Against the Donatists, Book 1, by Saint Optatus of Milevis

illustration of Saint Optatus of Milevis, 1636, artist unknownWho were the Betrayers at the Time of the Persecution. The Causes of the Schism. Where and by whom the Schism was made.

I. The Divine Gift of Peace, bestowed upon all Christians.

One Faith, most honoured brethren, commends us all, who are Christians, to the keeping of Almighty God. To this Faith it appertains to believe that the Son of God, the Lord, shall come to judge the world – that He, who has already come, has been born, according to His Human Nature, through Mary a Virgin, that He has suffered, died, and (after having been buried) has risen from the grave.

Also, before ascending to Heaven, whence He had descended, He left behind, through His Apostles, as His parting gift, to all Christians, Peace. And, lest it should seem that to His Apostles only He had left this Peace, He said:

‘That which I say to you, I say to all.’

And He also said:

‘My peace I give unto you, My peace I leave unto you.’

Thus we see that Peace has been given to all Christians.

That it is God’s Peace, we know, inasmuch as He says ‘My Peace.’ But when He says ‘I give to you,’ we know that He willed that it should belong not only to Himself, but to all those as well who should believe in Him,

II. This Peace was disturbed by the Schism.

If this Peace had remained whole and inviolate as it was given, and had not been disturbed by the authors of the schism, there would not be any disagreement to-day between us and our brethren, nor would they be causing God inconsolable tears (as Isaiah the prophet bears witness), nor would they deserve the |5 name, and do the deeds, of false prophets; nor would they have built a crumbling and whitened wall; nor would they overturn simple but too credulous minds; nor would they, by wickedly imposing hands upon the heads of all, place upon them the veils of destruction; nor would they speak evil things to God; nor would they re-baptise the Faithful; nor should we now be grieving for the souls which they have either destroyed or slain, – souls of the innocent, for whom God was the first to grieve, saying by the mouth of Ezekiel the prophet:

‘Woe to you who place a veil over every head and over every age, for the destruction of souls. The souls of My people have been destroyed; and they spoke evil things to Me amongst My people, that they might slay souls which ought not to die, whilst they proclaim to My people their empty deceits.’

III. Why Schismatics should be called Brethren.

Lest any one should say, that without thought I call them brethren, I would reply that such they are, for we cannot escape from the words of the prophet Isaiah; and, although they would not deny (as all men know well) that they hold us in abhorrence, and ban us utterly and are unwilling to be called our brethren, still we may not depart from the fear of God, for the Holy Spirit exhorts us by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

‘You who fear the Word of the Lord, hear ye the Word of the Lord.
‘To those who detest and curse you, and are unwilling to be called your brethren,21 say ye nevertheless:
‘”You are our brethren.”‘

They therefore are without doubt brothers, though not good brothers. Wherefore let no one marvel that I term those brothers, who are unable to escape being our brethren. They and we have one spiritual birth, though widely differing is our conduct.

For even Ham, who mocked undutifully at his father’s shame, was the brother of the innocent. In accordance with his deserts, he incurred the yoke of slavery, so that he – their brother – was assigned in bondage to his brethren. From this we see that, even where there is sin, the name of brotherhood is not lost.

Concerning the sins of these our brethren, I will speak in another place. For they, sitting over against us, speak evil things about us. They consort with that Thief who robs God, and share their lot with adulterers (that is, with heretics), and make their sins an object of praise, and plan reproachful words against us Catholics.

IV. Why Optatus thought it well to undertake the task of refuting Parmenian’s book.

They all – each in his own district – make a great noise with wicked words. To some of their statements I may reply when opportunity arises. But we have found only one with whom it is possible to discuss these matters either by correspondence, or by the exchange of treatises – Parmenian our brother, if indeed he will allow us to call him brother. Since they are unwilling to be in communion, as we are, with the whole body of Bishops, let it be freely granted that they are not colleagues, if they refuse so to be, but (as we have already said), brothers they are.

Now, my brother Parmenian, in order that he might not speak like the rest, in a windy and unconvincing manner, has not only given utterance to his opinions in speech, but has also set them down in writing. Since, then, love of truth compels us to answer what he has said, we may still have some sort of conference – even though we cannot meet together.

By this means also the wishes of certain people will be satisfied. For many have often expressed a desire for a public discussion between champions drawn from both sides, in order to elicit the truth. And this might well have been done. At any rate, though the Donatists forbid their people to come to us, and close the way to any approach to us, and avoid a meeting,35 and refuse to speak with us, let there be a conference, my brother Parmenian, between us two in this way, that, as I have not thought little of, nor despised, your treatises, which you have wished to be read and quoted by many, but on the contrary have patiently listened to everything that you have brought forward, – so do you, in your turn, attend to the reply which, with humility, I make to you.

