Skip to comments.The "Estes Park Statement" [ECUSA]
Posted on 04/28/2005 2:30:37 PM PDT by sionnsar
The most easily-accessible format for this statement (by that, I mean HTML) that I have found is on Titusonenine, which also includes comments by readers of that blog. Christopher Johnson has done his usual masterful work in exposing the fallacies behind the reasoning in this statement, so I will confine my comments to the issue they have raised about alleged Donatism on the part of those who are declaring "impaired communion" with ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada. The statement says about this:
The Question of impaired FellowshipLet us be very clear about these matters: the call for church discipline, even if it means the declaration of impaired communion, in our time is not Donatism. Those who are calling for such discipline (sometimes labeled as "reasserters" or "traditionalists") are in fact remaining faithful and in communion with the historic Church. If anyone is actually being "Donatist" it is those who claim that some Anglicans can use "experience" and a supposed new leading of the Holy Spirit (according to some) to overturn what the Church, taught by Scripture and faithful to Tradition, has always held. I have referred to this essay, Are Realignment Anglicans Donatists?, by David Bennett, before, but perhaps it is worth another look. Bennett states:
Why do some bishops break communion and refuse collegiality as though they could be tainted by sacramental association with bishops with whom they disagree? Why was there a demand that the Churches of Canada and The United States absent themselves from the only instrument of unity (note the irony in refusing unity within an instrument of it) that includes representation of the laity and all three orders of the ordained, and in particular during the presentation by their representatives of the rationale for disputed decisions made within or by those provinces? The only direct reason that we know they have offered so far is a vague reference to impaired fellowship. If this has a basis in history, we suggest a residual Donatism founded in a desire for moralistic purity as a source.
Is Anglicanism caught up in a renewed Donatists controversy? Are Christians once again claiming that bishops, priests, and deacons cannot validly administer the sacraments because they are infected in this time by bad theology? At least in the early centuries the heresy was trying to deal with actions of apostasy. The name of the heresy is taken after an early fourth century schismatic bishop, Donatus. This was a heresy that the church supposed was settled, securely sealed by the arguments of St. Augustine, and formally condemned by ecumenical councils, but which has continued to crop up in various forms from time to time.
The controversy arose first out of the social, political, and ecclesiastical tensions following the Diocletian Persecution. Theologically the Donatists were rigorists, holding that all those who communicated with traitors were infected and that since the church is one and holy, the pure Donatists alone formed the church. Converts to Donatism were rebaptized. Even more to the point, sacraments were declared invalid if administered by clergy who gave in to the persecution. The church catholic maintained, among other things, that the personal unworthiness of the ordained did not affect the validity of sacraments they administered, and that everyone can be reconciled to the church. It is important that in condemning the Donatists version of impaired fellowship the church cited especially the doctrine of Grace championed by Augustine. The violation of Eucharistic fellowship, the refusal to recognize the validity of the sacraments of colleagues, and the shunning of fellow Christians is simply untenable.
They (the Donatists) insisted that the moral worthiness of a minister affected the validity of the sacraments he administered. Thus, they said, the Eucharist given by a traditor was invalid. The catholic Church, led by Sts. Augustine and Optatus, insisted the moral worthiness of a presbyter did not negate the effects of the sacrament, since God is the one acting in the sacrament, not the minister. Sacraments are thus effective ex opere operato, i.e. effective on the grounds of the action done, not on the personal quality of the minister. The catholics also asserted that there will always be a mix of the faithful and unfaithful within the catholic Church, and who is faithful will not ultimately be known until the end (Cross and Livingstone 499-500, 1636; Chadwick 220; Kelly 409-412; Pelikan, 313).This entire article is worth reading--or even re-reading, as Bennett ably deals with this issue.
So at first glance, it does seem that those wishing to separate themselves from the Episcopal Church are indeed Donatists seeking the impossible "pure" Church. However, the comparison is not entirely fair. In fact, I actually see parallels between the Donatists and the Episcopal Church, seeing that both entities are willing to break fellowship with the rest of the Church because of their definition of morality. In other words, both the Donatists and the Episcopal Church have maintained that a small regional church has the right to determine the standards of holiness against the consensus of the entire church. For the Donatists this was puritan rigorism, for ECUSA, this is politically correct rigorism.
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