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Title page for ETD etd-11232015-215043

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Daugherty, Bradley John
URN etd-11232015-215043
Title The Bishops Of North Africa: Rethinking Practice And Belief In Late Antiquity
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Robin M. Jensen Committee Chair
David G. Hunter Committee Member
David Michelson Committee Member
J. Patout Burns Committee Member
Paul J. DeHart Committee Member
  • Patristics
  • Church History
  • History
  • Sacrament
  • Ecclesiology
  • Archaeology
  • Cult
Date of Defense 2015-06-30
Availability unrestricted
The long-running schism of African Christianity in Late Antiquity and the polemical literature between Donatists and Caecilianists that it produced placed the understanding of bishops and their ministry among the issues at the forefront of the division. Nowhere is this more evident than in the writings of Augustine, who repeatedly and insistently detailed what he perceived to be the theological differences between the two communions. Scholars have long taken this as evidence of genuine differences between the two communions’ notions of the ministry of their bishops.

Investigation of the practices of Caecilianist Christians other than Augustine, however, reveals that their understanding of the bishops and their ministry was remarkably like that of their Donatist rivals. Both continued to be fundamentally shaped by the theory of episcopal ministry articulated by Cyprian of Carthage in the middle of the third century, a theory that emphasized the distinct sanctity and spiritual powers of the bishops over against those of other Christians. Examinations of the rationale for exempting clergy from penance offered by Optatus of Milevis, the reform agenda of the Caecilianist bishops at the Council of Carthage of 390, and the burial and commemoration of bishops at a series of sites across Africa all indicate that Caecilianist Christians continued to look upon their bishops as uniquely holy and bearers of distinct spiritual powers. This was in contrast to the teaching of Augustine, whose theory of episcopal ministry held that the church held such powers in common as the body of Christ and that bishops possessed no distinct sanctity or spiritual powers on the basis of their office.

By investigating the practices of Caecilianist Christians and situating them explicitly within the North African theological tradition, this dissertation demonstrates that the traditional African theological understanding of the bishop articulated by Cyprian and commonly associated with the Donatist communion continued to be the operative theology for Caecilianist Christians as well, despite Augustine’s reinterpretation of the ministry of the bishop.

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