Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Donatus and Donatism
Donatus and Donatism. The Donatists were the first Christians who separated from the church on the ground of discipline, though the church had already been torn by heresies, such as Gnosticism and Manicheism, which had affected doctrines. It is important to remember that Donatism was not heresy, as the word is ordinarily understood. All heretics are, in one sense, schismatics, but all schismatics are not heretics; and the Donatists themselves protested, with justice, against being considered heretics.
Mensurius was bp. of Carthage during and after Diocletian's persecution (a.d. 303). Having been required by consul Anulinus to give up any copies of Holy Scripture in his possession, he had hid them, and passed off
heretical works in their stead. The consul, learning the "pious fraud," declined to take further action. Mensurius felt it his duty to check the growing and inordinate reverence for martyrdom. He saw that there were too many would-be martyrs whose character would not bear close scrutiny, and, together with his archdeacon Caecilian, did his best to discountenance the reverence of good but mistaken Christians for these undeserving men. This naturally brought him into odium with those to whom martyrdom was the becoming conclusion of the Christian life.
During his lifetime the storm was brewing, and it fairly broke out when Caecilian succeeded him (a.d. 311). That appointment was felt to be a blow to all who magnified martyrdom. His opponents rested their principal objection on the fact that he had been ordained by a traditor, Felix of Aptunga; and proceeded to elect Majorinus as successor to Mensurius. The charge was a strange one to be made by Caecilian's chief opponent, Secundus, bp. of Tigisis, for documents exist which prove Secundus himself a traditor, in spite of his boast to Mensurius. From that date Donatism, as it was afterwards called, had a separate and schismatical existence. Both sides appealed to Constantine, and the emperor at once subjected the alleged traditorship of Felix to a thorough examination by a council at Rome (a.d. 313), which decided in favour of Felix, cleared his character, and consequently declared the ordination of Caecilian valid. The subject was again exhaustively discussed before the consul Aelianus, who, at the bidding of Constantine, gave the Donatists another opportunity (a.d. 314), at Carthage, of proving their charge against Felix. The finding of the tribunal was unanimous: "Nemo in eum (Felicem) aliquid probare potuerit quod religiosissimas scripturas tradiderit vel exusserit."
Bp. Majorinus died a.d. 315, but had been a leader of little consequence. His followers had called themselves, for convenience' sake, the party of Majorinus; but after his death, if not before, they took the name—Donatists—by which they are best known. There were perhaps 2 bishops named Donatus; (1) of Casae Nigrae, who, before Caecilian's elevation, had shewn his schismatical tendencies; (2) the successor of Majorinus and surnamed "the Great." But this distinction has lately been questioned; see Sparrow Simpson, St. Aug. and Afr. Ch. Divisions (1910), p. 31; Monceaux, Revue de l’Hist. de Religion (1909).
In Donatus the Great personal hostility to Mensurius and Caecilian, and irritation against the decisions of Rome and Arles [Caecilian], of Aelianus and Constantine, led to a defiant attitude against both Church and State. The dissentients to Caecilian had, consistently enough, refused to his church the title of the Church of God, and appropriated that distinction to themselves. The Caecilianist clergy were condemned for their league with a traditor and their acts repudiated as invalid; hence those who followed Majorinus were rebaptized. But Constantine's edict (a.d. 316) took away from them their churches, and the heavy hand of Ursacius deprived them of their lives. The sectarians found in Donatus a man bold enough to denounce the imperial power and to infuse vigour into their strife against the Caecilianists. He was neither "the angel" his followers called him nor "the fiend" his opponents described him. He was a man of unquestionable ability, eloquence, and thoroughness—the Cyprian of his party, as St. Augustine called him; but also hard and unloving to foe, proud and overbearing to friend. Optatus and St. Augustine were justified in comparing with the proud "prince of Tyre" (Ezek. xxviii. 2) the man who in his lifetime permitted his followers to swear by his name and by his grey hairs, and could ask of the menial bishops, "What do you say to my party?" and who, after his death, was described by Donatists at the conference of Carthage as the miracle-worker, "the pride of the church of Carthage, the man with the reputation of a martyr."
