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“America” on Notre Dame: Beware neo-Donatists!

posted by David Gibson

In a powerful editorial just up on their website, the editors at America magazine decry the “sectarian Catholicism” that seems to be emerging, with the Notre Dame furor epitomizing the drift toward the insular self-righteousness of the Donatists of Saint Augustine’s day:

“The clouds roll with thunder, the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth, and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak–’We are the only Christians!’” So wrote St. Augustine about the Donatists, a perfectionist North African sect that attempted to keep the church free of contamination by having no truck with Roman officialdom. In the United States today, self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy, like Randall Terry and the Cardinal Newman Society, push mightily for a pure church quite unlike the mixed community of saints and sinners–the Catholic Church–that Augustine championed. Like the Circumcellions of old, they thrive on slash-and-burn tactics; and they refuse to allow the church to be contaminated by contact with certain politicians.

For today’s sectarians, it is not adherence to the church’s doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program and fierce opposition to any proposal short of that program. They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat. Their tactics, and their attitudes, threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States, the effectiveness of its mission and the credibility of its pro-life activities.

The sectarians’ targets are frequently Catholic universities and Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition. Their most recent target has been the University of Notre Dame and its president, John Jenkins, C.S.C., who has invited President Barack Obama to offer the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at this year’s graduation.

Pope Benedict XVI has modeled a different attitude toward higher education. In 2008, the pope himself was prevented from speaking at Rome’s La Sapienza University by the intense opposition of some doctrinaire scientists. The Vatican later released his speech, in which he argued that “freedom from ecclesiastical and political authorities” is essential to the university’s “special role” in society. He asked, “What does the pope have to do or say to a university?” And he answered, “He certainly should not try to impose in an authoritarian manner his faith on others.”

The editorial concludes with four steps to avert this ancient heresy:

First, the bishops’ discipline about speakers and awards at Catholic institutions should be narrowed to exclude from platforms and awards only those Catholics who explicitly oppose formal Catholic teaching. Second, in politics we must reaffirm the distinction between the authoritative teaching of moral principles and legitimate prudential differences in applying principles to public life. Third, all sides should return to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI that in politics there are usually several ways to attain the same goals. Finally, church leaders must promote the primacy of charity among Catholics who advocate different political options.

Read it all here.



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Ben Dwayne

posted May 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm


America’s accusation is a sly one. Unfortunately, it is a little dishonest. The Donatists were rigorists and schismatics, true enough. But the issue that defined them was hardly “to keep the church free of contamination by having no truck with Roman officialdom”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatist for the details. It’s bad enough that we taint modern theological disputes with politics. Revising church history to make a political argument is simply outrageous.



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Jaho

posted May 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm


..so is using anything in Wikipedia as a source.



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Steve T

posted May 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm


I’m staying out of this one. I’ll say I think the Pope is on the right track and the American Bishops are on the photo op track.



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Your Name

posted May 1, 2009 at 7:13 pm


AFTER THINKING ABOUT 4 POINTS WE AS CATHOLICS MUST ADHERE TO I CANNOT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE AGREE….IT SMACKS OF COMPROMISE AND LACK OF
ORTODOXY…POPES JOHN PAUL 2 AND BENEDICT HAVE SPENT THE LAST 25 YEARS
TRYING TO BRING US BACK TO THE TRUTHS OF CATHOLIC TEACHING THAT SOMETIMES WENT MURKY POST VATICAN 2…WE ARE TALKING ABOUT CATHOLIC INSTITUTIONS HERE…ALSO WE NEED TO LOOK AT OUR CATHECISM FOR CLEAR TEACHING..ON THE ISSUE OF ABORTION IT IS QUITE CLEAR THAT IT IS ONE OF THE GREAT EVILS OF OUR TIME AND CLEARLY ANYONE WHO COMPROMISES ON THIS AIDES IN THIS GRAVE AND MORTAL EVIL AND THAT INCLUDES KEEPING SILENT OUT OF FEAR OR POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY…



