|St. Augustine being baptized by St. Ambrose in St. Monica's|
presence. Work by Joseph Briffa.
During the fourth and fifth century St. Augustine and the many others of the African Catholic Church were at great ends to put an end to a schism that had started around 303 AD (about sixty years before St. Augustine was born) regarding Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. The persecution involved either death or the handing over of the Scriptures, and those which had decided to hand over their church’s Scriptures were called traditores (those who handed over holy things). At one point in 311 AD a so-called traditor had ordained the new bishop of Carthage which started a controversy in which the Donatists formed a schism from the Catholic Church. The Donatists were somewhat like the Novationists in that they saw the Church as only for saints and not sinners, and in that regard they were rigorists with regards to sins and sins that excluded from Communion. This is a very brief account of the Donatists, but suffice to say they were the majority Christian sect at the time of St. Augustine’s being a priest, though by the end of his office as bishop the Catholic Church was a much greater force in the region. This article regards St. Augustine’s humility as a priest lovingly exhorting Maximinus the Donatist bishop to stop re-baptizing Catholics and to strive for peace and unity of Donatists and Catholics. Letter 23 was written in 392 AD.
The letter regards a controversy in which St. Augustine sends a letter to the Donatist bishop Maximinus (who later became Catholic) regarding their re-baptism of one of the deacons of St. Augustine’s church, named Mutugenna. St. Augustine repudiates re-baptism here as un-Christian but the manner of his letter is impressive in the degree of his humility and charity. One might say this regards how weak the Catholic Church was in 392 AD, when the letter was written, but considering St. Augustine’s Confessions which are from a close time period, I think it likely that this simply regards St. Augustine’s taking up the life of the Gospel of humility, obedience, and charity.