Answer to Petilian the Donatist


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Augustine issued other works which throw much light on the Donatist controversy: a On the One Baptism, written between a. Cresconius objected to his party being called Donatists: "Not Donatus, but Christ was their founder. It was not heresy but schism which separated them and the Catholic church"; and Cresconius claimed that it was not they who were in schism, but the Catholics, who thereby had lost church and baptism.

The invasion of Rome by Alaric king of the Goths took place a. The emperor Honorius rescinded his extreme decrees against heathen and schismatic; but in a deputation of 4 bishops from Carthage again brought complaints against the Donatists to him. The deputation was charged to petition for a conference of Catholics and Donatists under imperial presidency. In Oct.

He issued an edict Jan. Both parties entered eagerly into the scheme: Catholic and Donatist bishops came to Carthage in May; and, after great difficulty in bringing the Donatists to the point, the president pronounced sentence. The official Acts and the testimony of Holy Scripture were taken to have proved the unsoundness of the accusations against Caecilian, and of the view that one man, through the sinfulness of another, became therefore a partaker in that other's guilt. Every bishop of the community of Donatus must, on his return to his home, return to the one true church, or at least not impede the faithful execution of the law.

If they have Circumcellions about them, and do not restrain and repress the excesses of these men, they shall be deprived of their places in the state. The condemned Donatists among whom were the principal bishops smarting at their defeat reviled Marcellinus and appealed to the emperor. The reply came a. It bade them return to the church fined them according to their rank and station and in the event of contumacy confiscated their houses and goods. Many Donatists obeyed the edict others scorned it. Whole communities as at Cirta bishops and laymen everywhere returned to the church; some from conviction others for reasons of expediency and comfort.

The Circumcellions broke out afresh fired churches destroyed houses cast into the flames those Scriptures which had been found to tell against them and cruelly maltreated and even murdered ecclesiastics who expounded them.

The less violent proclaimed with a sneer that the church chests and imperial coffers were enriched with the gold of the Separatists and pointed to the death of Marcellinus a. Fines were doubled; confiscation and banishment stared the Separatists in the face; their testimony in courts of law was disallowed; their social condition was degraded to the lowest; that the penalties stopped short of death was owing chiefly to St. Augustine who strove successfully to prevent others from imbruing their hands with the blood of mistaken fanatics.


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The church to its credit be it recorded by kindness and gentleness made the pain of defeat less bitter to its foes while it did not neglect to avail itself of the advantages resulting from victory. As the Catholic bishops returned to their homes they spread everywhere the news of the victory and in the following Lent publicly proclaimed it in their churches.

Short summaries of the acts and judgment of the conference were circulated one being by St. Augustine himself.

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These were intended principally for Catholics; others as St. Augustine's "ad Donatistas post collectionem," were addressed to the sectarians who might be swayed by one-sided reports circulated by Donatist bishops or by their slanderous abuse of Marcellinus and the Catholics. In a council at Carthage passed resolutions regulating the proceedings when Donatist bishops clergy and congregations came back to the church.

Nothing could prove more clearly to what a large extent this had taken place. The church was no longer suppliant but triumphant; and the change is observable also in some letters and acts of St. Augustine at this period which may be said to be his last words on the great Donatist controversy. His work de Correctione Donatistarum is addressed to a soldier Bonifacius and is written in a style and language almost military in its stern enforcement of discipline.

Bonifacius had asked the difference between the Arians and Donatists.

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Augustine after answering the question went on to speak of Donatists as "rebels against the unity of the church of Christ. The Lord had commanded His disciples to compel the resisting to come to the marriage-feast and that marriage-feast was the unity of the Body of Christ. The church was that Body; so long as a man lived God in His goodness would bring him to repentance and lead him to that church which was the temple of the Holy Ghost; but outside that Body the Church the Holy Ghost gave no man life.

The same strong statement recurs in his exhortation to Emeritus the Donatist bp. The majority of Emeritus's congregation had returned to the church. Augustine pleaded with the bishop: "outside the church you may have everything except salvation. You may have offices Sacraments Liturgy Gospel belief and preaching in the name of the Trinity; but you can only find salvation in the Catholic Church. The last letters of St. Augustine were addressed to a Donatist bishop Gaudentius. Marcellinus had been succeeded by Dulcitius, who endeavoured to carry out the strong laws against the Donatists with all possible mildness, and specially interested himself in restraining the fanaticism of the Circumcellions.

Unfortunately, some words of his were taken to mean that he would punish them with death unless they returned to the church. Gaudentius and his congregation assembled in their church, determined to set fire to it and perish in the flames. Dulcitius contrived to stop this by a letter to Gaudentius, who in two letters defended his proposed action and the views of his party. Dulcitius appealed to St. Augustine, who answered Gaudentius's arguments.

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His work, contra Gaudentium, in two books, goes over the old ground, also exposing the folly and crime of suicide. Donatism had now lived its life. No new champions appeared to defend it; and once again only did the schism lift up its head. Towards the end of the 6th cent.

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The movement died out. The Donatists lingered on till the invasion of Africa by the Mahommedans swept them away or merged them into come other schismatical body. See Optatus, ed. Alba Spinaeus Par. Dupin Antw. Augustini, Opera, vol. Bohn; Niedner, Lehrbuch d. Christlichen Kirchengeschichte ; Robertson, Hist. Copyright Statement These files are public domain.

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport. Used by Permission. Bibliography Information Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Donatus And Donatism'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. Sign out. Not a member? Color Scheme. Bible Tools Search. Interlinear Search. Lexicon Search Greek Hebrew Aramaic. Writings Search.

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