When the soldiers of Ursacius appeared in N. Africa, Donatus was ready to resist them, and his courage infected the timid people and prelates. His name became the rallying-point for every man who had real or imaginary grievances against existing ecclesiastical, civil, and social powers, amongst others the Circumcellions. "They were a class of men," says St. Augustine, "who followed no kind of useful occupation, held their own lives in fanatical contempt, and thought no death too cruel for those who differed from them; they wandered about from place to place, chiefly in the country districts, and haunted the cells of the peasants for the purpose of obtaining food. Hence they were called 'Circumcelliones.'" The better class of Donatists turned away in horror from fanatics who imbrued their hands with the blood of the innocent as well as of the guilty; but the offer of partisanship having been once accepted, it was impossible to withdraw it altogether. Donatus, Parmenian, Petilian, and Cresconius in turn were forced to palliate as much as they could the actions of these allies, who preferred to be called Agonistici, Champions of Christ, and who rushed into the battle with "Deo laudes" as their war-cry, and with a weapon dubbed "Israelite" as their war-club.
Constantine soon found that Donatism was not to be put down by the sword. In a.d. 317 Ursacius was bidden hold his hand, and Caecilian was exhorted to treat his opponents kindly, and leave vengeance to God. The emperor's letter was a mixture of truth and sarcasm: "All schisms," he wrote, "are from the devil; and these Separatists proceed from him. What good can you expect from those who are the adversaries of God and the enemies of the holy church? Such men must split off from the church, and attach themselves to the devil. Surely we act most wisely, if we leave to them what they have wrenched from us. By patience and kindness we may hope to gain them. Let us leave vengeance to God. I rejoice to think that you meet their brutality with gentleness and good temper. As I understand that these men have destroyed a church in Constantinople, I have ordered my finance-minister to build you a new one. God grant that these mistaken Separatists may at last see their error and turn to the one true God!" It was not a letter calculated to soothe the
Donatists. They presently replied to the emperor that he must distinctly understand that they would have nothing to do with his "fool of a bishop" (i.e. Caecilian), and that he might do his worst. With this mutual contempt and recrimination matters ended for the time. Constantine during the remainder of his life ignored the Donatists; but they increased largely in numbers in their own districts—in a.d. 330 they held a synod attended by 270 bishops—and established a few insignificant stations elsewhere.
Constans, son of Constantine, succeeded to his father's N. African possessions; and, at first, endeavoured to conciliate the Donatists by kindness. He published (a.d. 340) an edict requiring the Donatists to return to the church, urging that "unity must now exist, because Christ was a lover of unity," and instructed his commissioners Ursacius (probably not the Ursacius already mentioned) and Leontius to distribute money, as alms, in Donatist as well as in Catholic churches. The Donatists spurned it as gold offered by the devil to seduce men from their faith. The sword of persecution was then unsheathed to deprive the Donatists of their churches; and the survivors regarded the victims as martyrs and their graves as platforms for preaching resistance. In a.d. 345 Gregorius travelled through the province, offering not only alms but valuable church plate to all who would accept the imperial invitation to submit. Donatus sent circular letters through all the provinces, forbidding the acceptance of any presents; and wrote to Gregorius in a scurrilous style. In a.d. 347 a third commission, composed of Paul, Macarius, and Taurinus, came to Donatus himself, with gold in their hands. The bishop listened impatiently, and at length broke out, "What has the emperor to do with the church?" They were words which meant much at the time, but have meant more since.
