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Upstanding Donatists: Symbolic communication

at the Conference of Carthage (411)

Thomas Graumann
University of Cambridge, Faculty of Divinity, West Road, UK-Cambridge CB 3 9 BS,
The Conference of Carthage in 411 CE played a decisive role in the his-
tory of the long-running controversy and schism between Catholics and
Donatists in Roman North Africa, helping signicantly to end the schism
after more than a century. The imperial Edict of Unity (Codex Theodo-
sianus 16,6,3 [Theodor Mommsen, ed., Codex Theodosianus: Theodosiani
libri XVI 1,2: Textus cum apparatu (Berlin, 1904) 881]) of 405 CE had
already made the legal standing of the Donatist church virtually untenable;
it used the category of heresy against Donatists, forbade their conventions
and threatened severe penalties in what amounted in effect to a prohibition
of their cult. Donatist support and communities were slowly being eroded
thereafter. As a consequence of the ensuing pressure on the Donatists and
the repeated lobbying of the imperial authorities by the Catholic bishops,
the imperially mandated conference nally brought about the debate which
Catholics had demanded for some time, and which Augustine in particular
hoped would confute the Donatist case and discredit them publicly.
Literature in the history of the Donatist controversy is abundant; for a survey of schol-
arship see S. Lancel and J. S. Alexander, Donatistae, Augustinus-Lexikon 2 (Basel,
1996-2002): 606-638; A. Schindler, Afrika I, TRE 1 (Berlin, 1977): 648-700, esp.
654-668. A recent useful survey of scholarship is provided by Arne Hogrefe, Umstrit-
tene Vergangenheit: Historische Argumente in der Auseinandersetzung Augustins mit den
Donatisten (Millennium-Studien zu Kultur und Geschichte des ersten Jahrtausends 24;
Berlin, 2009), 8-16. Of the many studies cf., for example, Serge Lancel, St. Augustine
(trans. A. Nevill; London, 2002 [French original: Paris, 1999]), 275-305, for the events
leading up to and including the conference esp. 287-300; William H. C. Frend, The
Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa (Oxford, 1952), on
the conference 275-289; Bernhard Kriegbaum, Kirche der Traditoren oder Kirche der
Mrtyrer: Die Vorgeschichte des Donatismus (Innsbrucker theologische Studien 16; Inns-
bruck, 1986); Ernst Ludwig Grasmck, Coercitio: Staat und Kirche im Donatistenstreit
(Bonner historische Forschungen 22; Bonn, 1964). See also the account by Charles Pitri,
Die Schwierigkeiten des neuen Systems im Westen: Der Donatistenstreit (363-420),
in Die Geschichte des Christentums 2: Das Entstehen der einen Christenheit (250-430)
(eds. idem and L. Pitri; Freiburg, 1996), 506-524, with a very unfavourable assessment
of the Donatist actores at the conference and their abilities at 519. Cf. further the studies
mentioned below, notes 2 and 4. Plans for public general debates were already proposed
ZAC, vol. 15, pp. 329-355 DOI 10.1515/ZAC.2011.17
Walter de Gruyter 2011
330 Thomas Graumann
Over the course of two days, the proceedings of the conference are
documented in extraordinary detail; on the third day the extant gesta
break off just as the debate nally turns to the disputed theological topics.
Since historians of theology and Augustinian scholars have mostly been
interested in these critical theological questions, their research has not
usually placed the acts of the conference at the centre of attention. This
is to a lesser extent also true for some more recent scholarly explorations
of the Donatist conceptions and self-image, especially of their exegesis
and use of the Bible.
Research into the political and socio-historical as-
pects of Donatism, on the other hand, has traditionally drawn on the
rich documentation of earlier events included in the acts and investigated
the legal problems posed by the meeting, but given comparatively lesser
prominence to the analysis of the proceedings. This paper will focus on
a dimension of the events that has not yet attracted detailed analysis: the
Donatist behaviour in the early, well documented stages of the meeting.
Along with their arguments and verbal interventions, their dramatic activi-
ties during these days have largely been dismissed ultimately following
what was already Augustines assessment as simply another attempt
to derail or at least delay the meeting and part of their futile efforts to
avoid an inevitable defeat.
Only recently has more particular attention
to the legal position and argumentation of the Donatists nuanced such
judgements of their case in general, without however observing speci-
cally the importance of their behaviour in expressing their position.
it is precisely Donatist behaviour, this paper argues, that can be identied
as the self-conscious representation of group identity and as a dramatic
enactment of the groups main purposes for the occasion. Their activities
can be described as embodied, symbolic communication. In this perspec-
tive the analysis hopes to contribute to the understanding of the event,
by the Catholic general councils of North Africa in 401 and 403; cf. Gesta conlatio-
nis Carthaginiensis 3,174,1-35 (CChr.SL 149A, 221-222 Lancel); Augustine, Breviculus
collationis cum Donatistis 3,6 (CChr.SL 149A, 275,51-276,35 Lancel). For the Edict
of Unitys origin in the legal altercations between Catholics and Donastist before the
conference and its effects on the controversy, see now Erika T. Hermanowicz, Possidius
of Calama: A Study in the North African Episcopate at the Time of Augustine (Oxford
Early Christian Studies; Oxford, 2008), 150-153, 117-119 and passim.
See Maureen A. Tilley, The Bible in Christian North Africa: The Donatist World (Min-
neapolis, 1997); and more specically for the conference, James S. Alexander, A Note
on the Interpretation of the Parable of the Threshing Floor at the Conference of Carthage
of A.D. 411, JThS 24 (1973): 512-519; idem, Aspects of the Donatist Scriptural In-
terpretation at the Conference of Carthage, Studia Patristica 15 (1984): 125-130.
Typically, Lancel, St. Augustine (see note 1), 298, mentions the scene only briey and
as part of the procedural wiliness of Petilianus and his colleagues. Frend, Donatist
Church (see note 1), 284, detects the determination to obstruct.
Maureen A. Tilley, Dilatory Donatists or Procrastinating Catholics: The Trial at the
Conference of Carthage, Church History 60/1 (1991): 7-19. Following on from this
revision, two recent studies include signicant chapters on the conference with which our
analysis will be in constant conversation: Hermanowicz, Possidius (see note 1), especially
188-220; Hogrefe, Umstrittene Vergangenheit (see note 1), especially 153-208.
Upstanding Donatists 331
and more generally to draw attention to behaviour and physical expres-
sion as signicant dimensions of the meetings of churchmen, which are,
unfortunately, only sparingly documented in the acts of most synods and
councils and have gone mostly unnoticed in scholarship.
In the wake of social and cultural anthropologist, historians and clas-
sicists have recently paid more attention again to behaviour and nonverbal
communication. For medievalists, the study of symbolic interaction and
political ritual has long been a major focus of research. From scholars of
antiquity, attempts at analysing such elements range from the study of non-
verbal interaction in Homeric Epos, to political symbolism and ritual in the
Roman Republic, to gestures accompanying oratorical performance, to the
interactions between actors and audiences in the courts of the early empire,
and not least to the ceremonial of the late Roman imperial court.
seems evident that attention to behaviour and symbolic communication
can add an important dimension to the description and interpretation of
social relations, especially as they come to shape various kinds of public
gatherings, and the roles and activities of, and the dynamics between dif-
ferent participants therein. Of the examples just mentioned, the institutions
of the Roman Republic, such as the senate and the contio, and the law
courts of the empire are particularly illuminating when such a perspective
is employed for the interpretation of gatherings of churchmen.
Yet apart from the occasional passing observation that adds enlivening
detail to historical accounts, no systematic attempts have been made as yet
to examine specically behaviour and non-verbal communication in the
context of church councils or synods. That certain ceremonial requirements
and expectations associated with court ritual would arise when an emperor
chose to visit or participate in conciliar gatherings will be apparent.
in less exceptional circumstances, without imperial presence, the activi-
Scholarship of non-verbal communication, and of gesture in particular forms a major eld
of research across several disciplines, which cannot be surveyed here. For an introductory
sample of attendant research interests, see: Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg, eds.,
A Cultural History of Gesture: From Antiquity to the Present Day (Cambridge, 1991);
Michael J. Braddick, ed., The Politics of Gesture: Historical Perspectives (Past and Pres-
ent, Supplement, N.S. 4, Oxford, 2009). The wide range of questions addressed from
this perspective in Classical Studies alone is evidenced by the articles in: Geoffrey W.
Bakewell, ed., Gestures: Essays in Ancient History, Literature, and Philosophy presented
to Alan L. Boegehold on the Occasion of his Retirement and his Seventy-Fifth Birthday
(Oxford, 2003); see also Alan L. Boegehold, When a Gesture was Expected: A Selection
of Examples from Archaic and Classical Greek Literature (Princeton, 1999). Cf. the
classic study Carl Sittl, Die Gebrden der Griechen und Rmer (Leipzig, 1890); Andreas
Alfldi, Die monarchische Reprsentation im rmischen Kaiserreiche (2nd ed.; Darmstadt,
1977). More recent studies relevant to our question are Gregory S. Aldrete, Gestures and
Acclamations in Ancient Rome (Ancient Society and History; Baltimore, 1999); Leanne
Bablitz, Actors and Audience in the Roman Courtroom (Routledge Monographs in
Classical Studies; London, 2007); Fred S. Naiden, Ancient Supplication (Oxford, 2006);
Anthony Corbeill, Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome (Princeton, 2004).
Cf., for example, Eusebiuss description of the entrance of Emperor Constantine at the
Council of Nicaea, Eusebius, Vita Constantini 3,10 (GCS 7, 81,12-17 Heikel).
332 Thomas Graumann
ties of bishops gathering in formal council session or less formal meet-
ing might entail elements of ritualised behaviour and even of theatrical
display, is equally likely but more difcult to observe and, where discernable
in the sources, to interpret. There is an obvious difculty for such a task
in that the relevant sources mention the behaviour of participants only
comparatively infrequently. Not surprisingly verbal protocols are for the
most part just that, records of the verbal exchanges rather than wholesome
descriptions of all dimensions of conciliar interaction. The protocols of the
Conference of Carthage, therefore, offer the rare opportunity to observe
the participants acting out as well as arguing their position.
The Conference of Carthage followed years of Catholic lobbying of the
court and of submerging the Donatists ever deeper in the mire or adminis-
trative regulation and legal altercation.
