The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism, Part 4 (The History of Christianity #109)


Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Daniel 2:20-22 which reads: “Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Cyril of Alexandria. He said: “We, who are children of earth and slaves and subject by the law of nature to him who created us, call him who is in heaven ‘Father.’ Most fittingly, he enables those who pray to understand this also. Since we call God ‘Father’ and have been counted worthy of such a distinguished honor, we must lead holy and thoroughly blameless lives. We must behave as is pleasing to our Father.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 4)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

It is a fact that the two parties, Donatists and Caecilians, soon separated along social and geographical lines. In Carthage and its immediate surroundings — Proconsular Africa — Caecilian and his followers were strong. But further west, in Numidia and Mauritania, the Donatists were very popular. Numidia and Mauritania were agricultural areas. A great deal of their produce was exported to Italy through Carthage. The net result was that as middle-men the Carthaginians, with less labor and risk, made more money from the crops than those who actually raised them. Furthermore, Numidia and Mauritania were much less Romanized than Carthage and the area around it. Many in the less Romanized areas retained their ancestral language and customs, and saw Rome and everything connected with it as a foreign and oppressive force. In Carthage, on the other hand, there was a strongly Latinized class of landowners, merchants, and military officers, and it was this class that reaped most of the benefits of trade and other contacts with Italy. For these people, good relations with Rome as well as with the rest of the empire were of paramount importance. But in Carthage itself, as well as in its outlying districts, there were numerous people among the lower classes whose feelings were similar to those of the Numidians and Mauritanians.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism.

The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism, Part 3 (The History of Christianity #108)

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Romans 15:4 which reads: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Justin Martyr. He said: “And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 3)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The Dentists on their part, insisted that Caecilian, whose consecration had been flawed by the participation of a traitor, was not really a bishop, and that for that reasons all those whom he had ordained were false ministers, whose sacraments had no validity. Furthermore, the other bishops whose consecration was not in no doubt had sinned by joining in communion with people such as Caecilian and his party. In consequence, their sacraments and ordinations were no longer valid.

Given the two positions, if a member of Caecilian’s party decided to join the Dentists, a new baptism was required, for the Dentists claimed that a baptism administered by their opponents was not valid. But, on the other hand, those who left the Donatist party were not rebaptized by Caecilian and his followers, who held that baptism was valid regardless of the worth of the person administering it.

Besides the matter of the validity of sacraments administered by an unworthy person, the debate had to do with two very different conceptions of the church. The Donatists held that the church, being the bride of Christ, had to be pure and holy, while their opponents pointed to the parable of the wheat and the tares, which suggests that it is best for the disciples not to try to adjudge who is worthy and who is not, but rather leave that judgment to the Lord. For one party, the holiness of the church consisted of the holiness of its members; for the other, it was grounded in the holiness of its Lord. For the Donatists, what gave authority to a priest or bishop was his personal holiness; for their opponents, such authority was derived from the office – which was a common principle of Roman law.

These were the main theological issues involved in the debate. But when one reads between the lines of the documents of the time, one becomes aware that there were other causes of conflict often obscured by the theological debates. Thus, it appears that among the Donatists there were some who had delivered the scriptures to the authorities, and even some who had made an entire inventory of all the objects that the church used to worship, in order to give that inventory to the authorities. Yet, these people were accepted among the Donatists. Furthermore, one of the first leaders of Donates was a certain Purpurius, who had murdered two nephews. Thus, it is difficult to believe that the real source of enmity of the Donatists toward the rest of the church was their concern for purity.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism.

The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 2)

The History of Christianity #107

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Ephesians 4:4 which reads: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Cyprian of Carthage. He said: “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 1)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 2)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

On the other hand, there were many Christians who remained firm in their faith, and as a result suffered imprisonment, torture, and even death. As earlier, those who survived imprisonment and torture were called “confessors,” and were particularly respected for the firmness of their faith. In Cyprian’s time, some of the confessors had been too ready to readmit the lapsed, without any consultation with the authorities of the church. Now, after Constantine’s conversion, a significant number of confessors took the opposite tack, insisting on greater rigor than the church was applying. These more demanding confessors claimed that the lapsed were not only those who had actually worshiped the gods, but also those who had handed the scriptures to the authorities. If changing a tittle or a jot in scriptures was such a great sin, argued the confessors, is it not an even greater sin to turn the sacred text over to be destroyed. Thus, some bishops and other leaders were given the offensive title of traditores – that is, those who had handed over or betrayed, a title often applied to Judas.

The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 1)

The History of Christianity #106

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is 1 Corinthians 12:27 which reads: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Augustine of Hippo. He said: “What is debated between the Donatists and us is, where is to be found this body of Christ which is the church. Are we to seek the answer in our own words, or in those of the Head of the body, our Lord Jesus Christ?”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 1)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

While those who followed the monastic way of life expressed their dissatisfaction with the new order by withdrawing to the desert, others simply declared that the church at large had been corrupted, and that they were the true church. Of several splinter groups with similar views, the most numerous were the Donatists.

