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When the church is a donut

A photo of my all-time favourite donut from Krispy Kreme

Q. When is the church a donut?
A. When it forgets its lessons from history.

There is something that has mystified me about the debate over women in the episcopate since the church first started debating all this aeons ago.

In recent days, the topic has been in the headlines again because the House of Bishops have made some changes to the draft legislation that will go before General Synod in July.

In this draft legislation (as amended by the House), one of the provisions for the dissenters is that they will have a Bishop assigned to them, who not only is a man (self-evidently) but someone whose ‘theological convictions’ are consistent with the request. In other words, it must be a male Bishop who can’t accept women in the episcopate.

Effectively, it is institutionalising the idea of pure blood lines in ordination. Imagine someone who refuses to accept women’s ordination is ordained within a diocese that has a female diocesan bishop. Presumably, in order to ordain them and respect their theological convictions, a male Bishop who disagreed with women in the episcopate would need to do the service. But what if that Bishop actually agreed with women’s ordination and had ordained women in the past, but disagreed with women being in the episcopate? Would that Bishop be suitable? If not, we start to create a line of ordination (since everyone is ordained at the hands of someone else) that is kept free from any influence or involvement of females.

The reason I am so mystified is that 1700 years ago, the church was here in this kind of territory and rejected such talk of lineage in ordination.

Now I’m no Church History expert. The fact I link to articles on Wikipedia tells you everything. But I did listen at theological college and I distinctly remember discussion of Donatism.

The Donatist heresy (not to be confused with Donutists of which I am a paid-up member of the Church of Krispy Kreme) arose because when the Christian church was persecuted and some people ‘fell away’ under the pressure of persecution, a question arose (when the persecution was over) about what to do with those traditores. They were welcomed back with the grace one would expect and hope for, but the Donatists weren’t happy. They were concerned with purity and couldn’t accept these formerly fallen souls. They said that sacraments like baptism, communion and ordination performed by such individuals were invalid.

The view that won out through St Augustine and others was that it was the office, not the personal character of the person concerned, that gave validity to the celebration of the sacraments. It is God in the person of the Holy Spirit at work amongst us that is important, not the person who happens to be doing the invoking.

So my question to those who disagree with women’s ordination or consecration as Bishops and want (by whatever means) to product the blood lines of ordination for themselves is ‘how is this situation any different to the Donatist heresy’? Why are you asking for something that was categorically rejected by the Catholic (as in universal) church of the 4th Century as a heresy?

I simply don’t get it. Please enlighten me.


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