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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Donatism \Don"a*tism\, n. [Cf. F. Donatisme.] (Eccl. Hist.) The tenets of the Donatists.


n. (context Christianity English) An early Christian belief which maintained that apostate priests were incapable of administering the sacraments, as opposed to the orthodox view that any sacrament administered by a properly ordained priest or bishop is valid, regardless of how sinful he is or if he has converted to another religion.


Donatism (, Donatismós) was a Christian sect within the Roman province of Africa that flourished in the fourth and fifth centuries among Berber Christians. Donatism had its roots in the social pressures among the long-established Christian community of Roman North Africa (present-day Berber countries Algeria and Tunisia), during the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian. The Donatists (named for the Berber Christian bishop Donatus Magnus) were members of an offshoot church which did not follow the same doctrine as some other churches of the rest of Early Christianity in Late Antiquity.

Donatism was an indirect outcome of Diocletian's persecutions. The governor of Africa had been lenient towards the large Christian minority under his rule during the persecutions. He was satisfied when Christians handed over their Scriptures as a token repudiation of their faith. Some Christians acceded to this convenient action. When the persecutions came to an end, however, they were branded traditores, "those who handed (the holy things) over" by their critics, mostly from the poorer classes.

Like the Novatianist movement of the previous century, the Donatists were rigorists, holding that the church must be a church of "saints", not "sinners", and that sacraments, such as baptism, administered by traditores were invalid. Probably in 311, a new bishop of Carthage, Caecilian, was consecrated by someone who had allegedly been a traditor, Felix of Aptungi; his opponents consecrated a short-lived rival, who was succeeded by Donatus, after whom the schism was named.

In 313, a commission appointed by Pope Miltiades fought against the Donatists, but they continued to exist, viewing themselves, and not the other Christians, 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 their opponents 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.

Usage examples of "donatism".

Rome has weathered more and worse, over the centuriesArianism, Manichaeism, Maximianism, Rogatism, Circoncillianism, Donatism, Catharism, Monophysitism, Baldarism, and at least a score morethis Yorkism, too, will burn itself out, die, eventually be stamped out.

Rome has weathered more and worse, over the centuries— Arianism, Manichaeism, Maximianism, Rogatism, Circon-cillianism, Donatism, Catharism, Monophysitism, Baldarism, and at least a score more—this Yorkism, too, will burn itself out, die, eventually be stamped out.