PHILADELPHIA SEMINAR ON CHRISTIAN ORIGINS
Volume 12 (1974-75)
Early Christianity in North Africa
Samuel Laeuchli, North Africa Then and Now
David Efroymson, Jews and Judaism in Tertullian’s Apologetic
Baruch Kanael, Ancient Jewish Art in North Africa and Its Religious Significance
Lydia M. Agnew, The Question of Rebaptism in North Africa
Topic for 1974-75: Early Christianity in North Africa
Meeting of September 24, 1974, 7 pm, Houston Hall, University of Pennsylvania.
The initial session of the 1974-75 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Samuel Laeuchli. Robert A. Kraft read a memorial minute on the life of Robert F. Evans. After initial plans were laid for the rest of the Seminar year, the Seminar heard an illustrated presentation by Samuel Laeuchli of Temple University.
North Africa Then and Now
A seminar in North Africa during the 1969-70 academic year provided an opportunity to see the history and culture of that area in a new light, raising new questions. It became more obvious than ever that we must look at history in terms of analogy in order to comprehend it. Modern North Africa provides many points of analogy with the same area in the early Christian era.
1) Modern Tunisia appears to contain three levels of culture. Two of these are somewhat amalgamated - the French and the Arabic -- and the third, the Berber, remains distinct as it has over the Centuries. All three cultures intersect at certain points, while in many areas two can be seen together. Such an interplay and juxtaposition of cultures leads to a feeling of multiple identity which is reflected in the thoughts and actions of the people. The early Christian North African world was also an amalgamation of cultures. Only the monuments remain of a primitive, stone age people who were perhaps the beginnings of the Berber world. On them was superimposed a Punic culture, reflected in the remains of its funeral art. Then came the Romans, with their homes, temples, theaters, mosaics -- oriented toward the other side of the Mediterranean, but still identified with Africa itself. Augustine was part of this dual culture, and we can wonder whether he considered himself primarily a Roman or a North African.
2) The same amalgamation of cultures which can be seen in buildings and customs is also found linguistically. The present-day mixture of Arabic- French, Arabic-Italian, and Berber is very much like the ancient mixtures of Berber, Punic, and Latin. The linguistic pluralism would seem to indicate that it is indeed possible to live fully in two cultures at once, although not necessarily with equal enthusiasm. Augustine was probably not bilingual; his confusion of Berber and Punic would seem to indicate he knew only Latin.
3) Religiously, there is also a superimposition of traditions. It is possible to trace a direct line from Baal worship to the God of Augustine. At the base is the Punic religion, perhaps even involving human sacrifice. Placed on this is the Roman religion, often exchanging deities with the Punic, but without any great temples. Then came the Imperial cult, with its temples right downtown in the cities to show Imperial control; the mysteries in all sorts of mixtures, including Isis and Mithra; and finally Christianity. As the final level before Islam, Christianity with few exceptions has left poor evidence of its existence.
4) In all of its levels and multi-levels, we must not forget the vibrancy and vitality of North African art. The creativity evidenced there shows that something significant was happening in this amalgam of cultures. Even Muslim art, while professing to despise Christian civilization, has its late Roman traces.
The discussion following the presentation began with a consideration of Augustine and his world. It was suggested that perhaps the analysis of Peter Brown, who sees Augustine largely as a participant in the collapse of classic culture, is somewhat overstated. Augustine was simultaneously a classic man, using Roman arguments and sharing a Roman heritage, and also an anti-Roman, involved in the collapse of Rome. These are not mutually exclusive. The Roman sentiment could be evidenced in terms of rhetoric and heritage, and the anti-Roman in terms of political orientation. Augustine looked to the land across the sea for one identity, and across the mountains for the other.
Layers of culture and amalgamations of culture are not always easily recognizable. Although both the Punic and the Roman arrivals were in the form of physical, ethnic movements, after a while the layers and loyalties existed more in the minds of the people than in externals. This may account for the seeming dearth of Christian symbols remaining. For one thing, Christianity tended to baptize local symbols, making them hard to distinguish as definitely Christian. Also, some Christian architecture with its symbolism was destroyed in the violent changeover to Islam. However, there may not have been a whole lot to destroy. It should be noted that the Arabs, while destroying whole cities, often did not bother to tear up floors; there have been few Christian mosaic floors found, even in Donatist territory. It is not unlikely that the remnants of the Christian tradition are few because of an earlier cultural weakness even before the Arabs arrived. The amalgam of cultures was coming apart in the 4th century, and the Christians often fought among themselves in an orgy of self-destruction. The Arabs had only to mop up after the battle.
