Back in the late 300s, the big heresy was Donatism. The basic idea was that if a Priest cracked under the pressure of persecution that it somehow "proved" he was never really worthy of administering the sacraments in the first place, and therefore any baptism, eucharist, or other thing he administered was somehow invalid.

Augustine, however, issued a powerful defense of the idea that a sacrament doesn't depend on the one administering it, but rather the one receiving it. In reading a recent question about the Waldensians, however, I was surprised to see that they really were much-later Donatists.

The question then, is this - Are there any modern / extant churches that subscribe to this?

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The Conclavists all believe that. A fundamental tenet is that as the entirety of the College of Cardinals has fallen into either material or formal heresy, they are no longer capable of electing a successor to the Pope. I think that belief fits Donatism very clearly.

While I will definitely say that there are others I've encountered (radical Charismatics come to mind, but I have seen this in certain extremists in other groups), this seems like a slam-dunk "yes".


Depending on how strictly you define Donatism (sacraments and their efficacy aren't a "given" for most modern movements), it could be argued that many historical movements have been (and are) Donatist when they create a class of Christians who are superior to others and denounce others as non-believers because they are not as devoted. Some have argued that the Anabaptist movement was Donatist, and others have argued that various hyper-conservative movements within denominations or within other movements are Donatist. This can be as subtle as making a distinction between "Spirit-filled" and "nominal" believers, or by other class distinctions whereby one group is repudiated as being inferior because they are less dedicated or do not share the same experiences as the "superior" group.

I'm glad that the apostles didn't adopt that approach, because we'd only be able to read the gospel of John if that were the case ;)


The following folks could be considered modern Donatists, I think:

-"Old Calendarist" Orthodox

-Russian Old Believers (they originated in the 1600s but still exist)

-Pretty much anyone who is completely opposed to ecumenism. Of course, blindly ignoring theological differences (as some extreme pro-ecumenists do) is not a good idea either. A balance is necessary. Many Eastern Orthodox nowadays believe reunion with the Oriental Orthodox may be possible because the two groups share a very similar Christology and the original schism that separated them was largely a semantic one. However, there are some Orthodox who are vehemently opposed to any such plan--those folks could be considered Donatist.

-Nestorians (yes, they still exist!) If I'm not mistaken, there are only about 20000 of them now and they still consider themselves the original true church. A tiny, tiny sect like that should be seeking reconciliation between itself and the larger body of Christians, not writing them all off as heretics.

-Independent Fundamental Baptists

-Westboro. Westboro. Westboro.

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    Are you sure you understand what Donatism is? Baptists don't believe the sacraments have any affect, period. So it's ridiculous to suggest that they believe the effectiveness of the sacraments has anything to do with the moral character of the person administering them. Jan 15, 2014 at 23:56

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