The language of Donatus was repeated from every Donatistic pulpit by preachers proclaiming the duty of separation from a church "which committed fornication with the princes of this world," and whose prelates were mere tools of an emperor. Such obloquy served to madden the fanatics, even though it brought upon them furious persecution. The Circumcellions rose, and frightful bloodshed followed. These "Christian champions" traversed the country, subverting everything. Slaves and debtors were deemed brothers; masters and creditors tyrants. The excesses of the Circumcellions were so great that Donatus and his brother-bishops were forced to appeal to Taurinus to check them. The Circumcellions kissed the hands which betrayed them, and turned their fury upon themselves. They longed for martyrdom. They invaded pagan temples that death might be found from the sword of some infuriated idolator; they entered courts of justice and frightened judges ordered their instant execution; travellers were stopped and threatened with instant death if they did not slay the suppliants. Days, hours, and places were named that an admiring crowd might witness them cast themselves headlong from some rock into the graves which their posterity would reverence as those of the martyrs. Macarius did not discriminate between moderate Donatist and extreme Circumcellionist. With an iron hand he crushed both. Donatus was banished, and died in exile. The church was triumphant. Optatus saluted Constans as the servant of God who had been privileged to restore unity; but many regretted that unity had been won at such a price. When Donatists afterwards called Christians "Macarians," in scornful allusion to the persecutor of their sect, St. Augustine replied: "Yes, we are Macarians, for that name means 'blessed,' and who is more blessed than Christ to Whom we belong?" but it was natural to him and worthy of him to add, "Don't let us call one another names. Don't cast at me the times of Macarius, and I won't remind you of the madness of the Circumcellions. Let us, as far as possible, work together, because we are all orphans."
It was probably soon after the cessation of the persecution that Gratus, Caecilian's successor, summoned a synod at Carthage, which established (1) the non-iteration of baptism, when duly administered in the name of the Trinity; (2) the necessary restrictions on reverence for martyrs, and on the assignment of that title.
In a.d. 361 Julian became emperor. His edict "recalled all the bishops and clergy banished in the reign of Constantius, and granted equal freedom to all parties of the Christian church." The Donatists were not included in this. Two of their bishops, Rogatian and Pontus, waited on the emperor; and left with full permission to return to their country. The return was marked by violence and murder. The Donatists treated the churches as places which had been profaned, washed the walls and altars, tore the vestments to pieces, threw the holy vessels outside and the sacred elements to the dogs. Then they reintroduced their rigorous discipline. Apostates were received only after most humiliating penance, laymen were rebaptized, and clerics reordained. For two years Donatism was in the ascendant and basked in the imperial sunshine. But the cry which went up from the dying Julian's lips (a.d. 363), "Galilean, Thou hast conquered," was also the cry which told the Donatist that his day of triumph had ended.
Donatus had been succeeded by Parmenian, perhaps the ablest and least prejudiced of the Donatist episcopacy. A foreigner by birth, and actually ignorant of many of the saddest and cruellest episodes of Donatist history, he entered upon his duties at Carthage free from the passionate views which marked so many of his followers, and disposed to rate lightly much that to them was of great importance. His literary merit was great and excited the admiration of Optatus, bp. of Milevi, and of St. Augustine, each of whom has left a statement of the current Donatist opinions. The theological disputations between Optatus and Parmenian are preserved in the great work of the former, and evidently Parmenian's opinions are honestly given. Optatus was a man of unquestioned piety, dialectical skill, and orthodoxy; perfectly indifferent to Circumcellion threats, bribery, or corruption; earnestly desirous for unity, if it could be obtained
without sacrifice of principle; and he sought as much common ground as possible, before stating unhesitatingly where he and his opponent must part. If the usual tone of kindliness and courtesy is occasionally forgotten, if the title "brother" given to Parmenian is replaced by "Antichrist" when Donatus is mentioned, if cool, argumentative reasoning is sometimes dropped for defiant passionate utterance, the difference is intelligible in a character so full of both charity and zeal that St. Augustine called him "a second Ambrose of Milan."
