Are you a Donatist?
Nor can I imagine as a 'loyal son of the Church' the great Saint and Doctor of the Church particularly enjoying his reputation as one who sought to extend mercy and forgiveness to those who had betrayed the Church in the heat of persecution - but who were repentant - being manipulated by the Bishops of England and Wales as a pretty neat theological argument for Kasper's sacriligious Communion-for-all-no-matter-what proposal. To use St Augustine's argument against the Donatists as a framework for casting those who follow Jesus Christ's own Teaching and 2,000 years of doctrine and discipline as heretics or traditores is clever in that kind of clever way in which the Serpent seduced Eve to disobey God, but like all seductive untruths it rings hollow with a little bit of objective thought and analysis.
Preparing for the 2015 Synod: A Time of 'Reflection'
A document was recently sent to me which which will raise the eyebrows of many and break the hearts of more than a few and it concerns the Bishops of England and Wales latest release to the Clergy in preparation for the 2015 Synod. If you are a faithful Catholic clergyman and haven't yet seen this, you might want to read this another day of the week because I am going to seriously spoil your Sunday. This is a long post, but that's because the CBCEW document to Clergy is long on spin and short on doctrine and to do this document justice requires a lengthy post. Who could possibly be giving them these 'new ideas'? I am not convinced they have thought of this line of argument themselves but then who am I to judge? The document entitled, 'Reflection Document for Clergy on Marriage and Family Life' begins thus (note: if you cannot bear Bishopese, then do feel free to skip to the next set of paragraphs, because you are not missing much in doing so)...
'The time between the two synods has been called by Pope Francis to be a time of “true spiritual discernment” on the family and its context in the society of today. The Bishops of England and Wales ask the clergy of our countries to reflect on the importance of marriage and the role of the clergy in accompanying of people on their journey of marriage and as families. The Synod next year has the title The Vocation and the Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.
As clergy, we meet people at various stages of their vocation and journey. We meet many couples who are living together when they bring their children to be baptised. Not all these couples have thought about being married or they may have previous marital relationships which have broken down which they have left. We encounter couples at the stage of engagement who come to us seeking the celebration of marriage in the Church. We are witnesses to the celebration of the marriage which is a joyful expression of the commitment and love that the couple have for each other.
We are part of the onward expression of life and love as the couple form a home, often are blessed with children, and seek our support and help to bring faith to the children and the family as a whole. This is often manifested through the ongoing celebrations of the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation and Holy Communion with the children born of the marriage. We also meet families in times of crisis such as divorce, or when they present for the baptism of children and sacraments after having been divorced and now civilly married. Sometimes people tell their story when they are very ill and preparing for death. We meet people at many different stages of family life which are often not cleanly defined in this way nor do they occur in the “traditional” order in which we used to think.
The Synod final document from last October calls us to echo Jesus’ own approach to dealing with what we could see as the messiness of family life in the contemporary world; we are, like Jesus, to look “…upon the women and men [he met] with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God.” (Synod Document, 11) The Synod does not shirk from the truth of the Gospel and the Kingdom, urging us to make the “demands of the Kingdom of God” but this must be accompanied with a compassion and love, seeing firstly persons who are loved by God and secondly their situations.
As Saint John Paul II almost twenty years ago wrote in Veritatis splendor 95: … a clear and forceful presentation of moral truth can never be separated from a profound and heartfelt respect, born of that patient and trusting love which man always needs along his moral journey, a journey frequently wearisome on account of difficulties, weakness and painful situations. The Church can never renounce the "the principle of truth and consistency, whereby she does not agree to call good evil and evil good"; she must always be careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick (cf. Is 42:3).'
Now for the Augustinian bombshell...
So far, so predictable, but now for the new and provocative 'line of attack' against those who might be 'tempted' to hold firmly to Christ and His Teachings...
|St Augustine of Hippo|
St Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Truth of the Church, offers us a way of looking at the Church from his age which is still relevant today. The Church in North Africa was ruptured in the early fourth century by the Donatist heresy. St Augustine spoke against this heresy in the Council of Carthage in June 411.
