Saint Optatus of Milevis

Optatus was a Bishop of Milevis in the 4th Century.  St. Optatus wrote a long work in refutation of the Donatist heresy (named after the Bishop Donatus), which argued that clergymen must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid.  Optatus’ response was addressed as an answer to Parmenianus, the successor of Donatus as the Bishop of Carthage.   Optatus attempted to make a distinction between schismatics and heretics, with the former have rejected unity, but retaining true doctrine and true sacraments, while the latter having diverged from true doctrine itself.  Donatists and Catholics were agreed as to the necessary unity of the Church. The question was, where is this One Church? Optatus argues that it cannot be only in a corner of Africa (as Donatism originated only within Carthage in North Africa); it must be the catholica (universal) which is throughout the world.  He also gives a list of popes down through Pope Siricius.

Quotes from Optatus of Milevis:

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The Schism of the Donatists


Lest any one should say, that it is without thought that I call them brethren, I would reply that such they are, for we cannot escape from the words of the prophet Isaiah;… ‘You who fear the Word of the Lord, hear ye the Word of the Lord.  ‘To those who detest and curse you, and are unwilling to be called your brethren, say ye nevertheless: ‘ “You are our brethren.” ‘ They therefore are without doubt brothers, though not good brothers. Wherefore let no one marvel that I term them brothers… For we have one spiritual birth, though we differ in our conduct.”


For what proves our point more than your argument that there was only one Flood, which was a type of Baptism? And, in maintaining that one Circumcision availed salvation for the Jews, you have written a defense of our doctrine… For this is our argument, who defend the Unity of Baptism…
If it be unlawful for schismatics to baptize, it must therefore be unlawful for you, for you originated the Schism.
If it be unlawful for sinners to baptize, we can prove from divine testimony that you are sinners also.
Finally, since the validity of Baptism does not depend upon the character of the man who has been chosen to baptize, but upon the act lawfully done but once, for this reason we do not re-baptize baptisms which have been administered by you, because both amongst us and amongst you the Sacrament is one.”


“The Church, then, is One, and her holiness is not measured by the pride of individuals, but is derived from the Sacraments.
The Church cannot be amongst all the heretics and schismatics. It follows that she must be in one place only. You, Parmenian, have said that she is with you alone. This, I suppose, can only be because, in your pride, you strive to claim some special holiness for yourselves, so that the Church may be where it pleases you. And so, in order that she may be with you in a little piece of Africa, in a corner of one small region, is she not to be with us in another part of Africa? Is she not to be in Spain, in Gaul, in Italy… in Greece… in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia… in Egypt and Mesopotamia? In innumerable islands and provinces where you are not? Where in that case is the application of the Catholic Name, since, on this very account, is the Church called Catholic?”


“In the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [‘Rock’]—of all the apostles, the one chair in which unity is maintained by all. Neither do the apostles proceed individually on their own, and anyone who would [presume to] set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner. . . . Recall, then, the origins of your chair, those of you who wish to claim for yourselves the title of holy Church”


“What is so profane as to break, scrape, remove the altars of God, on which you yourselves had once offered, on which both the prayers of the people and the members of Christ have been borne, where God Almighty has been invoked, where the Holy Ghost has been asked for and has come down, from which by many has been received the pledge of eternal salvation and the safeguard of faith and the hope of resurrection? … For what is an altar but the seat of the Body and Blood of Christ?”


“Solictude for assuring unity caused blessed Peter to be preferred before all the Apostles and to receive alone the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven that he might admit others”

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