Some of the sharpest divisions in the Church have centred upon moral issues. In north Africa the party led by Donatus of Black Huts (Casae Nigrae), later dissenting bishop of Carthage, a well-educated man according to Augustine (Tr. in Joh. 6. 20), originated in protest against compromise with Diocletian's government ordering the surrender of Bibles and sacred vessels and forbidding Christian assemblies for worship. Remarkably the issue was not treated as crucial and dramatic in other western provinces. But in north Africa bishops who handed over these things, simply wanting a quiet life and rightly confident that the crisis would not last, were in both senses 'traditores', handers-over and traitors. Such action seemed like apostasy, disqualifying a compromised bishop from further priestly functions. If so, the consecrating hands of this ordaining bishop transmitted pollution, not Christ's apostolic pastoral commission. Disqualification followed not merely from proven evidence of having surrendered sacred objects but from suspicion that this might perhaps have occurred. Whether he could be readmitted as a penitent layman would be for the members of the pure Church to decide. It followed in Donatist ecclesiology that all sacraments of this compromising Church were rendered invalid. The harassment the separatists suffered from the government convinced them that they were the authentic persecuted body of Christ. A painful question, on which initially the Donatists were divided, was whether baptism, given to members of the Catholic community before the split, was invalidated and needed to be repeated. Donatists also demanded that any Catholic marrying a Donatist must become a member of their community. Augustine was sad how many Catholic clergy shrugged their shoulders and tolerated this (Sermo 46. 15).
Donatist ecclesiology presupposed that baptism had to be given by a good priest or bishop to be valid. Its power to confer grace varied according to the quality of the minister. They appealed to Cyprian of Carthage for this