Grew out of conflict of views as to discipline of lapsed, esp. traditores (who had surrendered the Scriptures to persecutors). When on the death of Mensurius,* bp. of Carthage (d. ca. 311 or 307), who had frowned on voluntary martyrdom, the moderate party hastily elected his archdeacon Caecilian(us)* bp., the rigoristic-fanatical party (led by Donatus of Casae Nigrae) excommunicated him on the plea that consecrating bp. Felix of Aptunga (Aptonga; Aptungi; Aptungis) was a traditor. They set up Majorthus, a lector, as rival bp. An ecclesiastical commission and the syn. of Arles* decided against the Donatists. Ca. 315 Majorinus died and was succeeded by Donatus the Great (of Carthage; d. ca. 355; perhaps not the same as Donatus of Casae Nigrae). In 316 Constantine* I took a stand against the Donatists and initiated persecution. But they held that to be persecuted was a mark of the ch. and under leadership of Donatus spread throughout N Afr. They also held that sacraments administered by one deserving excommunication were invalid, that the Cath. Ch., failing to excommunicate such, had ceased to be the true ch., that its Baptism was invalid, and that they themselves alone were the true ch. (see AC VIII 3 and Ap VIIVIII 49). In 321 Constantine I gave the Donatists freedom of faith and worship. But Flavius Julius Constans (ca. 323ca. 350), his successor in Afr. 337, resumed persecution. The Donatists, now allied with the Circumcellions (vagabond mendicant monks that terrorized the countryside; named after the Lat. cellas circumientes rusticorum, wandering about among peasant cottages), increased in violence. Constantius II (317361; succeeded Constans in the E 351) continued the persecution. Donatus the Great died in exile. Under Julian* the Apostate the Donatists regained freedom of religion and flourished accordingly. But later they suffered from dissension reflecting reaction against extremism and from renewed persecution. The writings of Augustine* of Hippo against the Donatists, advocating spiritual measures against them, appeared 393412. At a conference in Carthage 411 bet. 286 Cath. and 279 Donatist bps. the imperial commissioner decided against the Donatists; severe restrictions were imposed on them, including a prohibition even to assemble, under pain of death. Augustine now tried to justify the use of force for bringing heretics into the fellowship of the ch.; he appealed, wrongly, to Lk 14:23. Vandals persecuted both Caths. and Donatists ca. 429. The schism ended in the 7th c. with the destruction of the ch. in Afr. by Saracens. See also Optatus.
G. G. Willis, Saint Augustine and the Donatist Controversy (London, 1950); W. H. C. Frend, The Donatist Church: A Movement in Protest in Roman North Africa (Oxford, 1952); S. L. Greenslade, Schism in the Early Church (London, 1953).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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