The Donatists and the Limits of the Corrective Correspondence

Jennifer V. Ebbeler

in Disciplining Christians

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780195372564
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199932122 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity

The Donatists and the Limits of the Corrective Correspondence

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This chapter analyzes Augustine's epistolary tactics in his letters to Donatist clergy, laity, and even the Donatist bishop of Hippo. Despite his strong efforts, his addressees never reciprocated his letters. Eventually, Augustine resorted to intercepting old letters from the Donatist bishops Petilianus and Parmenianus to their own congregations and writing back to them as if he were the named addressee. Augustine also began to compose letters, not in an effort to conduct a corrective conversation but to avoid the spectacle of a public debate and to create a textual record of the conversation that could later be used as evidence against the Donatists. He also used letters to produce transcripts of meetings, particularly in cases where the Donatists refused to permit stenographers to record the discussion. Increasingly, he treated letters as quasi-legal documents rather than as a tool for facilitating a corrective colloquium in absentia. Augustine's letters could testify to his own diligent efforts to save his heretical brothers but also preserved a written record of Donatist error and atrocity that could be called as witnesses in any subsequent legal proceedings against the Donatists.

Keywords: Augustine; Donatist clergy; Donatist bishops; Petilianus; Parmenianus; letters

Chapter.  20258 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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