V. The Nature of Parmenian’s book.

Now I understand well, and you do not deny, – and every man, who is not a fool, will quite plainly see for himself – that you never would have written at such a length for any other purpose, excepting that you might, by your writings, strike an undeserved blow at the Catholic Church. But (as it has been given me to discover) whilst your wishes say one thing, your arguments shout another. Moreover, I perceive that not all that you have written is an argument against Catholicism.

Indeed, though you are not a Catholic, what you say often tells in favour of the Catholic Church. Therefore it will only be necessary for us to answer you when through wrong information you write, not of what you have yourself seen, but of what you have heard from others speaking falsely (although we have read in the Epistle of Peter:

‘Be ye unwilling to judge your brother without certainty’

For instance, amongst other things which have no reference to us (that they have no such reference I shall prove), you say that we asked for armed troops to be employed against you.

But in other parts of your treatise there are some things which tell in our favour, and against you – such are the analogy of the Flood, and that of Circumcision.

Some things there are which tell both for us and for you. For example, what you have written in praise of Baptism (excepting that you have said untrue things concerning the Flesh of Christ) tells in your favour as well as in ours, because, although you are outside, still, from us you went forth.

It would also be in favour of both sides – if you had not joined yourselves to those who are certainly schismatics – that you have proved that heretics are strangers to Catholic Sacraments.

Some things are arguments for us alone. Such is your reference to the One Church.

Some things that you have mentioned tell the wrong way for you, in consequence of your ignorance, as a foreigner, [of the facts] – for instance, your indictment of ‘Betrayers’ and schismatics.

The way in which you have written concerning the Sacraments and Sacrifice, offered by one who is in sin, also goes against you.

So, when we investigate, we discover that in reality you have brought nothing against us except your mistaken charge, that we asked to have troops employed against you. That this is a calumny we shall be able to prove to absolute demonstration. Take this calumny out of your book, and you are ours.

For what can be more to our purpose than your argument from the fact that there was only one Flood – the type of Baptism? And, in maintaining that the one Circumcision availed for the salvation of the people of the Jews, you have written in defence of our doctrine, as though you were one of us. For this is our argument, who defend the Unity of Baptism conferred in [the Name of] the Trinity. It is not an argument in favour of you, who dare to repeat, against the laws, that Baptism, of which the one Flood and one Circumcision are typical. And this, although you yourselves would not deny that what has been commanded to be done once only, ought not to be repeated. But whilst you have praised with acuteness that which is worthy of all praise, you have by a quibble introduced your own persons, as if – since it is only lawful once [to baptise] – for you it were lawful, for others unlawful.

If it be unlawful for Betrayers to baptise, it cannot be lawful for you, for we can prove that your first fathers were Betrayers.

If it be unlawful for schismatics to baptise, it must therefore be unlawful for you, for you originated the Schism.

If it be unlawful for sinners to baptise, we can prove from divine testimony that you are sinners also.

Finally, since the validity of Baptism does not depend upon the character of the man who has been chosen to baptise, but upon an act which lawfully is done but once, for this reason we do not set right baptisms which have been administered by you, because both amongst us and amongst you the Sacrament is one.

The whole nature of this Sacrament we shall set forth in our fifth book.

VI. The arguments set forth in Parmenian’s treatise.

My brother Parmenian, you have indeed treated of many things, but I see that I must not answer you point by point, in the same order as that which you have employed. For you have written in the first place of the figures and praise of Baptism. Here (with the exception of your error concerning the Flesh of Christ) you have written well. But this, however, tells in our favour, as we shall show in its proper place.

Secondly, you have maintained that there is only One Church, from which heretics are shut out. You have, however, been unwilling to recognise where this One Church is to be found.

Thirdly, you have denounced the ‘Betrayers’ without fixing names or describing persons.

Fourthly, you have attacked the makers of Unity.

Fifthly (to pass over matters of but trifling importance), you have written about the Sacraments and Sacrifice of a sinner.

VII. The division of this work and the contents of its several books.

But it seems to me that in the first place the cities, positions, and names of the Betrayers and schismatics should be pointed out. In this way the true authors of the crimes, concerning which you have written, may be convicted of their certain guilt.

Secondly, I shall have to say which is the Church, or where is to be found the One Church – which is the Church – because, besides the One Church, there is no other.

Thirdly, I shall prove that we did not ask for the troops and that what is said to have been done by the makers of Unity does not concern us.

In the fourth place, I shall show who is the sinner whose sacrifice God repudiates, or from whose Sacraments we must flee.

Fifthly, I shall treat of Baptism; and in the sixth place of your ill-considered assumptions and mistakes.