There were two points about which, theoretically, both men were agreed: (1) That there was only one church; and (2) that in that one church there was only one baptism, and this not to be repeated. But disagreement soon began. "A church," said the Donatist, "in which traditors both existed and dispensed the sacraments was no church, and baptism administered by traditors was no baptism." Where, then, was the pure church? with the Catholic or Donatist? How far was the validity of the sacraments dependent upon the purity of the church and the personal character of those who dispensed them? These were old questions, but discussed between Optatus and Parmenian as they had never been before. [Optatus (6); Parmenianus.]
The existence of Donatism was next threatened by divisions within. "As Donatus," says St. Augustine, "sought to divide Christ, so was Donatus divided by the divisions which arose daily amongst his own followers." Rogatists and Maximianists, or individuals like Tichonius, arose to contest or moderate the views of the founders of the sect. [Tichonius.]
The fiercest blow to Donatism was, however, given by the Maximianist schism. [Maximianus (2).] Parmenian died a.d. 392, and was succeeded by Primian. Primian imposed a penance on one of his deacons, Maximian; the deacon protested, was excommunicated, and appealed to some neighbouring bishops, who took up his cause and respectfully solicited Primian to give them a hearing or to meet them. Primian declined. In a.d. 393 more than 100 malcontent bishops assembled in synod at Cabarsussis, summoned Primian before them, and, on his again refusing to notice them, recited his misdeeds in an elaborate document, excommunicated him, and elected Maximian, procuring his consecration at Carthage. The Donatists of Carthage, now divided into Primianists and Maximianists, had, in their turn, to experience the misery of altar set up against altar. "God," says St. Augustine, "was repaying to them the measure they had paid to Caecilian." Primian and his party were, however, much the stronger. The bps. of Numidia and Mauritania to the number of 310 sided with him; and at the council of Bagai (a.d. 394), presided over by Primian himself, Maximian was excommunicated, and his ordainers and coadjutors commanded to repent and return to the Primianist party before a certain date. The Maximianists shewed little disposition to acquiesce in this decision, and persecution began. Maximian's church was levelled to the ground and his house handed over to a heathen priest. The proconsul Seranus was asked to assist in carrying out the judgment of the council on the refractory. The Maximianists were hunted from place to place, and the treatment of the aged and beloved bp. of Membresa, Salvius, was scandalous and cruel beyond measure. But few Maximianists, however, returned to the main body; the majority struggled on as martyrs, rebaptizing and reordaining those who joined them. Donatism had received a mortal wound.
The action of the Catholic church and the state during this period further helped to check the extension of Donatism. Many Donatists, priests as well as laymen, disgusted with party squabbles and cruel excesses, turned their eyes to the church. They were met with kindness. In a.d. 393 a council met at Hippo under the presidency of Aurelius, bp. of Carthage. The measures passed were liberal in spirit and intention. They allowed returning Donatist clergy to retain their clerical position and functions, if they had not rebaptized, and if they brought their congregations with them; and decided that children of Donatists, even if they had received Donatist baptism, should not be excluded from the service of the altar.
The action of the state had varied according as political events had directed imperial attention to Donatists or removed it from them. Valentinian's edict (a.d. 373) deposing any clerical person who rebaptized, and Gratian's successive decrees—the first (a.d. 375) commanding the surrender of their churches; the second (a.d. 377) issued to the Donatist, Flavian, the imperial representative in Africa, enjoining further the confiscation of houses used by them; the third (a.d. 378) commanding the expulsion from Rome of one Claudian, who had gone there to propagate Donatist opinions—produced a good deal of misery; but the political disquiet connected with the murder of Gratian (a.d. 383), the wars between Maximus and Theodosius, the deposition of Maximus and restoration of Valentinian (a.d. 388), made it impossible to enforce these or similar injunctions, and for the time the Donatists enjoyed a comparative freedom from interference. In a.d. 392 Theodosius issued his laws against heretics generally, fining all such who performed priestly functions. This was not directed against the Donatists particularly, and was probably not enforced against them previous to the death of Theodosius (a.d. 395). That event was followed by Gildo's usurpation of power in Africa, and his alliance with one of the cruellest Donatist bishops, Optatus of Thamugas. The ravages committed were only stayed by Honorius's victory over Gildo (a.d. 398); and Theodosius's penalty was enforced by Seranus against Optatus and his followers. An edict of Honorius (a.d. 398) decreeing the punishment of death to all who dared to violate churches and maltreat the clergy was evidently directed against the Circumcellions.
