‘Let’s (not) talk about it’: Augustine and the control of epistolary dialogue

Richard Miles*

*Corresponding author for this work

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Dialogue and the DOnatist Controversy The growing domination that Augustine of Hippo exerted over all areas of religious debate in North Africa during the early fifth century CE was a key part of Caecilianist success against its rivals. By actively seeking out opportunities for public dialogue with Donatist, Manichaean and Arian opponents then insisting upon the presence of stenographers before organising the distribution and reading out of these transcripts, Augustine effectively seized control of how these debates were presented to the wider Christian community in North Africa. For Augustine this strategy of controlled engagement would be particularly successful in forcing progress on the African church's most long-standing and seemingly intractable dispute: the Donatist controversy. A century of schism had resulted in the development of two quite distinct rival textual communities. Both Donatists and Caecilianists had their own exhaustive archive of legal documents, treatises, council records, sermons and letters which not only proved the rectitude of their respective positions in the controversy but also provided the foundation of the institutional identities which they had established for themselves. Augustine would totally reject this separatist status quo. The Donatist dossiers would be subjected to rigorous forensic scrutiny by the bishop of Hippo. By challenging the veracity and in some instances the ownership of key disputed texts, Augustine sought to undermine any notion of a legitimate Donatist community.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe End of Dialogue in Antiquity
EditorsSimon Goldhill
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780511575464
ISBN (Print)9780521887748
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


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