VIII. The Flesh of Christ is not sinful.

But before I say anything of these subjects separately, I shall show briefly that you have spoken wrongfully of the Flesh of Christ, for you have said that the Flesh which was drowned by the floods of the Jordan, and was thus cleansed from all stains, was the Flesh of Sin. You might have said this with reason if the Baptism of the Flesh of Christ had sufficed for all, so that it were not necessary for any man to be baptised for himself. Had this been so, the whole human family would have been in the Jordan, and all that which is born in the flesh would have been there. In that case there would have been no difference between the Faithful and any one of the heathen, for flesh belongs to them all; and since there is no man who is without flesh, if, according to your mode of expression, the Flesh of Christ was drowned in the waters of the Jordan, the flesh of all men would have gained this benefit. But the Flesh of Christ is one thing in Christ – quite another is the flesh of each man in himself. What came over you to call the Flesh of Christ sinful? Would that you had said ‘the flesh of men in the Flesh of Christ.’ But even thus, you would have spoken without reason, since each believer is baptised in the Name of Christ, not in the Flesh of Christ, which belonged to Himself exclusively. I may add that His Flesh, which was conceived by the Holy Ghost, could not be washed, amongst others, for the remission of sins, for It was without any sin. You have gone on to say that It was drowned in the floods of the Jordan. This word drowned, you have used inadvisedly enough, for it is a word which should be used only of Pharaoh and his people, who were so drowned by the weight of their offences, as to remain, like lead, beneath the waters. But the Flesh of Christ, when It went down into and came up from the Jordan, ought not to have been spoken of by you as drowned. His Flesh was found to be more holy than the very Jordan, so that rather did It cleanse the water by Its entrance, than Itself was cleansed.

IX. Mention of Heretics made by Parmenian to no good purpose.

Moreover, I cannot pass over a matter in which I think you have acted craftily. In order that you might lead the minds of your readers off the point, or deceive them, after you had described Circumcision and the Flood, and after you had praised Baptism, you thought fit to raise, as it were from the dead, heretics who were already dead and, together with their heresies, buried in oblivion – and this although not only their errors, but even their names, were unknown throughout Africa – Marcion, Praxeas, Sabellius, Valentinus, and the rest up to the Cataphrygae, all of whom were confuted in their time by Victorinus of Pettau, by Zephyrinus of Rome, by Tertullian of Carthage, and by other champions of the Catholic Church. Why, then, do you wage a war with the dead, who have nothing to do with the affairs of our time? For no reason, excepting that you, who are a schismatic of to-day, having nothing that you can prove against Catholics, have been pleased to enumerate so many heretics and their heresies, to spin out your somewhat wordy treatise.

X. The distinction between heretics and schismatics.

Now there is another question: For what purpose have you mentioned those who have not the Sacraments which you and we alike possess? Sound health does not clamour for medicine; strength which is secure in itself does not need outside help; truth has no lack of arguments; it is the mark of a sick man to seek remedies; it is the sign of a sluggard and a weakling to run in search of auxiliaries; it belongs to a liar to rake up arguments. To return to your book, you have said that the Endowments of the Church cannot be with heretics, and in this you have said rightly, for we know that the churches of each of the heretics have no lawful Sacraments, since they are adulteresses, without the rights of honest wedlock, and are rejected by Christ, who is the Bridegroom of One Church, as strangers. This He Himself makes clear in the Canticle of Canticles. When He praises One, He condemns the others because, besides the One which is the true Catholic Church, the others amongst the heretics are thought to be churches, but are not such. Thus He declares in the Canticle of Canticles (as we have already pointed out) that His Dove is One, and that she is also the chosen Spouse, and again a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed up.

Therefore none of the heretics possess either the Keys, which Peter alone received, or the Ring, with which we read that the Fountain has been sealed; nor is any heretic one of those to whom that Garden belongs in which God plants His young trees. Concerning these men, that which you have written at length (although it has nothing to do with our present business) is abundantly sufficient.

But to my surprise you have thought good to attach yourselves to those who certainly are schismatics, for in denying the Endowments of the Church both to those who are heretics, and also to schismatics, you have denied them to yourselves.

Amongst other things you have said that schismatics have been cut off, like branches, from the Vine, and that they have been reserved, marked off for punishment, like dried wood, for the fires of Hell.

But I see that you do not yet know that the Schism at Carthage was begun by your fathers. Search out the beginning of these affairs, and you will find that in associating heretics with schismatics, you have pronounced judgement against yourselves.

For it was not Caecilian who went forth from Majorinus, your father’s father, but it was Majorinus who deserted Caecilian; nor was it Caecilian who separated himself from the Chair of Peter, or from the Chair of Cyprian – but Majorinus, on whose Chair you sit – a Chair which had no existence 88 before Majorinus himself. Since then there can be no possible doubt that these things have thus happened, and that you are the heirs of Betrayers and schismatics, I am, my brother Parmenian, sufficiently surprised – seeing that you are yourself a schismatic – that you should have thought it advisable to join schismatics to heretics. If, however, these are your principles, and you wish to do so, heap up together what you have laid down only a little before. For you have said that ‘It could not be that one who was stained should wash away sins in a baptism-that-is-not-Baptism,90 that one who is unclean should cleanse, that one who trips men up should raise them, that one who is lost should free, that one who is guilty should give pardon, that one who has been condemned should absolve.’

