Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to Donatism: Pelagianism, Montanism, Gnosticism, Arianism


(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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Donatism, which goes beyond the framework of the "consensus", is a heresy, whereas the teaching of St Symeon the New Theologian on the "power to bind and to loose", which remains within that expanse, is absolutely correct--even though it is distinct from opinions expressed by other Fathers who lived in other historical contexts, wrote in other languages and emphasized other aspects of the very same truth.
The reason Donatism didn't survive is that it made the personal purity of its priests a matter upon which the very validity of the broader community depended.
Examples of the former implausibilities, those he seeks to finesse, abound, especially in his early chapters that find contemporary Americans committed to the heresies of Manicheism, Donatism, Platonism, Pelagianism, and paganism.
This small segment of the African Church, vigorous and determined as it was, could not, however, have made Donatism into the major issue that it remained for three hundred years had it not had the support of a large percentage of the population of Roman Africa.
In the Gesprach., Hubmaier cited the opposition to credobaptism of Zwingli who drew on Augustine's Contra Donatistas to formulate his own understanding that "the universal church holds that one should baptize young children." (236) Since the inception of the Anabaptist movement, opponents have denounced credobaptism as Donatism reborn.
Chadwick (Oxford U.) discusses such aspects as Christian and Roman universalism in the fourth century, Donatism and the Confessions of Augustine, Gregory the Great and the mission to the Anglo Saxons, conscience in ancient thought, and the calendar as the sanctification of time.
Not even ten years after Loehe's death, one already had the fitting heresy labels at hand: his views are permeated by Donatism, they show an individualistic disease, and are not without "romanticizing" traits (578.42-43).
To understand the potential here, and the impulses that led to this, one would find it helpful to have had a capsule presentation and assessment of the other paradigms, such as those offered by Arianism, Donatism, or the Marcionites.
In the persistent use of mono-dimensional approaches to ecumenical history, a church runs the risk of feeding a polemical ecumenical attitude which is really a form of Donatism, the view that it is Satan who insists that Christ desired unity.
Similarly, Savage describes the Donatism that had reemerged among rural Christians of North Africa in the sixth century.
The question remains, on which the editor's opinion would have been welcome, how it was that despite the strength of Optatus' original arguments which served Augustine so well, Donatism continued to flourish.
Issues discussed in the volume range from ecclesial complicity in racial supremacy to a dichotomous theology of nature and grace with sharp boundaries between church and world, and again from the church's recurrent incapacity to take a prophetic option for migrants to "a whiff of Donatism" in the attitudes of some US bishops to their roles as teachers and leaders.