Before continuing with the quotation from Reinhold Seeberg, we wish to call attention to a part of the quotation from his writings which appeared in our preceding article. Writing on the three-day conference which was held at Carthage in June, 411, between the Donatists and the Catholics, he declares: “Both the historical and the doctrinal questions were here discussed. No reader of the proceedings of this assembly can escape the impression that the Donatists here appear in. the light of embittered fanatics, incompetent but vain, adept in the most trifling legal quibbles, in questions of formality and in intrigue, always seeking to impede the progress of the proceedings.” One cannot help but think of our history during the last few years when reading this appraisal of the meeting held at Carthage in the year, 411. Note what Seeberg declares concerning these Donatists, that they were adept in the most trifling legal quibbles; in questions of formality and in intrigue, always seeking to impede the progress of the proceedings. Think of our synodical meetings in the year, 1951, first of June of that year and’ later in. September of the same year. Think of the tactics of the opposition, that they, without any proof, declared our Declaration of Principles to be illegal, failed to discuss in their Classis West the doctrinal aspect of this document, and therefore forced the synod to reconvene in September of the same year. Think of the legal quibbles which also occurred in the synodical sessions in that September meeting of Synod. Think of their deliberate evasion of the doctrinal questions involved. And, last but not least, please note what Seeberg writes concerning their intrigue. It would be very interesting to know of all the sessions “behind closed doors,” how they plotted and discussed, how they worked in secret rather than in the open, Indeed, history has a habit of repeating itself.
Continuing now with the rest of the quotation from Seeberg, we quote the following: “But they (the Donatists—H.V.) are not so in the full sense of the word, since they lack catholicity and are only quasi ecclesia. They build a “ruinous wall” (Ez. 13:10). There is no other house beside the house of God. What they build is only a wall, and that not even resting upon the cornerstone: “your part is a quasi-church, but is not Catholic” (Opt. II. 10). They array “novelty against antiquity” (ib. II. 2), and cut themselves off from the root (III. 7). Among the Catholics, on the contrary, is found the house of God and the one Catholic church, It is the latter, because, according to the promise of Christ, it spreads abroad over all nations and is not confined “to a small part of Africa, to the corner of a little region” [Opt. II. 1, 5; III. 2, 3). But it is also the holy church, and this not because of the character of the men belonging to it, but because it has the “symbol of the Trinity, the chair of Peter, the faith of believers, the salutary precepts of Christ” (ib. II. 9, 10; VII. 2), and, above all, the sacraments: “whose holiness is derived from the sacraments, not measured by the loftiness of persons” (ib. 11. 1). When the Donatists refuse to accord holiness to the church because some bishops at the time of the Diocletian persecution became traditors, they magnify what is irrelevant, if true, and what is, moreover, historically incorrect (gest. 1. 16, 55. Aug. brev. III. 19 ff.). There are, indeed, unholy persons in the church, but we are forbidden to cast these out before the time by the parables of the tares and of the net in which are gathered good and worthless fishes (gest. I. 18, 55. Opt. VII. 2). Those passages of Scripture which speak of a state of unmixed holiness in the church are to be understood as referring to her condition of final blessedness (Aug. brev. III. 9. Opt. II. 20). The church, therefore, as a whole, is holy in the present day by virtue of the divine agency exerted within its bounds in the sacraments, and it will one day be holy in all its members. The error of the Donatists consists in seeking to realize this final state before the time. It is certain that viewed dogmatically, the Catholic position was the more correct, yet its victory was not a clear step in advance. The ancient idea, that the people of God should consist of holy children of God, was forced another step backward.”—end of quote from Seeberg.