All these things might well be true of heretics alone, since they have falsified the creed, for amongst them one has said that there are two Gods, though God is One; another wishes the Father to be recognised in the Person of the Son; another robs the Son of God of His Flesh, through which the world has been reconciled to God, and there are yet others of the same kind, who admittedly are separated from Catholic Sacraments. Wherefore you should regret that you have coupled schismatics with such men as these, for, when you thought that you were attacking others, you failed to observe how wide is the gulf between schismatics and heretics, and turned the sword of judgement upon yourself.

This is the reason that you do not see which is the Holy Church,98 and have in this way made confusion of everything.

XI. The marks of the Catholic Church, and of Schism.

Catholicism is constituted by a simple and true understanding in the law, by an unique and most true mystery, and by unity of minds. But schism, after the bond of peace has been broken, is brought into existence through passion, is nourished by hatred, is strengthened by envy and dissensions, so that the Catholic Mother is abandoned, whilst her unfilial children go forth outside and separate themselves (as you have done) from the root of Mother Church – cut off by the shears of their hatred – and wickedly depart in rebellion. They are not able, however, to do anything new, or different from that which long ago they learned from their Mother.

XII. To return to the difference between heretics and schismatics.

But heretics, exiles from the truth, deserters of the sound and most true Creed, corrupted by their wicked opinions and led astray from the bosom of Holy Church, reckoning nothing of their noble birth, in order to deceive the ignorant and ill-informed, have been pleased to be born of themselves. And they, who for a long time had been nourished on living food – which not assimilated has turned to corruption – have by impious disputations vomited forth deadly poisons, to the destruction of their wretched dupes.

You see, then, my brother Parmenian, that none but heretics only – who are cut off from the home of truth – possess ‘various kinds of false Baptisms with which he, who is stained, cannot wash, nor the unclean cleanse, nor the destroyer raise, nor he, who is lost, free, nor the guilty man give pardon, nor the condemned man absolve.’

Rightly hast thou closed the Garden to heretics; rightly hast thou claimed the Keys for Peter 106; rightly hast thou denied the right of cultivating the young trees to those who are certainly shut out from the garden and from the paradise of God; rightly hast thou withdrawn the Ring from those to whom it is not allowed to open the Fountain. But to you schismatics, although you are not in the Catholic Church, these things cannot be denied, since you have shared true Sacraments with us.

Wherefore, since all these things are justly denied to heretics, why did you think well to deny them to yourselves as well, who clearly are schismatics, for you have gone outside? For our part we were willing that in this matter heretics alone should be condemned, but so far as lies with you, you have chosen to strike yourselves, together with them, in one condemnation.

XIII. The originators of the Donatist schism were Betrayers.

But now (to return to the order upon which we have determined), in the first place listen to the names of those who were Betrayers and learn more distinctly who were the originators of the schism. It is certain that two evil things have been perpetrated in Africa – even the worst of all – the first – Betrayal, the second – Schism. Both these crimes were committed, in one period of time, by the same wicked men.

You ought, therefore, my brother Parmenian, to learn that of which you are understood to be ignorant; for sixty years and more have passed since the storm of persecution spread abroad throughout the whole of Africa – a persecution which made some Martyrs, others Confessors, whilst not a few it laid low in a terrible death,115 leaving unharmed those who lay in hiding.

Why should I make mention of laymen who at that time were supported by no ecclesiastical dignity? Why name a host of clerics? Or deacons in the third, or priests in the second degree of the sacerdotium, when the heads and chiefs of all, some Bishops of that period, in order to purchase for themselves, at the loss of Life Eternal, some very short prolongation of this uncertain day, impiously betrayed the records of the law of God? Amongst whom were Donatus of Mascula, Victor of Rusicca, Merinus from the Baths of Tibilis, Donatus of Calama, and Purpurius of Limata, the murderer – who, when he was questioned on the charge of having killed his sister’s sons in the prison of Mileum, confessed it with the words: ‘Yes, I did kill them, and not them alone do I kill, but whoever shall act against me.’ And Menalius who pretended that he had a pain in his eyes, and trembled at the idea of meeting his own people, for fear lest it should be proved against him by his fellow-citizens that he had offered incense to idols.

XIV. The acts of the Council of Cirta.

After the persecution, these Bishops and others whom we shall soon show to have been the first leaders of your schism, gathered together on the thirteenth of May at the town of Cirta – in the house of Urbanus Carisius – for the Basilicas had not yet been restored. This is attested by the writings of Nundinarius, then a deacon, and is proved by the age of the parchments, which I can show to anyone really in doubt, for in the Appendix to these books I have subjoined the whole number of these documents to certify the truth of my statements. These Bishops, on being questioned by Secundus of Tigisis, acknowledged that they had been Betrayers. And, as Secundus himself was taunted by Purpurius not for having escaped, but for having been set free after he had remained for a long time amongst the soldiers, they all stood up and began to mutter that he had been set free only because he betrayed the sacred books. Then Secundus, fearing their temper, received advice from his brother’s son, Secundus the Less, to remit an affair of this character to God. The others, who had not been accused, that is to say, Victor of Garba, Felix of Rotarium and Nabor of Centurio, were then consulted. They said that a case of this kind ought to be reserved to the Lord. Then said Secundus ‘Sit down all.’ They all replied ‘Thanks be to God,’ and sat down. You see, therefore, my brother Parmenian, that it is quite clear who were the Betrayers.

