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Author Topic: What did the Donatists do that was so heretical?  (Read 481 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: August 25, 2014, 01:06:12 PM »

I'm reading several books on the Donatists, who are declared heretics by the RC & EO church.

I'll give a brief summary (to save fingers) of what I can tell went down.  (sorry if my description sounds blunt, this is a question not a finger point)

1. Emperor Diocletian persecuted the Church.
2. Church leaders & bishops handed over their scriptures as a sign of loyalty to the emperor and betrayed their brothers in Christ by ratting out who else had scriptures.  The scriptures were burned in public.
3. The Donatists (named after Bishop Donatus Magnus) refused to give up their scriptures despite persecution.
4. The Donatists labeled those who gave up their scriptures as traitors ("traditores" - those who handed over sacred things).
5. The Donatists held to church tradition and the scriptures (as far as I can tell), and considered the sacraments by those who gave up their scriptures to save their skin as invalid.
6. Constantine restored the "traitors/traditores" positions.
7. Donatists get labeled heretics.

(There's more but that's what I've gotten in summary thus far)

The question exists that if a bishop gives up the scriptures to save his skin, why wouldn't he be considered an invalid bishop?  If a bishop "rats out" people in his church with the scriptures, he's basically condemned members of his flock. (so it seems)

How could the Donatist argument be invalid to reject the sacraments of these bishops?

Later it looks like Constantine gave money & bought up churches of the "traditores" bishops.  The Donatists appealed for the same treatment and were rejected.

Donatists continued to stand on the ground that the Catholic bishops were traditores and refused to acknowledge their sacraments.
 
In 409, Marcellinus of Carthage, Emperor Honorius's secretary of state decreed the Donatists as heretical and demanded they give up their churches - because Constantine chose the Catholic church.

Then the Donatists were harshly persecuted by Roman Authorities.

So what I see is that the group who refused to give into persecution and threat, held true to the scriptures and kept them.   They rejected those who did.  (as Christ rejects those who deny him before his father).  The governing and rich powers empowered the traitors and condemned those who did not throw out the scriptures.   With money, power, and police strength, they crushed the Donatists and they are forever declared heretics.

Is there some history I am missing here?   I'm trying to find a real theological reason of their condemnation (based on pure theology) of why they were declared heretics?  Their beliefs were in check with the church.  Was all they really did was not recognize bishops who handed over their scriptures and ratted out their flocks to save their own skin?

If there is more based on theology, please let me know.   I'm just reading several history books and I'm sort of scratching my head.
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« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2014, 01:10:04 PM »

The Donatists refused to forgive anyone who succumbed to persecution and sinned.  Since it is pretty obvious that Christ is a big advocate of forgiveness and forgiving others, to refuse it to our Christian brothers is a grave sin and the teaching of the refusal of forgiveness is heresy.
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« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2014, 01:17:15 PM »

The Donatists refused to forgive anyone who succumbed to persecution and sinned.  Since it is pretty obvious that Christ is a big advocate of forgiveness and forgiving others, to refuse it to our Christian brothers is a grave sin and the teaching of the refusal of forgiveness is heresy.

This was the big one that I can see.  Specifically they seemed to have denied the effectiveness of Confession (and Absolution) for the Traditors and this is a big no no.  I don't think that anyone was saying that turning over the scriptures to agents of Diocletian in a show of loyalty to the emperor was a good thing, just that people fall short and if they were repentant they should not be cut off from the Sacraments.  (You wicked servant, I forgave you much and you could not forgive your fellow servant little so let him be bound and turned over to the torturers...this week's Gospel, heavily paraphrased.)

Their second crime was rabble rousing.  This was a secular crime but one that Constantine never took lightly. 
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« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2014, 01:21:34 PM »

It wasn't as if all of the bishops who hadn't given up the faith became donatists. Those who preserved their faith were the first to desire to reconcile those who had succumbed to persecution because they were Christian. The Donatists were a rigorist, exclusivist, and heretical minority.
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« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2014, 01:23:53 PM »

I'm reading several books on the Donatists, who are declared heretics by the RC & EO church.

