Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2018


Johns Hopkins University Press


The rhetorical significance of sacred books in the North African controversy between Caecilianists and Donatists remains under-explained. In this article, I situate the act of traditio in its historical context by employing insights from the study of material texts. The Acts of the Abitinian Martyrs, the arguments of Augustine and Optatus, and even apotropaic practices reveal a social logic in which the physical book does more than transmit text. I argue that this theology of the book provides a richer account of traditio than the economic and sociological explanations in current scholarship on the North African controversy. The sacred book functions as a metonym for Christian confession, an avatar of divine presence, and a powerful agent of healing. To hand over the sacred books for destruction was thus to destroy objects which embodied divine truth, presence, and power.


Copyright © 2018 The Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Journal of Late Antiquity, 11(2), 375–395. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.

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