Yet the position of the Donatist body was better than that of the Catholic church. The greater part of Africa was Donatist, the church lay crushed and oppressed. Towards the end of the 4th cent. it seemed almost as if the place of the ancient, Catholic, and Apostolic church would be taken by the new usurping
sect. Then the good providence of God raised up St. Augustine, whose piety and ability shielded then and since the true church of Christ. In a.d. 391 he came to Hippo, and the popular vote at once pointed him out as the future successor of the aged Valerius. In a.d. 395 he was consecrated coadjutor-bishop. Hippo was a hot-bed of Donatism. In a letter (Ep. 33) to Proculeianus the Donatist bp. of Hippo, St. Augustine pathetically asks, "What has Christ done to us, that we rend His members asunder? Consider how sad a division reigns in Christian households and families. Husband and wife, who—in their married life—know no division, separate themselves at the altar of Christ! Children live with their parents in the same dwelling, but that dwelling is not also God's dwelling." Full of zeal, St. Augustine threw himself into the thick of the fight. His sermons attracted Donatists as well as Catholics, and the sectarians threatened his life; but his works had great effect. Men like Petilian were silenced; priests, laymen, and even whole communities came back to the church. Twice in 401 a council met at Carthage to deal with the supply of Catholic clergy; Donatist enticement or persecution having so reduced their number that many churches had no deacons and therefore no future means for supplying the higher offices. The council at Hippo had imposed restrictions upon Donatist clergy, who returned to the church, exercising their office. An appeal to pope Anastasius to remove these restrictions was allowed. St. Augustine set the example of receiving Donatist-ordained deacons, though apparently he declined to receive again—in an official capacity—those who had previously passed from the church to the sectarians. These measures, though accompanied by loving words of greeting, roused the Donatists. They were still a majority, powerful and persistent. They called to their aid the brutal fanaticism of the Circumcellions, especially against apostate Donatists and the Catholic clergy. Once again fire and sword levelled churches and destroyed altars. St. Augustine was threatened, tracked, and surrounded; Catholic priests were stopped in the road, and the choice offered them: "Promise to preach no more, or prepare for ill-treatment." Moderate-minded men among the Donatists looked on in horror, but were powerless to check the barbarities. The Catholics, before appealing to the state, desired (a.d. 403) a conference. The Donatist bishop, Primian, repelled their advances with insult, saying, "The sons of the martyrs and the brood of traditors can never meet." Equally unsuccessful were attempts of St. Augustine and Possidius to confer with leading Donatist bishops. At last a council at Carthage (a.d. 404) determined to appeal to Honorius to enforce the laws of Theodosius against the Donatists and restrict the excesses of the Circumcellions. But before the deputation reached the emperor, his anger was kindled by accounts from his own officers. The cruelty of the Donatists to two Catholic bishops, Servus and Maximinian of Bagai, made him little disposed to accept the gentler measures proposed by the council of Carthage; and in 405 he issued an edict, fining those who had inflicted ill-usage, and threatening the Donatist bishops and clergy with banishment. In the same year imperial laws forbade rebaptism, condemned the Donatists as heretics, confiscated their meeting-houses and the goods of those who rebaptized, excluded them from testamentary inheritance, and proclaimed to all "that the one and true Catholic faith of Almighty God was to be received." These and similar imperial edicts brought to the church many who had been wavering. The Catholics received them with love and forgiveness; and in some cities, as in Carthage, union between Catholics and Donatists was openly asserted and celebrated. But these edicts exasperated still further the more extreme Donatists. St. Augustine's own city, Hippo, and its neighbourhood suffered fearfully from the Circumcellions. In a.d. 409 St. Augustine complained bitterly (Ep. 111) of their plundering and ravages, their revengeful acts and cruelties to the Catholic bishops and laity. Letters to Donatist bishops or to imperial commissioners were of little use when the men to whom they referred would slay themselves if balked of their prey, or cast themselves into the fires they themselves had kindled. They heard of Stilicho's death (a.d. 408). Rightly or wrongly they had considered him the originator of the stern decrees lately issued, and hailed the news by joining with heathen in slaying, ill-using, or putting to flight the hated Catholic bishops. Fresh deputations went to Rome; St. Augustine wrote letters to the chief minister Olympius; and fresh edicts, enforcing previous laws, fines, and punishments, were sent to Africa.
