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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.


Rupture of ecclesiastical union and unity

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I. General Ideas, Moral Character, and Penal Sanctions.

—Schism (from the Greek schisma, rent, division) is, in the language of theology and canon law, the rupture of ecclesiastical union and unity, i.e. either the act by which one of the faithful severs as far as in him lies the ties which bind him to the social organization of the Church and make him a member of the mystical body of Christ, or the state of dissociation or separation which is the result of that act. In this etymological and full meaning the term occurs in the books of the New Testament. By this name St. Paul characterizes and condemns the parties formed in the community of Corinth (I Cor., i, 12): “I beseech you, brethren”, he writes, “… that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment” (ibid., i, 10). The union of the faithful, he says elsewhere, should manifest itself in mutual understanding and convergent action similar to the harmonious cooperation of our members which God hath tempered “that there might be no schism in the body” (I Cor., xii, 25). Thus understood, schism is a genus which embraces two distinct species: heretical or mixed schism and schism pure and simple. The first has its source in heresy or joined with it, the second, which most theologians designate absolutely as schism, is the rupture of the bond of subordination without an accompanying persistent error, directly opposed to a definite dogma. This distinction was drawn by St. Jerome and St. Augustine. “Between heresy and schism”, explains St. Jerome, “there is this difference, that heresy perverts dogma, while schism, by rebellion against the bishop, separates from the Church. Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church” (In Ep. ad Tit., iii, 10). And St. Augustine: “By false doctrines concerning God heretics wound faith, by iniquitous dissensions schismatics deviate from fraternal charity, although they believe what we believe” (De fide et symbolo, ix). But as St. Jerome remarks, practically and historically, heresy and schism nearly always go hand in hand; schism leads almost invariably to denial of the papal primacy.

Schism, therefore, is usually mixed, in which case, considered from a moral standpoint, its perversity is chiefly due to the heresy which forms part of it. In its other aspect and as being purely schism it is contrary to charity and obedience; to the former, because it severs the ties of fraternal charity, to the latter, because the schismatic rebels against the Divinely constituted hierarchy. However, not every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors, denial of their Divine right to command. On the other hand, schism does not necessarily imply adhesion, either public or private, to a dissenting group or a distinct sect, much less the creation of such a group. Anyone becomes a schismatic who, though desiring to remain a Christian, rebels against legitimate authority, without going as far as the rejection of Christianity as a whole, which constitutes the crime of apostasy.

Formerly a man was rightly considered a schismatic when he disregarded the authority of his own bishop; hence the words of St. Jerome quoted above. Before him St. Cyprian had said: “It must be understood that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop and he is not in the Church who is not with the bishop” (Epist., lxvi, 8). Long before, St. Ignatius of Antioch laid down this principle: “Where the bishop is there is the community, even as where Christ is there is the Catholic Church” (Smyrn., viii, 2). Now through the centralizing evolution which emphasizes the preponderant role of the sovereign pontiff in the constitution of ecclesiastical unity, the mere fact of rebelling against the bishop of the diocese is often a step toward schism; it is not a schism in him who remains, or claims to remain, subject to the Holy See. In the material sense of the word there is schism, that is rupture of the social body, if there exist two or more claimants of the papacy, each of whom has on his side certain appearances of right and consequently more or less numerous partisans. But under these circumstances good faith may, at least for a time, prevent a formal schism; this begins when the legitimacy of one of the pontiffs becomes so evident as to render adhesion to a rival inexcusable. Schism is regarded by the Church as a most serious fault, and is punished with the penalties inflicted on heresy, because heresy usually accompanies it. These are: excommunication incurred ipso facto and reserved to the sovereign pontiff (cf. “Apostolicie Sedis”, I, 3); this is followed by the loss of all ordinary jurisdiction and incapacity to receive any ecclesiastical benefices or dignities whatsoever. To communicate in sacris with schismatics, e.g., to receive the sacraments at the hands of their ministers, to assist at Divine Offices in their temples, is strictly forbidden to the faithful.

Some theologians distinguish “active” from “passive” schism. By the former they understand detaching oneself deliberately from the body of the Church, freely renouncing the right to form a part of it. They call passive schism the condition of those whom the Church herself rejects from her bosom by excommunication, inasmuch as they undergo this separation whether they will or no, having deserved it. Hence, this article will deal directly only with active schism, which is schism properly so-called. It is nevertheless clear that so-called passive schism not only does not exclude the other, but often supposes it in fact and theory. From this point of view it is impossible to understand the attitude of Protestants who claim to hold the Church they abandoned responsible for their separation. It is proved by all the historical monuments and especially by the writings of Luther and Calvin that, prior to the anathema pronounced against them at the Council of Trent, the leaders of the Reformation had proclaimed and repeated that the Roman Church was “the Babylon of the Apocalypse, the synagogue of Satan, the society of Antichrist“; that they must therefore depart from it and that they did so in order to reenter the way of salvation. And in this they suited the action to the word. Thus the schism was well consummated by them before it was solemnly established by the authority which they rejected and transformed by that authority into a just penal sanction.

