“The Donatists agitation arose in north Africa, A. D. 311, in what are now known as the Barbary States; but it centered in Carthage, Numidia, and the Mauritanias. Its field covered nearly seven degrees of north latitude, immense centers of commerce and influence, soils and climate, marking a stretch of land 2000 miles long by about 300 wide, reaching from Egypt to the Atlantic and fringing the Atlas mountains, the Mediterranean and the desert …Mensurius, Bishop of Carthage, manfully opposed the mania which led thousands to court martyrdom in order to take the martyr's crown; because he thought it savored more of suicide than of enforced sacrifice for Christ. But he died in 311, and Caecilianus, who was of the same opinion, was ordained in his place, with which election a majority were dissatisfied. Others were displeased because he had been ordained by Felix, who was charged with giving up the Bible to be burnt, and a division took place in the church. The retiring party first elected Majorinus, their bishop, who soon died, and after him Donatus, of Casae Nigrae. This party was greatly increased and was read out of the Catholic body, Constantine taking sides against them.”1 On this account it is well to remember that the giving up of the Bible to be “burnt,” in connection with the well known fact, that many readily denied Christ otherwise, throws much light upon the story of the Donatist party courting martyrdom. It furnishes the strong presumption…
1 Armitage's Bap. Hist. pp. 200, 201.
…that these cowardly and wealthy Christ deniers branded the true soldiers of the cross as hunting for an opportunity to die for Christ's sake. But, admitting that the enemies of Donatists have not overdrawn the matter, instead of essentially affecting their character as churches, it only shows that they had been persecuted until they morbidly courted the privilege of testifying for Christ by their deaths — an error far less serious than the compromising spirit of our own times by which Christ is so often denied. To attribute the split between the Donatists and their enemies to election of Felix as pastor, or the Novatian split to the election of Cornelius, would be as ridiculous as to attribute the American Revolution of 1776, to a little tea. All the revolutions were only the outburst of a storm, originating from great and intolerable wrongs. It wag a protest of the pious part of the church against the impious; the necessary result of loyalty to the doctrine of a regenerate church membership. Says Kurtz: “Like the Novatians, they insisted on absolute purity in the church, although they allowed that penitents might be readmitted into their communion. Their own churches they regarded pure while they denounced the Catholics as schismatics, who had no fellowship with Christ, and whose sacraments were therefore invalid. On this ground they re-baptized their proselytes.”1
Mosheim: “The doctrine of the Donatists was conformable to that of the church, as even their adversaries confess, nor were their lives less exemplary than that of other Christian societies, if we accept the enormous conduct of the Circumcelliones which the greater part of the sect regarded with the utmost detestation and abhorrence. The crime, therefore, of the Donatists lay properly in the following things: In their declaring the church of Africa,…
l Kurtz' Ch. Hist. vol. 1, p. 246.
…which adhered to Caecilianus fallen from the dignity and privileges of a true church and deprived of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, on account of the offenses with which the new bishop and Felix of Aptungus, who had consecrated him, were charged; in their pronouncing all the churches which held communion with that of Africa, corrupt and polluted; in maintaining that the sanctity of their bishops gave their community alone the full right to be considered as the true, and pure, the holy church; and in their avoiding all communication with other churches from an apprehension of contracting their impurity and corruption. This erroneous principle was the source of that most shocking uncharitableness and presumption that appeared in their conduct to other churches. Hence they pronounced the sacred rites and institutions void of all virtue and efficiency among those Christians who were not precisely of their sentiments and not only re-baptized those who came over to their party from other churches, but even with respect to those who had been ordained ministers of the gospel, observed the severe custom either of depriving them of their office, or obliging them to be ordained the second time.”1
Who can not see in this the picture of the Baptists of our own times and see the denunciation of Mosheim the very words of present Baptist opponents?
With Kurtz, Mosheim thus exonerates the Donatists of the violence of the Circumcelliones: “It cannot be made to appear from any records of undoubted authority that the bishops of that faction, those at least who had any reputation for piety and virtue, either approved the proceedings, or stirred up the violence of this odious rabble.”2
l Moshelm's Hist., part 2, ch. 5, sec. 8.
