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Donatism Barkman, Heather


Donatism emerged in North Africa as a result of disagreements over the proper way to deal with Christians who lapsed during the persecutions. Against the mainstream, Donatists argued that the lapsed could never re-enter the Church. A contested episcopal election of 311, in which the Donatists and the Catholics each elected their own bishop, led to the Donatists appealing to Constantine in 313 to determine the rightful bishop. Constantine sided against the Donatists. From 317-321, he ordered their suppression using measures akin to those of the persecuting emperors: confiscating property, exile, and death. A brief but violent revival of the persecution occurred in 347-348 under his son, Constans. The emperor Julian (361-363) supported Donatism and brought Donatist bishops back from exile as part of a broader program to undermine Catholic Christianity. Augustine of Hippo often wrote against them, and the Council of Carthage in 411 also condemned them. Nevertheless, Donatists made up the majority of North African Christians from the fourth to fifth centuries. The Donatists fade from view during the Vandal invasions of the mid-fifth century.

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