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Sedevacantists or Closet Donatists?
Faith

The Crossroads at 23rd Street

 

"For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:22)

 

Errors can be corrected and trends reversed if only our faith and determination does not fail us in our earnest quest for the truth.

Most Holy Family Monastery (MhFM):
“Sedevacantist” or closet “Donatists”?

 


For the record let’s first state unequivocally that the Donatists were schismatics, not heretics. That is to say, the main issue with the Donatists was, and always will be, their willful and defiant “refusal to submit to the authority of the pope and to hold communion with members of the Church subject to him”; which is the Church’s definition of schism.

Named for its leader, the theologian bishop Donatus of Casae Nigrae (Donatus the Great - d. 355), Donatism consisted of a group of extremist sects, mostly in North Africa, that emphasized Asceticism (severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence) as a prerequisite for being a “true” Catholic.

Donatists valued martyrdom and found lapses of faith inexcusable even under cases of torture, the threat of death, and/or imprisonment.

Donatism was faulted with but one major "heresy"; that being their contention that the sacraments of the Church required a priest (including bishop or Pope) to be of unblemished moral character in order to legitimately carry out his ecclesiastic functions.

Donatists misinterpreted what St Cyprian had written on page 6 of his work “On Unity”:

"The episcopate is a single whole in which each bishop's share gives him a right to, and a responsibility for, the whole. If you abandon the Church and join yourself to an adulteress, you are cut off from the promises of the church. You cannot have God for your father unless you have the Church for your mother. If you could escape outside Noah's Ark you could escape outside the church."

Donatists were "rigorists" who argued that the Catholic clergy must be "faultless" in their ministry in order to be effective and for their prayers, ordinations, and sacraments to be valid.

They extended that “heretical” belief to include the position that only the pure of heart should be allowed entry into the Church. It was their contention that, "the church was defined as 'pure,' for if it was the only body in the world in which the Holy Spirit resided, how could its members fail to be pure?"

In short, Donatists were religious extremists who believed that the Catholic Church must be a church comprised of "saints" not "sinners". They erroneously declared that all those who claimed to be Catholic but who stayed in communion with those whom they had identified as being “wicked and/or public sinners” were heretics and thus "ipso facto" excommunicated.

They vehemently accused and condemned the Church in Rome of schism for what they considered to be its failings in adopting, enforcing, and adhering to the strict ascetic concepts they, the Donatists, had adopted and believed Christ intended His Church to uphold. They firmly believed that the Apostolic See of Rome (the Church) had lost its way and thus its authority.

It was the position of the Donatist church that the Catholic community was a "puppet of the secular government, an instrument of political ends, polluted by a consistent record of compromise with worldliness."

The Donatists declared the Roman Church at large to be corrupt and themselves to be the only true representatives of Catholicism.

They went so far as to officially submit to Emperor Constantine a list of their grievances against the Apostolic See of Rome (its heresies); petitioning him for his formal recognition of their movement as being the “true” Apostolic See of the Church.

For 100 years the Donatists continued in their schism and were successful in gaining "converts" to their cause, and fostering a division between Berber Christians of Northern Africa and the Catholic Church.

At last, in 411, the Conference of Carthage was held, which has been described as the "formal end of the quarrel." The conference was summoned by order of Emperor Honorius (393-423), in the hope of settling the Donatist matter once and for all. It was attended by 286 Catholic and 279 Donatist bishops. St. Augustine was one of the attending Catholic bishops, considered by the Donatists as their chief antagonist.

The Donatists’ main dissenting argument at the conference was that the effectiveness of the sacraments of the Church depends on the moral character of the person performing it; which was not at all the position held by the Catholic Church in Rome. Their argument was soundly defeated.

St. Augustine refutes their argument by declaring that the validity of Sacraments is the property of the priesthood independent of an individual's character.

St. Augustine made it an integral part of his rebuttal of the Donatist position to show how the church was a mixture of both good and evil, an institution for sanctifying the masses, not merely a community of sanctified persons.

St. Augustine would later write:

"... no sin of man, however villainous and monstrous, can interfere with the promises of God, nor can any impiety of any persons within the Church cause the word of God to be made void as to the existence and diffusion of the Church to the ends of the earth, which was promised to the Fathers and now is manifest" (Contra Ep. Parmen., I, i).

It is important to note that the Donatist church did not disappear immediately after the conference; but all that remained was a lingering remnant. The invasion and persecution of the Vandals in Africa (429-534), enemies of both, drew Donatists and Catholics back together. Yet one still occasionally hears of the sect, down to the Saracen invasion in 647. After that Donatism entirely disappears.

If one takes a look at 4th century “Donatism” and compares it with 20th century “Sedevacantism” one can visibly see a number of stark similarities.

The Donatist schism was a direct and tragic legacy attributed to the great Diocletian persecution (296-305 AD); the last and most severe persecution of Christians inflicted by the Roman Empire.

The Sedevacantist schism owes its origins to the “rejection” of the theological and disciplinary changes implemented by the Roman Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council (1962–65)

In closing, there are indeed similarities found in the professed religious beliefs and positions held by both the Donatists and the Dimond Brothers’ MhFM, including their expressed mutual contempt for the Apostolic See of Rome (the Papacy), and their schism; but that's where the similarity ends.

Yet, there is a blatantly obvious difference between these two schismatic sects.

The Donatist schism was formed by, consisted of, and was governed by validly ordained Bishops and Priests who, possibly for reasons relating to the extreme anxiety and suffering they endured during the Diocletian persecution, “erred” in their understanding of the writings of St. Cyprian.

"Know that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop and that if anyone is not with the bishop he is not in the Church." - St. Cyprian

The Dimond Brothers’ MhFM schism, on the other hand, was formed, not under the guidance and supervision of a validly ordained Bishop or Priest, but rather by two laymen; two un-professed, un-ordained, sibling opportunists, running an internet based tele-evangelical type of business of religion, capitalizing on the confusion associated with Vatican II, and pretending to be what they definitely are not … that being true Benedictines and/or Catholics.

There is little doubt that the Donatists, themselves, would have condemned the MhFM as a being heretical sect; just as the Roman Catholic Church has already done.

What they have done and continue to do is, to put it mildly, simply wrong.

"Wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it. Right is right even if no one is doing it." - St. Augustine of Hippo


"If anyone says that ... those who have been neither rightly ordained nor sent by ecclesiastical and canonical authority, but come from a different source, are lawful ministers of the word …: let him be anathema [cf. n. 960]." - Denzinger: Sources of Catholic Dogma: 967 Can. 7


Pax Tecum

 

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