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Donatism(dŏn`ətĭzəm), schismatic movement among Christians of N Africa (fl. 4th cent.), led by Donatus, bishop of Casae Nigrae (fl. 313), and the theologian Donatus the Great or Donatus Magnus (d. 355). The schism arose when certain Christians protested the election of the bishop of Carthage, charging that his consecration by Felix, bishop of Aptunga, was invalid because Felix was considered a traditor (i.e., one who turns over sacred books and relics to the civil authorities during a persecution). Condemnation was extended to all in communion with Felix. Behind their objection lay the heresy, familiar to MontanismMontanism
, apocalyptic movement of the 2d cent. It arose in Phrygia (c.172) under the leadership of a certain Montanus and two female prophets, Prisca and Maximillia, whose entranced utterances were deemed oracles of the Holy Spirit.
..... Click the link for more information. and NovatianNovatian
, fl. 250, Roman priest, antipope (from 251), and theologian. He opposed the election of St. Cornelius as pope and set himself up instead. He gained followers throughout the empire because of his espousal of the idea that those fallen from grace by compromising their
..... Click the link for more information. , that only those living a blameless life belonged in the church, and, further, that the validity of any sacrament depended upon the personal worthiness of the priest administering it. The Donatist practice of rebaptizing was particularly abhorrent to the orthodox. Condemned by the Synod of Arles (314) and also by the Roman emperor, Constantine I, the Donatists seceded (316) and set up their own hierarchy. By 350 they outnumbered the orthodox Christians in Africa, and each city had its opposing orthodox and Donatist bishops. It was the teaching of St. AugustineAugustine, Saint
, Lat. Aurelius Augustinus, 354–430, one of the Latin Fathers of the Church and a Doctor of the Church, bishop of Hippo (near present-day Annaba, Algeria), b. Tagaste (c.40 mi/60 km S of Hippo). Life
Augustine's mother, St.
..... Click the link for more information. , as presented in his writings and at the debate between orthodox and Donatist bishops at Carthage (411), that turned the tide against Donatism. Strong state suppression and ascetic excesses among some of their own members further reduced their number. The remnants of the schismatic movement had vanished along with African Christianity before the advent of the Islamic invaders.
See W. H. C. Frend, The Donatist Church (1952, repr. 1971).