XV. The schism took its rise from the consecration of Majorinus.

It was not long after this, that these very persons whom I have mentioned, of the character I have described, Betrayers, men who had offered incense to idols, and murderers, proceeded to Carthage, and there, although Caecilian was already the Bishop, made the Schism by consecrating Majorinus – on whose Chair, Parmenian, you sit. And since I have shown, that men who were guilty of Betrayal were your first fathers, it follows that Betrayers were also the originators of your Schism.

In order to make this matter clear and beyond doubt to all, we shall have to prove from what root the branches of error have stretched themselves forth to the present day, and from what fountain this your rivulet of noxious water, creeping stealthily along, has flowed down even to our times. We shall have to point out whence, and where, and from whom this evil of schism has arisen; what were the causes which met together to produce it; who were the persons who effected it; who were the authors of this wicked thing; who fostered it; by whom appeal was made to the Emperor, that he should judge between the parties; who were they that sat in judgement; where the Council was held; what were its decrees.

The question is about a Division. Now in Africa, as in other parts of the world, the Church was One, before it was divided by those who consecrated Majorinus – whose Chair you have inherited, and now occupy. We shall have to see who has remained in the root, with the whole world; who went forth; who sits on a second chair, which had no existence before the Schism; who has raised altar against altar; who has consecrated a Bishop when another was in undisturbed possession; who it is that lies under the judgement of John, the Apostle, when he declared that many Anti-Christs should go forth without,

‘because they were not of us, for if they had been of us they would have remained with us.’

Therefore, he who was unwilling to remain with his brethren in unity has followed the heretics, and gone forth without, as an Anti-Christ.

XVI. The quarrel of Lucilla against Caecilian.

No one is unaware that the Schism, after the consecration of Caecilian, was effected at Carthage through a certain mischief-making woman named Lucilla. When the Church was still in tranquillity, before her Peace had been disturbed by the storms of persecution, this woman could not put up with the rebuke which she received from the archdeacon Caecilian. It was said that she kissed a bone of some martyr or other – if he was a martyr – before she received the spiritual Food and Drink. Having then been corrected for thus touching – before she touched the Sacred Chalice – the bone of a dead man (if he was a martyr, at least he had not yet been acknowledged as such), she went away in confusion, full of wrath. This was the woman upon whom, whilst she was angry and afraid that she might fall under the discipline of the Church, on a sudden, the storm of persecution broke.

XVII. Mensurius when summoned to the court entrusted the ornaments of the Church to certain seniors.

It was at this time also that a deacon called Felix who had been summoned before the tribunals on account of a much spoken-of letter which he had written concerning the usurping Emperor, fearing his danger, is said to have lain hidden in the house of Bishop Mensurius. When Mensurius publicly refused to give him up, an account of the matter was despatched. A rescript came back that unless Mensurius would surrender the deacon Felix, he should be himself sent to the palace. On receiving this summons he found himself in no small difficulty, for the Church possessed very many gold and silver ornaments, which he could neither hide under ground, nor take away with him. So he confided them to the care of some of the seniors, whom he believed to be worthy of trust, not, however, before he had made an inventory, which he is said to have given to a certain old woman. He charged her, that, when peace was restored to Christians, she should hand this over, if he himself did not return home, to whomsoever she found sitting on the Bishop’s Chair. He went away and pleaded his cause; he was commanded to return, but was not able to reach Carthage.

XVIII. The Consecration of Caecilian as Bishop of Carthage. The cause and the beginning of the Schism.

The storm of persecution passed over, and subsided. By the disposition of God, Maxentius sent pardon, and liberty was restored to Christians. Botrus and Celestius – so it is said – wishing to be consecrated Bishops at Carthage, arranged that, without inviting the Numidians, only the neighbouring bishops should be asked to perform the ceremony at Carthage. Then, by the vote of the whole people, Caecilian was chosen, and was consecrated Bishop, Felix of Autumna laying his hand upon him. Botrus and Celestius were disappointed of their hope. The inventory of the gold and silver, as had been ordered by Mensurius, was handed over, in the presence of witnesses, to Caecilian, who was now in possession of the See. The above-mentioned seniors were summoned; but they had swallowed up in the jaws of their avarice, as booty, that which had been entrusted to their keeping. When they were commanded to make restitution, they withdrew from communion with Caecilian. The ambitious intriguers, who had failed to obtain their consecration, did likewise. Lucilla, too, that influential, mischief-making woman, who had before been unwilling to brook discipline, together with all her retainers, separated herself from her Bishop. Thus wickedness produced its effect through the meeting together 149 of three different causes and sets of persons.

