Monday, April 24, 2006

Are Some Orthodox Christians Donatists?

I pose this question since someone I know was received into the Orthodox Church (the communion to which I belong) by baptism, even though he had been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) as a Missouri Synod Lutheran. In the west, this question was pretty much settled after St. Augustine's efforts to deal with the Donatist controversy in a series of North African synods (a prime example of Orthodox ecclesiology at work, IMHO). In the Eastern Church, however, St. Augustine's authority is somewhat negligible, and some even denying him the status of sainthood (!).

It is obvious that the situation cannot long remain as it stands, with some bishops recieving converts by chrismation, and some by (re)baptism. To quote St. Augustine: "In the sacrament, two things are certain: God's grace in giving it, and my faith in receiving it. If you get in the way, then I have no way of knowing anything is certain."

I invite your comments. I will be moderating them, and ANY comment that's made uncharitably will be removed IMMEDIATELY. Please keep this discussion lively, but in a spirit of charity.


Huw Raphael said...

I can see the parallels with Donatism - and agree with you - as a personal opinion.

However, given the current situation with multiple Orthodox jurisdictions practising (in this respect) multiple (o)rthodoxies or, more to the point, multiple (O)rthodox (t)raditions. And given that the issue of "El Otro" never really arose until the latter part of the last century, I think it best to say that the consensus is emergent at this time.

(While some Orthodox persons mistakenly deny Augustine is a Saint, I don't know of any Jurisdiction that officially does so.)

Benedictus said...

Emergent in what direction? Towards, or away from, this quasi-Donatist tendencies that some even in SCOBA seem to have?

You are dead on about the jurisdictional mess we are in and how that contributes to the problem of multiple (O)rthodox (t)raditions. At least here on this side of the Atlantic, this is the main cause of our woes.

But I wonder about the Orthodox world at large. It seems to me that the consensus is emergent on that level as well, and I see hopeful signs that it is way from the sort of Donatist-like tendencies that seem to be dominant especially in some monasteries on the Holy Mountain. This is where, I think, St. Augustine's guidance can be quite helpful.

Aristibule said...

I'm not sure if an analogy with Donatism applies to the more strict view of Baptism (re-Baptism?) The Donatists were not even a generation removed from their separation: a situation more like the Old Calendarist sects, I think. Having centuries of separation - are Protestants and other Christians (not going so close as Roman Catholics or Orientals) simply 'heretics', 'schismatics' or other religions? (Given, that they are 'based' on Christ/Christianity - much as the Mandeans are 'based' on St. John Baptist?)

Benedictus said...

Hmmm...So the more removed you are from the "original" separating community (Lutherans, Confessional Calvinists and Anglicans from Roman Catholic Church, Wesleyanism from Anglicanism, Pentecostolism from Wesleyanism, etc), the more the need for (re)baptism? I suppose by the time you get to the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, the matter is more clear, but where do we begin to draw the line concerning who need baptism and who doesn't?

I, for one, at twelve years of age as a Baptist. While not quite a hallmark of Baptist teaching, I did beleive at the time that I received something (grace, perhaps?), and never doubted the presence of grace in my life thereafter. Thankfully, after my journey through Anglo-Catholicism to Orthodoxy, Metropolitan Philip didn't either, as I was received by chrismation. As I see it, my baptism was made complete, and to this day I have NO desire or need to go back and "correct" anything.

But Aristibule poses a good question: How many times removed do you have to be to make baptism a necessity for admittance into the Orthodox Church, and avoid a Donatist view ofthe sacraments?

Anonymous said...

Christ is risen!

When I was baptized in an Orthodox church (an OCA church), I was told that I could get chrismated or baptized and chrismated, but that in either case, my reception would be the same as everyone's. In the first case (chrismation only), the Church would be taking the complete but empty form of my last "baptism" and filling it, making it an Orthodox baptism. It would be like taking a car with no gas and no engine and installing these parts so it could run. If I was baptized and chrismated, I'd get a new car, and the "empty" one I received before would be irrelevant because the only one that mattered was the one I received, engine and all, from the Church.

My priest was VERY clear that if I got baptized and chrismated, I had to understand that I wasn't getting anything extra over those who were received by chrismation. Likewise, if I was received by chrismation, I would lack nothing. In both cases, I would be a baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian. I was almost going to get received by chrismation, but then I remembered that my first church was an independent and VERY controversial baptist church, and I couldn't remember if my baptism was in the name of the Trinity (I had no papers), so I ended up getting dunked : )

This was my experience

Eric John said...

I am aware of several Orthodox, in SCCOBA, and in places like the Jerusalem Patriarchate (in Palestine-Israel), who have even baptized Orthodox Christians who had been received through Chrismation. This is more Donatist than anything. Not only does it create confusion for the faithul but it blatantly disregards the rights of other Orthodox Churches and bishops.

