Optatus of Milevis, St.

views updated


Bishop and polemicist; d. c. 400. Optatus is known primarily as the author of a document written c. 363 to 376 against Parmenian, the Donatist bishop of Carthage. The original title is lost and the work is now known as Contra Parmenianum Donatistam. The MS tradition indicates changes and additions in the original document to which Optatus added an incomplete seventh book in 385. Optatus sets himself to ease the return of the Donatists to the Catholic Church by a conciliatory presentation of the causes of the schism, which he shows to be no longer consequential in the actual problems under dispute. He calls the Donatists schismatics, not heretics (1:1112), and refutes the objections of Parmenian with doctrinal and historical considerations, giving the history of the schism wherein the Donatists alone are responsible (b. 1); the Catholic Church is the only true Church of Christ in unity with the Cathedra Petri and spread throughout the world (b. 2). He contends that the Donatists are wrong in proclaiming themselves a martyr church and in accusing Catholics as persecutors. The Catholics did not enlist the civil power, which, however, Optatus defends as just (b. 3). He rejects the Donatist use of Isaiah 66.3 and Psalms 140.5 against Catholics and their Sacraments (b. 4), and condemns the Donatist rebaptism since the Sacraments are valid independently of the instrument (b. 5). He objects to the cruelty of the Donatists, and particularly the Circumcellions, against the Catholics (b. 6), and finally tries to judge the traditores of the Diocletian persecution as mildly as possible (b. 7).

For his historical argumentation, Optatus used a collection of acts that had been assembled as early as 330 and 347 in defense of Bishops Caecilianus and Felix. This collection is represented by a ten-piece appendix preserved in only one MS tradition, but it is generally recognized as authentic. G. Morin and A. Wilmart also credit him with five sermons of which only the Christmas sermon is genuine.

The theological doctrine of Optatus is particularly weighty, and augustine, after 400, used much of it for his teaching on the Church and the Sacraments. Optatus distinguishes between person and office. The Sacraments are of themselves sanctifying agents, since the confectors are not the masters but the servants of the Sacraments (5.4, 7). Salvation brings with it faith and the Trinity (5.1). The unity of the visible Church is guaranteed by the bishop's office and the Sacraments; and the Cathedra Petri in Rome is the link of unity for the worldwide Church (2.24).

In contradistinction to the Donatists, Optatus is outspokenly friendly to the emperor and defends the imperial Church system prevailing since constantine i. The Church can live securely in the Roman Empire and not among the barbarians. Above the emperor there is only God, hence loyalty is due to him particularly as a Christian ruler (3.3, with proof adduced from 1 Tm 2.2).

Feast: June 4.

Bibliography: Libri VII (Contra Parmenianum ) and Acta, C. ziwsa (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 26;1893); Sermones Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890), Suppl. 1:288300. The Work of Saint Optatus against the Donatists, ed. and tr. o. r. vassall-phillips (London 1917). Clavis Patrum latinorum, ed. e. dekkers (2d ed. Streenbrugge 1961), 244249. É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951), 11.1:107784. p. monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne, 7 v. (Paris 190123), 5:241306. o. bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur, 5 v. (Freiburg 191332), 3:491495. e. dinkler, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 18.1 (1939) 765771. a. c. de veer, "À propos de l'authenticité du livre VII d'Optat de Milev," Revue des études augustiniennes 7 (1961) 389391. t. Šagi-buniĆ,"Controversia de Baptismate," Laurentianum 3 (1962) 167209. e. l. grasmÜck, Coercitio: Staat und Kirche im Donatistenstreit (Bonn 1964). c. mazzucco, Ottato di Milevi in un secolo di studi: problemi e prospettive (Bologna 1993).

[a. stuiber]