II. Schism in the Light of Scripture and Tradition.

—As schism in its definition and full sense is the practical denial of ecclesiastical unity, the explanation of the former requires a clear definition of the latter, and to prove the necessity of the latter is to establish the intrinsic malice of the former. Indeed the texts of Scripture and Tradition show these aspects of the same truth to be so closely united that passage from one to the other is constant and spontaneous. When Christ built on Peter as on an unshakable foundation the indestructible edifice of His Church He thereby indicated its essential unity and especially the hierarchical unity (Matt., xvi, 18). He expressed the same thought when He referred to the faithful as a Kingdom and as a flock: “Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John, x, 16). Unity of faith and worship is more explicitly indicated by the words outlining the solemn mission of the Apostles: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt., xxviii, 19). These various forms of unity are the object of the prayer after the Last Supper, when Christ prays for His own and asks “that they may be one” as the Father and the Son are one (John, xvii, 21, 22). Those who violate the laws of unity shall become strangers to Christ and his spiritual family: “And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican” (Matt., xviii, 17).

In faithful imitation of his Master’s teaching St. Paul often refers to the unity of the Church, describing it as one edifice, one body, a body between whose members exists the same solidarity as between the members of the human body (I Cor., xii; Eph., iv). He enumerates its various aspects and sources: “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body,… and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink” (I Cor., xii, 13); “For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread” (ibid., x, 17). He sums it up in the following formula: “One body and one Spirit; … one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph., iv, 4-5). Finally he arrives at the logical conclusion when he anathematizes doctrinal novelties and the authors of them (Gal., i, 9), likewise when he writes to Titus: “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid” (Tit., iii, 10); and again when he so energetically condemns the dissensions of the community of Corinth: “There are contentions among you. Every one of you saith: I am indeed of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Cor., i, 11-13). “Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment” (I Cor., i, 10). St. Luke speaking in praise of the primitive church mentions its unanimity of belief, obedience, and worship: “They were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts, ii, 42). All the first Epistle of St. John is directed against contemporary innovators and schismatics; and the author regards them as so foreign to the Church that in contrast to its members “the Children of God“, he calls them “the children of the devil (I John, iii, 10); the children “of the world” (iv, 5), even Antichrist (ii, 22; iv, 3).

The same doctrine is found in all the evidences of Tradition, beginning with the oldest. Before the end of the first century St. Clement writing to the Church of Corinth in order to restore peace and harmony strongly inculcates the necessity of submission to the “hegoumenos” (I Cor., i, 3), “to the guides of our souls” (lxiii, 1), and to the “presbyters” (xlvii, 6; liv, 2; lvii, 1). It is, says he, a “grave sin” to disregard their authority as the Corinthians are doing (xliv, 3, 4, 6; xlvii, 6); it is a duty to honor them (i, 3; xxi, 6). There must be no division in the body of Christ, xlvi, 6. The fundamental reason of all this is the Divinely instituted hierarchical order. The work of Christ is in fact continued by the Apostles, who are sent by Christ as He was sent by God (xlii, 1, 2). It was they who established the “episcopi and deacons” (xlii, 4) and decided that others should succeed them in their ministry (xliv, 2). He thus explains the gravity of the sin and the severity of the reproaches addressed to the fomentors of the troubles: “Why should there be among you disputes, quarrels, dissensions, schisms, and war? Have we not one and the same God, one and the same Christ? Is it not the same spirit of grace that has been poured out upon us? Have we not a common vocation in Christ? Wherefore, divide and separate the members of Christ, be at war with our own body, be so foolish as to forget that we are members of one another?” (xlvi, 5-7). St. Ignatius insists no less forcibly on the necessity of unity and the danger of schism. He is the first author in whom we find episcopal unity clearly outlined, and he beseeches the faithful to range themselves about the “presbyters” and the deacons and especially through them and with them about the bishop: “It is fitting that you be of one mind with the bishop, as you are, because your venerable presbyterium is attached to the bishop as the strings to the lyre” (Eph., vi, 1); “you must not take advantage of the age of your bishop, but, being mindful of the power of God the Father, you should show him every manner of respect, as do the holy priests” (Magn., iii, 1). The bishop is the center and pivot of the Church: “Where he is there should the community be” (Smyrn., xi, 1). The duties of the faithful towards the hierarchy are summed up in one: to be united to it in sentiment, faith, and obedience. They must be always submissive to the bishop, the presbyterium, and the deacons (“Eph.”, ii, 2; v, 3; xx, 2; “Magn.”, ii; iii, 1; vi, 1, 2; xiii, 2; “Trail.”, ii, 1, 2; xiii, 2; “Philad.”, vii, 1; “Smyrn.”, viii, 1; “Polyc.”, vi, 1). Jesus Christ being the word of the Father and the bishop being in the doctrine of Christ (Greek: en Iesou christou gnome) V6 /IV) it is fitting to adhere to the doctrine of the bishop (Eph., iii, 2; iv, 1); “Those who belong to God and Jesus Christ ally themselves with the bishop. Brethren, be not deceived; whosoever follows a schismatic shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven” (Philad, iii, 2, 3). Finally, as the bishop is the doctrinal and disciplinary center so he is the liturgical center: “Let that Eucharist be lawful which is consecrated by the bishop or one deputed by him…. It is forbidden to baptize or celebrate the agape without the bishop; what he approves is what is pleasing to God, in order that all that is done may be stable and valid” (Smyrn., viii, 1, 2).

