Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Vinnie the Rogatist

Ralph Platz writes in an email:
In reading a passage from St. Augustine, I was struck by the similarity of one of his phrases to a phrase that is common today in English slang, and I am passing it on to you in case you would want to develop it into an item for your blog.

St. Augustine, rejecting the Donatist arguments, says crisply, "Da veniam. Non credimus" (Epistola 93, 7.23).

Today in English slang, I often hear, "Gimme a break! I don't buy that."

The Latin and the English phrases sound the same to me both in meaning and in emotional tone.
Mr. Platz evidently has a good ear for Latin. "Da veniam" (literally "Grant pardon") can also mean "Excuse me", and the tone of "Gimme a break" is similar in English to the ironical "Excuse me" (with the emphasis on "me"). Likewise "I don't buy that" is a good colloquial translation of "Non credimus" (literally "We don't believe"), assuming that St. Augustine is using the royal we.

St. Augustine's words occur in a letter that deserves closer examination. The letter (dated around 408) is written to Vincentius of Cartennae, aka Vincentius the Rogatist. The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Donatists, says that the Rogatists were one of a number of sects that split off from the Donatists:
Like so many other schisms, this schism bred schisms within itself. In Mauretania and Numidia these separated sects were so numerous that the Donatists themselves could not name them all. We hear of Urbanists; of Claudianists, who were reconciled to the main body by Primianus of Carthage; of Rogatists, a Mauretanian sect, of mild character, because no Circumcellion belonged to it; the Rogatists were severely punished whenever the Donatists could induce the magistrates to do so, and were also persecuted by Optatus of Timgad.
Here is the context (St. Augustine, Letters 93.7.23, tr. J.G. Cunningham) in which the words occur:
In fact, however, this is the whole which you attempt to make us believe, that the Rogatists alone remain worthy of the name Catholics, on the ground of their observing all the Divine precepts and all the sacraments; and that you are the only persons in whom the Son of man when He cometh shall find faith. You must excuse me for saying we do not believe a word of this.

Sed nempe hoc est totum quod nobis persuadere conaris, solos remansisse Rogatistas, qui catholici recte appellandi sint, ex observatione praeceptorum omnium divinorum atque omnium Sacramentorum; et vos esse solos, in quibus inveniat fidem cum venerit Filius hominis. Da veniam, non credimus.
Nothing much has changed in a millennium and a half. There are still groups which claim that they alone are worthy of the name of Catholics or Christians, that they alone observe all the divine precepts and the sacraments, and that the Lord at His Second Coming will find them alone to be the faithful remnant.

With St. Augustine, we should say to those who make such claims: "Da veniam. Non credimus." "Gimme a break! I don't buy that."

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