The Novatianists were early Christians following Antipope Novatian, held a strict view that refused readmission to communion of Lapsi, 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 AD 250. They were declared heretical.
Novatian was a Roman priest who in 251 opposed the election of Pope Cornelius, following the martyrdom 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 (253–60).
Novatianism after Novatian
After his death, the Novatianist sect spread rapidly and could be found in every province, and were very numerous in some places. Those who allied themselves with the doctrines of Novatian were called Novatianists. However, they called themselves καθαροι ("katharoi") or "Purists" reflecting their desire not to be identified with what they considered the lax practices of a corrupted Catholic Church. They went so far as to re-baptize their own converts. Because Novatianists (including Novatian) did not submit to the bishop of Rome, they were labeled by Rome as schismatics. Additionally, Rome also labeled Novatianists heretics for denying that the Church had the power to grant absolution in certain cases (such as to the Lapsi—those who had renounced their Christianity under persecution but later wanted to return to the church). Beyond that, their practices were the same as that of the Catholic Church, including monasticism in the fourth century.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, the Donatists of North Africa maintained a similar belief about Christians who had lapsed under the pressures of persecution. They too were declared heretics.
- "Novatian", Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, 1908.
- Vogt, HJ (1968), Coetus Sanctorum. Der Kirchenbegriff des Novatian und die Geschichte seiner Sonderkirche, Bonn.
- Papandrea, JL (2008), The Trinitarian Theology of Novatian of Rome: A Study in Third-Century Orthodoxy, Lewiston, NJ.