Monday, October 31, 2011

The Donatism

Is a 4th,5th century Christian schismatic movement in North Africa. Theologically, Donatism claimed the validity of a sacrament depended  on the state of  grace of minister who dispensed it.
The election of Caecilian as a bishop of Carthage in 311 triggered the controversy. A rigorous  minority charged that his consecration was invalid because Felix of Aptunga, one of the consecrating bishops, was a traditor*, that is one who escaped the martyrdom during the Diocletian persecutions by handing over the sacred books of the church. No traditor in their, view, could confer valid orders. The Numidians bishops rejected Caecillian and consecrated Majorinus in 312 and then Donatus, the moving spirit of  Donatism, in 312.
Donatism raised the question of the relation of the empire to religious controversy, because the Donatist appealed 3 times the Emperor Constantine. He had 3 synods appointed(313, 314 and 316) to hear the case, and all of them found in favor of Caecilian. Rejecting these decisions, the Donatist questioned the right of the Emperor to interfere in church. Donatus appealed to the native North African population, and the controversy took on anti-roman aspects. Constantine exiled the Donatist bishops, confiscated their property, and sent them to army.
When repressive policies failed, a tolerant attitude was adopted in 321 toward the Donatist. Thereafter repression depended on the policy of the incumbent emperor and the violence of the Donatists. Terrorist bands known as Circumcillion roamed about forcing conversions to Donatism. The controversy caused Augustine to clarify the theology of church and the sacraments in order to reply to the Donatists. After fruitless conversations in Carthage to settle the dispute, the Donatists were outlawed by the empire again in 411. With the vandal invasions in the 5th century, Donatism became to decline, however, Donatism continued to exist until the Arab conquest in the 7th century.