Will The Real Donatists Please Stand Up

By Fr. Michael Heidt

Anyone threatening to break communion with the Episcopal Church over Gene Robinson and same sex blessings is now dubbed a Donatist (Donatists were puritanical North African heretics who insisted on the re-baptism of sinners). For example:

“This is not the Church that Jesus Christ called into being. Christ refused the traditional theologies of defilement of his day. He deliberately fraternized with those whom the pious found viscerally unacceptable. Yet our modern Donatists seek to construct a new Church, premised on the elimination of impurity. For the sake of the gospel, they must not be allowed to succeed. To fight them we need another —doubtless very different — St Augustine.” Rev. Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney

New Augustinians?

It seems that the lesbigay cohort have suddenly discovered themselves ranged with St. Augustine against the Donatist ACNA and their savage allies in Forward in Faith North America. The traditionalists, meanwhile, are brought up short, with the disquieting feeling that they’ve been caught in a neat conjuring trick and left sinking in the heretical quick sands of North Africa. But as with all sleights of hand, credulity and illusion are the order of the day, which prompts us to ask, will the real Donatists please stand up? Is it the case that those opposed to the current novelty are the heretics in question, or is it the other way around?

At first sight it seems that the LBGT pundits have a point. ACNA, FIFNA, and their conservative primatial allies, can be accused of moral fervor. There is indeed more than a hint of a visceral reaction on their part towards those whose sexual behavior they deem repugnant. Likewise, as with the Donatists, they are threatening to break communion with other Christians, and all this over the sinfulness of ministers. It sounds convincing and if said fast enough might even fool some people who don’t know anything much about the Donatist heresy. But the facts are very different.

Rank Heretics

Donatists thought it was wrong to make bishops out of those who handed over their bibles to be burned by the civil authority and called them traditores or traitors. Traditionalists oppose those who keep their bibles but insist that the scriptures don’t mean what they say. Donatists opposed all sinners even after they repented.

Traditionalists oppose all sinners who claim that they need no repentance because their sins are ‘natural’or even virtuous. Donatists said that the true catholic church consisted only of people already perfected. Traditionalists say that the church consists mostly of sinners who need repentance. Donatists claimed that the sacraments of unworthy priests were invalid. 

Traditionalists claim that the unworthiness of the priest does not affect the validity of the sacraments, “which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.” (Article XXVI) The heretical Donatists wanted their small autonomous sect in Northern Africa to be the whole catholic church. Traditionalists want to be in communion with the entire Anglican Communion and by intent with the whole catholic church throughout the world rather than just be part of a small autonomous sect in the USA.

Defend the Faith

Those of a rich, dwindling, middle class sliver of American Christianity who claim to know the mind and will of Christ over and against the sensus fidelium are the true Donatists, whereas those bishops out to preserve discipline in the Church are the true Augustinians. That TEC has broken communion with the whole catholic church is unquestionable, so too is the fact that in doing so it is merely following in the footsteps of heretics throughout the ages. With them, it has made the fatal mistake of assuming that it was the Church, instead of a small part of the same. 

It should therefore come as no surprise that followers of the church catholic should rise to her defense. And no wonder that the enemies of the Church’s teaching on Faith and Morals want a different Augustine, for the old one is not on their side.

Forward in Christ

Proclaiming the Faith and Order of the Church, given to us by Christ.