The Donatist comparison has been repeated numerous times since the events of General Convention 2003–or, rather, misapplied. Since the move last week by the Common Cause Partners to form a new Anglican Province in North America–a move they made, I might add, in direct response to the request of the majority of Global South Primates at Kigali in 2006–the accusation is already being dragged out once again. The “breakaway” Anglicans are “Donatists.” They have broken fellowship with those they consider to be sinful. And the Church has repeatedly repudiated this position since the time of Augustine. Sinfulness does not invalidate the sacraments.
Who were the Donatists? The Donatists were a sect in Northern Africa that disagreed with the rest of Catholic Christendom, not primarily over doctrine, but over discipline. They claimed that the sacraments of sinful clergy were invalid. According to Augustine, the primary problem with Donatism was not their theological position so much as that they refused to listen to the rest of the Church. Internationally, they were a small sect within Catholic Christendom, confined to a corner of Northern Africa. However, within Northern Africa, they were the majority. (more…)