An understanding of simultaneous, competing civilizations might help to shed light on the Donatist controversies. There appears to be evidence that the Donatists were of Berber background and the moderate Christians of Roman orientation, so that the more violent aspects of the controversy were the expression of earlier ethnic loyalties which surfaced when the combination of cultures began to break down.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1974-75: Early Christianity in North Africa
Meeting of November 19, 1974, 7 pm, Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania.
The second session of the 1974-75 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Samuel Laeuchli. After initial introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard a presentation by David Efroymson of LaSalle ColIege.
Jews and Judaism in Tertullian’s Apologetic
Although it may seem obvious that Tertullian tended toward an anti-Jewish attitude, the extent of his bias, upon close inspection, is rather surprising. In some 80 passages in 19 of his 31 treatises, containing 130 different references to the Jews, Tertullian accuses the Jews of evil or wrongdoing in an amazing variety of ways, and against a multitude of victims. Many of the ideas are Biblical ones, but Tertullian is not content to contain himself to the Biblical context. He accuses contemporary Jews of the same crimes, mixing past with present, in a wide range and variety of accusations. Following is a list of Tertullian’s accusations of Jewish wrongdoing, along with the number of citations:
A. Against Jesus and the prophets:
1. Rejecting/killing Jesus (20);
2. Rejecting/killing the prophets (6).
B. Against Christians:
3. Persecution of disciples/Christians (5);
4. Lies, calumnies against Christians (4);
5. Arguing against Christians on a Biblical point (3);
6. Envy, jealousy against Christians or gentiles (4);
7. Pride (esp. national ethnic) (3).
C. Against God:
8. Idolatry (5);
9. Forgetfulness of God (4);
10. Lack of faith or hope, blindness (12);
11. Impatience (3);
12. Mocking God’s patience (1);
13. Ingratitude (1);
14. Senselessness (2);
15. Hardness, stiffneckedness (3);
16. General disobedience, iniquity, sinfulness (7).
D. Vetustas, the quality of being ancient and by-passed and not knowing it;
17. Worldly, carnal (e.g. gluttony) (8);
18. Empty ritual (9);
19. Vetustas itself (18);
20. Sterility (1);
21. Unreadiness, unworthiness (6).
E. Miscellaneous wrongdoings:
22. Hypocrisy (2);
23. Poison for the Marcionites’ use (3).
A preliminary inquiry into the reason for such accusations by Tertullian would perhaps lead to two answers: Tactically, Tertullian is attempting to explain why Christianity has succeeded Judaism in the plan of God, and at the same time defending the Christian use of the Hebrew Bible in the face of Marcion’s objections. Theologically, Tertullian is attempting to explain the seeming inconsistencies of God in permitting the Jews certain practices now forbidden to or declined by Christians; e.g. sacrifice, dietary laws.
Tertullian, in his polemical, theatrical way, adopts a technique of guilt by association. In his specific arguments, he assumes that it is bad to be Jewish, and apparently his opponent in the argument makes the same assumption. If Tertullian can convince his opponent that a certain practice or attitude is “Jewish,” then the opponent must admit his error. This negative, rhetorical use of anti-Judaism gives us a picture of a God, a Christ, a Church, and even a Law which is very much anti-Jewish: Christ permits and even authorizes such antagonism; God really does not like the Jews much at all. The Church of Tertullian was a gentile Church.
Tertulian does not argue against Jews, but he uses his guilt by association techniques against Marcionites and Gnostics, against fellow Christians and “Catholics” (Psychici), and even against pagans. He uses anti-Jewish assumptions to argue on at least 18 different points:
a. For Christianity and against persecution and calumnies. He suggests to pagans that it is Jewish to lie and persecute (Nat. 1.14.1-2; Apol. 7.3; 21.25).
b. For Christian decency and against attendance at shows. He cannot find a real text, but uses Ps 1.1 as the rabbis did, as a warning against entering the gatherings of the wicked. Tertullian assumes that the primary meaning of the passage concerns the Jews agreeing to plot the death of Jesus (Spect. 8)
c. For Christian simplicity in dress and readiness for martyrdom, and against luxury. He speaks of the gold which led the Jews astray and of Jewish idolatry (Cult. fem. II).