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Gerard Nadal

posted May 1, 2009 at 9:17 pm


So, America equates outrage over honoring a President who has pledged the full might of his Office in supporting abortion as modern day Donatist heresy.
“They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat.”
What a mouthful of crap. Augustine did not and would not include in his big tent those who fiercely wage war on the unborn in a land whose soil is literally saturated with the blood of over 50 MILLION slaughtered innocents. Nice Try America.
Purists? Like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Declaration on Procured Abortion?
“11. The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental – the condition of all the others. Hence it must be protected above all others. It does not belong to society, nor does it belong to public authority in any form to recognize this right for some and not for others: all discrimination is evil, whether it be founded on race, sex, color or religion. It is not recognition by another that constitutes this right. This right is antecedent to its recognition; it demands recognition and it is strictly unjust to refuse it.
“24. Following one’s conscience in obedience to the law of God is not always the easy way. One must not fail to recognize the weight of the sacrifices and the burdens which it can impose. Heroism is sometimes called for in order to remain faithful to the requirements of the divine law. ”
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19741118_declaration-abortion_en.html
The Jesuits are another dying order because anything goes in that community. Why join a group whose highest expression is well-refined relativism? A jigger of faith and a dash of donatism might not hurt that crew. It might even right the listing ship of the Society of Jesus.



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Turmarion

posted May 1, 2009 at 10:19 pm


I might point out something that I have done more than once, and which never seems to garner a response. Cardinals have conferred papal knighthoods on pro-choice politicians, and not just on one occasion. Also, as has been pointed out here, L’Osservatore Vaticano has said that Obama’s first 100 days were not nearly as radical as feared.
Now either the U. S. bishops are indeed pulling a quasi-Donatist stunt; or the Vatican is even worse off. I don’t hear people firing off letters to Rome about what they’re doing over there, and the message it sends, though.



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Mary McGrath

posted May 1, 2009 at 11:19 pm


Oh no! I am just working on a paper on the Donatists in a class on the City of God!
I support Mary Ann Glendon and the students in protest and the 50+ bishops.
Circumcellions put lye in the eyes of a presbyter and burned churches.
Are 50+ bishops lying to us on this one? This is a bit of a stretch.



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Mary

posted May 2, 2009 at 3:05 pm


Do only catholics go to catholc univesities, do we prejudice against others of differing religions from striving for a higher education? The pope is right and so eloquently said: “What does the pope have to do or say to a university?” And he answered, “He certainly should not try to impose in an authoritarian manner his faith on others.”
Do not the American Bishops follow the Vatican and if not to what church is their eyes set for them to lead us that follow Chris in HIS Church?



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ed

posted May 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm


The ‘hard 50′ bishops have turned the pro-life agenda over to Randal Terry and the newman society… Will some seamless garment bishops step up and take away the pro-life agenda from these inept bishops???
Gerard Nadel blasts all the Jesuits.. Jesuits are of many minds about a lot of things..Think about what Bernard Shaw said about the Irish.. ” if you put and Irishman on a spit, you can always find anouther Irishman to turn him’…and so with Jesuits (: (:



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Your Name

posted May 2, 2009 at 9:46 pm


Gerard Nadel is right. I am a post abortive women and a member of SILENT NO MORE. Unfortunately, the dying order of Jesuits still runs the majority of Catholic Universities. I have 3 children in Jesuit institutions of learning so I can’t give up on them. Unfotunately There are no viable pro life ministries yet on campus. As an oncology nurse I know all about the link between BCP’s,abortion, and breast cancer. I see it in my chemo room patients every day. This is why a stand against Obama at Notre Dame is so important.



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Gerard Nadal

posted May 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm


Ed,
Good Morning.
I did not blast all Jesuits. I blasted what has come to be the collective charism of the Society of Jesus. Within that collective relativism, each person has his own truth. Your truth is no greater or lesser than my truth in such a system. Within such a system, there are undoubtedly pro-life Jesuits who stand with the Magisterium. However, the pro-choice Jesuits jesuitically fly under the radar by claiming intellectual freedom of pursuit and liberation from the straightjacket of dogmatism. In the final analysis, they are a dying order. Men who stand for nothing don’t need to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to do so. They can do their thing on their own.
People don’t self-sacrifice to be relativiists. Quite the opposite. Relativism and narcissism are first cousins. That’s why more traditional orders such as the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Mother Theresa’s order, the Nashville Dominicans, among others continue to grow and flourish-and why the Jesuits are dying by their own hand.



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Q L F Patch

posted May 4, 2009 at 6:00 pm


Jesus says, permit little children to come unto Me, and then, even as you do to the least of these you do to Me.
jesuits say rip apart your baby alive and throw her remains in Jesus’ face. Then expect no retribution.
Being at a Catholic University does not imply brilliance now.



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