Novatian was a Roman bishop and theologian of the third century who took a strict position on readmission of apostates during the persecutions of the time. His followers formed a schismatic group that continued into the fifth century.
Novatian was born about the year 200. He was a man of considerable learning, apparently educated in literary composition. His immediate rival in Rome, Bishop Cornelius, spoke of him sarcastically as " that maker of dogmas, that champion of ecclesiastical learning". His ecclesiastical career is unclear. Cornelius related that he was ordained a priest by a predecessor bishop of Rome (probably Fabian) over the protests of the clergy and laity of Rome.
During the persecutions of emperor Decius in mid third century, Novatian took the position that those who had stopped practicing Christianity during the persecutions could not be accepted back into the church even if they repented and that the only way to reenter the church would be by re-baptism. Cornelius and Cyprian of Carthage did not believe in the need for re-baptism. Instead they thought that the sinners should only need to show contrition and true repentance to be welcomed back into the church
During the election of the bishop of Rome in 251, Novatian opposed Cornelius because he was too lax in accepting the return of Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions. His party then consecrated him as a rival bishop (antipope) to Cornelius. He announced throughout the empire his election, as had Cornelius, as both parties appointed bishops and priests in cities where the incumbent favored his rival, thus creating a widespread schism in the Church.
By the end of 251, Bishop Cornelius assembled a council of sixty bishops that condemned and excommunicated Novation apparently over the legitimacy of his claim to the ecclesiastical throne of Rome. It was only later that Novation began to be called a heretic and this appeared to be over the question of the Church having the power to grant absolution in certain cases.
Novatian appeared to have remained in Rome until the start of the persecutions under Valerian in 258 when he left the city and was martyred.
Novatian is known for his writing of which only two have survived, the De Cibis Judaicus and De Trintate (On the Trinity), an interpretation of the early church doctrine on the Trinity which is his most important work.