Catholic bishop from Africa, whose treatise Against the Donatists (or De Schismate Donatistarum, “On the Donatist schism”) provides our only surviving account of the origins of the Donatist controversy. Jerome (On Famous Men 90) speaks of a work in six books written in the reign of Valens (364–379
The first book gives an account of the Numidian bishops’ revolt against Caecilian when he succeeded Mensurius as bishop of Carthage. The cause of this, according to Optatus, was the rumour that bishop Felix of Abthugni, who took part in the consecration of Caecilian, had handed over copies of the scriptures to be burnt in the Great Persecution. He adds (1.19) that the malice of a rich woman named Lucilla was a contributory factor. At 1.22 he reproduces a letter of remonstrance to Constantine, in which the signatories declare themselves to be of the party of Donatus; if genuine, this is evidence that the malcontents named themselves after the man whom they had nominated as bishop of Carthage. The acquittal of Felix by a Roman synod under Miltiades is recorded as the final ecclesiastical pronouncement (1.24); nothing is said of the subsequent Council of Arles in 314, and we are given to understand at 1.26 that Constantine doubted the validity of Caecilian’s election even after the Roman judgement (1.26). This passage, since it appeared to favour the Donatists, was strenuously debated at the Conference of Carthage in 411.