Infomotions, Inc.St. Augustine and African church divisions / by W.J. Sparow Simpson. / Sparrow-Simpson, W. J. (William John), 1859-1952

Author: Sparrow-Simpson, W. J. (William John), 1859-1952
Title: St. Augustine and African church divisions / by W.J. Sparow Simpson.
Publisher: London ; New York : Longmans, Green, 1910.
Tag(s): africa, north church history; donatists; augustine, saint, bishop of hippo; donatist; augustine; caecilian; schism; carthage; catholic; bishop; church; bishops; african; council; conference; african church; numidian bishops; emperor constantine
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Identifier: staugustineafric00sparrich
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African Church Divisions 










I. The Beginnings of Donatism 

II. The Donatists and the Emperor Constantine 

III. The Donatists under Constantine's Successors 

IV. St. Optatus' Reply to the Donatists . 
V. Internal Troubles of the Donatists 

VI. St. Augustine and the Donatists . 
VII. St. Augustine's Teaching on the Church 
VIII. The Councils and the Donatists 
IX. In St. Augustine's Diocese 
X. The Great Conference 
XI. After the Conference 
XII. St. Augustine and Emeritus . 

XIII. St. Augustine and Gaudentius 

XIV. St. Augustine on Toleration . 
















The Donatist Communion was a most serious division in the 
North African Church. The actual separation occurred in 
Constantine's reign ; but the circumstances causing it arose 
earlier out of Diocletian's persecution. 

The first eighteen years of Diocletian's lengthy reign formed 
for the Church at large a period of comparative peace. Perse- 
cutions, indeed, occurred in the dominions of one or other of 
the four rulers under whose administration the Empire was 
divided. But these attacks were only local and intermittent. 
Whatever the predilections of the subordinate Caesars, the old 
Emperor himself was, for political reasons, of a tolerant 
disposition. Christianity was believed in his palace and even 
in his family. Prisca, his wife, Valeria, his daughter, were, 
more or less distinctly, of the Christian faith. Christian 
convictions also prevailed among his most trusted servants. 
And the religion, thus existing in close proximity to the imperial 
presence, developed also in wider circles among the leading 
officials of the Empire at large. All this could scarcely be 
unknown, and it was tolerated for eighteen years. Then came 
a sudden change. 

What it was that suddenly filled the old and hitherto 
tolerant Emperor with unwonted persecuting zeal has never 
been quite satisfactorily explained. The version given by 
Lactantius is evidently not unbiased. Lactantius, court 
official in the Palace of Nicomedia, contemporary with the 
events described, had certainly unusual opportunities for ascer- 


taining the truth. 1 But Lactantius writes in the style of the 
impassioned apologist, able to see no good in the opposing side. 
According to Lactantius, the old, enfeebled Diocletian was 
terrorized by his own superstitions, and by the domineering 
insolence of his fierce and brutal son-in-law, the Caesar Galerius. 
Galerius played upon Diocletian's fears, filled him with suspi- 
cions of plots against his life, had the palace secretly set onv 
fire, ascribed the act to the Christians, and then abruptly left r 
Nicomedia protesting that he departed to escape being burnt 
alive. 2 Whether this version is accurate or complete may well 
be open to question. What is certain is, that after tolerating 
Christianity for eighteen years, Diocletian now launched out 
into the horrors of persecution. He compelled his wife 
and daughter to offer sacrifice to the pagan divinities, he 
inflicted horrible tortures upon his confidential officials, and 
determined to expel Christianity from his household and from 
his palace. The spirit of persecution once roused passed out 
to wider circles and Diocletian attempted to suppress the faith 
in the whole Empire itself. 

It was the month of March in the year 303. The com- 
memoration of the Passion was near, when Diocletian launched 
his first and famous edict against the faith. 3 

He ordered : — 

1. The demolition of churches. 

2. The destruction of the Scriptures. 

3. The degradation of Christian officials. 

4. The servitude of ordinary believers. 

This document was followed in rapid succession by three 
more : one enjoining torture as a method of coercion, and the 
last inflicting the penalty of death. 

Diocletian's edict embraced the whole extent of the Empire. 
Its peculiar feature was the order for the destruction of the 
Sacred Books. It affected the whole course of North African 
Christianity. The Government search for the Scriptures was 

1 " De Morte Persec." 2 Ch. xiv. 3 Eusebius, VIII, 11. 


vigorously conducted. The official report of procedure in Cirta 
(afterwards called Constantine), the ancient capital of Numidia, 
still survives. It is an extremely graphic narrative, presenting 
a singularly clear picture of the state of the Church. 

The recorder describes that the investigation began in Cirta 
on 19 May (303) under Munatius Felix, Curator of Cirta. The 
municipal officials came to a house where Christians were 
assembled. Felix said to the Bishop : " Bring out the copies of 
the Scripture and whatever else you have here, as the edict 
commands". Bishop Paul replied: "The Readers have the 
copies, but what we have here we will surrender ". They 
produced two golden chalices, six of silver, six silver vessels, etc. 
The officials then went to the library. It was empty. Only 
one large copy of Scripture was discovered. The Curator 
asked: "Why have you produced no more than one?" "We 
have no more," was the answer, " we are only subdeacons ; the 
Readers have the copies." "Point out to us the Readers," 
said the Curator. " We do not know where they are," was the 
evasive answer. "Then tell us their names." The subdeacons 
refused. "We are not betrayers. Here we are, you can have 
us killed." The Curator ordered them to be arrested. 

The officials went on to another house. " Bring out what 
copies of the Scripture you have," said the Curator. Four 
copies were produced. At another house they secured five 
more, at another eight. 

They passed on to the house of Victor the teacher. They 
demanded as before, " Bring out the Scriptures ". Victor 
produced two codices. " You have more than these," said the 
Curator. " If I had more I should have brought them," was 
the reply. They passed on to another house. The owner was 
out. His wife brought out six codices. . " See whether you 
have not more," said the Curator. The woman protested that 
these were all. The Curator turned to an attendant, " Go in 
and ascertain whether this is really all ". 1 The attendant 

1 St. Augustine, ix, 1107. 


searched the house and returned to say that he could find no 
more. Felix the Curator contented himself with a general 
threat that if any persons had failed to do their duty in the 
matter they would be held responsible. And so the inquiry 
ended. In this way nearly forty copies of the Sacred Writings 
were confiscated. 

This matter of fact official document enables us to realize 
with ease the temper and motives of all the parties concerned. 
The magistrate has evidently no personal interest or animosity 
against the Church. He observes the law to the letter, and 
takes precautions to guard himself against any possible sus- 
picions of carelessness or indifference. But the representatives 
of the Church are all deplorably weak. No courage, no zeal 
is anywhere displayed. A very human self-interest, an extra- 
ordinary readiness to yield the Church's sacred vessels and 
Scriptures, is the prevailing temper in the clergy of Cirta. 
Personal security is obviously the main idea. No one, from the 
bishop downwards, has the least conception of any other duty. 
There is, however, one important exception. The Churchmen 
of Cirta made no scruples in yielding the Scriptures to the 
flames ; but they absolutely declined to betray their brethren. 

In other places the demand for the Scriptures was met with 
heroic determination to endure the utmost rather than to 
yield. 1 Felix, Bishop of Thibaris in the African Proconsulate, 
was summoned before Magnilian, the Curator of the City, and 
ordered to surrender any copies of the Sacred Writings in his 
possession. Felix refused, and was accordingly imprisoned. 
After an interval of three days he was again brought before 
Magnilian, and on his second refusal sent for trial before 
Anulinus the Proconsul. After sixteen days in prison he 
was interrogated by the Proconsul, and, persisting steadily in 
his refusal, was remanded to the higher authorities in Italy. 
The heroic Bishop was thrust down into the hold of a ship, 
among the cattle, where he remained in the discomfort and 

1 Baronius, a.d. 302, § 119 ff. 


heat, without food, during four days while they sailed along the 
edge of Sicily. In Italy he was placed upon his trial for the 
last time, and met the sentence of execution by the sword 
with words of thanksgiving. 

The pressure of Government inquiry created for African 
Churchmen practical problems demanding immediate solution. 
Could a Christian conscientiously yield the Scriptures at 
Diocletian's order ? Was surrender of Sacred Writings con- 
sistent with fidelity to Christ ? or was such conduct equivalent 
to apostasy ? Should the Christian adopt the line of discretion 
and reserve, or that of uncompromising publicity ? Should he 
wait until challenged, with the possibility that he might be 
overlooked ; or should he make escape impossible, advance 
unbidden, and boldly proclaim refusal at the heathen magistrate 

Such questions might meet with more than one reply. 
African religious thought was divided. There was a school of 
discretion and also a party of fanaticism. Some rushed im- 
pulsively to the courts, unsummoned, declared themselves 
possessors of Sacred Scriptures, and registered a defiant de- 
termination to retain these treasures, regardless of imperial 
commands. 1 Thus they forced the magistrates to arrest and 
imprison them, and to proceed against them in accordance 
with the statutes. This anxiety to secure the honours of 
martyrdom, regardless of the dangers which such conduct 
entailed upon the Church at large, was, to the moderate and 
better balanced mind, exceedingly distressing and ill-advised. 2 
To none was it more distressing than to Mensurius, Bishop of 
Carthage. Mensurius was a serious, sober-minded man, dis- 
ciplined by the responsibilities of office. He was more likely 
to err on the side of caution than on that of rashness. Like 
his great predecessor Cyprian, who expressly forbade all un- 
provoked defiance of the secular power, he refused to honour 
men who rashly went uncalled, and courted risks and sufferings 

1 Noris, iv. 19. 2 Hefele. 


which they might not be able to endure. He would not 
acknowledge as true martyrs men who brought death upon 
themselves. He prohibited the faithful from crowding round 
the prison doors, and from provoking further efforts against 
the Church by their well-meant but imprudent demonstrations. 
In short, he required of his flock the exercise of forbearance 
and self-repression. 1 These labours to control the indiscreet 
were productive of great unpopularity and were easily afterwards 
misrepresented. Mensurius was pictured to the next generation 
as having thrown to the dogs the food brought to believers 
languishing in prison ; as withholding weeping parents from 
their dying children's last embrace ; and as driving away with 
scourges those who lingered near the prison doors. 2 It is not 
difficult to see how fanaticism and dislike put these constructions 
on firm and possibly sometimes harsh endeavours to protect the 
Church from perilous sensationalism and from a zeal not ac- 
cording to knowledge. But Mensurius was not content with 
repressing fanaticism. He had no hesitation in going further 
still. Before the Government officials searched the Cartha- 
ginian churches he took the precaution of substituting heretical 
writings for the Sacred Books. 3 Accordingly the searchers con- 
fiscated and destroyed the productions of heretics while the 
codices of the New Testament were saved. 

It is hardly possible that such a ruse should succeed without 
official connivence. And we are told that when it was after- 
wards hinted to the secular authorities, by some energetic 
opponent of the Church, that the officials had been deceived, 
the Proconsul Anulinus refused to permit any further investi- 
gations. The magistrate's personal convictions may often in 
this period have favoured the religion which his official orders 
directed him to suppress. 

But it was quite natural that the conduct of Bishop Men- 
surius should not pass unchallenged. The austerer party in 
the Church were grievously offended. They were evidently 

1 Noris, iv. 19. 2 " Martyrdom of Dativus." 

3 Migne, " P. L.," xi, 773-4. 


powerful in Carthage itself; and their versions of his proceed- 
ings were carried beyond the limits of his diocese. The 
Metropolitan thought it prudent to explain his conduct in a 
letter to Bishop Secundus, the Primate of Numidia. He 
admits that he had substituted heretical documents for the 
Sacred Scriptures, and that the Proconsul, on being informed, 
refused to reopen the inquiry. He acknowledges that he had 
repressed the fanatical who courted persecution, and forbade 
the faithful to give them honour. 1 But he insists that these 
fanatics included a number of shady and questionable people ; 
criminals and debtors, and other undesirable individuals ; who 
posed as confessors : partly perhaps as atonement for unworthy 
life, but often, Mensurius believed, rather for the support and 
esteem thereby acquired from an indiscriminating piety. 

That the Metropolitan should have thought it necessary to 
write this self-defence to the Numidian Primate shows, at any 
rate, the powerful influence of the opposition in Carthage. The 
charge against his own fidelity was one which he did not think 
it wise, nor perhaps even safe, to ignore. 

To this apology the Numidian Primate returned a lofty but 
evasive reply. He expatiated on the fidelity of the Numidian 
confessors, their courageous behaviour under persecution. 
Then, with a light and rapid touch, he mentioned that his own 
reply to the magistrates was : M I am a Christian and a Bishop, 
and not a Betrayer " ; leaving the conclusion implied, but not 
asserted, that with this response the inquirers were somehow 

There were, however, critics among the Numidian bishops 
who considered their Primate's account an evasion rather than 
an answer ; and were ready to challenge him to a fuller 
explanation if the need arose. 

Here for the moment, however, the matter dropped. 

But in the year 305 the twelve Numidian bishops met at 
Cirta, 2 for the purpose of electing and consecrating a successor 

1 St. Aug. (Gaume), ix. 864 ; " Brevic. Coll.," in. 25. 

2 St. Aug., " C. Crescon.," in. 30 ; Gaume, ix. 696 ; Optatus, I, xiv. 


to Bishop Paulus, who behaved so poorly in the persecution, 
and had since apparently died. 1 Secundus, the Primate, 
presided. He began by proposing to make the usual official 
inquiry into their own qualifications to act as consecrators ; in 
order to secure the consecration against subsequent disputes. 
Addressing one of the bishops, the Primate said : " It is re- 
ported that you were a traditor ". The Bishop replied : " You 
know how severely Florus incited me to offer incense ; and 
God did not betray me into his hand, my brother. Since 
God has spared me, do you also leave me to God." The 
answer was a virtual admission of failure. " What then," 
said the Primate, " are we to do for martyrs ? They are 
esteemed because they did not betray." The Bishop could 
only answer : " Leave me to give account to God " — the 
usual formula for declining to make a judicial investigation. 
The Primate did not venture to pursue the inquiry further. 
He accepted this lame account as a satisfactory explanation. 
So he passed to another. " It is reported," said the Primate, 
f that you also betrayed the Scriptures." " They were medical 
treatises," was the answer. The Primate accepted it. He turned 
to a third bishop : " It is said that you surrendered four Gospels ". 
The Bishop replied : " Valentinus the Curator forced me to 
throw them into the flames. But I knew that they were worn- 
out copies. Forgive me this offence, and may God also for- 
give me." The Primate accepted this also. Every bishop 
hitherto had answered submissively. But when Purpurius, 
Bishop of Lima, was examined, he answered in a very different 
tone. " Do you think to terrify me," exclaimed Purpurius, " as 
you have terrified others ? What did you do yourself when 
the Magistrate questioned you, and ordered you to surrender 
the Scriptures ? How did you escape without yielding to their 
demands ? Assuredly, they never released you without sub- 
mission ! As for me," continued Purpurius furiously, " I will 
kill anyone who opposes me. Do not provoke me to say 

1 Morcelli, "Africa Christiana," n. 195. 


more." The Primate was overawed. Another bishop inter- 
posed in the embarrassing silence, and addressing the Primate, 
pleaded : " You hear what he says against you. He is ready 
to make a schism. And not only he ; all the others are ready 
to go with him. They will give sentence against you, and you 
will remain the only heretic." 

The Primate quailed. He offered no reply, but consulted 
with other bishops, who strongly advised that the whole matter 
of past unfaithfulness should be left to the judgment of God. 
Accordingly he terminated the inquiry at once ; leaving the 
integrity of the other bishops undetermined. All he observed 
was : '* You know, and God knows ; be seated ". With expres- 
sions of relief the bishops resumed their places, and proceeded 
to elect a new bishop for the city. The selection was apparently 
in the hands of the bishops. They selected Silvanus, sub- 
deacon of the former Bishop Paulus, and implicated, like his 
bishop, in yielding the Scriptures to the flames. It is said 
that remonstrances were made by leading Churchmen of Cirta. 
He is a traditor, they complained ; let another be chosen. We 
desire a man of integrity. But their objections were over- 
ruled. A group of bishops with such antecedents would have 
no scruple in selecting a person like themselves. Silvanus 
was accordingly consecrated Bishop of the Numidian capital. 

This was in 305. Very little is known of the course of 
events for the next six years. It seems clear, however, that in 
this period the condition of the Church of Carthage was one 
of strong party spirit. Opposition to the Metropolitan found 
sympathizers in the Numidian Primate, and his suffragans, partly 
through official jealousy. And if no serious conflict arose while 
Mensurius lived, this was greatly due to his strength and 
caution. Probably the Numidian bishops dared not venture 
upon any public attack on one who knew too much about 
their own antecedents. But the troubles which he successfully 
averted from the Church of his day developed instantly at the 
time of his decease. 1 

1 Morcelii, 11. 199. 


Mensurius the cautious was destined to suffer through other 
men's imprudence. Felix, his deacon, wrote a letter, 1 in an 
hour of zealous indiscretion, against no less a personage than 
the Consul Maxentius, who thereupon summoned him to give 
an account of himself at Rome. Mensurius, however, protected 
his deacon. But the protection involved the bishop in making the 
journey to Rome himself. If he surrendered documents, he pro- 
tected men. Before leaving Carthage he entrusted, for greater 
security, the golden vessels of the sanctuary to the keeping of 
certain laymen. And, for further precaution, gave privately an 
inventory of the church's treasures to an aged woman, with 
injunction to deliver it to his successor, in case he did not 
return. Mensurius made his peace with the Consul, but died 
on the journey home. 2 

The death of Mensurius brought on a crisis in the African 

Contemporary African Churchmen appear quite unconscious 
of the critical nature of the election now to be made. Numerous 
conflicting interests are seen at work. Party spirit ran ex- 
tremely high. But no one appears to understand that the 
whole course of African Church life would be permanently 
affected by their conduct at this hour. Nor, on the face of it, 
does it seem that there were grounds for the gravest anxieties. 
The circumstances did not present so menacing an aspect as 
many another episcopal election. The incident was no more 
than an election to the chief bishopric in Africa. Yet the 
result was a division of the whole African Church for more 
than a hundred years. The explanation seems inadequate. 
What was it that gave this disputed election a consequence 
immeasurably more disastrous than many another ? 

i. In the first place there were certain leading Carthaginian 
clergy, the two priests, Botrus and Celestius, who, not without 
some reasonable prospect of success, aspired to the vacant See. 
Prompted by self-interest, they managed to secure that a synod 

1 Optatus, I, xvm. 2 a.d. 311, Hefele, 1. 173. 


of neighbouring bishops should be immediately assembled, and 
the election proceeded with at once, in the absence of the 
bishops of the province of Numidia. However, the expectations 
of the ambitious were incorrect. They had miscalculated their 
own popularity. The laity of Carthage overlooked both Botrus 
and Celestius, and elected Caecilian the Archdeacon. Accord- 
ingly Caecilian was consecrated, by Felix, Bishop of Aptunga, 
as Bishop of Carthage, Primate and Metropolitan. But their 
disappointment converted these two influential clerics into re- 
solute opponents of the new bishop. 

2. A second discordant element was shortly created. 1 The 
woman whom Mensurius entrusted with the inventory of Church 
treasures faithfully discharged her duty by putting Caecilian in 
possession of the facts. The new bishop thereupon requested 
the various elders to deliver up the golden vessels into his 
keeping. This they did, it is said reluctantly, having intended 
to appropriate them to their own uses. At any rate they forth- 
with abandoned the communion of Caecilian and ranked them- 
selves among the opposition. 

3. A third element of division was created by a wealthy and 
influential Spanish lady, then residing in Carthage, named 
Lucilla, whom Caecilian, when Archdeacon, had the misfortune 
to offend. Lucilla brought with her to church the relics, real or 
imaginary, 2 of some martyr, upon which she lavished much 
veneration before receiving the Holy Eucharist. Caecilian, in 
his capacity as Archdeacon, had rebuked this practice, as 
resting on no authority. The probability is, not that Caecilian 
felt any repugnance to the veneration of relics, but that Lucilla 
was bestowing this public veneration upon one whom the 
Church had not recognized in the roll of martyrs. 3 The Church 
had refused to acknowledge as martyrs those whose imprudence 
or fanaticism brought persecution upon themselves. And it is 
quite probable that Lucilla was here attempting to canonize 
one whose claim to the honour of martyrdom the less fanatical 

1 Migne, "Optatus," p. 919. 2 Optatus, 1. 16. 

3 " Nonditm Vindicati," Optatus. 


were not prepared to admit. At any rate Lucilla withdrew 
from his communion, and took her place among the dis- 

These three discordant elements, clerical, lay, feminine, dis- 
appointed ambition, frustrated covetousness, and spiteful feelings, 
coalesced in an unholy alliance, for the purpose of retaliation 
upon the new Bishop of Carthage. 1 And these three, from the 
time of the historian Optatus, have been commonly adduced 
as chief causes of the trouble which ensued. 

4. These adverse elements, however, could scarcely by them- 
selves affect the African Church at large, had not other and 
more extensive motives prevailed. There can be little doubt 
that the election of Caecilian appeared a party question. For 
Cascilian had been completely identified with his predecessor's 
policy. As Archdeacon, he had been Mensurius's right-hand. 
The repression of fanaticism during the persecution had been 
carried out through his instrumentality. His election, therefore, 
meant the continuance of lenient views, the rejection of austerer 
ideals. Chilian's election showed, indeed, that the majority of 
the Carthaginian Church shared his opinions, and approved his 
behaviour ; but the discontented, if in the minority, were not 
on this account less active, nor perhaps less formidable. What 
Caecilian termed prudence they considered laxity ; what they 
called firmness he would call fanaticism. Thus the choice of 
Csecilian was a burning question of party strife. And the 
locally discontented knew well that if the School of Severity 
was in the minority within the Carthaginian Church, it possessed 
vast masses of adherents beyond the limits of the great city. 
The Numidian bishops enjoyed a reputation for austerity. At 
the time of the election they were, it is true, left out ; but they 
could be now, at any rate, invited to pass adverse judgment on 
Csecilian's consecration. Accordingly an appeal was made to 
their impartiality. It is difficult not to see the activities of 
Botrus and Celestius in this — the malice of disappointed ambi- 

1 Optatus. 


tion. The Numidian bishops accepted the appeal with alacrity. 
No less than seventy of their number assembled in Carthage. 
They acted the part of vigorous advocates of an austere ideal. 
They recoiled with abhorrence from lax and easygoing ways. 
Nevertheless, their reputation for austerity was wholly unde- 
served. The severer school at Carthage were apparently de- 
ceived by Numidian professions, with which Numidian practice 
did not correspond. It has been already seen, on the authority 
of official reports, that these same Numidians had themselves, 
during the persecution, surrendered the Scriptures to the im- 
perial decree, or escaped by evasive methods which would 
not bear more rigorous scrutiny than the conduct of the other 
school. Here was Secundus of Tigisis, now Primate of 
Numidia, whose reforming zeal at the Synod of Cirta collapsed 
altogether before the menaces of undeniable traditors, and 
whose own integrity was more than open to suspicion. With 
him was Silvanus, now Bishop of Cirta, the same who as 
subdeacon had yielded the chalices to the pagan authorities in 
the Diocletian trial. Here was Purpurius, the wild, ferocious, 
and defiant, whose record was among the worst in that cruel 
time. It was certainly, to say the least, incongruous that these 
ill-assorted elements, none of whom was really fit to be a 
bishop, should appear as champions of an austerer view. 
But it was not incongruous that they should be welcomed by 
the disappointed, and supported by the wealth of the vindictive 
Lucilla. Her house became the central office for schismatic 
agencies, and apparently the place where the Numidian 
Synod met. 

5. A question of ecclesiastical jurisdiction now arose, which has 
never been quite clearly solved to the present day. The 
Numidian bishops professed themselves indignant that the 
consecration to the See of Carthage had taken place before 
they came. They regarded Caecilian as a mere intruder, 
and the See as vacant still. 1 But it is difficult to define pre- 

1 Hefele. 


cisely upon what ground they based a claim to share in an 
election at Carthage. 1 If they had no right, why were they 
indignant ? If they had a right, upon what ground did it rest ? 
The Bishops of Numidia had a primate of their own. What 
right could they have in electing a primate for another (the 
proconsular) province ? It has been suggested that, since the 
Numidian bishops were subject to the Bishop of Carthage as 
Metropolitan, their assent was necessary to his selection. 2 In 
this case, Caecilian's consecration, in the absence of their ap- 
proval, would be irregular. 3 But of this asserted necessity for 
the consent of the Numidian Episcopate there is no docu- 
mentary evidence. The Mauritanian bishops made no such 
claim. Nor does it seem that the Numidians could have had 
any more right to share in electing the Metropolitan of Carthage 
than was possessed by the Bishops of Mauritania. The objec- 
tion to Caecilian's consecration, as formulated by the Donatists 
a hundred years later at the Carthaginian Conference, was that 
a primate should be consecrated by a primate 4 {princeps a 
principe ordmaretur) and not by inferior bishops. The Catholic 
answer to this was that it was not the custom of the Catholic 
Church. The Bishop of Carthage was traditionally consecrated, 
not by the Numidians, but by the bishops of the churches round 
Carthage ; just as the Bishop of the Roman Church is not 
consecrated by some metropolitan, but by the neighbouring 
Bishop of Ostia. What authority the Donatists had for their 
asserted custom, Augustine says he did not know, nor when it 
was supposed to have originated. Had the custom been 
ancient their ancestors would have urged it against Caecilian 
when they rejected him in his absence. 

Probably the dispute was complicated by differences between 
the secular and religious divisions of North Africa. The chief 
secular divisions were three : the Proconsular, the Numidian, 
the Mauritanian. The Proconsular was Africa proper, with 

1 Noris. 2 Volter. 

8 Reuter, " Aug. Studien," 234-6. 
4 " Brevic. Coll.," 868, § 29. " 


Carthage as the capital ; the Mauritanian extended to the West 
towards Spain ; while between them lay Numidia, with its 
capital, Cirta. 

But the frontiers between the Proconsular and the Numidian 
provinces underwent alterations from time to time. Now it 
seems that the ecclesiastical divisions followed the secular, but 
failed to keep pace with the alterations. A district might 
belong secularly to one province, ecclesiastically to another. 
Even in St. Augustine's time his bishopric was secularly in the 
Proconsulate, but ecclesiastically in the Province of Numidia. 
Such Numidian bishops as were in the secular Proconsulate 
might not unnaturally consider themselves privileged to vote 
in its ecclesiastical concerns. 

It is also clear that the ecclesiastical organization of the 
African Church was at the time of the Diocletian persecution 
incomplete. When Numidia became an ecclesiastical province 
is not exactly known. Probably not much before 300. The 
Numidian Primacy was thus a youthful institution. It could 
not be compared for influence with the Primacy of the Pro- 
consulate, which already possessed a long and eventful history. 
The Proconsular Primacy at Carthage, by its immemorial 
association with one city, and that city the African capital, 
had gradually grown to great but undefined authority over the 
entire African Church. The Bishop of Carthage was in 
reality a Metropolitan. But this increasing power was evi- 
dently viewed with jealousy in the Numidian division. The 
bishops of that province were not reluctant to seize an 
occasion for restricting the power of the Carthaginian See. 
This motive, in all probability, contributes to explain the 
alacrity with which they gathered and intervened. 1 

6. There was yet another element which tended to lift this 
local disputed succession into a universal conflict for the entire 
North African Church. It gathered up into itself the rivalries 

1 Cf. Theodor Mommsen, " Provinces of the Roman Empire," n. 303-45. 
Rauscher, " Augustinus," 521. Monceaux, "Hist. Lit. de l'Afrique 
Chretienne," 111. 85. 


of race. North Africa of the period was a region of many 
nationalities and tongues. To name no more, there were the 
Latin and the Phoenician, and underlying these, the Berber or 
native, destined to survive them both. The Phoenician had 
conquered the African, and the Roman the Phoenician. B^t 
the Roman antipathy to the Phoenician had never been c«r- 
come. The conqueror stood aloof from the conqueredf and 
never intermixed. Whatever the proportions between the two 
it is certain that the Phoenician language pervaded the whole 
Province of Numidia. Phoenician towns had become Italian 
colonies, and the official language of North Africa was that of 
Rome. But yet in the social life, more especially of course in 
places which stood aloof from intercourse, 1 or away from Roman 
centres, the Phoenician language was habitually spoken. These 
racial and linguistic difficulties necessarily affected the course 
of the life of the Church. The cultured Latin churches of the 
Roman population were intruded upon, or out of touch with, 
or alien to, a stock of a different kind. The student will 
remember numerous instances. Valerius, Augustine's prede- 
cessor in the See of Hippo, ordains Augustine precisely to 
remedy his own inability to make himself intelligible to the 
surrounding population. The city of Fussala, forty miles from 
Hippo, still needs a bishop in Augustine's day who can speak 
the Punic language. Punic words occur in the sermons of 
Augustine. The strongest opponents of the Metropolitan in 
the old Numidian capital of Cirta are of Moorish origin. 2 
The gangs of wild defenders of the schism are evidently of 
Punic race. They cannot understand their bishop's sermons 
without an interpreter. The dearth of African clergy is partly 
due to the difficulty of finding men qualified to teach in the 
Punic language. The materials were consequently ready for 
a serious severance between churches of the national types. 
We are tempted to ask whether the obvious Numidian and 
Carthaginian jealousy was partly due to diversity of race. It is 

1 Theodor Mommsen, " Provinces of the Roman Empire," n. 328. 

2 " Gesta apud Zenophilum." 


probable that the North African Church was really being 
confronted with the problem of a racial as contrasted with a 
territorial episcopate. It may be that the subsequent separa- 
tion would never have taken place on so vast a scale if the 
Punic Christians had been guided by bishops of their own 

7. But whatever weight was possessed by these separate 
elements, undoubtedly the ultimate cause of the division con- 
sisted in dogmatic difference. The Numidian bishops had 
theological tendencies of their own which must issue in a 
separate Christian type. The accusation which they framed 
against Caecilian was that his consecrator, Felix, Bishop of 
Aptunga, was a traditor, or betrayer of Sacred Writings in the 
recent persecution. This indirect attack, at first sight so 
irrelevant, was quite sufficient for their purpose, assuming the* 
dogmatic theories with which they connected it. For the 
Numidian theory was that no traditor could administer a valid 
sacrament. Consequently no consecration performed by Felix 
could constitute its recipient a bishop : the inference being 
that Caecilian had never been truly consecrated. Here we find 
the first introduction into the controversy of the uncatholic 
theory, fruitful in bitter discords, that the value of a sacrament 
depends on the personal worth of the minister. Caecilian, who 
refused to appear, replied that, even if his consecration were 
invalid, his election was certain, and that all the Council had 
to do was to consecrate him themselves. This challenge, to 
dispute his election if they could, was not accepted by the 
Synod. And yet, in all justice, it ought to have been. It 
carried the war direct into the Numidian camp. It virtually 
required the Numidian bishops to show by what right they 
intervened in a Carthaginian episcopal election. It challenged 
them to establish the validity of their own proceedings. If 
we may judge from the only answer given, the force of the 
challenge was felt and disconcerted them. Purpurius, Bishop 
of Lima, the same who made himself conspicuous in the Council 
of Cirta, broke out into the furious reply : "Let him come for 



the laying on of hands, and we will break his head for him by 
way of penance ". After this, further conference was impossible. 
Caecilian's adherents dissuaded him from risking himself in such 
an assembly. And for his own part, as Metropolitan, he firmly 
declined to recognize their right of intervention. 

The Numidians now simply followed their own devices. 
How they reconciled their proceedings with ecclesiastical 
principles does not appear ; but, acting not only on the 
assumption that Caecilian's election, as well as his consecration, 
was worthless, but also, and here is the astounding feature, 
that they, the Numidian bishops by themselves, apart from the 
other bishops of the Proconsulate, apart also from the people, 
were the qualified electors to the See, they appointed and 
consecrated, on their own authority, as Bishop of Carthage, one 
Majorinus, formerly a reader under Caecilian, a servant in the 
household of Lucilla. 

Majorinus was a quite obscure and uninfluential person, 
little more than a figure-head. He takes but little part in the 
subsequent proceedings ; nor did he succeed in permanently 
impressing his name upon the schism. Lucilla's influence was 
strong over the Numidian decision. The Council completed 
their work by sending a circular to the African bishops de- 
nouncing Caecilian as an intruder, and his consecrator, Felix, 
as a traditor, or betrayer of the Sacred Scriptures ; and declar- 
ing that Majorinus was established as the lawful Bishop of 
Carthage. Meanwhile, of course, Caecilian held his own. 
His consecration was not affected by Numidian criticism, and 
he could not regard their sentence as invalidating the previous 
choice of clergy and people. Thus Carthage had now two 
bishops, and two churches, for the city was divided. 

