HISTORY OF THE DONATISTS
By David Benedict
Extracts from the Writings of the Donatists
That this people had able defenders of their cause, will be evident from the selections from their writings which I am preparing to make. The works from which my selections are to be made have long been lost, and all that has been preserved of them is now found in the works of Augustine, who lived in the time of most of the writers which will be named. These passages are interspersed in the copious controversial writings against this people. They were originally quoted for the purpose of arguing against the sentiments they contain; and by this means there has been transmitted to us, by their adversary, a large amount of the veritable writings of these ancient and hitherto entirely neglected people, which otherwise we could never have seen. From the passages in Augustine's writings the following extracts will be made. Strange as it may seem, no author, even of those who have shown some friendship to the Donatists, has ever, to my knowledge, made any reference to the writings under consideration, so creditable to the talents and religious sentiments of their authors, and which are so conspicuous, always in italics, amidst hundreds of the Latin folio pages of Augustine's works, in his controversies with the Donatists. Some small works by Donatus, the first acting bishop of the Donatists at Carthage, have been referred to. Parmenian was his successor. By him the first large work against the Catholics was published. This was first answered by Optatus. Against Parmenian, Augustine published his first large work against the Donatists; and from what I find of the language ascribed to Parmenian, my extracts will be made.
This first treatise of Augustine against the Donatists was published but a few years after he was ordained a bishop. The work consists of three books or chapters. The main object of the author appears to have been the defense of his lax system of church discipline in opposition to the strict rules of his opponents, as on this point the parties were always at variance. In his caption he says: "In three books against the epistle of Parmenian, bishop of the Donatists of Carthage, the successor of Donatus, a great question I have discussed and solved." This great question with this great church leader of his day among the Catholics was, "Whether, in the union and communion of the same sacraments, bad members would contaminate the good; and in what manner they would not contaminate them." Another question which this ancient church manager was equally in earnest to discuss and solve was, "How the apostle is to be understood in what he said to the Corinthians about putting away an evil person from among themselves." According to the Greek language, he said, it may be understood that the evil of their hearts was to be put away, instead of a bad member. All this kind of reasoning, which in different forms will appear in the following narratives, was intended to favor the lax system of discipline for which Augustine always and everywhere so earnestly contended.
Quotations From the Work of Parmenian
Against the Catholics
"Woe unto those who put evil for good, and good for evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that he cannot save, neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear. "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. "For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue hath muttered perverseness. "None calleth for justice, nor pleadeth for the truth; they trust in vanity, and they speak lies; they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. "Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. "The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings; they have made them crooked paths; whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out from the midst of her; be clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. "I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. "I have hated the congregation of evil doers; I will not sit with sinners. "Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men, in whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes." The work of Parmenian does not contain so many passages suitable for these brief selections as those hereafter to be noticed.
Quotations From the Writings
of Pertilian Against the Catholics
These writings, like all other of the Donatists which have been preserved and have come down to us, are dispersed in the writings of Augustine, for the purpose of refuting them. The whole amount of matter thus preserved of the veritable writings of Petilian alone, would make a pamphlet of no inconsiderable size. They are without any order as to subjects, but I shall arrange my selections under appropriate heads, and will begin with the Subject of Baptism. They who throw against us a two-fold baptism under the name of baptism, have polluted their own souls with a criminal bath. He who accuses me of baptizing twice, does not himself truly baptize once. We by our baptism put on Christ; you by your contagion put on Judas the traitor. He who receives the faith from an infidel, receives not faith but guilt. Everything depends on its origin and root; trees are known by their fruit. The character of a baptizer must be well known. The apostle Paul says there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; this one baptism we openly profess, and it is certain that they who think there are two, are insane. The most important article on this subject was the following: That Petilian, as he said, might fully discuss the baptism of the Trinity, he referred to the command of Christ to his apostles to teach the nations, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In contrasting the apostolic teaching and baptism with those of his opponents, the Donatist bishop addressed his Catholic adversary in the following pungent and pertinent terms: Who, O thou betrayer, dost thou teach? Him whom thou dost capitally condemn? Who, O thou betrayer, dost thou teach? Him whom thou dost slay? Finally, who dost thou teach? Him whom thou mayest have made a homicide? Thus far the business of teaching was the subject of discussion; that of baptism followed. How, said Petilian to his opponent, dost thou baptize in the name of the Trinity? Thou who canst not call God thy father, since Christ the Lord said: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. Thou who hast not peace of mind, hast not God for thy father. But how dost thou baptize in the name of the Son, thou who betrayest him, and who dost not imitate the Son of God in any sufferings, nor in any crosses? But how dost thou baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon those apostles who had not been traitors? Since, therefore, God is not your father, nor are you truly born from the water of baptism, and no one of you is inwardly born; neither, O ye impious men, have you a church father or mother; as such, then ought I not to baptize you, although, just as the Jews, in their daily ablutions, as it were, baptize their bodies, you may wash yourselves a thousand times.
