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Augustine, Donatists And Martyrdom

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Chapter Summary

When Augustine began his preaching career as bishop of Hippo in 395, he found himself in a rather unenviable position. The Donatists viewed themselves as the true heirs to pre-Constantinian Christianity and claimed to be the 'Church of the Martyrs'. He taught that the essence of martyrdom rested in bearing witness or testifying, and he ignored any notion that martyrdom included sacrifice. This redefinition gave Augustine three avenues by which to sever the Donatists' link to the martyrs. First, it provided the basis for an attack on the most extreme expressions of Donatist piety, which glorified voluntary martyrdom. Second, it allowed him to emphasize the cause of Christian martyrdom in order to question the Donatists' claim to represent the 'Church of the Martyrs'. And third, this redefinition allowed Augustine to offer the benefits of martyrdom to his own congregation even in times free from persecution.

Keywords: Augustine; Church of the Martyrs; Constantinian Christianity; Donatists; martyrdom

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