d. For caution in ordination, and against idolatry and the ordination of former idol makers. Even the Jews laid hands on Jesus only once, but the former idol makers mangle him daily, and are thus worse than Jews (Idol. 7.3).
e. For simplicity in dress (and in support of the book of Enoch, which reinforces the position) and against the rejection of Enoch. The Jews rejected Enoch because there is reference to Christ in it; to reject Tertullian for the same reason is as bad as the Jews (Cult. fem, I).
f. For Christian simplicity and against Valentinian elitism (Val.).
g. For patience and against impatience. Examples of patience are God’s patience with the sinful Jews, and Jesus’ patience with his contemporary Jews (Pat. 2-3).
h. For authentic Christian prayer and ritual and against empty ritual. Christians lift their hands in prayer; Jews do not because they have the blood of Jesus on their hands (Or. 14; Bapt.).
i. For the necessity of baptism and against “bare faith” (Bapt.).
j. For interior morality, and against “externalism” (Paen.).
k. For faith in the resurrection and against lack of faith or despair (Res.).
l. For an authentic Christology and against monarchianism. The Jews are the worst example of monarchianism; it would be Jewish to be monarchian. The Christian way, on the other hand, is Tertullian’s way (Prax. 31).
m. For the veiling of virgins, and against the contrary position. The Jews do it; we cannot be less strict (Virg.).
n. For chastity and monagamy and against second marriages. Laxity on this position may have been given the Jews, on account of their sinful ways, but this is a new era and more is expected (Ux.; Exh. Cast.; Mon.).
o. For moral rigor and against pardon of adultery. It was alright for God to forgive David since adultery was all God could expect of a Jew -- Now the demands are higher (Pud.).
p. For an accurate reading of scripture (e.g. Isa 7), and against (and Jewish) reading (Marc.).
q. For Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, belonging to the Creator, who had already come; and against the idea of a “sudden,” unexpected Christ (Marc.).
r. For the observance of certain liturgical stations and fasts, and against their exclusion. In this case, Tertullian himself has been accused of being Jewish. He fights back by citing fasts as an antidote to Jewish gluttony, and insisting that the Christian rituals were the new way, and not Jewish at all (Jejun. 14).
Tertullian appears to have defined his whole theological system as over against the Jews. His God is anti-Jewish, and Jewish wrongdoing is used to illustrate negatively the attributes of God. God demands more of Christians than of Jews, since Christians have more potential for good. The anti-Jewish “accounts” or “story lines” of Jud., Apol., and Marc. would seem to indicate that Tertullian’s God really did not like the Jews, and spent most of his time getting rid of them in order to be God of the Christians as well.
Tertullian’s Christology is also anti-Jewish, and sees Jesus as the end of the Jews. His Christ is more than human, in contrast to a Jewish faith which is less than adequate. Jesus’ life and death is presented in conflict with the Jews, citing many events and occasions. Jesus’ ethical teaching is presented in contrast to Judaism; not that Jesus was against Jews as persons, but against Judaism as an institution. For Tertullian, Christ becomes the very symbol and agent of the demise of Judaism and the superiority of Christianity.
Tertulllan’s church was gentile, spiritual, and “new,” in contrast to the “old” of the Jews. Even in terms of the ethical Law, Christianity is superior since Christians are expected to do more or better than the Law.
The attitude toward Jews and Judaism which so clearly pervades Tertullian’s thoughts, especially in arguments which have nothing to do with Judaism, suggests the creation of a Christian identity defined over against Jews and Judaism. However, although Judaism existed in Carthage, Tertullian appears to know very little about Jews personally except that they are the opposite of Christianity. He has defined an “enemy” in order to define the Church. Although not to the same extent, this illusion of an enemy persisted in the writings of Origen about the Bible, Eusebius and his history, Athanasius and the “Jewish” Arians, and Augustine and the “Jewish” Pelagians.
The discussion following the presentation began by attempting to determine the context of Tertullian’s anti-Judaism. It was suggested that the Christian community in Carthage, while not then in the process of being formed, was at least undergoing some new organizing dimension in which it needed the self-confidence fostered by the idea of an “enemy.” It could also have been undergoing a “paranoid” phase, needing an oppressor, but this seems less likely. Tertullian was aware that the pagan world tended to see Christians and Jews as a single unit, without significant distinctions, and may have been reacting against this.
