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At the close of the forth century, and during the fifth, Manichaeism, Donatism, and Priscillianism were the heresies most in view.Expelled from Rome and Milan, the Manichaeism sought refuge in Africa.On the other hand, in his writings against the Donatists he upholds the rights of the State: sometimes, he says, a salutary severity would be to the interest of the erring ones themselves and likewise protective of true believers and the community at large (Vacandard, 1. It seems certain, however, that Priscillian, Bishop of Avila in Spain, was accused of heresy and sorcery, and found guilty by several councils. At length he appealed to Emperor Maximus at Trier, but to his detriment, for he was there condemned to death. i): "To consign a heretic to death is to commit an offence beyond atonement "; and in the next chapter he says that God forbids their execution, even as He forbids us to uproot cockle, but He does not forbid us to repel them, to deprive them of free speech, or to prohibit their assemblies.Priscillian himself, no doubt in full consciousness of his own innocence, had formerly called for repression of the Manichæans by the sword. In 447 Leo the Great had to reproach the Priscillianists with loosening the holy bonds of marriage, treading all decency under foot, and deriding all law, human and Divine. The help of the "secular arm" was therefore not entirely rejected; on the contrary, as often as the Christian welfare, general or domestic, required it, Christian rulers sought to stem the evil by appropriate measures. Isidore of Seville expresses similar sentiments (Sententiarum, III, iv, nn. How little we are to trust the vaunted impartiality of Henry Charles Lee, the American historian of the Inquisition, we may here illustrate by an example.A law of 407, aimed at the traitorous Donatists, asserts for the first time that these heretics ought to be put on the same plane as transgressors against the sacred majesty of the emperor, a concept to which was reserved in later times a very momentous role.
All manner of heretics were affected by this legislation, and in various ways, by exile, confiscation of property, or death.
masters of the temporal and material conditions of the Church. iv), protested vigorously against any use of force in the province of religion, whether for the spread of Christianity or for preservation of the Faith.
At the same time they retained the traditional authority of "Pontifex Maximus", and in this way the civil authority inclined, frequently in league with prelates of Arian tendencies, to persecute the orthodox bishops by imprisonment and exile. They repeatedly urged that in this respect the severe decrees of the Old Testament were abrogated by the mild and gentle laws of Christ. 438) was the protection of religion and so, with terrible regularity, issued many penal edicts against heretics.
State intervention not answering to their wishes, and the violent excesses of the Circumcellions being condignly punished, the Donatists complained bitterly of administrative cruelty. Optatus of Mileve defended the civil authority (De Schismate Donatistarum, III, cc. Finally, however, he changed his views, whether moved thereto by the incredible excesses of the Circumcellions or by the good results achieved by the use of force, or favoring force through the persuasions of other bishops.
Apropos of his apparent inconsistency it is well to note carefully whom he is addressing.