Saturday, 7 February 2015

David Wilhite: Paper: Were the ‘Donatists’ a National or Social Movement in Disguise?Workship: 'Out of Africa': The Quest for North African Theological Identity(/-ies) in the Patristic Era

AHM Jones in his 1959 article, ‘Were the Ancient Heresies National or Social Movements in Disguise?’, framed the question in such a way that the answer was obviously negative, especially for the Donatists. More recent approaches, however, while still rightly dismissing any ‘nationalist’ notions, nevertheless have nuanced the false dichotomy of religious/sacred and political/secular motivations. Without resorting to a reductionistic explanation, and even without claiming Donatist univocality, scholars can return to the question of the social identity sometimes invoked by the pars Donati (cf. Modéran 2003). B. Shaw, who once insisted on the label “African” for this group, has more recently revised the category to speak of a ‘dissident’ church.  His revision, however, may be premature: it is Augustine’s party, not the so-called Donatists, who ceaselessly chant, Quomodo Roma! Sic et Kartago! (serm. 24). Instead, ‘the Africans’ (Arles 314, canon 9), that is, the Donatists, whom Augustine sometimes describes as ‘Punic’ (ep. 108), could explicitly claim an African identity. Whereas Frend’s  attempt to demonstrate a more indigenous identity through quantitative analysis of prosopographical records – an approach shown to have flaws, I propose a rhetorical analysis of the social identities (cf. Rebillard 2012) sometimes evident among the so-called Donatists. The broad array of said identities even include ‘Punic’ and ‘African.’ These regional/social identities can inform our understanding of ‘Donatist’ theology, especially in terms of ecclesiology: while the ‘Donatists’ were not social movements in disguise, they did articulate their doctrine of the church from within their regional identity as Africans.

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