The anti-Jewish attitude could have been a private thing with Tertullian, but there are no clues as to why this should be. There are a number of hints that he did not know any Jews personally, but has created an enemy out of the Bible and other sources available to him. His references are primarily to the Jews of the Hebrew Bible, then to the Jews of Jesus’ day, to the Jews who opposed the disciples, and finally to all Jews all the time. Even his Adv. Jud. is not directed directly against Jews themselves, but against those who would proselyte Judaism.
It was suggested that perhaps the Jews were collaborating with the Romans in persecution of Christians. In that era, such collaborations were possible, since Jews were loyal to the emperor and Christians were not. However, there is no evidence at all of such collusion. Any suggestions by Tertullian of such a plot probably refer to the book of Acts, and not to contemporary Carthage.
Cyprian, the spiritual successor of Tertullian, was not as anti-Jewish. In spite of his claims to follow Tertullian closely, he carefully avoids anti-Judaism in many areas where Tertullian deliberately brought it in. It was suggested that Tertullian, the theologian, needed “enemies” for the sake of his system, while Cyprian, the church politician and power broker, had sufficient real enemies, and did not need to invent any or to antagonize any substantial group.
Secretary’s note: A complete presentation of Dr. Efroymson’s argument may be found in his dissertation recently accepted at Temple University.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss Recording Secretary
Topic for 1974-75: Early Christianity in North Africa.
Meeting of March 18, 1975, 7 pm, Sharpless Hall, Haverford College.
The third session of the 1974-75 Seminar was convened by co-chairman David Efroymson After initial introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard an illustrated presentation by Baruch Kanael of Haverford College.
Ancient Jewish Art in North Africa and Its Religious Significance
The Jewish community in North Africa apparently began as a result of the Dispersion after the conquests of Alexander the Great. By the time of the writing of 2 Maccabees (by Jason of Cyrene), Jews were established enough to be trying to prove their good citizenship. A revolt by the Messianic sect of the Sicarii in Cyrene, however, would indicate that the Jewish community was active but not assimilated. Another revolt in 115-117 against Trajan, while damaging to the Jewish community, was not as destructive as the ancient sources would claim. In the late pagan period, and especially under the Vandals, Judaism flourished. The North African Jewish community was strong in the 5th century, the focus of our concern. Even under Justinian and Byzantine rule, there was little difficulty, since the extant anti-Jewish legislation was seldom enforced. Judaism flourished under the Muslims, and has diminished in later centuries only because of emigration to other areas.
It was at one time thought that the symbolism of ancient Jewish art was copied from late Roman art in an attempt to please the Roman masters. In more recent years, however, this has been seen as an oversimplification. E. L. Sukenic looked for a relationship between art and the literary sources of the period, and found many connections. E. R. Goodenough looked at such symbolism from a wider background, and saw the need to correlate with Christian and pagan material as well, utilizing psychology, sociology, and other disciplines. His volumes are standard in the field although in need of revision in terms of chronology and other factors. He may also have a tendency to see mystical significance where it was not intended, at least consciously.
In the early part of the Common Era, when the high places had been destroyed and the Temple worship was still being carried on, congregations seemed to have worshiped in houses and other adapted buildings. The earliest extant synagogue art is that from Capernaum of the early 3d century. There, the doors of the building faced Jerusalem, the Torah shrine apparently had no fixed place, and the decoration was mainly in reliefs on the wall, perhaps supplemented by paintings. By 250 C.E., as seen in the example at Dura Europus, there were paintings on the walls, as well as architectural decorations of rosettes and pomegranates. There were rooms around the meeting hall for the school, the kitchen, the bakery, etc., like a modern community center. The prime symbol of Maccabean and Talmudic Judaism is the menorah, the 7-branched candlestick, used in the early period with a solid octagonal base. This symbol of Jewish independence was replaced by the star of David only in later years.
A Byzantine synagogue of the early 6th century at Beth Alpha near Haifa has in it a mosaic floor consisting of three panels. The center is a Zodiac design, the side panels show the sacrifice of Isaac and a Torah shrine. Christianity rejected the Zodiac as appropriate symbolism, but Judaism accepted and used it, often in floors. By this time, in the Christian church, there were ordinances forbidding primary religious symbolism on the floors, where they would be desecrated by the feet of the faithful. The important Christian symbols were put where no feet went: if on the floor, in the chancel or by the altar, and mostly on the walls, ceilings, and cupolas. As time went on, there were many symbols common to both Christianity and Judaism, partly because of their common heritage, and partly for technical and artistic reasons. In this late pagan period, Judaism was favored in many places, and its art became almost pagan, without any in-depth association with truly pagan symbols. From the church, the synagogue adopted a screen between the Torah shrine and the public. The 7-branched candlestick is now seen on 3 legs, since the solid base was by now associated with the Samaritans.
