Protestants need to beware of repeating myths and appealing to authority, when facts derived from legitimate historical inquiry are against them.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
The following are errors from Verduin’s The Reformers and Their Stepchildren:
P. 32 “Donatism was essentially a protest against the new sacralism [state involvement in Church affairs].” Based on what? The Donatists first approached the Emperor to undo the appointing Cacaelian and they wanted to secure tax breaks and such for their church’s property. Isn’t that Sacralist?
P. 33 Claims that Donatist tried to resist Roman subjugation at “all costs” and in his footnote says that details from this paragraph are from Frend’s book. Problem is, that they aren’t.
P. 34 Calls Donatism “theologically correct.” This seems like an odd positive comment in light of the fact that the Donatists taught that the efficacy of sacraments depended upon how moral the one administering them were–something the author certainly would reject.
Claims that the Donatists “felt called therefore to reconstitute the Church, to start all over” (p. 40). This is out of step with what Frend wrote about and what we can see in Augustine’s writings. The Donatists considered themselves Catholics and took seriously Apostolic Succession. They excommunicated Tychonius, who taught the doctrine of the invisible Church.
Claims Donatists “resisted the invasion of civil power into the Church” (p. 48). This is not true because the Donatists worked quite a bit with the Roman state, they tended to be unsuccessful compared to their Latin contemporaries.
P. 60 Implies the Constantine was an adulterer. I am not aware of this, though he essentially killed his wife and son, so that’s a historical quibble.
P. 64 calls the Donatists’ cane “harmless” when Frend details in his book that it is a typical weapon used in Tunisia for generations. So, Verduin is obviously trying to portray the Donatists as warm and cuddly when the truth does not bear this out.
P. 65 claims that Donatists were opposed to the use of arms by the state, a completely fantastic claim considering that the page before he was talking about the weapons they carried and in light of the historical fact that Donatists took over churches by force.
Quotes a Catholic named Amandus on p. 69, but there is not a citation.
P. 70 quotes Peter Chelcicky without a citation.
P. 71 quotes Hilary of Poitiers without citation.
P. 96 says that the Donatists opposed “substituting salvation by sacramental manipulation.” The Donatists were more extreme sacrementalists than the Catholics were, that was the whole point of their heresy.
P. 137 calls the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the elements as a pagan, post-Constantinian innovation. This is a strange contention, being that we have explicit references to the doctrine as early as the second century, specifically Justin Martyr.
P. 138 claims that there was come sort of conspiracy to pervert the agape love feast into a sacrament. There are no citations or names of who was behind this. He’s just flying from the seat of his pants.
P. 190 he makes reference to page 138, saying he demonstrated that the sacraments came from paganism. Being the p. 138 is an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, p. 190 is just repeating the same silliness.
P. 192 says “Donatists were the original anabaptists.” How so? The Donatists were not the first re-baptizers, the Novatianists were.
P. 193 Says that “Donatism was successfully suppressed.” This is not true. As Frend covers, Donatism outlived Augustine and persisted until the coming of Muslim hordes. Even then, a few whispers were heard in the next couple centuries. Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism in North Africa pretty much disappeared after the German invasion.
The book moves away from ancient history into the Reformation after this point, so I do not have any other comments. I believe I have shown, without doubt 17 different examples of methodological and interpretative errors.