As heresy fanciers will remember, Donatism was a North African heresy that denied that sacraments administered by serious sinful priests were valid.

Some bishops were accused of handing over (tradere) the Scriptures to pagan authorities during the last great persecution. These bishops were called traditores, handers-over, or traitors.

The Donatists set up their own hierarchy and rebaptized any Catholic who joined them. For Augustine schism was a very serious sin, and the Donatist denial of the validity of baptism unless it was performed by a Donatist was heresy. Augustine spent much energy arguing with them, and finally relied upon Imperial laws to force them back into the Catholic Church.

He wrote Letter 208 to Felicia, a Donatist consecrated virgin who had become a Catholic, perhaps by Imperial force. She was scandalized by corrupt members of the Catholic hierarchy.

Augustine wrote to her:

In order, therefore, that we may remain in unity and not abandon the threshing floor of the Lord when we are offended by the scandals from the chaff but may rather remain as grain until the end of the winnowing and endure the straw that is crushed by the strong weight of love, our shepherd himself of warns us about good shepherds in the gospel. He warns us that we should not place out hope even in them because of their good works but that we should glorify our Father who is in heaven, the one who made them such, and he warns us about bad shepherds, whom he chose to indicate by the terms “scribes” and “Pharisees,” those who teach what is right but do what is wrong.

In commenting on the party spirit among the Corinthians (I belong to Peter! I belong to Paul!), Augustine wrote:

From this we understand that good shepherds do not seek their own interests but those of Jesus Christ and, that though good sheep imitate the actions of their good shepherds, they nonetheless do not put their hope in those by whose ministry they were gathered into the flock but rather in the Lord by whose blood they were redeemed. In that way, when they happen to come upon bad shepherds preaching Christ’s doctrine but doing their own evil deeds, they do what bad shepherds say, but they do not do what they do.

Legionaries have appealed to Augustine’s critique of Donatism to justify remaining in the Legion. The situations however are not exactly parallel. Leaving the Legion is not the same as abandoning the unity of the church; if Legionaries think that, they have a serious problem. Much of what Maciel taught is standard if somewhat old-fashioned Catholicism; if the Legionaries what to follow that, there is no problem. But Maciel insisted over and over again that the Legionaries imitate him: a hypocrite, thief, and child molester.

The cult of personality that has afflicted the Church, to which John Paul II contributed, is the source of the problem. I am for John Paul, I am for Maciel, I am for Küng! Catholics do not seem content with Jesus Christ as the model to be imitated but too often look for messiahs closer at hand.

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