Petilian on the Persecutions of the Catholics
Ye progeny of vipers, how can you escape the judgment of Gehenna? David, in describing your race, says: 'Their throat is an open sepulchre, and they flatter with their tongues. The poison of asps in under their lips; their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, and their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have known; the fear of God is not before their eyes. The Lord Christ admonishes us to beware of false prophets who come to us in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are rapacious wolves. By their fruits you may know them. So, verily, O unprincipled persecutor, with whatever veil of goodness you may shroud yourself; with whatever pretense of peace upon your lips you may make war against us; and however much you may allure men with your false union, so far as you practice falsehood and deception, you are truly a son of the devil whilst you imitate the works of your father. Now, said Petilian to his opponent, it is not wonderful that you should falsely assume the name of a bishop, since it is the true custom of Satan to transform himself into an angel of light. Do you think to serve God by killing us with your own hands? Ye err, miserable men, if you think thus, for the ministers of God are not executioners. When you kill our bodies we have a two-fold baptism, but the second is of blood, like that which Christ endured. Be ashamed, be ashamed, O ye persecutors, that you make martyrs like Christ, with blood, after their true baptism of water. The law says thou shalt not kill. Cain killed one brother, but how many brothers have been killed by you? Did the apostles ever persecute any one? Did Christ ever betray any one? Christ in dying taught us how to die, not to kill. The apostle Paul tells us of the abundance of his own sufferings, not what he made others suffer. Christ taught us to suffer wrong, not requite it.
Petilian on the Beatitudes Against the Catholics
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." You who are inflated with riches, pursue us with malicious fury. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." You savage men have lost heaven and earth together. "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted." You, our executioners, make many mourn, while you do not mourn yourselves. "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Your righteousness consists in thirsting for our blood. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." When can I call you merciful, while you continue to punish just men? And whilst you do this, do you not pollute their souls with your most iniquitous communion? "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." When will you see God, who, with foul malice, nourish blindness of heart? "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." You frame peace in wickedness, and seek union with war. "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." You are not blessed, but you make blessed martyrs; with souls heaven is replenished, the memory of whose bodies flourishes in the earth. This peculiar article of the able and distinguished writer among the Donatists, was followed with the recital of all the woes pronounced by Christ against the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees. O, ye miserable traitors, ought not the scripture to be fulfilled in you? Paul, the apostle, in his account of the immense persecutions which he suffered by all nations, says the greatest were from false brethren. In the description of charity, this writer, after enumerating all its excellent traits of character mentioned by the apostles, says, it does not persecute, nor inflame the minds of emperors against their subjects, nor seize on the property of others, nor kill men whom it would rob. Behold, said Petilian, a most ample warning to all persecutors: "Put up thy sword into its sheath, O Peter, said Jesus, for they who take the sword shall die with the sword." In confirmation of this doctrine he gave many examples of distinguished persecutors of the Donatists, who, in various ways, came to untimely ends. "The Lord God never delights in human blood." "What have you to do with the king of this world?" said Petilian to his opponents. And in his comments on the injury which Christianity always reason to apprehend from the kingly race, an entire folio page is employed. "Where," said he, "is the law of God, and what becomes of your Christianity, amidst the slaughters and deaths which you command and execute? "What is the reason, and wherein is the consistency, of your calling us heretics, although falsely, and yet of being importunate for our communion?" "Of the two characters ascribed to us," said Petilian, "choose at length, in which you hold us. "If you say we are innocent, why do you follow us with the sword? "Or if you say we are criminal, why seek after us as though we were innocent?" "O, most subtle dilemma, or, rather, most impertinent loqua city," said Augustine. Petilian, in the language of David, said to his opponent, "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes." We do not trust in man, said Augustine, but as much as we are able we admonish them to trust in the Lord; neither do we put confidence in princes, but as much as we are able we admonish princes to trust in the Lord; and if we ask of princes anything in aid of the church, yet we do not put our confidence in them. Neither did the apostle Paul put his trust in that tribune as in a prince from whom he obtained armed soldiers for a protection against a band of assassins at Jerusalem. This theory of Paul's seeking an armed protection will appear hereafter, when it will be examined.
