Donatist

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The Donatists (named for the Berber Christian Donatus Magnus) were followers of a belief considered a schism by the broader churches of the Catholic tradition, and most particularly within the context of the religious milieu of the provinces of Roman North Africa in Late Antiquity. They lived in the Roman province of Africa and flourished in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Like the Novatianist schism of the previous century,[1] the Donatists were rigorists, holding that the church must be a church of saints, not sinners, and that sacraments, such as baptism, administered by traditors (Christians who surrendered the Scriptures to the authorities who outlawed possession of them) were invalid.[2] Probably in 311, a new bishop of Carthage was consecrated by someone who had allegedly been a traditor; his opponents consecrated a short-lived rival, who was succeeded by Donatus, after whom the schism was named.[2] In 313, a commission appointed by Pope Miltiades found against the Donatists, but they continued to exist, viewing themselves, and not what was known as the Catholic Church, as the true Church, the only one with valid sacraments. Because of their association with the Circumcellions, they brought upon themselves repression by the imperial authorities, but they drew upon African regional sentiment, while the Catholic party had the support of Rome. They were still a force at the time of Saint Augustine of Hippo at the end of the fourth century, and disappeared only after the Arab conquest of the 7th-8th century.[2]

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Churches

The primary disagreement between Donatists and the rest of the early Christian Church was over the treatment of those who renounced their faith during the persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian (303–305), a disagreement that had implications both for the Church's understanding of the Sacrament of Penance and of the other sacraments in general.

The rest of the Church was far more forgiving of these people than the Donatists. The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution. During the persecution some Church leaders had gone so far as to turn Christians over to Roman authorities and had handed over religious texts to authorities to be publicly burned. These people were called traditors ("people who had handed over"). These traditors had returned to positions of authority under Constantine I, and the Donatists proclaimed that any sacraments celebrated by these priests and bishops were invalid.

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