Novatianism

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The Novatianists following Novatius, or Novatian, held a strict view that refused readmission to communion of those baptized Christians who had denied their faith or performed the formalities of a ritual sacrifice to the pagan gods, under the pressures of the persecution sanctioned by Emperor Decius, in 250 A.D.

Novatian was a Roman priest who in 251 opposed the election of Pope Cornelius, following the assassination of Pope Fabian during the persecution, on the grounds that he was too lax in accepting the lapsed Christians. He let himself be made a rival pope, one of the first antipopes. He held that lapsed Christians, who had not maintained their confession of faith under persecution, may not be received again into communion with the church, and that second marriages are unlawful. He and his followers were excommunicated by a synod held at Rome in October of the same year. Novatian is said to have suffered martyrdom under the Emperor Valerian I (253 - 260).

Novatian was the first Roman Christian who wrote to any considerable extent in Latin. Of his numerous writings only three are extant, the usual fate of heterodoxy: a letter written in the name of the Roman clergy to Cyprian in 250; a treatise in thirty-one chapters, De Trinitate; and a letter written at the request of the Roman laity, De cibis judaicis. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, characterized them as "well-arranged compositions, written in an elegant and vigorous style."

After his death, the Novationist sect spread rapidly. Those who allied themselves with the doctrines of Novatian were called Novatianists; their own name for themselves was the καθεροι, the pure, reflecting their claim not to be participants in the lax practices of the Catholics by which they believed the Catholic church to have been corrupted. They went so far as to rebaptize their converts.

In the 4th and 5th century, the Donatists of North Africa followed a similar belief about Christians who had lapsed under the pressures of persecution. They too were declared to be heretics.


See also: Antipope, Donatist

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