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.