2 Idem, part 2, ch. 5.
“'You,' said the Donatists, 'do not prove your charges against us, relative to the Circumcelliones.' 'Neither,' said Augustine, 'do you prove your charge against the church'”— thus admitting the charge not proven. “Strange as it may appear, neither in Mosheim nor Milner, nor any other writer who has made some lame apologies for this reputed confederacy, do we find any mention of the important fact that the whole body of the Donatists, both their bishops and their laity, disclaimed any knowledge of such a race of men as the Circumcelliones, or any concern with them.”1
While this violence was, perhaps, unjustifiable, yet it is a question as to whether, had we as full a history of that event as of the peasants' war of Munster, it would not, as in their case, show that they were far more right than wrong — that like them, they were goaded to desperation by the combined wrongs of corrupt and oppressive politico-ecclesiastical governments. Be this, however, as it may, history clears the Donatists of the doings of the Circumcelliones.
Schaff concedes: “Like the Montanists and Novatianists they insisted on rigorous church discipline
and demanded the excommunication of all unworthy members.”2
Chambers' Universal Knowledge: “The Donatists, like the followers of Novatian, went upon the principle that the essence of the true church consisted in purity and holiness of all its members individually, and not merely in the apostolic foundation and doctrine.”3
Neander says the Donatist principle was: “That every church which tolerated unworthy members in its…
1 Benedict's Hist. Donatists, p. 148, 149.
2 Scbaff's Hist. Ch., vol. l, p. 366.
3 Vol. 4, p. 367.
…bosom was itself polluted by the communion with them. It thus ceased to deserve the predicates of purity and holiness, and consequently ceased to be a true Christian church, since a church could not subsist without these predicates.” …”The Donatists maintained that the church should cast out from its body those who were known, by open and manifest sins to be unworthy members.”1
Neander farther says: “According to the Catholic point of view, to the essence of the genuine Catholic church belonged its general spread through the medium of episcopal succession down from the Apostles. From the conception of the Catholic church in this sense was first derived the predicates of purity and holiness. On the other hand, according to the Donatist point of view, the predicate of Catholic ought to be subordinate to those of purity and holiness.”*
Dupin, a Roman Catholic, says: “The Donatists maintained that the true church ought to consist of none but holy and just men. They confessed the bad might be mixed with the good in the church, but only as secret sinners, not as open offenders.”2
Bohringer sums up the meaning of the Donatist movement: “The Donatists, Novatians and Montanists wanted a pure and holy church, because the purity of its members constitute the genuineness of the church.”3
Walch: “The chief cause of their schism was their abhorrence of communion with traitors.”3
Neander says the Donatists, claimed: “When the church, however widely extended, becomes corrupt by…
* idem, p. 208
1 Neander's Ch. Hist., vol. 2, pp. 203,205.
2 Baptist Layman's Book, p. 19.
3 Idem, p. 21.
…intercourse with unworthy members, then that church, in whatever work and comer of the earth it might be which had no manifestly vicious members within its pale is the genuine Catholic church.”1
Guericke says: “The after of the Christian church would have been very different …had it once more resorted to the primitive discipline and hedged up the way to the multitudes of unconverted persons who were crowding into it, and had it sought, not indeed by a more artificial organization, but in the exercise of a deeper and simpler faith in God, to render the church more selfconsistent and less dependent upon the State.”2
These historians make very clear that in the third and fourth centuries, Montanism, Novatianism and Donatism were the great witnesses for New Testament church membership. Between the Baptists and then” opponents was the contest that has been the contest ever since and which today is the great contest between Baptist and others, viz.: a regenerate or an unregenerate church.