Finally, in response to yet another
Catholic petition (preces) presented by an embassy of bishops in Ravenna,
the Emperor Honorius ordered a debate (disputatio) to settle the matter
once and for all, and summoned specically the Donatist bishops to attend.

His rescript and subsequent ofcial mandates by his representative left
little doubt that he wanted to see the matter resolved by the refutation of
Donatist claims. The planned meeting was to identify them as a superstitio
so that heresy law could be applied and their churches could be handed
over to the Catholics.
The Donatist case was in effect prejudged and the
outcome of the meeting predetermined by Honoriuss rescript.
It is apparent from the Donatist interventions and behaviour on the oc-
casion that they were fully aware of their precarious position and realised
that they had no real prospect of emerging from the event anything other
than loser. Repeatedly they appear to be making statements for the record,
envisaging the publication of the gesta and addressing through them a
wider North-African audience and potentially a future more benevolent
administration rather than expecting much immediate effect with their
opponents or the chairman of the meeting.
There is a discernable inten-
For the legal and judicial activities of the Catholic episcopate in this period, see Her-
manowicz, Possidius (see note 1), esp. 97-131, 156-168.
See, esp. Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,4. The text of the Gesta will be quoted in
this paper from the edition by Serge Lancel, Gesta Conlationis Carthaginiensis anno 411
accedit Sancti Augustini breviculus conlationis cum Donatistis (CChr.SL 149A; Turnhout,
1974); line numbers from this edition are used, where necessary, to identify part quota-
tions from longer documents or interventions. The edition, with French translation, by
Serge Lancel, Actes de la Confrence de Carthage en 411 (4 vols.; SC 194 [Introduction
gnrale], 195 [Texte et traduction de la capitulation gnrale et des actes de la premire
sance], 224 [Texte et traduction des actes de la deuxime et de la troisime sance], 373
[Additamentum criticum, notices sur les siges et les toponymes, notes complmentaires
et index]; Paris, 1972-1991) will be compared where necessary, cf. especially vol. 1,
Lancels Introduction gnrale (SC 194; Paris, 1972).
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,4 (54-56 L.); esp. 55,30-31: [ut] habitis disputationi-
bus, superstitionem ratio manifesta confutet.
A particularly poignant statement of this kind is Petilianuss claim to have the name Cath-
olics ascribed to them in the acts; Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,91 (202 L.).
Upstanding Donatists 333
tion to have certain documents, facts and points of view recorded in the
acts with a view to their later use and re-examination. From a fairly early
stage in the acts we also nd Donatist interlocutors authenticating their
statements with a stereotypical formula that reserves the right of appeal
it reveals the same thinking. Even though Donatists veried their statements
recorded in the minutes only after proceedings came to a close so that
these reservations are made in the light of the unfavourable outcome of
the debates and with the benet of hindsight their appeals nevertheless
reect very well the tenor of their statements and their apparent frustra-
tion over the course of events, which are already tangible at a very early
stage of proceedings. It is important to realise that the Donatists had few
illusions about the true character and the expected outcome of the meet-
ing or their chances of a fair hearing. It is only against this background
that the wilfulness, determination and full symbolic resonance of their
behaviour can be appreciated.
In this atmosphere, a remarkable scene is played out on the rst day.
A close reading of it will illuminate the signicance of deliberate acting
and symbolic communication in such meetings.
The rst day of the conference was entirely taken up by discussions of
a preliminary character about the suitable format, the issues under consid-
eration and the rules of examination and argument. Much of it resembles
preliminary court hearings, where clarication about similar questions is
sought. The particular Donatist strategy in this part of the discussion was
to forestall any substantive enquiry and discussion, again similar to the
way in which preliminary court hearings would decide whether the case
was admissible at all and dene the remit and legal framework of any
subsequent substantive inquiry and adjudication.
The appeals-formula occurs from the very beginning of the debates of the third day of
the meeting; see Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,8 (182 L.): Adeodatus epicopus salua
apellatione recognoui. All others follow his example with occasional minor variation,
such as Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,89,31-32 (202 L.): . . . sine praeiudicio ap-
pellationis nostrae recognoui.
The main questions to be addressed in preliminary discussion are listed by Bishop Emeritus,
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,20,1-21 (71-72 L.) and subsequently discussed from
different angles for the remainder of the day. To him, answering these questions consti-
tutes reasons to dismiss any further negotiation of the case (praescriptio; cf., e.g., Gesta
conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,31 [74 L.]). For preliminary negotiations in court cases and
the potential reasons for a praescriptio, see Max Kaser, Das rmische Zivilprozessrecht
(part 3, vol. 4 of Rechtsgeschichte des Altertums; 2nd ed., revised by K. Hackl; Hand-
buch der Altertumswissenschaft 10,3,4; Mnchen, 1996), 582-586 and index s.v.; for the
conference, see Artur Steinwenter, Eine kirchliche Quelle des nachklassischen Zivilpro-
zesses, Acta Congressus Iuridici Internationalis: VII saeculo a decretalibus Gregorii IX
et XIV a codico Iustiniano promulgatis 2 (1935): (125-144) 136-141; and discussion of
individual praescriptiones in Lancel, Introduction gnrale (see note 8), 73-74, 74-78,
79-82. For the importance of legal expertise and practical courtroom experience of both
the Donatist and the Catholic spokesmen on the occasion and in general, see Caroline
Humfress, Orthodoxy and the Courts in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2007), 187-189.
334 Thomas Graumann
Both sides had been requested by imperial mandate to nominate seven
representatives to argue their respective cases, with a further group of
assistants allowed.
The Catholics presented themselves accordingly in
the designated venue on June 1, 411. The Donatists, however, entered the
chamber in full numbers, bringing 285 bishops. Clearly, they demonstrated
strength in numbers. Their intentions were further emphasised by their
demand that the Catholic delegates should also bring in all those they
claimed to represent, that is the signatories of their written mandate.
wanted to examine whether all signatories were present in Carthage and
were legitimate bishops, but most probably the demand also aimed at visibly
demonstrating the at least equal strength of the Donatists in North Africa.
As a result of their request, soon the two groups of bishops faced each other,
and a lengthy process ensued in which starting with the Catholics the
names of signatories were called out one by one. Those called identied
themselves, and their opposite number from the same town or area con-
rmed the identity of the one coming forward and often made a statement
as to whether there really existed a community of the competing Christian
group signicant enough to merit a bishop. There were occasional jibes and
some ill-tempered remarks, but ultimately, in this drawn-out procedure,
the Catholic bishops led out past the chairman,
while the Donatists, it
seems, stayed behind for the time being.
After this role call and parade
past the chairman, in itself remarkable and worthy of further examination,
the scene occurs to which our examination now turns.
the appointed chairman of the conference, invited the re-
maining representatives to take a seat.
However, the Donatists refused.
Details of the arrangements and organisation are stipulated in the chairmans edict, Gesta
conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,10,1-126 (58-62 L.); for the important question of delegates,
see esp. 1,10,14-15 (59 L.). Cf. the brief sketch of the circumstances and organisation in
Hogrefe, Umstrittene Vergangenheit (see note 1), 154-161, 164-166; Lancel, St. Augustine
(see note 1), 296-298.
Cf. the tortuous discussion of this point, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,59,1-89,13
(88-95 L.). The role call of signatories identies 285 Donatists and 286 Catholics; both sides
dispute some signatures and claim to represent signicant numbers of additional bishops,
absent for various reasons; cf. Lancel, Introduction gnrale (see note 8), 110-118.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,88,1-7 (94 L.). Bishop Adeodatus suggests that Catholics
and Donatists le out two by two, but there is no evidence that this proposal was acted
upon. Lancel, Introduction gnrale (see note 8), 81-82 (note 5), plausibly argues that
despite of the demand that bishops should leave, the Donatists remained and an uncertain
number of Catholics returned a fact the protocol does not mention and a reminder that
our chances to observe behaviour from the written record are very limited.
The equivalent role call of Donatist bishops happens after the interval in which Marcel-
linus invites the bishops to sit down.
For the chairman of the conference, the tribune and notary Flavius Marcellinus, see
John R. Martindale, ed., Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire 2: A.D. 395-527
(Cambridge, 1980), 711-712, s.v. Fl. Marcellinus; Andr Mandouze, Prosopographie
chrtienne du Bas-Empire 1: Prosopographie de lAfrique chrtienne (303-533) (Paris,
1982), 671-688, s.v. Flavius Marcellinus 2; cf. Lancel, Introduction gnrale (see note
8), 61-65.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,144, see following note.
Upstanding Donatists 335
By remaining standing I want to argue they draw attention to at
least three important contexts, bringing them in to play for any further
proceedings. They manage to enact physically elements of their legal posi-
tion, express their self-identity, and to demonstrate visibly their assessment
of the true nature of the event. This dense layering of signicance in a
simple act may be surprising and could potentially seem an implausible
over-reading of the sources. Yet, the programmatic importance of the
scene is conrmed by its almost exact repetition at the beginning of the
second meeting, two days later, on June 3, 411. Some variation on that
second occasion even expands on the meaning of the Donatist activity.
They are then able to draw attention to central concepts of their theology
and exegesis, too; standing becomes an appropriation of scripture. An
entire week after the rst confrontation, during the third session on June
8, the Catholics still felt the need to come back to the instance and its
implications when making their case. No doubt, all parties took note of
the Donatists behaviour as highly evocative and signicant; the Catholics
evidently understood the message conveyed, and so did the chairman.
Signicantly, it is this particular scene that Augustine also remembered in
a number of texts after the conference, sketching it out for his audiences
as a moment in which the Donatists acting revealed the essence of the
conict. The entire controversy as he understood it was compressed
into and represented by this dramatic episode.
When Marcellinus invited the bishops to sit down he claimed that
this invitation had been open all along
; presumably it was made at the
very start, but the protocol does not mention anything then. The matter
was only recorded at this juncture since an interesting verbal altercation
subsequently unfolded. Marcellinus justied his offer with due reverence
(reverentia) for the bishops. He further mentioned his discomfort with
being seated in the presence of many venerable men standing (mihi onero-
sum esse). He thus presented the matter chiey as one of courtesy and
acknowledgment of social position.