The means of reception into the Orthodox Churches has never been standardized. It varies on locality.

Perhaps what should be explained (if it is really true) is that the form of reception does not matter. It is the authority of the Church and not the specific sacrament used which makes someone Orthodox. I don't know. I wish there was more literature (sane literature) out there on this topic.

Anonymous said...

"If heretics are allowed to baptize and to give remission of sins, wherefore do we brand them with infamy and call them heretics?"

"The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian," (200-258 AD), Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, pg. 568)

Benedictus said...

Sorry for the long absence. My dissertation committe is expecting something by way of a dissertation proposal, so they can approve the topic and send me on my happy way writing this behemoth.

Anonymous said:"If heretics are allowed to baptize and to give remission of sins, wherefore do we brand them with infamy and call them heretics?"

"The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian," (200-258 AD), Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, pg. 568)"

That, of course, is if you take the 7th Council of Carthage under the presidency of Cyprian as the last word on the matter, which, of course, is not the case, particularly in the West. This is perhaps the context of Cyprian's famous phrase "Salus extra ecclesiam nulla est". How does this translate in the context of the Novatianist controversy? Well, outside the Church, sacraments have no salvific power.

The persecutions under Diocletian stopped short any further resolution to this issue.

It wasn't until around 311, when Caecilian was consecrated bishop of Carthage by Felix of Aptunga (who had been one of the "traditores" who had abandoned the faith during the Diocletian persecutions, but repented later). The Numidian bishops put forward a contender-Majorinus, who was then succeeded by Donatus.

The Donatists, of course, were rigorists, claiming that a priest must be blameless for the sacraments to be valid. After several unsuccessful attempts to bring an end to the schism (the Council of Arles' condemnation of rebaptism in 314), St. Optatus and later St. Augustine took up the challenge, and Donatism was finally condemned at the Council of Carthage in 411.

Some of the Catholic bishops wondered if the Donatists shpuld be received back into the Church through baptism. St. Augustine thought such a thing was absurd, since it would basically give the Donatists the argument. Even if celebrated by a heretic, St. Augustine concluded, the sacraments retain their validity, since it is Christ himself who is the real celebrant, not the priest. This is why he stated quite emphatically that "In the sacraments, two things are true: God's grace in giving them, and my faith in receiveng them. If you get in the way, then I have no way of knowing that anything is certain."

Donatism continued, of course, after this council, but it had been largely reduced, and now condemned as a heretical sect. It was barely holding on by the Arab conquest in the 7th and 8th centuries.

So, it would seem that two inportant councils in the west had pretty much decided the issue-the Council of Arles (314), which admitted the validity of baptisms administered by heretics if done in the name of the Holy Trinity, and the Synod of Carthage in 413, which finally condemned Donatism and upheld the canon on baptism issued at the Council of Arles.

All this to say that this issue, long resolved in the west, is still an issue in the east. For you experts in the Byzantine canons: Are there any canons that even remotely deal with the reception of heretics and schismatics? Do they agree, at least in principle, with the canons of Arles and Carthage (413)?

Jean-Michel said...

the 6th Ecumenical Councile, who was not Ecumenical at all, gives to our Eastern brethren a decent answer in Canon 95.
So I have been received on that base, inside the Church of Russia (while being in Belgium, note the fun), based on my statement of Faith, that is, the pure and undefiled Creed of Nicea-Constantinople.
I accepted that way, while in fact, in the West, that Creed has never been really part of the Church life. We used to use the so-called Apostles Creed, and the so-called Athanasian Creed, not the Greek one outside some occasions.
Usual translations of old Western rites done by Orthodox are usually replacing the original Creed, Apostle's, by the Nicean one, causing confusion, another problem.

Back to the reception problem.
They are rules and there is oikonomia. What are the rules? Well, if you read some Greek comments, they say "rebaptise", and they use saint Cyprian as argument. At the same time, when Westerners want to baptise outside of a church, they jump on the In Trullo to say "you are not allowed". Very confusing.

The decision should be, like it was with the real Church fathers, decision of the bishop. Not according to some written rules all different following the context (in war with neighbours means their baptisms are false).
But according to the evidence of real Baptism - as said saint Augustine or some other authors also in the East, it's God Who acts.
If the baptism has been given in a strange way, of course, in the doubt, better redo it. If it was done properly, what difference does it make? Otherwise, Eastern Orthodox Church MUST take out of her liturgical calendar ANY reference to Constantine the Great. He has been baptised by a pure heretic, an Arian bishop. This should be enough for them to, if not willing to think to the average theology further than saint Cyprian, at least to look to what their In Trullo Councile has decided.