Marion Zimmer Bradley, Greenpeace, and the Donatists

Back in the 4th century CE, Western Christianity had a problem. During the Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, which began in 303 and was severe in some areas, some Christian clergy in the Berber communities of North Africa had surrendered copies of Scripture and otherwise complied with the emperor’s edicts.

When Diocletian was replaced by the pro-Christian Constantine, the hold-outs who had resisted the persecution denounced the first group as impure. Led by a bishop named Donatus, they argued that clergy who had followed imperial orders were sinners who could no longer baptize or celebrate the Eucharist.

But the bishops in Rome, busy hitching the Christian church to the imperial chariot, said no, it’s all good. Or in Latin, ex opere operato, meaning that even if the priest is a sinner, the sacrament is still valid because it comes from God.

I heard this argument from an environmentalist friend yesterday in regard to the news stories about the European Greenpeace executive who commutes to work twice a week by airplane, even as Greenpeace itself campaigns against air travel.

“This kind of bad-example-setting undercuts the message,” I said.

“The organization’s work is still more important,” she said. Ex opere operato. Or as another Catholic once said, “The church may be a whore, but she is still our mother.”

I thought about the Donatists when the news broke last March about well-known Pagan musician Kenny Klein’s arrest on child-pornography charges.  Am I now supposed to smash my Fishbird CD and delete those tracks from my iPod? Or can I say, “Ex opere operato“?

Now it’s Marion Zimmer Bradley. That her husband Walter Breen was an aggressive pedophile is old news. But now the finger points at her: it’s all summed up here.

So who is throwing away their copies of The Mists of Avalon? Or is there an escape clause for artistic works? Is the creative act the equivalent of a religious sacrament? Must we judge the creation according to the morals of the creator or may we invoke the religion of Art: ex opere operato?

Oh yeah, Greenpeace executive Pascal Husting will now take the train, it is said. He made a “misjudgment.” But read the  comment st the Guardian website by “E McBain”: it sounds like one rule for the clergy and one for the rest of us.

2 Comments

  1. Chas Clifton says:

    If you follow the very long comment thread on the MZB post that appeared on the Wild Hunt blog a day after this one, it appears that some people are indeed tossing out their copies of Mists of Avalon, or at least regarding it as too tainted to re-read.

    Donatism lives!

  2. Pitch313 says:

    I once had the experience of sitting a row ahead of one of my favorite authors in a small theater during a folk music performance. This person was a.) a migraine sufferer, and b.) constantly whining about this affliction during the evening’s perfomances. I never read another of this author’s books again.

    As persons of conscience and Pagans, I suppose that we cannot let this MZB situation slide. If the life of the author influences our literary choices, well, so be it.

    But I gotta say that I do not subscribe to the notion that shoddy character and bad heartedness and wrong doing are somehow contagious through literary works of fantasy or science fiction. Reading Mists of Avalon won’t inevitably make the reader a child abuser or an immoral being or whatever. It’s, after all, reading a book. Not getting cooties or erotic corruption or being damned to a cruel erotic future.