Latin for "from the work carried out”). A priest or bishop in a state of mortal sin
could continue to administer valid sacraments.
The Donatists believed that a repentant apostate priest could no longer consecrate the Eucharist. Some towns had both Donatist and Catholic congregations.
The sect developed and grew in North Africa, with unrest and threatened riots in Carthage connected to the bishop controversy.[a]
Constantine, hoping to defuse the unrest, gave money to the non-Donatist bishop Caecilian
as payment for churches damaged or confiscated during the persecution. Nothing was given to the Donatists; Constantine was apparently not fully aware of the seriousness of the dispute, which his gift exacerbated.
The Donatists appealed to Rome for equal treatment; Constantine tasked Miltiades with resolving the issue, which led to the 313 commission. The Donatists refused to abide by the decision of the Roman council, demanding that a local council adjudicate the dispute and appealing directly to Constantine. In a surviving letter, a frustrated Constantine called for what became the first Council of Arles
in 314. The council ruled against the Donatists, who again appealed to Constantine. The emperor ordered all parties to Rome for a hearing, ruled in favor of Caecilian and warned against unrest.
A delegation from Rome traveled to Carthage in a vain attempt to seek compromise. The Donatists fomented protests and street violence,
refusing to compromise in favor of the Catholic bishop.
After the Constantinian shift
, when other Christians accepted the emperor's decision, the Donatists continued to demonize him. After several attempts at reconciliation, in 317 Constantine issued an edict threatening death
to anyone who disturbed the imperial peace; another edict followed, calling for the confiscation of all Donatist church property. Donatus refused to surrender his buildings in Carthage
, and the local Roman governor sent troops to deal with him and his followers. Although the historical record is unclear, some Donatists were apparently killed and their clergy exiled.
Outside Carthage, Donatist churches and clergy were undisturbed.
Constantine's efforts to unite the church and the Donatists failed, and by 321 he asked the bishops to show moderation and patience to the sect in an open letter.
During the brief reign of Julian
, the Donatists were revitalized and, due to imperial protection, occupied churches and carried out atrocities.
Laws against the Donatists were decreed by Valentinian I
after the defeat of the Donatist usurper Firmus
in North Africa.
Augustine of Hippo
campaigned against Donatism as bishop; through his efforts, orthodoxy gained the upper hand. According to Augustine and the church, the validity of sacraments was a property of the priesthood independent of individual character. Influenced by the Old Testament
, he believed in discipline as a means of education.
In his letter to Vincentius, Augustine used the New Testament Parable of the Great Banquet
to justify using force against the Donatists: "You are of opinion that no one should be compelled to follow righteousness; and yet you read that the householder said to his servants, 'Whomsoever ye shall find, compel them to come in.'
Marcellinus of Carthage
, Emperor Honorius
's secretary of state, condemned with decree the Donatists as heretical
and demanded that they surrender their churches in 409. This was made possible by a collatio
in which St. Augustine legally proved that Constantine had chosen the church over the Donatists as the imperial church. The Donatists were persecuted by the Roman authorities to such a degree that Augustine protested their treatment.
The Council of Trent
(1545-1563) taught that in the divine sacrifice of the Holy Mass
"is contained and immolated, in an unbloody manner, the same Christ that offered Himself in a bloody manner upon the altar
of the Cross. Hence, it is the same victim, the same sacrificing-priest who offers Himself now through the ministry of priests and who once offers Himself upon the Cross". The worth of the sacrifice does not depend by the celebrating priest (or bishop), but on the "worth of the victim and on the dignity of the chief priest
- no other than Jesus Christ Himself"
The effects of Augustine's theological success and the emperor's legal action were somewhat reversed when the Vandals
conquered North Africa. Donatism may have also gradually declined because Donatists and orthodox Catholics were equally marginalised by the Arian
but it survived the Vandal occupation and Justinian I
reconquest. Although it is unknown how long Donatism persisted, some Christian historians believe that the schism and its ensuing unrest in the Christian community facilitated the seventh-century Muslim conquest
of the region.