But, I will give the reader a sample of their debates over this question: To the argument of Augustine, that the parable of the wheat and tares growing together till the end of the age taught that known unworthy members ought to be retained in the churches, the Donatists replied: “The field, the Lord says, is the world, therefore not the church, but this world, in which the good and the bad dwell together till the harvest; that is, they are reserved till the judgment day.” This interpretation, which is that given by our Lord, they asserted, could not be gainsaid, since, said they, if the Apostles, the companions of our Lord himself, should have learned from the tares, that is, the children of the devil, springing up in the…
1 Neander's Hist. Ch., vol. 2, p. 208.
2 Guericke's Ch. Hist., vol.:, p. 281.
…church by the neglect of discipline, were to be left in the communion of the saints, they never would have expelled from the thresholds of their churches, Simon, Erastus, Philetus, Alexander, Demas, Hermogenes, and others like them. Yes, indeed, said the reforming Donatists, the mixed policy of the Catholics would make void the whole public instructions throughout the divine writings pertaining to the separation of the wounded from the sound, the polluted from the clean.”1
Any one who is familiar with the present controversy between the Baptists and their opponents will readily recognize that both sides and arguments are represented m the Donatist controversy.
It hag been charged that the Donatist held to infant baptism. In reply (1.) As no church that ever believed in infant baptism held so tenaciously to converted church membership and spirituality, as did the Donatists, and as infant baptism and such a church are irreconcilably antagonistic, that the Donatists opposed infant baptism is evident. “Their principles would undoubtedly lead them to the rejection of infant baptism.”2 (2.) History otherwise refutes the charge. Says Armitage, “Long says: 'They refused infant baptism.'”3
Long was an Episcopalian and wrote a history of the Donatists.
Guy de Bres said: “That they demanded that baptized infants ought to be baptized again as adults.”
Augustine, replying to the Donatists: “Do you ask for divine authority in this matter? Though that which .the whole church practices is very reasonably believed to be no other than a thing delivered by the Apostles, yet…
1 Benedict's History Donatists, pp. 85, 86.
2 Cramp's Bap. Hist.. p. 60.
3 Armitage's Hist. Bap., p. 201.
…we may take a true estimate, how much the sacrament of baptism does profit infants, beg the circumcision which God's former people received.”1
Osiander, says: “Our modern Anabaptists are the same as the Donatists of old.”
Fuller, Episcopalian: “The Anabaptists are the Donatists new dipt.”2
As the Anabaptists were especially noted for opposition to infant baptism, Fuller's statement is very clearly against the Donatists having baptized infants.
Bullinger is often quoted as saying: “The Donatists and the Anabaptists held the same opinion.”
Twick, Chron. b. 6, p. 201, says: “The followers of Donatus were all one with the Anabaptists, denying baptism to children, admitting believers only thereto who desired the same, and maintaining that none ought to be forced to any belief.”3
D'Anvers, in his Treatise on Baptism, says: “Austin's third and fourth books against the Donatists demonstrated that they denied infant baptism, wherein he maintains the argument of infant baptism against them with great zeal, enforcing it by several arguments.”3
Bohringer, a late biographer of Augustine, says: “Infant baptism is the only point of difference between Augustine and the Donatists, and this grew out of the Donatist notion of the church.”4
Alluding to and endorsing Bohringer's statement, W.W. Everts, Jr., than whom, perhaps, no one in America has a better knowledge of church history, says: “This is only a more confident statement of what Gotfried Arnold…
1 Idem, p. 20.
2 Fuller's Ch. Hist. Britain, book 5, sec. 5:ll.
3 In the Baptist, by T. G. Jones, D. D., p. 70.
4 Ch. In the Wilderness, p. 42.
…and Ivirney had said before in identifying the Donatists and modern Baptists.”1
Augustine presided over a council of 92 ministers, which aimed at the Donatists, Montanists and Novations, declared: “We will that whoever denies that little children by baptism are freed from perdition and eternally saved, that they be accursed.”
Armitage says: “It is commonly conceded that Augustine wrote a separate work against them on infant baptism which has not come down to us. If he did, the fair inference would be that they rejected that doctrine.”2
Yes, and if Armitage had thoroughly investigated, he would have learned that Dr. Benedict has, in his History of the Donatists, produced sufficient amount of Augustine's writings to so clearly prove that the Donatists rejected infant baptism as to leave the fact beyond any reasonable doubt. Cramp regards it possible that some Donatists practiced infant baptism.
