The Donatist church in an Apocalyptic age.
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Hoover, Jesse A.
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As a dissident Christian tradition that still endured sporadic Imperial persecution, the Donatist church occupied a unique niche within the wider apocalyptic milieu of late antiquity. This was an era characterized by intense eschatological speculation, spurred on by the recent political ascendency of Christianity within the Empire, the rise of rival theological communions in its wake, and mounting anxiety over the increasing tenuousness of Roman rule in the western provinces. Despite its often-overstated estrangement from the transmarine Christian communities of late antiquity, Donatism was no stranger to this phenomenon. In this dissertation, I wish to contextualize extant Donatist interaction with apocalyptic exegesis in order to see where it remained in continuity with the wider western apocalyptic tradition and where it diverged. This is a topic which will require some nuance. The dominant tendency within early and mid-twentieth century academic discussions of Donatist apocalypticism – when it is mentioned at all – have been to portray it as evidence of an anachronistic inclination within Donatist theology or as a symptom of simmering national or economic dissatisfaction, a religious warrant for social unrest. Reacting to such interpretations, more recent discussions of Donatism which emphasize its theological viability have tended to avoid the topic altogether. In this project, in contrast, I portray Donatist apocalyptic exegesis as an essentially dynamic, adaptive theological phenomenon. As befits an ecclesiastical communion which once formed the majority church in North Africa, Donatist interaction with apocalypticism was neither monolithic nor static. Rather, it evolved significantly throughout the roughly sesquicentennial years of the movement's literary existence, capable of producing such diverse expressions of eschatological thought as the strident denunciations of the emperor Constans as "Antichrist" encountered in Macarian-era Donatist martyrological acta, the gematric calculations of the Liber genealogus – or the spectacular apocalyptic vision of Tyconius, as sophisticated as it is unique. In the various apocalyptic narratives still traceable within extant Donatist writings, I submit, we are given an invaluable window into the inner life of the North African communion.