Donatism was another rigorist response to concerns that some church leaders may have succumbed to the threats of persecution, denying the faith in order to survive, but now they were back leading the church. The Donatists believed that this threatened the spiritual integrity of the church and separated themselves from those who were connected with the less rigorous Christians. Augustine's response suggested that the validity of ordinations and sacraments rested in the promises of God and not the holiness of those who held church office. Oh, and Nicaea – the concerns raised in 325 weren’t really settled until Theodosius called another council at Constantinople in 381, when the Athanasian position finally won out over its rivals. But as I said, that only resolved part of the problem – the divinity of Christ, now the church would face the question of how Jesus could be both divine and human!
The professionally trained historian might not find much that is “new” here, and those seeking a sensationalist reading of Christian history might be disappointed by what they find here, but those persons seeking a solid and well presented telling of the story will find much to like here. In fact, Christianity is the kind of book we need to have available so that the sensationalist renderings might lose their attractiveness. In that light, I was impressed by the generous manner of this presentation. The author is a Christian, perhaps even an evangelical, but even Arius is treated with a degree of respect and Athanasius’ darker side is presented. Constantine comes across neither as saint nor monster, and the pagan Julian is depicted in as generous tones as can be expected. So, if you want to know how the story of Christianity began, this is a good place to start.
Christianity: How a Tiny Sect from a Despised Religion Came to Dominate the Roman Empire. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011. 256 pages.