Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation is about Augustine's views on Church unity and authority and is primarily based on the letters that he wrote against the Donatists. Although Augustine is one of the Fathers most enthusiastically and thoroughly researched, his letters are less studied than his other works. As a significant number of Augustine's letters were written as part of his effort to unite the Donatists with the Church, they are especially relevant sources for his views on the unity and authority of the Church.
While no single work of Augustine covers the entire period of his dealing with the Donatists, the letters witness to Augustine's activity against the Donatists from the time he became a priest up to 418. Since through his letters Augustine appealed to imperial officials, Catholic landowners, and the Donatists in order to unite the latter with the Church, in the letters Augustine is presenting himself to readers in a uniquely practical and social context, which his other works do not do. Since there is no work based on Augustine's letters that treats the subject that I propose to discuss, the present work will assess the views on Church unity and authority Augustine developed in the period in which he devoted his special attention to eliminating the schism in North Africa. While this dissertation will place Augustine in the circumstances of his daily activities, his letters will expose one to Augustine's entire theological development regarding Church unity and authority during the time he wrote letters treating issues connected with the schism.
This dissertation is a diachronic analysis of key themes present in the letters. The analysis will reveal in context the theological views on Church authority and unity that Augustine developed during his controversies with the Donatists. This endeavor will be supplemented by references to Augustine's other works, as well as modern works pertaining to the text of the letters.
In his letters that treat the Donatist schism, the unity of the Church was Augustine's center of interest, indeed the supreme goal for which he fought with great determination.