About this time St. Augustine issued other works which throw much light on the Donatist controversy: (a) On the One Baptism, written between a.d. 406 and 411, an answer to a tract of Petilian's bearing the same title. (b) Against Cresconius, written a.d. 409. Cresconius objected to his party being called Donatists: "Not Donatus, but Christ was their founder. It was not heresy but schism which separated them and the Catholic church"; and Cresconius claimed that it was not they who were in schism, but the Catholics, who thereby had lost church and baptism.
The invasion of Rome by Alaric king of the Goths took place a.d. 408, and it was rumoured that the Donatists of Africa were ready to support the invader. The emperor Honorius rescinded his extreme decrees against heathen and schismatic; but in 410 a deputation of 4 bishops from Carthage again brought complaints against the Donatists to him. The deputation was charged to petition for a conference of Catholics and Donatists under imperial presidency. In Oct. 410 Honorius instructed the proconsul of Africa, Marcellinus, to make all necessary preparations and act as president at the debates. He issued an edict (Jan. 411) inviting Catholic and Donatist bishops to meet in June at Carthage and elect representatives, promising safe-conduct and suspending meanwhile all processes against Donatists. Both parties entered eagerly into the scheme: 286 Catholic and 279 Donatist bishops came to Carthage in May; and, after great difficulty in bringing the Donatists to the point, the president pronounced sentence. The official Acts and the testimony of Holy Scripture were taken to have proved the unsoundness of the accusations against Caecilian, and of the view that one man, through the sinfulness of another, became therefore a partaker in that other's guilt. "I therefore," said Marcellinus, "warn all men . . . to hinder the assembling of Donatists in towns and villages, and to restore the churches to the Catholics. Every bishop of the community of Donatus must, on his return to his home, return to the one true church, or at least not impede the faithful execution of the law. If they have Circumcellions about them, and do not restrain and repress the excesses of these men, they shall be deprived of their places in the state."
The condemned Donatists, among whom were the principal bishops, smarting at their defeat, reviled Marcellinus and appealed to the emperor. The reply came (a.d. 412), terse and stern, and classed them as heretics. It bade them return to the church, fined them according to their rank and station, and in the event of contumacy confiscated their houses and goods. Many Donatists obeyed the edict, others scorned it. Whole communities, as at Cirta, bishops and laymen everywhere, returned to the church; some from conviction, others for reasons of expediency and comfort. The Circumcellions broke out afresh, fired churches, destroyed houses, cast into the flames those Scriptures which had been found to tell against them, and cruelly maltreated and even murdered ecclesiastics who expounded them. The less violent proclaimed with a sneer that the church chests and imperial coffers were enriched with the gold of the Separatists, and pointed to the death of Marcellinus (a.d. 413) as a divine judgment upon their unrighteous judge. In a.d. 414 a yet sterner decree announced that all Donatist church-buildings were to become the property of the Catholic church, and all Donatist clergy to be suspended and banished. Fines were doubled; confiscation and banishment stared the Separatists in the face; their testimony in courts of law was disallowed; their social condition was degraded to the lowest; that the penalties stopped short of death was owing chiefly to St. Augustine, who strove successfully to prevent others from imbruing their hands with the blood of mistaken fanatics. The church, to its credit be it recorded, by kindness and gentleness made the pain of defeat less bitter to its foes, while it did not neglect to avail itself of the advantages resulting from victory. As the Catholic bishops returned to their homes they spread everywhere the news of the victory, and