An Expedient Doctrine Separation of Church and State in the Donatist Controversy

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Tarmo Toom


The aim of this article is not to introduce Donatism as such, or to rehearse what is known about it. Rather, the focus is on a single aspect of Donatist thought — the shaping of the idea of the separation of church and state. On the basis of Donatist martyrologies, imperial documents, Optatus of Milevis’s seven books usually known as Contra Parmenianum Donatistam, and some of Augustine’s relevant treatises and epistles, it will be shown how, in time, the Donatists’ initial collaboration with the empire turned into an eventual confrontation with the empire, and how the doctrine of the separation of church and state began to act as justification for their collective change of mind.

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Author Biography

Tarmo Toom

Professor Tarmo Toom is a Faculty Member of Georgetown University, Washington DC, and a Fellow at John Leland Center for Theological Studies.