There was the party of Caecilian and the party of Majorinus. 
And it is, of course, understood that these two parties repre- 
sented the two antagonistic tendencies of African believers. 
Caecilian represented the repression of fanaticism, the moderate 
view, the discouragement of superstitious practices and extreme 
opinions. Majorinus, on the contrary, supported by Lucilla, 


represented the most extreme individualism, with austere 
ideals as to the toleration of evil in the Church. 

The consecration of Majorinus was a tremendous and 
irrevocable step. It converted opposition into division. Up 
to that moment, the entire problem consisted in disputes, 
jealousies, and general discontent within the limits of one 
undivided communion. Henceforward the whole character of 
the question was changed. The division had begun. 

And the great importance of the city and the See of Carthage 
involved all Africa in the dispute. The state of affairs was 
similar to the divisions which followed the creation of a rival 
Pope. Every local African Church of necessity took sides. 
Adherents of C?ecilian and of Majorinus respectively were to be 
found in almost every town and village of North Africa. The 
two churches in Carthage were reproduced and multiplied 
far and wide over the entire population. The miserable little 
local disputes, the coalition of discontent with other unamiable 
qualities, had succeeded in a way unintended and unforeseen. 
The coalition had not only retaliated upon Caecilian, but had 
inflicted on Africa a terrible division, which rent the Church in 
fragments, and lasted on, with painful and disastrous effects to 
African Christianity, over more than a hundred years. 

Thus the party of individualism and the party of collectiv- 
ism ; those who laid peculiar stress on the worth of the isolated 
believer, and those whose interests were peculiarly in the com- 
munity at large ; those who saw principally the subjective side 
of truth, and those who saw principally its objective side, were 
entirely severed into two antagonistic Churches, to the very 
serious injury of both. The tendencies of each badly needed 
the corrective influence of the other. If they had centred in 
one body, they would have modified each other's development. 
Separated from the balancing power of antithetical truths, each 
was liable to run still further into extremes. This is one of 
the calamities of isolation. 

2 * 



The year after the formation of the party of Majorinus was 
the year of Constantine's famous victory at the Milvian Bridge. 
His rival Maxentius, the same who summoned Bishop Men- 
surius to appear before him, was drowned in the Tiber, and 
Constantine's sole dominion was assured. This was in the 
autumn of 312. Before the year was out Constantine made it 
memorable again by publishing his Edict of Toleration. All 
the legal enactments against Christianity were thereby re- 
moved ; and the Church was granted full freedom of worship, 
together with the restoration of buildings and possessions con- 
fiscated during the previous reign. Purchasers and present 
holders of Church property were to be compensated out of the 
public revenue ; so that all vested interests would be respected, 
and the restitution create no jealousies and disturb no rights. 1 
Constantine's main desire was the consolidation and unity of 
his Empire. The one thing he deprecated was division. Yet 
it is clear that his action increased what he deprecated. For 
he restricted these ecclesiastical privileges to the communion 
of Csecilian. In adopting this line, the Emperor had not 
trusted to his own discernment ; he was acting under the 
advice of the famous Bishop Hosius, one of the most influential 
clergy of the time, afterwards president of the Council of 
Nicaea. But Constantine's determination to place all Church 
property in Africa at the disposal of Chilian's Communion 
naturally forced the party of Majorinus to appeal to him. 

1 Eusebius, " H. E.," x. 5. 


Their appeal did not originate in a desire to introduce secular 
influence into ecclesiastical disputes. Their primary object 
was simply to secure the property to which they conceived 
themselves entitled. 1 The party of Majorinus lodged their 
complaint against the Bishop of Carthage early in the year 
313. They presented to the African Proconsul Anulinus a 
sealed packet, wrapped in leather, and labelled, "a document 
of the Catholic Church containing charges against Caecilian, 
and furnished by the party of Majorinus ". 2 This they re- 
quested the Proconsul to forward to the Emperor, which he 
lost no time in doing. In this appeal the applicants requested 
that Constantine would appoint a Commission of Gallican 
Bishops to investigate the case of Caecilian. Their preference 
for Gallican intervention was due to the fact that Gaul had 
been exempt from the recent persecution. Bishops of that 
country would therefore approach the subject unaffected by 
the bias of party spirit. It should be particularly noticed here 
that the Separatists did not ask Constantine to determine the 
matter in the secular courts, or to investigate in person. All 
they ask is that he would give them ecclesiastical judges from 
a special province. The appeal of the party of Majorinus to 
Constantine resulted in three decisions upon the question. 

1. The first decision was given at the Synod of the Lateran 
in 313. Constantine was greatly concerned with the failure 
of his scheme in Africa. He wrote a letter 3 to Miltiades, 
Bishop of Rome, informing him that Caecilian of Carthage 
was accused by his African colleagues of ecclesiastical offences. 
Such disputes and divisions were exceedingly injurious to the 
province divinely entrusted to imperial control. He has there- 
fore determined to send Caecilian to Rome with ten accusers 
and ten defenders, requiring Miltiades, together with certain 
other bishops whom he nominates (Maternus of Cologne, 

iC£St.Aug.,"Ep.,"43. §§18,19. 

2 See St. Aug., " Ep.," 88, where the Proconsul's letter is preserved. 
Hefele, 1. 178. 

3 Eusebius, v. 5. 


Reticius of Autun, and Marinus of Aries), to hear the case and 
decide it in accordance with Christian principles. 1 The Em- 
peror concluded with an earnest desire that the Synod would 
leave no opportunity for schism. 

In accordance with these directions, a Synod was held in 
Rome, in the palace of the Lateran, the residence of the 
Empress Fausta. Three Gallican bishops came, and fifteen 
Italian bishops were added, presumably by Miltiades, the 
Roman bishop, who presided. Caecilian and his supporters 
appeared, the main opponent being Donatus, Bishop of Black 
Huts in Numidia. Majorinus, the rival Bishop of Carthage, 
was apparently not there. He simply disappears from history. 
It is difficult to suppose that if he were living he could have 
been exempted from attendance. 2 Yet the Separatists are 
called " the party of Majorinus ". 

The Lateran Synod met three several days. 

The case for the prosecution completely failed. Donatus 
conveyed his witnesses from Africa to Rome, but in the 
Council Chamber they were able to sustain no valid charge 
against Caecilian. 3 On the contrary, the tables were unex- 
pectedly turned. It was proved that the accuser Donatus had 
become schismatical during the episcopate of Caecilian's prede- 
cessor Mensurius. He had taken Christians and rebaptized 
them. The acts of the Numidian Council at which Caecilian 
had been condemned were then considered. This condemna- 
tion of Caecilian, although the act of some seventy bishops, did 
not greatly weigh with the nineteen bishops in Rome. It was 
not a question merely of numbers but of weight. The Lateran 
bishops declared Caecilian innocent. The only person whom 
they condemned was Donatus ; and that on his own admissions. 
Towards all other members of the schism their decree was 
most lenient. Every Separatist bishop willing to return to 
unity was to continue his episcopal functions ; wherever the 

1 Cf. Bright, "Age of the Fathers," i. 20. 2 Noris, iv. 116. 

3 Noris, iv. 105 ; Hefele, 1. 179 ; St. Aug., " Ep.," 43 ; Optatus (Migne), 
p. 930. 


party of Caecilian and that of Majorinus both possessed a 
bishop, the senior should retain the See, the junior be transferred 
to another diocese. 

Such was the Lateran determination pronounced by Milti- 
ades, and communicated to the Emperor Constantine. The 
Roman bishop did not long survive the conclusion of the 

Both the contending parties, the acquitted as well as the 
condemned, 1 were detained for a while in Italy in the interests 
of peace. After a time Donatus obtained leave to return to 
Africa on the understanding that he would not re-enter the 
city of Carthage. Csecilian remained at Brescia. Meanwhile 
two bishops were sent from Rome to announce in Africa 
Csecilian's acquittal. 2 

They entered Carthage in Lent, proclaimed that the party of 
Caecilian was the true representative of the Catholic Church, 
declared emphatically that the decision of the nineteen bishops 
in the Lateran Synod could not be changed, communicated 
with Csecilian's clergy and returned. Soon afterwards Donatus 
released himself from his promise and reappeared in Carthage. 
Whereupon Caecilian also returned. And the conflicting 
parties confronted each other again. 

The Separatists had desired to be tried by Gallican bishops. 
Their desire had been granted. But they refused to acquiesce 
in the decision. They made unfavourable comparisons between 
the Synod which acquitted Caecilian, and that which condemned 
him. If he was acquitted by nineteen bishops at Rome, he 
had been condemned by seventy at Carthage. It is significant 
that they take no account whatever of the fact that the Roman 
bishop was one of those nineteen. It is manifest that they 
saw no necessary finality in his decision. 

The Separatists sharply criticized the Council of the Lateran. 
They loudly complained that no attempt had been made by 
the assembly at Rome to investigate the character of Csecilian's 

1 Optatus, Hefele, Noris. 
3 See Valesius, Tillemont. 


consecrator, Felix of Aptunga. 1 This was certainly true. And 
the omission was serious. For if Felix was a betrayer of the 
Scriptures, as they asserted him to be, then, on Separatist 
principles, he had no power to confer sacraments ; and conse- 
quently Caecilian had never been really consecrated at all. 
This was the Donatist view. It was therefore a grave mistake 
to omit the investigation. 

Constantine, in his anxiety for peace, recognized the justice 
of their complaint, and ordered his Proconsul ^Elian to hold a 
special commission of inquiry in Africa, and to report to him 
on the conduct of Bishop Felix during the persecution. 2 
Lilian held a severe and searching inquiry, in which it was 
demonstrated from the public records and from the evidence 
of living witnesses that Felix had not apostatized during the 
persecution. It was proved that the charge against him was 
founded on forged letters, the spiteful work of a subordinate 
State official, who, being interrogated, confessed his crime before 
the court, and whom nothing but his official position saved 
from being put to the torture during the Proconsul's investigation. 
^Elian made his report to Constantine, who promptly ordered 
that the forger should be sent to him in Italy. It was noted 
that Constantine immediately cancelled the exemption of in- 
ferior officials from torture. Whether this particular criminal 
was the first to suffer from the liability to which he had reduced 
his class remains unknown. But Constantine's efforts to re- 
move all causes of complaint did not bring the separated party 
nearer unity. 

2. Frustrated in his first attempt to secure a settlement of 
this Church trouble by means of the Council of the Lateran, 
Constantine resolved to bring the matter before a larger and 
more influential assembly. 

Hence the Council of Aries, a.d. 314. 

Modern historians are much exercised to know in what light 
Churchmen in the age of Constantine viewed the relation 

1 Eusebius, x. 2 a.d. 314, Tillemont, p. 44. 


between the Council at Rome and the Council at Aries. Did 
the party of Majorinus appeal from the one to the other ? 
Was the Council at Aries a request of the Separatists, or a 
device of Constantine ? The answer to these questions is 
sometimes complicated by the presupposition that the religious 
mind of the fourth century must have regarded the decision 
of a Synod where the Pope presided as possessing finality. 
Surely, it is suggested, the Separatists did not imagine that 
they could appeal from the Pope's decision. But this pre- 
supposition is a pure anachronism. It is true that the records 
of the period contain no precise appeal to a new Council in 
so many words. It may also be correct that the schismatics 
never definitely formulated any appeal. But what is certain is 
that they did appeal to Constantine from the Council of Aries. 
And surely that act involved an appeal from its antecedent, the 
Council of the Lateran. And those who appealed from a 
Council to an Emperor would probably not hesitate to appeal 
from a Pope to a Council. At any rate, after being judged by 
a Council where the Pope presided, they did ultimately appeal 
to the secular power. Technically it may be correct that they 
formulated no appeal from the decision at Rome. But if to 
complain against a decision, to refuse obedience, is practically 
to appeal against it, then the party of Majorinus did un- 
doubtedly appeal from Rome to another decision. At the same 
time it must be noticed that the Synod of Aries included ap- 
parently among its members several of the same bishops who 
sat as judges at Rome. Unless these names were added after 
the special inquiry was concluded, their presence would seem 
to militate against the first principles of an appeal. Obviously 
the judges in a Court of Appeal cannot be the same who have 
already determined the case in a lower court. Still, whatever 
the solution of these difficulties may be, it is certain that the 
case of Caecilian, 1 although already examined and judged by 
the Synod when the Pope presided, was re-examined and 

»St Aug., "Ep.,"43. 


judged over again by the larger Council at Aries. Constantine 
was bent on making the new Synod as widely representative 
as possible. 1 He ordered JE\\a.n, his Vicar in Africa, to 
facilitate the journey of episcopal representatives of either side, 
to furnish them with carriages at the public expense, and to 
convey them as far as possible by land through Mauritania and 
so to Spain. He also sent a circular letter to individual bishops 
requesting them to attend. 

Yet, after all, the numerical strength of the Council appears 
to have been comparatively insignificant. Mediaeval accounts 
estimated it at 600, later historians reduced it to 200, the 
modern estimate is 33. 2 This, at any rate, is the number of 
signatures in the Council's letter to Pope Silvester. But the 
records of the Council have not survived, and the fragmentary 
remains leave much to be desired. Yet if the Council of 
Aries was numerically small, it was geographically representa- 
tive of Constantine's extensive dominions and of the various 
provinces of the Western Church. Africa and Gaul and 
Britain and Spain and Italy all contributed their share in its 
deliberations. The Bishop of Carthage, of Coin, of Milan, and 
of London 3 met each other there ; and it may truly be said 
that both for its subject-matter and for the representative 
character of its members, the Council of Aries was the most 
important assembly hitherto held in Christendom. 4 

The president of this Council was Marinus, Bishop of Aries. 
His name stands first in the synodal letter. 

The African disputes were carefully investigated a second 
time. The details are not known. It is probable, although 
not certain, that the Proconsul ^Elian's report, clearing the 
character of Bishop Felix from the charge of betraying the 
Scriptures, was produced in the Council of Aries. 5 The miser- 

1 Eusebius ; Noris, iv. 156. See Ittigius, p. 269, and Bright, "Age 
of the Fathers," 1. 25. 

2 Ceillier, Baronius, Hefele, I. 181. 

8 Restitutus. See Bright, " Age of the Fathers," 1. 28. 

4 Tillemont, Fleury, Baronius, Hefele. r> Baronius. 


able forger of the letter which caused Felix to be falsely 
accused had been sent a prisoner from Africa by command of 
the Emperor. And it is probable that he also was produced 
at the Council, and made to confess his spiteful misdeeds. 
This was clearly Constantine's intention. Caecilian's accusers 
were confronted with him at Aries and entirely failed to make 
good their case. And by their condemnation Caecilian was 
acquitted the second time. 

The Council enacted among canons affecting the African 
Church in particular, that no person duly baptized by a heretic 
should, on entering the Catholic Communion, be rebaptized ; l 
thus implying the great principle that the validity of the Sacra- 
ment does not depend on the worthiness of the minister. 

Since the time of St. Cyprian's predecessor, Bishop Agrip- 
pinus of Carthage, over a period, that is, of about a hundred 
years, the custom of rebaptizing all persons baptized outside 
the Catholic body had prevailed extensively, owing largely to 
St. Cyprian's powerful influence. 2 The African bishops present 
at Aries appear to have yielded to the authority and reasons 
of the majority. From that time rebaptism ceased to be a 
practice of the African Church, while it continued to be main- 
tained by the Donatists. 

Two other regulations affecting the African question were 
passed by the Council. 3 It was resolved that bishops who 
could be proved from the public records to have surrendered 
the Holy Scriptures during the persecution should be deposed 
from their office ; but at the same time it was also asserted 
that ordination conferred by them was valid. Felix's accusers 
were to be excommunicated to the day of their death. 4 

These regulations should have commended themselves to 
both parties. For, on the one hand, they fully concurred with 
the Separatist opinion that the betrayal of the Scriptures was 
sin ; on the other hand, they emphasized the Catholic principle 
that ordination was not affected by the character of the 

1 Canon 8. 2 Ceillier, 11. 631. 3 Canon 13. i Ibid. 14. 


ordainer. And further they required that accusations should 
be definitely proved from public documents, not vaguely and 
wildly asserted. They also placed a wise restraint on malicious 
accusers by imposing upon them the severe but righteous 
penalty of exclusion. 

The Council communicated their decision to the Roman 
Bishop Silvester, and doubtless also to Constantine. The 
defeated party now beset the Emperor with entreaties that he 
would take the case into his own hands and hear it in person. 
This proposal of the Separatists involved an entirely new 
departure. It introduced an alien principle. Hitherto their 
appeal to Constantine had been merely to grant them new 
ecclesiastical judges. They had asked for bishops to hear 
their case. This was not inconsistent with the Church's Con- 
stitution. But they now asked for something quite new and 
foreign to that Constitution. They desired an Emperor as the 
final judge in an ecclesiastical dispute. They appealed from 
an Ecclesiastical Council to a Secular Court, from the legitimate 
authority in spiritual affairs to an authority of a purely temporal 
kind. Constantine's religious convictions, as an unbaptized 
layman, only recently drawn to the fringes of the faith, may 
have been elementary and inadequate ; but he had imbibed 
sufficient instruction to know that transference of the case 
from a spiritual court to himself in person was irreconcilable 
with fundamental Christian principles. In a letter to the 
Fathers at Aries 1 he thanked the bishops for their just and 
dispassionate decision ; complained bitterly of the deeply 
ingrained stubbornness, the pride of the Separatists ; and 
expressed himself scandalized by the conduct of clergy in 
appealing from a council to himself. " They seek out my 
judgment," he exclaimed, "who myself await the judgment of 
Christ. The decisions of the bishops ought to be regarded as 
decisions of the Lord Himself. To appeal from a Council to 
the Emperor is to turn from the heavenly to the earthly. What 

1 Noris, iv. 194 ; Hefele, i. 197 ; Neander. 


audacity, what madness it is. They have appealed from it like 
heathen. Even the practice of the world is to appeal from a 
lower judgment to a higher, which is what these men reverse." 
After these remarkable expressions of his very definite sense 
of the different functions of spiritual and secular power, Con- 
stantine concludes by requesting the bishops to remain a little 
longer at Aries in the hope of promoting reunion. If that 
hope should fail they are to return to their dioceses. Mean- 
while he had given orders to his State officials to send to the 
Imperial Court, where they would be severely dealt with, such 
obstinate offenders as rebelled against the sentence of Aries. 

The decision at Aries and Constantine's threats induced a 
certain portion of the party of Majorinus to return to Caecilian's 
Communion. But the great body of the Donatists remained un- 
reconciled. The Council was by this time dissolved. But the 
Separatists persisted in urging Constantine to hear the case ; 
and, in spite of his clear recognition that such a course was 
beyond his province, their assiduity wearied him at last into a 
reluctant concession. He resolved to go to Africa and deter- 
mine the trouble where it originated. 1 But this intention was 
speedily abandoned. He then summoned Caecilian and his 
opponents to appear before him in Rome. For some unknown 
reason Caecilian failed to appear, and the Separatists did their 
utmost to induce the Emperor to determine the case in his 
absence. 2 Constantine refused, and transferred the case to 
Milan. Ultimately, after various delays, the case was tried, 
before Constantine in person, at Milan in November, 316 ; and 
Caecilian was for the third time pronounced innocent of the 
charges laid against him. 

Certainly the Separatist appeal had been fairly heard and 
answered. The three acquittals of Caecilian appeared con- 
clusive. One after another the decision of the Lateran, the 
decision of Aries, the decision of Constantine, had shown 
complete concurrence. But no investigation of evidence, 

1 Noris, iv. 200 ; Duchesne, p. 35. 
* St. Aug., «Ep.," 43. 


however impartial, and no decision, however authoritative, 
could prevail. The accusations against Caecilian had been 
demonstrated to be baseless : yet they were obstinately believed, 
and pertinaciously propagated. Constantine showed his dis- 
appointment and displeasure by edicts of great severity. He 
ordered that their churches should be taken away from the 
defeated party. 1 But these attempts at suppression gave the 
Separatists the dignity which comes of suffering for conviction. 
Their numbers and strength increased. 

About this time 2 appears, as head of the separated com- 
munity, a conspicuous and influential personage, Donatus, com- 
monly called the Great. Henceforth the party of Majorinus 
became known as the Donatists. All other leaders were per- 
manently eclipsed by the new Separatist President at Carthage. 
Donatus was a masterful personality, able, eloquent, learned, of 
unlimited self-assertion, aggressive, controversial, domineering, 
exactly the man to succeed as head of a schism. He demanded 
and obtained an ascendancy over his own communion far beyond 
that exercised by the bishops in the Catholic Church. If, as 
some think, the substitution of Majorinus for Caecilian was 
prompted partly by a desire to limit episcopal authority, it 
was an irony and a Nemesis which inflicted Donatus the Great 
upon a body of independents. A masterful personality in a 
newly formed communion has often acquired unique suprem- 
acy over his co-religionists from the very fact that his author- 
ity is personal rather than official ; due to his individual 
qualities rather than to assigned position ; being neither 
balanced nor controlled, as Catholic authority is apt to be, by 
traditional ideals and accepted limitations. Certainly Donatus 
invigorated the schism. He imparted to it what was bad for 
its spirituality, yet essential to its continuance : much of his 
own stubborn and arrogant disposition. He enabled it to 
resist imperial condemnation with unprecedented boldness. 
The advent of Donatus heralded a new era to the defeated 
community. He imparted to them not only his name but 

1 Migne, T. L., xi, 794. a a.d. 314. 


much of his nature also. They learned from Donatus to 
adopt a tone of defiance towards the imperial authority 
hitherto unheard. They wrote to Constantine informing him 
that nothing should induce them to communicate with his 
rascally bishop, meaning Caecilian. 

It has been usual among historians to distinguish Donatus, 
Bishop of Black Huts, from Donatus, otherwise called the 
Great. But whether this distinction is accurate has of late 
been called in question. 1 Certainly it is not without its 
difficulties. It has been recently pointed out that the former 
personage is a highly problematical figure. He appears at the 
Lateran Synod, where the evidence showed that he had been 
the head of the opposition against Mensurius at Carthage, and 
had gathered round himself and rebaptized the discontented. 
While he is called Bishop of Black Huts in Numidia, he is 
never heard of as residing in his own diocese but at Carthage. 
After the Lateran Synod he disappears, and is replaced by a 
Donatus who holds precisely the same leading position over 
the party. It is also certain that the historian Optatus identi- 
fies the two, and that Augustine in his earlier treatises did 
the same. We do not know that they were regarded as 
distinct individuals until a hundred years had passed, when, 
for some unknown reason^ the Donatists held this view at the 
great conference in 411. 

Donatus proved his power as an energetic organizer of the 
sect. In 318 he thought it advisable to extend his communion 
beyond the limits of Africa. He succeeded in placing a 
Donatist bishop in Rome. Bishop Victor, who had been one 
of the consecrators at Cirta, was charged with this office. The 
Donatist congregation in Rome consisted apparently of African 
residents. It was a miserable and precarious work. But it 
created a Donatist succession ; whose names are still recorded, 
down to the Donatist representative from Rome who appeared 
at the conference in Carthage in 411. 

Donatus appears to have also possessed considerable literary 
abilities. He composed many works in behalf of his cause, 
1 Cf. Monceaux, " Revue de l'Histoire de Religion," igog. 


but no portion of his writings survives. 1 Meanwhile his in- 
fluence grew very extensive. Men swore by his grey hairs, 
and he seems to have ruled as almost absolute dictator over 
a period of some forty years. 

Constantine made still further efforts to secure reunion for 
the Church in Africa. The decisions of Lateran and Aries 
and that before the Emperor himself were chiefly defensive ; 
an investigation of charges made against Csecilian and resulting 
in his acquittal. But in 320 a more aggressive policy was in- 
stituted. Constantine ordered official investigation to be made 
into the conduct of the Donatist leaders during the Diocletian 
persecution. The official report of this inquiry is still preserved, 
although incomplete. The evidence presents a curious picture 
of fourth century African Church life. Zenophilus,* 2 a man of 
consular rank, presided. In the course of this inquiry it was 
shown, from the official acts of the Diocletian persecution, that 
Secundus, then a subdeacon of the Church at Cirta, had 
secured his own safety by surrendering the Scriptures. 

A very damaging correspondence was also produced between 
various bishops of the Donatist Communion and the same 
Secundus, after his consecration, strongly advising him to be 
reconciled with a certain deacon Nundinarius who knew too much 
about the past, and who might ruin everything if, in a revengeful 
moment, he gave the real facts publicity. Nov/ this is exactly 
what Nundinarius did. He produced the correspondence in 
court before Zenophilus. That Secundus was himself a 
traditor was confirmed by witnesses, who also declared that 
the chief episcopal opponents of Csecilian, namely Secundus 
and Purpurius, were supported by Lucilla's money. Now the 
point of the story is that Secundus was the consecrator of 
Caecilian's rival, Majorinus, first Bishop of the Schism. 

The documents of this inquiry do not completely cohere. 
They have probably suffered some dislocation in transmission 
through the copyist's hands. But the general result is obvious. 
Accordingly, on Donatist principles, the consecration of Majori- 

1 Jerome, " Catal. Script. Eccles.," 93. 

a " Gesta apud Zenophil.," S. Aug., T. ix., Appendix, 1104 ff. 


nus had no more value than that of Caecilian. See then the 
destructive argument carried into the enemy's camp. The very 
basis of the Donatist position, that which alone could constitute 
a valid sacrament, namely the personal integrity of the conse- 
crator, was historically proved to be wanting in the first stage 
of the Donatist succession. Thus official investigation proved 
two things : not only were Csecilian and his consecrators 
innocent of any irregularity which could render his consecra- 
tion on Donatist principles invalid, but also the very defects 
falsely charged against him were proved to exist in the persons 
of his accusers. If the mere refutation of unjust charges, or 
the mere removal of misconceptions, could produce reunion, 
then the Donatist separation ought not to have continued 
another hour. 

Adverse decisions and government inquiries appeared to 
produce no effect whatever in the direction of unity. They 
increased the sectarian exasperation and audacity. 

In the city of Cirta, the old Numidian capital, the Emperor 
Constantine built a church for Catholic use. 1 But the Donatist 
party was so strong in the city that they overpowered the 
Catholics and took possession. The local magistrates re- 
monstrated, but quite in vain. The schism and the intruders 
prevailed. When Constantine heard of the occurrence he 
vacillated, reconsidered the probabilities of controlling the 
schismatics, came to the conclusion that coercion was in- 
effective, and withdrew all severity. He wrote a letter to the 
African Church, 2 a most singular production for the Master 
of the Roman Legions, expressing his abhorrence of the 
schismatic temper. There was no wonder if these men had 
departed ; for evil departs from good and has its own affinities. 
He considers them profane and irreligious, thankless to God, 
and enemies of His Church. Then with reference to the 
Donatists' forcible occupation of the cathedral at Cirta, he 
asks the bishops to exercise patience ; to leave the heretics 
in possession ; he promises to build them another church 

1 a.d. 321. 2 Noris, iv. 268. 


instead of the cathedral which they have lost. Thus Con- 
stantine allowed his own magistrates to be defied with impunity, 
and his own gift to the Catholic body to be forcibly taken 
away. The incident significantly illustrates the weakness to 
which the Roman power was then reduced. 

The Arian troubles contributed to divert Constantine's 
attention from the local African disputes. And Caecilian, in 
spite of the distracted condition of his Church, was able to be 
present at the Council of Nicaea. He subscribed his name 
to the decrees, and took back the canons to Africa, where a 
great Council was held at Carthage to receive them in 327. 
Caecilian's copy of the Canons of Nicaea became historic. It 
was treasured in the Archives at Carthage, and consulted in 
the Council of 419, and utilized to rectify some erroneous 
assertions emanating from the Roman See. 

Constantine's intervention in the Donatist controversy was 
perhaps inevitable but certainly unfortunate. His determina- 
tion to restore Church property exclusively to the communion of 
Caecilian entangled him in the successive stages of the struggle. 
Reluctant as he was to intervene, he saw no way to escape. 
When his peaceful judgments failed, he resorted, as the 
secular authority must, to the use of force. But the attempt 
to secure religious unity by force frustrated its own design. 
The consequence of persecuting religious opinions was here, 
as always, to intensify what it would suppress, to enlist a 
sympathy with the persecuted, to multiply their strength, to 
crown them with the dignity of confessorship if not of martyr- 
dom. It failed, as it always must. And when Constantine 
found that persecution was futile, he became alarmed at the 
formidable increase of fanatic opposition, and washed his 
hands of the whole affair. He left the Catholics to endure, 
as best they might, evils which his well-meant blunder had 
seriously increased, and which he was confessedly helpless to 
heal. To this policy of aloofness he adhered for the remainder 
of his reign. But no abandonment of severity could remove 
the stubborn zeal which persecution had fanned and inflamed. 



CjECILian of Carthage presided over the African Church 
probably for some thirty years after the three decisions in his 
favour. The date of his death is unknown, but a successor 
occupied the See in 347. For the remainder of the century 
the Catholic Bishops of Carthage are almost lost in obscurity, 
although the succession is known. But it is the successors 
of Donatus who impress themselves on history, not the Catholic 
line ; until, as the century concludes, the See of Cyprian and 
Caecilian once more resumes its power in the person of 
Augustine's contemporary, the distinguished Bishop Aurelius. 
The Donatists powerfully affected the authority of the African 
Metropolitan ; they curtailed his influence and diminished his 
prestige. Of course neither Mensurius nor Caecilian were 
men either spiritually or intellectually of the calibre of Cyp- 
rian ; and it is evident that their careers had somewhat com- 
promised the dignity of their See. 

Constantine's successor Constantius continued his father's 
later policy of conciliation. He sent various officials into 
Africa to relieve the social distress. Best known of these 
endeavours was the mission of Paulus and Macarius (a.d. 347). 
Their mission was not only philanthropic but undoubtedly also 
political. They traversed the provinces, scattering alms and 
exhortations to unity. Donatus rejected both with scorn. 
11 What has the Emperor," he asked, " to do with the Church ? " 
— a maxim which his opponents frequently contrasted with the 
Separatists' former appeal to Constantine. In Numidia especi- 

35 3 * 


ally, Paulus and Macarius met with the fiercest opposition. 
The Donatist Bishop of Bagai forestalled their work ; sent 
messengers through the neighbouring market-places, against 
them ; and, above all, enlisted in his service the notorious 
companies known as Circumcellions. 

The bearers of this uncouth name, which they derived from 
their corybantic propensities, were a product of African social 
discontent. They sprang from the older population and from 
its poorest and most miserable elements. Their language was 
Punic ; and Latin, the language of the dominant classes, was 
for the most part unintelligible to them. Their social condition 
was one -,of abject wretchedness and neglect. The half- 
starved African masses had been years before a subject of Con- 
stantine's serious concern and legislation. He had given orders 
to his officials to see that the people were fed. But the 
famine was evidently quite as great in 347 as it was thirty 
years before. These hunger-driven masses had no settled 
home or occupation, but prowled in restless, formidable gangs 
about the country places. Some called them Circumcellions, 
others Circuitors. 1 They give the impression of miserable 
outcasts, having nothing to lose, and often perfectly indifferent 
to their own existence. No owner of property was secure 
when they approached. No creditor dare venture if they were 
near to make any attempt to recover his debts. No master 
presumed to resent insubordination or require obedience, lest 
an appeal should be lodged against him to the Circumcellions, 
who invariably took the law into their own hands, and executed 
retribution on principles quite their own. They delighted to 
reverse the social order when it lay within their power. They 
would compel wealthy people to alight from their carriages and 
walk, and made the servants occupy their places. They bound 
high-born men like asses to the mills, and made them grind 
out corn. These weird and grim exhibitions were varied with 
fierce and reckless brutality, as the humour took them. 

The political authorities seemed incompetent to improve or 

1 " Philastrius de Haeres.," 85. 


control this submerged element of the population. The Cir- 
cumcellions continued many years, comparatively unmolested, 
while they did their utmost to render Africa uninhabitable. 

This strong unscrupulous force of the socially miserable 
were long since invoked by the Donatists to add ecclesiastical 
controversy to their already extensive programme. And they 
willingly accepted office as champions in religion. These men 
the Bishop of Bagai summoned to his support. 