I'll give a brief summary (to save fingers) of what I can tell went down.  (sorry if my description sounds blunt, this is a question not a finger point)

1. Emperor Diocletian persecuted the Church.
2. Church leaders & bishops handed over their scriptures as a sign of loyalty to the emperor and betrayed their brothers in Christ by ratting out who else had scriptures.  The scriptures were burned in public.
3. The Donatists (named after Bishop Donatus Magnus) refused to give up their scriptures despite persecution.
4. The Donatists labeled those who gave up their scriptures as traitors ("traditores" - those who handed over sacred things).
5. The Donatists held to church tradition and the scriptures (as far as I can tell), and considered the sacraments by those who gave up their scriptures to save their skin as invalid.
6. Constantine restored the "traitors/traditores" positions.
7. Donatists get labeled heretics.
The Donatists did nothing wrong by following what you list in Points 3 & 4 above. Where they went wrong and rightly earned our condemnation as heretics is in Point 5. The Church teaches that the sacraments are the work of God within the Church and not the work of man. Therefore, the grace of the sacraments cannot be nullified by the personal unrighteousness of the celebrant dispensing those sacraments.

(There's more but that's what I've gotten in summary thus far)

The question exists that if a bishop gives up the scriptures to save his skin, why wouldn't he be considered an invalid bishop?  If a bishop "rats out" people in his church with the scriptures, he's basically condemned members of his flock. (so it seems)
Even the Church follows what can be called due process. Unless a bishop leaves the Church never to return again, a bishop does not depose himself by his own sins. He must stand trial before a jury of his peers--in this case, his local synod--and be convicted and deposed by the jury. There is no concept of a de facto deposition in the Church.

How could the Donatist argument be invalid to reject the sacraments of these bishops?
Due process, as I described above. When a bishop is deposed and excommunicated by his peers, then and only then is he recognized as outside the Church and his sacraments invalid. Until then, he is still a bishop of the Church of Christ, and the sacraments he dispenses are still recognized as the grace-filled sacraments of Christ and His Church.

Later it looks like Constantine gave money & bought up churches of the "traditores" bishops.  The Donatists appealed for the same treatment and were rejected.

Donatists continued to stand on the ground that the Catholic bishops were traditores and refused to acknowledge their sacraments.
 
In 409, Marcellinus of Carthage, Emperor Honorius's secretary of state decreed the Donatists as heretical and demanded they give up their churches - because Constantine chose the Catholic church.

Then the Donatists were harshly persecuted by Roman Authorities.

So what I see is that the group who refused to give into persecution and threat, held true to the scriptures and kept them.   They rejected those who did.  (as Christ rejects those who deny him before his father).  The governing and rich powers empowered the traitors and condemned those who did not throw out the scriptures.   With money, power, and police strength, they crushed the Donatists and they are forever declared heretics.

Is there some history I am missing here?   I'm trying to find a real theological reason of their condemnation (based on pure theology) of why they were declared heretics?  Their beliefs were in check with the church.  Was all they really did was not recognize bishops who handed over their scriptures and ratted out their flocks to save their own skin?

If there is more based on theology, please let me know.   I'm just reading several history books and I'm sort of scratching my head.
What history books are you reading?
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« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2014, 01:28:28 PM »

Quote
What history books are you reading?
Ones that claim the Donatists were just another true Christian sect that was stamped out by the evil Catholic Church and it's Lord Constantine in a mission to deprive people of Christ, maybe?  Tongue

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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2014, 01:46:06 PM »

Quote
What history books are you reading?
Ones that claim the Donatists were just another true Christian sect that was stamped out by the evil Catholic Church and it's Lord Constantine in a mission to deprive people of Christ, maybe?  Tongue

I am reading several but the main two are:

The Donatist Church by W.H.C. Frend
Donatist Martyr Stories by Maureen A.

Also I'm reading some excerpts from some EO books that speak of the heresy in general.

To me it looks more like a schism issue more so than a theological one (like in heresy).     I'm trying to find out how much of the Christian church was actually Donatists because the group actually seemed pretty large and wide spread.

I can see the forgiveness being an issue, but the nature of a bishop all together is to protect the flock so I don't really know where to go from there.

But it seems to be a schism issue more so than the heretic labeled applied from what I can gather.  While one group would not forgive the giving up of holy things to save their skin, the other group attacked them physically and took their churches and declared them heretics (rather than forgiving for them not forgiving).

 Huh

It's not like there was a theological dispute on the fundamentals of god or the church it seems.  Heretic seems like a funky label... I just feel I'm missing some detail here that I can't find.  LOL it's frustrating.
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« Reply #7 on: August 25, 2014, 01:53:21 PM »

Later it looks like Constantine gave money & bought up churches of the "traditores" bishops.  The Donatists appealed for the same treatment and were rejected.

After most of the Church had turned against them, they appealed to the Emperor to settle the dispute. After a thorough inquiry, the Emperor decided they were in the wrong, a rejection they couldn't handle.

In 409, Marcellinus of Carthage, Emperor Honorius's secretary of state decreed the Donatists as heretical and demanded they give up their churches - because Constantine chose the Catholic church.

Then the Donatists were harshly persecuted by Roman Authorities.

