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Traditor, pl. traditores (Lat), is a term meaning the one(s) who had handed over and defined by Merriam-Webster as "one of the Christians giving up to the officers of the law the Scriptures, the sacred vessels, or the names of their brethren during the Roman persecutions". This refers to bishops and other Christians who turned over sacred scriptures or betrayed their fellow Christians to the Roman authorities under threat of persecution. During the Diocletianic Persecution between AD 303–5, many church leaders had gone as far as turning in Christians to the authorities and "handed over" sacred religious texts to authorities to be burned. Philip Schaff has this to say about tradiotres, "In this, as in former persecutions, the number of apostates who preferred the earthly life to the heavenly, was very great. To these was now added also the new class of the traditores, who delivered the holy Scriptures to the heathen authorities, to be burned. Later, some traditors would be returned to positions of authority under Constantine, sparking a split with the Donatist movement.
While many church members would eventually come to forgive the traditors, the Donatists were less forgiving. They proclaimed that any sacraments celebrated by these priests and bishops were invalid.
The sect had particularly developed and grown in North Africa. Constantine, as emperor, began to get involved in the dispute, and, in AD 314, he called a council at Arles in Gaul, modern France; the issue was debated and the decision went against the Donatists. The Donatists refused to accept the decision of the council. Their "distaste for bishops who had collaborated" with Rome came out of their broader view of the Roman empire.
Held out as a counter-example to the Traditors was the venerated Saint Vincent of Saragossa who at this time preferred to suffer martyrdom rather than agree to consign Scripture to the fire, and who is depicted in religious paintings holding the book whose preservation he preferred to his own life.
The word traditor comes from the Latin transditio from trans (across) + dare (to hand, to give), and is the source of the modern words traitor and treason. The same derivation, though with different context of what is handed to whom, gives us the word tradition.
- "traditor", Dictionary, Merriam-Webster.
- Lindberg, Carter (Nov 28, 2005), A Brief History of Christianity, John Wiley & Sons, p. 45.
- Schaff, Philip (1910). History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, p. 69. SCHAFF.logos4: Charles Scribner’s Sons. pp. 2:68.
- A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines
- Sharp, James (Aug 20, 2012), The Real Truth About Church History, Author House, p. 108.
- Dolo, Shaka Saye Bambata, The Genesis of the Bible, p. 720.
- Park, Jae-Eun (Aug 2013), "Lacking Love or Conveying Love? The Fundamental Roots of the Donatists and Augustine’s Nuanced Treatment of Them", The Reformed Theological Review 72 (2): 103–21.