It is difficult at first sight to see what affinity could exist 
between elements so incongruous as a Puritan community of 
Christians and an anarchist society. But if the view be 
correct that the Donatists partly consisted of a native religious 
movement against the Latin-speaking churches of the coast, 
the connexion becomes intelligible. That which drew the 
Donatists and the Circumcellions together would be identity of 
race and language. The native, whether socially discontented, 
or religiously independent, made common cause against their 
Latin-speaking conquerors. 

At the invitation of the Bishop of Bagai the Circumcellions 
commenced an armed attack on the imperial almoners, Paulus 
and Macarius, who were driven to seek protection among the 
imperial forces. A fierce retaliation ensued. The Donatist 
Bishop of Bagai and several of his adherents were unhappily 
slain. From that date the Catholics were commonly nick- 
named Macarians, and their Church the Macarian Church ; 
while the slain were enrolled among the martyrs of the Dona- 
tist Church and reverenced as among the saints. 

Macarius now resorted to violence. He threw aside the 
peaceful function of an almoner and assumed the role of a 
forceful promoter of unity. He sent the leading Separatists 
into exile, including among them Donatus the Great, who 
apparently died away from Africa. The severity restored 
comparative order ; and, until the death of Constantius in 361, 
Donatist aggression was held in some measure of restraint. 
For some fifteen years Africa enjoyed comparative peace. 

But the memories of u the Macarian period " remained as a 


bitter incentive to retaliation. Suppressed by force for the 
time, the Donatist cherished vindictive feelings which would 
issue in horrible violence when released from external con- 

Meanwhile the defeated increased his zeal by practically 
canonizing those who fell in fights with Catholics, or were 
killed while resisting the secular power ; or in a fervour of 
fanaticism put an end to their own career. The Separatists 
gloried in these illustrations of sanctity ; and much popular 
confusion arose between authentic and fictitious saints. These 
irregular canonizations were too often the outcome of local 
partisanship and schismatical self-will ; and veneration for the 
saints became perverted into a controversial instrument. The 
spirit of the masterful Lucilla survived among her co-religion- 
ists. If she utilized regard for relics as a method for rebuking 
her bishop, her descendants also resorted to canonization as a 
method for reproaching the Church. 

The accession of Julian reversed the State's religious 
policy. It was no part of Julian's design to strengthen the 
Church. His sympathies were with all other forms of religious 
expression. All other forms of thought and action recovered 
or obtained their liberty. The banished religious leaders were 
now permitted to return. The principal Donatists in exile 
addressed the new Emperor in flattering terms, as the one 
personage in whom justice could find a habitation ; entreating 
him to remove their disabilities and sanction their restoration. 
This he did. He not only allowed their return, but authorized 
them to reoccupy the churches from which they had been 
evicted. Back they came then to their dioceses and their 
sanctuaries. The method by which they resumed possession 
turned Africa again into a scene of desperate strife. There 
was no attempt to wait for legal process and peaceful re- 
occupation. The Donatists struggled for immediate possession 
without reference to the local secular powers. They flourished 
the imperial edict in the faces of the Catholic occupiers. They 
moved in turbulent swarms across Numidia and Mauritania, 


sometimes with their bishop at their head, insulting and ill- 
treating members of the other Church. They shaved the 
heads of Catholic clergy, forced them through the forms of 
penitence, and perpetrated the mockery of reordaining them. 
The most disgraceful immoralities accompanied this religious 
revival, which lasted through the greater part of two dreadful 

Catholics refused to yield the sacred edifices, and were 
reduced to a state of siege. Finding the church doors barred 
against them, the new claimants clambered upon the roof, 
removed the tiles, hurled them down with deadly execution 
upon the clergy at the altar, as they clustered round it in their 
most solemn office. Riots occurred in the streets through 
Mauritania. In the pressure and excitement of the crowds 
women were injured and children killed. 

Wherever the exiles obtained possession of the churches 
they signalized their victory by fantastic acts of ritual. They 
treated the sacred buildings as defiled and desecrated by the 
Catholic occupation. They washed down the walls, scraped 
the altars, broke up the chalices, or sold them to pagans for 
any uses. Vessels of consecrated oil were flung out of the 
windows. The consecrated elements from the altars were 
flung to the dogs, who, however, turned upon the desecrators 
and rent them. By these fanatical measures the Separatists 
relieved their feelings and expressed their contempt. Various 
strange and legendary incidents record the scandal to the 
Catholic sense of reverence. The historian Optatus, to whom 
we owe many descriptions, was himself an eyewitness of the 
Donatists' return. 

The return of the exiles brought the Circumcellions again to 
power. They wandered once more in formidable companies, 
insulting, menacing, injuring such Catholics as fell into their 
hands. They declined the use of swords, as prohibited by 
the text : " Put up thy sword into its sheath ". But they saw 
nothing unscriptural in the use of clubs, which they entitled 
11 Israels," and which were equally effective. Their reforming 


movements were accompanied by the words, " Praise the 
Lord," a song which Churchmen dreaded more than the 
roar of a lion. They attacked private houses and invaded 
churches, disordering the worship and terrorizing the con- 
gregation. In the terminology of the sect, these fanatics were 
styled Agonistici, and Leaders of the Saints. 

For a brief period the Separatists revelled in the novel 
experience of imperial approval, while the Church was made 
to feel imperial disfavour. But this interval — the only time 
when the Donatists experienced the sympathy of Caesar — was 
brief. The death of Julian in 363 reduced them again to 
their normal condition, subject to more or less severity from 
the reigning power. 

It was undoubtedly the violence and brutality associated 
with the sect which led to a long series of repressive enact- 
ments from the successors of Julian. The subsequent emperors 
concur unanimously in regarding repression of the Donatists 
as a political necessity. But whatever the imperial intentions, 
the conduct of their local African representatives was often 
tyrannical and most unwise. The government of Africa 
vacillated between severity and laxity. Under Julian's suc- 
cessor the overbearing insolence of the African Proconsul pro- 
voked a secular revolt in Mauritania. Firmus, a Mauritanian 
patriot, of princely race, was stung by insult to rebel against the 
Roman power (372). He seized the capital city Csesarea, and 
assumed the style of king. The Donatists identified themselves 
with the rebellion. After a brief struggle Firmus was over- 
powered by Theodosius, and in despair committed suicide. 
But the Donatists acquired the additional name of Firmians. 
Thus the religious and the political were again confused. 

The fanaticism of the Circumcellions grew worse and worse. 
They appear filled with a reckless indifference to their own 
existence, which is a new feature in the strife. They courted 
death in any form except that of the'- "Traditor" Judas. 
They flung themselves down precipices and into wells. They 
died in the flames. They waylaid magistrates on circuit, and 


threatened murder to such as would not kill them. Strange 
stories are told of officials who, at such request, disarmed them 
and bound them, and left them to their own devices. Even 
the Donatists themselves were at last appalled by the religious 
mania of their own defenders and appealed against them to 
the State. 



Hitherto we have witnessed outward conflict, and the growth 
of an anti- Catholic theology. Writers were fairly numerous 
on the Donatist side ; but no solitary defender of the Church's 
doctrine can be discovered. Doubtless there must have been 
such defenders ; but they were not sufficiently distinguished 
to secure historic permanence. This fact is curiously signifi- 
cant. It almost seems as if the literary ability and theological 
teaching of the half century since Donatism were chiefly in the 
Separatist Communion. The first distinguished writer against 
the Donatists was Optatus, Bishop of Milevis in Numidia, who 
wrote about the year 373. The division had now existed some 
sixty years. 

Optatus had considerable opportunities for ascertaining the 
facts. He evidently writes as a man of matured experience. 
He was contemporary with many of the incidents which he 
describes. He held office in the Church in the very province 
where Donatism was most successful, and which furnished the 
chief opposition to the communion of Csecilian. His diocese 
was within thirty miles of the old Numidian capital, where so 
much of the critical movements collected their strength. He 
had seen with his own eyes the fantastic incidents connected 
with the Donatists' rebellion. He must have been daily 
familiar with Donatist theories, arguments, and influence. His 
history, indeed, arose as a controversial reply to Bishop Par- 
menian, who had then presided over the opposing communion 
at Carthage in succession to Donatus for the last twenty years. 



Modern criticism has subjected the writings of Optatus to 
searching investigation ; and in the opinion of the best au- 
thorities his narrative is, in the main, confirmed. No doubt 
he writes as a decided partisan. But his historic method is 
fair. Optatus was valued very highly indeed in the African 
Church. He became the great authority for the historic 
incidents. His work was read and referred to on either side, 
and quoted in conference, together with the legal documents. 
Augustine speaks of him with high esteem, and couples his 
name with that of Ambrose. Fulgentius places him with 
Ambrose and Augustine, and Jerome sets him in his list of 
illustrious men. Augustine's personal indebtedness to him was 
considerable. It was no small advantage to have so valuable 
a store of facts and conceptions already provided. 

Optatus is in intention conciliatory. He begins with Christ's 
words of peace. He laments that peace should be frustrated 
by schism. Members of the schism are brothers to the mem- 
bers of the Church, for they are both of the same spiritual 
nativity. This, of course, was Optatus' conviction ; but it was 
a belief which the Donatist would not allow. Optatus is ready 
to recognize his opponents' baptismal regeneration. But the 
recognition was not mutual. Optatus also courteously acknow- 
ledges Parmenian's superiority to the prevailing Donatist 
temper ; and finds him willing at any rate to discuss the subject 
with a member of the Church. 

Optatus then lays down the subjects and conditions of the 
controversy. First of all he desiderates definiteness. There 
must be no vague accusations, but accurate statements as to 
persons, and place, and date. Secondly, the problem to be 
thoroughly discussed and ascertained is this : In which com- 
munion is the one true Church to be found. For both parties 
already accepted the maxim that one true Church exists and 
only one. Thirdly, that the question of fact, whether Catholics 
or Donatists made the first appeal to the secular powers, should 
be ascertained, and set at rest for ever. Fourthly, that the 
doctrine of the ministry should be cleared from misconceptions, 


more especially on the point what constitutes invalidity in 
priestly ministrations. Fifthly, Optatus proposes to consider 
what is of faith on the subject of Baptism. And finally, to 
refute the distinctive errors of the Donatist sacramental 

Optatus has much to enforce on the distinction between 
heresy and schism. He contends that Parmenian's predecessor 
had made a schism. It was not Csecilian who went out from 
Peter or Cyprian ; it was Majorinus who went out, he whose 
place Parmenian now holds. But Majorinus was legitimate 
successor to no^ man. His line began with himself. It is a 
departure from the true succession. Accordingly Parmenian 
is a schismatic. But he is not a heretic. Heresy is surrender 
of the creed. 1 The distinction between them is great. Schism 
is breaking the bond of peace. It is encouraged by envy and 
strife. It is separation from Mother Church. It is amputa- 
tion, rebellion. But Heresy is exile from the realm of Truth, 
desertion of the Creed. 2 Plainly these Donatists are schisma- 
tics. Although they are not in the Catholic Church yet they 
are in possession of the same two sacraments as the Catholics. 3 
They are not heretics. Heretics could not be possessors of 
true sacraments. So Optatus teaches. 

But the evil of schism is exceedingly great : a truth which 
Donatists themselves will not, at least theoretically, deny. 
The Almighty can never contemplate schism without dis- 
pleasure, as the case of Corah may prove. 

The general principle stated here would be accepted by 
Parmenian no less than by Optatus. To both alike the 
existence of numerous independent religious societies destitute 
of unity would have been indefensible : a departure from 
Christian principle. The only question at issue was on which 
side the true Church existed. 

As to the problem where the true Church is to be found 
Optatus' doctrine is that the Church is one, that its sanctity 

1 " Qui falsaverunt symbolum." 

2 " Sani et verissimi symboli desertores." 8 Cf. Harnack. 


depends upon the Sacraments, and not upon the spiritual state 
of the individual believer. 1 The Donatist taught that the 
Sacrament was modified by the goodness of the human person 
who conferred it. 2 Optatus confronts that theory with the 
opposite principle. The individual is modified by the Sacra- 
ment, not the Sacrament by the individual. To vindicate this 
Catholic principle in place of the Donatist theory, was to cut 
away the doctrinal basis of the schism. Again, Optatus con- 
tends that the Church's catlwlicity consists in its world-wide 
diffusion. And, for this very reason, the true Church cannot 
be the Donatist community. There can be no fitness in the 
name of Catholic if it be limited to a society which is hardly 
more than African. The same conclusion follows from a 
consideration of the Church's apostolic character. 3 Its apos- 
tolicity consists in a transmitted power, conferred through the 
medium of the episcopal succession. The question to ask is, 
Who occupied this See before ? What is the line of succes- 
sion ? Let Parmenian apply that question to his own bishop- 
ric. Optatus illustrates this succession from the case of Rome, 
because St. Peter as the chief Apostle represents the principle 
of unity. 4 No Apostle was to arrogate to himself the apostolic 
powers in separation from the other Apostles. To set a new 
See in opposition to a See is the very principle of schism. 
Siricius, the present occupant of the Roman See, can trace 
his descent direct and unbroken from St. Peter. But whence 
did Macrobius, the Donatist Bishop in Rome, derive his See 
and his succession ? He is a son without a father, a disciple 
without a master, a sequent without an antecedent. This is 
the anomaly of the Donatist position. They possess no true 
succession. They are intruders rather than successors. And 
Optatus roundly declares that the Spirit is in the Church but 
not among the separated. Optatus here concludes, from this 
analysis of the various attributes of the Church, its sanctity, 

1 " Cujus sanctitas de sacramentis colligitur, non de superbia personarum 

2 11. 1. 3 11. 11. 4 P. 947- 


catholicity, and apostolicity, that the claims of the Donatist 
body are hopelessly excluded. It can satisfy none of the 
conditions of the one true Church. 

On the relation between the Church and the State, Optatus 
observes that if the Donatists now maintain that no union 
whatever should exist between them, this was not their principle 
at the beginning of the schism. If the Donatists are now 
heard to say, What have Christians to do with kings? and 
What have bishops to do with the imperial palace ? they must 
be reminded of their own written appeal, still extant, to the 
Emperor Constantine. It was the Donatist who originally 
carried ecclesiastical affairs before the secular power. Con- 
stantine himself replied in terms which showed a conviction 
that ecclesiastical affairs should rather be determined before 
bishops than before kings. And if he yielded it was only 
through Donatist insistency. 

Optatus earnestly appeals to Parmenian to work for unity ; 
whatever historic grievances overcloud the past, whatever 
personal defects Parmenian can discern in Catholic advocates 
of unity, neither past nor present imperfections can justify any 
Christian in repudiating the principle of unity. Let him 
condemn imperfections so long as he works for unity. That 
which is torn is partly, but not completely, divided. Donatist 
and Catholic have one and the same ecclesiastical discipline ; 
and if the minds of men are contentious, the Sacraments do 
not strive. We both believe alike, both parties are signed 
with one seal. We are not otherwise baptized than you. 

Those who depart from the Church may build a wall but 
not a house. A schism is a quasi-ecclesia ; it has the sem- 
blance, but not the completeness, of the reality. 

There remains to be considered the baptismal controversy, 
which originated in the Donatist practice of rebaptizing. 
Optatus has already formulated the Catholic principle, of the 
objective reality of the Sacraments, in his teaching on the 
sanctity of the Church. He now restates that principle in 
reference to the Sacrament of baptism. He lays it down that 


the validity of baptism depends neither on the precincts within 
which it is received, nor upon the moral or spiritual attainments 
of the person administering, but upon the Holy Trinity. 

As to the high importance and momentousness of this Sacra- 
ment there was no difference between Catholic and Donatist 
teaching. Both agreed that it was inestimable. According to 
Parmenian and to Optatus, baptism is the source of the virtues 
(evidently because it communicates the beginnings of the 
higher life) ; it is the death of evils ; an immortal nativity ; attain- 
ment of the heavenly kingdom, and the gate of innocency. 
So far both Catholic and Donatist agree. Where they differ 
lies in this : in Parmenian's theory the Trinity is rendered 
ineffective in baptism apart from Donatist ministrations. But 
on the other hand, the Church, says Optatus, lays all the stress 
on the action of the Trinity. When a person baptized in the 
communion of Donatus enters the Catholic Church, he is 
never baptized again. 

Then comes the famous passage in which Optatus expounds 
the Catholic principle of the objective character of the Sacra- 
ment. The true nature of baptism will at once be manifest, 
provided that a triple distinction be made between the Trinity, 
the Believer, and the Worker. Of these the first is the 
Trinity : the essential and invariable element. Next comes the 
Believer, or recipient : with the essential condition of faith. 
Last, and entirely subordinate, and only contingently necessary, 1 
is the Worker, or minister of the Sacrament. The Trinity is 
ever the same, and faith is ever the same, but the uncertain 
quantity is the person of the minister. The Donatist maintains 
that his ministers are incomparably superior in character to the 
Catholic ministers of the Sacrament. But he will not surely 
consider them superior to the Trinity. Let then the essential 
and invariable elements of the Sacrament be appreciated rather 
than the subordinate and variable ; and Donatist and Catholic 
will think alike. The sanctity of the Sacrament cannot depend 
on the mere servant who ministers it. The clergy are sub- 

1 " Quasi necessariam." 


ordinates, not masters of the Sacraments. And the Sacraments 
possess an intrinsic sanctity, independent <of the personal 
qualities of the man who ministers them. 1 Here we have 
perhaps the clearest statement heard in Christendom as yet of 
the objective side of sacramental truth. 

Optatus has the most vivid perception of the fact that upon 
this objective sanctity and intrinsic effectiveness the whole 
value of the Sacraments depends. To his mind the Donatist 
theory is a virtual exclusion of the Almighty from His own 
institutions. It is a refusal to allow Him to preside over His 
own gifts. It makes the human instrument more vital than 
the Divine Maker. It ignores the profound if elementary truth, 
that man cannot originate that which is Divine. Let the 
Donatistic controversialist contemplate the Divine side of things, 
and for the time being ignore the human. Obviously it is God 
Who cleanses, not man. 2 And in that simple statement is the 
refutation of the schismatic theory. The maxim that a man 
cannot give what he does not possess, is inapplicable when the 
man is only the instrument and God Himself is really the 
Giver. It is God Who gives ; and what is given is His, not 

The Donatist vainly urges that St. Paul rebaptized after 
St. John the Baptist : for this rebaptism was not prompted 
by disbelief in the sanctity of St. John, but by knowledge that 
the Trinity had not been here invoked. It was a question of 
the gift to be conveyed, not of the person conveying it. St. 
Paul did not say " by whom " but " unto what " were ye bap- 
tized. It was the thing and not the person which dissatisfied 
him. The Donatist, on the contrary, asks " by whom " and 
not " unto what ". He contends about the person of the 
minister, which cannot alter the reality of the gift. 

The principle of the intrinsic sanctity of the gift may, 
Optatus thinks, be illustrated from manufacturing. Take the 
wool and the purple dye. The manufacturer baptizes the 

1 «' Sacramenta per se esse sancta non per homines." 

2 " Deus lavat non homo." 


wool in the purple ; but he is only the instrument, powerless 
without the dye. It is the dye which gives the precious colour 
to the wool. And if the worker thus depends upon the dye, 
if it possesses its inherent capabilities apart from him, if he is 
the instrument and little more, so it is with the worker in the 
Sacrament. Without the Trinity, the worker has nothing to 
give ; and it is the Trinity which sanctifies, and not the instru- 
ment. If Paul planted, and Apollos watered, 1 it was God 
Who gave the increase. The function of the clergy in the 
Sacraments is not dominion but ministry. 2 

Optatus was particularly scandalized by the contemptuous 
manner in which the Donatists viewed the secular authority. 
They seemed to have no conception of the respect due to the 
State. Considering the treatment which they had received 
from the imperial power, this was scarcely wonderful. They 
doubtless intended to emphasize the independence of the 
spiritual power. But they rightly elevated the spiritual by 
wrongly depreciating the secular. They were wanting in sense 
of proportion. Optatus contrasts the Donatist tone with that 
of St. Paul in reference to the powers that be. And then the 
Bishop formulates his well-known maxim : " The State is not in 
the Church, but the Church is in the State, that is in the Roman 
Empire ". 3 Optatus is not here dealing with theory so much 
as with historic fact. His meaning evidently is that to de- 
preciate the State, within which the Church exists, is to ignore 
the advantages which the Empire confers on Christianity ; 
since the Church has been enabled to develop in the Roman 
Empire as it does not in barbaric races. Optatus values very 
highly the mighty Empire, as the civilized arena within which 
the opportunities of the Church are greater. The existence of 
the Empire is considered by him, as it was by Tertullian before 
him, and by Augustine afterwards, as the great bulwark of 
human society. On this ground, the contemptuous depreciation 
of the secular power in the supposed interests of religion is, to 

1 1 Cor. in. 6. 

2 " Non dominium sed ministerium." 3 in. 3. 



his mind, ungracious and disastrous. The work of St. Optatus 
was certainly a most important stage in the struggle for unity. 
His theological conceptions bore effect in the after time. 
Augustine knew and studied them. And many of his leading 
thoughts, and some of his interpretations, are reproduced, 
spiritualized, and enriched by that master-mind. 



The schism had by this time presented many types of char- 
acter, and would, before its course was completed, present 
many more. But one distinctive type was hitherto lacking. 
No individual Donatist seems yet to have arisen with serious 
misgivings as to the schismatic position, while yet unable to 
see the justice of the Church's claim. No leading mind, at 
any rate, as yet appeared keenly alive to the defects on either 
side, occupying an intermediate place, neither completely at one 
with schism, nor yet with catholicity. Such a character now 
appeared in the person of Tichonius. 1 He was an African by 
birth, learned in the Holy Scriptures, not unacquainted with 
affairs, keenly interested in Church questions. 2 His seven 
rules for the interpretation of Scripture were widely accepted 
as a guide for students in the fifth century, and with certain 
modifications, necessitated by their author's Donatist propen- 
sities, were strongly recommended even to Catholics by no less 
a person than St. Augustine himself, who embodied them in 
one of his own writings. 3 Tichonius' studies in Holy Scripture 
had drawn him in a Catholic direction. The universal 
character of the Christian society was a doctrine which the 
Scriptures made so prominent that it took possession of his 
mind, and became a living conviction. Moreover, he was too 
earnest and sincere to hold this conviction secretly. He pub- 
lished frankly his assurance that no individual unworthiness 

1 ? a.d. 384. 2 Gennadius. 

3 " De Doctrina Christiana," and " Ep.," 249. 

51 4 * 


could produce a general frustration of the promises of God. He 
also put on record a strong personal dislike of the practice of 
rebaptizing. He said that a great council of 270 Donatist 
bishops held at Carthage had consented to receive into com- 
munion without rebaptism those who strongly resented its 
repetition. 1 

These uncompromising utterances did honour to his earnest- 
ness, but were excessively exasperating to his co-religionists. 
For Donatist to be refuted by Donatist was certainly hard. 
And Tichonius appeared unconscious or indifferent to the fact 
that his Scriptural inferences were fatal to the theory on which 
the sect existed. The Donatists naturally took alarm at his 
suicidal teaching. For the provoking feature was that, although 
Tichonius made such large concessions to catholicity, yet he 
continued in the division. Parmenian, the Donatist Primate, 
felt obliged to engage in a written controversy with this inde- 
pendent brother, who, from the standpoint of Donatus, defended 
the Church. And the authority of Parmenian reduced Tichon- 
ius to silence, although it did not and could not refute his 
principles. 2 

Parmenian's successor in the Donatist line at Carthage was 
Primian? Under him the schism subdivided. Maximinian, 
one of Primian's deacons, a descendant of Donatus the Great, 
was, for certain offences not clearly specified, excommunicated 
by his bishop. Maximinian complained to the neighbouring 
bishops, relying on the influence of a wealthy lady, just -as 
Majorinus relied on that of Lucilla in the dawn of the schism. 4 
A section of Donatists sided with Maximinian. The schis- 
matic temper was so far roused that forty-three Donatist 
bishops met in council at Carthage, and summoned Bishop 
Primian to appear before them, just as the council under the 
Numidian Primate had summoned Crecilian some eighty years 

1 St. Aug., "Ep.," 93. 43- 2 Ibid, 

3 a.d. 391. See the fourth Book of St. Aug., " C. Crescon.," W. ix. 
742, and "De Gestis cum Emerito," W. ix. 964. 

4 Migne, xi. 806 ff. ; Ribbeck, p. 206 ; Noris, iv. 389. 


before. Primian refused to appear before them, just as 
Caecilian had formerly refused. The council expressed a 
preliminary sentence of disapproval. Ultimately, in a council 
of 100 bishops, Primian was excommunicated, and Maxi- 
minian was placed in Primian's throne. 1 Here, then, the 
Donatist body was cut in twain. Carthage saw two Donatist 
bishops at the same time presiding over its religious affairs. 2 
Besides the Catholics, with their Bishop Aurelius, there were 
the Maximinianists, and the Primianists. And the separation 
begun in Carthage extended itself through Africa. There were 
at least 100 bishops on the Maximinianist side. Primian, fully 
conscious of the extreme peril, not only to himself, but to the 
entire body over which he presided, drew together the strength 
of his communion to the number of 310 bishops in council in 
the Numidian city, Bagai. By this imposing assembly the 
tables were now turned. Primian was pronounced innocent 
and Maximinian deposed. The council descended to abusive 
rhetoric. Primian's leading opponents were characterized as 
enemies of the Church, ministers of Corah, Dathan, and Abiram, 
snakes, vipers, parricides and Egyptian corpses. 3 But the assembly 
of Bagai was far too practical to exhaust its strength in mere 
denunciation. The Primianists were acute enough to see that 
so huge a schism would fritter away the powers and probably 
imperil the very continuance of the Donatist Communion. A 
serious effort must be made for unity. 4 Accordingly they held 
out to the generality of the separated an offer of reunion, if 
they would return to their Mother the Church within the next 
eight months. Whatever Sacrament had been meantime 
administered, whatever ordinations conferred, they consented, 
in hopeless defiance of the principles which they maintained 
against the Catholic Church, to regard as valid and complete. 
Considerable portions of the Maximinianist subdivision appear 

1 a.d. 393. Migne, p. 807. 

2 Ribbeck, p. 218. 

3 St. Aug., " C. Crescon.," iv., W. ix. 742, 756. 

4 " C. Crescon.," p. 746. 


to have accepted the offer of readmission and returned to the 
Donatist body, submitting themselves to Primian's authority. 

This attitude of the Donatist body towards a schism from 
themselves was turned by the Catholics to controversial ac- 
count. The Donatists would not show towards the Church 
from which they sprang the sympathy, the forbearance, the 
conciliatoriness, which they showed towards the sect which 
sprang from them. With the Maximinianists they determined, 
if it were possible, even at the sacrifice of practices hitherto 
defiantly enforced, to reunite without delay. With the Church 
Universal they refused reunion. The Maximinianist schism, 
and the attempted reconciliation, meet the student of the 
subsequent stages of the controversy at every turn. That the 
Donatist cared so much for a division from himself, while he 
cared so little for the main body from which he himself 
divided, was a crucial illustration of sectarian inconsistency. 

The Maximinianist was by no means the only subdivision 
of the Donatist Church. 1 Various other but comparatively 
insignificant names are mentioned. 2 Subdivision was bound 
to come. The independent temper, the individualistic theories, 
the unsocial character involved in the schism, these are the 
very ingredients out of which disintegration arises. 

So far the development of the schism has been traced from 
its origin to its subdivision. We now approach the period 
when it encountered the greatest intellect that Christendom 
has known since the apostolic age. 

1 Noris, iv. 375. 

3 Priminianists, Claudianists, Rogatists. See Baronius. 


No event in the history of the North African Church divisions 
can compare in importance with the consecration of Augustine. 
The literature of the controversy was hitherto, with the one 
brilliant exception of St. Optatus, insignificant. Augustine 
enriched it with a wealth of spiritual thought on the doctrine 
of the Church. He studied and assimilated the earlier litera- 
ture on this article of the faith. He was familiar with St. 
Optatus, and is frequently indebted to him. Above all, he 
studied St. Cyprian. Augustine had already reason to write on 
the subject of the Church in his first great controversy, that 
with the Manichaeans. The value of the Church to him dur- 
ing that period was extremely great, but chiefly in the aspect 
of authority. 1 His profound sense of the limits of reason had 
made authority an intellectual necessity. 

Contact with the Donatists led him now to dwell on other 
aspects of the doctrine concerning the Church. Augustine 
and Cyprian were fundamentally at one ; yet the aspects on 
which they dwelt were largely different. Cyprian was con- 
fronted with insubordination to the individual bishop, Augustine 
with the antagonism of rival episcopates. 

From the beginnings of Donatism to the consecration of 
Augustine was a period of ninety years. But the division was 
as strong as it had ever been. The North African Church 
was in a most deplorable state. In almost every town and 
village dwelt in resolute antagonism and watchful jealousy 

1 Cf. Harnack, " Hist. Dogma ". 


the Catholic and the Donatist Churches. They were identi- 
cal in organization, and originally identical in faith. There, 
then, they existed, side by side : two religious communities, 
embittered by long continuance, and stereotyped into per- 
manent opposition. The Catholic acknowledged the Donatist 
Sacraments, but the Donatist repudiated those of the Catholic. 
The Catholic pleaded for unity, the Donatist retorted that 
the sons of the martyrs had no fellowship with the sons 
of the traditors or betrayers. The Catholic claimed that the 
Church was universal, the Donatist asserted that it existed 
exclusively in their own communion. The Catholic was pre- 
pared, at any rate in the later stages of the controversy, for 
corporate reunion, the Donatist aimed at individual absorption. 
The Catholic recognized the baptism and the orders conferred 
by their opponents, the Donatist regarded the baptism of a 
Catholic as null and void, impure and valueless, through the 
contaminating association with evil men. These were among 
their chief antagonisms. 

It is a memorable fact that the party of Donatus, notwith- 
standing all the coercive enactments of the State, nay, must we 
not say rather because of them, had steadily increased in 
strength. They were flourishing when Augustine appeared 
upon the scene. It is hardly doubtful that they were more 
numerous than the Church. Until Augustine arose it might 
have seemed, humanly speaking, that the Catholic Communion 
was to fade before the younger offshoot and pass away. 
There were evidently districts where the Church was reduced 
to a miserable remnant, insignificant and powerless in pre- 
sence of the overshadowing separated body. 

Such was the condition of affairs in the African Church at 
the time of Augustine's ordination. 1 And, for many years to 
come, it involved him in the most strenuous exertions. It 
may be roughly said that the Donatist problem mainly oc- 
cupied the first half of his episcopate. For twenty years he 
endeavoured, by personal visits, by conferences, by letters, by 

^.d. 391. 


sermons, by treatises, by influence of many kinds, by invoking 
the aid of the secular power, by theological reasonings, by 
appeal to the original facts, by indicating the impracticable 
nature of the Donatist theories when reduced to common life, 
by emphasizing the inconsistencies of their history, to awaken 
in the African mind a yearning after unity and a repugnance 
to the deplorable departure from first principles which 
Donatism displayed. 

One of Augustine's earliest, perhaps the very earliest, literary 
effort against the Donatists was written while he was still a 
priest x : the Alphabetical Psalm. 2 Each new section begins 
with a succeeding letter of the alphabet. It was a hymn, or 
song, intended for popular use, containing, in a popular form, 
arguments against the Donatists. It is a singularly quaint 
production, and one wonders whether the masses of African 
people were ever induced to sing it. 

Augustine's first encounter with the Donatists occurred in 
his pastoral duties as priest of the Church in Hippo, where 
they largely outnumbered the members of the Catholic Church. 
Close contact in a country place increased the meaner tendencies 
of division. Jealousy, bitterness, and strained relationships 
were developed to an alarming degree. Tradesmen became 
religious partisans. The baker at Hippo refused to serve a Catho- 
lic, and threw the Church people's provisions into the street. 3 
On the other hand, the spiritual level of the Catholic Communion 
in the town was, as Augustine confesses, extremely low, and 
no small plausibility was thereby given to the need of separation. 
But the spiritual interests of Hippo were seriously compromised 
by the division, and by the unsanctified elements which it 
fostered, if it did not produce. The jealous rivalry of the two 
communions was anything but an edifying sight. Augustine's 
influence upon the Donatist body in Hippo during the five 
years of his priesthood was apparently not very great. His 
real power begins with his consecration. Proculeian, Donatist 

^.d. 393. 2 " Psalmus c. partem Donati." 

