Donatism (Latin: Donatismus, Greek: Δονατισμός Donatismós) was a schism in the Church of Carthage from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. Donatism had its roots in the long-established Christian community of the Roman Africa province (now Algeria and Tunisia) in the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian. Named after the Berber Christian bishop Donatus Magnus, Donatism flourished during the fourth and fifth centuries.
The Roman governor of North Africa, lenient to the large Christian minority under his rule throughout the 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 traditors—"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 traditors 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. 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 traditors during the persecution. The traditors had returned to positions of authority under Constantine I; according to the Donatists, sacraments administered by the traditors 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 traditors 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 Donatist and orthodox 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. 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, tha 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 Vandals, but it survived the Vandal occupation and Justinian I's Byzantine 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.
Donatism is associated with a number of other groups, including:
The Donatists followed a succession of bishops:
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.
During the Reformation, Catholic Counter-Reformers such as Johann Eck accused the magisterial Reformers of Donatism (although the latter had partially distanced themselves from Wycliffe's theology to avoid such a charge). Magisterial Reformers like Ulrich Zwingli labeled radical Reformers, such as the Anabaptists, as Donatists; Catholics were portrayed in Reformation rhetoric as Pelagian, another early Christian heresy. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the Bezpopovtsy (priestless) strain of Old Believers believed that because the Russian bishops acquiesced to Patriarch Nikon's reforms they (and the other patriarchs) forfeited any claim to apostolic succession.
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 Archdiocese of Carthage, also known as the Church of Carthage, was a Latin Catholic diocese established in the Carthage, Roman Empire, in the 2nd century. Agrippin was the first named bishop, around 230 A.D. The importance of the city of Carthage had previously been restored by Julius Caesar and Augustus. When Christianity became firmly established around the Roman province of Africa Proconsulare, Carthage became its natural ecclesiastical seat. Carthage subsequently exercised informal primacy as an archdiocese, even at one point to being attributed to honorary title of patriarch, being the most important center of Christianity in the whole of Roman Africa, corresponding to most of today's Mediterranean coast and inland of Northern Africa.
The Church of Carthage thus was to the Early African church what the Church of Rome was to the Catholic Church in Italy. The archdiocese used the African Rite, a variant of the Western liturgical rites in Latin language, possibly a local use of the primitive Roman Rite. Famous figures include Saint Perpetua, Saint Felicitas, and their Companions (dead c. 203), Tertullian (c. 155–240), Cyprian (c. 200–258), Caecilianus (florit 311), Saint Aurelius (dead 429), and Eugenius of Carthage (dead 505). Tertullian and Cyprian are both considered Latin Church Fathers of the Latin Church. Tertullian, a theologian of part Berber descent, was instrumental in the development of trinitarian theology, and was the first to apply Latin language extensively in his theological writings. As such, Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology." Carthage remained an important center of Christianity, hosting several councils of Carthage.
In the 6th century, turbulent controversies in teachings affected the diocese: Donatism, Arianism, Manichaeism, and Pelagianism. Some proponents established their own parallel hierarchies.
The city of Carthage fell to the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb with the Battle of Carthage (698). The episcopal see remained but Christianity declined under persecution. The last resident bishop, Cyriaque of Carthage, was documented in 1076.
In 1518, the Archdiocese of Carthage was revived as a Catholic titular see. It was briefly restored as a residential episcopal see 1884-1964, after which it was supplanted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tunis. The last titular archbishop, Agostino Casaroli, remained in office until 1979. Subsequent to this, the titular see has remained vacant.Circumcellions
The Circumcellions or Agonistici (as called by Donatists) were bands of Berber Christian extremists in North Africa in the early to mid-4th century. They were considered heretical by the Catholic Church. They were initially concerned with remedying social grievances, but they became linked with the Donatist sect. They condemned property and slavery, and advocated free love, canceling debt, and freeing slaves. Donatists prized martyrdom and had a special devotion for the martyrs, rendering honours to their graves.
The term "Circumcellions" was coined by others, based on "circum cellas euntes", they go around larders, because "they roved about among the peasants, living on those they sought to indoctrinate."Donatus Magnus
Donatus Magnus, also known as Donatus of Casae Nigrae, became leader of a schismatic Christian sect known as the Donatists in North Africa. He is believed to have died in exile around 355.First Council of Cirta
The First Council of Cirta was a synod of bishops called by Secundus of Tigisis, the Primate of Numidia in AD 303 or 305.The Council is known to history for the participation of several "traditores", bishops who had handed over scripture to the Roman authorities during the Diocletian Persecution, and the absolution that Secundus gave them.The council was also significant as Silvanus, a subdeacon, who had also been a traditor, was elected to the bishopric, amid much controversy, this act triggered the Donatist schism in Church History.Gaguari
Gaguari (Latin: Gaguaritanus) is a former diocese of North Africa and since 1933 a titular bishopric. The location of the former diocese is for the moment unknown.