At Maon in southern Palestine, the mosaic floor has many symbols, including a menorah as the chief sign of Judaism, a horn for the New Year festival, a citron for Tabernacles, and an incense stand for the Day of Atonement. Much of the other symbolism does not appear to be Jewish at all, but is quite similar to that of a nearby church, including the use of a peacock and a bird in a cage. It would seem that perhaps the floors were done by the same mosaic shop, and rather than indicating a mystical Jewish faith, the symbols were chosen by well-off, liberal Jewish worshipers sharing what is common to both faiths. The main intent of Jewish symbolism, in contrast to Christian, was not to show eternal life, but life as it is. At least as far as floors are concerned, the symbolism shows little doctrine at all. There are other instances of mosaics symbolizing the three main Jewish festivals, using a palm branch instead of a citron for Tabernacles, and a rather stylized incense shovel for the Day of Atonement. In fact, it can be seen that some Jews of this period had quite forgotten what the incense shovel was supposed to look like. In the mountains of Galilee, close to the center and source of Judaism, symbolism remained rather fundamentalist, speaking of the election of Israel, using the Zodiac, but strictly avoiding any symbols which might be interpreted as Christian.
One of the most significant synagogue mosaic floors in North Africa is that from Hamman Lif, not far from Tunis, dating from the latter part of the 5th century. This floor is only partly extant now, but was pictured by its early discoverers, so that much of it can be reconstructed. Its many symbols, some of them stylized Jewish religious ones, some seemingly right out of the mosaic maker’s pattern book, seem to show a hope for God’s guidance in this life, and not so much eternal life. The inscription, “sancta synagogue . . . pro salutem suam,” would seem to speak of blessing rather than redemption. The congregation apparently was made up of middle class, wealthy people, pious but not learned, not terribly fanatic, and simply concerned with continuing the tradition of their ancestors. They were willing to use the same mosaic ideas that churches used - the sea star, the fish, the fountain and peacock, the lion, the flower, the basket of fruit, the duck. The deeper meaning of some of these: the messianic lion, the peacock of eternal life, the fish as Leviathan, would seem to be of small importance. It has been suggested that a key to the interpretation of symbolism should be where the symbol is found. In a tomb, it speaks of eternal life; in a house, of daily life, and in a house of worship, of the belief and hopes of the congregation. A synagogue floor, however, following the Christian practice of utilizing only secondary symbolism, may not be as helpful for understanding beliefs and hopes as some might think.
The Seminar was greatly interested in this challenge to a maximalist interpretation of religious symbolism, and concentrated on this aspect of the presentation in the discussion. It appears that Goodenough, in looking for the deeper meaning in symbolism, may have overstated his case. In places like Hamman Lif, the procedures of the market place (the mosaic shop around the corner) and the theological - sociological background of the congregation (liberal, middle class, pious but not learned) seem to have determined a situation in which beauty came before meaning, particularly on the floors. It does not seem necessary to assume that such Jewish congregations were either mystical and synergistic in their outlook, or else stupid to use symbols without meaning. Another alternative could be that the congregation was borrowing symbols without fully realizing their meaning to some other religious groups. If the North African Jews were mystical in their outlook, it seems strange that the only evidence of this is in their mosaic floors. The duplication of mosaic motifs in various and varied places seems to indicate that there were pattern books used by mosaic artists, adapted for secular or religious use, Christian or Jewish. There are extant duplicate floors from extremely disparate buildings in North Africa. It was questioned whether the very use of pictures in the floor or walls of a synagogue was not in violation of the commandment against graven images. In answer, it was pointed out that the commandment is not against art, but against idolatry. During the Hellenistic period, this was interpreted quite strictly in order to fence off Judaism. By the 3d century, when the danger from paganism was over, pictorial representations came into use in the Synagogues, although, of course, deliberately avoiding strikingly Christian symbols. In the case of mosaic floors, similar patterns are often changed only by substituting the menorah for the cross. Where Christian and Jewish ideas were similar, similar symbols could be used with no difficulty. In Galilee, where the controversy over images remained alive, more thought was given to the pictures used. In a sense, Galilean Judaism became artistically normative. North African Judaism allowed some traditional representations, such as the incense shovel, to degenerate into almost unrecognizable forms. Also, in the artistic field, the Christian church typically led the way and the synagogue was derivative. Of course, the source of Christian art is contemporary Roman art, so that the religious and the secular are difficult to untangle.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1974-75: Early Christianity in North Africa.