3 " C. Litt. Petil.," 11. 184, W. ix. 432. 


Bishop of Hippo, was a man of gentle reasonableness, acces- 
sible to argument, and disposed for peace. Even when 
Augustine's companion Evodius, with a zeal which outran dis- 
cretion, attacked him in a house in Hippo for his antagonism 
to the Church, Proculeian still declared himself perfectly willing 
to hold a conference with Augustine. Whether the conference 
was held is now unknown. But Augustine seized the occasion 
to send Proculeian a powerful appeal for unity, grounded on 
the evils which division had produced. 1 " I ask you," he wrote, 
11 what have we to do with the dissensions of a past generation ? 
Have we not suffered sufficiently through wounds inflicted by 
bitterness and pride ? See what calamity it has brought upon 
us. The peace of the Christian home is broken by schism. 
Husbands and wives are agreed in the concerns of this world ; 
they are divided about the Altar of Christ. They vow through 
Christ that they will live in peace one with another, but they 
are not at peace in matters of religion. Children and parents 
live beneath one common roof. But they are not permitted to 
have one House of God in common among them." 

To another Donatist he writes a most earnest appeal for 
unity : 2 " Why do we not toil together in the one vineyard of 
our Lord, both alike endeavouring to be wheat, and bearing with 
the worthless grain? Why not, I beseech you, what is the 
reason ? Is any man the better for our divisions ? What 
possible good can it serve? Tell me. Unity is lost, while a 
people redeemed by the blood of the One Lamb live in angry 
opposition against each other. The sheep are divided among 
us, as if they were our own, and not His Who said to His 
servant, Feed My sheep, not feed thine own. The sheep are 
divided, of whom it was said, ' that they may be one fold and 
one shepherd ' ; ' By this shall all men know that ye are My 
disciples if ye, have love one to another ' ; and 'let both grow 
together until the harvest '. Unity is lost ; man and wife are 
divided. Unity is lost. Men agree about everything else 
except the concerns of their souls. They are relations, 

1 " Ep.," 33, a.d. 396. 3 " Ep.," cvm. 469. 


citizens, friends, guests one of another ; they are drawn together 
in every human relationship, in their relaxations, in their 
marriages, in buying and selling, in conversations, but they 
disagree about the Altar of God. Discord exists in that very 
region where of all others discord ought to cease. Our Lord 
said, ' First be reconciled unto thy brother, and then come and 
offer thy gift at the Altar '. We have reversed all that. Now 
men are at peace in the world and at strife about the Altar." 

Augustine found that the Donatist party in Hippo, in spite 
of their Puritan ideals, were, not infrequently, willing, for the 
sake of numerical superiority, to admit persons of questionable 
character whom they ought on principle to have been the first 
to exclude. The excommunicated, the deserters or the worth- 
less members of one communion, became too easily the favoured 
and the heroes of another. This was one of the temptations of 
religious rivalry and separation. Men who in their own com- 
munion failed to secure the recognition which they believed 
themselves to deserve, retaliated upon a society incapable of 
discerning their merits, by transferring themselves and their 
abilities to some other sphere, where the>fe would be more 
justly esteemed. Disappointed ambition and frustrated self-will 
had their influence in these exchanges, as well as genuine 
conviction and love of truth. A young Catholic, a violent 
tempered man, cruelly ill-treated his mother and threatened 
her life. Augustine was compelled to intervene with a just 
and severe rebuke. In revenge, the young man abandoned 
the Catholic Communion and sought admission into the Dona- 
tist Church. Proculeian accepted him, and, to the scandal of 
all serious-minded persons in the town, where his conduct was 
well known, rebaptized him. The young man's subsequent 
behaviour seems to have harmonized with his antecedents. 
But the incident illustrates the extent to which Christian dis- 
cipline was frustrated by religious rivalry. 

Augustine's labour for ecclesiastical unity soon extended 
beyond the limits of his diocese. He rapidly became for the 
African Church the supreme champion against separation. 


His primary endeavour was to make the origin of the schism 
accurately understood. It is notorious with what rapidity the 
origin of a controversy is forgotten or misrepresented. And it 
is clear that many Separatists in Augustine's day required re- 
minding whence they sprang, or informing of the actual facts 
of which they often held but a partial and distorted version. 

The Bishop of Hippo appealed to the authority of public 
records. The documents relating to the beginnings of the 
division were in the imperial care. They were beyond the 
reach of party spirit, and they were accessible to all who willed. 
Aided by these documents, Augustine published, 1 in the form 
of a letter to certain adherents of the Donatist Communion, 2 an 
extremely important account of the rise of their society. He 
says that he is well aware that some will not appreciate the 
motives which prompt his overtures for unity. A disputed 
claim to property or money would be perfectly understood ; 
but zeal for anything so spiritual as unity will by some be 
considered importunate. Nevertheless the highest Authority 
has pronounced the peacemaker to be blessed, and entitled 
them children of God. To this blessedness he aspires. 

As to the original founders of the division, Augustine subjects 
the conduct and character of the Numidian Primate Secundus 
to the most severe and searching criticism. 3 Secundus, at the 
Synod of Cirta, professedly in the interests of peace, overlooked 
the failings of his colleagues who confessed themselves guilty of 
surrendering the Scriptures to the pagan powers. The same 
Secundus at the Synod in Carthage passed sentence against 
Csecilian by the aid of the very men who at Cirta confessed 
themselves guilty of the selfsame crime. It was no regard for 
peace which ruled him at Cirta, but personal fear. Purpurius 
challenged him to explain how he himself had escaped from 
arrest. That was a matter which he did not care to have in- 
vestigated. He was not protecting the peace of the Church, 
he was only protecting himself. If concern for peace had had 

1 a.d. 398. 2 " Ep.," 43, and cf. Duchesne. 


any place in his heart, urges Augustine, he must have recoiled 
from the fearful dangers of a hasty decision. The extensive 
influence of the Church of Carthage would warn any serious 
man that what affected it affected all African Christianity. 
The premature election of another bishop could only complicate 
the situation more grievously. The validity of Caecilian's con- 
secration had been already recognized by the Churches beyond 
the sea. They had exchanged letters of communion with him. 
It was not likely that these Churches abroad would compromise 
themselves by disowning their own acts of recognition, and by 
transferring their intercourse to another person subsequently 
elected. Precipitate action in the Synod could only result in 
forming a communion in isolation from the Catholic Churches 
beyond the sea. 

Augustine's own belief is that the Numidian Synod in 
Carthage, being chiefly composed of traditors, was eager to 
establish its integrity by lofty assumptions and austerity of tone. 1 
They were attempting, by vigorous judgments on other people's 
asserted failings, to screen their own misdoings from investiga- 
tion. If this insincerity in a synod appears incredible, Augus- 
tine maintains that human nature is only too capable, as the 
Apostle says, of judging another while doing the same thing 

Caecilian, in his opinion, could well afford to disregard local 
opposition on the ground that he was in communion "both 
with the Roman Church in which the supremacy of an apostolic 
seat has always flourished, and with all other lands ". 2 Csecilian 
was perfectly willing to " defend himself before these Churches ". 3 

It should be noted here that Augustine does not speak of 
communion with the Roman See as the sole exclusive ground of 
Chilian's confidence. It is " both with the Roman Church . . . 
and with all other lands ". It is not before the Roman Church 
alone, but " before these Churches," that Caecilian is described 
as willing to defend himself. The Roman Church is un- 
doubtedly singled out, because it was regarded as an apostolic 

*§ 10. 2 § 7. 3 Contrast Poujoulat, 1. 128. 


foundation. But there is no intention whatever to make 
communion with the Roman See the sole test of catholicity. 
This is still more plain in the following phrase where Augustine 
describes the line which the Primate of Numidia ought to have 
taken : " He ought to have said : Let them hasten to our 
brethren and peers the Bishops of the Church^ beyond the 
Sea ". 1 Csecilian's refusal to appear before the Primate of 
Numidia cannot be, argues Augustine, fairly interpreted as 
disowning all ecclesiastical jurisdiction : " For there remained 
thousands of BisJwps in countries beyond the sea, before whom 
it was manifest that those who seemed to distrust their peers 
in Africa and Numidia could be tried ". 2 Augustine's theory 
of the Roman See is made still more luminously clear further 
on, when he supposes the Donatist to object to the decision of 
the Lateran, as an unwarrantable interference by the Roman 
bishop in a matter already decided at a council in Africa. 
" Perhaps you will say that Miltiades, Bishop of the Roman 
Church, together with the other Bishops beyond the Sea, who 
acted as his colleagues, had no right to usurp the place of 
judge, in a matter which had been already settled by seventy 
African Bishops, over whom the Bishop of Tigisis, as Primate, 
presided. But what will you say if he in fact did not usurp 
this place ? For the Emperor, being appealed to, sent Bishops 
to sit with him as judges, with authority to decide the whole 
matter in the way which seemed to them just." Augustine's 
answer to the objection that the action of the Roman bishop 
with his episcopal colleagues was an unaccountable interference 
is surely remarkable. He gives no suggestion of belief that the 
authority of the Roman bishop is supreme, and that he cannot 
strictly be said to interfere. He does not charge the Donatist 
with advocating an uncatholic theory of the Pope's position. 
All he says is that the Emperor Constantine is responsible for 
the Pope's intervention, as he sent bishops to sit with the 
Roman bishop as judges. And Augustine insists, not on the 
Roman bishop's ecclesiastical rank, but on his moral superi- 

!§8; cf. in §7. 2 § 11. 


ority. The Lateran decision was, to Augustine's mind, ex- 
emplary for its fairness and moderation. Miltiades had laboured 
for peace. He decided, in the interests of reunion, that where 
two rival bishops divided a city between them, the lawful pastor 
should be determined by priority of consecration, while another 
diocese should be found for the junior bishop. Miltiades was 
a true son of peace and father of the Christian people. The 
Synod of Lateran, by which Constantine was acquitted, bore 
most favourable comparison with the Synod of the Seventy by 
which Caecilian was condemned ; not indeed numerically but 
morally. Compare now this handful with that multitude of 
bishops, not counting but weighing them. On the one side 
you have moderation and circumspection, on the other pre- 
cipitancy and blindness. Augustine's argument ascribes to the 
Roman Council a moral superiority. He assigns to it no 
ecclesiastical superiority to African Councils, although the 
Roman bishop was there. 

The Donatist party refused the Roman decision. They 
asserted that the case had not been fairly tried. This, remarks 
Augustine, is the defeated party's immemorial plea. But, 
urges Augustine, assuming their complaint to be correct, the 
remedy was plain. " Well, let us suppose that those Bishops 
who decided the case at Rome were not good judges ; there 
still remained a plenary Council of the Universal Church, in 
which these judges themselves might be put on their defence ; 
so that, if they were convicted of mistakes, their decisions 
might be reversed." l Instead, however, of taking this legiti- 
mate course ; instead of appealing from an ecclesiastical author- 
ity to a higher ecclesiastical authority, the Donatists appealed 
to the Emperor. This course Augustine disapproved, and he 
thinks it was uncongenial to Constantine himself. " This 
Christian Emperor did not presume so to grant their unruly 
and groundless appeal as to constitute himself judge of the 
decision pronounced by the Bishops who had sat at Rome." 
He appointed other bishops. He gave the complainants another 

x §?9. 


trial, in the Council of Aries. And the ultimate appeal to him- 
self was only most reluctantly heard in the interests of peace. 
The Emperor's intentions were excellent but completely 
frustrated. To this day, writes Augustine, they administer 
baptism outside the communion of the Church ; and, if they 
can, they rebaptize the members of the Church ; they offer 
sacrifice in discord and schism. They fail to see that evil is 
not removed but accentuated by schism ; and that truly spirit- 
ually-minded men would tolerate in the interest of unity what 
they repudiate in the interest of righteousness. 

A conspicuous figure on the Donatist side among Augustine's 
contemporaries was the Bishop Petiltan, 1 His entrance into 
the schism was not the result of conviction but of violence. 
Born of Catholic parents, preparing in early manhood in the 
city of Cirta for baptism in the Catholic Church, he was 
suddenly seized by the Donatists, dragged from some place of 
concealment, held by force, and, white and trembling with fear, 
baptized and ordained against his will. 2 But this reluctant 
entry was followed by willing continuance. Petilian somehow 
convinced himself that his new position was not only correct, 
but the only true communion in the world ; and he became 
its most impassioned advocate. A barrister by profession, he 
had learned the arts of rhetoric and declamation, and introduced 
into the controversies of the theologians the methods of the 
Courts of Law. He was not a man of intellectual depth, but 
rather of the order of shallow plausibility ; nor was he re- 
markable for reverence, or conciliatoriness, in his advocacy of 
religious ideas. He scrupled neither at coarseness, nor person- 
alities, if he considered them advantageous weapons in brow- 
beating a difficult or abler opponent. Nor was he above the 
employment of insincerity, or absolute untruth, as a means of 
promoting what^he regarded as the interests of his sect. This 
was the man whom the Donatists selected as a leader ; and he 
justified their choice, for he rapidly rose to influential position 
among them. 

1 a.d. 400. ' 2 " De Gestis cum Emerito." 


As Bishop of the Donatist party in Constantine, Petilian 
published a pastoral letter, filled with bitter and abusive attacks 
upon the Catholic Church. It is the confused and desultory 
produce of a theologically untrained mind. And this letter 
Augustine has preserved by his reply. 1 Petilian has much to 
say in his letter on the subject of religious persecution. 2 He 
asks Augustine whether the Apostles persecuted any one, and 
whether Christ delivered any one to the secular power. Augus- 
tine does not hesitate to say that Christ Himself persecuted 
when He cleared the Temple with the scourge of small cords. 
Petilian warns Augustine that Christians ought not to imitate 
the cruelty of the Gentiles, and that God does not desire His 
priests to be executioners. Light and darkness can have 
nothing in common, nor sweetness with bitterness, nor gentle- 
ness with cruelty, nor religion with sacrilege, nor the Donatist 
Church with the party of Macarius. Augustine points out 
that these antitheses come with peculiarly bad grace from a 
community which included the Circumcellions. Assume that 
these antitheses are true, and let Petilian apply them to his 
own society. How can Donatus help them while they are 
polluted by Circumcellions' violence ? Petilian, while applying 
Scripture to his own communion, quoted the words, " Thy rod 
and Thy staff comfort me". Augustine cannot resist inquiring 
whether Petilian is thinking of the clubs of the Circumcellions. 
As to appealing to the secular power, Augustine refers to the 
example of St. Paul ; and reminds Petilian that his community 
did the same to recover churches held by the Maximinianists. 
Here in his reply Augustine admits the principle of persecution, 
which, however, he apparently refused to put in practice until 
some years later. No man is to be forced into faith against his 
will. Right conduct is a matter of voluntary choice; does it 
therefore follow that evil conduct is not to be repressed by law ? 
If laws adverse to your predilections are enacted, you are not 
thereby compelled to do good, but prohibited from doing evil. 

1 " C. Litt. Petil.," 1. 2, p. 343. 2 Bk. ii. 21 ff. 



And protests against coercion were worthless when made by 
colleagues of the Circumcellions. 

The remainder of Petilian's letter was filled with abuse and 
personalities. He diverted attention from Augustine's argu- 
ments by an attack on Augustine's character. He lowered the 
problem in religion to the level of a personal dispute. It was 
doubtless an easier enterprise to abuse Augustine's antecedents 
than to refute his reasonings. Petilian enlarged on the life 
Augustine had led before his conversion. Ample material for 
this attack was, of course, accessible to all in the pages of the 
" Confessions ". But Petilian distorted those noble outpourings 
which few, it may be hoped, could have found it in their 
hearts to misuse. He charged his opponent iwith discreditable 
actions absolutely without foundation, declared that he was 
formerly one of the inner circle of the Manichaean elect ; l said 
that Augustine left Africa because he was expelled ; contemptu- 
ously described him as a mere rhetorician ; nicknamed him 
Tertullus, after the orator who accused St. Paul ; calmly asserted 
that his perverse ingenuity was capable of proving that black 
was white, and compared him to a diplomatist who on two 
successive days had demonstrated and then refuted the self- 
same question. To the catalogue of moral and mental 
delinquencies, unredeemed by one commendable feature, 
Petilian added, as a final touch, the reluctance of Megalius to 
admit Augustine to the order of the bishops. 

Certainly it was a telling and exasperating attack, well 
calculated to damage an opponent's character. Its elements of 
unquestionable truth, its appeal to Augustine's own confessions, 
gave it an unmerited effectiveness and plausibility. Regarded 
as the product of an unscrupulous advocate it was calculated 
to secure its purpose ; regarded as an essay in theological 
controversy it need not be characterized. 

It is evident that Augustine felt it keenly. He was an 
acutely sensitive man. But he refused to be diverted from the 
main issue by attacks on his personal character. 2 He had 

1 " C. Petilian," m. 2 " C. Litt. Petil.," in. 2. 


come to defend the Church and not himself. "The House 
of my God Whose glory I have loved I will proclaim and extol, 
but myself I will humiliate and lay low," was his touching 
reply. As to his life before he was baptized, "When I hear 
that period of my life condemned, be his motive who condemns 
it what it may, I cannot be so thankless as to grieve. The 
more a man condemns my evil doings the more must I praise 
my Redeemer." As to his life since baptism, it was known to 
many persons competent to form their own opinion of Petilian's 
aspersions. And whatever Augustine's character might be, 
that was not the question at issue. The question is not the 
personal character of Augustine, but the true doctrine of the 
Church. 1 

11 Whoever have received baptism through Augustine's minis- 
trations need not be concerned with the defence of Augustine. 
You have not been baptized into us, but into Christ. You 
have not put on us but Christ." " I did not ask you, when I 
baptized you, whether you were converted unto me, but unto 
the living God ; nor whether you believed in me, but in the 
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." 

As to the references to some depreciating remarks made by 
Megalius, Primate of Numidia, against Augustine about the 
time of his ordination to the priesthood, it was necessary to say 
no more than that Megalius had apologized for them before a 
council of bishops, and that this same Megalius subsequently 
consecrated him to the episcopate. 

Reference to Augustine's conduct in the period before his 
conversion was perpetually made by his Donatist opponents, 
w T ith a view to counteract his influence as a controversialist ; 
and the Bishop did not hesitate to deal with this difficult 
subject from the pulpit. 2 He told the people that the trans- 
ference of controversy from doctrine to personalities was only 
due to the Donatist consciousness of the weakness of their 

1 " Homo sum enim de area Chriptiani ; palea si malus, granum si 

8 " Enarr.," Ps. xxxvi., Serm. 3, 19. 



case. It was no better than an evasion of the real issue. 
When they have no valid argument they become abusive. 
Augustine's past offences, to which they refer, are, he frankly 
owns, lamentably, painfully true. " We were sometime foolish 
and unbelieving and unto every good work reprobate. We 
were deluded and infatuated by perversity. We do not deny 
it. The darkness of the background is the reason of his 
present thankfulness to the God Who has delivered him. But 
what has this to do with the question in dispute? Why does 
the heretic neglect principles and attack persons ? For what 
am I ? What am I ? Am I the Catholic Church ? Am I 
Christ's inheritance dispersed throughout the world ? It is 
enough for me that I am in it." 

Augustine's reply to Petilian had at any rate one result. 1 It 
provoked a new antagonist. Cresconius^ a layman, teacher of 
grammar, was roused by reading it to undertake Petilian's 
defence. Cresconius' estimate of Augustine is severe. He 
considers the Bishop a plausible but dangerous writer, impos- 
ing on the ignorant with his dialectical subtleties, and consumed 
by arrogance and pride. 2 

The attempt of Cresconius to limit Augustine's influence by 
describing him as a mere dialectician, excessively dangerous to 
the average intellect through his brilliant fencings and logical 
subtleties, led Augustine to discuss the place of reasoning in 
matters of religion. 3 After all, what is dialectic but skill in 
argument. Cresconius cannot mean to deny logic a place in 
the exposition of Christian truth. To begin with he employed 
it himself. He writes at times with subtlety and acuteness. 
The logician should not disparage logic. 4 Was not reason- 
ing, and subtle reasoning, employed by St. Paul? When our 
Lord rebuked the Pharisees who endeavoured to perplex Him 
with a dilemma, He condemned their hypocrisy, but not their 
dialectics. And if a dexterous response to captious interro- 
gations is dialectic, let Cresconius consider whether Christ 

1 a.d. 406. 2 Tillemont, p. 435 ; " Contra Crescon.," 1. 16. 

a P. 624. 4 M Cur dialecticus dialecticam criminaris ? " 


Himself does not appeal to reasoning. And if the intrinsic 
nature of dialectics be considered, what is it but eliciting 
inferences already involved in accepted principles. Christian 
doctrine has no fear of dialectics. Reasoning need draw no 
man to false conclusions, unless he has consented to false data. 

Cresconius proposed an argument on the subject of Baptism. 
Catholics admitted that baptism administered in the Donatist 
Communion was valid, while Donatists denied the validity of 
that administered by Catholics. Here, then, argued Cresconius, 
is a point asserted by the two communions. They both agree 
that Donatist baptism is valid. The validity of Catholic 
baptism is disputed. Therefore, urged Cresconius, it is safer 
to receive the Sacrament where both communions acknowledged 
it to exist, than where its validity was disputed. 

Augustine's answer is that the Catholic view of Donatist 
baptism is inaccurately stated in this argument : The Catholic 
acknowledges that baptism exists among the Donatists, but 
denies that it is beneficial. Validity is one thing, utility 
another. The Donatist does receive baptism, but not to his 
soul's gain. 

Cresconius resented the form of the term " Donatist," as a 
barbarism. The name is Latin but the form is Greek. It 
should be Donatian. As the followers of Novatus are called 
Novatians, so the adherents of Donatus should be Donatians. 

Augustine suggested that, as causers of scandal, it would be 
appropriate to name them Scandalists ; but, in a matter of 
such complete indifference, he will, when corresponding with 
Cresconius, call them Donatians, but with the rest of the world 
he will adopt the more customary form. 



i. First then, as every student knows, Augustine maintained 
the doctrine of a Visible Church. The existence of a divinely 
constituted institution, embodying truth and dispensing grace, 
is among his elementary principles. But if he maintained this 
conception, it is equally certain that he did not originate it. 
The visibility of the Church was taken for granted by Optatus, 
long before Augustine's time, as a matter of course. It was 
held by the Donatist as strongly as by his opponent. Long 
before Optatus lived, St. Cyprian 1 had accustomed Churchmen 
to such maxims as the following : that persons baptized in 
schism must be rebaptized on their reception into the Catholic 
body ; because remission of sins is only given within the fold 
of the Church, and the Catholic Church alone can generate 
sons to God. 

It is indeed quite true that the doctrine of the visibility of 
the Church was restated with all the pre-eminent insight 
of Augustine's religious genius ; but it is impossible with any 
regard for history to credit him with originating what he did 
but receive. 

As has been truly said : 2 "It cannot be too often insisted 
upon that the belief in the Christian Church as the one visible 
society to which the work of Christ's kingdom is confided, and 
its promises are expressly attached, was in no sense Augustinian 
as if originated by Augustine or under his influence ". 

1 " Ep.," lxx. ; Hartel, 768 ; " Ep.," lxxv. 819. 
2 Bishop Robertson, " Regnum Dei," p. 186. 



2. Augustine's second thought is the Catholic character, or 
world-wide extension, of this Divine institution. Catholic 
signifies nothing else than universality. 1 This Catholic Church 
is the Body of Christ. Entire Christ consists of Head and 
Body. 2 Donatists do not dispute concerning the Head, that 
is the Person of our Lord, but concerning His Body, which 
is the Church. Augustine therefore appeals to the Head, 
concerning Whom we agree, to inform us as to the Body, con- 
cerning which we differ. Now, argues Augustine, the Head 
informs us through prophet and psalmist that the obvious 
characteristic of the Body of Christ would be its world-wide 
extension, or catholicity. " In thy seed shall all the nations of 
the earth be blessed " ; "I will give thee the heathen for 
thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy 
possession " : these and similar utterances coincide with the 
words of Christ, " Ye shall be My witnesses unto the ends of 
the earth ". Here then, exclaims Augustine triumphantly, we 
have the Head affirming the catholicity of the Body. There- 
fore the true Church must be universal. 

This conclusion the Donatist resisted. To his mind it was 
absolutely unconvincing. It rode roughshod over human free- 
dom. It was purely mechanical. It was fatalistic in its 
tendencies. Certainly, conceded the Donatist, universality was 
predicted. But the Divine promises are conditional, and de- 
pendent on human co-operation. The existing state of Christen- 
dom was due to man's failure to comply with God's conditions. 
Ideally universal, the Church had actually shrunk to the limits 
of the Donatist Community. 

The Donatist theory that the fulfilment of Divine promises 
is conditional upon man's co-operation is a principle which, 
apart from any particular controversial use of it, deserves most 
serious thought. And even if it was quite untrue that the 
world-wide Body of Christ had withered into the attenuated 
proportions of an African sect, it was certainly true that the 

1 " Ep.," lii. 1 ; " C. Litt. Petii.," 11. 91. 
2 "De Unit. Eccl.," § 7. 


disastrous severance compromised its universality, and in itself 
illustrated the conditional character of the promises of God. 

3. But this Institutional Church, visible and Catholic, is also 
One. Augustine was profoundly impressed with a sense of its 
unity. The unity of the Church was not only ideal but 
essential. But what is unity ? At times it means external 
intercommunion ; at other times it denotes the deeper concep- 
tion of inward identity. Nevertheless Augustine cannot insist 
too strongly on the obligation of outward unity. Schism is to 
him an evil of the gravest sort. What is certain is that under 
no circumstances does God order man to create a schism. 1 
Whatever good may exist in an individual, 2 yet schism com- 
promises all ; just as Naaman's greatness was negatived, at the 
end of a long enumeration, by the disqualifying epithet, but he 
was a leper. 

This abhorrence of schism finds characteristic expression in 
Augustine's exposition of two antithetical sayings of Christ. 
Our Lord said, " He that is not with Me is against Me, he 
that gathereth not with Me scattereth " ; yet of the inde- 
pendent, who, although not of their company, cast out devils 
in Christ's Name, it is said, " Forbid him not, he that is not 
against you is on your part ". Now, urges Augustine, if there 
were nothing in this man to correct, then let every one who 
gathers in Christ's Name outside the communion of the 
Church and dissociated from the Christian society rest as- 
sured that he is doing right, and consequently that the former 
sentence, " He that is not with Me is against Me," is false. 
But if both sentences of Christ are to retain their force and be 
consistent, it must be understood that while the man's venera- 
tion for the name of Christ was to be approved, yet his inde- 
pendence and separation must be condemned ; since, unless a 
man gathers with Christ, he scatters. 3 

The essential necessity of unity, and conversely the sinful- 
ness of separation, is illustrated again from the case of Cornelius 
the centurion. His prayers were heard and his alms accepted. 

1 " De Unit. Eccl." " « De Bapt." 8 Ibid. 


But neither devotion nor philanthropy are substitutes for in- 
corporation into the Body of Christ (which Augustine here 
identifies with membership in the visible institution of the 
Church), nor could they possibly compensate for exclusion. 
Cornelius must be through baptism admitted into the Christian 
Community. He would have inflicted upon himself the gravest 
injury, if he had despised a blessing which he did not possess, 
through confidence in the blessing already received. 1 

Schism is to Augustine like a wound in the human body. 
To enumerate the members which are sound does not remedy 
that which is diseased. The one wound may overbalance the 
healthiness of all the rest. 

Augustine pressed his theory of schism to rigorous ex- 
tremes. Schism demonstrates the absence of charity. If there 
were charity there would not be schism. Even faith, which 
can remove mountains, is nothing without charity*/ From these 
general maxims Augustine advances to individual conclusions. 
What is collectively true cannot be individually false/. No 
Donatist can be possessed of charity. Yet he is dealing with 
a schism of a hundred years' duration. No distinction is here 
drawn between being born into a schism and creating one. 
No suspicion of the possibility of faults on both sides. No 
hint is given that there may be many degrees of love. He 
reiterates the damning fact : schism exists. He concludes 
remorselessly, therefore there is no charity. 2 

Augustine has far too great a mind not to balance this 
thought elsewhere by other considerations. And this suggests 
the difficulty of doing him justice by quotations. He taught 
at another time that much depends on the temper in which 
error is maintained. The maintenance of the erroneous and 
perverse, especially in the case of an inherited faith, more still 
when the mind is solicitous for truth and open to further light, 
is essentially unheretical. 

So keen an idealist as Augustine could not fail to draw the 

1 «« De Bapt." 2 Ibid., i. 12-8, ill. 19-21, iv. 4. 

3 " Ep.," xliii. 1. 


distinction at times between inner and outer unity. When we 
speak of " within " and " without " in relation to the Church, it 
is, he says, the position of the heart that we must consider, not 
that of the body. All who are within the Church in heart are 
saved in the unity of the ark through the same water ; while 
all who are in heart without, whether they are also in body 
without or not, die as enemies of unity. 1 Experience con- 
strained Augustine to confess that external unity was too 
often maintained for worldly motives in a total absence of love. 
There was no necessary proof of grace in membership in the 
visible institution. 2 

Cresconius, a leading opponent of Augustine, insisted that 
the controversy between Catholic and Donatist belonged not 
to the department of heresy, but only to that of schism. 
Heresy signifies diversity of conviction ; schism is separateness 
of communion. Thus the Manichaean and the Arian are 
heresies ; but between the Catholic and Donatist bodies is no 
doctrinal contradiction. Between possessors of one Christ, one 
Religion, and the same Sacraments and Christian practices, 
there may be schism, but heresy there cannot be. Augustine 
therefore, urged his opponent, was guilty of a confusion and 
an injustice when he characterized as a heresy what can be no 
more than a schism. 

This led Augustine to a fuller expression of his thought. 
He contended that if the doctrine of Donatist and Catholic 
was identical no right or reason for division could exist. While 
Cresconius regarded heresy as intellectual and schism as practi- 
cal, Augustine preferred to view them as successive stages in 
the same process. Schism, to his mind, is a recent departure 
from communion, on the basis of an intellectual difference ; 
heresy is stereotyped schism. There is a temporal element 
in the definition. Schism is recent ; heresy is schism become 
inveterate. Yet heresy is the beginning of schism, for the latter 
presupposes intellectual difference. 3 

4. Next to the Church's unity may be considered its Sanctity. 

1 '« De Bapt.," v. 39. 2 Ibid., iv. 15. 3 " Contra Cresconium." 


The Donatist theory maintained that (1) a Church which toler- 
ated the existence of evil persons within it lost its essential 
character, and ceased to be a Church at all. (2) That the 
moral character of the minister affected the quality of the 
Sacrament which he conferred. The intention underlying the 
theory evidently was an admirable longing to realize the 
Church's actual sanctity. It seemed so natural to say, sanctity 
is an attribute of persons, not of institutions, nor of things. 
Yet the theory was simply anti-social. It was destructive to 
all collective aspects of religious life. It exaggerated individ- 
ualism. It was intensely subjective. 

As to the coexistence of the evil and the good within the 
Church, Augustine argued that the Donatist interpretation 
of Scripture texts was altogether misleading. The command, 1 
" Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no un- 
clean thing, go ye out of the midst of her ; be ye clean that 
bear the vessels of the Lord," does not enjoin physical separa- 
tion, but separation in heart. He touches no unclean thing 
who consents to nothing evil. 2 To " put away the evil from 
among you," is certainly a duty, when it can be effected with- 
out introducing the evil of schism. But endeavours to exclude 
the evil must be balanced with the endeavour to keep the unity 
of the spirit in the bond of peace. Nothing could be more 
futile than attempts to discover sanctions for division in the 
Old Testament. The whole history of Israel was one long 
illustration of evil men being endured by the good within the 
same community ; rebuked indeed, but not forsaken. Con- 
tinuance among false brethren is one thing, consent is another. 
The Church must often tolerate what it can neither prevent 
nor approve. 