The Donatist bishop Petilianus
responded extremely courteously him-
self, thanking Marcellinus for this honourable offer, praising him as just,
respectful and benign and wishing him to be recompensed for his favours
by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet couched in courtesy and formality, Petil-
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,44 (126 L.): Marcellinus, uir clarissimus, tribunus et
notarius, dixit: Iamdudum me obtulisse sanctitati uestrae sat certum est ut, conpetenti
reuerentia, sedentes omnia tractaretis. Siquidem mihi onerosum esse non nescio tot
uenerabilibus uiris stantibus residere. Vnde, uel nunc multitudine sequestrata, sedere
Petilianus, Donatist bishop of Constantina. His activities on behalf of the Donatists during
the conference are summed up in Lancel, Introduction gnrale (see note 8), 221-238;
he is very much the main actor for their party on the rst day and plays a major part
on the following two days.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,145,2-8 (126 L.): Agimus gratias honoricentiae tuae,
uir nobilis, quod talis ac tanta est tua praestantia ut benemeritis uiris antiquissimisque
336 Thomas Graumann
ianus not only declined the invitation but in reality also offered a stinging
rebuke of the whole enterprise with potentially wide-ranging consequences
for the chairmans position.
To this end, Petilianus rst took up the chairmans remarks about the
reverence due to the Donatists. He elaborated on it and, importantly, subtly
re-dened the notion with Donatist concepts. Indeed, he conrmed, the
Donatists were due the reverence afforded to them by the chairman. It
was justied rst of all by the old age of Donatist bishops, on which, he
understood, the chairman didnt want to place an additional burden Mar-
cellinus had not mentioned such a reason for his offer. Petilianus further
claimed high merits for his group (benemeritis), which he described as
adorned with the palms gained under persecution. While age and merits
are conventional markers of social standing, the mentioning of persecution
puts a distinctive emphasis on what might otherwise seem a substantially
empty expression of politeness. His subsequent words allude ever more
frequently and openly to the idea and imagined situation of persecution.
Standing might indeed, he went on, test their physical strength, yet true
strength was not a matter of age or physical condition but was provided
by the Lord.
The claim is reminiscent of a stereotypical trait in martyro-
logical accounts: the strength demonstrated by the martyrs over and above
their physical conditions and resulting from divine assistance.
The repeated and increasingly open allusions to the context of mar-
tyrdom look back at the history of the Donatist church, which had been
subjected to repeated bursts of imperial repression and even military ac-
tion throughout the fourth century. In this, it conveys a central feature
in Donatist self-image as a church of the martyrs,
suffering persecution,
not persecuting as they claimed the Catholics did in collusion with
imperial authorities.
The basic constellation of facing persecution had
not changed for the Donatists and was expressed afresh in their standing
before an imperial magistrate just as the martyrs conventionally stood
sacerdotibus, et tot persecutionum palmis orentibus, hanc benignitatem praestare dign-
eris, ut grauissima senectus, quae ornata est annis et meritis suis, sedendo sese reciat, ne
stando diutius laborare uideatur, ne hic quoque labor oneret uires modicas senectutis. Cf.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,145,13-16 (126 L.): . . . tu honoricus, tu iustus, tu
reuerens, tu benignus hanc offeras gratiam quae tibi a domino remuneratore dignissimis
praemiis frequentissime referatur. . . . Frend, Donatist Church (see note 1), 283, attests
Petilianus more grace than usual.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,145,8-10 (126 L.): Sed quoniam uires dominus sub-
ministrat, ipsamque reuerendam senectutem facit esse fortiorem. . . .
Cf. Maureen A. Tilley, ed., Donatist Martyr Stories: The Church in Conict in Roman
North Africa (Translated Texts for Historians 24; Liverpool, 1996); Kriegbaum, Kirche
der Traditoren (see note 1), passim.
For this repeated claim, see only the opening sentence of the Donatist mandatum, presented
to Marcellinus on the third day of the conference, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,258
(243 L.): Flauio Marcellino, uiro clarissimo et spectabili tribuno et notario, Ianuarianus
et ceteri episcopi ueritatis catholicae, quae persecutionem patitur, non quae facit [my
Upstanding Donatists 337
before their judges. Claiming strength from the Lord as demonstrated in
their standing despite of old age and physical fragility conveyed the same
message of steadfastness that the Donatists had demonstrated in the face
of persecution for a century and was the mark of the martyrs; this time
they would not yield either.
Petilianus had one further trump card: the line of thought evoking the
scene of a martyr trial culminates in an open claim that Donatist behav-
iour imitates Christs during his trial: For in the same way Christ did not
refuse this [sc. to allow the sitting of the magistrate] when he considered it
appropriate to stand before the praeses.
The comparison is particularly
poignant. While the name of Pontius Pilate is not mentioned, the reference
to Christs trial was clear enough for all to understand and suggested in
Pilate a very uncomfortable role model for Marcellinus.
In the phrase just quoted, there is an interesting turn of focus towards
Marcellinuss position. After politely rejecting the need to sit down for his
own group, Petilianus here concerned himself with Marcellinuss expressed
discomfort to sit while they stood. This, he afrmed, the chairman could
legitimately and appropriately do.
It is in this context that he alludes
to Christs example. Calling Christs judge praeses in the process may be
signicant; it could simply be a general way of referring to Pilate as the
governor of a province, who, at the end of the fourth century, was fre-
quently and often irrespective of the precise constitutional status of the
province or the title and rank of its governor called praeses.
of the available titulature of provincial governors only praeses was a term
equally used for public ofce-holders more widely and, importantly, also
in judicial contexts.
Petilianuss choice of words left enough room for
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,145,11-16 (12 L.): Siquidem hoc nec dominus nos-
ter Christus uitauerit cum ante praesidem stetisse dignatus est, quanto magis nos non
recusamus, cum tu honoricus, tu iustus, tu reuerens, tu benignus hanc offeras gratiam
quae tibi a domino remuneratore dignissimis praemiis frequentissime referatur?
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,145,10-12 (126 L.): . . . non erubescimus, non uer-
emur, non euitamus te residente, uir nobilis, libenter adsistere. Siquidem hoc nec dominus
noster Christus uitauerit cum ante praesidem stetisse dignatus est.
See J. Blundell, praeses, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 10,2,1 (Berlin, 1980-1995): 869-876
for the usage of the term, cf. for the praeses pronvinciae in particular s.v. B2 (871,59-
875,27); and for the various ofces, W. Enlin, praeses, PRE Supplement 8 (Stuttgart,
1956): 598-614. In his time, Pontius Pilate would have been called procurator (see E.
Fascher, Pilatus, Pontius, PRE 20,2 [Stuttgart, 1950]: 1322-1323), but the Notitia
Dignitatum or. 1, 86-94 (Otto Seeck, ed., Notitia Dignitatum [Berlin, 1876], 4) notes for
the year 400 CE that the governors of both Palaestina salutaris and Palaestina secunda
occupied the lowest rank of provincial governor with the title of praeses. Petilianuss
choice of words could simply reect contemporary usage, but it allows for a translucency
that lets the model of Pilate shine through in Marcelinuss role.
Blundell, praeses (see note 27), s.v. B.1.a and B.1.a.e (870,45-46; 871,17-26). The
term can furthermore be encountered in a number of martyrological texts, designating
the ofcial who presided over the martyr trial. Next to Christs trial before Pilate, these
instances provide the pertinent analogy for the occasion in Donatist eyes. In the Passio
Sancti Irenaei Episcopi Sirmiensis (OECT, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, 294-301
338 Thomas Graumann
different associations and thus for Marcellinus to identify himself with
the role designated in this way. A more precise legal or administrative
terminology, such as judge or governor, would have negated this effect.
Since Christ did not refuse Pilate to sit while considering it appropriate
for himself to stand, Petilianus afrmed, how could the Donatist refuse
him, an honourable, just, respectful and benign man to sit even though they
remained standing
? His exact choice of words is again revealing: Christ
is described as taking up a standing posture deliberately and of his own
volition (stetisse dignatus est), rather than simply in enforced obedience
to court authorities just as Donatist bishops were doing now, we may
reasonably extend the implied message. In this way, while purportedly al-
laying any fear of impropriety in Marcellinuss sitting, Petilianus conveyed
a much more critical message. For him the meeting resembled a martyr trial
and ultimately its very archetype, the trial of Christ. Choosing to remain
standing at the same time as inviting Marcellinus to sit emphasised this
parallel; it called for its visualisation and even its re-enactment.
The kind of scene Petilianus may have had in mind and wanted Marcel-
linus to imagine is depicted on a number of Christian late antique artefacts,
for example on an illustration of the early-sixth-century Rossano Gospel.

The illustrator imagines Christs trial in accordance with long established
Roman models, which he would still have been able to witness even in
his own time, about a century after the Conference of Carthage. For our
purposes we only need to identify the contrasting postures of the seated
gure of Pilate and the standing gure of Christ before him. As in this
instance, contemporary artistic impressions of the trial of Christ generally
Musurillo), set during the Diocletian persecution, praeses designates the prefect of the
province (see, e.g., Passio Sancti Irenaei Episcopi Sirmiensis 2,1 [294,10 M.]: praeses
Pannoniae; cf. further instances using the title with the name in Passio Sancti Irenaei
Episcopi Sirmiensis 2,3 [294,17 M.]; 2,4 [294,20 M.]; 4,1 [296,18 M.]).
See notes 25 and 26.
Codex Purpures, fol. 8r (cf. plate I). The so-called Codex Purpureus Rossanensis is a
sixth-century codex, written in Byzantine style probably after the Justinian reconquest
of Italy. It is currently kept at the Diocesan Museum of Rossano Cathedral in Italy. For
a description of the codex, see Arthur Haseloff, ed., Codex Purpureus Rossanensis: Die
Miniaturen der griechischen Evangelien-Handschrift in Rossano (Berlin, 1898), with de-
piction of the scene on plate XI, description of the miniature and iconographic parallels
pages 31-32, 112-115. Reproductions of the illuminations may also be found in William
C. Loerke, The Miniatures of the Trial in the Rossano Gospel, Art bulletin 43 (1961):
171-195, esp. g. 1 and g. 9 on plates between pages 182-183. If the miniatures go back
to an earlier, mid-fth-century prototype (Loerke), the depictions would relate even more
closely to the time of the conference. For the interpretation of Donatist behaviour attention
needs to be drawn specically to the striking features of the spacial arrangement with a
seated judge, Pilate, and a standing defendant, Jesus Christ, which bear witness to a longer
standing iconographic tradition (see following note) and, crucially, also reect standard
courtroom convention of the time. For sitting as the normal posture of imperial ofce
holders when conducting business and the sella curulis as attribute of their authority, see
Thomas Schfer, Imperii insignia. Sella curulis und fasces: Zur Reprsentation rmischer
Magistrate (Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archologischen Instituts, Rmische Abteilung/
Ergnzungsheft 29; Mainz, 1989), in the context of trials in particular 63-64.