The Donatist controversy was one more instance in which the church was divided over the question of the lapsed and how they ought to be restored. After each period of violent persecution, the church had to face the issue of what to do with those who had yielded their faith, but who now sought to be restored to the communion of Christians. Although there were similar issues and schisms in the East, it was mostly in the Latin-speaking West, with its emphasis on law and order, that such schisms were most common and lasting. In the third century, this had resulted in the schism of Novatian in Rome; and in North Africa, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, had to defend his episcopal authority against those who held that the confessors were the ones who should determine how the lapsed were to be restored. Now, in the fourth century, the debate over the restoration of the lapsed became particularly virulent in North Africa.

The persecution had been very violent in that region, and the number of those who had yielded was great. As in other cases, those who had yielded had not done so to the same degree. Some bishops avoided further persecution by handing over to the authorities heretical books, and leading them to believe that these were Christian scriptures. Others turned in the genuine scriptures, claiming that in so doing they were avoiding bloodshed, and that this was their responsibility as pastors. Many, both clergy and lay, succumbed to imperial pressure and worshiped the pagan dogs – indeed, the number of the latter was such that some chroniclers state that there were days when the pagan temples were full to overflowing.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism.

The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 3)

The History of Christianity #105

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is 2 Peter 3:9 which reads: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Symeon the New Theologian. He said: “Provided they live a worthy life, both those who choose to dwell in the midst of noise and hubbub and those who dwell in monasteries, mountains and caves can achieve salvation. Solely because of their faith in Him God bestows great blessings on them. Hence those who because of their laziness have failed to attain salvation will have no excuse to offer on the day of judgment. For He who promised to grant us salvation simply on account of our faith in Him is not a liar.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 3)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

When the bishopric of Tours became vacant, the populace wanted to elect Martin to that position. The story goes that some of the bishops present at the election opposed such an idea, arguing that Martin was usually dirty, dressed in rags, and disheveled, and that his election would damage the prestige of the office of bishop. No agreement had been reached when it was time to read the Bible, and the person assigned for that task was nowhere to be found. Then one of those present took the book and began reading where it fell open: “By the mouth of babes and infants, thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes, to still the enemy and the avenger”. The crowd took this to be a direct message from heaven. Martin, the filthy and unseemly man whom the bishops scorned, had been chosen by God to silence the bishops. Without further ado, Martin was elected bishop of Tours.

But the new bishop was not ready to abandon his monastic ways. Next to the cathedral, he built a small cell where he devoted all his free time to the monastic life. When his fame was such that he could find no peace in that cell, he moved back to the outskirts of the city, and from there he would carry on his pastoral tasks.

The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 2)

The History of Christianity #104

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Romans 15:4 which reads: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Seraphim of Sarov. He said: “That I am a monk and you are a layman is of no importance … rather that we are both in the light of the Holy Spirit … Acquire peace, and thousands around you will be saved.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 2)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

But the most remarkable example of the manner in which a saintly and monastic bishop contributed to the popularity of the monastic ideal was Martin of Tours. The Life of Saint Martin, written by Sulpicius Severus, was one of the most popular books in Western Europe for centuries and was one of the most influential elements in the shaping of Western monasticism.

Martin was born around the year 335 A. D. in Pannonia, in what is now Hungary. His father was a pagan soldier, and during his early years Martin lived in various parts of the empire — although the city of Pavia, in northern Italy, seems to have been his most frequent place of residence. He was very young when he decided to become a Christian, against his parents’ will, and had his name included in the list of catechumens. His father, in order to force him away from his Christian contacts, had him enrolled in the army. It was the time when Emperor Julian – later known as the Apostate – led his first military campaigns. Martin served under him for several years. During this period, an episode took place that ever since has been associated with the name of Martin.

The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)

The History of Christianity #103

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Psalm 119:18 which reads: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from the Second Vatican Council, Decree on Religious Life. It reads: “The main task of monks is to render to the Divine Majesty a service at once simple and noble, within the monastic confines. Let monasteries be renewed in their ancient and beneficial traditions, and so adapt them to the modern needs of souls that monasteries will be the seedbeds of growth for the Christian people.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius and Communal Monasticism (Part 3)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)”

Although the roots of monasticism are not to be found exclusively in Egypt, that was where the movement gained most momentum in the fourth century. Devout people from different regions went to Egypt, some to remain there and others to return to their countries with the ideals and practices they had learned in the desert. From Syria, Asia Minor, Italy, and even Mesopotamia, pilgrims went to the land of the Nile and on their return spread the story and the legends of Paul, Anthony, Pachomius, and countless others. Throughout the Eastern portion of the empire, wherever there was a suitable place, a monk fixed his abode. Some exaggerated the ascetic life by ostentatious acts, such as spending their lives atop a column of a ruined temple. But others brought to the church a sense of discipline and absolute dedication that was very necessary in what seemed the easy times after Constantine.

However, those who most contributed to the spread of the monastic ideal were not the anchorites who copied the ways of the Egyptian desert and sought secluded places where they could devote themselves to prayer and meditation, but rather a number of bishops and scholars who saw the value of the monastic witness for the daily life of the church. Thus, although in its earliest times Egyptian monasticism had existed apart and even in opposition to the hierarchy, eventually its greatest impact was made through some of the members of that hierarchy.