It moreover seemed good that letters be sent to our brethren and fellow-bishops, and especially to the Apostolic See, over which our aforesaid venerable brother and colleague Anastasius, presides, that [ἐπειδὴ in the Greek, quo in the Latin] he may know that Africa is in great need, for the peace and prosperity of the Church, that those Donatists who were clergymen and who by good advice had desired to return to Catholic unity, should be treated according to the will and judgment of each Catholic bishop who governs the Church in that place; and, if it seem good for Christian peace, they be received with their honours, as it is clear was done in the former times of this same division. And that this was the case the example of the majority, yea, of nearly all the African Churches in which this error had sprung up, testify; not that the Council which met about this matter in foreign parts should be done away, but that it may remain in force with regard to those who so will to come over to the Catholic Church that there be procured by them no breaking of unity. But those through whom Catholic unity was seen to have been altogether perfected or assisted by the manifest winning of the souls of their brethren in the places where they live, there shall not be objected to them the decree contrary to their honour adopted by a foreign council, for salvation is shut off to no one, that is to say, that those ordained by the Donatist party, if having been corrected they have been willing to return to the Catholic Church, are not to be 463 received in their grades, according to the foreign council; but they are to be excepted through whom they received the advice to return to Catholic unity.
This canon is special, for it seemed good to the fathers that such of the Donatists as came to the orthodox faith should be so received as to hold the grade of their holy orders, even though a transmarine, that is to say an Italian, council had decreed otherwise.
p. 477 Aristenus.
Those Donatists who are penitent and anathematize their heresy are to be allowed to remain in their proper rank, and be numbered among the clergy of the Catholic Church, because Africa was labouring under a great shortness of clergy.
Whether the Donatists clergy should be re-ordained was only a point of discipline; for the Donatists retained Episcopacy. Therefore the African fathers, as they leave other churches to their liberty, so at the same time they declare that they would continue their old practice, and leave every bishop to act according to his own discretion in this matter. Probably, one great motive, besides that of peace, which they had to this, was the great scarcity of clergymen in Africa, of which Aurelius complains in his speech, inserted into the Acts before Canon 77 (61), and proposes that they send to the bishops of Rome and Milan for a supply. And that this was the true reason, does in some measure appear from the words of the Latin canon at large, in which the occasion of this decree is said to be propter necessitatem. And this is the most probable reason why it is left to the discretion of the bishop, whether to admit Donatist clergymen as such, if he had occasion for their service. And after all it is clear from this very canon, that other churches had determined this point the contrary way. Therefore Mr. Calamy exceeds when he says: “As for the Donatists, all agree that their orders were acknowledged.” Further, he would have it thought probable that orders were not always conferred among the Donatists by persons superior to presbyters. This he would infer from the great number of the bishops of that faction in Africa, viz., 278, many of which (says he) could be no more than parish ministers. But why so? Were there not above four hundred Catholic bishops? And why not as many of one side as the other? If our dissenters of any sort had fallen into the Episcopal form of government, no question but they would have had a bishop in every city at least, and equalled our church in the number of prelates.
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