in the following Lent publicly proclaimed it in their churches. Short summaries of the acts and judgment of the conference were circulated, one being by St. Augustine himself. These were intended principally for Catholics; others, as St. Augustine's "ad Donatistas post collectionem," were addressed to the sectarians who might be swayed by one-sided reports circulated by Donatist bishops, or by their slanderous abuse of Marcellinus and the Catholics. In 418 a council at Carthage passed resolutions regulating the proceedings, when Donatist bishops, clergy, and congregations came back to the church. Nothing could prove more clearly to what a large extent this had taken place. The church was no longer suppliant, but triumphant; and the change is observable also in some letters and acts of St. Augustine at this period, which may be said to be his last words on the great Donatist controversy. His work de Correctione Donatistarum is addressed to a soldier, Bonifacius, and is written in a style and language almost military in its stern enforcement of discipline. Bonifacius had asked the difference between the Arians and Donatists. St. Augustine, after answering the question, went on to speak of Donatists as "rebels against the unity of the church of Christ." The conference at Carthage and the emperor had laid down laws which they disobeyed, and thus deserved punishment (Dan. iii. 29). The Lord had commanded His disciples to compel the resisting to come to the marriage-feast, and that marriage-feast was the unity of the Body of Christ. The church was that Body; so long as a man lived, God in His goodness would bring him to repentance, and lead him to that church, which was the temple of the Holy Ghost; but outside that Body, the Church, the Holy Ghost gave no man life. The same strong statement recurs in his exhortation to Emeritus, the Donatist bp. of Caesarea. The majority of Emeritus's congregation had returned to the church. St. Augustine pleaded with the bishop: "outside the church you may have everything except salvation. You may have offices, Sacraments, Liturgy, Gospel, belief, and preaching, in the name of the Trinity; but you can only find salvation in the Catholic Church."
The last letters of St. Augustine were addressed to a Donatist bishop Gaudentius. Marcellinus had been succeeded by Dulcitius, who endeavoured to carry out the strong laws against the Donatists with all possible mildness, and specially interested himself in restraining the fanaticism of the Circumcellions. Unfortunately, some words of his were taken to mean that he would punish them with death unless they returned to the church. Gaudentius and his congregation assembled in their church, determined to set fire to it and perish in the flames. Dulcitius contrived to stop this by a letter to Gaudentius, who in two letters defended his proposed action and the views of his party. Dulcitius appealed to St. Augustine, who answered Gaudentius's arguments. His work, contra Gaudentium, in two books, goes over the old ground, also exposing the folly and crime of suicide.
Donatism had now lived its life. No new champions appeared to defend it; and once again only did the schism lift up its head. Towards the end of the 6th cent. there was a momentary revival of energy and proselytism; but popes such as Leo and Gregory the Great and imperial laws were irresistible. The movement died out. The Donatists lingered on till the invasion of Africa by the Mahommedans swept them away or merged them into come other schismatical body.
See Optatus, ed. Alba Spinaeus (Par. 1631), or ed. Dupin (Antw. 1702); S. Augustini, Opera, vol. vii. (Par. ed. 1635); Vogel, "Donatisten" in Herzog's Real-Encyclop.; Hefele, do. in Wetzer's Kirchenlexicon and Concil-Geschichte; Neander, Church History, iii. 258, etc. ed. Bohn; Niedner, Lehrbuch d. Christlichen Kirchengeschichte 324; Robertson, Hist. of the Christian Church, i. 175, etc.; Hagenbach, Kirchengeschichte, i. 547; Ribbeck, Donatus and Augustinus (1858); M. Deutsch, Drei Actenstücke zur Geschichte der Donatismus (Berlin, 1875); Harnack, Dog. Gesch. (3rd. ed.) iii. 36 ff.; Thomasius, Dog. Gesch. (2nd ed.) i. 606 ff.