Towards the end of the second century St. Irenaeus lauds in glowing terms the unity of that universal Church “which has but one heart and one soul, whose faith is in keeping” and which seems “as the sole sun illuminating the whole world” (Adv. hares., i, 10). He condemns all doctrinal division, basing his arguments on the teaching authority of the Church in general and of the Roman Church in particular. The doctrine of salvation, preached by the Apostles, is preserved in the Churches founded by them; but since it would take too long to question all the Apostolic Churches it is sufficient to turn to that of Rome: “For the entire Church, that is all the faithful in the world, should be in agreement with this Roman Church, because of its superior pre-eminence; and in it all the faithful have preserved the Apostolic tradition” (iii, 2, 3). It is therefore of the utmost necessity to adhere to this Church because where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is there is the Church, there is all grace and the spirit is truth (iii, 24). But to adhere to this Church is to submit to the hierarchy, its living and infallible magistracy: “The priests of the Church are to be obeyed, those who are the successors of the Apostles and who with the episcopal succession have received an assured charisma of truth. Those who leave the successors of the Apostles and assemble in any separated place must be regarded with suspicion or as heretics, as men of evil doctrines, or as schismatics. Those who rend the unity of the Church receive the Divine chastisement awarded to Jeroboam; they must all be avoided” (iv, 26).

At the beginning of the third century Clement of Alexandria describes the Church as the city of the Logos which must be sought because it is the assemblage of all those whom God desires to save (“Strom.” iv, 20; vii, v; “Pmdag.”, i, 6; iii, 12). Origen is more explicit; for him also the Church is the city of God (Contra Cels., iii, 30), and he adds: “Let no one be deceived; outside this abode, that is outside the Church, no one is saved. If anyone leaves it he himself shall be accountable for his death” (In lib. Jesu Nave, Hom., iii, 5). In Africa Tertullian likewise condemns all separation from the existing Church. His “De praescriptionibus” is famous, and the fundamental thesis of the work, inferred by its very title, is summed up in the priority of truth and the relative novelty of error (principalitatem veritatis et posteritatem mendacii), thus implying the prohibition to withdraw from the guidance of the living magisterium: “If the Lord Jesus Christ sent His Apostles to preach we conclude that we must not receive other preachers than those appointed by Him. What they have preached, in other words, what Christ has revealed to them, can only be established by the Churches founded by the Apostles themselves, to which they preached the Gospel by word and writing” (De praescr., xxi).

But the great African champion of ecclesiastical unity was St. Cyprian, against the schismatics of Rome as well as those of Carthage. He conceived this unity as reposing on the effective authority of the bishops, their mutual union, and the pre-eminence of the Roman pontiff: “God is one, Christ is one, one is the Church, and one the chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord” (Epist. lxx); “This unity we bishops who govern in the Church should firmly uphold and defend, in order to show that the episcopate itself is one and undivided” (De ecclesiae unit., v); “Know that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and that if anyone is not with the bishop he is not in the Church.. The Catholic Church is one, formed of the harmonious union of pastors who mutually support one another” (Epist. lxxvi, 5). To unity of faith must be joined liturgical unity: “A second altar and a new priesthood cannot be set up beside the one altar and the one priesthood” (Epist. lii, 24). Cyprian saw no legitimate reason for schism for “what rascal, what traitor, what madman would be so misled by the spirit of discord as to believe that it is permitted to rend, or who would dare rend the Divine unity, the garment of the Lord, the Church of Jesus Christ?” (De eccl., unit., viii); “The spouse of Christ is chaste and incorruptible. Whoever leaves the Church to follow an adulteress renounces the promises of the Church. He that abandons the Church of Christ will not receive the rewards of Christ. He becomes a stranger, an ungodly man, an enemy. God cannot be a Father to him to whom the Church is not a mother. As well might one be saved out of the ark of Noah as out of the Church.. He who does not respect its unity will not respect the law of God; he is without faith in the Father and the Son, without life, without salvation” (op. cit., viii).

