Volume 57, Issue 2, December 2017
Geoffrey D. Dunn
Ecclesiology in Early North African Christianity
The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds
The Matthean parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt 13:24-30) appears across the spectrum of writings of early Christians in north Africa. Given that the parable seems to advocate a non-judgemental acceptance of sinners within the community in the present age, while north African Christianity is known for its emphasis on membership purity and the exclusion of sinners, how was this parable handled in that context? This article argues that an author like Tertullian avoided the ecclesiological dimensions of the parable, and that Cyprian never applied the parable so as to reject the excommunication of the lapsed. Tyconius and Optatus made only passing reference to the parable. Augustine found the parable helpful in arguing against the Donatist practice of excommunicating traditores. Contra litteras Petiliani is considered in some detail. Yet even Augustine, who stands outside the north African tradition, believed in the excommunication.