Under Roman hegemony, the bishop belonged to the province of Byzacène. This province was located in North Africa. The exact location of Gaguari can not be determined for the current state of research. However, everything leads us to believe that the bishopric site localizes to the current Sahel of Tunisia.Macomades
Macomades was a Carthaginian and Roman city in North Africa. It was located near present-day Merkeb-Talha, Algeria.Majorinus
Majorinus was the leader of a schismatic Christian sect in Roman North Africa known as the Donatists.Mauretania Sitifensis
Mauretania Sitifensis was a Roman province in Africa Proconsulare. The capital was Setifis.Maximian (Bishop of Carthage)
Maximian was a 4th-century Bishop of Carthage and founder of a splinter group that left (or reformed) Donatism.Meletius of Lycopolis
Meletius (died after 325) was bishop of Lycopolis in Egypt. He is known mainly as the founder and namesake of the Meletians (c. 305), one of several schismatic sects in early church history which were concerned about the ease with which lapsed Christians reentered the Church. (See also Donatism.)
The details of his life are not clear as there are conflicting accounts of it. According to one version he was imprisoned for his Christianity during the persecution under Diocletian along with Peter of Alexandria. Another source has Peter fleeing the scene and a third one has Meletius himself avoiding prison. Apparently, as early as during the persecution itself, Meletius began to refuse to accept in communion those Christians who had renounced their faith during the persecution and later repented of that choice. Meletius' rigorous stance on this point stood in contrast to the earlier willingness of bishops to accept back into communion those who seemed to have truly repented (a pattern which was addressed during previous similar controversies, including those who had lapsed during the Decian persecution about 50 years earlier).
As Bishop of Alexandria, Peter would have been recognized as the leader of the Egyptian church and thus Meletius's superior in church hierarchy. Historian Philip Schaff tells us that prior to Peter's death in 311, he spoke out against Meletius's actions and "deposed him as a disturber of the peace of the church".The supporters that Meletius drew around him included twenty-eight other bishops, at least some of whom he personally ordained, and the objections against him included that he ordained people in regions where he lacked authority. His group went by the name Church of the Martyrs, inherently objecting to the reacceptance by other bishops of people who chose to avoid the risk of martyrdom. Meletius's influence extended even so far away as Palestine.It is believed by some that Meletius ordained Arius, known for the Arian controversy, as a priest. Scholarly opinions are divided on whether this is the case.The Council of Nicaea in 325 attempted to create peace with the Meletians. Meletius was allowed to remain bishop of Lycopolis, but was no longer to ordain bishops outside his region. The bishops he had already ordained were accepted under certain restrictions, and had to be reordained. Meletius's death followed soon after the council met, and the effort to bring unity proved unsuccessful. His followers sided with the Arians in their controversy and existed as a separate sect until the fifth century.Mutugenna
Mutugenna or Muttegena was a colonia (town) of the Roman, Berber and Vandal empires, located in the Maghreb. The city is generally identified with the ruins at Ain-Tebla in modern Algeria. Mutugenna was also the locus of a bishopric and was an important site in the development of the Donatist schism.
The Diocese of Mutugenna (Dioecesis Mutugennensis) is today a suppressed and titular see of the Roman Catholic Church in the episcopal province of Numidia.Novatianism
Novatianism was an Early Christian sect devoted to the theologian Novatian (c. 200–258) that held a strict view that refused readmission to communion of Lapsi (those baptized Christians who had denied their faith or performed the formalities of a ritual sacrifice to the pagan gods under the pressures of the persecution sanctioned by Emperor Decius in AD 250). The Church of Rome declared the Novatianists heretical following the letters of Saint Cyprian of Carthage.Optatus
Saint Optatus, sometimes anglicized as St. Optate, was Bishop of Milevis, in Numidia, in the fourth century, remembered for his writings against Donatism.Parmenian
Parmenian (Latin: Parmenianus; died ca. 392) was a North African Donatist bishop, the successor of Donatus in the Donatist bishopric of Carthage. He wrote several works defending the rigorist views of the Donatists and is recognized as "the most famous Donatist writer of his day", but none of his writings have survived.Salih ibn Tarif
Ṣāliḥ ibn Tarīf (Arabic: صالح بن طريف) was the second king of the Berghouata Berber kingdom, and proclaimed himself a prophet of a new religion. He appeared during the caliphate of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in 744 AD. His original Berber name is unknown.