In his history of the Donatists, Benedict mentions four divisions called Donatists,3 the last two did not go out from the original company. If any of the people who were called Donatists ever held to infant baptism, some of the last two divisions must have been the ones.
Merivale says of the Donatists: “They represented the broad principle of the Montanists and Novatians, that the true Church of Christ is an assembly of real pious persons only. …Jerome and Augustine and others class the Donatists with the Novatians as to general aim and purpose, and Augustine sneers at them as 'spotless saints'”4
1 Church in the Wilderness, p. 42.
2 Armitage's Bap. Hist., p. 201.
4 Armitage's Bap. Hist., pp. 200,201.
The church government of the Donatists was substantially the same as that of the Baptists of our own time. W. W. Everts, Jr., says: “We clearly trace among them the polity of the apostolic and Baptist church. Independence of the hierarchy was universally maintained, and no higher authority than the local church was acknowledged. Insubordination to bishops and councils was their conspicuous and unpardonable offence. …They maintained, therefore, a position of irreconcilable order.”1 The hierarchy at the time the Donatists split occurred being but in its bud, even Donatist opponents then had not the full grown hierarchy of later times. Muston represents the voice of history when he says: “In the first centuries of the Christian era, each church founded by the disciples had a unity and an independence of its own.” “The bishops being elected by the people of their diocese.”2
Long, an Episcopalian: “The Donatists rejected the Catholic liturgy and set up for themselves in a more congregational way.”3
Says Benedict: “In all their operations as a religious community I have discovered nothing peculiar to episcopacy, or the episcopal regimen, except the diocese, which in early times was deficient in what in later times becomes essential to diocesan episcopacy.''4
As Whatley observes: “A church and a diocese seem to have been for a considerable time, co-extensive and identical; and each church a diocese, and consequently each superintendent, though connected with the rest by…
1 Church in the Wilderness, pp. 16, 18.
2 Israel of the Alps, vol. 1, pp. 4, 7.
3 Long’s Hist. Don., p. 55.
4 Benedict’s Hist. Don., 138.
…the ties of faith and charity, seems to have been perfectly independent, as far as regards any power and control.”1
“In point of fact. …the word (diocese), which perhaps retained to a certain degree its general rather than its technical sense, is found applied in turn to every kind of ecclesiastical territorial division. Suicer alleges other authorities to show that the word is sometimes employed in a sense closely resembling our word parish, viz: The district of a single church or parish. It has been observed that this was a Latin and especially an African use of the term.”2 This use of the word diocese in Africa, the land of the Donatists, not only removes all ground to suppose that it implied episcopacy, but in its being there used for a single congregation, it proves the Donatist bishop and his diocese only a pastor and a congregation, as with Baptists now.
Only a few hierarchal bishops are necessary to the largest country. But among Baptists a very large number is necessary. The fact, therefore, that 279 Donatist bishops were present at the council of Carthage explodes the possibility of reasonably believing the Donatists had Episcopal prelates. Another like proof is, there were “410 Donatist bishops assembled together.”3 Who ever heard or dreamed of 410 Romish, Episcopal, Greek or Methodist bishops in as limited a territory as was North Africa? As W. W. Everts, Jr., well observes: “The number of the Donatist bishops proves that every pastor received the title, a name which Donatists very much disliked.”4
1 Benedict's Hist. Don., p. 139.
2 Smith's Dic. Chr. Antiq., vol. 1, pp. 558, 559.
3 Bap. Layman's Book, pp. 19, 22.
4 Idem, p. 22.
The Donatists were not Campbellites and Romanists, but were Baptists, in that they believed in the blood before the water, salvation by grace and not by the work of baptism.
