The Donatist schism, arising out of the last great Heathen persecution, had for one of its first results the assembling of a Council at Rome. For the African schismatics, hoping to deprive bishop Caecilian and the Carthaginian Catholics of the favour of the Emperor Constantine, asked that prince to let their cause


be judged by bishops sent from Gaul. He thereupon wrote [1] to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, whose name was afterwards corrupted into "Melchiades," and to "Marcus," probably to be identified with Merocles, bishop of Milan, [2] desiring them to act with three Gallic bishops, to whom he had already sent instructions to hasten to Rome for the purpose. This is what a Roman advocate has called "a reference to Rome," [3] as if a Papal judgment were alone in question; and the same writer fastens on a phrase or two repeatedly used by St. Augustine as to Melchiades' "council" or "judgment," [4] whereas elsewhere Augustine distinctly represents Melchiades as merely the "president" of the court of inquiry, and as in that capacity "giving his own judgment last," [5] or speaks


of "the judgment of Melchiades and of other bishops," "the sentences of the bishops and Melchiades," or of "the bishops who judged at Rome," [6] etc.; and Constantin's own language is still more pertinent. [7] It is, in fact, impossible


to extract a genuine witness for Papalism from the first of the Lateran Councils; the assertion that "the ecclesiastical status of the bishops in Africa rested with Melchiades," [8] - as if the other bishops, emphatically mentioned as "judges," were simply his "assessors" or advisers, like a congregation of cardinals at the present Papal court, - is an assertion and nothing more. But the Donatists complained, as we learn from Constantine himself, that the case had been heard at Rome by "only a few bishops meeting within closed doors" [9] they therefore demanded a fuller court, or, as Optatus puts it, "they determined to appeal from the bishops;" and an appeal such as they made implies that what is aimed at is a more authoritative decision. Constantine therefore arranged for what he called a plena cognitio in a large Council of Western bishops, to be held at Arles. On Papal principles, he ought of course to have upheld, as by Divine right final, a judgment


affirmed by the Roman see. [10] But nothing of the kind occurred to him, or to any one else at the time. The Council met; Sylvester of Rome, who had recently succeeded Miltiades, was represented by deputies (to call them "legates" would insensibly - suggest a loftier position than they occupied); but, says Hefele, Marinus of Arles - one of the three Gallic bishops who had "judged the case at Rome" - "appears to have presided." The Council's first letter to Sylvester, after the close of its proceedings, includes a passage which bears tokens of corruption, but in which occur the words, "te qui majores dioeceses tenes." The phrase has been set aside by one writer as "an anachronism every way;" [11] but the request conveyed, that Sylvester could "make known to all" the conclusion arrived at, was not unnatural; and he might be said to "hold the greater dioceses" in virtue of his control


over Italian districts which, as nearest to Rome, had a central position in the empire - "diocese" being used in its older and vaguer sense. [12] The other letter, which gives the canons at length, begins significantly. Marinus and the bishops tell Sylvester "what they have decreed;" they do not ask him to confirm their decrees, but to be the medium of making them universally known; and, "in the first place," they proceed, "as to the observance of the Lord's Paschal feast, that it be observed by us throughout the world on one day, and at one time, and that, according to custom, thou shouldst send [13] letters to all." Nothing more natural than that a bishop seated in the centre of the empire should there have his peculiar opportunities of communication; but in this he would be acting as the minister of the Council - certainly not as


the supreme authority whose function it was to give validity to the canons.


[1] The letter in a Greek version is in Euseb. x. 5. The original is given in App. to Aug. tom. ix.

[2] Dict. Chr. Antiq. ii. 1811. Anyhow the phrase, "collegis vestris," applied to three bishops, would suggest that "Marcus" was himself already a bishop; and cp. Tillemont, vi. 702.

[3] Rivington, p. 140.

