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Optatus of Milevis, Against the Donatists (1917). Preface to the appendix. pp.321-325.


St. Optatus makes several references to the documents which he tells us that he was appending to his work, in order fully to establish the accuracy of his statements. For example, with regard to the Council at Cirta, which was the beginning of all the evil subsequently to be known as Donatism, he appeals to the evidence afforded by the writings of Nundinarius the Deacon, and to the Acts of the Council, which----so he says----

'dubitantibus proferre poterimus, harum namque plenitudinem rerum in novissima parte istorum libellorum ad implendam fidem adiunximus' (i, 14).

In the same way he states (i, 20) that he is appending the letter, in which the Bishops who were responsible for the consecration of Majorinus brought their charges against Caecilian. Again, with regard to the decrees of Eunomius and Olimpius he is able to write (i, 26):

'De iis rebus habemus volumina actorum, quod, si quis voluerit, in novissimis partibus legat.'

These decrees have been lost. But we have still extant (in their entirety or in part) most of the documents which were placed in his Appendix by St. Optatus. |322 

The Colbertine MS. (C) has alone preserved for us any part of this Appendix. Moreover we possess this MS. in a very incomplete state. It commences only with the middle of the Sixth Book, and at the end of the Seventh we read:

'Expliciunt Sancti Optati Episcopi Libri Numero VII vel Gesta Purgationis Caeciliani Episcopi et Felicis Ordinatoris Eiusdem. necnon Epistola Constantini Imperatoris. Amen.'

But unfortunately there are many pages wanting between the Gesta Purgationis Caeciliani and the Gesta Purgationis Felicis----so that Duchesne writes that at least as much of the Gesta Purgationis Caeciliani has been lost as yet remains, perhaps double or treble or possibly even more.1 With regard to the Gesta Purgationis Felicis comparatively little is missing, though the account of the inquiry before the Pro-Consul Aelianus starts somewhere in the middle.2

Duchesne has carefully reconstructed the Appendix of St. Optatus,3 and shown that it probably contained the following documents:

I. Acta Purgationis Caeciliani

(1)  Gesta apud Zenophilum.

(2)  Acts of Cirta.

(3)   Synodal letter of Donatist Council at Carthage against Caecilian (lost).

(4)  Letter of Pro-Consul Anulinus to Constantine. |323 

(5)  Supplication of Donatists (in Optatus i, 22).

(6)  Letter of Constantine to Miltiades.

(7)  Report of Anulinus to Constantine (lost).

(8)  Acts of Roman Council (nearly all lost: a fragment in Opt. i, 23, 24).

(9)  Letter of Constantine to Eumelius (lost).

(10)  Proceedings of Eunomius and Olimpius in Africa (lost).

II.  Acta Purgationis Felicis

(11)  Letter of Constantine to Aelius (or Aelianus?) (lost).

(12)  Letter of Constantine to Probianus.

(13)  Acta Purgationis Felicis (the beginning lost).

III  Epistola[e] Constantini Imperatoris

Probably, however, the collection of Optatus did not contain the letter of the Council of Arles (though it is found in C), since we find no reference to it in his work.

Of these documents, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 have been quoted or analysed by St. Optatus and St. Augustine; 4 and 12 have been reproduced in their entirety, and 9 in part, by St. Augustine only; 10 was known to St. Optatus only. All these documents, with the exception of 1 and 10, were put in and read at the Conference at Carthage in 411.

I give, in the first place, a translation of everything that we still find in C.

We have part of the two interesting trials----of Felix of Aptunga (the consecrator of Caecilian) on the one side and of Silvanus (one of the consecrators of Majorinus) on the other. By these documents considerable light is thrown upon several details of Roman |324 judicial procedure in Africa during the early years of the fourth century. There are also six letters of Constantine; a short document consisting of a joint letter from officials named Petronius and Julianus; and the well-known synodal letter sent by the Council of Arles, at the conclusion of its labours, to Pope Silvester. These letters have been printed in their chronological order. In each case I have thought it well to prefix a short introduction.

With regard to my translation, perhaps I may be permitted to crave the indulgence of my readers. The great Emperor's sentences (as at least they appear in his letters) are of extraordinary length and complexity, with parenthesis heaped upon parenthesis, so that the task of disentangling them in such a way as to make their meaning intelligible in English, without the sacrifice either of grammar or of verbal accuracy, is one of no small difficulty, as anyone who may make the attempt will discover for himself.

Ziwsa is satisfied with printing these ten documents, but I have also translated and printed the others of St. Optatus' original collection which still remain extant. They are:

xi.----(a) The Acts of the Council of Cirta (to be found nearly complete in Augustine con. Crescon. iii, 30).

xii.----(b) Letter of Anulinus to Constantine (of which the text has been preserved in Augustine Ep. lxxxviii, 2).

xiii.----(c) Letter of Constantine to Miltiades (to be found in Eusebius, H.E. x, 5).

xiv.----(d) Letter of Constantine to Probianus (entire in Augustine con. Crescon. iii, 81).

I give also two official letters (xv, xvi) from |325 Constantine to the Pro-Consul Anulinus, which have been preserved by Eusebius, and throw considerable light on the Emperor's attitude towards Catholics and Donatists respectively at this time (a.d. 313).

In addition to the documents which Duchesne shows to have been contained in the Appendix of Optatus, the following were quoted either by St. Augustine or by the Donatists at the Conference of Carthage (a.d. 411).

(1)  Acts of seizure of Sacred Books at Rome in 303 (lost).

(2)  Acts of Donatist Martyrs of Abilina (Migne, P.L. viii, 689-703).

(3)  Letters of Mensurius and Secundus (lost).

(4)  Procès-verbal of the restitution of the Holy Places in Rome to Pope Miltiades by order of the Emperor Maxentius (lost).

(5)  The two letters of Constantine preserved by Eusebius (x, 5, 7), which I have printed and numbered xv, xvi.

(6)  Three letters of Constantine (lost).

(7)  Supplication to Constantine by Donatists, complaining of persecution (lost).

(8)  Letter of Constantine to Verinus, May 5, 321 (lost).

[Footnotes moved to the end]

1. 1  Le dossier du Donatisme, p. 9.

2. 2  The famous scholar Stephen Baluze published (in 1680) the Gesta apud Zenophilum and Acta Purgationis Felicis in his Miscellanea (Lib. II).

3. 3  Le dossier du Donatisme, p. 42.

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