Meeting of May 13, 1975, 7 pm, Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania.
The final session of the 1974-75 Seminar was convened by co-chairman David Efroymson. After customary announcements and introductions, the Seminar heard a presentation by Lydia M. Agnew, 1975 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, and student of Patrick Henry of Swarthmore College.
The Question of Rebaptism in North Africa
Lydia M. Agnew
The Novatianist schism in the mid 3d century and the Donatist schism in the beginning of the 4th both arose out of differences on how to treat apostates. Many of those who had gone to prison in time of persecution claimed for themselves particular purity and merit, and formed a schismatic church which refused to tolerate any who had sacrificed to the gods of the empire. Both the Novatianists and the Donatists insisted on rebaptizing those who came to them, claiming that catholic baptism was invalid because it was administered by priests of an impure church. Cyprian of Carthage, leader of the catholics in North Africa, insisted on rebaptizing those who had been baptized by the Novatianists. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in the late 4th Century, argued eloquently against the Donatists, and also against those catholics who insisted on rebaptizing returned schismatics. The differences between Cyprian and Augustine on the question of rebaptism arise out of their differing views on the nature of the church, and also on the changed situation during the intervening years.
The emperor Decius, upon coming to power in 249, was anxious to have a sign of allegiance from his subjects, and so decreed that all free persons should sacrifice to the gods of the empire. Many Christians felt this as no more than an expression of patriotism, and were surprised both by the strict administration of the emperor’s edict and by the reaction of many faithful Christians to it. Some Christians, refusing to submit to the edict, either went into hiding or, in an eagerness for martyrdom, chose prison or death. In the midst of this reign of terror, the Confessors (who had refused to sacrifice) became wildly popular among Christians, were honored as exceptionally holy by their suffering, and were thought by some to attain the status of priests without needing ordination. Confessors claimed the power to grant peace (restoration) to the lapsi, a power which Cyprian viewed as a usurpation of the rights of ordained ministers. Cyprian commended the Confessors for their constancy, but reminded them that their triumph was no individual glory, but the triumph of the church and its bishop in authority.
In De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate (251), Cyprian argues that those baptized outside the church must seek baptism when they enter it. He also stresses the authority of the bishop in his see, and his responsibility to and for the whole church. The church is a unity, and any who claim to be too holy to remain with the general run of Christians who are within the church, thus cease to be Christians by their leaving the church. The church cannot exist in a divided state, and no one can be a Christian outside of it. A schismatic baptism is not a remission, but an increasing of sin, and is of no value to Christians. Letter 57 sets forth the conditions for readmitting the lapsi, including some penance, but making such a return relatively easy. While this may have been an attempt by Cyprian to reconcile with the Confessors who had given a general pardon on their own authority, it tended to anger those who had left the church because it had already been too lax in its treatment of the lapsi. These rigorist Confessors, and some of the laxer Confessors who were angry with Cyprian for refusing to honor their right to grant pardon, allied themselves with a certain Novatus who had other quarrels with the bishop. Novatus, in Rome, allied himself with the heretic Novatian, and established a rival church at Carthage, whose members claimed to be the true church by virtue of their purity and holiness. For a brief period, the Novatianists gained many Converts. As circumstances changed, many sought readmission to the catholic church. Some of these had been baptized by the Novatianists, and these became the core of the problem.
The question of rebaptism became a grave one by 255. Cyprian was convinced that the Novatianists, by denying the unity of the church, were heretics. In his writings, he cannot bring himself to call their ritual baptism, but instead simply calls it washing. To Cyprian, heretics have no legal right to baptize, because they are outside of the one true church, nor do they have the power given to the apostles and their successors. Novatian, as a rival bishop of Rome and not a successor, is not even a true bishop, as his church is no church. Only baptism which imparts the Holy Spirit is valid, and the Holy Spirit is only in the true church. Cyprian even argues against Stephen, bishop of Rome, who admitted the validity of heretical baptism, but only after the heretic had been admitted to the church by the laying on of hands. There can be no division of baptism and the laying on of hands. If the baptism of the Novatianists were valid, it would have conferred the Holy Spirit, and there is no need for this to be repeated by the laying on of hands.