XIX. The unlawful consecration by Numidian bishops of Majorinus against Caecilian.

In this way it came to pass, that at that time the Schism was brought to birth by the anger of a disgraced woman, was fed by ambition, and received its strength from avarice.

It was by these three that the accusations were concocted against Caecilian, so that his Consecration might be declared void. They sent to Secundus of Tigisis to come to Carthage, whither the Betrayers, of whom we have already made mention, proceeded. They received hospitality – not from Catholics, at whose request Caecilian had been consecrated – but from the avaricious, from the ambitious, from those who had been unable to govern their tempers. Not one of them went to the Basilica, where all the people of Carthage had assembled with Caecilian. Then Caecilian demanded:

‘If there is anything to be proved against me, let the accuser come out and prove it.’

Nothing could at that time be got up against him by all these enemies of his; they imagined, however, that he might be blackened by his Consecrator being falsely alleged to have been a Betrayer. So Caecilian gave a second demand – that, since – so they thought – Felix had bestowed nothing upon him, they should themselves ordain him, as if he were still a deacon.

Then Purpurius, relying upon his usual ribaldry, thus spoke, as though Caecilian had been his sister’s son:

‘Let him stand forth as if he were to be consecrated Bishop, and let his head be well smacked in Penance.’

When the bearing of all this was seen, the whole Church [of Carthage] retained Caecilian, in order not to hand itself over to murderers.

The alternatives were, either that he should be expelled from his See as guilty, or that the Faithful should communicate with him as innocent.

The church was crowded with people; Caecilian was sitting in his episcopal Chair; the altar was set up in its own place – that very altar upon which |37 Bishops acknowledged by all had in past times offered sacrifice – Cyprian, Carpophorius, Lucian and the rest.

In this manner they went forth, and altar was raised against altar; and there was an unlawful consecration; and Majorinus, who had been lector when Caecilian was archdeacon – Majorinus, a member of the household of Lucilla – at her instigation, and through her bribes – was consecrated Bishop by Betrayers, who in the Numidian Council had (as we have already said) acknowledged their crimes and granted pardon to one another. It is, therefore, clear that both the Betrayers who consecrated, and Majorinus who was consecrated, went forth from the Church.

XX. The letter of the Numidiau Bishops against Felix, the consecrator of Caecilian.

Meanwhile, out of the fountain of their own crimes, which had gushed forth amongst them in channels of many kinds of wickedness, they thought that a single one – that of Betrayal – might be spared with which to calumniate the consecrator of Caecilian. For, since, as they foresaw, slander would not be able to occupy herself at the same time with two charges of a similar nature, they endeavoured to blacken the life of another man, that by this means they might consign their own crimes to silence. And, through fear that they should themselves be convicted by the innocent, they strove to convict the innocent instead. To this end they distributed on all sides a letter, inspired by their hatred. (This letter we have placed, together with the other Acts, in the Appendix.)

As they were still at Carthage, they sent their letters before them, that by untruthful reports they might plant their falsehood in the ears of all. Rumour spread the lie broadcast amongst the people. Thus, whilst these calumnies were noised abroad about one man only, their own most certain crimes were hidden away in silence.

It often comes to pass that sin is blushed for, but at that period there was no one for whom to blush, since, with the exception of a few Catholics, all had sinned, so the wickedness which had been committed by many wore the cloak of innocence. The shame of Betrayal, which admittedly had been committed by Donatus of Mascula and the others whom we have mentioned, seemed but of small account. To this Betrayal they added the enormous wickedness of schism.

XXI. How grave is the evil of Schism, of which the Donatists are guilty.

Therefore, my brother Parmenian, you see these two accusations – so evil, so terrible – of Betrayal and |39 Schism proved against your chiefs. Acknowledge, though late, that you, in attacking others, have fallen upon your own people. And whilst it is certain that those who went before you worked this second abomination, you too strive to follow them in their sin-stained footsteps, so that you also have been doing for long, and are even now doing, that of which your Fathers were guilty in the beginning of the Schism. They in their day broke peace; you now banish unity. It can be said with reason of your Fathers as well as of yourselves, that, if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch. A raging malice blinded your Fathers’ eyes; envy has robbed yours of sight. Even you will not by any means be able to deny that schism is the supreme evil.

Yet, without fear, you have imitated Dathan, Abiram and Koran, your shameless teachers, and you have been unwilling to keep before your eyes the fact that God has both forbidden this wickedness, and gravely punished it when it has been committed. Moreover, remember that the way in which sins are either forgiven or punished shows that there are degrees of guilt.

Now, by the Commandments of God, three things are, amongst others, forbidden by Him. Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not go after strange gods, and summing up the commands, thou shalt not commit schism.

Let us see concerning these three, what should be punished, and what it may be lawful to pardon.

