This paper aims to analyse the uses of accusations of ‘Pelagianism’ in the course of several intraecclesiastical conflicts which took place in the Christian West from 418 (condemnation of ‘Pelagianism’ by the Roman bishop Zosimus and Emperor Honorius) to the mid-7th century (Pope John IV’s complaints of the revival of this heresy in Ireland). Focusing on the resort to charges of ‘Pelagianism’ as a way of setting the boundaries of orthodoxy and orthopraxis and defining an allegedly religious ‘otherness’, I intend to engage in the current debates on whether ancient heresiological labels such as ‘Pelagianism’ – redefined into historiographical categories – are truly useful for modern historians.
Augustine’s works against Donatism can be studied in order to obtain an accurate portrait of the daily life, the biblical background and the liturgy of the Donatist Church and its supporters. As we can read in many Augustinian passages, Donatists and Catholics shared the same religious books, they used to pray identically, they believed in Trinity, they had the same sacraments and their rituals were acted in a very close way. However, Augustine’s literary production made a huge effort for underlining the ‘otherness’ of Donatist identity. The point of this paper will be to show if this otherness really existed or if it was an artificial creation necessary for political convenience. Donatism was a schism and Donatist bishops didn’t really claim to be a different otherness inside the Christian Church and they always aspired to maintain communion with the universal church. Then, we could maybe consider that the ‘otherness’ of Donatist identity was a political plot of their rivals in order to underline to the Roman emperors the heretic condition of Donatism and describe their followers as crazy people.
As Ireland went through what likely was a slow and difficult conversion process, some among the Irish persistently refused to follow the major paradigm shift. Among those antagonised in literary genres arising in the early centuries of Irish Christianity, we find a group called ‘díbergaig’ – marauders who raided Christian communities as a service to evil powers, sometimes the Devil, to whom they swore allegiance. Are the díbergaig mainly ‘fairy-tale monsters’ in tales designed to boost the morale of Christian pioneers, or do these texts tell us something real about social instability in early medieval Ireland?