A Pointed Address of Petilian to His Opponents
Miserable men, indeed, I call you, who seek after our goods, instead of our souls, and are overwhelmed with fear respecting possessions thus obtained. We who are poor in spirit have no fear concerning riches, but fear them; but having nothing, we possess all things. We who live in the fear of the Lord have no fear of any punishments you may inflict upon us with the sword. Finally, the only thing we fear from you which we strive to flee from is your most injurious communion, with which you would slay our souls. The Lord himself has said, fear not those who kill the body, but fear him rather, who is able to send the body and soul into the Gehenna of fire.
Petilian's Closing Address
Having expatiated quite freely on the errors of the Catholics, as he esteemed them, he thus addressed his own community: "Come to the true church, O ye people, and flee away from all traitors, if you are not willing to perish with them. "I baptize their members, as having an imperfect baptism, and as in reality unbaptized. "They will receive my members, but far be it from being done, as truly baptized, which they would not do at all, if they could discover any faults in our baptism. "See, therefore, that the baptism which I give you may be held so holy that not any sacrilegious enemy will have dared to destroy it."
Cresconius Against the Catholics
This able defender of the Donatists was a grammarian, that is, a literary teacher, as that term was then understood; and although a layman, yet he appears to have been very thoroughly acquainted with the history and principles of his own people; and from his laborious work, which was reviewed by Augustine, my extracts will be made. Cresconius was probably a member of Petilian's church in Constantina, whose work against the Catholics he ably defended. He and Petilian and Augustine were all in the field at the same time with large works.
Cresconius Against Augustine
"You," said the Donatist to the Catholic, "with intolerable arrogance, have said that you alone can terminate a controversy which to others has appeared interminable, and must therefore be left to the judgment of God. You, single-handed," continued Cresconius, "promised to finish a dispute which, after so many years; after the labors of so many judges and arbitrators; after the learned disputations of the bishops on both sides, before prominent men, could never be finished! "Since," continued Cresconius, "you well know the thing in question cannot be finished by you, why do you assume a useless labor? Why enter upon an empty undertaking? Why encounter a vain and fruitless task? Do you not make a great mistake in thus proposing to do what you cannot accomplish?"
Neander, in commenting on this discussion, says:
"Cresconius was not so much out of the way when he censured the confidence of Augustine, who professed to be able to dispose, so easily, of a controversy, on which, for so long a time, so many things had been said on both sides." Cresconius, like all authors of his party, had one Lord, one faith, one baptism, for his motto; and to this he added, an uncorrupted and true Catholic church. The claim of Catholic for their church was quite often made by the Donatists, which claim was very annoying to the Catholics. All the opponents of Augustine among the Donatists, whether of the clergy or laity, combated his lax system of discipline; generally, in a serious manner; but occasionally quite otherwise, as the following example will illustrate.
Sharp Comments of Cresconius on Augustine's
Defense of the Validity of Baptism by Bad Ministers,
Who Were Known to be Such
There is no difference between a baptism administered by a drunken priest and that of an apostle, was the avowed doctrine of Augustine; a sentiment much like this, in his treatise against Petilian, was thrown at him by Cresconius. Forsooth, said Augustine, thou seemest to thyself to have found out where thou mightest spread out thy eloquence in reference to that which I laid down in my epistle to Petilian, namely, that all who are baptized, should place their hope in Christ, whether the baptizer be a man of faith or a perfidious man. After this comment on his own position thus referred to, Augustine proceeded, complainingly, to repeat the free and peculiar comments upon the said position, by his opponent, of which the following is a correct version: "O, said Cresconius, the excellent power of the Catholic priesthood! "O, the praiseworthy precepts of righteousness of the Good Father! "Thou mayest, says he, make no difference between a man of faith and a perfidious man; and a pious and an impious man may seem to thee the same. "And it is no profit to live according to good morals; because whatever is lawful for a righteous man, an unrighteous man also can fully perform. "What, inquired Cresconius, can be said more iniquitous than this precept? "Can a man of a spotted character purify another, a filthy character wash another clean, an impure man make another pure, a faithless man impart faith, and a criminal make another innocent?" This whole subject had been quite freely discussed by the parties previously, in detail; it was also topic of frequent and earnest discussion between other Donatists and the famous church leader of Hippo, who, in his correspondence with Rogatius, the head of the Rogatians, said: Perhaps, among your twelve bishops and their clergy, you have not one drunken priest. From the great corruption of the Catholic clergy, probably arose the policy, if not the necessity, of tolerating the loose clerical morals above referred to. Among the remarks of Cresconius in defense of the practice of the repetition of baptism, he referred to the baptism of the twelve disciples who had been baptized by John. Other Donatist writers did the same. All of them seemed to take it for granted that the twelve disciples were really baptized again.
