On Baptism, Against The Donatists

The Seven Books of Augustin, Bishop of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists

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Philip Schaff

The third treatise in this volume belongs to a later period, being a letter written to Bonifacius,
the Roman Count of Africa under Valentinian the Third. He had written to Augustin to consult
him as to the best means of dealing with the Donatists; and Augustin in his reply points out to him
his mistake in supposing that the Donatists shared in the errors of the Arians, whilst he urges him
to use moderation in his coercive measures; though both here and in his answer to Petilianus we
find him countenancing the theory that the State has a right to interfere in constraining men to keep
within the Church. Starting with a forced interpretation of the words, "Compel them to come in,"
in Luke xiv. 23, he enunciates principles of coercion which, though in him they were subdued and
rendered practically of little moment by the spirit of love which formed so large an element in his
character, yet found their natural development in the despotic intolerance of the Papacy, and the
horrors of the Inquisition. It is probable that he was himself in some degree misled by confounding
the necessity of repressing the violence of the Circumcelliones, which was a real offense against
the State, with the expediency of enforcing spiritual unity by temporal authority.
The Donatist treatises have met with little attention from individual editors. There is a
dissertation, De Aur. Augustino adversario Donatistarum, by Adrien Roux, published at Louvain
in 1838;1144 but it is believed that no treatises of this series have ever before been translated into
English, nor are they separately edited. They are in themselves a valuable authority for an important
scene in the history of the Church, and afford a good example both of the strength and the weakness
of Augustin’s writing,—its strength, in the exhaustive way in which he tears to pieces his opponent’s
arguments, and the clearness with which he exposes the fallacies of their reasoning; its weakness,
in the persistency with which he pursues a point long after its discussion might fairly have been
closed, as though he hardly knew when he had gained the victory; and his tendency to claim, by
right of his position, a vantage-ground which did not in reality belong to him till the superiority of
his cause was proved.
J. R. King
Oxford, March, 1870.

407

THE

SEVEN BOOKS OF AUGUSTIN,

1144

The other works bearing on this controversy are mentioned in the exhaustive volume of Ferd. Ribbeck, Donatus und
Augustinus (Elberfeld, 1858).—Ed.

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