Upstanding Donatists 339


























340 Thomas Graumann
show Pilate seated in a chair, a sella curulis, which is often positioned
on a raised platform or dais, and sometimes furnished with a footstool,
whereas Christ stands before him.
In fact, such a composition recreates
the normal arrangement in a Roman trial,
and this model, according to
Petilianuss suggestion, should be followed on the occasion. The particular
poignancy of this suggestion arises of course from the intimation that not
just any trial, but this particular trial was the appropriate model for the
Petilianuss statement makes the additional claim that to remain standing
was not only tting but also expedient, even necessary, for them.
elements of the claim may be distinguished. Standing is expedient and nec-
essary, Petilianus explained, when arguing a case, and particularly tting
for those that undergo the examination of a [judicial] dispute (subire
Another depiction of the same principal arrangement of a seated judge and the stand-
ing accused with some variation on other details can be seen on the Brescia Casket
(Museo Civico dellEt Christiana, Brescia), a wooden box with ivory carvings of the late
fourth century (ca. 370), originating probably in Northern Italy and most likely used as
a reliquary. For a depiction see Johannes Kollwitz, Die Lipsanothek von Brescia (Studien
zur sptantiken Kunstgeschichte 7; Berlin, 1933), plate 1; and now Catherine Brown
Tkacz, The Key to the Brescia Casket: Typology and the Early Christian Imagination
(Collection des tudes augustiniennes/Srie Antiquit 165; Paris, 2002). On the casket,
Christ before Pilate is depicted on the lower register of the lid, showing Pilate on his
chair placed on a platform (Kollwitz, Lipsanothek [see note 31], plate 1; Tkacz, Key [see
note 31], 200). Similarly in the scene of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Tkacz, Key [see
note 31], 199), two gures are seated on folding chairs with footstools, and Christ is
presented standing before them. The two scenes on the lid of the casket form a continu-
ous sequence, starting with the presentation of Christ to Pilate on the right, moving on
to the hand-washing, and to Christ before the Sanhedrin on the left. Iconographically
related judgement-scenarios on the casket are, moreover, the depiction of the judgement
of Ananias and Sapphira (see Tkacz, Key [see note 31], 223), and of Susanna brought
before Daniel (Tkacz, Key [see note 31], 207), both of which also show the judge seated
on a chair, in one instance with a footstool and in the other on a dais. The iconographic
programme of a standing Christ before the seated Pilate can still be seen on the mosa-
ics of the Basilica from Theoderics time in Ravenna that is now called SantApollinare
Nuovo, see Joseph Wilpert, ed., Die rmischen Mosaiken und Malereien der kirchlichen
Bauten vom IV. bis XIII. Jahrhundert (4 vols.; 2nd ed.; Freiburg, 1917), reproduction
of the mosaic: vol. 3, plate 99,1; commentary on this motif, with further examples, vol.
2, 866-871; cf. Loerke, Miniatures (see note 30).
Conventional Roman court arrangements can also be identied in some Christian martyr
texts, even though martyr acts that recreate a trial-scene before an imperial magistrate
or judge generally focus on the verbal exchanges and only occasionally refer to the
setting of the scene. In a small number of instances, however, where such elements are
mentioned mostly in passing and without special emphasis the presiding judge is
portrayed as seated. See, for example Martyrium Pionii 19,1 (160,19 M.); Passio Sancto-
rum Mariani et Iacobi 6,11 (202,12 M.); Martyrium Agape 3 (282,21 M.); Passio Sancti
Irenaei Episcopi Sirmiensis 4,1 (296,17-18 M.); Passio Sanctae Crispinae 1,1 (302,3 M.).
Acta Eupli 2,1 (312,8 M.), correspondingly, portray the martyr as standing before the
tribunal. Whether authentic records or imaginative reinvention, these acts thus testify to
the same conventional arrangement.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,145,17-20 (126 L.): Id autem nobis expedit, id necesse
est ut, cum causa peroratur, cum prius incipitur et etiam personae constant, stare singulos
deceat quibus subire contingit disceptationis examen.
Upstanding Donatists 341
disceptationis examen), in other words, for the defendants in a case. The
suggested parallel of the Donatist self-presentation with martyr trials and
Christs trial before Pilate here nds further conrmation and reveals an
additional signicance for the Donatists legal position. They see themselves
as the accused or defendants in a trial and express this position amongst
other ways by their posture: standing. It is in this sense, not primarily as
a matter of social decorum that the Donatists claim the propriety (deceat)
of an arrangement that sees them standing while Marcellinus is without
embarrassment at liberty to sit. It is the convention of any trial.
There is an unspoken, yet important premise to Petilianuss argumenta-
tion and insinuations. In that the Donatists consciously enacted a visual
parallelism with Christs and martyr trials to mark and display their self-
image, their remaining standing most basically also identied what they
considered to be the real character of the event, namely a trial. Therefore
they both employed behaviour proper to such an occasion themselves,
and suggested it as appropriate to the chairman. This effort to make the
format of the meeting clearly and visibly recognisable is an important
dimension of their demonstrative acting; it is as much symbolically com-
municated in their posture as it sounds between the lines of Petilianuss
intervention. For whatever the designation of the meeting by the imperial
authorities, who usually call it a disputatio or a collatio respectively,

according to Donatist perception the occasion remains in reality a legal
altercation. Their behaviour makes it abundantly clear: sitting would not
be appropriate when defendants always stand before their judges. Their
standing thus identies the event as a trial, and by extension, as a case of
imperial persecution in collusion with the Catholics, not an engagement
of equals in an open debate. The Donatist posture thus provides strong
Disputatio is used three times in Honoriuss rescript alone, Gesta conlationis Carthaginien-
sis 1,4 (55,30.43; 56,61 L.); it occurs twice in Marcellinuss rst edict, Gesta conlationis
Carthaginiensis 1,5 (56,25; 57,53 L.), four times in his second edict, Gesta conlationis
Carthaginiensis 1,10 (60,48.52.61; 62,105 L.) and is echoed throughout ofcial pro-
nunciations. The second edict, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,10, also speaks of
the ofcium disputandi (59,15-16 L.; cf. further use of the verb disputare and deriva-
tives 59,21; 59,32.77; 60,73 L.; cf. veritate discussa, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis
1,5 [56,14-15 L.]). Conlatio is used twice in Marcellinuss rst edict, Gesta conlationis
Carthaginiensis 1,5 (56,20.22 L.) and four times in his second edict, Gesta conlationis
Carthaginiensis 1,10 (59,27.42; 61,92.94 L.). He also calls the convention a concilium . . .
intra Africam universale (Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,5 [56,23-24 L.]; and again
concilium [57,31 L.]); cf. in the second edict, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,10
(60,45; 61,104.117 L.). Other terms such as conloquium (Gesta conlationis Carthag-
iniensis 1,10 [59,15.19-20 L.]), disceptatio (Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,5 [56,12
L.]; 1,10 [59,2.15; 61,88 L.]) and cognitio (Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,10 [59,7
L.]) are also used in these ofcial documents; the variation in language reects the occa-
sions potential ambiguity in format and legal character. For the terminological variations
in ofcial documents, see most recently Ivonne Tholen, Die Donatisten in den Predigten
Augustins: Kommunikationslinien des Bischofs von Hippo mit seinen Predigthrern
(Arbeiten zur Historischen und Systematischen Theologie 16; Berlin, 2010), 273-277.
Cf. also below, note 40.
342 Thomas Graumann
evidence for the assessment of their understanding and perception of the
unfolding events.
Still in the same statement and therefore closely related to his consider-
ation about the visual and physical representation of the actual format of
the event, Petilianus further demanded the clarication of legal personae
by this he meant the ofcial role as either plaintiff or defendant. The ques-
tion occupies much of the debate of the rst day, and lingers subsequently.
The legal difculties related to this point and the wider complexities of the
legal format and procedure need not concern us here in any detail.
only need to consider briey how the Donatists might have regarded it as
advantageous to be cast as defendants, since bringing a case not only handed
the initiative to a plaintiff, but the plaint also helped at least broadly to
dene the issues at hand and consequently the remit of the judicial inquiry.
Ultimately, this advantage in taking the initiative of petitioning or plead-
ing a case is also conrmed for the Conference of Carthage. The remit
and direction of the inquiry were determined by imperial rescript as the
chairman repeatedly pointed out
which in turn responded to a Catholic
petition brought before him. We may reasonably surmise that the impe-
rial wish was decisively informed by the assertions and demands made
by the Catholic embassy and articulated in the petition they carried. It is
My interpretation will for this reason diverge from the recently proposed analysis by
Hogrefe, Umstrittene Vergangenheit (see note 1), see below. Hogrefes ne analysis of
the role of historical argument in the course of debate is not affected by my criticism of
this particular detail.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,145,17-18 (126 L.): . . . cum prius incipitur et etiam
personae constant. . . . The question of personae and the efforts to identify the Catholic
side as plaintiffs is evident already much earlier in one of Petilianuss rst statements,
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,12,1-9 (62 L.), cf. 1,20,1-21 (72 L.).
