Tuesday, June 29, 2010


In the late 4th century in North Africa, the new bishop on the block (St Augustine, of Hippo Regius, near Carthage) discovered that while he was a member of the “catholic” Church, he was in the minority in his new diocese—the sectarian and schismatic Donatists were the primary body of believers there. Why were they separated from the Church? The answer has relevance to our situation today as Catholics.

During the end of the 3rd century and beginning of the 4th, a violent persecution was leveled against Christians (under the Emperor Diocletian). In the course of this persecution, it was charged that some bishops bought themselves out of the trouble of martyrdom by offering to hand over copies of the sacred Scriptures to be destroyed. [This role of those who were doing the ‘handing over’—the traditores—gives us the obvious word in our language.] As a result, the sectarians claimed that such bishops could never administer the Sacraments validly since they were apostates. Since this was the case, only those who had suffered for the Faith could be considered in what we today call “the Apostolic Succession” which guarantees valid Sacraments and the True Church. This meant the Donatists, as opposed to the “catholics.” No one should be surprised to know that St. Augustine disagreed with this view.

His arguments were powerful and cogent (in their own way, almost 1,500 years later, influencing the decision of John Henry Newman to become a Catholic). But one in particular has always stuck with me. In a letter, he argued strongly that the relative “holiness” of a given priest or bishop does not compromise the truth of the Faith (though it might cause them to stand condemned). As he put it, “Christian hope is founded not a man, but on the Lord.”

Today, especially in the light of the actions in Belgium seizing what were confidential documents in an on-going investigation of clerical sexual abuse of minors, one reels from the extent of the accusations (and their evident validity). From the United States through Belgium, Ireland, Poland, Austria, Germany and Italy, just to name a few countries, the Church is being exposed as an institution of sinners that covers up its own when it can. This, in turn, has caused the Church to lose credibility with many, and it has produced the kind of discouragement that has led many to abandon their faith. But that is the mistake St. Augustine is speaking to, I think.

Like Augustine in the 4th century, we too should say that our hope is founded not on a man (who by nature can be deceptive because temporal and fallible), but on the Lord. The truth is true, even when spoken by liars and frauds.

Today we need more witnesses of the Church as “Suffering Servant” rather than an institution decked out with the pomp and circumstance that speaks all too loudly of privilege, power and position. Peter and Paul are celebrated today precisely because they were martyrs, true witnesses of the faith they preached and served. But whether or not we are always able to point to such leaders ourselves, let’s remember that our faith is based on the teaching and the ultimate Teacher, and no one else. Let’s allow bad shepherds to stand condemned (Ez. 34); but let’s stay part of the flock. After all, like St. Augustine, we know who the Real Shepherd is.



  2. I love this blog too. Check it everyday- always feel enlightened.

  3. What are you saying? That we shouldn't support our Church and Our Holy Father during this time of purgation. It was the misinterpretations of VII by those that see themselves as above the church (or as gods), or who willfully see disobedience as something to cheer and be proud of that have brought us to where we are today. As Pope Paul VI so accurately stated; the poluted smoke of satan has definitely entered the church. Just look around and see the pride, selfishness, self absorption, disobedience and arrogance all around you. I worship God alone, and I follow as best as I can, the teachings of the Church alone and not the teachings of any (one) man. I am Catholic, and not a part of some watered down eucharistic assembly of dissenters.

  4. Dear "Anonymous,"

    I am amazed at the way you can read things into what I have written that have nothing to do with what I have actually said.