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THE WORK OF OPTATUS AS A TURNING POINT IN THE AFRICAN ECCLESIOLOGY T HE INFLUENTIAL LECTURES of Pierre Batiffol on the three zones of papal power in the early Church were first delivered a half century ago in Strasbourg. The steady increase of Roman power and influence over the Western Church, the second zone in Batiffol's construction, is one of the clear developments of the early centuries. Nevertheless, one vital section of the Latin Church remained throughout its history a reluctant witness to the reception of that growth of Roman power. The Catholic Church of Latin North Africa 1 consistently maintained an ambivalent attitude of simultaneous respect for Rome as a see whose apostolic credentials were most impressive, combined with a considerable sensitivity about its own autonomy and traditions. It is the purpose of this study to consider the position of one of the lesser lights among the African churchmen, Optatus, bishop of the Numidian town of Milev or Milevis (fl.c.370), the earliest theological defender of the Catholic position in the Donatist schism. Further, it is the contention of the study that, due to the circumstances in which he lived and wrote, the 1 For earlier bibliography, see J. Quasten, Patrology II (1953), especially the articles on Tertullian and Cyprian. More recent studies include: J. P. Brisson, Autonomisme et Christianisme dans l'Afrique romaine de Septime Severe a !'invasion vandale. (Paris, 1958). (CyprirL 33-121). W. Marschall, Karthago und Rom. Die Stellung der nordafrikanischen Kirche zum apostolischen Stuhl in Rom. (Stuttgart, 1971). J. Ratzinger, Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustins Lehre von der Kirche. (Munich, 1954). (Tertullian-Cyprian-Optatus, 44-123). W. Simonis, Ecclesia Visibilis et lnvisibilis. Untersuchungen zur Ekklesiologie und Sakramentenlehre in der afrikanischen Tradition von Cyprian his Augustinus. (Frankfurt, 1970). U. Wickert, Sacramentum Unitatis. Ein Beitrag zum Verstlindnis der Kirche bei Cyprian. (Berlin, 1971). 668 OPTATUS AND THE AFRICAN ECCLESIOLOGY 669 discussion of the position of Africa in relation to the Roman Church attained a new and crucial level with Optatus. It may even be said that with Optatus the African tradition reached a turning point in its history but that, as A. J. P. Taylor observed of the year 1848 in German history, it failed to turn. The African attitude failed to develop much further in its view of Rome during the years of Augustine and Aurelius of Carthage . It could be profuse in its words of respect, as in the Epistola familiaris,2 or proud and even harsh as in the Apiarius affair and the question of African appeals to Rome.8 The thought of Optatus is an opening for the future but it is also a development that must be seen in the context of the African tradition, above all that of the ecclesiological thought of Cyprian. Therefore, it is necessary first of all to survey briefly the ideas of Tertullian and Cyprian on the place of Rome in the world Church. TertuUian The attitude of Tertullian (+ after 220) toward the question of the position of Rome in the Church can best be judged from two writings in particular, the early De Praescriptione Haereticorum and one of his last works, the De Pudicitia. In seeking a short way with all heretics, Tertullian brilliantly takes up and develops the argument formulated by Irenaeus in his Adversus Haereses. This argument, devised principally with the spurious traditions of the Gnostics in mind, combines the elements of the monepiscopate from Ignatius with the idea of apostolic succession from Clement of Rome. To the Gnostic's boast of being the spiritual heir of one of the Apostles, usually one of the more obscure ones, Irenaeus counters that the logical place to seek the teaching of Christ in the contemporary world is the Churches which his Apostles founded. Christ undoubtedly entrusted his teachings to these same Apostles who in tum passed them on to the Churches they founded. The essence of the argument applies to any Church of apostolic foundation • Epistola familiaris =Augustine Ep. 177. (OSEL 44, 669 ff. Goldbacher). 8 Marschall, op. cit., 161 ff. 670 ROBERT B. ENO but, for brevity's sake, Irenaeus confines himself to stressing the greatness of the Roman community. Though he...


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