The Church on earth is a training ground of the imperfect. It 
is intended to include an intermingling of evil and good in the 
same external communion. In a sense the evil are not within 
the Church. In a sense they are. As sharers in the Sacra- 
ments, which they possess with the spiritually minded, they 

1 Isaiah, 52, n. 2 " C. Parmen.," in. 


have a certain form of piety, although resisting its power. 
They dwell within the same limits, although uncontrolled by its 
essential spirit. To whatever extent this incongruous inter- 
mingling should rightfully distress the mind of the devout, it 
should never lead him to imagine that the remedy lies in 
schism. 1 Augustine's profound consciousness of the Divine 
character of the outward institution of the Church forces him 
to recoil with abhorrence from schism as a violating and 
desecrating act. What is certain is that God never orders 
man to make a schism. No good effected by separation can 
compensate for the sinfulness which creates it. To Augus- 
tine's mind the whole tenor of the New Testament predicts 
the mingled character of the Visible Church. The lily 
among the thorns is a true image of the Church's state ; 
so is the net within the sea of the world, including every kind. 
The threshing-floor includes the chaff as well as the grain. 
The great house contains within it vessels made to dishonour. 
The sorting of the fish will take place only when the shore of 
eternity is reached. The pastures of unity are not to be deserted 
because the goats are there as well as the sheep. They will be 
separated by the Shepherd at the last. The harvest is the 
end of the world, and not the era of Donatus ; and the separa- 
tion will be made by Divine judgment, and not by human 
rashness. 2 

Moreover, Augustine reminded his opponents that if defective 
sanctity required secession from the Catholic Church, it would 
equally compel secession from the Donatist Communion. 
However truly the Separatists might describe their withdrawal 
from the Church as prompted by noble yearnings to secure on 
earth the realization of a spiritual ideal, a glorious Church 
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, yet the facts of 
history showed that even the first beginnings of their reform 
were compromised by unspirituality, by the meanest of motives, 
and by the most unchristian of methods. A Donatist deacon, 
more outspoken than discreet, had frankly revealed in a public 

1 " De Unit." ■ Cf. "C. Liu. Petil.," in. 3. 


court what Augustine calls " the marketings of Lucilla " ; how 
she purchased the condemnation of Csecilian by bribing the 
bishops. 1 But the whole development of the Donatist Com- 
munion had been one long refutation of their theory that 
defective sanctity justifies secession from the Church. It was 
impossible to maintain that theory and to continue in the 
Donatist body. The communion of Donatus was contamin- 
ated from its birth with evils no less grave than those from 
which it aspired to escape. 

And further still, the Donatist theory, that the Church's 
sanctity was contaminated and destroyed by contact and com- 
munion with evil men, could only affect the Church in Africa. 
It could not affect the Churches of the world beyond. The 
Donatist position was out of all normal relation with historic 
Christendom. It unchurched the entire Universal Church of 
Christ. It left positively no room for the existence of the 
Apostolic Churches addressed by St. Paul or described in the 
Revelation. Yet how could the Church of Antioch cease to 
be a Church merely through certain 1 African contentions? 
Possibly the geographical knowledge of the Donatists was not 
sufficiently extensive even to indicate the precise position of 
the apostolic foundations. Probably these Churches had 
never even heard of Donatus' name. How then could they be 
defiled, contaminated, or in any way compromised, or changed, 
by disputes of which they were entirely ignorant ? or by ques- 
tions as to the character of individuals whose names they did 
not know ? 2 

The other Donatist contention was that the value of a 
Sacrament is qualified by the moral worth of the minister ; that 
carnally minded clergy could not give rise to spiritually minded 
sons ; 3 since that which is born of the flesh is flesh. This was 
a natural inference from an intensely subjective theory. If the 
Sacrament had no intrinsic sanctity, if the Church had no 
holiness in itself as a Divine institution pervaded by the Spirit, 

1 " De Unit." 2 " De Unit. Eccles.," xxxi. 

3 "C. Parmen.," 11. 23. 


apart from the varying degrees of sanctity in individual mem- 
bers at any given place or time, there was much to be said for 
their contention. But if the inference is natural it is no less 
a reduction of the whole theory to absurdity. It narrowed 
regeneration to the two human elements : the adminis- 
trator and the receiver. It made everything depend on their 
moral state. Meanwhile the third element, the all-essential, 
the Divine element, seems altogether to escape their attention. 
If the quality of the baptism received depends at all on the 
moral worth of the ministrator, what happens in the case 
of the administrator's secret unworthiness ? Does the per- 
son baptized receive regeneration or not ? If he does, 
the theory is false. If he does not, all regeneration, and 
therefore all salvation, is reduced to a state of complete 
uncertainty. But the reduction of salvation to uncertainty 
is obviously unevangelical. Therefore the maxim is false. 1 
Sometimes 2 the Donatist would admit that it was only obtrusive 
and manifested evil which invalidated a priest's ministrations ; 
in the case of the priest's secret unworthiness it was the Holy 
Spirit who baptized. To this Augustine replied : " If it be true 
that when the baptiser is openly excellent, it is man alone who 
baptizes, but when the baptiser is secretly bad, then either God 
or an angel undertakes the work : we are driven to the 
inference that it is better to receive the Sacrament from a 
secretly unworthy priest rather than from one of sanctity ". The 
fact is, urged Augustine, that these confusions arise from 
placing our hope in man rather than in God. The real minis- 
ter of the Sacrament is invariably the same, namely Christ 
Himself. It is He Who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Neither 
is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth ; but God 
Who giveth the increase. The objective side of the Sacrament 
should be very strongly enforced. It is Christ W T ho regener- 
ates. The minister imparts nothing of his own to the Sacra- 
ment which he confers. He cannot qualify the gift of which 
he is nothing but the constituted instrument. 

1 " C. Litt. Petil.," i. 5. 2 " C. Parmen." 


This part of Augustine's reply to the Donatists has a 
permanent value as a powerful statement of the objective side 
of religious rites and institutions. The sanctity of the Church 
means that the institution itself is objectively holy. This 
does not mean that sanctity is transferred from persons to 
institutions. It was'not that the defective sanctity of individuals 
led to the ascription of an imaginary sanctity to the institution. 
The latter is not in the least a substitute for the former, but 
the means for its realization. Recognition of the sanctity of 
the Church as an institution means acknowledgment of the 
Divine side in religion. If it be said that sanctity is an attri- 
bute of persons, not of institutions or things, the answer is 
that the sanctity of the Church is the sanctity of a person, 
namely the Spirit of God. And the sanctity of the institution 
is with a view to the sanctity of its members. Only on condi- 
tion of realizing progressively their sanctity can they continue 
to be its members ; only in proportion as they are striving for 
that realization are they veritably its members even now. It 
should further be remembered that if the principle of the 
objective sanctity of the Church is described as Augustinian, 
this is admissible if it means that it owes to him its most 
brilliant early exposition ; but it is historically incorrect if it be 
intended thereby to label this conception as his invention. 

5. The Donatist controversy led Augustine to an elaborate 
exposition of the Sacrament of Baptism. 1 He taught that 
baptism is objectively valid outside the Visible Church ; but 
subjectively ineffective, until admission is gained. Baptism 
received within the Church is not lost by withdrawal from the 
external limits ; nor can it be repeated on the Separatist's 
return. Baptism can be validly given outside the Catholic 
Communion, as well as within it. But to this doctrine of the 
validity of baptism, wherever received, Augustine added another 
theory : the principle of suspended effects. His theory is 
that while this Sacrament can be given just as validly outside 
the Visible Church as within it, yet the saving effect of the 

1 " De Bapt." 


Sacrament is withheld or suspended, so long as the recipient 
continues in schism. While the objective work of the Sacra- 
ment is invariable, its effectiveness depends on certain con- 
ditions, of which external union with the Church is one. 
Just as unbelief or impenitence obstruct the Sacrament's 
effect until they be removed, so, Augustine held, it was in the 
case of schism. The greatness of the Sacrament might, he 
thinks, produce forgiveness as a momentary possession ; but 
the pardon would be instantly withdrawn, owing to the reci- 
pient's condition. 

Augustine's anti-Donatist work was peculiarly complicated 
by the fact that the Separatists were able to support their 
practice of rebaptism by appeal to no less an authority than 
St. Cyprian. 1 The name of St. Cyprian in the African Church 
was second to none. His position and influence at Carthage, 
his ability as a theologian, his personal sanctity, his martyrdom, 
secured him an authority which, at least in Africa, men in 
proportion to their goodness were reluctant to dispute. 

But in the question of rebaptism the authority of Cyprian 
was undeniably on the Donatist side. It had appeared to 
Cyprian that baptism conferred outside the communion of the 
Catholic Church was simply null and void. He therefore con- 
ferred this Sacrament upon every one who came to the Church 
from schism. His influence carried conviction in a council of 
over eighty bishops of the African Churches who, almost with- 
out a dissentient, endorsed his opinion. Of course the weight 
of an authority so high as Cyprian told strongly in favour of 
the Donatist cause. In Hooker's well-known words : — 

11 Avouching that such as are not of the true Church can 
administer no true baptism, they had for this point whole 
volumes of St. Cyprian's own writing, together with the judg- 
ment of divers African Synods whose sentence was the same 
with his." 2 

11 Whereupon the Fathers were likewise in defence of their 
just cause very greatly prejudiced, both for that they could not 

1 «' De Bapt.," bk. i. 2 Hooker, v. 288. 


enforce the duty of men's communion with a Church confessed 
to be in many things blameworthy unless they should often- 
times seem to speak as half defenders of the faults themselves, 
or at the least, not so vehement accusers thereof as their 
adversaries ; and to withstand iteration of baptism, the other 
branch of the Donatists' heresy, was impossible without mani- 
fest and professed rejection of Cyprian, whom the world 
universally did in his lifetime admire as the greatest among 
prelates, and now honour as not the lowest in the Kingdom of 
Heaven. So true we find it by experience of all ages in the 
Church of God, that the teachers' error is the people's trial, 
harder and heavier by so much to bear, as he is in worth and 
regard greater that mispersuadeth them. Although there was 
odds between Cyprian's cause and theirs, he differing from 
others of sounder understanding in that point but not dividing 
himself from the body of the Church by schism as did the 
Donatists." 1 

It therefore fell to Augustine's lot to refute the teaching of 
St. Cyprian on the question at issue. He did so with extra- 
ordinary skill and delicacy, expressing repeatedly the greatest 
admiration for Cyprian's character and sanctity, while separat- 
ing himself from Cyprian's opinion. He frankly declares that 
Cyprian was mistaken, but he regards the error as providentially 
permitted. For his disagreement with the ancient custom, a 
custom which the whole Catholic world had since endorsed, 
did not lead him to dream of separation. And yet if Cyprian 
had founded a schism he would easily have drawn away multi- 
tudes after him. The Cyprianists would have been more 
extensive than the Donatists. But his charity redeems his 

Accordingly, says Augustine, the authority of Cyprian does 
not silence him ; for he is reassured by Cyprian's humility. 2 
If Peter acted against the rule of truth, which the Church 
afterwards maintained, when he compelled the Gentiles to 

1 Hooker, v. 62, 80. 
2 "De Bapt.,"bk. ii. §2. 


judaize, a similar contention by Cyprian, against the rule of 
truth, subsequently held by the Universal Church, is perfectly 
accountable. Cyprian and Peter may fairly be compared, since 
both were martyrs, notwithstanding the Apostle's superiority 
in position. And, in fact, Peter's attempt to enforce circum- 
cision on the Gentile would be far more abhorrent to the 
human race than Cyprian's attempt to rebaptize. But as 
Peter was corrected by Paul, much more must Cyprian be 
corrected by councils of the Church, which have greater 
authority than any individual bishop. Cyprian's humility and 
forbearance were manifested in the principles which he indi- 
cated to his synod at Carthage : every one was to say what he 
thought ; no man to be condemned, or removed from the 
rights of communion, should he think differently from others. 1 
For none of them constituted himself a bishop over bishops, 
or would attempt to coerce his colleagues by tyrannical in- 
fluence. If, then, the Donatists perpetually appealed to the 
letter of Cyprian, the Council of Cyprian, let them, in all fair- 
ness, follow the example of Cyprian. Whatever Cyprian 
thought on the subject of rebaptism he made no rent in the 
Church's unity. The letters of bishops may be revised by 
councils ; and local or provincial councils, in their turn, by 
plenary councils of the universal Christian world ; and these 
plenary councils themselves are often emended by later councils, 
when more matured expression and profounder knowledge 
require reconsideration of earlier decisions. 

Augustine justifies rejecting Cyprian's view by an appeal to 
the authority of the Universal Church : an authority to which 
he has no doubt Cyprian himself would have yielded, if in those 
days the truth had been endorsed by the decision of a plenary 
council. For, surely, if he praises Peter for submitting to be 
corrected by one of his colleagues, he would himself with the 
council of his province have submitted to be corrected by the 
authority of the Universal Church. Augustine here goes so 
far as to venture to insinuate the possibility that Cyprian did 

1 ■« De Bapt.," bk. ii. 


actually change his mind. But of this there is not the slightest 
historic trace, nor indeed any probability. 

Truth, Augustine thinks, is sometimes withheld from the 
more learned of men as a test of their patience, humility, and 
love ; or as a test of the way in which they hold to the Church's 
unity. Cyprian was not only a learned, he was also a teach- 
able man. And out of this trial Cyprian emerged triumphantly. 
The liability to believe otherwise than things really are is 
intensely human. But the self-opinionated temper, or the 
envy of better men, which leads to severance from the com- 
munion of the Church, and the sacrilegious erection of schism, 
is indefensible presumption. 

Augustine bids his opponents realize that if the Donatist 
maxim that retention of incongruous elements within the 
Church is destructive of its catholicity be true, 1 the Church must 
have already ceased to exist in Cyprian's day. Did coexist- 
ence of opposite opinions contaminate the Church in Cyprian's 
day ? Let the Donatists give what answer they please. If 
they answer yes, then there is no Church existing to contend 
about, or separate from. If they answer no, then there is 
nothing to justify separation from the Catholic body to-day. 

The Donatists will be more wisely occupied in maintaining 
unity, after Cyprian's example, than in claiming his authority 
for rebaptizing. Augustine is persuaded that refusal to re- 
iterate baptism was the ancient custom of the Church and 
was, in fact, the apostolical tradition. Like many other things, 
neither written in the apostolic records, nor ordained of later 
councils, yet universally observed, this recognition of baptism 
conferred outside the Church had an apostolic origin. Cyprian's 
predecessor, Agrippinus, was the first to depart from the earlier 
custom. Agrippinus had prepared to innovate, rather than 
defend in practice, what he did not understand. But a plenary 
council has since decided that this departure was wrong. 
Cyprian's opponents did indeed assure him that ancient cus- 
toms contradicted his theory ; but their defence of the custom 

1( *De Bapt., M bk. ii. 
6 * 


was too weak to influence such a mind. He therefore adhered 
to his own reasons, although mistaken, rather than yield to a 
custom so feebly defended. 

What the plenary council is to which Augustine refers is 
uncertain. He does not mention its name, and learned opinion 
is divided between the Council of Nicaea and that of Aries. 1 
Augustine says that this plenary council was held before he was 
born, which would apply to either. 2 

Accordingly, what Augustine, in disallowing the reiteration 
of baptism, claimed to be doing was this : he was recalling 
men to the earlier form of tradition, to the practice which had 
existed before St. Cyprian's time, and which ought never to 
have been changed ; both because it was the original practice, 
and because the change involved mistaken principles. 3 Re- 
baptism was an innovation as Cyprian himself admits. It 
came in through Cyprian's personal influence over the Car- 
thaginian Council ; and became widely extended in Africa 
during the interval of forty years between Cyprian's martyrdom 
and Diocletian's persecution. It appeared ancient in the days 
when the schism began. But that was only due to men's 
ignorance of history. 

Augustine setting aside the authority of St. Cyprian, is 
significant. He was driven by the exigencies of controversy 
to oppose the greatest ecclesiastical personage whom Africa 
had hitherto produced. He had to see a theologian, in 
many respects congenial to his mind, claimed with justice 
in behalf of a schismatic practice. But if Augustine set aside 
the authority of a Cyprian, it was only in deference to a still 
greater authority, namely, that of the Church itself. And he 
was thus led in the most practical way to distinguish between 
the authority of the individual bishop, however gifted a theo- 
logian, and the authority of the Universal Church. 

It is instructive to remember that Augustine himself was to 
become another illustration of the same distinction. 

la De Bapt.," bk. ii. § 14. 

2 See iv. 8 and especially v. 23 and vi. 3. 

J v. 1. 


It is important to observe that hitherto the Bishop of Hippo 
has considered the subject of rebaptism from two different 
points of view : the first doctrinal, the second historical. He 
first explains and reasons upon the theory itself, then he con- 
siders the authority of tradition. And he is confident that both 
these are against the schismatic view. The doctrine of the 
Church and the practice of the Church are other than some 
men in Africa suppose. Accordingly, on the basis of this double 
support, he proceeds to criticize the arguments produced by St. 
Cyprian and by the members of the Carthaginian Council. 

The arguments advanced in Cyprian's Council are interesting 
in many ways. They show the African mind of that period 
endeavouring to adjust various portions of Christian truth ; 
thinking out the relation between Church and schism ; between 
the Church and the Sacrament ; between the Sacrament and 
the gift ; between the authority of traditional custom and the 
value of reason. They show the enormous ascendancy of St. 
Cyprian over his colleagues. They show, too, that the sacra- 
mental theory advanced by St. Cyprian had much in common 
with the opinions maintained by the Donatist body afterwards. 
The Donatists certainly did not invent the theory that baptism 
could only be given inside the limits of the Visible Church. 
They found that theory already prevalent. Cyprian, and the 
African bishops under his influence, would have agreed with 

1. One favourite argument in Cyprian's Council was that 
custom must yield to truth. 1 They opposed doctrine to tradition. 
The traditional practice of the Church had takena wrong develop- 
ment and must be revised in accordance with evangelical prin- 
ciples. Our Lord in the Gospel did not say I am custom, but I 
am truth. When, therefore, truth is manifest let custom yield. 

Certainly, replies Augustine, when truth is manifest let it 
prevail. But that tradition was opposed to truth is precisely 
what he has proved to be mistaken. Moreover, the argument 
admits that custom was adverse to the practice of rebaptizing. 

1 in. 9, 11, 12, and vi. 71. 


Reason must undoubtedly be preferred to mere tradition if the 
two contradict. But when truth and custom harmonize, noth- 
ing ought to be more firmly retained. And custom, whose 
origin men in the time of Cyprian could not trace, is wisely 
regarded as apostolic. 

2. They argued that the water of baptism ministered by a 
heretic is profane. 1 

Augustine replies that the water over which the Name of 
God is invoked cannot be profane. The baptism of Christ is 
consecrated by the Gospel words, and its sanctity is independ- 
ent of the minister's moral worth. The Divine power co-oper- 
ates with its Sacrament ; 2 whether to the salvation of those who 
rightly use it, or to the injury of those who misuse it. 

As the rays of the sun contract no defilement from the mire 
of the earth, so the sanctity of Christ's Sacrament cannot be 
contaminated by the unworthiness of human ministrations. If 
the Catholic reiterates baptism received among heretics, he 
would appear to ascribe to heretics what really belongs to 

3. Cyprian had impressed upon his council the dangerous 
argument of expediency. 3 If, urged he, schismatics see that we 
accept their baptism as lawful and true, they will imagine 
themselves to be lawful and true possessors of the Church 
itself and all the gifts therein contained. 

Distinguish, replies Augustine. What we assert is that 
schismatics possess a lawful Sacrament ; what we deny is that 
they possess it lawfully. 4 A good man within Catholic unity 
holds a lawful baptism, and holds it lawfully. A bad man in the 
same unity holds a lawful baptism, but not lawfully. This last 
case is similar to that of the man who is baptized in schism. 
He possesses a lawful baptism, but he does not possess it law- 
fully. 5 And lawful baptism does not confer forgiveness, unless 
the Sacrament is held lawfully. 

4. The practice of rebaptizing was also defended in Cyprian's 

1 in. 15. 2 " Sacramento suo divina virtus assistit." 

3 v. 8. 4 " Legitimum sed non legitime." 5 § 9. 


age on the ground that baptism and the Church cannot be 
separated from each other. 1 By the inseparability of the Sacra- 
ment and the Society was meant that the former could only be 
found or given within the latter. But, instead of limiting the 
Sacrament to the Society, men might have extended the Society 
to the Sacrament ; so that the definition of the Church would 
have to include all the baptized. This was not the inference 
intended. But Augustine at any rate shows how untenable the 
maxim is in the intended meaning. The inseparability of the 
Sacrament from the Visible Society of the Church was obviously 
untrue to facts. What if the baptized is excommunicated ? Is 
he not separated from the Church ? But he is not separated 
from his baptism. The Sacrament remains inseparably in the 
baptized. However far he may wander, to whatever extremes 
he may go, however deeply he may sink, even to apostasy and 
perdition, still his baptism remains. But the baptized may be 
separated completely and finally from the Church. Thus the 
maxim is obviously in that sense untenable. Not all who are in 
possession of baptism are in possession of the Church, any 
more than all who are in possession of the Church are also in 
possession of life eternal. 

5. Among the favourite theological maxims circulated in 
Cyprian's age were such as the following : An infidel cannot give 
faith ; Antichrist cannot cleanse in the Name of Christ ; The 
dead cannot confer life ; A man cannot give what he does not 
possess. 2 

Augustine's reply to this and to more of a similar nature is 
that the maxims are inapplicable because they would prove too 
much. 3 If it were correct that personal unfaithfulness in- 
capacitated from administration of a genuine Sacrament, it 
would be correct inside the Church as well as out. For heresy 
and schism are not the only forms which personal unfaithfulness 
may assume. What of the insincere within the Church ? What 
of those within the precincts who, to adopt Cyprian's own 
lament, have renounced the world in language but not in life ? 

1 v. 20. 2 vn. 56. 3 vi. 12. 


If the maxim that life cannot be conferred by the dead holds 
true of a schismatic, it must hold equally true of the unworthy 
Catholic. But this would throw the whole system of sacramental 
grace into hopeless and irretrievable uncertainty. 

It cannot possibly be true. And it is not true because the 
Sacrament is holy per se, and is not variable at the will or 
worth of human individuals. The maxim, for example, that no 
man can give what he does not possess is, when applied to 
sacramental matters, a fallacy, because based on the assump- 
tion that the Sacrament is the minister's possession, which is 
precisely what it is not. 

Doubtless no man can confer upon another a sanctity which 
he does not possess. But it is not his own baptism which the 
minister confers, it is Christ's. It is not the minister of the 
Sacrament, but Christ Himself, who is the author and giver of 
the grace conveyed. 1 

6. Another episcopal argument in Cyprian's Council was 
either the Lord is God, or Baal is God. Either the Church is 
the Church, or heresy is the Church. But if heresy be not the 
Church, how can it possess the baptism of the Church ? 

It is a type of argument which can find too many parallels. 
Augustine for answer applies the method of argument to an- 
other instance. Either Paradise is Paradise, or Egypt is 
Paradise. But if Egypt is not Paradise, how can the water of 
Paradise be found in Egypt ? You will say because it flowed 
out into Egypt. Precisely. So has the water of baptism 
flowed out beyond the Church. 2 If the thorns of the Evil One 
can grow within the " garden enclosed," why may not the 
fountain of Christ stream out beyond the garden ? If Satan 
has his own within the Church's unity, shall not Christ have 
His beyond that unity ? 3 

The Cyprianic theory springs, according to Augustine, from 
failure to distinguish between the Sacrament and its effects. 
Augustine once more sums up his own teaching as follows : 
The Sacrament of Baptism can be held, given, and received both 

*VXL 14. 2 " De Bapt.," iv. 10. 3 iv. 13. 


by good and evil men. By good men effectively and health- 
fully, 1 by evil men hurtfully and penally. But the integrity of 
the Sacrament is the same in either case. Neither the good- 
ness of the one class can increase its sanctity, nor can the bad- 
ness of the other diminish its sanctity. The Sacrament is in- 
dependent of the merits either of the administrator or of the 
recipient. In itself it is and always must be excellent. Where 
it may vary is in its effects, for these depend on the subjective 
capabilities of the recipient. 

In baptism the matter of essential moment is not who gives 
but what he gives, nor who receives but what he receives, nor 
who possesses but what he possesses. 2 

7. To conclude this sketch of Augustine's doctrine on the 
Church. Be it remembered that he wrought his work under 
stress of three great controversies : the Manichaean, the Dona- 
tistic, the Pelagian. These, in his experience, were more or less 
successive. Thus his treatment was controversial throughout, 
and determined by the aspects of the dispute to which he replied. 
In the first controversy Augustine dwelt almost entirely on the 
Church as the embodiment of authority, and the teacher of 
truth ; in the second, the Church is contemplated rather as the 
sphere of redemption ; in the third the Church tends to dis- 
appear in a discussion of predestination. 

Since Augustine's teaching is in each case elicited under 
stress of controversial needs, the consequence is that separate 
sides of the truth are successively drawn out but nowhere co- 
ordinated. The work is strewn with a rich profusion of unre- 
conciled ideas, unreconciled at least explicitly, whatever relation 
they bore to each other in the great writer's mind. 

In the midst of all this wealth of thought, two main concep- 
tions of the Church appear to emerge each into vivid distinctness, 

The first of these is the institutional idea : the Church is the 

1 " Utiliter aut salubriter." 

2 "De Bapt.," iv. 16: " Non cogitandum quis dat sed quid dat ". 
The same thought is afterwards repeated. Cf. iv. 18 and vi. 47, p. 294. 


external society of the baptized. Within it is the light, outside 
is the darkness. Salvation is for those who are gathered within. 

But secondly is the mystical idea : the Church is the society 
of the actually redeemed. It excludes many who are within 
the visible institution, it includes many who are without. Re- 
lation to the Visible Church is no test of ultimate relation to 
this Church of the saints. Thus the institutional and the 
mystical ideas conflict, and cut across each other. The idea of 
predestination comes to the support of the mystical conception 
of the Church. It suggests the number of the ultimately saved. 
They seem to stand in no necessary relation to the external 
institution of the Church. The predestined, the truly elect, 
may be in reach of the sacramental system or they may not. 

Whatever the solution of these opposing thoughts may be, 
Augustine has certainly nowhere explained it. 



The history of the Donatists during Augustine's episcopate has 
been hitherto traced chiefly on its literary side. We have seen 
how it pervaded the theological writings of the age. There is 
another side to be considered. The schism became a subject 
of legislation, both on the part of the Church and also of 
the State : of the Church, both with a view to secure reunion, 
and to determine the conditions upon which individuals, cleric 
and lay, might be reconciled ; of the State, both in answer to 
appeals from the Church, and in response to the requirements 
of social peace. 

We have therefore to review the synodical and imperial 
action against the Donatists during this period. 

On the side of the State a long succession of penal laws 
appeared against the division, simply regarding it as a serious 
hindrance to good government. No self-respecting State could 
tolerate the fanatical violence of the Circumcellions. Accord- 
ingly, the statute book contains edicts of emperor after emperor, 
of Valentinian and Gratian, and Theodosius and Honorius, ad- 
verse to the Donatist Community. In the same year 1 Theodosius 
decreed that any heretic who accepted or conferred ordination 
was to be fined ten pounds of gold ; and Honorius decreed 
that men who broke into Catholic churches, and injured the 
clergy or disturbed the worship, were to be proceeded against 
forthwith by the local civil authorities, as offenders against 
public order. It was obviously not in the theological or 

1 a.d. 393. Migne, " Optatus," p. 1292. 



ecclesiastical interest that such enactments were framed, but 
purely in behalf of secular peace. The increasing feebleness 
of the government of Honorius doubtless contributed to the 
impunity of sectarian violence. 

But if the Donatists occupied the attention of the State, still 
more did they absorb the deliberations of the Church. This 
period produced the important series of African councils under 
the able presidency of Archbishop Aurelius of Carthage. The 
decisions of these synods were incorporated into the great 
collections of ecclesiastical rulings, and became the basis of 
Canon Law for the Western Church. 1 Among those African 
councils some are entitled " General ". Baronius considers 
that this title " General " expresses their relation to the African 
Church. They were general as being fairly or fully represen- 
tative of the African provinces. 2 The classification of the 
councils varies in different writers, but Diocesan, Provincial, 
General, Universal or (Ecumenical are the principal kinds. 

The African councils held at Carthage and other places 
were constantly compelled to deliberate on the subject of the 
schism. Of the long series of these assemblies we may con- 
sider three. 

Two important councils were held in the vestry or secre- 
tarium of the Basilica Restituta at Carthage in the year 401. 
Archbishop Aurelius presided over both. 3 

At the former council, held in June, the Archbishop dwelt 
upon the lamentable condition of the African Church, 4 and 
proposed that a representative should be sent to their fellow 
bishops in Italy, to Anastasius, Bishop of the Apostolic See, 
and to Venerius, Bishop of the Church at Milan, to consult 
them on the very serious dearth of clergy in Africa. 

Many churches were so reduced that not even a solitary 
deacon, however illiterate, could be found for them. The 
impossibility of adequate provision for the higher offices of the 
ministry might easily be inferred. Moreover, statistics testified 

1 See Dionysius Exiguus. 2 Baronius, " Annals," a.d. 403. 

3 Migne, " Optatus," p. 1195. 4 Noris, iv. 481. 


to diminishing congregations. An earlier synod had resolved, 
provisionally, that persons baptized in infancy in the schism, 
but reconciled to the Church in maturer life, were not neces- 
sarily disqualified from ordination, especially when the needs 
of the Church might so demand. The present problem was 
different and wider reaching. The Italian bishops were now 
to be consulted upon the best course to pursue when a con- 
gregation and clergy in schism desire to return in a body to 
the Church. 

The dearth of clergy in the African Church was due to 
various causes ; one was the difficulty of language. There 
was a reluctance to appoint in the environs of Hippo Regius, 1 
Augustine's own episcopal city, clergy unable to make them- 
selves intelligible in Punic to their countrymen. Punic names 
and phrases were still widely current, and the popular dialect 
survived, although banished from the schools. Augustine 
himself quotes Punic words in his sermons. Ignorance of 
Punic may have limited the numbers of suitable clergy. But 
of course the principal cause was the schism. 

A second council was held at Carthage, in the hall of the 
same basilica, 2 in the month of September, 401. Letters were 
read from Pope Anastasius urging the African Church not to 
conceal from the secular authorities the sufferings which the 
Donatists inflicted upon them. The council resolved to pro- 
mote a conference with the Separatists, as the best means to 
produce reunion. It was further resolved that, subject to the 
approval of the Apostolic See, and in view of urgent local 
needs, any cleric coming from the schism to the Church should 
be maintained in his office. 

The African bishops held another great assembly two years 
afterwards, in 403, 3 Archbishop Aurelius again presiding. It 
was now resolved that each bishop in his own city should 
endeavour to hold a conference with the local head of the 
Donatist Communion. A form of invitation was drawn up 

1 Theodor Mommsen, " The Provinces of the Roman Empire," 11. 328. 

2 Migne, •' Optatus," p. 1197. 3 Ibid., p. 1200. 


which a bishop might send to his Donatist rival. The council 
also appealed to the Proconsul Septimus to support the 
Church's endeavours. If the Donatists had any truth to 
maintain, let it be done dispassionately, by use of reason, and 
not by furious outbursts of violence, destructive alike of religi- 
ous peace and public order. 

Appeals and invitations of this kind, however excellent, were 
many years too late. The memories of a century embittered 
throughout its length by accusations, irritating if false, humiliat- 
ing if true ; the knowledge that this invitation to conferences 
came from the party supported by the civil power : these things 
could only be ignored and overlooked by men of real spirituality. 
But such elevation of temper, and refinement of soul, did not 
prevail in the limits of the now weakened and exasperated 
community. The invitation to hold a conference was there- 
fore, quite naturally, declined with energy, and anger, and 

It was also answered among the Circumcellions by another 
furious outburst of violence. 

The most horrible atrocities were committed in Africa 
through this period. No Catholic home was safe from a mid- 
night attack. Thej fanatics cut off the hand of a bishop, tore 
out the tongue of another. 1 They blinded their opponents by 
a mixture of acid and lime, causing the most excruciating torture. 
They set fire alike to private houses and churches ; and, re- 
flecting with peculiar irony on the origin of the schism, many 
copies of the Sacred Writings perished in the flames. 

All these facts are recorded by Augustine. 2 They live as 
robbers, they die as Circumcellions, they are honoured as 
martyrs ! 