According to Ibn Khaldun's sources, he claimed to have received a new revelation from God, with 80 chapters, some called after prophets, such as Adam, Noah, and others after other things, such as the Duck, the Camel, the Elephant, Harut and Marut, Iblis and "Chapter of the Wonders of the World"; they read these chapters in their prayers. He established laws for his people, and was called by them "Ṣāliḥ al-Mu'minin" (Restorer of the Believers.) This claimed revelation was written in the Berber language, and called a Qur'an.
He is also said to have claimed to be the final Mahdi, and that Isa (Jesus) would be his companion and pray behind him. He proclaimed that his name in Arabic was Ṣāliḥ, in Syriac Mālik, in "Ajami" ʻālim, in Hebrew Rūbyā, and in Berber Werba, and that after him would be no other prophet.
After reaching the age of 47 years, he headed east out of the kingdom, and promised to return in the reign of their seventh king. He told his son Ilyās to support the Umayyads of Andalus and publicly profess Islam, but to reveal his religion when he became powerful enough; the latter was done by his grandson Yūnus.
According to some sources, Ṣāliḥ ibn Tarīf regarded himself as a successor to Muhammad, had 10 Ṣahāba (disciples) and many wives, and claimed to be able to speak with the dead and heal the sick.
Other tenets that contrast with Islam include capital punishment for theft, unlimited number of wives a man allowed to have, fasting of the month of Rajab (7th month in lunar calendar) instead of Ramadan (9th month), ten obligatory daily prayers instead of five, differences in how to perform ablution, prayers, and the banning of marriage between cousins. The details of the tenets of Ṣāliḥ's religion are mentioned in many Arabic sources, such as Ibn Hazm, Ibn Khaldun and others.
In Islamic literature, his belief is considered heretical; politically, its motivation was presumably to establish their independence from the Umayyads (in a manner analogous to Kharijism, and earlier Donatism), establishing an independent ideology lending legitimacy to the state. Some modern Berber activists regard him as a hero for his resistance to Umayyad-Arab conquest and his foundation of the Berghouata state.
The religion promoted by Ṣāliḥ was destroyed in the 11th century by the Almoravids.Second Council of Cirta
The Second Council of Cirta was a conference of Bishops, held in June 412, at Cirta in Roman North Africa, and was debated between the Catholics led by Augustine and the Donatists led by Silvanus of Numidia. It is notable as the origin of the Catholic dogma that "There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church".Secundus of Tigisis
Secundus of Tigisis (fl. 310) was an early church leader and primate of Numidia. He was a leading organiser of the early Donatist movement in Carthage.Traditors
Traditor, plural: traditores (Latin), is a term meaning "the one(s) who had handed over" and defined by Merriam-Webster as "one of the Christians giving up to the officers of the law the Scriptures, the sacred vessels, or the names of their brethren during the Roman persecutions". It refers to bishops and other Christians who turned over sacred scriptures or betrayed their fellow Christians to the Roman authorities under threat of persecution. During the Diocletianic Persecution between AD 303 and 305, many church leaders had gone as far as turning in Christians to the authorities and "handed over" sacred religious texts to authorities to be burned. Philip Schaff says about them: "In this, as in former persecutions, the number of apostates who preferred the earthly life to the heavenly, was very great. To these was now added also the new class of the traditores, who delivered the holy Scriptures to the heathen authorities, to be burned".Later, some of them would be returned to positions of authority under Constantine, sparking a split with the Donatist movement.
While many church members would eventually come to forgive the traditors, the Donatists were less forgiving. They proclaimed that any sacraments celebrated by these priests and bishops were invalid.The sect had particularly developed and grown in North Africa. Emperor Constantine began to get involved in the dispute and, in 314, he called the Council of Arles, Gaul, now in France. The issue was debated, and the decision went against the Donatists.The Donatists refused to accept the decision of the council. Their "distaste for bishops who had collaborated" with Rome came out of their broader view of the empire.Held out as a counterexample to the traditors was the venerated Saint Vincent of Saragossa who preferred to suffer martyrdom rather than agree to consign Scripture to the fire. He is depicted in religious paintings holding the book whose preservation he preferred to his own life.
The word traditor comes from the Latin transditio from trans (across) + dare (to hand, to give), and it is the source of the modern words traitor and treason. The same derivation, with a different context of what is handed to whom, gives the word tradition as well.Vocius of Lyon
Vocius of Lyon was the ninth bishop of Lyon and succeeded Ptolemy probably around 300.We do not know much about his life however, in 314, he participated as bishop of Lyon in the Council of Arles, just after Constantine recognized Christianity with the Edict of Milan. This council brought together twenty bishops of Western Europe including fifteen from Gaul and declared condemnation of Donatism, already affirmed by a council in Rome in 313. He signed the Acts of the councils and the synodal letter of the Council to Pope Sylvester I to confirm the canons of the council. It is accompanied by another cleric of Lyon, Gétulin (or Petulinus), exorcist of Lyons, who also signs the acts of conciles.