From the fourth century the doctrine of the unity of the Church was so clearly and universally admitted that it is almost superfluous to quote particular testimonies. The lengthy polemics of Optatus of Milevis (“De schism. Don.”, P.L., XI) and of St. Augustine (especially in “De unit. eccl.”, P.L., XLIII) against the Donatists accuse these sectaries of being separated from the ancient and primitive trunk of Christianity. And to those who represented their group as a portion of the universal Church St. Augustine replied: “If you are in communion with the Christian world send letters to the Apostolic Churches and show us their replies” (Ep., xliv, 3). These letters (litter format) then constituted one of the authentic marks and elements of visible unity. Concerning this unity the various forms of which he explains, St. Augustine agrees with St. Cyprian in maintaining that outside of it there is no salvation: “Salus extra ecclesiam non est” (De bapt., iv, 24), and he adds in confirmation of this that outside the Church the means of salvation, baptism, and even martyrdom will avail nothing, the Holy Ghost not being communicated. During the same century Roman supremacy began to be emphasized as a factor of unity. Jesus Christ, says St. Optatus, desired to attach unity to a definite center; to this end He made “Peter the head of all the Apostles; to him He first gave the episcopal see of Rome, in which sole see unity should be preserved for all; he is therefore a sinner and a schismatic who would erect another see in opposition to it” (De schism. Don., ii, 2); “Solictude for assuring unity caused blessed Peter to be preferred before all the Apostles and to receive alone the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven that he might admit others” (vii, 3). Pacianus of Barcelona also says that Christ gave to Peter alone the power of the keys “to make him alone the foundation and beginning of unity” (ad unum ideo ut unitatem fundaret ex uno Epist., iii, 11).

Most contemporary writers in the Latin Church, Hilary, Victorinus, St. Ambrose, the Ambrosiaster, St. Jerome, speak in like manner and quite as explicitly. All regard Peter as the foundation of the Church, the Prince of the Apostles who was made perpetual head in order to cut short any attempt at schism. “Where Peter is,” concludes St. Ambrose, “there is the Church; where the Church is there is no death but eternal life” (In Ps., xl, 30). And St. Jerome: “That man is my choice who remains in union with the chair of Peter” (Epist., xvi, 2). Both declare, like St. Optatus, that to be out of the Roman communion is to be out of the Church, but they lay especial emphasis on the jurisdictional and teaching authority of the center of unity. Their texts are classics: “We must have recourse to your clemency, beseeching you not to let the head of all the Roman world, the Roman Church, and the most holy Apostolic Faith be disturbed; for thence all derive the rights of the Catholic communion” (Ambrose, “Ep.”, xi, 4). “I who follow no guide save Christ am in communion with Your Holiness, that is with the chair of Peter. I know that on this rock the Church is built. Whosoever partakes of the Lamb outside this house commits a sacrilege. Whosoever does not gather with you, scatters: in other words whosoever is not with Christ is with Antichrist” (Jerome, “Epist.”, xv, 2).

The East also saw in Peter and the episcopal see founded by him the keystone of unity. Didymus calls Peter “the corypheus, the head, who was first among the Apostles, through whom the others received the keys” (De Trinit., i, 27, 30; ii, 10, 18). Epiphanius also regards him as “the corypheus of the Apostles, the firm stone on which rests the unshakable faith” (Anchor.”, ix, 34; “Haer.” lix, 7, 8) and St. Chrysostom speaks unceasingly of the privileges conferred on Peter by Christ. Moreover the Greeks recognized in the Roman Church a pre-eminence and consequently an incontestable unifying role by acknowledging her right to intervene in the disputes of the particular Churches, as is proved by the cases of Athanasius, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Chrysostom. In this sense St. Gregory Nazianzen calls ancient Rome “the president of the universe, Greek: ten proeodron ton olon,” (Carmen de vita sua), and it is also the reason why even the Eusebians were willing that the case of Athanasius, after they had passed on it, should be submitted to the pope’s judgment (Athan., “Apol. contra Arian”, 20).

III. Attempts to Legitimize Schism.

—The foregoing texts are sufficient to establish the gravity of schism from the standpoint of the economy of salvation and morals. In this connection it may be of interest to quote the appreciation of Bayle, a writer above suspicion of partiality and a tolerant judge: “I know not,” he writes, “a more grievous crime than that of tearing the mystical body of Jesus Christ, His church which He purchased with His own blood, that mother which bore us to God, who nourishes us with the milk of understanding, who leads us to eternal life” (Supplement to Philosophical Comment, preface).