The nobler spirits on the Puritan side undoubtedly repudiated, 
but could not control, the violence of their unscrupulous and 
desperate defenders ; and the fact remains that the Circum- 
cellions, those unruly asserters of schismatic principles, endea- 

1 »' Letter," 185, § 13. 2 " Contra Crescon.," m. 46. 


voured to suppress by tumult what they could not refute by 
reason. 1 

Against Augustine in particular the Circumcellions directed 
peculiar hatred. His pre-eminence and success in winning 
converts to the Church exasperated them above all things. 
More than once his life was in imminent danger ; and he 
thankfully ascribes his escape to the Divine protection. During 
an episcopal visitation the road was beset by these fanatics ; 
and the Bishop would certainly have been brutally treated, 
perhaps murdered, had not the priest who conducted him pro- 
videntially taken the wrong road. 2 

In this reign of terror it was almost impossible for reason or 
truth to prevail. Many of the Donatist party were inwardly 
convinced, as they afterwards admitted, by the power of 
Augustine's arguments. They longed to return to Catholic 
unity, but dared not endanger their lives and the lives of their 
friends. Accordingly there is no wonder that when the African 
bishops met in council in 404 they were strongly in favour of 
an appeal to the secular authorities. They knew that, if only 
this paralysing fear could be removed, vast numbers would 
take refuge at once within the Catholic fold. All that was 
wanted was freedom to act on their convictions. And this 
freedom could only be secured by appealing for protection to 
the imperial power. Many of the members of the council, 
including the most experienced, were prepared to go much 
further still. They urged not only that converts to the Church 
should be protected against Donatist violence, but that the 
Donatists as a body should be compelled by force to enter 
the Catholic Communion. They reminded the council that fear 
of the imperial laws had in the days of Constantine proved 
singularly conducive to ecclesiastical unity. They pointed in 
particular to Augustine's native town Tagaste, which was at one 
time almost entirely Donatist, but through imperial measures 

1 Bened., " Life of St. Aug.," p. 513. 

2 " Enchirid.," xxvu. ; " Possid. Vita," xn. 


had become almost entirely Catholic. The Council of Carthage 
seems unconscious of the immense distinction in principles 
between these alternative schemes. 

It was one thing for a religious body to appeal for freedom 
to worship without distraction or fear : it was a very different 
thing to require the secular power to allow no worship but its 
own, and to coerce all others into its own communion. The 
former was to claim liberty of conscience as a universal right ; 
the other was to claim liberty as one's own exclusive possession. 

The council, however, although not clear on this tremendous 
distinction, were yet, on the whole, more inclined to appeal to 
the imperial authority for protection than coercion. It was in 
the end agreed that two legates should be sent to the Emperor 
Honorius, entreating him that the laws of Theodosius, of pious 
memory, against all heretics should be re-enacted against the 
schism in particular ; and that all perpetrators of violence 
against the Catholics in Africa should be liable to a fine of 
ten pounds in gold. Certainly this appeal was, under the cir- 
cumstances, forbearing. 1 It should be remembered that the 
influence of Augustine was at work in this. 

Meanwhile fresh acts of violence among the Circumcellions 
rendered dispassionate and conciliatory movements on either 
side increasingly difficult. 2 Possidius, Catholic Bishop of 
Calama, did his utmost, in accordance with the suggestions of 
the council, to bring his rival, the Donatist Bishop Crispin, to 
confer with him. Crispin refused with the Scriptural quotation : 
" Speak not in the ears of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom 
of thy words ". 3 Nothing daunted by this disconcerting applica- 
tion of Scripture, Possidius vigorously pursued the work of 
reunion. The consequence was that the Donatists resorted 
to other than Scriptural weapons. Possidius was one day 
strengthening the faith of some Catholics in his diocese when 
the house was besieged by Circumcellions, who attempted to 

1 Bened., " Life," p. 535. ■ " Contra Crescon.," in. 

a Prov. xxiii. 9. 


set the building on fire, and were only frustrated by townsmen, 
who feared the consequence. Thereupon the fanatics, deter- 
mined not to be baffled, and headed by a Donatist priest, broke 
down the door, killed the horses stabled in the lower portion 
of the house, dragged the Bishop from the upper story, and 
brutally beat him until the Donatist priest himself begged them 
to desist. Possidius escaped further inflictions. And the 
matter was laid before the Donatist bishop, who took no steps 
whatever to correct his priest. Accordingly Possidius appealed 
to the secular authorities ; and Crispin was condemned to a fine 
of ten pounds. Crispin, however, much to the disgust of his own 
party, appealed to the Emperor Honorius, 1 on the ground that 
the law under which he was condemned was directed against 
heretics, among whom he claimed that the Donatists could not 
be included. The imperial reply was prompt, emphatic, and 
severe. Honorius declared that Donatists were included with 
heretics, and confirmed the fine. At this point, however, the 
Catholic bishops, with considerable magnanimity, intervened ; 
and Crispin was not compelled to pay. But while the bishops 
set the example of asking no more than protection, doubtless 
the desire to suppress these elements of social anarchy was in- 
creasing both among statesmen and members of the Church. 

Another incident which strongly influenced opinion in the 
same direction was the tragic experience of Maximinian, 
Catholic Bishop of Bagai. 

The Bishop of Bagai was taken from the altar in the very 
act of celebrating, by a desperate mob of Circumcellions. He 
was cruelly beaten ; and, wounded and half stunned, was 
dragged through the mire, which closed upon his wounds, and 
so prevented him from bleeding to death. He was then thrown 
from a tower and abandoned as dead, but rescued at night 
by Catholics, and hidden from his enemies. He recovered, 
and appeared in the streets of Rome, scarred and disfigured 
by appalling wounds, to seek for protection from the Em- 
peror. Honorius at once resorted to coercive legislation. He 

1 See Ribbeck, 445. 


passed a law 1 that, in consequence of the brutality of the 
Donatist party, their bishops were to be sent into exile, and 
their members compelled to enter the unity of the Church. 2 
Still severer edicts were issued early in the following year. 3 
It was now ordered that the Donatist churches should be taken 
away from them. Honorius determined to prevent the Donatists 
from pleading any more the inapplicability to their case of the 
laws against heretics. He published an edict in which he deals 
with the theological distinction of heresy and schism, and in- 
cludes the Donatists among heretics, on the ground that their 
conduct in reiterating baptism has converted their schism into 
heresy. 4 They are to suffer civil penalties. Buildings lent for 
schismatic purposes are to be confiscated to the State. This 
decision was known among the Catholic party as the Edict of 
Unity. 5 

This coercive legislation was immediately followed by a con- 
siderable return of Donatists to the Church. Many declared 
that they had only held aloof in simple terror of Circumcellion 
fanaticism. 6 

Augustine watched the practical effects of secular interven- 
tion in spiritual affairs and considered them beneficial. He 
requested the principal officer of State to apply to the district 
of Hippo, and the borders of Numidia, the measures of coer- 
cion which had proved so successful in promoting unity else- 
where. 7 

1 a.d. 404. 2 Hefele, p. 441. 3 a.d. 405. 

4 " Ita contigit ut haresis ex schismate nasceretur." 

5 St. Aug., W. ix. 612 n. « " Letter," 185, § 29. 7 " Ep.," 86. 



From these movements x in the great Empire itself, we turn to 
diocesan affairs. 

While Augustine wrote for the Church at large, he laboured 
strenuously for the diocese which was his own especial care. 
And while the Donatists strove to refute Augustine's writings, 
they laboured desperately to frustrate him in Hippo itself. 
Within the diocese of Hippo the contest between Catholic and 
Donatist was intensified by its very concentration. Augustine 
had now been bishop fifteen years. Macrobius now occupied 
the place of Proculeian. Macrobius, after a triumphal entry 
into Hippo, was instated in the midst of throngs of his ad- 
herents, among whom the Circumcel lions held a conspicuous 
place. They shouted their terrible war cry, " Laudes Deo," 2 
but so conducted themselves that Macrobius himself was more 
disgusted by their turbulence than delighted by their loyalty. 
On the following day he delivered in the church a severe re- 
buke to the disorderly crowd who compromised his position, 
and endangered his cause at the hands of the State. The 
Circumcellions would seem to have belonged to the ignorant 
native African population ; for Macrobius had to speak to 
them by means of a Punic interpreter. They were by no 
means prepared to hear correction, nor did they wait for the 
finish of the episcopal advice. With outbursts of indignation 
and disgust, they rose and left the church and took their 
departure. Certain Catholics who were present at the service 

1 a.d. 409. 2 Bened., M Life of St. Aug.," p. 600. 

99 7 * 


reported these proceedings to the Churchmen of Hippo. 
But no sooner had the Catholics themselves withdrawn 
than the Macrobians performed an act of ritual more ex- 
pressive than polite. They proceeded to wash with salt 
water the place where the Catholics had stood. 

Significant this of the exasperation with which the Catholic 
Church was regarded. Still in spite of these proceedings, 
Augustine held Macrobius in respect and paid a tribute to his 
eloquence and abilities. But he was not likely to make much 
way in the direction of unity. The old transference from one 
Church to the other on inadequate grounds continued. There 
was one Rustician, a Catholic, and subdeacon, somewhere in 
the Diocese of Hippo, who, for misconduct, was excommuni- 
cated. Rustician immediately bethought himself of entrance 
into the Donatist schism at Hippo ; partly as a means of 
reinstating himself, 1 and partly as protection against the urgent 
pressure of his creditors, who, however anxious they might be 
to obtain repayment, would hardly care to awaken the attention 
of the Circumcellions. Bishop Macrobius saw no reason why 
the excommunicated deacon should not be admitted to the 
schism. He therefore received him into the separated society. 
Augustine protested vehemently against rebaptizing Rustician ; 
and called upon Macrobius to reconcile such a procedure with 
the conduct of his predecessors in the famous incident of the 

Augustine sent his protest by two messengers, whom Macro- 
bius at first refused to admit, but eventually dismissed with 
the answer that he could not do otherwise than receive such 
converts as came to him. As to the Maximinianist difficulty, 
Macrobius returned the evasive answer that " it was not for 
him, a man but recently consecrated, to sit in judgment on 
the deeds of his fathers ". To that Augustine's retort was 
unanswerable. If the Donatist is not to pass judgment on the 
deeds of his father, 2 who is still alive, and can be personally 
interrogated, with a view to explanation, how can the Catholic 
1 St. Aug., « Ep.," 108. 2 " Ep.," 108. 


be required to pass judgment on the deeds of certain of his 
fathers who are no longer accessible in the flesh but deceased 
a century ago ? * 

These distressing troubles at Hippo filled Augustine with 
profound depression. The world, says he in a letter, is a scene 
of universal wretchedness. The religious houses in Egypt 
have been beset, and the inmates massacred by barbarians. 
Italy is full of disasters, so is Gaul, so is Spain. But there is 
no need to describe other countries ; for Hippo itself, although 
the barbarians have not reached it, is suffering terrible calamities 
from the Donatist clergy, and from the Circumcellions who are 
worse than barbarians. They desolate churches ; they murder. 
They rob houses and burn them. Multitudes are terrorized 
into accepting rebaptism as the only way to escape. Neverthe- 
less, Augustine strives to strengthen himself with the thought 
that these troubles are deserved and predicted. If it be ques- 
tioned why saintly men suffer these things, the answer is that 
they are not better than the Three Children, or Daniel, or the 
Maccabees. Augustine encourages his correspondent to en- 
dure without murmuring. 

Meanwhile, in response to Augustine's application, the 
methods of coercion laid down in the Edict of Union were 
applied to the Donatists at Hippo ; with the result that the 
party was considerably reduced. A unity which neither personal 
conviction nor argument could produce was being effected before 
Augustine's eyes ; and if the weapons were worldly, and the 
process painful, yet it appeared to him that the result was 

1 St. Aug., " Ep., in., to Victorian," p. 477, a.d. 409. 


The capture of Rome by Alaric in 410 created a profound 
impression alike on the pagan and the Christian mind. Augus- 
tine reassured men on the lines afterwards to be published in 
his masterpiece, " The City of God ". But not even the Fall 
of Rome could divert the Bishop from his efforts to heal the 
African schism. With characteristic pertinacity he worked for 
it as before. His great desire throughout had been to hold a 
conference with the leaders on the other side. For years they 
had met in strife, but never in council. It was the persistent 
policy of the Church to secure, and of the schismatics to avoid, 
an assembly for mutual understanding and explanation. The 
exclusiveness of the Donatists had hitherto successfully frus- 
trated all Catholic efforts at corporate reunion. It was a 
singular condition. The Catholic eager to make advances, and 
willing to make great concessions, which the Donatists invariably 
rejected. The desire for unity was chiefly on the Catholic side. 
But there can be no corporate reunion unless eagerly desired on 
both sides. Appeals to the Donatists failed. Accordingly, the 
Catholics appealed to the secular power. Four bishops were 
sent from the Council at Carthage, in the year of the Fall of 
Rome, to Ravenna, to acquaint Honorius more fully with the 
condition of the African Church. The details of their mission 
are unknown. 2 But the result is clear. Honorius published 
an order commanding the Donatist bishops in a body to meet 
their Catholic leaders in a conference at Carthage. The news 

1 a.d. 411. 2 St. Aug., " Works," ix., Appendix, 1139. 



struck the schism with dismay. It was the severest blow which 
had fallen as yet. It foretold the end. It compelled what they 
had hitherto escaped. For while it was easy to ignore the 
appeals of the Catholic, it was difficult to disobey the command 
of the Emperor. At any rate, the Donatists, as a body, were not 
prepared to resist. Consequently the conference, so long de- 
sired and avoided, was at last to be realized. But if the Donatists 
yielded to the inevitable, they could scarcely be expected to 
arrive in a mood conducive to dispassionate argument, or 
mutual peace. They found themselves caught between two 
forces. They were marshalled by secular power to listen to 
theological reasonings. Between the soldiers of Honorius and 
the logic of Augustine they were in a most unenviable plight. 
The situation may have been a Nemesis upon their fanaticism 
and their fierceness ; but it can only in irony be regarded as a 
conference. Harnack calls the incident a tragi-comedy. 1 Arch- 
bishop Bramhall drew from it the lesson of the futility of all 
such discussions. " Public conferences for the most part do 
but start new questions and revive old forgotten animosities. 
What were the Donatists the better for the Collation at Car- 
thage?" Bramhall's criticism is hardly endorsed by all ex- 
perience, but it is indeed most certain that out of such conditions 
as those under which the conference at Carthage assembled no 
other issue could possibly be expected but failure to produce 
conviction. It might be a coercive victory : it must be a moral 

The conduct of the Catholic party has been praised for its 
consideration ; and undoubtedly they did exhibit great restraint 
and forbearance. Yet it must be remembered that, after all, 
they could well afford to be considerate, now that their ascend- 
ancy was so obviously guaranteed. 

The work of arranging the details, and of presiding over 
the conference, was entrusted to the tribune Marcellinus. A 
worthier selection could scarcely have been made. Marcellinus 
was conspicuous for -his piety, prudence, and tact ; and although 

1 " Hist. Dogm.," 1. 68. 


a Catholic, and a personal friend of Augustine, yet elevated by 
character above suspicion of unfairness toward the other side. 
His correspondence with Augustine reveals a devout and 
earnest mind : eager to know religious truth, and deeply ap- 
preciating ithe privileges of such a friendship. The Bishop 
afterwards dedicated to him the great work on the " City of 
God " ; and wrote for his especial instruction his invaluable 
treatise on the " Letter and the Spirit ". But if the loftiness 
of Marcellinus' character insured justice to the proceedings, 
nothing can diminish the strangeness of the scene. The sight 
of an officer of State appointed by secular power, to control 
a meeting between two Christian communities suggests many 
reflections. It was difficult to see how otherwise matters could 
have reached any sort of conclusion ; but this does not relieve 
the situation of its luridness and its irony. 

Marcellinus published an edict summoning all bishops, 
Donatist and Catholic, to assemble in conference at Carthage. 
He declared that all who obeyed the imperial order were to be 
exempt from the action of the recent suppressive laws ; and 
were, at least for the present, to have their churches restored 
to them. He went so far as to express a willingness to accept 
as coadjutor any suitable person whom the Donatist party 
might select. 1 He vowed that he would endeavour to act with 
complete impartiality and solemnly promised a safe conduct to 
every bishop attending the conference. 

Accordingly, in the month of May, a.d. 411, the bishops 
began to pour in from all parts to the city of Carthage. The 
Catholic prelates came separately, without ostentation or 
parade ; so quietly, that their actual numerical strength was 
scarcely understood. The Donatist bishops came in a body, 
making a great demonstration, determined that all Carthage 
should be impressed with their numbers.' 2 Marcellinus then 
laid down the rules of procedure in a second edict. To secure 
peaceful discussion, he directed that there should be selected 

1 St. Aug., ix., Appendix, p. 1142. 

2 Appendix, p. 1142. 


from either side seven disputants, seven assessors, and four 
secretaries to keep and scrutinize the records. By this order 
he reduced the conference to the manageable number of thirty- 
six, excluding all other bishops from personal intervention in 
the course of its proceedings. He appointed the Gargilian 
Baths as the place of discussion ; in all probability as being 
neutral ground. And he ruled that no persons, lay or episco- 
pal, beyond the chosen thirty-six, should approach the precincts 
of assembly, or disturb the calm essential to dispassionate dis- 
cussion. He desired each side to assist the public proclama- 
tion of his conclusions. The course of the conference would 
be recorded. The utmost care would be taken to secure the 
fidelity of the records. Every word would be written down, 
under careful supervision ; and the acts of the conference would 
be signed and sealed and published immediately after their 
labours were ended. It was significantly added that this con- 
ference would be held between Catholics and Donatists, and 
that the Maximinianists were expressly excluded. 

To this second edict of Marcellinus the Donatists replied, 
urgently demanding the right to appear at the conference in 
their full numbers, rather than reduced to a miserable selection 
of eighteen. Nevertheless, they chose their representatives. 1 
While the Donatists thus resented and resisted the President's 
rules of procedure, the Catholics acquiesced in his decisions. 
They pledged themselves to recognize the Donatist orders, 
and to receive their bishops on terms of equality. Where 
two rival bishops existed in one city, they promised either 
to transfer one of them to another See, or else to sub- 
divide the diocese between them, until such time as death 
should unite the city once more under the guidance of the 
survivor. 2 They solemnly protested their willingness to resign 
their Sees, if by so doing reunion could be accomplished. Can 
we hesitate, exclaimed the Catholic Fathers, can we hesitate to 
make this sacrifice to our Redeemer ? If He descended from 

1 Bened., " Life," p. 633. 

2 See St. Aug., " Ep.," 128 ; " Brevic. Collat.," p. 835. 


Heaven's throne to unite us to Himself, shall we fear to descend 
from our thrones to secure unity among His members ? We 
are bishops for the people's sake, not our own. If to resign 
was to unite the flock, and to continue was to scatter it, what 
faithful mind could be in doubt about its duty ? If they pre- 
ferred Christ's advantage to their own honour in this world, 
assuredly their Lord would not fail to reward them in the world 
to come. 1 

The tone of the Catholic party was admirable ; their self- 
repression exemplary. They conducted themselves throughout 
the proceedings with patience and courtesy. Augustine gave 
the keynote to their whole attitude when he exclaimed in an 
address before the people : " Non vincit nisi Veritas, victoria 
veritatis est charitas ". 2 

At last the conference opened in the hall of the public baths. 
It was the ist of June. The Donatists came in full force. 
The Catholics sent only their selected eighteen. The confer- 
ence occupied three separate days, of which the first two were 
chiefly concerned with formalities. 3 Marcellinus had the 
Imperial Edict read, and offered to accept as coadjutor any 
suitable person whom the Donatists might choose. Petilian, 
the vigorous leader of the opposition, curtly replied that they 
had not asked for any moderator at all, and it was not for them 
to select a second. 4 Emeritus and Petilian pertinaciously en- 
deavoured to close the proceedings by declaring that the time 
allowed in the Imperial Edict was already past : an objection 
which of course the President was obliged to overrule. Lists 
of the respective parties were given to Marcellinus. 

The Donatists, seeing none of their opponents but the 
selected eighteen, were incredulous of their strength, and 
accordingly demanded that every bishop should be summoned 
to answer to his name. 

1 " Collat. Carthag.," i. 16. 

2 •• Sermon," 358 (1) ; " Works," v. 2067. 

3 " Works," ix., Appendix, p. 1154. 

4 Bened., " Lite," p. 639. 


The Catholic party, apprehensive of tumult, for some time 
resisted this proposal. 1 They urged that smaller numbers were 
more conducive to peace and orderly discussion ; that the 
Catholic bishops had absented themselves in obedience to the 
President's ruling. Augustine in particular pointed out that if 
tumult arose in a vast assembly it would be difficult to localize 
the fault. Emeritus protested that a great part of the day was 
already spent, and not a sign of tumult had arisen ; disturbance 
ought not to be feared among bishops met for such a cause. 
The Catholic party reluctantly consented. Marcellinus here- 
upon ordered the entire body of Catholic bishops to be ad- 
mitted. Accordingly they entered, in their full strength. The 
list of Catholics was read and its accuracy proved. Excepting 
a few, who had fallen ill in the city since their arrival, every 
bishop answered when his name was called. But the read- 
ing of the list was accompanied by running comments of a 
personal character on the names recited. However, the 
Donatist party, in turn, were required to verify their list of 
names. Hereupon much confusion resulted. When the name 
of the Donatist Felix, 2 who described himself as Bishop of 
Rome, was recited, the Catholic comment was, let it stand, but 
without prejudice to the absent (i.e. to Pope Innocent). As 
the list was continued, the Catholics declared that many among 
their opponents were bishops without a See, titular bishops 
without a flock. For several names no satisfactory explanation 
could be given. They were permitted to pass. In certain 
cases priests had signed for episcopal absentees. When the 
name of Quodvult Deus was read, the answer was that he had 
died on the way. When an explanation was then requested 
how, in that case, his signature could have been written at 
Carthage, the party found it difficult to reply. Some declared 
that he had left Carthage since, but declined to make that 
statement on oath. Petilian endeavoured to dismiss the sub- 
ject with the remark that even dying men made wills, adding 
the platitude that death was human. Alypius could not for- 

l44 Gesta." 2 Ibid., p. 1522. 


bear the retort that if death was human, it was inhuman to 

These are incidents which it is difficult to explain. That 
any concerted plan of deception existed is most improbable. 
It was after all the Donatists themselves who by their demand 
for the Catholic lists courted investigation of their own. For 
they could not exempt themselves from a similar scrutiny. 
Moreover, the existing records are all on the Catholic side. 
On the other hand, it is possible that anxiety to swell their 
numbers may have tempted unscrupulous individuals to resort 
to discreditable means of which the majority were ignorant. 

When the verification of the lists was completed there were 
found 286 on the Catholic side, and on the Donatist 279. 1 
Both parties claimed that these numbers did not represent their 
full strength. The Catholic party asserted that their episco- 
pate included 120 more, detained by age or illness or some 
necessity. Petilian declared that their absentees were yet more 
numerous still. These statements were probably correct. 
The Synod of Bagai which re-established Primian consisted of 
310 Donatist bishops. And there were at least 100 more on 
the Maximinianist side. Thus the total number of schismatic 
bishops in Africa was clearly above 400. If the number of 
Catholics at the conference be added to that of their absentees 
their total also is above 400. It would therefore appear that 
the numerical strength of the two parties so far as the episco- 
pate goes was fairly equal. But if the Catholic statements are 
correct, the number of the Donatist episcopate is no guarantee 
that their laity were nearly as numerous as on the Catholic 
side. Of course, in the Conference, the Maximinian party with 
their 100 bishops was excluded. The dispute being between 
Donatists and Catholics, no other community was recognized. 
Whether this exclusion was a drawback or a gain to the 
opposition may be questioned. The statistics then bring us 
to the startling conclusion that there were more than 800 
bishops in North Africa at the beginning of the fifth century. 

1 " Gesta," p. 135 1. Cf. Baldwin, p. 1466, and Hefele. 


After the testing of the lists Marcellinus directed all the 
bishops to withdraw, except their selected representatives. So 
the first day passed. 

On the second day of the conference none but the selected 
bishops were admitted. There were eighteen on either side. 

The seven disputants in the Donatist behalf were Primian, 
Petilian, Emeritus, Protasius, Montanus, Gaudentius, and 

The Catholic disputants were Aurelius, Alypius, Augustine, 
Vincent, Fortunatus, Fortunatianus, and Possidius. We note 
Augustine's supporters. Alypius was his intimate friend ; 
Possidius his biographer. Here then at last the disputants 
are face to face. The issues of a long-lived separation are in 
their hands. Humanly speaking, the fortunes of the African 
Church depend on the motives, the temper, the character, the 
spirituality of these fourteen. But the hopelessness of the 
whole procedure was manifested from the first. 

Marcellinus requested the bishops to be seated. The Cath- 
olics complied, the Donatists refused. Petilian explained 
their refusal. They had a scriptural objection. Was it not 
written, "I will not sit among the ungodly". Marcellinus 
observed that the respect due to their episcopal rank forbade 
him to remain seated, when so many priests were standing. 
Accordingly he ordered his own chair to be removed. Thus 
through the tedious length of a protracted conference for two 
whole days every one remained standing ; which may have 
caused the Donatists to regret their exegesis. 

Petilian immediately asked for an adjournment. He wanted 
further time to revise the reports of the previous meeting. 1 
The subtle observations of the other side required on his part 
further thought and reflection. Without this he could not be 
expected to reply. Marcellinus promptly refused to grant this 
unreasonable demand. Then, muttered Petilian, we are cir- 
cumvented. Nevertheless, the opposition succeeded in frustrat- 
ing all progress for that day. 

l4 'Gesta,"p. 1359. 


But the discussion had to come. It was only on the third 
day that the conference reached the subjects of contention. 
The aim of the schismatic leaders was to avoid the central 
theme by a policy of obstruction. Time was wasted in techni- 
calities. Augustine, who during the former meetings had for 
the most part continued reticent, was at last roused to protest. 1 
God, he exclaimed, would have them to be fellow- counsellors, 
rather than antagonists. Let nothing be interposed which was 
not essential to the matter in hand. The Church, whose cause 
the Catholics maintained on the evidences of Scripture, was 
known to all ; it was set upon a hill, and all nations flocked to 
it. If there was anything to be said against that Church let it 
be spoken. The interest not only of this city, he added, but 
almost of the world is fixed upon us. Men desire to hear 
something about the Church ; 2 and we waste our time in legal 
formulas and despicable quibbles. How much is done in 
order that nothing should be done ! 3 

This vigorous appeal was not without effect. They began 
to consider the subject of the Church. The Donatists claimed 
for themselves the exclusive right to the title of Catholic. 
Marcellinus here interposed that, without prejudice to any 
rights, he was personally obliged to call them Catholic whom 
the Emperor called by this name. 

The Donatists further complained that their opponents put 
the subject in a misleading light, by advocating the claims of 
the Universal Church ; whereas the question was a local one, 
between two religious communities in Africa. The justice of 
the rival claims of these two communities ought not to be 
prejudiced or decided by reference to the world-wide Church ; 
but, conversely, the rival claim should be first decided, and 
then it would be known to which of the two communions the 
title Catholic rightfully belonged. 4 The Catholics retorted that 
they were already in communion with the world-wide Church ; 
their right therefore to the title Catholic was already determined. 

1 " Gesta," p. 1566. 2 Bened., " Life," p. 648. 

3 " Gesta," pp. 1368-9. 4 " Brevic. Collat.," p. 846. 


They were already Catholic in fact and therefore in name. 1 
To this the Donatist Gaudentius replied that the term Cath- 
olic has reference not to local extension but to sacramental 

Then followed a long desultory dispute, vacillating between 
the personal (case of Caecilian), 2 and the doctrinal (theory of 
the Church). Augustine urged that these two subjects re- 
quired separate methods of defence. If the Donatist accused 
Churchmen as traditors or betrayers, there was nothing for it 
but an appeal to secular documents and public archives. If 
the Donatist, abandoning that charge, would confine himself 
to a discussion of the doctrine of the Church, then nothing 
more need be said about secular documents ; the appeal in 
this case would be to the Sacred Scriptures. It was for the 
opponents to determine which of these two lines should be 
pursued. But if they adhered to accusations on personal 
matters, they had no right to object to the production of 
secular documents. 3 Augustine insisted repeatedly on this 
alternative, while the Donatists protested that, since they had 
not originated the conference, but came because summoned 
to attend, they could not be expected to act as plaintiffs. It 
was not therefore for them to take the initiative. 4 Augustine 
then pressed Emeritus and Petilian ; did they, or did they not, 
persist in the charge against Caecilian ? Emeritus declined a 
definite reply. 5 Petilian demanded whether Augustine was a 
son of Caecilian or not ? Augustine replied, " Call no man your 
father upon earth ". If Caecilian was innocent, that was a cause 
for gladness ; but Augustine's hope does not depend on 
Caecilian's innocence. If he was guilty, the Church to which 
Augustine belongs endured him, as the tares are suffered to 
grow among the wheat. Emeritus thought he saw here an 
opportunity. 6 With more subtlety than grace he replied, " If 
Augustine's hope does not, as he says, depend on Caecilian's 
integrity, why discuss Caecilian at all ? Nothing could well be 

1,1 Gesta," p. 1381. 2 Ibid., p. 1390. 3 Cf. p. 1395. 

4 " Gesta," p. 1398. 5 P. 1402. 6 P. 1402. 


more unscrupulous or insincere from men whose century-long 
protest had been against Caecilian's character." 

Augustine answered with great forbearance, The case of 
Caecilian and his colleagues is precisely what is charged against 
the Catholic Church — the Church of which we are all members. 1 
If this is not their objection to the Church, let them state what 
their objection is. If they have none, why are we divided ? 
If they have any other accusation to make beyond that of 
Caecilian, let them make it, let them produce it. 

Marcellinus here interposed, and ruled that Augustine had 
satisfactorily replied. Petilian angrily retorted, " By God ! how 
well you defend them ! " 

At this point an attempt was made to diminish Augustine's 
power in the conference by attacking his character. Petilian 
asked what was the name of Augustine's consecrator. The 
reference to the unfortunate reluctance of Megalius to raise 
him to the episcopate must have been plainly understood by 
every one present. 2 Possidius at once interposed. They were 
met to consider the cause of the Church, not the character of 
Augustine. 8 But Augustine thought it well to reply that the 
name of his consecrator was Megalius ; had they anything to say 
against it ? Upon this the Donatists dropped the subject. Then 
the discussion turned on the mingling of evil and good within the 
Church. The Donatists contended that the Church according 
to Bible predictions was not to include the evil with the good. 4 
They challenged the Catholics to refute what seemed to them 
an unassailable position. By general consent the duty of reply 
was left to Augustine. 5 Augustine therefore expounded the 
Church's doctrine, but amid frequent interruptions. The 
Parable of the Wheat and the Tares predicted the coexistence 
within the Church of the evil with the good. 6 The Donatists 
disputed the application. Did not the parable say " the field 
is the world " ? All that the parable therefore predicts is the 

1,1 Gesta," p. 1403. 2 Ibid., p. 1405. 

3 Bened., " Life," p. 653. 4 " Brevic. Coilat.," p. 852. 

8 " Gesta," 1412, p. 856. 9 Ibid. t p. 1415. 


coexistence of evil and good in the world, not in the Church. 
Augustine supported his interpretation, and declared that " the 
world " here means " the Church ". When our Lord said the 
field is the world it is just as if He said the field is the Church. 
Emeritus exclaimed, " The world hath not known Thee ! " If 
the world is the Church then the Church has not known God. 1 
Augustine had no difficulty in replying that in Scripture " the 
world " is a phrase employed sometimes to denote good. If 
it was written " the world hath not known Thee," it was also 
written " that the world through Him might be saved," and 
that " God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself ". 2 
The Donatist bishops loudly interrupted. Marcellinus ordered 
that the disturbance should be recorded in the Acts. 3 
Petilian's reply was pertinent. 4 The Master said the field is 
the world. He could have said, if He would, the field is the 
Church. But Augustine showed that his interpretation had 
the general concurrence of Holy Scripture. Scripture assumes 
the intermingling of evil with good in the Church. This does 
not mean that ecclesiastical discipline should therefore be re- 
laxed, or that any effort should be spared to elevate the con- 
dition of the Church's life ; but it does mean the impossibility of 
anything like a perfect cleansing. Often evil must be tolerated 
for fear of greater evil ; often evil is latent and unknown. But 
in no case can evil be removed by perpetrating evil. And 
schism itself is sin. The Church is to exist in two successive 
stages. 5 Just as the individual man is mortal now, but will be 
immortal hereafter, yet is the same man in successive states ; 
just as this was true of Christ Himself in His life before His 
Resurrection and after it, so is it true of Christ's Body the 
Church : it exists here in two successive states ; here imperfect, 
hereafter stainless. It is not of the Church here, but of the 
Church hereafter, that it is written, "the unclean shall not 
pass over it ". 