Murder of kith is the chief sin. Nevertheless, God did not strike Cain dead in his guilt, but declared that He would punish any man who might be his murderer. In the city of Nineve one hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants sacrilegiously followed after strange gods, but when, by the preaching of Jonah the prophet, God had declared His anger, a short period of fasting, together with prayer, obtained their pardon. Let us see whether any such forgiveness was granted to those who first of all ventured to divide the people of God.

God had placed over so many thousands of children of Israel, from whose necks His Divine Providence had cast away the yoke of servitude, one Priest, holy Aaron. But his ministers, coveting and lawlessly usurping a priesthood to which they had no right, and leading astray a part of the people, imitated the sacred rites, and placed more than two hundred of their followers (who were to perish with them) – censers in their hands – before the people whom they had led astray. God, to whom schism is displeasing, could not see this and let it pass; they had, after a certain fashion, declared war against God, as if there were a second God,181 who would accept a second sacrifice. Therefore God was wrathful with a mighty wrath, on account of the schism which had been made, and what He had not done in punishment of the sacrilegious and the fratricide, that He did do in punishment of schismatics. The army of ministers stood in array, and the sacrilegious host that (together with its forbidden sacrifices) was to perish in an instant. The opportunity for penance was denied them and withdrawn, for this was not the kind of sin that should deserve pardon. The earth was commanded to hunger after its food. Forthwith it opened its jaws for those who had divided the people, and with eager mouth swallowed them up that had despised the commandments of God. Within the space of one moment the earth opened to devour them, seized her victims, was shut once again, and, so that they might not appear to reap any benefit from the suddenness of their death, it was not allowed these men who were unworthy to live even to die. Of a sudden they were shut in the prison of Hell, and were buried there before they died.

And yet you wonder that something of similar severity has been done against you – you who either cause or approve schism, although you see here what they, who compassed the first schism, deserved to suffer! Or is it because punishment of this kind has now ceased, that on this account you claim innocence for yourself and for your party? In each of these occurrences, God has set forth a model by examples of the punishment that will come to their imitators. The first sins He has put an end to with punishment, as an example for all time. The sins that come after He will reserve for His Judgement. What have you to say to this, you, who having usurped the name of the Church, both secretly foster and without shame defend the schism?

XXII. The Letter of the Donatist Bishops to the Emperor Constantine, in which they ask for judges of their case.

I hear that some of your party, in their love of disputation, produce documents. But we have to ask which of these are worthy of trust, which are in accordance with reason, which agree with the truth? It may be that your documents – if indeed you have any – will be found to be stained with falsehoods. Our documents are proved to be true by the rival arguments and pleadings of the parties, by the final judgements, and by the letters of Constantine.

With regard to that which you ask of us:

‘What have Christians to do with kings, or Bishops with the palace?’

If it be a crime to be acquainted with kings, the whole of the odium falls upon you, for your fathers Lucianus, Dignus, Nasutius, Capito, Fidentius and the rest, when the Emperor Constantine was still without any knowledge of these affairs, addressed a petition to him, of which I will transcribe a copy:

‘O Constantine, most excellent Emperor, since thou dost come of a just stock, and thy father (unlike other Emperors) did not persecute Christians, and Gaul is free from this wickedness, we beseech thee that thy piety may command that we be granted judges from Gaul; for between us and other Bishops in Africa disputes have arisen; Given by Lucianus, Dignus, Nasutius, Capito, Fidentius and the rest of the Bishops who adhere to Donatus.’

XXIII. The answer of Constantine. He appointed Judges to meet at Rome.

After having read this letter, Constantine replied with much anger. And in his rescript he testified to the matter of their petition in the words:

‘You ask a judgement from me in this world, although I myself am waiting for the Judgement of Christ in the next.’

Nevertheless, he granted them judges – Maternus from the city of Cologne, Reticius from the city of Autun, Marinus of Aries. These three Bishops from Gaul and fifteen others, who were Italians, arrived in Rome. They met in the House of Fausta on the Lateran, on the second of October which was a Friday, in the year when Constantine for the fourth, and Licinius for the third time, were Consuls.

There were present Miltiades, Bishop of the city of Rome, and Reticius, Maternus and Marinus, Bishops from Gaul, and Merocles of Milan, Florianus of Sinna, Zoticus of Quintianum, Stennius of Ariminum, Felix from Florence of the Tuscans, Gaudentius of Pisa, Constantius of Faenza, Proterius of Capua, Theophilus of Beneventum, Sabinus of Terracina, Secundus of Preneste, Felix of the Three Taverns, Maximus of Ostium, Evandrus of Ursinum and Donatianus of Criolo.