Not that it justifies anything but Donatists had their own authorities attempt persecutions decades before. For example, in the 370's, the Roman usurper Firmus, who supported the Donatists, ordered the slaughter of their opponents in the city of Rusuccuru.
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« Reply #8 on: August 25, 2014, 01:58:28 PM »

I am reading several but the main two are:

The Donatist Church by W.H.C. Frend
Donatist Martyr Stories by Maureen A.

Also I'm reading some excerpts from some EO books that speak of the heresy in general.

"Maureen A."?  You're reading books by people who won't even attach their surnames to their "scholarship"?  LOL.
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« Reply #9 on: August 25, 2014, 01:58:53 PM »

Quote
What history books are you reading?
Ones that claim the Donatists were just another true Christian sect that was stamped out by the evil Catholic Church and it's Lord Constantine in a mission to deprive people of Christ, maybe?  Tongue

I am reading several but the main two are:

The Donatist Church by W.H.C. Frend
Donatist Martyr Stories by Maureen A.

Also I'm reading some excerpts from some EO books that speak of the heresy in general.

To me it looks more like a schism issue more so than a theological one (like in heresy).     I'm trying to find out how much of the Christian church was actually Donatists because the group actually seemed pretty large and wide spread.

I can see the forgiveness being an issue, but the nature of a bishop all together is to protect the flock so I don't really know where to go from there.

But it seems to be a schism issue more so than the heretic labeled applied from what I can gather.  While one group would not forgive the giving up of holy things to save their skin, the other group attacked them physically and took their churches and declared them heretics (rather than forgiving for them not forgiving).

 Huh

It's not like there was a theological dispute on the fundamentals of god or the church it seems.  Heretic seems like a funky label... I just feel I'm missing some detail here that I can't find.  LOL it's frustrating.
My understanding is that they were only in North Africa, primarily in the area of modern day Tunisia. I think the fact that they specifically denied one of Christ's main teachings - the importance of forgiveness, demonstrates that it wasn't just a matter of schism, it was a matter of fundamental Christian belief.  How can you have Christianity without forgiveness?
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« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2014, 11:43:34 PM »

I am reading several but the main two are:

The Donatist Church by W.H.C. Frend
Donatist Martyr Stories by Maureen A.

Also I'm reading some excerpts from some EO books that speak of the heresy in general.

"Maureen A."?  You're reading books by people who won't even attach their surnames to their "scholarship"?  LOL.

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« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2014, 11:56:19 PM »

Quote
What history books are you reading?
Ones that claim the Donatists were just another true Christian sect that was stamped out by the evil Catholic Church and it's Lord Constantine in a mission to deprive people of Christ, maybe?  Tongue

I am reading several but the main two are:

The Donatist Church by W.H.C. Frend
Donatist Martyr Stories by Maureen A.

Also I'm reading some excerpts from some EO books that speak of the heresy in general.

To me it looks more like a schism issue more so than a theological one (like in heresy).     I'm trying to find out how much of the Christian church was actually Donatists because the group actually seemed pretty large and wide spread.

I can see the forgiveness being an issue, but the nature of a bishop all together is to protect the flock so I don't really know where to go from there.

But it seems to be a schism issue more so than the heretic labeled applied from what I can gather.  While one group would not forgive the giving up of holy things to save their skin, the other group attacked them physically and took their churches and declared them heretics (rather than forgiving for them not forgiving).

 Huh

It's not like there was a theological dispute on the fundamentals of god or the church it seems.  Heretic seems like a funky label... I just feel I'm missing some detail here that I can't find.  LOL it's frustrating.
My understanding is that they were only in North Africa, primarily in the area of modern day Tunisia. I think the fact that they specifically denied one of Christ's main teachings - the importance of forgiveness, demonstrates that it wasn't just a matter of schism, it was a matter of fundamental Christian belief.  How can you have Christianity without forgiveness?

I agree, you must have forgiveness in Christianity.

This next statement may sound awkward but - how does sin equate to the heretic label?

Their beliefs coincided exactly on the same fundamentals.  Same beliefs in the trinity, communion, etc.   

So the Donatists would not forgive the traitores, and he traitores would not forgive the Donatists for not forgiving and took their churches.  Undecided

Despite the sin, which of course, is wrong and heretical in itself - I'm having trouble understanding why they are labeled heretics rather than schismatics or the like.  If their crime was sin, sin it is (not forgiving).  But isn't the term "heretic" imposed within the EO church on those who teach spiritual or doctrinal heresies that do not coincide with the church?  In this case the church did not seem to forgive them either and attacked them as well.   If sin is what embellishes heresy, it just seems ironic.