X P. 1416. 2 2 Cor. v. 3 " Gesta," p. 1416. ^Ibid., p. 1417. 
5 Termination of the " Gesta ". The rest is summarized in " Breviculus," 

p. 857 ff. 



To this teaching the Donatists were unable to assent. They 
imagined that Augustine taught the existence of two distinct 
Churches ; the one impure on earth, the other pure in Heaven. 
Augustine replied that the Donatists themselves had admitted 
the existence of hidden evil within the true Church. To put the 
matter in the plainest way ; the Church, imperfect though it is 
here on earth, is not other than the Kingdom of God in which 
hereafter the evil will not be intermingled. It is one and the 
same Church in different stages of its progressive development. 
Just as there are not two Christs but One, although once He 
was mortal and is immortal now, existing in the successive 
stages of mortality and immortality ; so there are not two 
Churches but one, progressing from an inferior to a higher 

The discussion on the nature of the Church here terminated. 
Marcellinus was urged by both parties to give decision on the 
first great question before the conference proceeded to discuss 
the second. This he declined to do, on the ground that it 
was not customary to pronounce judgment until the entire 
case was concluded. 

The conference accordingly now engaged in the second and 
final inquiry, the case of Caecilian. 1 Documentary evidence 
was, after many delays and evasions, at last produced. The 
Donatists attempted to prove their old charge against Men- 
surius, Bishop of Carthage, Caecilian's predecessor. They 
produced a letter of Mensurius to Secundus, the Primate of 
Numidia, relating how he substituted heretical documents for 
the Scriptures, and left the police to gather them. But this 
evidence was quite inadequate to prove their point. It showed 
that Mensurius had yielded up heretical writings : it did not 
prove that he had parted with the Scriptures. The inference 
was exactly the other way. 

The Donatists then produced the Acts of the Numidian 
Synod under the primate Secundus, in which the absent 
Ccecilian was condemned. The Catholics replied by producing 

1 '• Brevic. Coll.," pp. 861, 865. 


the Acts of the Synod of Cirta, 1 in which the Numidian 
bishops confessed that they had surrendered the Holy 
Scriptures and agreed to leave past errors to the judgment 
of God. The Donatists attempted, it would appear without 
justification, to challenge the authenticity of this and other 
documents. The Catholics observed that the Synod which 
condemned Caecilian was no more final and conclusive than the 
Synod which condemned Primian. This was an extremely 
telling parallel. If Caecilian had been condemned, so was 
Primian. If 70 bishops had pronounced sentence on the 
former, 100 had condemned the latter. If, in spite of this 
condemnation, Primian was reinstated, and was leading the op- 
position in the conference that very day, it was simply im- 
possible to claim that in Caecilian's case there could be no 
appeal. Nay, further; the Donatists themselves had carried 
an appeal to the Emperor Constantine. This line of defence 
produced in the ranks of the opposition great dismay. They 
took refuge in the maxim that one case must not prejudice 
another case, nor one person another person ; the very principle 
for which the Catholic party had contended for a century ! 

The Donatists then contested the regularity of Caecilian's 
consecration. It ought to have been conferred by the Primate 
of Numidia. The Catholics answered that the Bishop of 
Carthage was usually consecrated, not by the Numidian 
primate, but by the neighbouring bishops ; just as the Bishop 
of Rome was not consecrated by some metropolitan, but by 
the neighbouring Bishop of Ostia. The custom to which the 
Donatists appealed was unknown. 2 If it had been the ancient 
practice, it would have been charged against Caecilian, in the 
Synod by which he was condemned. 

Ultimately the Catholics secured a reading for the acts of the 
Council of the Lateran, where the Roman Bishop Melchiades 
presided. Here Caecilian was undeniably acquitted. The 
Donatists had no defence. They attempted to accuse Pope 
Melchiades of having been a traditor. They demanded the 

1 P. 866. 2 " Breviculus Collat.," 868. 

8 * 


reading of a passage from St. Optatus, where it was recorded 
that Constantine in the interests of peace ordered Caecilian to 
be detained at Brixia. Marcellinus had this read aloud to the 
conference ; but required that the whole contest also should 
be recited. Then came the passage, " Caecilian was pronounced 
innocent on all the above-mentioned charges ". The Catholic 
party broke into laughter, which certainly must have broadened 
when the Donatists muttered, " we did not ask to have that 
passage read ". They accused the historian Optatus with at- 
tempting to whitewash Caecilian's character. But these vague 
unproved assertions were valueless. The acquittal of Caecilian 
was proved from a passage in the Donatists' letter to Con- 
stantine, where they repudiated all connexion with his 
scoundrel of a bishop : plainly showing that Constantine had 
taken Caecilian's part. Thus, from their own documents, the 
Donatists were refuted. 

Here at length the discussion concluded. It had occupied 
the entire day, from morning until night. Marcellinus now 
requested the disputants to withdraw, in order that his decision 
might be prepared. And when the disputants were again 
admitted it was to hear the expected decision, 1 that judgment 
was given on the Catholic side. 

So ended the conference of 411. The principal actors in 
it have revealed themselves in sharply denned unmistakable 
characters. 2 Emeritus is provoking and small minded ; author 
of insignificant contentions, out of all reason and proportion. 
Petilian is much more of an advocate than of a theologian. 
He leads the opposition with barrister-like sharpness ; alert 
and plausible, making out a case ; clever at parrying disagree- 
able truths, avoiding close quarters, concealing prejudicial 
circumstances. He is pertinacious and dogged, holding steadily 
to his policy of delay, inventing objections more creditable to 
ingenuity than earnestness, doing his utmost to hinder serious 
discussion and [practical result, introducing into the conference 
of religion the worst features of a secular court. 

1 Bened., " Life," p. 663. 2 Cf. Rauscher, p. 609. 


Far away above them all towers Augustine in his moral 
earnestness and spiritual depth. It is true, indeed, that his 
marvellous dialectic power does not display itself in any marked 
degree in his speeches on this occasion. He adds almost 
nothing to arguments already contained in his writings, and for 
the most part more effectively expressed. This comparative 
ineffectiveness may be partly explained by the harassing inter- 
ruptions to which he was subjected, and to the disorder which 
even the authority of a president was barely able to restrain. 1 
But, for all that, he is the heart and soul of the assembly ; lifting 
the whole discussion above the sordid and personal, and de- 
picting great ecclesiastical and religious principles valid for 
all time. 

It should be noticed that the nature of the conference kept 
Augustine clear from his peculiar and extreme theories, so that 
he appears at his best in the larger realm of generally accepted 

A tribute of admiration is due to Marcellinus the president. 
His sympathies were admittedly on the Catholic side, yet his 
action is characterized by invariable fairness. He blends the 
dignity of his office with unfailing courtesy towards the ecclesi- 
astical disputants. And there is little doubt that the firmness 
and skill and patience with which he controlled and directed 
the intricate and difficult course of somewhat passionate dis- 
putings, contributed immensely to bring the conference to so 
clear and obvious a conclusion. 

As to the spiritual use of such an assembly, it was doomed 
to failure by its very conditions. Conferences may conduce 
very greatly to mutual understanding and unity : but they must 
be the voluntary outcome of mutual sympathy and common 
yearning after peace. The element of voluntariness is essential 
as a condition to their success. Opposition dragooned into a 
council chamber under penalties, and coerced into discussion 
with the other side, is a caricature of conference, and as Harnack 
says, a tragi- comedy. Such was the assembly of 41 1. 

1 Cf. Rauscher, p. 608. 


Augustine defends this procedure of 411 on the ground of 
its necessity. He frankly admits that the Catholics coerced the 
Donatists into conference by enlisting the imperial author- 
ity. And this he justifies. For all Africa was overrun by 
Donatist factions ; the preaching of the faith was rendered 
impossible, through the incessant riots, aggressiveness, murders, 
outbursts of fierce and reckless cruelty, on the part of this 
sectarian community. The struggle had been protracted for 
more than a hundred years, and there seemed no human proba- 
bility of its termination. Meanwhile the mass of the people 
had lost sight of the original causes of dispute. The Catholics 
were therefore compelled by necessity, and driven to encourage 
repression. 1 

Augustine says indeed that, as a matter of personal knowledge, 
many Donatists, perhaps all, at any rate nearly all, habitually 
expressed a desire that a convention should be held, and the real 
truth demonstrated. But the fact remains that they took no 
step whatever during the entire century to meet in discussion ; 
nay more, they steadily resisted all overtures in that direction, 
and ultimately met under imperial coercion, rather than volun- 
tary choice. Their attitude all along had been self-righteous 
exclusiveness, and contemptuous aloofness from the other 

1 St. Aug., " C. Julian.," in., " Post Coll. ad Donat." 


The conclusion of the conference was a tremendous blow to 
the African division ; but it was far from completing reunion. 1 
The judgment of Marcellinus was the subject of universal 
interest through Africa ; but it could not restore to the Church 
the losses of a century. Very much remained to be done. 
Augustine was indefatigable. He published at once a short 
history of the conference, 2 written with studied moderation 
and restraint, placing the subject as far as possible within 
popular reach. He had the narrative recited during Lent 
in the churches of his diocese, as was also done in the 
dioceses of Carthage, Tagaste, and Cirta. He took every oppor- 
tunity of preaching on reunion, enlisting the sympathy of 
Catholics with the hesitating members of the separated body. 

Not content with writing a short history of the conference, 
Augustine published also an appeal to the Dotiatist laity, urging 
them to be no longer misled by their bishops. 3 Into this appeal 
he put all his strength. It has all the rush and energy of his 
masterly eloquence. It rings the changes from sarcasm to 
impassioned earnestness, and from impassioned earnestness to 
logical acuteness. It marshals with great effectiveness, in 
his incisive, antithetical, vibrating style, the arguments from 
Scripture, and history, and reason. 

He began with a reference to Primian's contemptuous maxim 
that it is unbecoming for the sons of the martyrs to have 

1 Bened., " Life," p. 667. 2 The " Brevic. Coll." 

3 " Ad Donatistas post Collationem," " Works," ix. 885-934. 



fellowship with the sons of the betrayers. 1 Why, then, he 
inquires, did the Donatists themselves do this unbecoming 
thing ? Why did they come to Carthage at all ? They were 
not drawn by force : they came by choice. Will they say that 
they came because the Emperor ordered it ? Do they then 
perpetuate what is unbecoming merely because it is an Em- 
peror's will ? They must either withdraw their maxim, or 
admit their conduct to be unbecoming. 

Another maxim to which the Donatists were at the con- 
ference driven in self-defence, is tellingly employed to prove 
that the schismatics were far more prompted by prejudice than 
guided by reason. It will be remembered that, when charged 
with restoring Primian to his position as their Bishop at Car- 
thage, in direct contravention to the fundamental principle of 
the schism, they had blindly taken refuge in the maxim that 
cases and individuals must be judged on their independent 
merits. 2 The maxim is one for which Donatist principles 
obviously left no room. And the fact that they had suicidally 
maintained it in the conference was probably now notorious 
through Africa. Augustine pressed it home with merciless 
reiteration. He reminded them that, if the maxim was applic- 
able in behalf of Primian, it was no less so in Csecilian's case. 3 
If Primian's readmission did not contaminate the party of Don- 
atus, still less could Caecilian's readmission contaminate the 
Universal Church. 

The tranquillity and peace of the Church does not always 
permit the exclusion of alien elements from the fold. But 
endurance is not neglect. We tolerate what we would not, in 
order that we may achieve what we would ; mindful of the 
Master's caution, lest while before the time we uproot the 
tares, we uproot also the wheat with them. The rightfulness 
of these principles of forbearance Augustine illustrates from 
St. Paul's description of the Corinthian Church. When the 
Apostle characterized the Corinthians as being " in everything 
enriched by Him in all utterance, and in all knowledge, so that 

1 a.d. 412. 2 P. 887, etc. 3 P. 888. 


they come behind in no gift " 1 — who would imagine, asks 
Augustine, the existence of grievous disorders there ? And 
yet the disorders were very great. There were unworthy men. 
There were some who did not believe that distinctively 
Christian doctrine — the resurrection of the body. Here, then, 
we find a community so enriched by Christ in all utterance and 
in all knowledge, so coming behind in no gift that it actually 
contained persons who did not believe the resurrection of the 
dead. Now plainly they who were enriched in all knowledge 
were not the men who denied the resurrection of the dead. 
And yet the believing were to this extent yoked with unbe- 
lievers, that both dwelt within the limits of the same religious 
community. They were under the same priests. They were 
sharers in the same Sacraments. Obviously, therefore, what 
the Apostle enjoins is not physical separation of believers from 
the communion which included the unbelieving, but intel- 
lectual severance in will and assent. 

Finally, Augustine dealt with the accusation, industriously 
disseminated through Africa, that the decision of Marcellinus 
was perverted by Catholic gold. With what sum, he asks, did 
the Catholic party induce Primian to stultify his position by 
attending the conference, after declaring that the sons of the 
martyrs might not have fellowship with the sons of the be- 
trayers ? How much did they pay to persuade the Donatists to 
put themselves to confusion about the lists of their bishops ? 
If they were not refuted in conference, why do they not 
communicate with the Churches of the world, whose catholicity 
it is irrational to deny ? Let the party of Donatus, so often 
condemned, and yet so calumnious ; so false, yet so often 
refuted ; so often in every way conquered and put to shame ; 
let it continue to boast that the 1 President was corrupted by 
Catholic gold — when the very document they produced in 
the conference strengthened that cause and destroyed their 

That such a conference should be held had long been the 

1 1 Cor. 1. 5, 7. 


desire of many on the Donatist side. Their desire is at length 
fulfilled. It has been done. Falsehood is convicted : truth is 
brought to light. Why, then, is union any longer delayed? 
Why should we be any longer divided for the sake of individual 
men ? He Who created us is one God. He Who has redeemed 
us is one Christ. He Who would associate us together is one 
Spirit. Let Christ see His people reunited. 

Augustine's appeal to the Donatist laity was argumentatively 
forcible, but the leaders of the party were certainly not in a 
mood to listen. The whole question had been now transferred 
from the province of rational conviction to that of political 
coercion. The Donatists had been dragged by an edict which 
they dared not defy to a fate which they could not avoid. 
They entered Carthage with ostentation and parade : but they 
returned to their cities baffled, wrathful, complaining ; scattering 
insinuations everywhere against the character of the presiding 
judge, and against the fairness of his decision. They went so 
far as to appeal to the Emperor against him. But this was, as 
might have been expected, fatal. Honorius replied with an 
edict of great severity. 1 He revoked all previous concessions ; 
condemned all malcontents, whether bishops, clergy, laymen or 
Circumcellions, to the payment of heavy fines ; and subse- 
quently, if that failed in its effect, to complete spoliation of 
their goods. 2 He forbade all men to shelter or protect them, 
under similar penalties. He ordered that slaves should be 
beaten into conformity with the Church ; and that all eccles- 
iastical buildings should become the property of Catholics. 

This edict was more effective than Augustine's arguments. 
On the one hand, it resulted in the return of whole communities 
to the Church : partly, it may be, enabling a mass of men to do 
what nothing but fear of Circumcellion violence had restrained 
them from doing hitherto ; but partly also, it can scarcely be 
doubted, encouraging conversion from other motives than 
personal conviction. 

On the other hand, in the more resolute and masterful 

1 Possidius, 15. 2 Bened., " Life," p. 686. 


spirits of the Donatist body, it increased the fierce determination 
to resist. A desperate outburst of Circumcellion vindictiveness 
was the not unnatural result of this imperial attempt to produce 
reunion by force. Atrocious acts were perpetrated. Churches 
were handed over to the Catholics, but then destroyed by fire. 
Priests were attacked, and brutally maimed and tortured. 

The Diocese of Hippo in particular is recorded as the scene 
of their cruelties. They cut the throat of one of Augustine's 
clergy, Restitutus ; they tore out the eye of another, Inno- 
centius. 1 The Donatist offenders came before the tribunal of 
Marcellinus. Doubtless these things advanced the cause of the 
Catholics. Augustine wrote, strongly deprecating the inflicting 
of the full legal penalties. The lives of the offenders must be 
spared. 2 

The course of events drew Marcellinus and Augustine into 
closer intimacy. Ever since the conference 3 the Tribune and 
the Bishop were in frequent correspondence. Marcellinus 
exhibited the keenest interest in religious affairs. He brought 
his vacillating friend, Volusian, under the ; great teacher's in- 
fluence. He induced Augustine to write some of his most 
important letters. He urged upon the Bishop the necessity of 
meeting the panic and despair caused by the fall of Rome ; 
the duty of reassuring men, by some convincing response to 
their doubt and hesitation. Thus he encouraged the writing 
of the masterpiece, " The City of God " ; and the dedication of 
that work to Marcellinus is the recognition and reward of his 
encouragement. The Tribune was no less keenly alive to the 
importance of the Pelagian controversy, as the famous work on 
the " Letter and the Spirit," inscribed to him, attests. All these 
things show how much the mental sympathies of the two men 
harmonized. They also show how great the influence of Mar- 
cellinus had become in ecclesiastical affairs. There is no 
wonder that leading Churchmen highly valued him. They 
were certainly greatly indebted to him. The firmness, skill, 

1 " Ep.," 134. 3 Bened., " Life," p. 691 ; ■« Ep.," 133, 139. 

3 A.D. 412. 


and patience, with which he presided', over the conference, 
and brought it to its conclusion, naturally drew to him the 
admiration and gratitude of the Catholic party. But it drew 
upon him also, and no less naturally, the bitter hatred of 
many powerful opponents. The Donatists never forgave him. 
He was marked for exemplary vengeance, should the oppor- 
tunity occur. Within three years of the conference that 
opportunity came : and the life of the Tribune closed in a 
tragedy. In the year 413 one of the successful generals of the 
Empire, the Count Heraclian, was rewarded with the dignity 
of Consul. Heraclian, however, aspired to sole dominion. He 
gathered a fleet, revolted against Honorius, sailed down on 
Italy, and threatened Rome. But Heraclian had miscalculated 
his strength. Count Marinus met and defeated him. He fled 
alone to Carthage, and there was slain. Honorius ordered the 
execution of all the ringleaders in the revolt, and Count 
Marinus established himself in Carthage, to carry the order 
into effect. Now it seems that Csecilian, a person eminent in 
African civil life, was an intimate friend of Count Marinus and 
a bitter opponent of Marcellinus. And when a consultation 
between Caecilian and Marinus was immediately followed by 
Marcellinus' arrest, public opinion saw in these two facts a 
close connexion, and ascribed the arrest to Caecilian's influ- 

The charge against the Tribune was that he had been im- 
plicated in the late revolt. The charge was absolutely without 
foundation. 1 

But in a time of ferment and reaction it was an excessively 
dangerous charge, easily credited where suspicion was already 
awakened, or where personal vindictiveness watched its pitiless 
opportunity. The defence of Marcellinus was instantly under- 
taken. Augustine himself was in Carthage at the time. He 
solemnly asserted before Count Marinus the Tribune's inno- 
cence. He demanded an appeal to the Emperor Honorius 
himself. To this the Count consented. A bishop and a 

1 So all the authorities. 


deacon were accordingly sent to the Court at Ravenna. Mean- 
time Marinus promised delay. The most strenuous representa- 
tions were also made to Caecilian. Csecilian protested that he 
was acting in Marcellinus' behalf, and had petitioned for his 
release. So solemn were his utterances that the Bishop, and 
the Church in general, felt reassured. Imagine the dismay, on 
the Festival of St. Cyprian, when a messenger burst into 
Augustine's room with the news that Marcellinus had been 
executed that very morning. It is scarcely to be doubted that 
the influence of Csecilian was partly instrumental in this 
judicial crisis. But contemporary Churchmen were also con- 
vinced that the bitter hatred of the schismatics, and the 
corrupting influence of their gold, had turned the scale and 
hastened the actions of the unscrupulous Marinus. " He was 
either urged by hatred or seduced by gold," says Orosius. 1 
" Marcellinus, though innocent, was put to death by heretics," 
is the verdict of St. Jerome. 2 And that these are not the mere 
promptings of ecclesiastical partiality is clear : for when the 
news of the execution reached Ravenna, Count Marinus was 
instantly recalled, deprived of office, and reduced to private 
life ; and so, dismissed to obscurity, and to the reflections of his 
own conscience. Meanwhile an imperial edict reasserted the 
fame of Marcellinus, " of honourable memory," and re-estab- 
lished all his decrees in the matter of the schism. Augustine's 
grief was indescribable. He left Carthage abruptly without 
a word either to Marinus or Csecilian. A long silence 
followed, broken at last by Csecilian. Augustine replied with 
a letter which, if Csecilian was indeed guilty, was simply 

Marcellinus received much recognition and praise among his 
contemporaries. He was a prudent and laborious man, keenly 
interested in all good studies, says Orosius, the historian. He 
was of honourable memory, says the imperial decree. But no 
words of appreciation are so fervent as the panegyric which 

1 Orosius, vii. 42. 2 "Jerome against Pelagians," in. 19. 


the Bishop of Hippo pronounced upon him : " In his conduct 
what innocence, in his friendship what constancy, in his study 
of Christian truth what zeal, in his religion what sincerity, in 
his domestic life what purity, in his official duties what 
integrity n . 1 

1 St. Aug., " Ep.," 151. 



Augustine at this period of his life was not allowed much rest 
from controversial distractions. 1 

He was busily engaged at Carthage, probably in Donatist 
affairs. From these he turned aside to dictate his two treatises, 
11 On the Grace of Christ," and " On Original Sin ". And as 
soon as these were finished, he started off to the Mauritanian 
city of Caesarea, there to confer with the Donatist laity. 
Caesarea, the modern Algiers, is distant from Carthage some 
400 miles. The schismatic community there had been very 
strong. Their bishop, Emeritus, was one of the seven selected 
disputants against the Catholics in the Great Conference of 
411. From that hopeless defeat Emeritus returned to Caesarea, 
filled with despair, but clinging with heroic tenacity to a fail- 
ing cause. But no determination, and no activity, could hold 
the party together, against the united pressure of the Church 
and the imperial power. And Emeritus gazed with anger and 
grief on the disintegration of his assembly, as little by little the 
flock at Caesarea melted away. 

The rapid and almost universal transference of their allegiance 
from the schism to the Church was undoubtedly, as Augustine 
himself admits, prompted by motives considerably mixed. 2 A 
large element of worldly prudence, not to say downright in- 
sincerity, was naturally produced by the sort of pressure and 
persecution to which the unhappy schismatics were now being 
subjected. But Emeritus remained in his isolation firm, im- 

U.d. 418. 2 " De Gestis," § 2. 



movable. He disappeared from the city, and sought con- 
cealment. Meanwhile a group of Catholic bishops entered. 1 
Deuterius, the Catholic Bishop of Caesarea, who is also called 
Metropolitan, was now supported by Alypius of Tagaste, 
Augustine of Hippo, Possidius of Calama, and others. When 
the news of these arrivals reached Emeritus he promptly re- 
appeared. Augustine met Emeritus in the streets, and sug- 
gested an adjournment to a place more suitable for discussion. 
Emeritus consented. They both entered the church. Already 
rumour reported Emeritus' conversion. 2 Crowds assembled. 
The church was full. Augustine preached. The sermon is 
still preserved. The preacher spoke about Emeritus with un- 
common frankness, not being under the restraint of modern 
conventionalities. What did Emeritus want ? asked the 
preacher. Would he continue separated from the Catholic 
Church ? still adhering to the party of Donatus, still remaining 
in schism, resembling those who said, " I am of Paul, I of 
Apollos, I of Cephas ". But this is not God's will. This is 
what the Apostle rebuked, when he asked, " Is Christ 
divided ? " The people should pray for his conversion. To 
this appeal the congregation answered, " Now or never ! " 
Augustine took up their answer. You have uttered your 
minds ; now help us with your prayers. The Lord, Who com- 
manded unity, is able to convert the will. The return of 
Emeritus was what they all desired. No one desired it more 
than Bishop Deuterius himself. No sort of rivalry whatever 
existed. They were content to be less in dignity and greater 
in love. 

That converted Donatist clergy should retain their office 
was repugnant to some within the Church. Catholics were 
heard to say, if these men are schismatics and heretics, why 
receive them just as they are ? Augustine replied, There is 
evil in them, and there is good. We cannot ignore the 
good because of the evil. Schism, dissent, heresy, these 

1 " De Gestis cum Emerito," § i. 

2 " Works," x. 942-50. 


are evil. Nevertheless, these men also possess some of 
the good of the Church. They have baptism. It is not 
theirs, but Christ's. They have ordination. 1 The invocation 
of the Divine Name upon them, at their consecration as 
bishops, is the Invocation of God, not of Donatus. Their 
baptism has marked them with the sign of our King. They 
are His soldiers, although they have deserted. Their desertion 
must be condemned, but the sign of the King must be acknow- 
ledged. On their return to unity they will have the good 
without the evil. Meanwhile what good they have is God's. 
It is God's Baptism which they have received. It is God's 
Gospel which they hold. 

But you will say, continued Augustine, if they have all these, 
what do they not possess ? His answer is characteristic. 
What do they not possess ? He answers : " If I have all faith, 
and have not charity, I am nothing ". They are wanting in 
love. What is the proof ? Simply the fact of schism. Love 
unites, separation manifests defect of love. 

Accordingly he sums his conclusion in the rigorous sentences. 
Outside the Catholic Church a man may have everything 
except salvation. He may have dignity, he may have the 
Sacrament, he may sing Alleluia, he may answer Amen, he 
may hold the Gospel, he may have faith in the Name of the 
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and he may 
proclaim it : but nowhere except in the Catholic Church can 
he obtain salvation. 

This sermon to the people of Caesarea led to still further 
labours. An assembly, apparently on a larger scale, including 
all the clergy of Caesarea, was held within two days in the 
great church. Deuterius the Metropolitan presided. Again 
Emeritus was present, notwithstanding the sermon at the previ- 
ous service ; and secretaries attended to record the proceedings. 2 

Augustine described his meeting with Emeritus in the street, 
and repeated the main thoughts of his sermon. He also told 
the people that, notwithstanding their almost unanimous return 

1 P. 943, §2. 2 "De Gestis." 


to the Catholic Church, yet many of them still doubted the 
Catholic claim ; and some not only doubted, but were in heart 
on the Donatist side. Therefore he considered it most desir- 
able that an opportunity should be given to their Bishop of 
making what defence he could of the Donatist principles. 
Augustine added that he knew very well what sort of incriminat- 
ing remarks against the President at the conference had been 
busily disseminated among them ; to the effect that Marcelli- 
nus was in the pay of the Catholics, and that the Donatists had 
been suppressed by force rather than overcome by truth. Let, 
then, Emeritus avail himself of this occasion to demonstrate 
that these accusations were just. Then, turning to Emeritus, 
Augustine invited him to speak. " Brother Emeritus, you are 
with us now. You were present at the conference. If you 
were vanquished, why have you come ? If you think that you 
were not vanquished, explain why you think yourself victorious. 
If you think that force was against you, but truth upon your 
side, there is no force here by which you could seem to be 
overcome. Let your citizens hear why you regard yourself as 
victorious. But if you know that truth was the victor against 
you, then why stand aloof from unity ? " But Emeritus was not 
to be drawn into controversy. " The acts of the conference 
show," said he, " whether I was coerced by force, or overcome 
by truth." " Then," asked Augustine, " why have you come ? " 
Emeritus answered : " To say what you desire." " I desire," 
replied Augustine, " to know why you have come." Emeritus 
would give no further response. He only turned to the secre- 
taries, and told them to go on with their writing. The attempt 
to challenge Emeritus failed. Since Emeritus declined to 
criticize the conference at Carthage, Augustine undertook to 
give his own version of the incidents. Alypius read the letter, 
sent by the Catholic bishops to Marcellinus before the con- 
ference ; containing their promise to recognize the episcopal 
rank of their opponents, and to divide their dioceses with them, 
or to resign in their favour, if only they would return to unity. 
At this point Augustine interrupted the reader. He told the 


people that the admirable spirit manifested by the Catholic 
episcopate in this letter had been one of the brightest experi- 
ences of his career. 1 When the question of resignation for the 
sake of unity had been submitted to the episcopal body before 
the conference, he was sceptical whether many could be found 
willing to sacrifice themselves to this extent. Rapidly forming 
a mental estimate of the probabilities, as he looked at the 
bishops, he said to himself : this man could, that man could 
not ; this man will consent, that will not tolerate it. But his 
estimate was mistaken. Out of nearly 300 bishops, all except 
two — an aged man who frankly spoke his objection, and another 
whose manner betrayed what he would not express — consented 
to the proposal to sacrifice themselves, rather than hinder 
unity. And even these two ultimately gave way. 

The reader then recited from the letter the passage in which 
the bishops gave their reasons for this self-denying proposal : 2 

" Can we hesitate to make this sacrifice to our Redeemer ? 
If He descended from Heaven's Throne to unite Himself to 
us, shall we fear to descend from our thrones to secure unity 
among His members ? We are bishops for the people's sake, 
not our own, and must so use our office as to advance the 
Christian people in Christian peace." 3 

Here Augustine again interposed : — 

" In reference to ourselves, the same duties rest upon us as 
upon you. For what is the duty of each one of yourselves to 
whom I am speaking ? It is to be a Christian, a believer, 
obedient. This is your duty in reference to yourselves, this is 
my duty in reference to myself. And what we ought to be in 
reference to ourselves, it is our duty always to be. But 
what I am in reference to you, that may I continue to be, if it 
is to your advantage, but not if it be to your hindrance. This 
is what the bishops meant. My brothers," continued Augus- 
tine, after a pause, " to a man whose eyes are fixed upon our 
Lord, this position of bishop is higher as the watch-house in a 
vineyard, not as an eminence for pride. If, through my anxiety 

1 § 6, p. 962. 2 See St. Aug., " Ep.," 128. 3 " De Gestis," p. 96^. 



to retain position, I scatter the flock of Christ, how can the 
loss of the flock be the honour of the Shepherd ? " 

After these criticisms on the attitude of the Catholic bishops, 
Augustine repeated once more the story of the Maximinians 
and the internal difficulties of the Donatist schism. 1 It is in 
the annals of this controversy an oft-told tale. But it was 
never told with more incisiveness than before the people of 

The assembly broke up and Emeritus went his way. So far 
as record shows he was never reconciled to the Church. 

1 P. 964. 



Nine years had now elapsed since the great conference ended. 1 
But the work of compelling the schismatics to enter in was not 
complete. Dulcitius the tribune was now in the office which 
Marcellinus had held, acting as State commissioner in schism. 
Dulcitius was a well-intending man, an old soldier, not versed 
in religious controversy, but evidently with a keen appreciation 
for order and authority. 2 He did his best, by threats and 
promises, to induce the Separatists to surrender. The steady, 
persistent pressure of the State upon their religious independ- 
ence stung the diminished community into madness. Gauden- 
tius, one of the seven champions of the schism in the great 
conference, received letters from Dulcitius exhorting him to 
abandon his position of isolation and resistance. Gaudentius 
was furious. He wrote a desperate reply, threatening to as- 
semble with his adherents in their church and burn it, and 
perish in the flames, rather than yield. Gaudentius was not 
particularly conspicuous in the conference, but he made a great 
sensation now. Dulcitius was alarmed. The language of the 
letter was no empty threat. Gaudentius and his flock were 
driven by coercion into desperation, and were perfectly capable 
of doing away with themselves. Dulcitius felt baffled. He 
therefore placed the correspondence in Augustine's hands. 
There is much irony in the situation. Churchmen enlist the 
coercive authority of the State. Then the State, through its 
officials, menaces and worries, until the afflicted schismatic turns 

a A.D. 420. 2 St. Aug., " Ep.," 204. 



like a lion at bay. Then the State appeals to the Church to 
try expostulation, argument, and persuasion. 

Such was the occasion of Augustine's last contribution to the 
controversy. In behalf of Dulcitius he replied to Gaudentius, 
who answered him. He then wrote his last words on reunion. 

The circumstance led Gaudentius to dwell on these parti- 
cular themes : on suicide, on liberty of conscience, and on the 
authority of individual teachers in the Church. On each of 
these Augustine dwelt at length. 

Augustine tells Gaudentius 1 that the source from which 
the impulse to self-destruction comes is indicated in the 
words in the Gospel, " oft-times it hath cast him into the fire 
and into the waters, to destroy him ". 2 It was the same power 
which drove the Gadarene swine into the sea, and tempted 
Christ to cast Himself from the heights of the Temple. De- 
struction of human life by fire and water and precipice is here 
ascribed to Satan. Let Gaudentius appreciate the source of 
his inspiration. Let him see the same thing taught in the trials 
of Job. 3 Job longed for death, but it came not. It is not un- 
righteous to long for death when life is bitter, but it is un- 
righteous not to endure the bitterest life if God give not the 
desired release. 

