The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism, Part 5 (The History of Christianity #110)


Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is 1 Peter 2:5 which reads: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Clement of Alexandria. He said: “If you enroll as one of God’s people, then heaven is your country and God your lawgiver.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 6)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Around the year 340, there appeared among the Donatists a group called the circumcellions – a name of debatable origin, which probably means that they had their headquarters in martyrs’ shrines. They were mostly Numidian and Mauritanian Donatist peasants who resorted to violence. Although sometimes they have been depicted as no more than bandits masquerading as people driven by religious motives, the truth is that they were religious to the point of fanaticism. They were convinced that there was no death more glorious than that of the martyrs, and that now that persecution in the old style had ended, those who died in battle against the perverters of the faith were also martyrs. In some cases, this quest for martyrdom rose to such a pitch that people committed mass suicide by jumping off cliffs. This may well be fanaticism; but it is not opportunistic hypocrisy.

The circumcellions became an important factor in the schism. Sometimes the Donatist leaders in the towns tried to disassociate themselves from this radical party. But at other times, when they needed activist troops, they appealed to the circumcellions. The time came when many villas and land holdings in secluded places had to be abandoned. The rich and those who represented the empire did not dare travel though the countryside without heavy escort. More than once, the circumcellions appeared at the very gates of fortified towns. Credit suffered, and trade almost came to a standstill.

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.

Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea (Part 4)

The History of Christianity #94

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Matthew 19:24 which reads: “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Bill Johnson. He said: “Much of today’s church relies more on a book the early church didn’t have, than the Spirit they did.”

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

Three examples should suffice to illustrate the manner in which theology was being accommodated to fit the new situation. First of all, it is clear that, in the New Testament as well as in the early church, it was affirmed that the gospel was first of all good news to the poor, and that the rich had particular difficulty in hearing it and receiving it. Actually, one of the theological issues that caused some concern for earlier Christians was how it was possible for a rich person to be saved. But now, beginning with Constantine, riches and pomp came to be seen as signs of divine favor. The next chapter will show that the monastic movement was in part a protest against this accommodating understanding of the Christian life. But Eusebius – and the thousands of others for whom he probably spoke – does not seem to have been aware of the radical change that was taking place as the persecuted church became the church of the powerful, nor of the dangers involved in that change.

Likewise, Eusebius described with great joy and pride the ornate churches that were being built. But the net result of those buildings, and of the liturgy that evolved to fit them, was the development of a clerical aristocracy, similar to the imperial aristocracy, and often as far from the common people as were the great officers of the empire. The church imitated the uses of the empire, not only in its liturgy, but also in its social structure.

Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea (Part 3)

The History of Christianity #93

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Daniel 2:21 which reads: “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.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Eusebius. He said: “Constantine saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing this inscription: conquer by this. At the sight, he himself was struck with amazement and his whole army also.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Official Theology: Eusebius (yoo-see-bee-uh-s) of Caesarea” (Part 3) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Eusebius had met Constantine years before, when the future emperor visited Palestine with Diocletian’s court. In Nicea, at the time of the council, Eusebius saw the emperor seeking the unity and well-being of the church. On a number of other occasions he had interviews and correspondence with the emperor. He probably came to know the ruler best when Constantine and his court went to Jerusalem for the dedication of the newly built Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The festivities on that occasion were part of the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Constantine’s reign. The Arian controversy was still boiling, and the bishops who gathered for the great dedication – first at Tyre and then at Jerusalem – were deeply interested in it, as was the emperor. Eusebius, as bishop of the principal city in the area, played an important role in the proceedings, as delivered a speech in praise of Constantine. This speech, still extant, is one of the reasons why some accuse him of sheer flattery. But, when judged in terms of what was then customary in such situation, Eusebius’ speech appears rather moderate in its praise of the emperor.

Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea, Part 2 (The History of Christianity #92)

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse 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 Eusebius. He said: “I feel inadequate to do [church history] justice as the first to venture on such an undertaking, a traveler on a lonely and untrodden path.”

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

In the midst of such evil times, Eusebius carried on with what would become his most important work, his Church History. This work, which he later revised, became of great importance to future church historians. Without it, a great deal of the story that we have been telling would have been lost. It was Eusebius who collected, organized, and published practically all that is now known about many of the people and events in the life of the early church. Without him, our knowledge of the early history of Christianity would be reduced by half.

Finally, in 311 AD, things began to change. First came an edict by Galerius that granted tolerance to Christians. Then Constantine defeated Maxentius, and Constantine and Licinius, meeting at Milan, put an end to persecution. From the point of view of Eusebius and his surviving companions, what was taking place was a direct intervention by God, something similar to the events of Exodus. From then on Eusebius – and probably a vast number of other Christians whose opinions were not set down in writing – began looking upon Constantine and Licinius as the instruments of the divine design. When hostilities finally broke out between the two emperors, Eusebius was convinced that Licinius had become insane and begun to persecute Christianity. Only Constantine, and he alone, remained as God’s chosen instrument.

Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea (Part 1)

The History of Christianity #91

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Romans 13:1 which reads: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Eusebius. He said: “Looking westward or eastward, looking over the whole earth, and even looking at heaven, always and everywhere I see blessed Constantine leading the same empire.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order”. Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea” (Part 1) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Eusebius of Caesarea was in all probability the most learned Christian of his time. He was also one of the most ardent admirers of Constantine and his work. For this reason he has sometimes been depicted as a spineless man who allowed himself to be swayed by the glitter of imperial power. But things are not so simple when one considers his entire career.

Eusebius was born around the year 260 AD, most likely in Palestine, where he spent most of his early years. He is known as Eusebius “of Caesarea” because, although it is not certain that he was born there, it was in that city that he spent most of his life and that he served as bishop. Practically nothing is known of his parents, and it is impossible to determine whether he grew up in a Christian home or was converted as a youth.

In any case, the person who left a deep impression on Eusebius was Pamphilus of Caesarea. Pamphilus was a native of Berytus — now Beirut, in Lebanon — who had studied in Alexandria under Pierius, a famous teacher who was carrying on Origen’s work in that city. After holding some important posts in Berytus, Pamphilus went to Caesarea, probably at the request of the bishop of that city. The church of Caesarea had kept Origen’s library, and Pamphilus spent long hours working with it and adding to it. In this task he was aided by several others who were moved by Pamphilus’ intellectual curiosity and profound faith. One of those captivated by the scholar from Berytus was young Eusebius, who acknowledged his debt by calling himself “Eusebius of Pamphilus.”

The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order

The History of Christianity #90

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Acts 20:28 which reads: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Nils Forsander. He said: “Church history is the record of God’s gracious, wonderful and mighty deeds, showing how by His Spirit and Word He rules His church and conquers the world.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

One of the results of the new situation was the development of what may be called an “official theology.” Overwhelmed by the favor that the emperor was pouring on them, many Christians sought to show that Constantine was chosen by God to bring the history of both church and empire to its culmination, where both were joined. Typical of this attitude was church historian Eusebius of Caesarea.

Others took the opposite tack. For them, the fact that the emperors now declared themselves Christian, and that for this reason people were flocking to the church, was not a blessing, but rather a significant loss. Some who tended to look at matters under this light, but did not wish to break communion with the rest of the church, withdrew to the desert, there to lead a life of meditation and asceticism. Since martyrdom was no longer possible, these people believed that the true athlete of Christ must continue training, if no longer for martyrdom, then for monastic life. The fourth century thus witnessed a massive exodus of the most devout Christians to the deserts of Egypt and Syria.

Others with a negative reaction to the new state of affairs felt that the best course was simply to break communion with the church at large, now become the imperial church, which was considered sinful and apostate.