Sunday, July 02, 2006

Another Traditionalist position?

From the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on Donatists, a schismatic group which denied the validity of Sacraments administered by those they considered as traitors:

"St. Optatus gives a vehement catalogue of the excesses committed by the Donatists on their return... Since they did not admit the validity of the sacraments administered by traditors, when they seized the churches they cast the Holy Eucharist to the dogs; but the dogs, inflamed with madness, attacked their own masters. An ampulla of chrism thrown out of a window was found unbroken on the rocks."

My thoughts turned to this after I read the following joke:
Q. What are the only things that never change in a Jesuit liturgy?

A. The bread and wine.

Ahh, yes, another soul who's fed up with the relentless stream of public dissent and scandal to the Church by weak and errant clergy. I won't even go into the 'picking on the poor Jesuits' argument posited by the joke, as it belittles the efforts of faithful Jesuits who get tarred with the same brush as their copiously heretical brethren. Fortunately, our salvation doesn't hinge upon another man's fidelity to Christ and His Church, but on Christ's saving work already accomplished:
The Catholic champion, St. Optatus, Bishop of Milevis, published his great work "De schismate Donatistarum" in answer to that of the Donatist Bishop of Carthage, Parmenianus, under Valentinian and Valens, 364-375 (so St. Jerome). Optatus himself tells us that he was writing after the death of Julian (363) and more than sixty years after the beginning of the schism (he means the persecution of 303)... In the first book he describes the origin and growth of the schism; in the second he shows the notes of the true Church; in the third he defends the Catholics from the charge of persecuting, with especial reference to the days of Macarius. In the fourth book he refutes Parmenianus's proofs from Scripture that the sacrifice of a sinner is polluted. In the fifth book he shows the validity of baptism even when conferred by sinners, for it is conferred by Christ, the minister being the instrument only. This is the first important statement of the doctrine that the grace of the sacraments is derived from the opus operatum of Christ independently of the worthiness of the minister.

St. Augustine took up that same argument when dealing with the Donatists later:
After St. Augustine had become bishop in 395, he obtained conferences with some of the Donatist leaders, though not with his rival at Hippo. In 400 he wrote three books against the letter of Parmenianus, refuting his calumnies and his arguments from Scripture. More important were his seven books on baptism, in which, after developing the principle already laid down by St. Optatus, that the effect of the sacrament is independent of the holiness of the minister, he shows in great detail that the authority of St. Cyprian is more awkward than convenient for the Donatists.

Pope Innocent III puts the truly traditional Catholic perspective on efficacy of the Sacraments:
Nothing more is accomplished by a good priest and nothing less by a wicked priest, because is it accomplished by the word of the creator and not the merit of the priest. Thus the wickedness of the priest does not nullify the effect of the sacrament, just as the sickness of a doctor does not destroy the power of his medicine. Although the "doing of the thing (opus operans)" may be unclear, nevertheless, the "thing which is done (opus operatum)" is always clean
- Pope Innocent III (1160-1216)

But will that explanation suffice for detractors and critics? Probably not, but then they lose a measure of credibility when claiming to be really traditional Catholics.

1 comment:

DigiHairshirt said...

In law, an oft-heard argument is "Your Honor, that is form over substance," when one side argues a strict adherence to procedural rules rather than the gist of tbe matter. Both sides are well taken. Certainly, the procedural rules are there for a reason. Under the California Code of Civil Procedure, notice of a hearing shall be given to the opposing side within 16 court days of the scheduled hearing. This is to preserve due process - absent an emergency, no one should be hauled into court within a day to defend against a charge they have not had the opportunity to examine and against which to mount a defense (and ex parte - "emergency" - hearings must meet the burden of having irreparable harm or immediate danger, but the abuse of those is a topic for another day). In that instance, procedure IS important since it serves to preserve something greater - as I said, due process and the concept of "notice."

However, such an argument can be abused. A party seeking to set aside a stipulated judgment - a settlement to which they agreed - on the basis that their signature was not notarized (which is required by law), all the while not denying it is truly their signature, is putting form over substance. In such cases, the failure to adhere to procedure is naught but a technicality and on the basis of preserving equity and justice, I believe the Court should deny their request.

So too in Catholicism. What if I don't kneel when receiving Holy Eucharist? Does it cheapen my belief in the True Presence? Am I not showing proper respect?

Arguably, one could kneel in total reverence, yet at the same time be thanking God that He saw fit not to send a Jesuit to admminister the Sacrament. Or be thankful that his neighbor is not Black or a Mexican. Or be angry that her new boss is a homosexual and thus ask God why is it that she must answer to a deviant, so could God remove that person from her life? Is that a reverent and true receipt of the Body of Christ? I think not.

Procedure, as I said, is important. We should be expressing a show of reverence during consecration because it is a unique moment, the Word made Flesh, the True Presence before us. It is important, and I can appreciate when traditionalists bemoan the shenanigans that go on during such times, such as liturgical dance and "clown" Masses. The procedure, in such cases, distract and takes away from the substance. But if we place form over substance, it seems to me we run greater risks than placing substance over form.

Today, July 2, 2006, we heard Jesus tell a woman who touched but His cloak, "Your faith has healed you." No obeisance, no worship of Christ, no formal show of reverence, just a simple belief that all it took was to touch the hem of His garment. And consider, He did not say to her, "I have healed you," but "Your faith has healed you."

What a gift we have been given.