Gaudentius quoted as an ideal case the example of suicide 
in the Macchabees. 4 Augustine replies that this like many 
other things in Scripture is recorded because historic rather 
than for imitation. The duty of the Christian is in such cases 
to prove all things and hold fast that which is good. And this 
leads him to make the famous remark on the value of this 
Apocryphal book. 5 " The Jews do not esteem the writing called 
the Macchabees as they do the Law and the Prophets and the 
Psalms to which the Lord Himself appealed : [St. Luke xxiv. 44] 
but it is received by the Church not unprofitably if it be 
cautiously read or heard." 

On liberty of conscience Gaudentius argued many things. It 

1 " Contra Gaudent.," 1. 30. 2 St. Mark ix. 22. 

8 1. 35. 4 2 Mace. xix. 41 ; 1. 37. 5 " Contra Gaudent.," 1. 38. 


was written that " God made man from the beginning and left 
him in the hand of his counsel " ; 1 endowed him, that is, with 
freedom of the will. What authority had human power to de- 
prive him of a right divinely given ? Let those who attempted 
to coerce him realize the sacrilegious nature of their procedure. 
Should human presumption remove what heavenly wisdom 
bestowed, and then calmly assert that it acted in God's behalf ? 
He who defends the cause of God by violence must surely 
suppose the Almighty unable to defend Himself. Gaudentius 
contrasted the conduct of the Catholic party with the language 
of Christ, on the contrast between the peace of the world and 
religious peace. The peace of the world is secured among the 
nations by recourse to violence and war. The peace of Christ 
invites the willing, but does not coerce the reluctant. It works 
by methods of tranquillity and gentleness. When the Almighty 
would teach Israel He sent them instruction by prophets, not 
orders by kings. And when the Saviour of the world would 
win mankind to faith, He sent not soldiers but fishermen. 

To this protest in behalf of religious liberty Augustine made 
a double reply. In the first place he observed that, whatever 
value might belong to it as a theory, it was most incongruous 
on such lips as those of Gaudentius. For the founders of the 
schism which he advocated had not in the least respected 
individual freedom ; 2 on the contrary, they appealed to the 
Emperor Constantine to place restraint upon it. And the 
predecessors of Gaudentius in his diocese, in particular the 
notorious persecutor Optatus, had employed coercion with 
great severity. Moreover, these ideals of gentleness, peace and 
tranquillity, sounded ironical from that communion which had 
advanced its claims by Circumcellion brutality, terrorizing the 
country places, and making the African error a byword and 
a reproach across the civilized world. It ill became the 
Donatists, who had taken away the churches from their Maxi- 
minian opponents, whenever the authorities of State would 
allow them, to reproach the Catholic party for similar actions. 

1 Ecclus. xv. 14. 2 1. 21. 


The Donatist would do the same things now if he could. He 
has not lost the will, but only the power to compel. 

While Augustine pointed out his opponents' inconsistencies, 
he was unanswerable. The theory of Gaudentius and the 
practice of his communion were absolutely irreconcilable. 
But Augustine went much further than this. He attacked 
the principle of religious liberty. 1 The gift of freedom did 
not involve the right of its unlimited exercise. If the opinion 
advocated by Gaudentius were correct, that the very endow- 
ment of free will rendered coercion sacrilegious, then the logical 
outcome would be that all secular power is wrong. According 
to Gaudentius' reasonings, the rein must be given to laxity and 
self-will ; and all misdeeds must be allowed to go unpunished. 
No disorders must be repressed by public laws, no general 
must compel obedience in the army, no magistrate must inflict 
penalties. It is impossible to maintain in practice the principle 
that our free will may never be restrained when we do a wrong 
against God. The fact that God can defend Himself did not 
prevent Moses from enacting severe laws in case of infringe- 
ment of religion. And Gaudentius' plea, that the Almighty 
advised through prophets rather than commanded through 
kings, does not alter the fact that the repentance of Nineveh 
was not only the exhortation of a prophet but also the command 
of their king. The care of religion is an obligation upon the 
authorities of the State. The King of Nineveh understood 
his duty better than Gaudentius would inform him. A 
Christian monarch is in duty bound to see that men do 
not with impunity offend in religious affairs. If the Donatists 
imagine that the reluctant are not to be coerced into truth 
they do err, says Augustine (with exquisite misapplication), 
" not knowing the Scriptures nor the Power of God," which 
converts into willingness what began under compulsion. And 
he again reproduces his formidable exegesis : " Compel them 
to come in ". The emperor's duty in a Christian State was 
manifest from the injunction : " Be wise now, O ye kings, 

1 1. 20. 


be learned ye that are judges of the earth ; serve the Lord 
with fear " : a passage which conveyed to Augustine's mind 
the duty of kings to exercise compulsion over those who 
would not serve God willingly. 

From this point we know no more about Gaudentius. Like 
all the seven champions of the schism he passes out of sight. 

It is hardly probable that he fulfilled his threat, for that 
might have made sufficient sensation to deserve a niche in 
history. It is still less likely that he was reconciled to the 
Church. But the moment Augustine ceases to write about 
them that moment they all sink back into obscurity. Not even 
Primian their chief is ever heard of again. 


Augustine's opinions on the subject of Toleration have had so 
vast an influence on Christendom that they deserve a separate 

It is well known that this is one of the subjects upon which 
the great bishop changed his mind. His original opinion was 
adverse to all use of compulsion in matters of faith. It can 
scarcely find better expression than in the following passage : — 

" God knows that the instinct of my heart is towards con- 
ciliation. I would have no man brought into the Catholic 
Communion against his will. I would have the truth plainly 
declared to all the erring, that being by God's help clearly 
exhibited through our ministry, it may so commend itself as to 
make them embrace and follow it." 2 This was his first opinion 
recorded in 396. 

1. And this first opinion was the natural lesson from his own 
intellectual perplexities. The man who spent nine years in 
wandering through the mazes of error and the whole range of 
human thought had learnt but little, if it did not make him 
one of the most tolerant of all mankind. And at the first he 
was. His famous appeal to the Manicheans shows how his 
unsophisticated mind would have treated heresy. 

" It behoves us, accordingly, to prefer the better part ; 
that we may attain our end in your correction, not by con- 
tention and strife and persecutions, but by kindly consola- 
tion, by friendly exhortation, by quiet discussion : as it is 
written, the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle 



towards all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing 
those that oppose themselves." 1 

And then he writes the celebrated words : — 2 

" Let those treat you angrily who know not the labour 
necessary to find truth, and the amount of caution required to 
avoid error. Let those treat you angrily who know not how 
hard and rare it is to overcome the fancies of the flesh by the 
clear intelligence of true piety. Let those treat you angrily 
who know not the difficulty of cleansing man's mental vision, 
that he may behold his Sun. Let those treat you angrily who 
know not with what sighs and groans the least particle of the 
knowledge of God is attained. And last of all let those treat 
you angrily who have never been led astray in the same way 
that they see you are. For my part I — who after much long- 
continued bewilderment attained at last to the discovery of the 
simple truth — who, unhappy that I was, barely succeeded by 
God's help in refuting the vain notions of my mind ... by whom 
all these fictions which have such a firm hold on you . . . 
were attentively heard and too easily believed . . . and de- 
fended with determination and boldness ... I can on no 
account treat you angrily. ... I must be patient towards you 
as my associates were with me, when I went madly and blindly 
astray in your belief." 

2. And not only did Augustine's antecedents necessitate 
forbearance towards error, he saw distinctly in his early period 
the moral perils of the opposite course : — 

" Originally my opinion was that no one should be coerced 
into the unity of Christ, that we must act only by words, fight 
only by arguments, and prevail by force of reason, lest we 
should have those whom we knew as avowed heretics feigning 
themselves to be Catholics." 3 


But about the year 400, that is within four years of his noble 
utterance on toleration, Augustine's opinion is found to have 

lu C. Ep. Fundament Manich.," § 1. 2 §2. 8 Ep.," 93, § 17. 


undergone a serious change. Already, in the reply to Petilian's 
letters, the Bishop of Hippo has veered round to the opposite 
side. Petilian had declared that it was a matter of conscience 
with his party that no man should be coerced into accepting 
their faith. 1 And Augustine unhappily did not content himself 
with the unanswerable comment that such ideals could find no 
place in a cause supported by Circumcellions. He sounded 
the first notes of that long strain of intolerance of which the 
world has by no means heard the last even yet. His defence 
of coercive measures is less austere than it afterwards became : 
he admitted that " No one indeed is to be compelled to 
embrace the faith against his will " ; but he continued, " it 
is common, in the providential dealing, for faithlessness [per- 
fidia] to be chastened with the scourge of tribulation ". 2 It is 
very probably correct that Augustine here denies that coercion 
should be used as an instrument in converting the heathen, and 
limits its exercise to the apostate, the deserter from the faith. 
At any rate he certainly advocates its use against the heretic as 
early as 400. 3 

But he clearly discerns the limits of its utility. Coercion 
does not compel men to do good, it can only restrain them 
from doing harm. The moral worth of action must depend on 
inward consent and love of the good. Augustine sees that 
this cannot be produced by fear of pain. But coercion at least 
shuts up the evil within the precincts of the inner man. It 
prevents external manifestations. And for the moment, under 
strain of controversy, this fallacy contents him. 

It was apparently in this frame of mind that Augustine 
attended the African Councils, when the subject of Circum- 
cellion violence was debated ; especially in that of 404, where 
opinion was divided : some advocating an appeal to the State 
for protection of Catholics, and others an appeal for com- 
pulsory union of Donatists with the Church. 

But in the following year, 405, 4 Augustine is found congratu- 

1 C. L. Petil., 11. 183. 2 C. L. Petil., 11. 184, p. 430. 
:i P. 431. 4 " Ep.," 86, a.d. 405. 


lating a high officer of State on the wonderful success attending 
his coercive labours for Catholic unity in other parts of Africa ; 
and requesting him to extend similar measures to the Diocese 
of Hippo and the borders of Numidia. This letter, however, 
ends with a carefully expressed hope that disunity may be 
healed by warning, rather than removed by punishment. 

In 408 l we come to his well-known explanation of this change 
of opinion, in the letter to Vincentius. 

Augustine frankly tells Vincentius 2 that his opinion origin- 
ally was that no one should be coerced into the unity of 
Christ ; that the Catholic cause must prevail by reason, not 
force ; that the use of compulsion involved the terrible risk of 
converting sincere heretics into hypocritical Catholics. But he 
adds that his original opinion has now been changed ; and that 
this alteration was due to the influence of his episcopal col- 
leagues. He tells Vincentius, with equally notable frankness, 
that he was not convinced by their arguments for coercion, but 
by the conclusive evidence of its practical Utility : The bishops 
reminded him of the beneficent results of a judicious use of 
compulsion. They appealed to the evidence of his own 
episcopal city. Formerly Hippo was almost 'entirely on the 
side of the schism. It was now brought over to Catholic 
unity. The imperial edicts had produced this wonderful 
improvement. The steady pressure of secular discipline, the 
emotion of fear, had induced the masses to view the Church 
in a far less prejudiced light. Many who desired to be 
Catholics had been hitherto restrained by fear of Circumcellion 
violence. 3 They were now led into Catholicity through fear 
of the State. They now express their gratitude for past 
severity, 4 and consider it the means of their deliverance. The 
moral risks of coercion, keenly felt by Augustine himself 5 on 
a former occasion, disturb his mind no more. He is satisfied 
with the practical utility of the new method, and with the 
convert's outward professions. Was it my duty, he asks in 

!a.d. 408. 2 " Ep.," 93. § i7. 3 "Ep.," 93 . *|i7. 5§i. 


self-defence, to be displeased at these men's salvation ? Was 
he bound to recall his colleagues from methods so eminently 
satisfactory in their results ? * If he had continued his opposi- 
tion, would he not have frustrated the conquests of the Lord ? 
There is something peculiarly melancholy in so confirmed an 
idealist as Augustine, reducing the whole subject of human 
independence to the mere utilitarian level. Certainly it might 
have been expected that he would have suddenly escaped by 
some magnificent and lofty flight from the influence of his 
episcopal colleagues. There is also something very naive in 
the admission that, although moved by their practical appeals 
to results, he was not convinced by their arguments. 

It appears, however, in the course of Augustine's letters 
that the results of coercion were by no means always satis- 
factory or successful. The history of the schism presents a 
plentiful succession of failures. Gaudentius, exasperated be- 
yond endurance by pertinacious endeavour to convert him, 
threatened to burn the Church over the heads of himself and 
his congregation. 2 Donatus, a priest of the same order, threw 
himself down a well to avoid persecution at the hands of 
Augustine's companions. However, the bishop was undaunted : 
he comforted himself with the reflection that correction must 
not be abandoned merely on the ground that it sometimes 


Having thus established to his satisfaction the claims of 
coercion on the ground of its practical utility, it was natural 
and necessary to confirm this view by such arguments as his 
fertile and inventive genius could produce. And here Augus- 
tine exhibited all his brilliancy. 

His arguments in behalf of intolerance occupy a series of 
letters, reproduced repeatedly in various forms, but certainly not 
losing in emphasis as the years moved on from 408 to 417. 
Sometimes we find him writing against Donatists who objected 

J §i9. 2 "Ep.," 173, a.d. 416. 


to the process of being compulsorily converted ; sometimes to 
Catholics who had their own grave misgivings on the rectitude 
of such procedure. The most momentous of these defences of 
intolerance is the tract on the correction of the Donatists, 
written to Count Boniface about the year 417. It contains 
Augustine's most matured opinion on the subject of coercion : 
and its peculiar importance consists in the fact that it is 
addressed to a high officer of State. 1 

Augustine's arguments for coercion may be roughly grouped 
under the following sections : — 

1. Illustrations and analogies. 

On the assumption that the heretic is in a similar state to a 
lunatic, or an unruly son, Augustine argues that similar treat- 
ment is deserved. No doubt coercive laws are resented. 2 But 
so is the restraint imposed by the physician upon the lunatic ; 
so is the discipline inflicted by a father on a rebellious child. 
Yet, notwithstanding the opinion of the recipient, in either 
instance such inflictions are beneficial. 

2. Scriptural examples and authorities. 

Augustine has not much difficulty in producing from the Old 
Testament examples of severity, which, he considers, justify 
compulsion. 3 Sarah afflicting her servant Hagar appears to him 
a historic parallel with the severity of the Church in correcting 
schismatics. He does not omit the more obvious instance of 
Elijah slaying the false prophets. Elsewhere, however, Augus- 
tine recognizes that Old Testament sanctions for coercion 
would require to be read in the light of the New ; since the 
examples belong to a different period, and a different dispensa- 
tion. 4 

To discover examples of coercion to Christianity in the New 
Testament would have seemed a bolder undertaking. Yet 
Augustine thinks he can produce them. 5 The blinding light at 
the Conversion of St. Paul is pressed into service by the ardent 
disciplinarian as an example of Divine coercion, and as justify - 

1 " Retract.," 11. 48. 2 " Ep." 3 "Ep.,"93. 

4 " Contra Crescon.," iv. 56, p. 780. 5 " Ep.," 93 and 185. 


ing severity toward schismatics. There is also St. Paul deliver- 
ing the Corinthian offender to Satan for the destruction of the 
flesh. There is Christ scourging the Jews. 

Yet, after producing these examples, Augustine admits that 
the Donatists are right when they contend that no precedent 
for such methods as those advocated by the African Church 
against schism can be found in the Apostolic age. It was 
unquestionably true that the traditions of the Church were not 
on the side of intolerance. They were a long record of patient 
endurance. Augustine undertakes to explain, in the face of 
this adverse tradition, that coercion is nevertheless the true 
attitude of the Church towards schism. He admits that there 
has been a change of attitude ; but the change was due to the 
Church's altered circumstances, and not to any departure from 
principle. Moreover, the change was predicted in Holy Scrip- 
ture. It was self-evident that so long as the imperial power 
was unconverted, it could not be expected to support the Faith. 

But these were the times which the Psalmist described in the 
terms : " Why do the heathen so furiously rage together, and 
why do the people imagine a vain thing ? The kings of the 
earth stand up, and their rulers take counsel together, against 
the Lord and against His anointed." 1 That was the first period 
of the Church's experience. But according to the Psalmist 
there would follow a second, which he indicates in the injunc- 
tion : " Be wise now, O ye kings : be learned, ye that are judges 
of the earth. Serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice unto Him with 
reverence." 2 Now, asks Augustine triumphantly, how can kings 
serve the Lord in fear, unless they prohibit and prevent, 
by religious severity, transgressions against the Christian law ? 3 
This serving the Lord in fear meant terrorizing into Catholicity. 
The proper attitude for a Christian king towards schism was to 
Augustine exemplified in Hezekiah, when he took down the 
groves and brake in fragments the idols ; or in Nebuchadnezzar, 
when he made a decree that men should tremble before the 
God of Heaven. 4 But in the nature of the case this kind of 

1 Ps. ii. 2 Verse 10. 3 " Ep.," 185. i § 19. 


service to the Almighty could not be realized until the conver- 
sion of the emperors to Christianity. This conversion heralded 
in the second period ; when the kings and judges of the earth, 
having now become wise, began to exercise coercive measures. 

Precisely in the same spirit Augustine gave his famous ex- 
position of the words, "compel them to come in". When 
the schismatics drew a striking contrast between the Catholic 
method of correction and the pathetic gentleness of the 
Master's appeal to the Twelve, " will ye also go away ? " 
Augustine laboured to counteract the impression by a subtle 
explanation of the Parable of the Great Supper. 1 The servants 
are sent out first into the streets of the city, with a gentle 
message to bring in the maimed and the blind ; afterwards 
into the highways and hedges to compel men to come in. 
First to bring, secondly to compel. 

These very different injunctions correspond to two periods 
of the Church's growth : 2 the former to the early days when 
the Church had no strength to do more than invite ; the latter 
to the days of its vigour and power, when it had strength 
to compel men to enter the eternal banquet. Christ then, 
according to Augustine, predicted the period of compulsion. 
Compel them to come in. 3 So Augustine drew out the terrible 
justification of intolerance which was to work such fearful con- 
sequences on Christian history. 

This early essay in the doctrine of development is certainly 

3. Obligations of the State. 4 

To guard the interests of religion is the duty of the secular 
power. What sane adviser of kings would say to them, it is 
no business of yours whether the Church of your Lord is sup- 
ported or opposed within your dominions ? Who can rationally 
tell them it is no part of their imperial function to concern 
themselves whether their subjects are devout or profane, but 
only whether they are moral or the reverse ? Can the imperial 

1 " Ep.," 173 ; W., 11. 920 ; S. L. xiv. 21. 2 P. 921. 

3 Cf. also " Ep.," 185, p. 980. 4 « Ep.," 185, § 20. 



authority reasonably punish immorality and permit sacrilege ? 
Is it less important that the soul shall keep its faith with God 
than that a woman should be faithful to her husband ? Thus 
the functions of the Church and the State are confused. 
Augustine sees no other position for the secular power than 
that of submissive instrumentality to the dictates and directions 
of the spiritual. The function of the secular rule becomes the 
suppression of heresy. In these assertions and principles we 
have the germ of much mediaeval confusion of the functions 
of the spiritual and secular power. We have the beginnings 
of theories matured in the " De Regimine Principum " ascribed 
to St. Thomas Aquinas, and boldly repeated in the " De Mon- 
archia " of the poet Dante. 

Such are the arguments, or rather the sophisms, says Janet, 
which Augustine had the misfortune to invent, doubtless with- 
out anticipating the lamentable results of his theory. 1 Christian 
philosophy, in proportion as its dominion over souls extends 
and its authority increases, seems more and more to depart 
from that wondrous spirit of gentleness and love which was 
the glory of its apostles and its martyrs. 

We can well understand and sympathize with the moral 
indignation which prompted such a criticism. There is a wide 
and lamentable deviation in these Augustinian theories from 
the spirit of the earlier age. 

There is no denying the fact that the plea for liberty of 
conscience was made on the Donatist and not on the Catholic 
side. It is true, that the Donatist was utterly inconsistent, 
in constituting himself the champion of freedom, while he 
enlisted the Circumcellions. Like many other religious 
men, the Donatist refused to share with others the liberty 
which he claimed. Doubtless the tu quoque argument, what- 
ever its value, was one which the Donatist could not parry. 
Still, whatever abatement should be made, the fact remains 
that the defence of religious liberty came from schismatic 

1 Janet, " Histoire de la Philosophic Morale et Politique," I. 241. 


lips, and the attack on liberty from the leading Catholic. 
And here there seems a justification for the criticism of a 
modern writer. " Donatism had its own right to be; em- 
phasized elements in the religion Catholicism had no room 
for or did no justice to." 1 

Only, one extenuating fact must be remembered : namely, 
the circumstances under which Augustine developed his views 
and formulated his theory. He wrote and thought under 
the fierce brutal fanaticism of a sectarian opposition which 
stifled Christian spirit and desolated the community. No 
calm dispassionate consideration of the subject was easy or 
natural. He wrote in the heat of an atmosphere made almost 
intolerable by fevered passions ; in conditions in which justice 
was rendered difficult although of course not impossible. The 
line he took is ever to be lamented. But one cannot help 
suspecting that Augustine, isolated from the pressure of Donatist 
antagonism, would have formulated very different ideals and 
expressions from those which have compromised his fame. 


But the importance of Augustine as an advocate of coercion 
in religion consists in the fact that his influence directed the 
course of Christian thought upon the subject down many 
centuries. It is a long way from Carthage in the fifth century 
to Paris in the seventeenth : but the treatment of the Huguenots 
under the government of Louis XIV was prompted by the 
very principles which Augustine had announced, and often by 
the very words in which he gave those principles expression. 
The great African bishop still lives, and directs the policy of 
the French court, as effectively as he guided the African State 
officials in his own day. 

It was a Sunday in October, 1685. The court was at Fon- 
tainbleau. Bossuet, 2 preaching before that brilliant assembly, 

1 Fairbairn, "Catholicism," p. 194. 

2 Le Dieu " Journal de Bossuet," 1. p. 180. 

10 * 


adopted as his text the words in the parable, " compel them 
to come in ". 

The notorious exegesis originated by Augustine, advocating 
coercion, was reproduced with all the force of one of the 
greatest of modern orators. Bossuet's biographer, also his 
private secretary, adds that the court was moved to tears by 
the thought of the merciful methods whereby Providence 
restores the wandering. The sermon resulted in a huge in- 
crease of zeal for the conversion of the Huguenots. The 
king was delighted with the exposition of the words, " compel 
them to come in " ; and to know that Augustine's interpretation 
was supported by the action of the entire African Church. 1 

Now the very month in which Bossuet preached before the 
court of France was the month of the Revocation of the Edict 
of Nantes. Thus unity by compulsion rather than by argument, 
and refusal of liberty of conscience in matters of faith, were 
advanced in the seventeenth century on the authority of 

The French court was dissolved into tears by Bossuet's 
eloquent advocacy of intolerance : but, considering the sequel, 
the tears would seem more appropriate elsewhere ; or for another 
reason. With a singular, almost ludicrous unconsciousness of 
the irony of the situation, Bossuet's biographer describes the 
working of the preacher's principles on the unhappy Protestants. 
An aged gentleman and his wife, both Protestants, and most 
self-willed, are taken in hand by the local magistrate in Brie, 
who, as a penalty for their religion, quarters twelve soldiers upon 
them. 2 This was only necessary for a week. At the end of 
this time the aged couple capitulated at discretion ; convinced 
by these twelve impressive reasons for Catholicity, they meekly 
submitted themselves to be instructed by Bossuet, and made 
their abjuration with the greatest willingness. Certainly the 
court of France had reason to be dissolved in tears. 

It must be borne in mind that the Protestant communities 

1 Cf. •« Introd. to Le Dieu," p. cxvi. 

2 Le Dieu M Journal de Bossuet," i. p. 189. 


no more understood the principles of toleration than Bossuet 
did. Calvin no less than Bossuet adopted the interpretation 
of the words, " compel them to come in ". And when Calvin 
condemned Servetus to be burnt alive, the decision met a very 
considerable consensus of Protestant approval. All these 
things the French episcopate did not fail to recall to the 
Huguenot memory at the close of the seventeenth century. 1 

It is singular to find Bossuet and his contemporaries recalling 
the circumstances of the Donatist schism as a historic parallel, 
and fully conscious of the dangers of hypocrisy. There is no 
doubt, says a French bishop, 2 that the Donatists when driven 
to reunion inwardly abjured their public profession, and perpe- 
trated many a secret infidelity. Augustine himself did not 
believe in the sincerity of all these sudden conversions. And 
certainly his arguments are plausible. But these misgivings 
were not allowed to weigh in the French episcopate. An 
eminent officer of State, Lansignon de Basville, rested the 
whole subject of constraint in religion on Augustine's change 
of mind. Has not St. Augustine decided this question ? He 
changed his mind. We cannot think he did so without duly 
considering the matter. 3 He saw clearly the risk of turning 
sincere heretics into hypocritical Catholics. Yet he considered 
the advantages outweighed the risks. If this method of 
coercion was a profanation, would not St. Augustine have felt 
it ? Historic passages such as these may illustrate the great 
African's almost boundless, and, in this instance, pathetic 

But even this is not all. A book was circulated in France 
in 1686 entitled " Harmony between the Methods of the Church 
of France for Coercing Protestants, and those of the Church of 
Africa for Coercing the Donatists into the Catholic Church ". 
Those who possessed any knowledge of antiquity, said the 
author of this historic parallel, could not be surprised at recent 

1 " Le Dieu," 1. p. 194. 2 Cf. Montauban, p. 185. 

3 Eossuet's " Works," vol. XXVI, Letter 31. 


coercive measures in France among the Protestants. 1 It is 
only what the Church has done on similar occasions. Accord- 
ingly the author prints a translation of Augustine's letter advo- 
cating compulsion. So the unhappy Huguenots ought to be 
tormented into conformity in Paris in 1686 because Augustine 
coerced the Donatists in 411. It was a happy necessity which 
forced them into better things. People indeed will say that 
these forced conversions are insincere : but, adds the author 
triumphantly, men said just the same in the Donatist days ; and 
St. Augustine refuted them. 2 

Bossuet added a further argument for coercion which escaped 
the notice of Augustine. He conceded that coercive methods 
endangered the sincerity of the victim, but asserted that things 
righted themselves in the next generation : for the sons of the 
insincere convert would be sincere believers. Thus coercion 
is viewed as a temporary expedient, risky in its immediate 
issue, but justified by its ultimate results. 

It must be remembered that the method of coercion still 
forms part of the Roman Catholic principles. Discretion may 
temper its use, and 1 modern life may render it practically im- 
politic ; but the right to employ it is still advocated by leading 

1 P. Vi. 2 p xxiv4 




Catholic. Donatist. 

-311 Mensurius. 311-315 Majorinus. 

311-347 Caecilian. 315-355 Donatus. 

347- Gratus. 355-39* Parmenian. 

356- Restitutus. 391 Primian. 

-390 Genethlius. 


303 Edict of Diocletian. 
305 Synod of Cirta. 
311 Death of Mensurius. 
311 Consecration of Cagcilian. 

311 The party of Majorinus. 

312 The Battle of the Milvian Bridge. 

312 Constantine's Edict of Toleration. 

313 Complaint of the party of Majorinus. 

313 Synod of the Lateran. (1) 

314 Council of Aries. (2) 

315 Death of Majorinus. 

315 Donatus the Great. (A) 

316 Decision of Constantine. (3) 
321 Constantine's gentler measures. 
347 Constans. 

347 Mission of Paulus and Macarius. 
347 The Circumcellions. 
350 Parmenian. (B) 




361 Julian. 

372 St. Optatus. 

384 Tichonius. 

391 Primian. (C) 

391 Ordination of St. Augustine. 

393 Psalmus Abecedarius. 

400 Augustine against Parmenian. 

400 Augustine against Petilian. 

400 Augustine on baptism. 

402 Augustine on the unity of the Church. 

401 Synod of Carthage : on the dearth of clergy. 

403 Synod on conferences with the Donatists. 

403 Increase of Circumcellion violence. 

404 Synod of Carthage : appeal to the Emperor. 

404 Edict of Honorius 

405 Edict of Honorius. 

406 Augustine against Cresconius ? 409. 

410 Augustine on the one baptism. 

411 The Great Conference. 

411 Augustine's summary of the report. 

412 Augustine to the Donatists after the conference. 

412 Augustine's sermon to the people of Caesarea. 

413 Death of Marcellinus. 

418 Council of Carthage : regulating return of Schismatics. 
418 Augustine and Emeritus. 
420 Augustine and Gaudentius. 


"Acts of the Martyrs Dativus, Saturninus," etc. [Cf. Noris, 
iv. 19, 20.] 

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Migne's "Optatus," pp. 1159-80.] 

Allard. " Histoire des Persecutions," 5 vols., 1885, 

Audollent. "Carthage Romaine," 1901. 

Augustine. Gaume's edit., Vol. IX, and documents in Ap- 
pendix. Petschenig's edit, of the Anti-Donatist Treatises, 
1908 ; Lives by Possidius ; the Benedictines ; Poujoulat ; 
Bindemann ; Rauscher (left incomplete and edited after the 
Cardinal's death) ; Loofs article in Hauck's " Encyclo- 
pedia ". 


Baldwin. " Historia Carthaginensis Collationis," 1566. [See 

Appendix to Migne's " Optatus," pp. 1439-1506.] 
Baronius. " Annals," a.d. 302. 
Benson. "Cyprian." 
Bohringer. tl Kirchengeschichte." 
Bright. ' ' Age of the Fathers. " 

Burckhardt. " Die Zeit Constantin's des Grossen," 1880. 
Deutsch. " Drei Aktenstiicke zur Geschichte des Donatismus," 

Duchesne. " Le Dossier du Donatisme," 1890. 

Dupin. " Historia Donatistarum." 

Dupuch. " L'Afrique Chr6tienne," 1850. 

Eusebius. "H, E.," vin. 

Ferrere. " La situation religieuse de TAfrique romaine," 1897. 


" Gesta Proconsularia." Appendix to Augustine (Gaume), ix. 1086. 

"Gesta apud Zenophilum " [320] ib., 1104-14, containing extracts 
from earlier official registers of the Diocletian period. 
[For the application of Higher Criticism to these docu- 
ments, see Volter ; and Duchesne, and Reuter's convincing 
replies. Yet it must be admitted that the registers are 
fragmentary, and out of order.] 

Gsell. " Fouilles de Benian," 1899. 

Gsell. " LAlgerie dans l'Antiquite'," 1900. 

Harnack. " History of Dogma." 

Hefele. " Hist Councils." 

Holme. "The Extinction of the Christian Churches in North 
Africa," 1898. 

Ittigius. " Dissertatio exhibens Historiam Schismatis Donatis- 
tarum," 1703, pp. 241-386. 

Jerome. " Catal. Script. Eccles." 

Lactantius. " De Morte Persecutorum." 

Leclercq. " Les Martyrs," 4 vols., 1903. 

Leclercq. " L'Afrique Chretienne," 1904. 

Lesert. li Fastes des Provinces Africaines," 1901. 

Martroye. lC Une tentative de revolution social en Afrique. 
Donatistes et Circoncellions," 1904. 

Mason. " Diocletian Persecution." 

Mommsen. "Provinces of the Roman Empire," 2 vols., 1886. 

Monceaux. " Histoire Litt6raire de TAfrique Chr6tienne," 3 vols., 


Monceaux. Article in the " Revue de l'Histoire des Religions," 

July, 1909: "L'Eglise Donatiste avant S. Augustin ". 
Morcelli. "Africa Christiana," 3 vols., 1816. 
Noris. " Historia Donatistarum," ed. Ballerini, 4 vols., Verona, 

"Optatus," ed. Ziwsa. 
Philastrius. " De Hasresibus." 
Reuter. " Augustinische Studien." 
Ribbeck. " Donatismus," 1858. 
Robertson. "Regnum Dei." 
Ruinart. "Les Actes des Martyrs," 4 vols., 1858 (selected and 

Thiimmel. "Zur Beurtheilung des Donatismus," 1893. 
Tillemont. "Memoires," Venice, 1732, T. vi. 1-193. 
Volter. " Der Ursprung des Donatismus," 1883. 
Ziwsa. "Optatus," 1893. 

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