Sunday, 3 May 2015

Jane Merdinger: Defying Donatistism Subtly: Augustine's and Aurelius's Liturgical Canons at the Council of Hippo

My paper investigates Catholic councils of the North African Church during the 390s, when it was struggling against its formidable rival, Donatism.  I shall demonstrate that the delegates' concern over the Donatist Church's strength played a larger role in the formulation of canons during that decade than scholars have previously suspected.  I shall argue that despite Augustine's rudimentary grasp of Donatist theology ca. 391-395, he recognized the significant threat posed by the dissident church and successfully maneuvered behind the scenes (together with Aurelius, primate of Carthage), crafting several canons that are not overtly anti-Donatist but in essence are directed against Donatist encroachment upon Catholic hearts and minds.
My paper will commence with a brief overview of the Council of 390, presided over by Genethlius, primate of Carthage.  Historians have dismissed Genethlius as ineffective against the Donatists, but I shall argue that several canons enacted in 390 paved the way for Augustine's and Aurelius's reforms.  I shall then examine canons from the Council of Hippo (393 CE), Augustine's and Aurelius's inaugural conclave that ushered in their ambitious programme to rejuvenate the Catholic Church in Africa.  Liturgical canons will receive special attention.  I believe that they provide clues to heterodox behavior by Donatists during their celebration of the Lord's Supper.  Though the council fathers targeted Arianism as well in 393, Donatist practices spurred them to promulgate canons forfending against questionable rites that might be adopted unwittingly by Catholic congregations.

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