Various motives have been brought forward in justification of Schism: (I) Some have claimed the introduction into the Church of abuses, dogmatic and liturgical novelties, superstitions, with which they are permitted, even bound, not to ally themselves. Without entering into the foundation for these charges it should be noted that the authors cited above do not mention or admit a single exception. If we accept their statements separation from the Church is necessarily an evil, an injurious and blameworthy act, and abandoning of the true way of salvation, and this independent of all contingent circumstances. Moreover the doctrines of the Fathers exclude a priori any such attempt at justification; to use their words, it is forbidden for individuals or particular or national Churches to constitute themselves judges of the universal Church; the mere fact of having it against one carries its own condemnation. St. Augustine summed up all his controversy with the Donatists in the maxim: “The whole world unhesitatingly declares them wrong who separate themselves from the whole world in whatsoever portion of the whole world” (quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum, in quacumque parte orbis terrarum). Here Bayle may be quoted again: “Protestants bring forward only questionable reasons; they offer nothing convincing, no demonstration: they prove and object, but there are replies to their proofs and objections; they answer and are answered endlessly; is it worth while to make a schism?” (Dict. crit., art. Nihusius).

(2) Other schismatics have pleaded the division of the articles of the Creed into fundamental and non-fundamental. Under Fundamental Articles (q.v.) it is shown that this distinction, wholly unknown prior to the sixteenth century, and repugnant to the very conception of Divine faith, is condemned by Scripture, and, for want of a clear line of demarcation, authorizes the most monstrous divergences. The indispensable unity of faith extends to all the truths revealed by God and transmitted by the Apostles. Tradition repeats, though in different forms, all that Irenaeus wrote: “The Church spread everywhere throughout the world received from the Apostles and their disciples faith in one God” (here follow the words of the Creed), then the writer continues: “Depositary of this preaching and this faith, the Church which multiplies throughout the world, watches them as diligently as though she dwelt in one house. She believes unanimously in these things as though she had but one heart and soul; she preaches them, teaches them, and bears witness to them as though she had but one mouth. Though there are in the world different languages there is but one single and identical current of tradition. Neither the Churches founded in Gaul, nor those among the Iberians, nor those in the countries of the Celts, nor those in the East, nor those of Egypt, nor those of Lybia, nor those in the center of the world present any differences of faith or preaching; but as the sun created by God, is one and the same throughout the world, so a single light, a single preaching of the truth, illuminates every place and enlightens all men who wish to attain to the knowledge of truth” (Adv. Hier., i, 10). It has been shown above how the Bishop of Lyons declared that the continuators of the Apostolic ministry were the “presbyters of the Church“, and that a man was a Christian and a Catholic only on condition of obeying them without reserve.

(3) The theory of the happy medium or via media, advocated by the Anglicans, especially by the Oxford leaders of the early nineteenth century as a means of escape from the difficulties of the system of fundamental articles, is no more acceptable. Newman demonstrated and extolled it to the best of his talent in his “Via Media”, but he soon recognized its weakness, and abandoned and rejected it even before his conversion to Catholicism. According to this theory, in order to safeguard unity and avoid schism it is sufficient to abide by Scripture as interpreted by each individual under the direction or with the assistance of tradition. At any rate the Church should not be regarded as infallible, but only as a trustworthy witness with regard to the true sense of the inspired text when she testifies to an interpretation received from Apostolic times. It seems unnecessary to point out the illusory and almost contradictory character which such a rule ascribes to the living teaching authority; obviously, it does not meet the conditions for unity of belief which requires conformity with Scripture and, no less, with the living authority of the Church, or more exactly, implies absolute obedience to the infallible teaching authority—both to that which interprets the Scripture and to that which preserves and transmits under any other form the deposit of Revelation.

St. Irenaeus is most explicit on all these points: according to him faith is proved and its enemies confounded equally by Scripture and tradition (Adv. Haer., iii, 2), but the authentic guardian of both is the Church, i.e. the bishops as successors of the Apostles: “Apostolic tradition is manifested throughout the world, and everywhere in the Church it is within the reach of those who desire to know the truth, for we can enumerate the bishops established by the Apostles, as well as their successors down to our own times” (op. cit., iii). To these guardians and to them alone we should have recourse with confidence: “The truth which it is easy to know through the Church must not be sought elsewhere; in the Church in which as in a rich treasury, the Apostles deposited in its fullness all that concerns the truth: from her whosoever desires it shall receive the draught of life. She herself is the gate of life; all the others are thieves and robbers” (iii, 4). Such is the authority of the living tradition that, in default of Scripture, recourse must be had to tradition alone. “What would have become of us if the Apostles had not left us the Scriptures? Would we not have to rely on that tradition which they confided to those to whom they committed the government of the Churches? This is what is done by many barbarian peoples who believe in Christ and who bear the law of salvation written in their hearts by the Holy Spirit without ink or paper and who faithfully preserve the ancient tradition” (iii, 4). It is plain that with the assistance of the Holy Ghost the teaching authority of the Church is preserved from error: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is there is the Church with every grace, and the Spirit is truth” (iii, 24). “That is why obedience must be rendered to the presbyters who are in the Church, and who having succeeded the Apostles, together with the episcopal succession have received by the will of the Father a certain charisma of truth” (iv, 26). This is far removed from the half-way assertions and the restrictions of the Oxford School. The same conclusion may be drawn from Tertullian‘s declaration of the impossibility of solving a difficulty or terminating a dispute by Scripture alone (De priescript., xix), and from Origen’s words: “Since among many who boast of a doctrine in conformity with that of Christ some do not agree with their predecessors, let all adhere to the ecclesiastical doctrine transmitted from the Apostles by way of succession and preserved in the Church till the present time: we have no truth in which to believe but that which does not deviate from the ecclesiastical and Apostolic tradition” (De princip., praef., 2).