In this case it seems as though there were stubborn folks on each side, and just appears to be a schism rather than theological difference.

If this were the case, then whether it be schism or heretic, all non-world EO would really be heretics seemingly as the Donatists as they break because they can't recognize certain practices within world EO.
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« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2014, 12:07:12 AM »

There would seem to me to be a subtle practical problem (but of course theological too) with Donatism, Catharism (the severe "angelic" sort), Anabaptism (the J. Amman sort), and some others, in that a consequence of what they taught seems to me to be that, in the end, hardly anybody can be Christian. Not everyone is called to be a special theophoros -- yet God does love and intend to save all mankind, and paradise was (and will be) an abode intended for mortal man and not for, say, the cherubim. Of course this is a theological problem too, as I said, and reflects on the nature of God, his bearing toward man, and much else -- I leave that to illumined and educated posters.
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« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2014, 12:42:45 AM »

...all non-world EO would really be heretics seemingly as the Donatists as they break because they can't recognize certain practices within world EO.

Pretty much, yes. There's a difference in that Donatists were personally responsible for the schism as they willingly separated themselves from the church due to a heresy they invented and hoped for others to do that too. That's not the case with most of the non-EOs. The first RCs might be heretics but not most of people who live today day. They just believe in what they've inherited.
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« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2014, 01:06:07 AM »

The Donatists refused to forgive anyone who succumbed to persecution and sinned.  Since it is pretty obvious that Christ is a big advocate of forgiveness and forgiving others, to refuse it to our Christian brothers is a grave sin and the teaching of the refusal of forgiveness is heresy.

That makes sense. But of course then why not extend forgiveness to the Donatists?

I may be very naïve, but I can't help to think that we may all be surprised by some of the heretics we see in heaven.


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« Reply #15 on: August 28, 2014, 01:38:20 AM »


That makes sense. But of course then why not extend forgiveness to the Donatists?

Because they did not repent of their error, as the people who they had denied forgiveness to did.
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« Reply #16 on: August 28, 2014, 01:50:28 AM »


That makes sense. But of course then why not extend forgiveness to the Donatists?

Because they did not repent of their error, as the people who they had denied forgiveness to did.

OK. Thank you.


Selam
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« Reply #17 on: August 28, 2014, 03:24:03 AM »

I may be very naïve, but I can't help to think that we may all be surprised by some of the heretics we see in heaven.


Selam

That sounds like the mainstream Orthodox position always and everywhere.
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« Reply #18 on: August 28, 2014, 12:05:48 PM »


That makes sense. But of course then why not extend forgiveness to the Donatists?

Because they did not repent of their error, as the people who they had denied forgiveness to did.

OK. Thank you.


Selam

Did the church repent of not forgiving & attacking the Donatists though?
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« Reply #19 on: August 28, 2014, 12:19:21 PM »


That makes sense. But of course then why not extend forgiveness to the Donatists?

Because they did not repent of their error, as the people who they had denied forgiveness to did.

OK. Thank you.


Selam

Did the church repent of not forgiving & attacking the Donatists though?
The Church disciplined them. It was the government who attacked the Donatists. The Church does not need to repent of disciplining the wayward.
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« Reply #20 on: August 28, 2014, 12:53:59 PM »


That makes sense. But of course then why not extend forgiveness to the Donatists?

Because they did not repent of their error, as the people who they had denied forgiveness to did.

OK. Thank you.


Selam

Did the church repent of not forgiving & attacking the Donatists though?
The Church disciplined them. It was the government who attacked the Donatists. The Church does not need to repent of disciplining the wayward.

A little harsh. I'm sure the time and situation were most poignant and difficult, for both sides. Let our attitude not borrow the troubles of other times when we have been given troubles aplenty of our own time.
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« Reply #21 on: August 28, 2014, 01:32:34 PM »

Quote
Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

I seem to recall something about this...it happened to someone kind of important.......

PP
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« Reply #22 on: August 28, 2014, 01:36:22 PM »

There would seem to me to be a subtle practical problem (but of course theological too) with Donatism, Catharism (the severe "angelic" sort), Anabaptism (the J. Amman sort), and some others, in that a consequence of what they taught seems to me to be that, in the end, hardly anybody can be Christian. Not everyone is called to be a special theophoros -- yet God does love and intend to save all mankind, and paradise was (and will be) an abode intended for mortal man and not for, say, the cherubim. Of course this is a theological problem too, as I said, and reflects on the nature of God, his bearing toward man, and much else -- I leave that to illumined and educated posters.
Sorry to tell you but you just outed yourself as an "illuminated and educated" poster. I loved the way you phrased the main objection to these heresies.
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« Reply #23 on: August 28, 2014, 02:41:04 PM »


That makes sense. But of course then why not extend forgiveness to the Donatists?

