But the strictly religious aspect of the movement must not be ignored. In a period of intense religious consciousness it was normal that the political and social complexes should express themselves and unfold in religious terms. There developed a doctrinal atmosphere and a spirituality characteristic of Donatism, the pathological features of which may be deplored by theologian and psychologist alike. The schismatic Church considered itself a ‘Church of Saints’, making no sort of compromise with the century in which it lived, either with the Emperor who persecuted its members or the body of the universal Church which was compromised with the traditores.

Their consciences were clear and, like all sects, they felt convinced that they were in the right, and everyone else in the wrong. They believed they were soldiers of Christ fighting for a good cause: their Church was also the Church of the martyrs.

Jean Daniélou & Henri Marrou. The First Six Hundred Years. London, DLT, 1964. 247.

Reading Henri Marrou’s words on the Donatists made me realise that some things never change, irrespective of the doctrinal issues – or even the religions – involved. It also reminded me of the words of Abbot Jonah Paffhausen that I read recently (thanks to a reference from Father Gregory Jensen) in which he spoke about zeal that is rooted in the passions. I don’t want to get involved in the discussion on the idealisation of monasticism in certain Orthodox circles (although it probably has parallels in some Catholic circles), but I found the following comment important:

Zeal for Christ and the Church are great and wonderful things; but authentic zeal is very different from a zeal that comes from one’s passions. Carnal zeal always has some element of self-gratification or self-centeredness, by which one justifies oneself as truly Orthodox, truly pious, and “in the know.” Authentic zeal is not directed towards anything but union in Christ, or against anything but one’s own fallenness. With true zeal, there is no hypocrisy. False zeal, the delusion of spiritual pride and conceit, is always hypocritical.

And that reminded me once more of the teaching of the Desert Fathers that humility and compassion are the only aspects of the ascetical life that the demons are incapable of imitating.