[4] Aug. Brevic. Collat. iii. s. 31, 33, 36, 38; Ad Donat. post Collat. s. 17, 19, 56. But here Mr. Rivington betrays himself: he says that Augustine uses this phrase "throughout the conference with the Donatists in 411" (p. 141). It was only on the third day of that conference that this council (of Oct. 10, 313) was discussed as part of the history of the Donatist case.

[5] By which vote, says Optatus, De Schism. i. 24, "judicium clausum est." Cp. Aug. c. Epist. Parm. i. 10.

[6] Cf. Aug. Brev. Coll. iii. 24, 31 ; Ep. 43, s.16, "Viri gravissimi ... suum temperare arbitrium maluerunt;" "Melchiadis ultima prolata sententia;" and s. 59, 20, "Illos epiacopos qui Romae judicarunt ... tantae auctoritatis episcopos, quorum judicio," etc.; Ep. 105. s.8, "praesidente Melchiade cum multis collegis suis," "de judicio episcoporum," etc. ; and Ep. 53. a. 5, "de judicio episcoporum ... conquestos." Mr. Rivington has, indeed, made out a charge of inaccurate translation, on Laud's part, of a passage in Aug. Ep. 43; but he himself (p. 142) had translated "eum confirmari vellet" (Melchiades, in Ep. 43. 16) as if the "confirming" Caecilian in his position were "the pope's" sole act. This was commented on in Ch. Quart. Review, and thereupon altered. This passage in St. Augustine's letter ia also used by him (p. 231) as showing that there could be "temporarily, and by papal dispensation, two bishops in one city." But "in" is ambiguous; and the original clearly means that only one of the rival prelates (i.e. the Catholic) was to be - not by "papal dispensation," but by act of the council under Melchiades' presidency - established as the diocesan. The ex-Donatist, until another flock should be found for him, was simply to reside in the city with episcopal rank. It may be added that Mr. Rivington is pleased to understand the title, "patrem Chriatianae plebis," given by Augustine to "Melchiades," in the Roman sense of "the Holy Father"! (p. 144).

[7] He wrote to Ablavius, the "vicarius," or vice-prefect, of Africa, describing the inquiry at Rome as conducted both (tam) by certain Gallic bishops and by seven of the same communion, "quam etiam urbis Romae, episcopi" (cp. his earlier letter, "before" Miltiades and "before" his "colleagues"); and again, "Cum res fuisset apud urbem Romam ab ... episcopis terminata;" and in his letter to Chrestus of Syracuse, Miltiades' part in the affair is described simply by "praesente quoque Romanae urbis episcopo."

[8] It is added that his "judgment in the matter was, to a Catholic, final," just as a decision of Leo XIII. would be to Mr. Rivington himself.

[9] Const. to Ablavius.

[10] Mr. Rivington evades this by saying that "it was not a matter which came within the scope of papal infallibility" (p. 146). But did it not, on his own showing, come within the scope of papal jurisdiction as plenary, absolute, and immediate?

[11] E. S. Ffoulkes, in Dict. Chr. Biogr. iii. 831. It is certainly a curiously abrupt phrase in such a context, and might suggest the hand of a later Roman forger (a class only too numerous) who took "dioceses" in the technical sense of "aggregates of provinces," and wished to make out that the Roman bishop was, even in 314, patriarch of "the West."

[12] Cf. Suicer in v.

[13] "Et juxta consuetudinem litteras ad omnes tu dirigas." Dirigo is frequently used for sending, e.g. in Leo the Great's letters. Mr. Rivington, with the Latin before him (for he refers to "Haddan and Stubbs"), had rendered this clause, "and as thou shalt by letters, according to custom, direct." This he has "corrected" into "and that thou shouldst ... send letters to all." But still he has not got it quite right; in another sentence, "It was a `custom' for the bishop of Rome to 'direct' the churches as to the day of" Easter "observance," he has substituted "inform" for "direct;" but dirigas does not mean "inform" the churches, but "send" letters to them. We shall see more about dirigas further on.