The Donatism (named after Donatus of Carthage, 315-355 Primate of the Donatists ) was a North African spin-off ( schism ) from the Western Christian church in the 4th and 5th centuries, which had developed its own ecclesiology. She remained confined to the late antique northwestern Africa.

Historical Overview

Various individual questions of Donatistenstreits, including the exact aspect of the Donatists, are controversial because of the unsatisfactory source location in the research to date. Starting point of the Donatist controversy was the last phase of the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and the question of how to deal with people who had at least formally renounced Christianity. At the beginning of the movement of this principle applied particularly to Christians who had fallen off temporarily during the persecution of Christians by Diocletian ( 303-311 ) ( lapsi ) or as traditores, as the deliverer of sacred texts and objects fallen into disrepute. As these Christians after the Milan agreement 313 returned back to church, the Donatists demanded their exclusion. In particular, they explained all the sacraments ( Baptism, Eucharist, ordination ) void that had been donated by a priest who had dropped temporarily, and thus attacked positions from the time of Ketzertaufstreits again.

In the winter of 312/313 therefore arose a violent dispute over the bishop of Carthage, Caecilianus that should be deprived of his office, as among those who had elected him bishop, also a traditor named Felix was. Background for the escalation was the changed attitude of the Roman state: Emperor Constantine the Great, who ruled from 312 fully in the West, had recently decreed that the confiscated during the persecution values ​​of the church refunded and Christian clerics should be provided with privileges. This won the question of who was the rightful representative of the Christians of North Africa, suddenly enormous explosive force that went beyond purely theological questions.

Caecilianus initially defeated his enemies; he was expelled from the Church of Carthage and a new bishop took his place. However, the conflict lasted, as the followers of Caecilianus this decision so do not want to accept. Three times a petition was ( first by the followers of Caecilianus, followed by his opponents ) in respect of Emperor Constantine in the years that followed, he may settle the dispute. All three times it was confirmed by an independent college Caecilianus the lawful establishment as a bishop. The name derives from Donatistenstreit one of the parties to the conflict here, though this basically had no major role in the conflict: This Donatus was the successor of the first opposition candidate of Caecilianus, as this was initially deprived of his office. Donatus was banished, as ultimately all opponents of Caecilianus.

As the Roman church had received the temporarily fallen away again, the Donatists of her parted. That was now proven that no traditor was present at the consecration Caecilians, played no role. At the Council of Arles 314 the Donatists suffered a clear defeat, and Constantine joined the vote of the Assembly. However, the Donatists accepted the emperor's decision not but declared him ( they had indeed originally called himself as a judge ) is now not responsible for: The Emperor had nothing to do with the church. They renamed themselves even the " Church of the Martyrs " and declared that, were all that remained in contact with a sinner therefore excommunicated.

Center of the movement remained primarily North Africa ( Carthage ), but their followers were also found in many other parts of the Roman Empire. The writings of Tertullian and Cyprian, who had developed a corresponding theological position already in Ketzertaufstreit them were of particular importance. The Donatists also included the extreme and violent towards the Agonistiker. The majority of Christians rejected the Donatism from and re-emphasized, however, sacraments, especially baptism and ordination, are valid regardless of the personal worthiness of the donors. Attempts by the Roman Emperor to settle the dispute peacefully or by force, led to no result.

Even Augustine sat down to 400 as Bishop of Hippo with the Donatists apart. He saw the Christian church, in contrast to the purist Donatists as a community, which is full of sinners. In addition, it reports the Donatist claim to holiness opposite, that the saints, as long as they live in the body, as people have always remained subject to sin, even though it represented only minor infringements. In the year 411 there was a " colloquy " between Augustine and representatives of Donatism, the so-called collatio. Augustine had first advocates dissuade the Donatists in the good of their positions, he later claimed that it was necessary to force and violence to proceed against them in order to save their souls in this way.

The influence of the Donatists in Africa was indeed reduced, but they could also keep their pursuit of the Trinitarians to the reconquest of North Africa under Justinian ( 534) under the rule of the Vandals ( from 429 ) and. After that their trace is lost.