Despite some problematic judgements at the expense to the Donatists, the legal questions
relating to the conference are already identied in the classical account of Steinwenter,
Kirchliche Quelle (see note 12), 125-144. Subsequent scholarly discussion is sum-
marised in Lancel, Introduction gnrale (see note 8), 66-82, for the question of legal
personae in particular 84-88; cf. the relevant entries for specic points in Kaser and
Hacker, Zivilprozessrecht (see note 12), 487-493, 582-586, 587-595, and index, s.v.
praescriptio and litis contestatio; and recently Hermanowicz, Possidius (see note 1),
192-196, 196-200; Hogrefe, Umstrittene Vergangenheit (see note 1), 161-164, 167-168,
180-187. My interpretation of the Donatists standing as an attempt to express physically
and with elements of theatrical performance their position, and in particular to assign
to themselves the role of defendant by re-enacting the trials of Christ and the martyrs,
converges in this respect with the results of the legal analysis in Steinwenter and,
more recently, in both Hermanowiczs and Hogrefes interpretation; the latter authors
identify the same general aim and strategy of the Donatists in this part of the debate.
However, neither author considers the scene before us as a physical expression of the
Donatists strategy.
Of the many instances, see only Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,51,4-5 (77 L.): . . . ut
utraque pars agnoscat me imperialis praecepti formam custodire debere. The exchanges
between Marcellinus and the Donatists also reveal a different assessment of the legal
basis of the event. Most Donatist demands insist on the conventions and rules of a civil
procedure; arguably the chairman was right to rule that these did not wholly apply in
so far as proceedings had been set in motion by imperial command.
Upstanding Donatists 343
because of this initiative that the Donatists wanted to bring the content of
the original Catholic petition into the open. However, they failed in their
repeated attempts to have this document read out
and so we also do
not know what it actually contained. The Donatists somewhat surprising
attempt then, surprising when judged in purely juridical terms, to cast
themselves in the role of defendants, nds its justication here. They sim-
ply wanted to see publicly and openly expressed what they understood
to be the concealed reality of a Catholic plaint initiating proceedings and
shaping the emperors instructions for the conference. As a result, they
refused to plead or, perhaps more pertinent still, to accept any fuzzy sug-
gestion of an equal role with the Catholics in a legally unspecic attempt
to clarify a particular problem, such as the terms disputatio and collatio
used in some documents might suggest.
In a trial, there was no such
parity but clearly circumscribed roles of defendants and accusers. The
concern for a precise denition of their role as defendants ties in with the
general interest to identify the event visibly, in their posture and by acting
out courtroom conventions, as a trial. Standing, and more particularly,
standing as defendants was to them the only apposite depiction of their
situation. The Donatist standing, therefore, can be interpreted not only
as the wilful imitation of the posture of Christ and the martyrs, highly
charged as these notions are, but also as the expression of a practical legal
and procedural concern.
Much of what the Donatist behaviour conveyed remains just below the
surface of Petilianuss statement. It required the ability and willingness of
other participants to decode his oblique references to historical precedent
and biblical prescript and to understand and interpret their actions in the
Cf. Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,46,1-8 (190 L.); 3,89,1-32 (201-202 L.); 3,125,1-
12 (210 L.); 3,127,1-6 (210 L.); 3,131,1-6 (211 L.); 3,135,1-6 (212 L.); 3,138,1-21 (212
L.); 3,140,1-65 (213-214 L.) and frequently.
Collatio can denote any kind of congregation or gathering without suggesting a specic
framework or setting; see E. Lommatzsch, collatio, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 3
(Leipzig, 1906-1912): 1577-1580. The term disputatio, in turn, covers a wide range of
intellectual or verbal forms of engagement with a substantive issue in need of clarica-
tion, interpretation, or solution. The word does not necessarily envisage a particular
format in which such an engagement might be conducted, and certainly not in itself
a judicial setting. Its meaning consequently ranges from colloquium, exposition, argu-
ment, question(ing) to controversy and discussion of opposing parties or views. See
H. Lackenbacher, disputatio, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 5,1 (Leipzig, 1909-1934):
1437-1441. In any one instance, and clearly in describing the Conference of Carthage, a
number of overlapping denotations and related associations can be dominant. Cf. Tholen,
Donatisten (see note 34), 259-260, 260-264, for a discussion of the designation of the
conference and similar occasions. She (Tholen, Donatisten [see note 34], 264) proposes a
translation of collatio with the neologism Religionsprozess. The coining of a neologism
reects the intrinsic ambiguity of the term collatio and, by extension, of the divergent
and potentially conicting interests and purposes for the occasion. For the Donatist
argument, these shifting notions, indicated by constantly changing vocabulary, of what
kind of meeting the conference represented were a central concern. They insisted on a
much more precise characterisation of the unfolding events and acted accordingly.
344 Thomas Graumann
context of conventional courtroom behaviour. It would not be surpris-
ing, therefore, if a rather more sceptical reader of the sources found their
adopted posture rather less evocative and resonant with meaning than the
interpretation advanced here. Yet any such doubts may be allayed because
a similar scene is repeated at the beginning of the second session. The very
fact of its near identical repetition emphasises the purposeful and, to an
extent, theatrical and demonstrative qualities of the Donatist behaviour.
At the opening of the second session, the chairman again invited all
parties to sit, and reminded them of his offer during the rst meeting.
The Catholics complied, while Petilianus again declined on behalf of the
Marcellinus tried to build bridges; he stated that on the rst
day practical difculties to provide seating for so many bishops might
have plausibly prevented them from sitting down. But now with only a
limited number of spokesmen present, nothing should prevent them from
conducting business seated.
Petilianus replied once more: In the absence of their fathers, that is the
Donatist bishops, they would not sit down
a peculiar justication that
needs further scrutiny. Furthermore, he went on, it would be against the
divine law that forbids to sit together (consessus, considere) in this way
with their adversaries
a cryptic allusion to a biblical passage that needs
decoding. The very pointed, much-later responses from the Catholics to
this point suggest that they understood Petilianuss message, even though
they did not react to it immediately.
In direct response, however, the chairman declared that since the Do-
natists refused to sit, he saw no possibility for himself to conduct business
(cognosci) seated. He had his chair carried out, and the protocol notes that
he made his next statement standing.
There is no attempt in his terse
statement to uphold any pretence that considerations of courtesy or social
propriety informed his decision; would his tone have suggested resignation
or suppressed anger? Perhaps sensing irritation and fearing to be accused of
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,3-4 (162 L.). Lancel, Texte et traduction de la capitu-
lation gnrale (see note 8), 226, takes this repeated refusal as indication of Petilianuss
mauvaise humeur and a lack of recognition of the chairmans polite expression of
social deference. He fails to detect any strategy in his actions or to recognise at least the
purposeful expression of a point of principle legal and theological in it. He only sees
Petilianus trying to nd reasons to obstruct the procedure at any cost.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,3,7-10 (162 L.): Licet et superiore iudicio me obtulisse
meminerim, tamen illa arbitror tunc minime factum esse ratione, quia multis sacerdoti-
bus conuenientibus locus considendi esse non poterat. Vnde, quia nunc denitas uideo
conuenisse personas, deprecor ut uel nunc sedere dignemini.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,4,2 (162 L.): Patribus nostris absentibus non sede-
mus. . . .
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,4,2-4 (162 L.): . . . maxime cum lege diuina consessus
prohibeatur, ne cum huiusmodi aduersariis nostris considere uelimus.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,5,5-8 (162 L.): Cumque episcopi catholici surrexissent
atque sessus iudicis auferretur eiusdem iudicis iussione, et dominus noster uir clarissimus
et spectabilis Marcellinus, tribunus et notarius, stetisset . . .
Upstanding Donatists 345
a transgression of social propriety, Petilianus is anxious that the protocol
should note that having the chair removed was the chairmans decision,
not a demand made by the Donatists.
Marcellinus dutifully remarked that
he felt obliged to remain standing as a mark of respect for such eminent
priest are we allowed to hear an irony in his voice here? since they
chose to do so.
It seems he controlled any potential irritation quickly
and tried hard to diffuse a tense situation. While ultimately a veneer of
courtesy was also re-established in this way, Marcellinuss decision to have
his chair removed is best interpreted in the light of Petilianuss remarks
on the rst day. Petilianus had pointed out the similarity of such a set
up with that of Christs trial before Pilate. Marcellinus appears unwilling
to have his own role as chairman dened through Donatist behaviour as
one resembling that of Pontius Pilate. By removing his chair any chance
of such a perception prevailing was also removed.
The Catholics who had been seated rose again and we may imagine
their sour expressions.
They did not respond immediately to the challenge
and insult hidden in the Donatistss reference to divine law. The affront
may have literally left them speechless. But they must have understood the
message, because in the third session, a whole week later (June 8, 411),
they came back to what can only be described as the deliberate, if oblique,
offensiveness of the remark.
For the particular part of debates of the third day, the verbal protocol
is no longer extant. We have to rely here entirely on the account given
in Augustines so-called Breviculus,
a condensed report summarising
the events from Augustines perspective, and the chapter headings of a
near-contemporary edition of the acts that is otherwise lost, the so-called
We cannot extract from Augustines reporting any true sense
of the atmosphere during this part of the debate. Did he dispassionately
deliver an exegetical argument or did his likely anger with the offensive
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,6 (162 L.): Petilianus episcopus dixit: Scriptum sit
hoc [sc. the carrying-out of the sella curulis] tuae uoluntatis esse, non nostrae.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,7,1-5 (162 L.).
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 2,5 (162,6 L.); see note 45.
Serge Lancel, ed., Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis, in Gesta conlationis Carthag-
iniensis anno 411 (see note 8), 261-306. See for an introduction to the work, S. Lancel,
Breuiculus conlationis cum Donatistis, Augustinus-Lexikon 1 (Basel, 1986-1994):
681-684; Martine Dulaey, ed., Oeuvres de Saint Augustin 32: 4. Srie, Traits anti-
donatistes 5: Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis, Ad Donatistas post collationem,
Sermo ad Caesariensis ecclesiae plebem, Gesta cum Emerito Donatistarum episcopo,
Contra Gaudentium Donatistarum episcopum libro duo (trans G. Finaert, introd. and
notes E. Lamirande; Paris, 1965), 60-77.
Serge Lancel, ed., Gesta Conlationis Carthaginiensis, Capitula gestorum, in Gesta
conlationis Carthaginiensis anno 411 (see note 8), 6-52; cf. Lancel, Texte et traduction
de la capitulation gnrale (see note 8), 421-557, with the introductory remarks Lancel,
Introduction, in Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis anno 411 (see note 8), (VII-XXXVI)
346 Thomas Graumann
Donatist remark show? After all, the insult must have rankled with the
Catholics to merit specic refutation even after an entire weeks interval.