Says Benedict: (Optatua way the Donatus adversary.) “Optatus was in union with the Donatists in requiring faith before baptism. The repetition of the rite was the principle matter of dispute between the parties, except that Optatus, with his party held. to the salutary influence of baptism. Baptism, said he, makes a man a Christian, and how can he be made a Christian the second time? Baptism in the name of the Trinity confers grace, which is destroyed by the second baptism.”1
To the charge that the Donatists held to the union of church and State, I reply: (1.) As no other people, holding to a regenerate church membership, the blood before the water, only believers' baptism, and to a congregational church government ever, at the same time held to this adulterous union, the charge is incredible. (2.) The only ground of this charge is, the Donatists appealed to the emperor to decide whether they were heretics. Dr. Armitage well says: “Nothing could have been more stupid and inconsistent” than this, as “they were struggling for a pure church against the laxness of the Catholic party.”2 This remark of Armitage is on the report that the appeal was made, to unite church and State, a report not supported by history. A. D. 312, on gaining control of the empire, Constantine proclaimed freedom of religious belief to all.3 But, to deprive the Donatists of this liberality, it seems their enemies accused them of being traitors to the emperor. Based on the Romish report,…
1 Benedict's Hist. Don., p. 19.
2 Armitage's Bap. Hist., p. 201.
3 Benedict's Hist. Don., p. 11.
Gibben says: “Both parties accused each other of being traitors …The cause of the Donatists was examined with attention, perhaps it was determined with justice, but perhaps their complaints were not without foundation, that the credulity of the emperor was abused by the insidious acts of his favorite Otius.”1 As the result of the emperor's decision, the Donatists “were treated as transgressors of the imperial laws.”2 “He certainly exiled some, and is said to have deprived them of their churches.”3 This persecution is said to have been the cause of the violence of the Circumcelliones who,4 though not being Donatists, were excited to their deeds by these cruel persecutors. Thus, it is probable that the Donatists consented to the appeal, not to get up a union with the State, but to get the emperor to decide they were orthodox Christians. This decision they seemed to have desired only to save them from persecution. It was on the same principle on which Baptist now, in case of a split in any of their churches, on the ground that one party is heretical, appeal to Cassar's court to decide which is the true Baptist church — not for State aid or any form of union of church and State, but for their property rights. The first Baptist confessions of faith were especially to show the authorities that their enemies slandered them — that they were good citizens. An enemy, with the scarcity of history that characterized the time of the Donatists, could as easily pervert these appeals of Baptists of modern times, as of the time of Constantine, into an appeal for union of church and State. About sixty-eight years after the Donatists…
l Idem, p. 9.
2 Idem, p. 12.
3 Wadington's Ch. Hist., p. 151, note.
4 Hase's Hist. Chr. Ch., p. 158.
…appealed to Constantine, “on his accession to the throne, the Donatist bishops transmitted to” Julian, his nephew, “a petition in which they besought a ruler who required only justice, to rescind the unjust decrees that had been issued against them.”1 Here they are appealing to the emperor to remove the very decrees against the passage of which they aimed in their first appeal, nearly sixty-eight years before. In this appeal there is not so much as an intimation of desire for union of church and State. Why; then, in the name of fairness to a people, confessed on all sides to have been a truly Christian people should they everlastingly be besmirched with the charge of believing in union of church and State?
Even were we to admit they did, in the moment of error, seek the union of church and State, since it was opposed to their principles and is opposed to their usual position, it in no way affects their claim to be in line of Church Perpetuity.
Armitage says: “It is but just to gay that, so far as known, this is an isolated act in their history, and not one of a number in the same line.” *
All it can possibly prove is a momentary missing the mark. History clearly shows the Donatists utterly opposed to persecution and the union of church and State. Petillian describes a true church as one which “does not persecute, nor inflame the minds of emperors against their subjects, nor seize on the property of others, nor kill men.”2 Benedict says the Donatists “uniformly represented their community” as the one “which suffers persecution, but does not persecute.”3 “A people who suffer persecution,…
* Annltage's Hist. Bap., p. 202.