The Donatists believed that they represented a ‘Church of the pure,’ uncontaminated by dissent from those who betrayed their Christian faith during a period of persecution. They alleged that the Catholic Church of Augustine’s day was contaminated by their ancient link with those who in the persecution a century earlier consigned the Sacred Scriptures to fire, ‘the traditores.’
Two parables from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 13, figure prominently throughout Augustine’s writings in this bitter dispute: the wheat and the tares (vv 24-30), and that of the net gathering fish of every kind (47-50).
The followers of Donatus wanted no contact whatever with Catholics whom they believed were contaminated and could not represent the Church of Christ. They considered themselves the sole representatives of the true Church because of their steadfastness during the persecution. Taking his cue from the parable of the wheat and tares Augustine argued strongly and insistently for patience and tolerance, and that to uproot the tares would mean damaging the good seed as well. Augustine was following what the master in the parable himself said: ‘No, lest in gathering the tares you root up the wheat along with them.’(13:29)
Answering the assertion that the Catholic Church accepted and acquiesced to the presence of sinners in its midst, Augustine maintained that good Catholics would not be affected by sinners provided they did not imitate the behaviour of such people. The master in the parable was also content to wait until harvest time when a final separation would take place: the tares would be tied in bundles and burnt, whereas the wheat would be gathered into the barn. Augustine interpreted this as referring to the last judgement when Christ himself would separate the good from the bad once and for all.
|"Something's not quite right here..."|
In his understanding of the other parable, that of the net thrown into the sea and catching fish of every kind, Augustine again highlights the necessity of waiting until the final reckoning or judgement when the angels will separate the evil from the righteous. It is not for us to make rash or premature conclusions. Augustine makes another interesting point: when the net is cast into the sea the fisherman has no idea which are good fish and which are not since they remain out of sight. That will only become evident when they are sifted on the seashore. What Augustine implies is that we are not in a position in this life to pass judgement on others. Only Christ can see the full picture and will reveal it on judgement day.
Throughout this whole controversy with the Donatists, Augustine appeals for peace and unity in the Church: “From now on live in the harmony of peace, adhere to unity, acquiesce in charity, yield to the truth.” (Ad Donatistas post Collationem, 18,24)
In preparation for the next Synod such key words of St Augustine can help us move the debate beyond particularly difficult issues and set these same issues in a wider context. The Church is called to proclaim the peace of Christ to his people, and to the world. People need and want to hear this proclamation, in their often confused and fragmented lives. The concept of charity is a hallmark of Augustine of Hippo’s whole theology. Can charity allow us to live with difference, without diminishing what is essential to our Catholic faith? The ancient dictum of unsure provenance breathes the spirit of Augustine: Liberty in what is doubtful, unity in what is essential, and charity in everything. Augustine’s own personal journey to find the truth was long and arduous; at times he despaired of finding it, before he gradually came to it in piecemeal fashion and by the kindness and witness of others. In a rapidly developing world, particularly where moral autonomy is concerned, we need patience and tolerance before clarity and truth emerge in people’s lives.'
All of which may be perfectly true, but quite how these facts concerning the ministry and writings of St Augustine of Hippo would lend themselves to the idea that this or any Doctor of the Church would call for the abandonment of Christ's own Teachings 'on a pastoral level' are never addressed. Well, why would they be? After all, the Bishops themselves in this effort to 'canvass' the clergy cannot bring themselves to be wholly upfront about what pretext lays behind this bizarre Donatists vs St Augustine preamble, just as His Holiness himself has never said, "This Kasper proposal for jettisoning Christ from Christianity is fantastic!" What His Holiness has been saying is than 'many in the Church' are "Pelagians, restorationists, rigorists and Pharisees (etc...)" who resist the Holy Spirit and the schizophrenic jack-in-box god of surprises at a time when Cardinal Kasper has been permitted to release his toxic theology upon the whole Church in front of the whole world. The English and Welsh Bishops are obviously taking their cue from someone. Who is it?
|"Something's not quite right here..."|
Are you a Donatist?