Augustine identies for us the passage to which Petilianus had obliquely
referred: Psalm 25,4: Non sedi in concilio impiorum.
In the context of
the meeting, the phrase requires a literal translation with a gnomic perfect
that suits Petilianuss usage best: I dont sit in a council of sinners. The
statement identies the Catholics as sinners; a blatant offence as well as a
theological statement of principle to which our analysis will turn pres-
ently. However, the verse may also reveal a further layer of the Donatists
deliberate choice to remain standing. It has been suggested above that both
courtroom convention and the evocation of Christs and the martyrs trials
allowed the Donatists to present and identify visibly a judicial inquiry and
altercation as the most pertinent model for the kind of standing before
a magistrate which they enacted at the time. With the help of the Psalm,
the Donatists, it seems, also evoked the prevailing image associated with
the alternative positioning and poise of sitting down: in the Donatist
reading, the Psalm verse envisages sitting specically in a council. Indeed
all documentation of conciliar meetings describes participating bishops as
taking their seats and conducting business seated.
The visual contrast of standing in a trial and sitting in a council requires
examination whether the idea of participating and deliberating jointly
in a council meeting was even a consideration for the various parties at
the time. Neither the Catholic nor the Donatist party calls the meeting a
council, but the term occurs interchangeably with others on several occa-
Augustine, Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis 3,18,13-14 (285 L.). Of the relevant
quotations of the verse in Augustines work that either the Vetus Latina collects (Vetus
Latina Data Base [last access 19 October 2010. Online:]) or
that may be identied from a search of the Corpus Augustinianum Gissense 2 (Cornelius
Mayer, ed., Corpus Augustinianum Gissense: CAG 2 [CD-ROM; Basel, 2004]), this is
the only instance where the text of the Psalm-verse is given in the wording quoted above;
Augustines usual reading is non sedi in [var.: cum] concilio [var.: conventicolo] vanitatis
(see Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 25,1,4 [CChr.SL 38, 141 Deckers/Fraipont];
25,2,9 [126 D./F.]; idem, Serm. 99,8 [PL 38:599 Migne]; conventiculum vanitatis: Augus-
tine, Contra epistulam Parmeniani 3,24 [CSEL 51, 132,10-11 Petschenig]). The reading
vanitatis is also supported by the vast majority of other Latin authors (cf. e.g. Jerome,
Comm. Jer. 3,58,3 [CChr.SL 74, 152,7-8 Reiter]; Tertullian, Pud. 18,5: non sedi cum
consensu [var. mss. consessu] vanitatis [CChr.SL 2, 1318 Dekkers]) and is also that of
the Vulgata. Cf., however, Ambrose, Explanatio psalmorum XII 1,29,3 (CSEL 64, 24,16
Petschenig): non sedi in concilio malignantium, and Arnobius iunior, Commentarii in
Psalmos 25 (PL 53:358a Migne), who paraphrases non sedeat in concilio haereticorum.
The exceptional form of wording in the Psalms quotation is noteworthy; Augustine
may be making use, here, of a distinct Donatist version of the text that had come to his
knowledge only on the occasion. Petilianus had not provided a quotation in his justica-
tion to remain standing at the beginning of the second meeting. Since the reporting in the
Breviculus of the exegetical exchanges over this and other biblical passages conducted on
the third day of the meetings is very condensed, there is a strong possibility that the full
text was quoted by the Donatists in discussion then. When Augustine recalls the scene
after the conference, he gives the text of the Psalm-verse in his own usual reading again;
see below, notes 65-66.
Upstanding Donatists 347
sions in ofcial documents, which were read out aloud near the beginning
of proceedings. The usage of the term in these documents was probably
not narrowly technical because of the virtually synonymous use in its
stead of other terms such as disceptatio and collatio.
Still, accepting the
invitation to sit down could, against this background, not only seem to
indicate general acquiescence to the meeting and its procedure as well as
compliance with imperial orders
; in Donatist eyes, it might have also
conveyed more particularly the impression of participation in a conciliar-
type ecclesiastical gathering. There are no Donatist references to a council
in the context of the event, but Aurelius of Carthage calls the assembly
of Catholic bishops in Carthage the universal council of the Catholic
Church constituted in Carthage, and Augustine and his colleague Alyp-
ius mirror this usage in several interventions during the conference.
the Catholics, therefore, not a meeting of delegates, but the full assembly
of their bishops in Carthage constituted a council, and there is no sense
that Donatists might in any way be included in this. By way of analogy,
the other cryptic remark by Petilianus about the absence of the fathers,
which prevented him from sitting down, can also be decoded. It is not
implausible to suggest a sentiment on the Donatist side similar to that of
the Catholics who had called their full convention of bishops a council, in
particular since the term council fathers was at the time already conven-
A council worthy of the name would require, in this perspective
and among other preconditions, the presence of all the fathers, that is
the full assembly of all the bishops of their side. Certainly a meeting of
delegates with representatives of an opposing group and instructed by an
imperial ofcer would not qualify.
Moreover, sitting down together in itself suggested some friendly com-
munal rapport; the association with a council further conjured up an
ideal of participation on equal terms. And sitting in council changed the
ascription of roles fundamentally. The seated bishops in a council acted,
in so far as decision-making was concerned, as judges, not as pleading or
For the designation of the event in ofcial documents cf. above, note 34.
Hermanowicz, Possidius (see note 1), 201.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,46,5-6 (76 L.): . . . uniuersalis concilii ecclesiae
catholicae hic apud Carthaginem constituti. . . . Cf. the mandate issued by the council,
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,55,11-13 (78 L.): mandatum factum . . . ab uniuerso
concilio episcoporum catholicorum. In the same way, Augustine speaks of the uniuersum
catholicum praesens in hac urbe concilium, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,62,30-31
(194 L.), and Alypius names the uniuersale concilium, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis
3,68,6 (195 L.); cf. similarly Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,174,24-25 (222 L.):
data [sc. littera] ab uniuersis episcopis catholicis ex concilio Carthaginiensi. The catholic
mandate also speaks of a particular Donatist assembly as of their council: Ibi potu-
erunt etiam causam Felicis Aptugnensis ordinatoris Caeciliani, quem malorum omnium
fontem in concilio suo dixerant, cognoscente Aeliano proconsule ex praecepto eiusdem
imperatoris inuenire purgatam (Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,18,86-89 [69 L.]).
See only Aurelius of Carthage, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,46,5 (76 L.): patres
uel fratres nostri uniuersalis concilii ecclesiae catholicae.
348 Thomas Graumann
defending representatives of a particular party interest. In refusing to give
the impression of conciliar interaction by refusing to sit down together,
the Donatists attempted to unmask any pretence of a meeting of equals
where all bishops acted out of a shared responsibility for the governance
of the church and took authoritative decisions accordingly, or sat in judge-
ment of their peers not imperial ofcials. In contrast to such a division
of roles, they understood their position to be in effect that of defendants
dragged before a hostile tribunal, and they were unwilling to cooperate
in any pretence that suggested otherwise. Standing, they took a stand in
the face of imperial orders as well as openly defying in their very posture
any suggestions of an open ended and fair hearing, which the invitation
to sit might insinuate with its seemingly polite recognition of their social
status. Standing was the order of the day and the immediate physical
enactment of their position. In remaining standing, they constantly and
visibly reminded everyone of the true nature, as they saw it, of the meet-
ing. If this message had been in any way uncertain on the rst day, its
re-enactment on the second made the point unmistakably clear.
The clear rejection of sitting in council with sinners, in both their
posture and in their allusion to Ps 25, controverts a recently advanced
interpretation, according to which the Donatists argued for the replacement
of judicial proceedings by a church-council instead.
Hogrefe admits, in a
footnote, that conciliar procedure was at the time anything but xed,
nevertheless goes on to contrast the procedure employed in the conference
with the one purportedly implied in the Donatist protests and demands as
a conict of judicial versus conciliar habits and interprets their strategy as
the demand for a council.
The strong rejection of any notion of a council
Hogrefe, Umstrittene Vergangenheit (see note 1), 177-179, 187-188. Tilley, Dilatory
Donatists (see note 4), 9-10, already claimed that the Donatists had expected a conciliar
Hogrefe, Umstrittene Vergangenheit (see note 1), 177 (note 128); he refers to reigning
conventions of conciliar activity (gewohnheitsrechtliche Regeln).
The juxtaposition underlies Hogrefes analysis of the strategy (Umstrittene Vergangenheit
[see note 1], 176-195), with repeated claims about their efforts to bring about a conciliar
procedure as one main plank of their argument (e.g., 187: . . . sie stritten . . . um die
Durchsetzung eines Konzilsverfahrens. . . .). The analysis wrongly equates decision-
making based on Scripture with a distinct conciliar procedure. There were, at councils
throughout the fourth and early fth centuries, a considerable variety of procedural
modes depending on individual circumstances and the questions considered. Already the
Donatist councils referred to at the conference demonstrate this exibility of the conciliar
format. Conversely, the ultimate normativity of the Holy Scriptures for any Christian
decision was unquestioned and needed not imply any particular kind of proceeding or
legal framework in which to apply it. In one instance Hogrefe introduces a further, more
puzzling, distinction of possible formats for the occasion (Umstrittene Vergangenheit [see
note 1], 188): Fr die Donatisten sollte es keine Konferenz als Religionsgesprch geben,
sondern entweder eine Konzilsentscheidung oder eine richterliche Entscheidung zu ihren
Gunsten. It is unclear what kind of debate Hogrefe considers, or the Donatists might
have identied in their time, as a religious colloquy. The terminology is conventionally
used for meetings and negotiations between representatives of the emergent denomina-
Upstanding Donatists 349
by the Donatists contradicts such an analysis. The wider historical context
and prevalent theological assumptions about the preconditions of joint par-
ticipation in a council also render such an interpretation highly implausible.
Rather, the controversy over which kinds of arguments could legitimately
be employed and what might be considered valid evidence to adjudicate
the case in hand introduces a related, but not identical, juxtaposition of
ecclesiastical versus imperial law. The former does not simply equate to
conciliar procedure, and the latter is not straightforwardly identical with
judicial process.
Rather, the participants disputed whether there should
be conducted a debate about ecclesiology based on the Scriptures (as di-
vine law), or a process revisiting the history of legal altercations between
both parts before various provincial and imperial authorities over the past
century, based on the documentary record of these events.