1 Benedict's Hist. Don., p. 41.
2 Idem, p. 53.
3 Idem, p. 83.
…but do not persecute was their stereotyped and cherished motto.”1 “Nowhere in all church history, can be found a more non-resisting people under the assaults of their enemies except by arguments.”1 “They were treated as rebels by Macaries, the Roman general, and his mission and policy were to hurry them into the Catholic church, peaceably if he could, forcibly if he must.”1 in their controversy with the Catholics “one often finds repetition of the following pertinent questions of the reformers: 'What, has the emperor to do with the church? What have the bishops to do at the palace? What has Christianity to do with the kings of this world?' “2 “At an early period this persecuted people entirely renounced the church and State policy, and, of course, 'What has the emperor to do with the church?' was their reply to the offers of royal bounty.”3
Guericke says: “The emperor sent them money for distribution as a loan, but Donatus Magnus, sent it back with the obstinate protestation against the union of church and State.”4
Neander: “Another more important point of dispute related to the employment of force in matters of
religion. The Donatists bore their testimony on this point with emphasis in favor of the cause which the example of Christ and the Apostles, with the spirit of the gospel, and the sense of man's universal rights, called forth by the latter, required. The point of view first set forth in a clear light by Christianity, when it made religion its common good of all mankind and raised it above all narrow political restrictions, was by the Donatists…
1 Idem, p. 38.
2 Idem, p. 100.
3 Idem, p. 32.
4 Guericke's Ch. Hist., vol. 1, p. 281; also Neander's Ch. Hist., vol. 2, p. 195.
… manfully asserted, in opposition to a theory of ecclesiastical rights at variance with the spirit of the gospel, and which had sprung out of a new mixture of ecclesiastical with political interests.” “Quid est emperatori cum ecclesia?” — What has the emperor to do with the church? — was fundamental with the Donatists.
T. J. Morgan, D. D., ex-Professor of Church History in the Chicago Baptist Theological Seminary: The Donatists …resisted the interference of the State in ecclesiastical affairs.”2
Child, an infidel, says: “The members of their party were forbidden to receive presents from the reigning powers. The corruptions resulting from the union of church and State became their favorite theme of eloquence. They traced all degeneracy to the splendor and luxury of the times, and railed at bishops whose avarice led them to flatter princes.”3
The Donatists, like the Novatians and the Montanists, in the following, were Baptist. Petillian, one of
their most eminent ministers, said: “I baptize their members, as having an imperfect baptism, and as in reality unbaptized. They will receive my members …as truly baptized, which they would not do if they could discover any fault in our baptism. See, therefore, that the baptism which I give you may hold so holy that not any sacrilegious enemy will have destroyed.”4 So, Baptist baptism, only, has, in all ages and in all countries, been universally conceded to be good.
As to the action of baptism, as Benedict remarks: “It may be proper to notify the readers that not only the…
1 Neander's Ch. Hist., vol. 2, p. 212.
2 In The Standard, of Chicago, March 18,1880.
3 Child's Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. 3, pp. 29,30.
4 Benedict's Hist. Don., p. 56.
Donatists, but all others then, whether Catholics or dissenters, practiced immersion; and the practice also was prevalent with all parties of requiring faith before baptism.”1
To the slander, that the Donatists believed in suicide, I let Benedict reply: “In his correspondence with Dulcitius, he, Gaudentius, was requested to surrender his church to the Catholics. In his reply to this request the resolute bishop addressed the Tribune in these terms: 'In this church, in which the name of God and his Christ is always invoked in truth, as you have always admitted, we will permanently remain as long as it may please God for us to live.' This is the whole of the threatened suicide of Gaudentius. The whole story which has gone the rounds of church history originated in the perverted language of Augustine. 'You,' said he to Gaudentius, 'declared with other words I grant, that you would bum your church, with yourself and people in it.'”2
In this contemptible and malicious charge, coming from where all the slanders against that whole band of witnesses for Christ came, we see the necessity of examining the charges against the Donatists and other ancient Christians with great allowance and care.
Prof. Heman Lincoln, D. D., recently Professor of Church History in Newton Theological Seminary, wrote; “The .Donatists held. …many of the principles which are regarded as axioms by modern Baptists. They maintained absolute freedom of conscience, the divorce of church and a regenerate church membership. These principles, coupled with their uniform practice of immersion, bring them into close affinity with Baptists.”
1 Idem 130; Robinson's Eccl. Researches, p. 150.
2 Idem, p. 125.
We may, therefore, having examined the only charges on which the Donatists are called in question as Baptists, conclude the examination as proving, beyond any reasonable doubt, that, in all essential respects, the Donatists were genuine Baptist churches.