IV. Principal Schisms.

—In this world the Church is militant and as such is exposed to conflict and trial. Human conditions being what they are partial or local schisms are bound to occur: “I hear”, says St. Paul, “that… there are schisms among you; and in part I believe it. For there must be also heresies: that they also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you” (I Cor., xi, 18-19). In the full and primitive sense of the word every serious rupture of unity and consequently every heresy is a schism. This article, however, will pass over the long series of heresies and treat only those defections or religious sects to which historians commonly give the specific name of schisms, because most frequently, and at least in the beginning of each such sectarian division, doctrinal error was only an accessory. They are treated in chronological order and the most important only briefly, these being the subjects of special articles in the ENCYCLOPEDIA.

(1) Mention has already been made of the “schisms” of the nascent Church of Corinth, when it was said among its members: “I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” To them St. Paul’s energetic intervention put an end. (2) According to Hegesippus, the most advanced section of the Judaizers or Ebionites at Jerusalem followed the bishop Thebutis as against St. Simeon, and after the death of St. James, A.D. 63, separated from the Church. (3) There were numerous local schisms in the third and fourth centuries. At Rome Pope Callistus (217-22) was opposed by a party who took exception to the mildness with which he applied the penitential discipline. Hippolytus placed himself as bishop at the head of these malcontents and the schism was prolonged under the two successors of Callistus, Urban I (222-30) and Pontianus (230-35). There is no doubt that Hippolytus himself returned to the pale of the Church (cf. d’Ales, “La theol. de s. Hippolyte”, Paris, 1906, introduction). (4) In 251 when Cornelius was elected to the See of Rome a minority set up Novatian as an antipope, the pretext again being the pardon which Cornelius promised to those who after apostatizing should repent. Through a spirit of contradiction Novatian went so far as to refuse forgiveness even to the dying and the severity was extended to other categories of grave sins. The Novatians sought to form a Church of saints. In the East they called themselves Greek: katharoi, pure. Largely under the influence of this idea they administered a second baptism to those who deserted Catholicism to join their ranks. The sect developed greatly in the Eastern countries, where it subsisted until about the seventh century, being recruited not only by the defection of Catholics, but also by the accession of Montanists.

(5) During the same period the Church of Carthage was also a prey to intestinal divisions. St. Cyprian upheld in reasonable measure the traditional principles regarding penance and did not accord to the letters of confessors called libelli pacis the importance desired by some. One of the principal adversaries was the priest Donatus Fortunatus became the bishop of the party, but the schism, which was of short duration, took the name of the deacon Felicissimus who played an important part in it. (6) With the dawn of the fourth century Egypt was the scene of the schism of Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis, in the Thebaid. Its causes are not known with certainty; some ancient authors ascribe it to rigorist tendencies regarding penance, while others say it was occasioned by usurpation of power on the part of Meletius, notably the conferring of ordinations outside his diocese. The Council of Nicaea dealt with this schism, but did not succeed in completely eradicating it; there were still vestiges of it in the fifth century. (7) Somewhat later the schism of Antioch, originating in the troubles due to Arianism, presents peculiar complications. When the bishop, Eustathius, was deposed in 330 a small section of his flock remained faithful to him, but the majority followed the Arians. The first bishop created by them was succeeded (361) by Meletius of Sebaste in Armenia, who by force of circumstances became the leader of a second orthodox party. In fact Meletius did not fundamentally depart from the Faith of Nicisa, and he was soon rejected by the Arians: on the other hand he was not recognized by the Eustathians, who saw in him the choice of the heretics and also took him to task for some merely terminological differences. The schism lasted until about 415. Paulinus (d. 388) and Evagrius (d. 392), Eustathian bishops, were recognized in the West as the true pastors, while in the East the Meletian bishops were regarded as legitimate.