The objective remarks of Augustine to free himself from the dilemma in which he found himself involved by the comments and the peculiar logic of his shrewd opponent are too long to be repeated. He complained that Cresconius used his own words for the purpose of constructing arguments against him. If this was so, the bishop was paid in his own coin, in his dealing with the Donatists. With respect to the deductions of Cresconius, whether real or fanciful, from Augustine's positions, he said they did not wholly correspond with his sentiments or his writings.
Quotations from the Writings of Gaudentius
Against the Catholics
"All who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. "The time will come when whosoever killeth you will think he doeth God service. "Our enemies boast of being in peace and unity, but their peace is gained by war, and their union is stained with blood. "For the teaching of the people of Israel the omnipotent God sent prophets; he did not enjoin this service on kings; the Lord Christ, the Saviour of souls, sent fishermen, not soldiers, for the propagation of his gospel; he who alone can judge the quick and the dead has never sought the aid of a military force."
On Man's Free Will
"God created man free in his own image. How, then, am I to be deprived of that by human lordship which God has bestowed on me? What a sacrilege, that human arrogance should take away what God has bestowed on me, and idly boast of doing this on God's behalf? "It is a great offence against God, when he is defended by men. "What must he think of God who would defend him with outward force? Is it that God is unable to punish offenses against himself? "Hear what the Lord says: Peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. "The peace of the world must be introduced among contending nations by arms and the force of war. The peace of Christ invites the willing, with wholesome mildness; it never forces men against their wills." In reply to this eloquent and forcible argument of Gaudentius, in defense of a primordial principal of the Donatists, Augustine, with entire unfairness, reasoned in the following style: According to these most fallacious and most vain reasonings of yours, said he, the reins would be relaxed, and all classes of transgressors might sin with impunity, without restraint, and without correction; and the king would have no power or control over his kingdom, for the correction of any offenses; the general over his army; the judge in his province; the master with his servant; the husband with his wife; the father with his son. In the midst of this controversy, Augustine said to his opponent that he knew not the scriptures nor the power of God, which induced him to contend so strongly for man's free will, and against coercion in religious concerns. The Ninevites, he said, were compelled to repentance against their wills by the power of their king. The term "compel them to come in" to the feast, in the parable of the supper, he held as available for his theory of coercion. His exposition of this parable was in the following terms: "By highways, we are to understand, heresies; by hedges, schisms. "But in this case," said he, "we may be sure, highways signify diverse opinions, and hedges, mean perverse opinions." I have thus given specimens of the writings of the prominent men amongst the Donatists, most of whom appear in the foregoing narratives. Enough of these writings has been copied to exhibit the ability of this people to defend their cause, and much is it to be lamented that so small a portion of their writings has been preserved. But scarcely any of all those from which I have made selections have hitherto been accessible to English readers, as they are in the Latin works of Optatus and Augustine; and although all that was published of the Donatists was intended by these men to operate against them, yet so far as their principles were concerned on church discipline, religious freedom, and whatever is connected with the confederacy of priests and princes, it was directly the reverse, and objectively they established the evangelical character of the Donatists. Augustine's theory that the strict discipline of the Donatists would split the Catholic church into a thousand schisms, was a high commendation of the reformers, and thus, as it often happened, his censure was their praise. There was an early writer among the Donatists, Tichonius, all of whose writings were lost. He was a grammarian to whom Augustine ascribed a sprightly genius and copious eloquence. To this man Parmenian's epistle was addressed.
1. Op. August., Tome 9, p. 10.
2. Op. August., Tome 9, p. 242.
3. Op. August., Tome 9, pp.206-336.
4. Augustine gave a paraphrase of the original.
5. Op. August., Tome 9, p. 494.