The bishop of Carthage, primarily interested in preserving unity in the church, is not willing to have this unity at the expense of what he believes to be the essential nature of the church. His opinion on rebaptism continues in a tradition which extends at least as far back as Tertullian, and is limited to the North African Church’s understanding of itself. From Cyprian to Augustine, however, the attitude changed.
The origins of the Donatist and Novationist schisms are strikingly similar. In 303, the emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christian writings should be confiscated, and the next year that everyone in the empire should offer incense to him as a god. The church had been growing and spreading in peace since the end of the Valerian persecution, and was beginning to appeal to people of all classes and backgrounds. Many church leaders were willing to comply with the edict, so as not to jeopardize the church’s new position and stability. While the bishops were advising their flocks not to provoke the authorities, some Christians were actively seeking martyrdom. Again, Confessors became popular heroes. W. H. C. Frend, in The Donatist Church, claims that the division between those eager for martyrdom and others was basically that of race and class, and that Donatism was essentially an anti-Roman movement of the poor. This is a generalization which tends to overlook many factors, including the real religious beliefs involved, and the presence of educated and articulate advocates of the schismatic position. (See the refutation of Frend by Peter Brown.)
In 311, a group of 80 bishops in Numidia condemned Caecilian of Carthage as a traditor, declared his ordination invalid, and appointed their own bishop, who was succeeded in 313 by Donatus. Like the Novatian schism before it, this division involved the nature of the church. The emperor Constantine supported Caecilian as rightful bishop, but Julian the Apostate, eager to sow dissension, supported the Donatists. By the time that Augustine came to Africa and became a bishop, the Donatists were in the majority, particularly in the province of Numidia, where Hippo was.
Augustine deals with the problem of rebaptism in a number of letters, sermons, treatises, and even popular songs. He is willing to accept the baptism of the Donatists, and in De Baptismo Contra Donatistas attempts to counter his opponents’ use of Cyprian in their own defense. Augustine tries to show that baptism may be given in schism, but is not fully baptism outside of the true church. Heretical baptism is not a good thing, but within the church it becomes good. A baptism becomes efficacious only when the individual comes into the true church; only then is there experienced the grace which comes through baptism. Augustine defends Cyprian, not on his views of rebaptism, but on his strong sense of the unity of the church. On baptism, he was mistaken, but should be excused for his misplaced ardor. The heretics, on the other hand, are misusing Cyprian by claiming him when they deny the unity for which he fought.
Augustine views baptism, and the acceptance of heretical baptism, as the key to the unity of the church. For political reasons, he may feel that the Donatists might be absorbed more easily into the church if they do not have to be baptized again. Theologically, he feels that all within the church or outside it come from the church’s womb, and she is still their mother, even if they rebel against her. Baptism may be insincerely received, and may be given by heretical priests, but it becomes a means to salvation when the person who receives it comes in faith to the one true church.
Cyprian lived in a time when the church, threatened by schism, was a minority within the empire and very conscious of being different from the rest of the empire. Cyprian saw no salvation outside of the true church, and to concede the validity of heretical baptism was to open up that true church to the impure and the unholy. Augustine, on the other hand, lived in a time when Christianity was the legal religion of the empire. He saw the church as embracing all within itself, and not threatened by the acceptance of heretical baptism. All that the heretically baptized Christian need to do is to come to the true church and recognize it as the only place where his baptism and life may be all that they can be.
The discussion following the presentation dwelt largely on various aspects of the power struggles described, concerning the power of the bishop and of various bishops. Frend’s analysis of the controversies as class/language struggles, while certainly correct as far as it goes, is hardly the whole picture. Both catholics and schismatics used Latin well, and both pointed up real religious issues which could transcend social factors. It is interesting to see catholics and schismatics set off against each other on some issues, and allied together against the emperor. Since the evidence we have of these struggles is from the winning side only, it is sometimes difficult to find the real issues, or even to determine the true extent of persecution and political interplay. The real issue here was not rebaptism, but the power of the bishop to pardon. Both issues can be traced back to Tertullian, but not in the same heightened state of argument.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary