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The Modern Day Donatist

If the Sanctity of the Church was dependent on the holiness of its members our Church would have fallen apart with Saint Peter. But no, instead Jesus told Saint Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against us.

AgnosticPreachersKid at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit preparing for the sacrament of marriage was kind of a blur. It was a busy time for me and my then fiance, and we were stressed about a lot, including his immigration status. But, as required by the church, we went to a two day retreat a few hours away in Dickinson to learn about marriage with other engaged couples. It was at that retreat I heard some of the most profound words I had ever heard.

A priest was giving a lecture on the sanctity of marriage, and as to why divorce is not accepted in the church, and he pointed to a crucifix in the back of the room, and simply said, having us all look at Christ crucified, “He did not divorce us.

Now here’s where I’m gonna go on a tangent and bring us back to roughly to the year 300, during the time of the Diocletian Persecution. Many faithful were being martyred by the Roman Empire for their faith in Christ, often being burned themselves if they did not burn offerings to the false roman gods. Unfortunately, as happens in times of persecution, there were apostates.

During the persecution, in North Africa, a heretical sect grew, saying that Sacraments administered by priests that had apostatized, but repented, were no longer valid. Some went as far as to claim they had to be re-baptized. The heresy was around even in the time of Saint Augustine, who spoke against the donatists.

Donatism was largely condemned as a heresy because it suggested the efficacy of a Sacrament was dependent on the virtue of the minister, which is faulty because a Sacrament does not bestow grace by the power of the priest, but rather God working through the priest. Saint Augustine argued that even a priest in mortal sin could validly administer a Sacrament, should the proper intent and matter be present.

Now here we are in the year of Our Lord 2023, and the church is in crisis. We are in an era of confusion and faithlessness, and many struggle to even see the virtue of the church. Between sinful prelates, sex scandals, and a lack of accountability toward public Catholic figures, many wonder if the church itself is still holy. Many people have left upon learning of the sex scandals, because how could such a thing happen in a truly holy, catholic and apostolic church. How can Holy Mother Church claim to be the only way to salvation when these are the priests we are given.

And I would call those people modern day Donatists. Instead of thinking the Sacrament of a sinful priest is invalid, they would say a sinful Magisterium or Bishop makes the whole Church invalid.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s not about the Bishops. If the Sanctity of the Church was dependent on the holiness of its members our Church would have fallen apart with Saint Peter. But no, instead Jesus told Saint Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against us.

Don’t get me wrong, a good and holy magisterium is beneficial and edifying for the church, but the Church itself never has been dependent on it. The Catholic Church teaches that the church is both human and divine, because Jesus is the head of the Body of Christ that makes up the church, of whom we are all a member. St Leo the Great writes, “Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.”

The Church will never fall, and she will continue pouring out grace to the faithful, no matter the state of the human part of the church. Why?

Because Christ did not, and will never, divorce his church.

The crucifixion has at times been described to be a wedding, the marriage of Christ and his Church. It makes sense, the Bible is a love story of God pursuing his people, and every love story ends in marriage. St Augustine said “Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his chamber…. He came to the marriage-bed of the Cross, and there in mounting it, he consummated his marriage. And when he perceived the sighs of the creature, he lovingly gave himself up to the torment in place of his bride, and joined himself to her forever."

Christ gave himself completely and totally for his Bride, as all husbands are called to do. Ephesians 5:25 speaks to the intimate connection between Christ’s sacrifice at calvary, and marriage. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.”

The Church has long been traditionally seen as the Bride of Christ, now why is that important? This time I will let Christ speak for himself, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). Marriage by the Catholic Church is seen as indissoluble. Nothing can separate a marriage, and therefore nothing can separate Christ from his church, not even our sin. The Sacraments we receive will still sanctify us. We will still receive His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. We will continue to enter into a covenant with Him, and be washed free from sin at Baptism. The Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and Son will not abandon the Church. Christ will not abandon his Bride.


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