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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie
Dupont, Anthony, Gaumer, Matthew Alan, and Mathijs Lamberigts [Eds.]
The Uniquely African Controversy. Studies on Donatist Christianity.
Leuven: Peeters 2015. XIV, 388 S. = Late Antique History and Religion, 9. Kart. EUR 94,00. ISBN 978-90-429-3155-8.
Mark J. Edwards
This collection, published in March 2015, anticipates by some months the volume edited by Richard Miles and advertised by Liverpool University Press as the first »holistic contribution« to the study of Donatism in twenty years. If one desires an encyclopaedic treatment, with a particular bias to archaeology, Miles’s The Donatist Schism will be the more useful of the two books; the one under review here, however, deals with many topics which are omitted in the other – as ever, in varying shades of novelty. The opening piece by Martin Wysocki (»Martyrs and Martyrdom in Roman Africa«) is a scholarly, but in no way surprising, corroboration of the familiar thesis that »African Christianity was filled with the idea of martyrdom as well as respect for martyrs« (28). Matthew Alan Gaumer’s »Donatists Abound« is also an inventory, but one that has never hitherto been attempted, and which will prove invaluable to fu-ture students of the reception history of Donatism (or, more frequently, of Catholic polemics against the movement). Paolo Marone’s careful analysis of imperial policy (»Some Observations on the anti-Donatist Legislation«) will save his colleagues some trouble, though again he will hardly astound them when he concludes that the application of the more oppressive laws was sometimes tem-pered by political necessity. By contrast, Clemens Weidmann will have greatly increased the credit of our most informative witness if we accept his demonstration, in »Recording and Reporting the Gesta Collationis Carthaginensis«, that the errors which have been laid at Augustine’s door should in fact be attributed to mediaeval scribes. Carles Buenacasa Perez, in »The Ecclesiastical Patrimony of the Donatist Church«, proves that there is no ground for assuming either that Donatists were less affluent than Catholics or that Catholics were more prone to ostentation. In another essay correcting the bias of ancient controversialists (»African Asceticism: the Donatist Heritage«), Maureen Tilley contends that voluntary exit from life was no more a monopoly of the Donatists than corporate celibacy was a uniquely Catholic practice; Bart van Egmond adds, in »Augustine’s Critique of Donatist martyrdom«, that the Bishop of Hippo donated a new, if whimsical, theology of sacrifice to his adversaries by insinuating that they regarded suicide as an expiation for the sin of schism.
Jane Merdinger’s contribution, »In League with the Devil«, surmises that the rite of exsufflation was imposed by Donatists on former Catholics as a rite of humiliation, thereby satisfying a »vindictiveness« which lingered even after the expulsion of the devil by exorcism. Geoffrey Dunn, comparing »Optatus and Parmenian on the Authority of Cyprian«, finds that Parmenianus is the disciple of Cyprian in his refusal to distinguish schism from heresy, while Optatus, who opposes the rebaptism of schismatics, appeals to Cyprian only as the predecessor who gives legitimacy to the Catholic bishopric in Carthage. Anyone who doubts that we are all at heart Pelagians should read Alden Bass’s study, »An Example of Pelagian Exegesis in the Donatist Vienna Homilies«, which discovers the taint of this heresy in a number of these texts, notwithstanding one clear admonition against it. Stanley Adamiak, asking »When did Donatist Christianity Fail?«, contends that the use of this term in the letters of Gregory the Great is unlikely to be wholly baseless, and that, even if we doubt the existence of professing Donatists in the eighth century, Donatism may be immortal. Matteo Dalvit, after some predictable observations on »The Catholic Construction of Key Donatist Figures«, advances the striking suggestion that Catholic fiction brought a real enemy into being when the Donatists started to imitate the voluntary martyrdom falsely attributed to Bishop Marculus. Geert van Reyn was badly advised in his choice of a title »Hippo’s Got Talent« for his study of the abecedarian Psalm against the Donatists by Augustine; his judgment that this structure was adopted as a mnemonic for the illiterate implies, perhaps implausibly, there were numerous adults who knew the alphabet yet were unable to read.
Not only the Donatist sacraments but the theological improvisations prompted by the controversy receive far more attention in this volume than in the one edited by Miles. Edward Smithers justifies his own title, »Augustine, Missionary to Heretics«, by proving, from a review of his entire corpus against the Donatists, that Au-gustine never abandoned the hope of persuasion even when he endorsed coercion; the theology of coercion as an exercise of love is worked out in detail by Paul van Geest in »Timor est servus caritatis«. Anthony Dupont supplies a fine examination of »Peccatum and Gratia in Augustine Sermones ad Populum, showing that the theology of grace which Augustine developed against the Pelagians is fore-sh-adowed in his strictures on the Donatists, though his concept of sin in the earlier controversy is »ecclesiological and disciplinary«, rather than »eschatological« or »existential« (345). The volume concludes with Ilaria Ramelli’s »Mysterium et Sacramentum in the Vetus Afra«, a typically exhaustive survey of Latin usage before the Donatist era, which (in contrast to the Vulgate) reserves the term mysterium for pagan rites and sacramentum for the hallowed customs of the church.