Because they did not repent of their error, as the people who they had denied forgiveness to did.

OK. Thank you.


Selam

Did the church repent of not forgiving & attacking the Donatists though?
The Church disciplined them. It was the government who attacked the Donatists. The Church does not need to repent of disciplining the wayward.

A little harsh. I'm sure the time and situation were most poignant and difficult, for both sides. Let our attitude not borrow the troubles of other times when we have been given troubles aplenty of our own time.
I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying I am being a little harsh?  I certainly didn't intend to be. The Church was quite polemical against the Donatists, but the Church was not the one that advocated their persecution, the Church desired that they would reconcile themselves to the Church. The government, on the other hand, was much more heavy handed, and that is quite regrettable. All that being said, I don't believe the Church needs to apologize for its responses to the Donatists. It needed to be rebuked and it was.
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« Reply #24 on: August 28, 2014, 02:50:20 PM »

Yes I meant your post.
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« Reply #25 on: August 28, 2014, 03:13:26 PM »

Yes I meant your post.
Can you elaborate?  What about it was harsh?  Huh
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« Reply #26 on: August 28, 2014, 03:56:08 PM »

The Donatists existed as  scismatic rivals to the Orthodox for generations. St. Augustine of Hippo debated a rival Donatist bishop & swayed many back to Orthodoxy; their numbers dwindled by the jihad conquest & faded out.

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Donatism


The Donatists schism grew until, by 350, they outnumbered the Orthodox in north Africa. Each city had both an Orthodox and a Donatist bishop. The tide did not turn against the Donatists until the fifth century when St. Augustine in his writings and debates with Donatist bishops in Carthage strongly challenged their position. The Donatist movement then waned greatly, and they completely disappeared under the force of the Muslim conquests of the seventh century.
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« Reply #27 on: August 28, 2014, 03:56:30 PM »

...

It seems like the Church of Carthage often produced extreme attitudes beginning with Tertullian.
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« Reply #28 on: August 28, 2014, 05:06:02 PM »

Donatists did plenty of their own rioting, kidnapping, and religiously-motivated murdering. In many places, they held the upper-hand, so they would take up cudgel and spear against the Catholics. They even assaulted St. Augustine himself.
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« Reply #29 on: August 28, 2014, 05:11:12 PM »

Donatists did plenty of their own rioting, kidnapping, and religiously-motivated murdering. In many places, they held the upper-hand, so they would take up cudgel and spear against the Catholics. They even assaulted St. Augustine himself.

But that's not a big deal.  It's only a big deal the other way around. 
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« Reply #30 on: August 28, 2014, 05:12:44 PM »

Donatists did plenty of their own rioting, kidnapping, and religiously-motivated murdering. In many places, they held the upper-hand, so they would take up cudgel and spear against the Catholics. They even assaulted St. Augustine himself.

Well obviously the Catholics deserved it. Have you not read Martyrs MirrorRoll Eyes





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« Reply #31 on: August 28, 2014, 07:49:19 PM »

Donatists did plenty of their own rioting, kidnapping, and religiously-motivated murdering. In many places, they held the upper-hand, so they would take up cudgel and spear against the Catholics. They even assaulted St. Augustine himself.

Some of groups were so desperate for martyrdom that they would attack soldiers, traders, or just simple passangers... just to get those to kill them... I suppose Church should repent for this?
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« Reply #32 on: August 28, 2014, 09:01:20 PM »

Yes I meant your post.
Can you elaborate?  What about it was harsh?  Huh

The -- sentences in it? Obviously, I didn't expect you to agree; you're the one who made it.
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« Reply #33 on: Yesterday at 08:32:02 AM »

Yes I meant your post.
Can you elaborate?  What about it was harsh?  Huh

The -- sentences in it? Obviously, I didn't expect you to agree; you're the one who made it.
Oh.  I'm sorry.  Usually your posts do a better job of explaining the point your getting at and encourage a reasonable discussion.  Apparently this is not one of those times.  Roll Eyes
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« Reply #34 on: Yesterday at 03:04:20 PM »

Yes I meant your post.
Can you elaborate?  What about it was harsh?  Huh

The -- sentences in it? Obviously, I didn't expect you to agree; you're the one who made it.
Oh.  I'm sorry.  Usually your posts do a better job of explaining the point your getting at and encourage a reasonable discussion.  Apparently this is not one of those times.  Roll Eyes

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Love ... is an abyss of illumination, a mountain of fire ... . It is the condition of angels, the progress of eternity. --Climacus
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