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Donatism: the Last Phase

  • R. A. Markus (a1)


The purpose of this paper is to question some generally held assumptions concerning the character of Donatism, and its relations with the Catholic Church, during the later period of Byzantine rule in North Africa. The features of the Donatist Church during its classical period, in the fourth and fifth centuries, are now well known. They are conveniently surveyed by Dr Frend in his magisterial study of the movement. He has established, definitively in my view, that the schism in the African Church had roots far deeper than historians had previously discerned. The theological divergence between Catholicism and Dissent, as he put it, ‘was interwoven with other differences, such as geography, culture and economic circumstance.’ ‘The two churches were in fact two societies, differing fundamentally in outlook on both religious and social questions.’



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Page 118 of note 1 Frend, W. H.C., The Donatist Church, Oxford 1952 .

Page 118 of note 2 Ibid. 333.

Page 118 of note 3 Ibid. 332.

Page 118 of note 4 Ibid. 324.

Page 119 of note 1 Dudden, F.Homes, Gregory the Great, London 1905, 1, 414-28.

Page 119 of note 2 Op. cit. 309-12.

Page 119 of note 3 MGH, Epp. 1, 147, lines 5-9: ‘Propterea igitur petitione insinuaverunt nobis praesentium latores Constantius et Mustelus et asserunt ecclesiae Pudentianae diacones Numidia provincia constitutae Maximianum ecclesiae eiusdem antistitem in loco quo deget, corruptum premio, Donatistarum episcopum nova licentia fieri permisisse . . . .’ The explanation in loco quo deget would be unnatural if the place were Pudentiana; we should in this case expect some phrase like in eodem loco. This situation must have been common in Numidia. In Africa episcopal sees were often located in villages and quite insignificant places. It appears that bishops often preferred to reside in villages outside their episcopal sees; cf. Ep. i, 72, where Gregory recommends that the primates of African provinces be chosen not automatically by seniority, but that their manner of life be also taken into account; he adds ‘Ipse vero primas non passim sicut moris est per villas, sed in una iuxta eorum [i.e. the other bishops of the province] electionem civitate resideat.’ Gregory wished the practice of bishops residing away from their sees to be ended, at least in the case of primates.

Page 122 of note 1 Cf. Ep. ix, 27 (discussed below) for another instance, in which a Theodoras magister had prevented a case from being heard in Rome.

Page 123 of note 1 This is noted by Caspar, E., Geschichte des Papsttums, Tübingen 1933, 11, 446 . Caspar’s summary of the real extent of papal influence in Africa can scarcely be improved on.

Page 124 of note 1 Synodale quem accipit episcopus, no. 6 in the Vatican codex, pp. 80-81 in the edition by H. Foerster, Bern 1958. Cf. Gregory II’s letter to Boniface, MGH, Epp. III, 267. I have not been able to consult Godard, L., ’Quels sont les Africains que le pape Grégoire II défendit en 723 d’élever au sacerdoce?Revue Africaine, 1861, 4853 . Dr Frend (op. cit., 313) is certainly right in interpreting the reference to the ‘rebaptised’ as meaning the Donatists. But we cannot conclude, as he does, that ‘if this interpretation is true, then there is formal evidence for the survival of Donatism up to the very end of African Christianity.’ The Lateran scrinium was not an institution noted for a zeal for innovation and change, least of all in Gregory II’s time. If it could people the wilds of Thuringia with Roman municipal institutions (as it did in its mode of address), it would not be beyond its powers to fill Africa with Manichees and Donatists. The formula survived as late as the eleventh century (cf. Nicholas II, Ep. 25: PL, CXLIII, 1347). More evidence than the use of a fossilised convention is required to establish the survival of Donatism. The formula is already stereotyped by the time of Gregory I (cf. Epp. iii, 11; ix, 210) and was obviously a standard product of the papal scrinium.

Page 125 of note 1 Cf.Monceaux, P., Histoire littéraire de l’Afrique chrétienne, IV, Paris 1912, 97 f.

Page 125 of note 2 Cf.Carcopino, J., ‘Un “empereur” maure inconnu, d’après une inscription latine récemment découverte dans l’Aurès’, Revue des études anciennes, (1944), 94120 .

Page 125 of note 3 Cf.Courtois, C., Les Vandales et l’Afrique, Paris 1955, 338-9.

Page 125 of note 4 Cf.Jaubert, H. in Ree. de Constantine, (1912) 66-7, 141-4, quoted by Frend, op. cit., 309-10.

Page 125 of note 5 Op. cit. 314.

Page 125 of note 6 Caspar, E., Geschichte des Papsttums, 11, 446 .

Page 126 of note 1 The resistance to the condemnation of the Three Chapters was geographically widespread, involving the provinces Proconsularis, Byzacena and Numidia. I owe this point to my pupil, Miss Susan Proudfoot.

Page 126 of note 2 This is apparent from the remarkable study by W. Pewesin, ‘Imperium, ecclesia universalis, Rom: der Kampf der afrikanischen Kirche um die Mitte des 6. Jahrhunderts’, in Geistige Grundlagen römischer Kirchenpolitik (Forsch. z. Kirchen- u. Geistesgeschichte, 11), Stuttgart 1937. Although Augustine had helped to cement the alliance between African Catholicism and the empire, the lineaments of a very different and, indeed, contrary view can also be discerned in his writings, above all in the De civitate Dei. How these divergent views were related in his mind and in his intellectual development is a question which still remains to be studied. Significantly, Augustine could be invoked in support of both sides in the course of the controversies during the schism of the Three Chapters.

Donatism: the Last Phase

  • R. A. Markus (a1)


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