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Augustinian Studies

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published on March 10, 2017

Adam Ployd

Non poena sed causa
Augustine’s Anti-Donatist Rhetoric of Martyrdom

This article examines Augustine’s anti-Donatist claim that it is not the punishment but the cause (non poena sed causa) that makes a martyr. Augustine’s non poena sed causa argument arises as part of the larger rhetoric of martyrdom that recent scholarship has highlighted in late antiquity. I argue here that a more specific look at classical rhetorical techniques can provide a better understanding of what Augustine is up to in his particular rhetoric of martyrdom. To that end, after providing an overview of North African martyr discourse, I turn to forensic rhetoric and issue theory as described in Cicero and Quintilian. I show that two types of forensic arguments—one on the issue of definition and other on the contested interpretation of a legal text—shaped Augustine’s non poena sed causa approach to the Donatists’ claims to be the church of the martyrs.

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