There have always been those who, believing themselves in the right and wishing to justify their separation from the One Church, have sought to defend their schism by various means. One of these means has been to accuse the One Church of apostasy. This was the charge of the “bible believing Donatists” sect in Africa of St. Augustine’s’ day.
And here is how Augustine responded to them (from his Exposition 2 of Psalm 101:8):
God is one, and the Church is a unity; only unity can respond to him who is one. But there are some people why say, “Yes, that certainly was the case. The Church spread among all nations did respond to him, bearing more children than did the wedded wife. It responded to him in the way of his strength, for it believed that Christ had risen. All nations believed in him. But that Church which was drawn from all nations no longer exists: it has perished.”
So say people who are not within the Church. What an impudent assertion!
The Church does not exist because you are not in it? Be careful lest such an attitude result in your not existing yourself, for the Church will be here even if you are not.
But the Spirit of God anticipated this abominable, detestable assertion, this claim full of presumption and falsehood, a claim with nothing to support it, illumined by no spark of wisdom, seasoned by no salt. God’s Spirit anticipated this empty, unfounded, foolhardy and pernicious proposition and seemingly refuted it in advance by proclaiming that the Church is united by the gathering of the people together into one, and kingdoms to serve the Lord.
Undoubtedly, then, his praise responded to him. Beyond question Jerusalem, our mother, responded to him, she who was waiting to be called back from exile, she who was found to have many children, more than those of the wedded wife.
But some people would rise up to deny it, stating that the Church existed once, but exists no longer; and therefore something further was added to the psalm. Make known to me how few are my days, pleads the Church. “What does it mean, that some people have left me and now murmur against me? How can it happen that those reprobates maintain that I have perished? This is their contention: that I existed once, but exist no more.
Tell me, then: Make known to me how few are my days. I am not asking you now for the days of eternity; those days will never end, and I shall be there to see them. No, I am not asking for those now. What I ask about is the days of this time-bound world. My days here are numbered, so tell me about them; make know to me the fewness of my days here, not the eternity of the days that await me. Reveal to me how long I shall last in this world, in the face of those who declare, ‘It existed once, but no longer,’ and those who assert, ‘The scriptures were fulfilled, because all nations did believe, but the Church drawn from all nations apostatized and has been destroyed.’”
What is implied by this plea, Make known to me how few are my days? He made it known; the petition did not go unheard. Who made it known to me, if not he, the way in person? And what was his answer?
*Lo, I am with you throughout all days, even to the end of the ages *(Mt 28:20).
St. Augustine, Exposition of Psalms (99-120), 2004, Works, III/19, Maria Boulding, Boniface Ramsey, ISBN 1565481976, pp. 68-69.