An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


Rigorist schism. Donatists were the followers of Donatus Magnus, a schismatic bishop of Carthage in the mid-fourth century, who believed that the validity of a sacrament depended on the personal virtue of the celebrant. Many other North African Christians shared this view. In particular this group of rigorists rejected the ordination of Caecilian as Bishop of Carthage by a neighboring bishop, who was falsely believed to have betrayed the church during the Diocletian persecutions earlier in the fourth century. Caecilian was excommunicated and Majorinus ordained in his stead. Caecilian was confirmed in his position by the Council of Arles in 314, but a flourishing schismatic church sprang up around Majorinus and his able and aggressive successor, Donatus. Imperial force was used for several decades to suppress the schism, and was met with widespread violent resistance. The Donatist sect survived for several centuries. Augustine engaged in a celebrated and extensive controversy with the Donatists. He established the catholic teaching that the validity of sacramental action depends upon the power of the Holy Spirit in the church, and not the personal character of the celebrant. Augustine argued that the catholic church is a mixed society in the process of salvation rather than a perfect society in itself. This view is shared by the Articles of Religion (Art. XXVI, BCP, p. 873).

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.