Also this quotation from the same author may be of interest: “Augustine’s doctrine of the church is a complicated structure. Ideas evolved in the conflict with the Donatists, the popular conception of the church, his own doctrine of grace, and certain Donatistic tendencies are here brought into combination. Augustine was influenced especially by Tyconius’ conception of the church. This Donatist maintained, indeed, that the church is composed of saints only, but he also taught that empirically the church for the present embraces evil as well as good persons, and that this is so by divine ordering. True, this mixed condition of the church is, according to his view, soon to be terminated, and to this end Donatism is a beginning. As opposed to Donatism, Augustine thus formulates the point at issue: “The question is, indeed, discussed between us, Where is the church, whether among us or among them?” With Optatus, Augustine holds that the great church is the one Catholic church by virtue of the distribution of the latter throughout the whole world and by virtue of its connection with the church of the apostles, whose successors the bishops are. Outside of this one Catholic church, the body of Christ, there is no truth, no salvation. Separation from it is a sacrilegium. Only chaff is blown off by the fan; only pride and lack of love can-impel a Christian to split the unity of the church. The declaration of Augustine is not, however, inspired by hierarchal motive, but rests ultimately upon the thought that it is only in the Catholic church that the Spirit and love are bestowed upon man. But the saints are to be found only in the Catholic church. In this connection. Augustine championed the motto, Extra ecceliam nulla salus (outside of the church no salvation—H.V.), no less positively than Cyprian; but, at the same time—as a result of the different character of the opposition—displayed less of hierarchical interest than the latter.”—end of quote.
Having completed our quotations from Philip Schaff and Reinhold Seeberg, we may remark that in our discussion on the doctrine of the Church during this second period of the history of the Church, we have observed that, historically, the Church developed in external power and glory in the world, especially since the time of Constantine the Great. It is his accession to the throne of emperor over the Roman Empire which marks the end of the age of persecution for the Church of Christ and which inaugurated an entirely new period for the Church in which it attained unto equality before the law with all other religions. The Church began to assume more and more the form of a kingdom of this world. This became especially true during the papacy.
Besides discussing the Church from the viewpoint of its historical manifestation in the midst of the world, we also began our discussion on the doctrine of the Church during this second period. And we called attention to the fact that, as far as the Church visible is concerned as such, this historical period was characterized by a controversy about the purity of the Church and the question of Church discipline between the Donatists and the Church Catholic whose view was represented and championed by Augustine. This learned Church Father maintained, over against the Donatists who held that the visible church must be pure, that the true distinguishing marks of the Church are: Catholicity (the true Church is spread through all the lands) and apostolic connections (connections with churches founded by the apostles). We also noted that Augustine also recognized and advocated the necessity of Christian discipline.
We are now ready to call attention to another phase of the doctrine of the Church during this second period, namely the importance of membership in this true church. In connection with this it might be well to quote Articles 27-29 of our Confession of Faith which have bearing on this question. Art. 27 reads as follows: “Of the Catholic Christian Church. We believe and profess, one catholic or universal Church, which is an holy congregation, of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Ghost. This Church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal king, which, without subjects, cannot be. And this holy Church is preserved or supported by God, against the rage of the whole world; though she sometimes (for a while) appears very small, and in the eyes of men, to be reduced to nothing: as during the perilous reign of Ahab, the Lord reserved unto Him seven thousand men, who had not bowed their knees to Baal. Furthermore, this holy Church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world; and yet is joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same spirit.” What a beautiful expression of faith! Here we confess the Catholic, or universal Christian Church, the Church of the elect, the true Christian believers, not limited or bound, but as spread over the whole world, embracing all lands and peoples.
In Art. 28 the Church confesses that everyone is bound to join himself to the true Church as follows: “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite himself with it; maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them. And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of ail believers, according to the word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it, yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those, who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinances of God.” In this article the Church confesses that it is our duty to join ourselves to the true Church. This implies, we understand, that the true Church reveals itself in the midst of the world; otherwise it would be quite impossible for anyone to join himself to it. This also implies that the true Church, as it reveals itself in the midst of the world, is not a perfect church, and that for the simple reason that no saint reveals himself as perfect in the midst of the world. And it seems to me that this article also emphasizes that, as far as the visible church is concerned, there is but one true Church, although it must be maintained that all other churches are not equally false and have not departed equally far from the truth. And, of course, neither does Art. 28 affirm that the people of God are limited only to one church and that there are no people of God in other churches.