The importance
of scripture as the only appropriate norm of judgement in church affairs
in principle and the consequent appeal to an exegetical dispute occupies
the Donatist interventions almost from the outset,
and is not as such
tions in sixteenth-century-Reformation Europe (cf. I. Dingel, Religionsgesprche IV.
Altglubig-protestantisch und innerprotestantisch, TRE 28 [Berlin, 1997]: 654-681).
The implied categories of ecclesiological group formation and identities are not helpful
in late antique North-Africa. There is no evidence for any concept of, even less for any
distinct procedure pertaining to, such a colloquy in late antiquity. Cf. for a further dis-
cussion of the problem in the case of the so-called Religionsgesprch in Constantinople,
AD 383, Thomas Graumann, The Synod of Constantinople, AD 383: History and
Historiography, Millenium-Jahrbuch 7 (2010): 133-168.
Juxtapositions are frequent between the conventions, procedures and norms prevalent
in a civil trial and those in Christian business (negotio christiano; Gesta conlationis
Carthaginiensis 1,20,7 [71 L.]). Emeritus emphasises that he considers a forensis alter-
catio and a spiritalis altercatio as an alternative that requires a denitive choice; Gesta
conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,47,12-27 (76 L.); cf. 1,53,1-14 (78 L.). The matter is raised
repeatedly by the Donatists on the third day of the conference, see Gesta conlationis
Carthaginiensis 3,185,1-5 (224 L.), and the entire discussion 3,181,1-193,23 (223-227
L.). It harks back to a longstanding argument, which, for example, Crispinus had already
employed when judged a heretic by the proconsul of Africa (in 404); Augustine, serm.
Denis 19 [=162A],8 (Germain Morin, ed., Miscellanea Agostiniana 1: Sancti Augustini
Sermones post Maurinos reperti [Rom, 1930], 105): Sed quid ait [sc. Crispinus]? Numquid
evangelica sententia superatus sum? Inde asserens uictum non esse, quia proconsul contra
illum iudicauit, non Christus. . . . Sed iudicauit proconsul, inquit, secundum leges im-
peratorum, non secundum leges euangelii. The sermon was held in Carthage, before the
month of June, in 404 CE (see Morin, Miscellanea Agostiniana 1 [see note 59], 98).
The use of scripture as a determining element in negotiations between bishops is empha-
sised as early as Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,31,11-14 (74 L.): . . . episcopalis nos
moris regula sanctitati adesse debere, ut non praestigiis iuris neque ligaminibus cuiusque
facundiae, sed testamento nouo ac ueteri quod instituit Deus, quod sacrauit dominus
Christus, causa possit audiri. It is decisive for this distinction that the debate is concerned,
for Emeritus, with the faith (agitur . . . <de> de; Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis
1,35 [75 L.]; cf. 1,47,1-25 [76-77 L.]). The chairman Marcellinus offers that both sides
may freely opt for a discussion reliant exclusively on scriptural testimony: ut nihil de
iure publico, sed omnia ecclesiasticis regulis, id est noui et ueteri testamenti testimoniis
peragatur (Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,36,5-7 [75 L.]). To him, however, this
decision would not affect the format of discussion as it had been dened by imperial
rescript and his own edicts (cf. Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,36,5-7 [75 L.]); cf.
350 Thomas Graumann
contradicted by the Catholics, who do not, however, appear to detect any
intrinsic contradiction between the principal validity of this norm and its
application in a judicial context.
The deeper theological reason for their rejection of any notion of a
conciliar type of gathering with the Catholics is connected, in essence, to
the other element of Petilianuss appropriation of the Psalm-verse, namely
the qualication of the Catholics as sinners. After all, sitting together in
council also had a minimum of communality as a necessary precondition,
if perhaps not necessarily full ecclesiastical communion.
In identifying
the Catholics as sinners, the Donatists emphasised the absence of this ba-
sic requirement, as well as making a wider theological point about their
ecclesiology and understanding of the effects of sin.
The Catholic response to Petilianuss allusion to Ps 25 reported in Au-
gustines Breviculus merits further attention since it answers specically
this point and expands on the theological notions behind it. Augustine
thus makes the usage of the Psalm a matter of theology and exegesis even
more than one of potentially offensive behaviour let alone sheer procedural
obstruction. Its usage is challenged as exegetically awed in more than one
respect and interpreted as indicative of the main problem underlying the
North-African schism. In this way the verse, and the action it was used
to justify, are placed in the wider context and at the centre of the debates
addressed by the conference. In so doing, Augustine decodes the Donatist
behaviour as resonant of an exegetical and theological message.
Marcellinuss repeated efforts to discern agreement between the parties about the norma-
tive, and exclusive, use of Scripture, Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis 1,40,1-4.42,1-3
(75 L.). The point is rightly emphasised by Hogrefe, Umstrittene Vergangenheit (see
note 1), 177, 185, 190 and frequently. For the exegetical dimension of the debates, and
a particular instance of contested scriptural usage, see below.
The point is raised by the Catholics in the context of the challenge to the Donatist
usage of Ps 25. After all, the Catholics claim, the Donatists had been willing to sit
together with the schismatic Maximianists; see Augustine, Breviculus collationis cum
Donatistis 3,18,19-23 (285 L.). Examples where broken ecclesiastical communion is
raised as an obstacle to joint participation in a council meeting are frequent and are
voiced even in the face of imperial invitation. The failed Council of Serdica (343) is a
prime example, and the protests of Pope Leos representatives, at the beginning of the
Councils of Chalcedon, that Dioscuros of Alexandria, who had excommunicated Leo
on the eve of the council, could not take a seat with them also exemplify the principle.
The Roman delegate Paschasinus implies a similar opposition between the seated judges
and the role of the defendant when he opposes that Dioscurus takes his seat when in
fact he ought to be summoned (sc. as the accused); see Concilium Chalcedonense anno
451, oecumenicum quartum, actiones 1,5 (ACO 2,1,2, 65,20-21 Schwartz; cf. English
translation by Richard Price and Michael Gaddis, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon
[3 vols.; Translated Texts for Historians 45; Liverpool, 2005], here: vol. 1 General In-
troduction, Documents before the Council, Session I, 129, 130). There was, of course,
precedent for the Donatist refusal to convene with the Catholics. In the autumn of 403
CE, Bishop Primian of Carthage informed the authorities that it was unworthy that the
sons of the martyrs and the offspring of traitors come together (indignum est quidem ut
in unum conveniant lii martyrum et progenies traditorum); Augustine, Contra partem
Donati post gesta 1,1 (CSEL 53, 97,14-15 Petschenig).
Upstanding Donatists 351
The rst rebuke challenges the logic of the Donatist reading by draw-
ing attention to the immediate context of the verse. The Psalm goes on to
afrm et cum iniqua gerentibus non introibo (I shall not go in with the
According to the logic of the Donatist reading, this should
have prevented them from entering the venue with the Catholics in the
rst place. The incongruity exposed by this reductio ad absurdum only
serves to illustrate the deeper aw of their understanding, for both words
are not about sitting or entering in a corporal, physical sense, but must
be taken spiritually.
Placed by the Catholics in this way in the wider conceptual context of
the exegetical debate between both sides, the Donatist misreading of the
Psalm, and by inference the action it was made to support, are interpreted
as indicative of their defective ecclesiology, which was for the Catholics
at the heart of the schism. Rather than undertaking dubious efforts to
distinguish the just from sinners empirically and in the present realm, one
must differentiate between the transcendent perfect church and its existence
under the constraints and conditions of the present, where she is a corpus
permixtum in which saints and sinners coexist.
How important it was for Augustine to detect in the standing of his
Donatist opponents, and in the encrypted biblical justication Petilianus
had given for it, a point of exegetical and theological principle that he
wanted to refute at the conference by exegetical arguments, is conrmed by
a number of texts close in time to the conference in which he remembered
vividly the scene and repeated his exegetical rebuttal. In a sermon held not
too long after the conference (nuper), Augustine highlighted once again
the Donatists refusal to sit down with their opponents as the activity that
most perspicuously represented their principal theological deciencies, and
specically betrayed their defective exegetical practice and hermeneutic.

Psalm 25,4b (Vetus Latina), quoted Augustine, Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis
3,18,16 (285 L.).
Augustine, Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis 3,18 (284 L.).
For Augustines ecclesiology, as it is developed in polemical antithesis to the Donatist
position, see E. Lamirande, Ecclesia, Augustinus-Lexikon 2 (see note 1): 687-720,
(with lit.); Stanislaus J. Grabowski, The Church: An Introduction to the Theology of St.
Augustine (London, 1957); cf. also Jrg Trelenberg, Das Prinzip Einheit beim frhen
Augustinus (BHTh 125; Tbingen, 2004), 136-166.
Augustine, serm. 99,8 (PL 38:595-602 Migne, here: 599): . . . ut nuper in collatione nostra
quod etiam in Gestis ipsis legere potestis, cum eis a Cognitore esset consessus oblatus, ut
sederent nobiscum, respondendum putarent, Scriptum est nobis, cum talibus non sedere,
scilicet ne per contactum subselliorum ad eos velut nostra contagio perveniret (a mali-
cious interpretation of their motives, making it more absurd than Augustine would have
considered it on theological grounds alone anyway). . . . Alio autem die, ubi opportunius
erat, commemoravimus eos huius miserrimae vanitatis, cum ageretur de Ecclesia, quia
mali in ea non contaminant bonos; respondimus eis, quia ideo sedere nobiscum noluerunt,
et dixerunt, se Scriptura Dei fuisse commonitos, quia videlicet scriptum est, Non sedi
in concilio vanitatis: diximus, Si ideo nobiscum sedere noluistis, quia scriptum est Non
sedi in concilio vanitatis: quare nobiscum ingressi estis, cum consequenter scriptum sit,
Et cum iniqua gerentibus non introibo (Ps 25,4a-b)? A date close to the conference may
352 Thomas Graumann
The scene and the faulty exegesis enacted by the Donatists standing are
similarly targeted in another work written in the aftermath of the confer-
ence, the Contra Donatistas. In this instance Augustine offers an even more
direct and piercing criticism of the underlying theological-hermeneutical
misconception that led to their deeply awed scriptural appropriation.