(8) After the banishment of Pope Liberius in 355, the deacon Felix was chosen to replace him and he had adherents even after the return of the legitimate pope. The schism, quenched for a time by the death of Felix, was revived at the death of Liberius and the rivalry brought about bloody encounters. It was several years after the victory of Damasus before peace was completely restored. (9) The same period witnessed the schism of the Luciferians. Lucifer, Bishop of Calaris, or Cagliari, was displeased with Athanasius and his friends who at the Synod of Alexandria (362) had pardoned the repentant Semi-Arians. He himself had been blamed by Eusebius of Vercelli because of his haste in ordaining Paulinus, Bishop of the Eustathians, at Antioch. For these two reasons he separated from the communion of the Catholic bishops. For some time the schism won adherents in Sardinia, where it had originated, and in Spain, where Gregory, Bishop of Elvira, was its chief abettor. (10) But the most important of the fourth-century schisms was that of the Donatists (q.v.). These sectaries were as noted for their obstinacy and fanaticism as for the efforts and the writings rather uselessly multiplied against them by St. Augustine and St. Optatus of Milevis. (11) The schism of Acacius belongs to the end of the fifth century. It is connected with the promulgation by the emperor Zeno of the edict known as the Henoticon. Issued with the intention of putting an end to the Christological disputes, this document did not satisfy either Catholics or Monophysites. Pope Felix II excommunicated its two real authors, Peter Mongus, Bishop of Alexandria, and Acacius of Constantinople. A break between the East and the West followed which lasted thirty-five years. At the instance of the general Vitalian, protector of the orthodox, Zeno’s successor Anastasius promised satisfaction to the adherents of the Council of Chalcedon and the convocation of a general council, but he showed so little good will in the matter that union was only restored by Justin I in 519. The reconciliation received official sanction in a profession of Faith to which the Greek bishops subscribed, and which, as it was sent by Pope Hormisdas, is known in history as the Formula of Hormisdas.

(12) In the sixth century the schism of Aquilea was caused by the consent of Pope Vigilius to the condemnation of the Three Chapters (553). The ecclesiastical provinces of Milan and Aquilea refused to accept this condemnation as valid and separated for a time from the Apostolic See. The Lombard invasion of Italy (568) favored the resistance, but from 570 the Milanese returned by degrees to the communion of Rome; the portion of Aquilea subject to the Byzantines returned in 607, after which date the schism had but a few churches. It died out completely under Sergius I, about the end of the eighth century. (13) The ninth century brought the schism of Photius, which, though it was transitory, prepared the way by nourishing a spirit of defiance towards Rome for the final defection of Constantinople. (14) This took place less than two centuries later under Michael Caerularius (q.v.) who at one stroke (1053) closed all the churches of the Latins at Constantinople and confiscated their convents. The deplorable Greek schism (see Greek Church), which still subsists, and is itself divided into several communions, was thus consummated. The two agreements of reunion concluded at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, and at that of Florence in 1439, unfortunately had no lasting results; they could not have had them, because on the part of the Greeks at least they were inspired by interested motives.

(15) The schism of Anacletus in the twelfth century, like that of Felix V in the fifteenth, was due to the existence of an antipope side by side with the legitimate pontiff. At the death of Honorius II (1130) Innocent II had been regularly elected, but a numerous and powerful faction set up in opposition to him Cardinal Peter of the Pierleoni family. Innocent was compelled to flee, leaving Rome in the hands of his adversaries. He found refuge in France. St. Bernard ardently defended his cause as did also St. Norbert. Within a year nearly all Europe had declared in his favor, only Scotland, Southern Italy, and Sicily constituting the other party. The emperor Lothaire brought Innocent II back to Rome, but, supported by Roger of Sicily, the antipope retained possession of the Leonine City, where he died in 1138. His successor Victor IV, two months after his election, sought and obtained pardon and reconciliation from the legitimate pontiff. The case of Felix V was more simple. Felix V was the name taken by Amadeus of Savoy, elected by the Council of Basle, when it went into open revolt against Eugenius IV, refused to disband and thus incurred excommunication (1439). The antipope was not accepted save in Savoy and Switzerland. He lasted for a short time with the pseudo-council which had created him. Both submitted in 1449 to Nicholas V, who had succeeded Eugenius IV. (16) The Great Schism of the West is the subject of a special article ( Western Schism); see also Council of Constance; Council of Pisa.

(17) Everyone knows the shameful origins of the schism of Henry VIII, which was the prelude to the introduction of Protestantism into England. The voluptuous monarch was opposed by the pope in his projects for divorce and remarriage, and he separated from the pope. He succeeded so well that in 1531 the general assembly of the clergy and the Parliament proclaimed him head of the national Church. Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, had at first caused the adoption of a restrictive clause: “as far as Divine law permits”. But this important reservation was not respected, for the rupture with the Roman Court followed almost immediately. In 1534 the Act of Supremacy was voted according to the terms of which the king became the sole head of the Church of England and was to enjoy all the prerogatives which had hitherto belonged to the pope. Refusal to recognize the new organization was punished with death. Various changes followed: suppression of convents, destruction of relics and of numerous pictures and statues. But dogma was not again attacked under Henry VIII, who pursued with equal severity both attachment to the pope and the doctrines of the Reformers. (18) In the article Cornelius Jansen are described the formation and vicissitudes of the schism of Utrecht, the unhappy consequence of Jansenism, but which never spread beyond a handful of fanatics. Subsequent schisms belong to the end of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century.

