Luke 14:23, Converting the Donatists

And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

//For anyone not familiar with the Donatists, they were the primary strand of Christianity in Africa in the fourth century. Followers of Donatus (though he was not its founding leader), the Donatists considered themselves purists in that they did not recognize the authority of anyone who had ever denounced his or her faith to avoid persecution. Such persons, they insisted, needed to be properly rebaptized—by a recognized authority, of course—back into the Church.

This schism in the church was one of the primary problems Saint Augustine fought to correct during his tenure as Bishop of Hippo. So how did Augustine combat the Donatists, restoring a single universal (Catholic) church? Verbal persuasion proved ineffective, and the schism grew violent. Imperial troops were brought into Africa to tear down Donatist churches and force their congregations back to the Catholic basilicas. Augustine at first opposed the use of force, but when it became clear that no other method would work, he turned to today’s verse. He took the phrase “compel them to enter” and applied it to mean forceful coercion of the Donatists.

Not all Donatists were persuaded by force, as one would expect of a movement founded on reverence for martyrdom, but never again would the Donatists be a major competitor to the Catholic Church.

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