All these texts conrm and demonstrate the resonance of the behaviour
displayed by the Donatists at the conference, both on the occasion and
beyond. Their decision to remain standing proved to be the most effective
and best-remembered expression of their use of the Bible, their theological
thinking and their overall intensions and designs for the conference.
In taking up deliberately a standing posture, Augustine understood com-
pletely appropriately, the Donatists had made their ecclesiology visible
they had embodied and communicated it symbolically in this seemingly
plain gesture. At the particular point in time of proceedings early in the
rst and second meetings , this was of eminent signicance for the Donatist
purposes. Not only did they manage to express and enact their self-image as
the church of the martyrs and in their posture demonstrate physically their
ecclesiology of separation built on purity, as previously suggested. When
matters of procedure and legal framework were still largely undecided,
there was also not yet clarity or agreement whether in essence a theologi-
cal debate about ecclesiology based on scriptural interpretation was to be
held or an inquiry into the history of legal altercations between both sides
based on public documents. When early in the rst and second meetings
the Donatists remained standing no substantial exegetical discussion had
yet been entered into. The physical enactment of a specic understand-
ing of Ps 25 gave them their rst opportunity to advance an exegetical
concept, too; their standing also embodied their exegesis. The insistence
on an exegetical debate over ecclesiology and the determination to have
their role acknowledged as that of defendants here come together in the
be inferred from the phrase nuper in collatione nostra. For the sermon, and Augustines
preaching against the Donatists in general, see now Tholen, Donatisten (see note 34),
24 (date), 282-383, 352-354.
Augustine, Contra partem Donati post gesta 9,5,7 (104,24-105,8 P.): hoc episcopi uestri
faciendum putauerunt, quando utrisque nostrum a iudice oblato consessu nobis cum
sedere noluerunt, dicentes scriptum sibi esse ne cum talibus sedeant, illud utique non
spiritaliter, sed carnaliter intellegentes, quod in psalmo positum est: et cum impiis non
sedebo, et tamen fecerunt, quod in eodem ipso loco psalmi pariter prohibetur. nam ibi dicit
propheta: et cum iniqua gerentibus non introibo. si ergo, quia nos iniquos uel nouerant
uel putabant, ideo nobis cum sedere noluerunt, quare, quod similiter prohibetur, nobis
cum introierunt ex parte sancti et ex parte polluti, nisi quia scripturas sanctas non intel-
legendo et carnaliter sapiendo etiam ipsam unitatem dissipauerunt? For the work, see S.
Lancel, Donatistas (Contra-), Augustinus-Lexikon 2 (see note 1): 639-644.
For a short expression of Donatist ecclesiology, in a statement by Petilianus, see Gesta
conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,75,1-23 (197-198 L.); cf. further Gesta conlationis Cartha-
giniensis 3,258,1-283 (243-251 L.). The obverse denunciation of the Catholic heretical
paternity and its polluting consequences can be seen in his attack on Augustine, Gesta
conlationis Carthaginiensis 3,227,1-229,5 (235-236 L.).
Upstanding Donatists 353
Donatist strategy. According to their logic it would fall upon the Catholics,
as plaintiffs, to make a convincing exegetical case. For the Donatists, as
defendants, it would sufce to appear uncontroverted by their opponents
and thus to fend off a catholic plaint. They seemed condent to achieve
this in an exegetical debate. Augustine, of course, dismisses the Donatist
exegesis as hermeneutically nave,
but whatever the truth in the matter,
other councils show that it was difcult to convict any one individual or
group of heresy with exegetical arguments alone. Pelagius, for example, put
up a successful defence at the Council of Diospolis (415), and the Council
of Aquileia (381) found it necessary to confront the Homoean Bishop
Palladius with readings from Arius to determine his heresy, rather than
discussing the Scriptures alone. Any exegetical debate over ecclesiology
would inevitably fall back on contested biblical readings and interpreta-
tions that remained difcult to resolve with sufciently unequivocal proof
texts and arguments to identify and convict the Donatists as a superstitio.
Crucially by their behaviour alone the Donatists had already managed to
make their exegetical stand-point clear before any detailed discussion had
even begun: simply by standing.
The dense and multilayered symbolism of the Donatists simple gesture,
or posture, spoke loudly to the other parties in the case. The various layers
of meaning are elucidated by the allusions to biblical and historical models
in the Donatists interventions. They are conrmed by the understanding
of their coded message that is made apparent in the reactions of the chair-
man and the Catholic responses on the occasion. Against the conventions
of cultural practice, the Donatists transgression of customary courtesy
and their conscious enactment of courtroom roles are opened up for a
reading as the embodiment not only of their legal objections but also of
their theology and exegesis; this certainly was how Augustine understood
it. As such, their standing is of a programmatic signicance and can be
read as a condensed physical representation of almost their entire strategy
and argument.
As much as the symbolic qualities of the Donatist demeanour must be
emphasised, one must at least consider whether their decision to stand also
had practical consequences. Augustine reports the spectacular collapse of
the Donatist case on the third day of discussions. He describes it as the
inevitable consequence of the fact that they did not have a convincing case,
neither theologically nor historically, from the start. Modern scholars have
for the most part agreed; some have suggested, in addition, negligence in
the Donatists preparation of their case.
Both elements will have played
Augustine, Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis 3,18 (299,27-300,18 L.) on the specic
passage, and passim.
Lancel, Introduction gnrale (see note 8), 50. Traditional scholarship almost universally
dismisses the theological and legal substance of the Donatist case and considers their
conduct in the meeting as a matter of obstinacy and futile legal wrangling in trying to
cover up for this decit. For Frend, Donatist Church (see note 1), 279, the Donatists
354 Thomas Graumann
their part. But we may at least ask whether physical exhaustion, exacer-
bated by long hours of standing, may also have contributed. On the rst
day, Petilianus had pointed out the old age of many Donatist bishops.

Whether this applied to any of their active spokespersons is difcult to
establish. Petilianus was probably slightly younger than Augustine.
age of the other principal combatant on their side, Bishop Emeritus of
Caesarea (in Mauretania) is impossible to discern.
In any case, physical
exhaustion was a real concern for public speakers. Quintilian already
alerted orators of the physical demands of their task and warned of pos-
sible exhaustion.
The sheer strain of oratorical performance must not be
underestimated. Similar demands can be expected in a drawn out debate
where the combatants were kept constantly on their feet in our case both
literally and metaphorically. The Capitula mention that Petilianus withdrew
from the debate near the end of the third day because his voice began to
fail him.
Physical exhaustion, aggravated by hours of standing, may at
least have added to the Donatists ultimate resignation before Augustines
two-pronged strategy, which left them no way out. Realising the futility
of their efforts, it may have helped to end their resistance. Perhaps their
reliance on the martyr-like strength provided by divine assistance was
too optimistic after all. Standing, therefore, may have been symbolically
apposite but perhaps not a good choice in practical terms.
In conclusion, the Donatists highly expressive behaviour has been
analysed as an act of multilayered, densly symbolic communication. It
provides the rare opportunity to recognize the potential of non-verbal
communication and the signicance of physical enactment and somatic
expression by participants in public gatherings and specically in church
councils and similar conventions of churchmen. In this way the analysis
hopes not just to provide a different point of entry into the complex issues
raised by the Conference of Carthage. It also wants to make a case more
generally for an interpretation of church councils and similar gatherings
prepared their case indifferently. Cf. Lancel, St. Augustine (see note 1), 299-300. A very
unfavourable assessment of the Donatist actores and their abilities also prevails in Pietri,
Schwierigkeiten (see note 1), 519.
See note 21.
Mandouze, Prosopographie chrtienne du Bas-Empire 1 (see note 17), s.v. Petilianus
1, (855-868) 856.
S. Lancel, Emeritus, Augustinus-Lexikon 2 (see note 1): 802-804; idem, Introduction
gnrale (see note 8), 208-221; cf. Mandouze, Prosopographie chrtienne du Bas-Empire
1 (see note 17), s.v. Emeritus 2, 340-349.
M. Fabius Quintilianus, Institutio oratoria 11,3,144-147 (BSGRT 2, 356,16-357,3 Ra-
dermacher); cf. also Juvenal, Saturae 7,111-120 (SCBO, 100-101 Clausen) for a satirical
contrast between the lawyers exhaustion and his poor remuneration.
Gesta conlationis Carthaginiensis, Capitula gestorum 3,540 (50 L.). Lancel, Introduction
gnrale (see note 8), 237-238, asks whether this could have been another ruse to derail
the conference near its end. Petilianus might have tried to create grounds for an appeal
on the basis of an incomplete Donatist representation. The question cannot be answered
from the sources.
Upstanding Donatists 355
of churchmen that uses information about behaviour and non-verbal com-
munication not just as colourful embellishment but also as a hermeneuti-
cally and conceptually important tool. The sporadic remarks about such
elements of interaction found in conciliar acts or historical narrative give
an indication of an important dimension of conciliar activity, which is
often missing in our sources and hence unfortunately mostly absent from
scholarly historical and theological accounts. More research in this area
may yet permit a better understanding of church councils as both highly
ceremonial and highly dramatic events.
Bei der Konferenz von Karthago (411) schlagen die Donatisten bei zwei Gelegenheiten
die Einladung des Vorsitzenden aus, sich zu setzen. Ihr Verhalten wird hier als ein
demonstrativer Akt interpretiert, mit dessen Hilfe sie visuell und dramatisch ihr Selbst-
und Rollenverstndnis ausdrcken und dabei zugleich den in ihren Augen wahren
Charakter des Zusammenkommens agierend entlarven. Dies wird mglich nicht zuletzt
durch die Wiederaufnahme bekannter ikonographischer Muster. Unter Anspielung auf
biblische Texte vermgen sie ferner in der Pose des Stehens ihr Schriftverstndnis und ihre
Ekklesiologie mindestens anzudeuten. Die Reaktionen des Vorsitzenden und Augustins
zeigen, dass die so symbolisch kommunizierten donatistischen Standpunkte verstanden
wurden. Mit der Beobachtung der kommunikativen Bedeutung von Verhalten und
krperhaftem Ausdruck im konkreten Fall ldt der Aufsatz zugleich ein, die heuristische
Bedeutung derartiger Elemente fr die Interpretation synodaler Vorgnge insgesamt
ernster zu nehmen.