(19) The first was caused in France by the Civil Constitution of the clergy of 1790. By this law the national Constituent Assembly aimed at imposing on the Church a new organization which essentially modified its condition as regulated by public ecclesiastical law. The 134 bishops of the kingdom were reduced to 83, according to the territorial division into departments; the choice of cures fell to electors appointed by members of district assemblies; that of bishops to electors named by the assemblies of departments; and canonical institution devolved upon the metropolitan and the bishops of the province. All benefices without cure of souls were suppressed. A later ordinance made obedience to these articles a condition of admission to any ecclesiastical office. A large number of bishops and priests, in all, according to some sources, about a sixth of the clergy, and according to other documents nearly a third, were weak enough to take the oath. Thenceforth the French clergy was divided into two factions, the jurors and the non-jurors, and the schism was carried to the utmost extreme when intruders under the name of bishops claimed to occupy the departmental sees, during the lifetime and even in defiance of the rights of the real titulars. The condemnation of the Civil Constitution by Pius VI in 1791 opened the eyes of some, but others persisted until their “Constitutional Church” declined shamefully and disappeared irrevocably in the Revolutionary turmoil.

(20) A schism of another nature and of less importance was that of the so-called Petite Eglise or the Incommunicants, formed at the beginning of the nineteenth century by groups who were dissatisfied with the Concordat and the concordatory clergy. In the provinces of the west of France the party acquired a certain stability from 1801 to 1815; at the latter date it had become a distinct sect. It languished on till about 1830, and eventually became extinct for lack of priests to perpetuate it. In Belgium some of its members call themselves Stevenists, thus abusing the name of a reputable ecclesiastic, Corneille Stevens, who was capitular vicar-general of the Diocese of Namur until 1802, who afterwards wrote against the Organic Articles, but accepted the Concordat and died in 1828, as he had lived, in submission to the Holy See.

(21) In 1831 the Abbe Chatel founded the French Catholic Church, a small group which never acquired importance. The founder, who at first claimed to retain all the dogmas, had himself consecrated bishop by Fabre Palaprat, another self-styled bishop of the “Constitutional” type; he soon rejected the infallibility of the teaching Church, celibacy of priests, and abstinence. He recognized no rule of faith except individual evidence and he officiated in French. The sect was already on the point of being slain by ridicule when its meeting-places were closed by the Government in 1842.

(22) About the same time Germany was the scene of a somewhat similar schism. When in 1844 the Holy Coat was exposed at Trier for the veneration of the faithful, a suspended priest, Johannes Ronge, seized the occasion to publish a violent pamphlet against Arnoldi, Bishop of Trier. Some malcontents ranged themselves on his side. Almost simultane ously John Czerski, a dismissed vicar, founded in the Province of Posen, a “Christian Catholic community”. He had imitators. In 1845 the “German Catholics”, as these schismatics called themselves, held a synod at Leipzig at which they rejected among other things the primacy of the pope, auricular confession, ecclesiastical celibacy, the veneration of the saints, and suppressed the Canon in their Eucharistic Liturgy which they called the “German liturgy”. They gained recruits in small numbers until 1848, but after that date they declined, being on bad terms with the Governments which had at first encouraged them, but which bore them ill-will because of their political agitations.

(23) While this sect was declining another sprang up in antagonism to the Vatican Council. The opponents of the recently-defined doctrine of infallibility, the Old Catholics, at first contented themselves with a simple protest; at the Congress of Munich in 1871 they resolved to constitute a separate Church. Two years later they chose as bishop the Professor Reinkens of Breslau, who was recognized as bishop by Prussia, Baden, and Hesse. Thanks to official assistance the rebels succeeded in gaining possession of a number of Catholic churches and soon, like the German Catholics and schismatics in general, they introduced disciplinary and doctrinal novelties, they successively abandoned the precept of confession (1874), ecclesiastical celibacy (1878), the Roman liturgy, which was replaced (1880) by a German liturgy, etc. In Switzerland also the opposition to the Vatican council resulted in the creation of a separate community, which also enjoyed governmental favor. An Old Catholic faculty was founded at Berne for the teaching of theology, and E. Herzog, a professor of this faculty, was elected bishop of the party in 1876. A congress assembled in 1890, at which most of the dissident groups, Jansenists, Old Catholics, etc., had representatives, resolved to unite all these diverse elements in the foundation of one Church. As a matter of fact, they are all on the road to free-thinking and Rationalism. In England a recent attempt at schism under the leadership of Herbert Beale and Arthur Howarth, two Nottingham priests, and Arnold Mathew, has failed to assume proportions worthy of serious notice.


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