Related groups and individuals
Donatism is associated with a number of other groups, including:
Some non-gnostic Donatist groups
Other Donatist groups influenced from some other precedent gnostic sects
- The Circumcellions, a name based on circum cellas euntes ("going around larders") because of their practice of living among the peasants they sought to indoctrinate. They were a disparate series of extremist groups who regarded martyrdom as the supreme Christian virtue (disagreeing with the Episcopal see of Carthage on the primacy of chastity, sobriety, humility, and charity). Attracted by their extremism, some Donatists found them useful allies. It is very likely that this breakaway group's condemnation of property and slavery, and advocation of free love, canceling debt, and freeing slaves derived from Carpocrates' Doctrine of libertinage, the refusal of marriage, the abolition of social castes and the communion of goods.
- Apostolic churches, a sect emulating the Apostles about which little is known. But it is very plausible that they were influenced from precedent gnostic Apotactics.
The other Donatist groups
, the splinter groups were so numerous that the Donatists could not name them all.
The Donatists followed a succession of bishops:
, a strict sect of Islam in the same Berber region.
For several centuries during the High Middle Ages
and the Reformation
, accusations of Donatism were leveled against church-reform movements which criticized clerical immorality on theological grounds. The early reformers John Wycliffe
and Jan Hus
were accused of Donatism by their theological opponents. Wycliffe taught that the moral corruption of priests invalidated their offices and sacraments, a belief characterizing Donatism.
Hus similarly argued that a prelate's moral character determined his ecclesiastical authority, a position his contemporaries compared to Donatism and condemned as heresy
at the Council of Constance
Accusations of Donatism remain common in contemporary intra-Christian polemics. Conservative Lutherans
are sometimes called Donatists by their liberal brethren, referring to their doctrine of church fellowship
and their position that churches which deny that Jesus’ body and blood are eaten during the Eucharist
do not celebrate a valid Lord's Supper
In the Catholic Church
, the Society of Saint Pius X
has been accused of Donatist beliefs.
The remainder of this paragraph comes from Frend 1952
, who derived his chronology primarily from Optatus
' Against the Donatists
(one of the only surviving primary sources).
- ^ Cross, FL, ed. (2005), "Novatianism", The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church, New York: Oxford University Press.
- ^ a b Chapman, John. "Donatists." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 15 March 2021 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- ^ Cross, FL, ed. (2005), "Donatism", The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church, New York: Oxford University Press.
- ^ Catholic Answers
- ^ a b Frend 1952, pp. 144–45.
- ^ Brown, P. 1967. Augustine of Hippo. London: Faber & Faber.
- ^ "Augustine on how it is legitimate to 'coerce' Donatist Christians to join the Catholic Church". Archived from the original on September 25, 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
- ^ Augustine, Aurelius, "2", Letter.
- ^ Adolphe D. Tanquerey (Rev.) (1930). The Spiritual life. A treatise on spiritual and mystical theology. archive.org (2nd ed.). Tournai (BG): Society of St John the Evangelist, Desclée & Co (printers for the Holy See and the Sacred Congr. of Rites). p. 139. Archived from the original on December 16, 2018., with the imprimatur of Michael J. Curley, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore
- ^ Mitchell, Stephen (2007). A History of the Later Roman Empire. Blackwell. p. 282.
- ^ "Donatism", Concordia Cyclopedia, CMU, archived from the original on 2011-07-16.
- ^ Michael Gaddis (2005), There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 122.
- ^ Durant, Will (1972). The age of faith. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- ^ Doctrine of Carpocrates, at Italian wikipedia
- ^ "Apostolici" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 02 (11th ed.). 1911.
- ^ Elizabeth Savage (1997). A Gateway to Hell, a Gateway to Paradise. Darwin Press. p. 98. ISBN 9780878501120.
- ^ Herring, George (2006), Introduction To The History of Christianity, New York: New York University Press, p. 230.
- ^ Pelikan, Jaroslav (2003), Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, Yale University Press, p. 474.
- ^ Verduin, Leonard (March 1995). "1". The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. ISBN 0-8028-3791-3.
- ^ The doctrine of church fellowship, Reclaiming Walther.
- ^ Metzger, Paul W (1986), What Constitutes A Valid Celebration of The Lord's Supper? (PDF), WLS essays.
- ^ "A Case Study In Modern-Day Donatism". Retrieved 2016-03-28.
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Last edited on 16 March 2021, at 01:29
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