Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Pope, Augustine, and the Donatists

The current Pope is having a dreadful time of it, and he seems to be flailing about in the new world of instant comments. In seeing what is happening I thought back to the 4th century, for those of you with limited education experiences that is some time in the 300s. The problem at that time was the waxing and waning of persecution of the Church and the on and off executions which the Roman Emperors so prized themselves in doing.

The Church had several schools of thought at the time when certain priests and bishops gave up their faith rather than submit to the lions or whatever. When all of this was over these same priests and bishops sought to get their positions back. Well as one could imagine some of the faithful, those who had actually remained faithful objected and denied them their place. They came to be called Donatists. Thus the Donantists basically said that if you committed an act which was seriously sinful you were out, period. Frankly not a bad idea. However there were many others who took the position that once a priest always a priest. Prime amongst them was Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine argued that once a priest always a priest and he won the day. The result is that the Church now keeps these malcontents around causing problems. Had the Donatists won the Church would have thrown them out on their ears years ago. This to me is the core of the problem and it is but one of the problems engendered by Augustine and his theories.

Just to mention two ore, the Pelagian "heresy" and the "just war theory". Pelagius was one of the errant Irish monks who had the habit of thinking somewhat outside the box. He stated that man could by his good deeds attain salvation. Augustine said, no way, no matter how good your deeds if God did not give you grace, namely you would be predestined, you were destined to salvation or perdition and your deeds were useless. This position became the core position of Calvin and the 16th century Protestants, leading to the great splitting. You see, Pelagius had a good idea, deeds do counts and perhaps God may actually want us to follow up on those rules that were handed down.

The third Augustinian issue, the just war, was a polemic to justify killing pagans. Well the corollary to the just war is the unjust aggressor. Namely the bad guy who we are now permitted to kill. At one extreme is the unjust aggressor which results from say rape, a woman gets pregnant and the child is the "spoils" of the aggressor. A natural extension of the Augustinian principle is that clearly the woman is free to terminate the presence of this unjust aggressor. Thus a basis for abortion, albeit not one spoken of in Church discussions.

My point being that Augustine was the font of many principles which have left the Church somewhat worse for the wear. Perhaps one should reconsider the works of the Bishop of Hippo.