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Early Christianity


Doctrines Donatist belief is grounded in the view that only those who morally pure can be members of the church. The Donatists regarded catholic church as compromised because some of its bishops had betrayed their faith during persecution and because it had accepted the support of the Roman authorities.

History The Donatist schism has its origins in the Diocletian persecution of the church at the beginning of the 4th century. The emperor Diocletian sought to rid the Roman empire of Christianity by forcing Christians to offer sacrifices to pagan deities or suffer imprisonment or martyrdom. With the end of the persecution the church was confronted with the question whether to readmit those who had abandoned their faith during the Diocletian persecutions. This issue came to a head in Carthage in the province of Africa. It was alleged that Bishop Caecilian of Carthage had been consecrated by a bishop who had renounced his faith and, therefore, Caecilian's ordination was invalid. A schismatic movement broke away from the Catholic church under the leadership of Donatus, who was elected a rival to Caecilian.
During the 4th century the Donatist church strengthened, becoming the largest group among North African Christians. But during the 5th century the Donatists were treated as heretics and subjected to severely repressive laws. On 30 January 412 an edict was passed which called for the confiscation of Donatist property and the exile of Donatist leaders. The measures were successful: the Donatist church went into decline, and after the end of the 6th century nothing more was heard of the movement.

Symbols As in the Catholic church the symbol of water played a central role in Donatist theology. The Donatists believed that the Holy Spirit was actually present in the baptismal waters. This meant that a baptism administered by an apostate priest could not be valid. Anyone entering the Donatist church had to be rebaptised.
An important symbol that the Donatists used to identify themselves was Noah's ark. Those inside the ark represented the true church, those who were saved. The drowning multitudes outside the ark represented the lost world. Sometimes the ark was depicted with a dove hovering above it, symbolising the protective presence of the Holy Spirit.

Adherents No contemporary adherents.

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