Thus, having set the context nicely for clergy to 'reflect' on whether they are 'Donatist' in their long-held belief that everything Christ taught was and remains true and that there is no conflict whatsoever between believing what Christ taught, preaching and teaching what Christ taught and acting accordingly in their vocation as clergy, various questions are then posed by our beloved Shepherds to the clergy for further 'reflection'. There are quite a few questions, but the stand out ones are these, for reasons which will be obvious. They are as follows...
Are you still reading?
Under the heading, 'Accompanying Couples in the Stage of Engagement' the following questioned are posed...
- Do you find the ambiguity present in many couples who come for marriage (i.e. that they are already living together, that they may already have children) difficult to approach with them?
- Do you feel you can challenge them to “live the virtues” in the situation they are in?
- What resources have you found to be most useful?
Under the heading, 'Accompanying Those Whose Marriages Break Down' the following questioned are posed...
- How do you accompany those whose marriage relationship is breaking down?
- What are the sources of help and assistance? Do you refer them to others?
- How do people who are divorced experience being a part of the Church? How are they welcomed and included?
- If people come to you who are living in ‘second unions’ what is your pastoral practice? Do they come to the sacraments? How do you help them to approach the marriage tribunal? Are there cases where you think they might be welcomed to Holy Communion even though their objective situation has not been remedied? What might they be?
- How can the Church witness to being a Church of mercy and truth?
|Donatist heresy: It's not what you thought it was...|
- How do you minister to those people who have homosexual tendencies and help them to integrate their sexual orientation?
- How do you minister to their families? What is the experience that the bishops need to hear?
- What is your approach when people who are in same-sex partnerships approach the Church for welcome and inclusion?
- Do you find the whole issue of same-sex relationships difficult and would like help and guidance on how to minister to these people effectively?
In conclusion the 'reflection' which might as well have been called, 'Are you a Donatist priest or deacon? Here are some questions to help you decide', asks for 'true spiritual discernment' from the clergy so that the Synod can report on what clergy and lay faithful make of all this ecclesiastical navel-gazing.
The document closes thus...
|"Who knows what's down the road?"|
'These reflections will aid the process of true spiritual discernment that the Holy Father has asked the Church to engage in between the two Synod meetings. The Church can never abstract itself from the world in which we live in, but we witness to the truth of faith that the Lord gave us. In doing this work, we should strive to live by the precepts of St Augustine, of patience and tolerance, seeking the truth in charity. The Synod of Bishops is called to look at these issues “by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods…to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society.” (Apostolic Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo B. Paul VI).
- By reflecting on the pastoral situation of marriage, the clergy contribute to the process of the synod. One way that this could occur would be through:
- Personal reflection and common discussion of the issues raised at your deanery meetings.
- Collating the issues raised through the deaneries for a further focussed discussion at the Council of Priests
- Submitting to the Bishops’ Conference a short report from each diocese outlining the discussions that the clergy have held.
Clergy are asked to send any reports to be reviewed by the Synod Delegates for England and Wales by Pentecost 2015.'
The laity, too, are to be given their own 'reflection'. Strangely, the confrontation between St Augustine and the Donatists, in our 'reflection', is not mentioned at all. Presumably, no Bishop would think of subtly telling the laity they are heretics if they don't accept the desecration of the Eucharist, the demolition of the Catholic Faith and the torching of the Catechism. You can only get away with doing that kind of thing to your clergy. A very happy Fourth Sunday of Advent to you all. Of course, if you are a faithful Catholic priest or deacon, or even just a faithful Catholic, perhaps not so happy a Sunday after all. Just remember Fathers, free, full and frank discussion is welcomed in the Catholic Church in 2015, but don't you go thinking of holding fast to Christ's teachings, you stubborn old Donatists, you! I guess the revolution won't be televised after all. It'll all be read out one day in a pastoral letter instead.