XXIV. The acquittal of Caecilian by the Roman Council.

When these nineteen Bishops had taken their seats together, the case of Donatus and that of Caecilian were brought forward. This judgement was passed against Donatus – by each of the Bishops – that he acknowledged having both rebaptised, and laid his hand in Penance upon Bishops who had fallen away – a thing foreign to the Church. Donatus brought forth his witnesses; they admitted that they had nothing of which they could accuse Caecilian. Caecilian was pronounced innocent by the sentence of all the above-named Bishops; also by the sentence of Miltiades, by which the matter was closed, and judgement pronounced in these words:

‘Since it is certain that those who came with Donatus have failed to accuse Caecilian in accordance with their undertaking, and since it is also certain that Donatus has not proved him guilty on any count, I judge that, according to his deserts, he be maintained in the communion of the Church, continuing to hold his position unimpaired.’

XXV. How Constantine received the appeal of Donatus from the Roman judgement.

It is, therefore, sufficient, that Donatus was condemned by the verdict of so many Bishops, and that Caecilian was cleared by the judgement of so great an authority.196 Yet Donatus thought well to appeal. To this appeal the Emperor Constantine replied in these words:

‘Oh, mad daring of their fury! A Bishop has thought fit to appeal to us, as is done in the lawsuits of the Pagans.’

XXVI. What took place in Africa after the Roman Synod.

At the same time Donatus also asked that he might be allowed to return, and promised that he would not go to Carthage. Then it was suggested to the Emperor by Filuminus his advocate, that, for peace’ sake, Caecilian should be detained at Brescia – and so it was done. Then two Bishops were sent to Africa, Eunomius and Olimpius, to do away with the dual Bishops and establish a single one. They came, and remained at Carthage forty days, that they might declare where was the Catholic Church. The seditious party of Donatus could not endure this, and every day noisy uproars were made through party spirit.

Eventually these Bishops, Eunomius and Olimpius, delivered their final decree to the effect that the Catholic Church 203 was that which was dispersed all over the world, and that the Judgement of the nineteen Bishops which had already been delivered could not be upset. Accordingly they communicated with the clergy of Caecilian, and went their way. All this we can prove from the written Acts which any who please may read in our Appendix. When these things had taken place, Donatus was the first to return to Carthage, unasked. Caecilian, on hearing this news, hastened back to his own people. In this way the schism was planted anew. But the fact remains that so many Bishops had by their Judgement condemned Donatus, and had also pronounced the innocence of Caecilian.

XXVII. The clearing of Felix, the Consecrator of Caecilian.

But since two persons on the Catholic side had been for some time accused in this matter – the consecrated and the Consecrator – even after the consecrated had been acquitted at Rome, it still remained for the Consecrator to be declared guiltless. Then Constantine wrote to Aelianus, the pro-consul, to lay aside his public duties and make public inquiry into the life of Felix of Autumna.

The appointed officer took his seat. The witnesses were Claudius Saturianus, a state commissioner, who had been in the city of Felix all through the time of the persecution, and had been a commissioner when he was impeached, Callidius Gratianus and Alfius Caecilianus the magistrate; also Superius the Warder was summoned, and Ingentius the public notary, who was in constant fear of the torture with which he was threatened. By the evidence of all it was ascertained that there was nothing that could disgrace the life of Felix the Bishop.

The Volume of Acts is in existence in which are recorded the names of those who had been present at the trial, Claudius Saturianus the official, and Caecilianus the Magistrate, and Superius the Warder, and Ingentius the Notary, and Solon a public official of the time. After they had given their replies, the above-mentioned pro-consul gave his Judgement, of which this is a part:

‘That Felix, the holy Bishop, is guiltless of having burned the divine Books, is clear from the fact that no one was able to prove anything against him – neither that he had given up nor burned the most sacred Scriptures. For all the above-mentioned witnesses proved clearly that none of the divine Writings had been either discovered, or injured or burned. It is shown by the Acts that the holy Bishop Felix was not present at that time, and that he was neither privy to any such crime, nor commanded it to be done.’

And so he left the court, cleared of every stain upon his reputation and wonderfully praised. Up to that time men did not know what to think of him, and he had walked under a dark cloud, caused by the breath of hatred and jealousy, whilst truth lay hid. And besides, every document, mentioned either in the Acts or in the letters which we have mentioned or read, was disclosed.

XXVIII. The end of this First Book.

You see, my brother Parmenian, that you have assaulted Catholics to no purpose – falsely nicknaming them Betrayers, changing the names of those who were concerned, and transferring their deeds. You have shut your eyes, that you might not recognise the guilt of your fathers; you have opened them to cast accusations upon the innocent and blameless. You have stated everything according to what is opportune, nothing according to what is true; so that it was of you that the most Blessed Apostle Paul said:

‘Some have turned aside to vain-speaking, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor of whom they say it.’

We have just now proved that your fathers were Betrayers and schismatics; yet you, who are their heir, have not wished to spare either schismatics or Betrayers, so that by the proofs which we have alleged, all the darts which you mistakenly wished to hurl against others have glanced back – warded off by the shield of truth – to strike your fathers. Everything, then, which you have been able to say against Betrayers and schismatics, belongs to yourselves, for we have nothing to do with any of it, – we who both remain in the Root, and are joined, with all, in the whole [Catholic] world.