Schisms & Heresies
The word Schism comes from the Greek root word σχίσμα (schisma, also the root for Schizophrenia) which means “a splitting of the mind.” To differentiate the terms schism and heresy, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed…; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (CCC 2089). The Church established by Christ was to be of one mind and in full accord (Phil. 1:27, 2:2). In John 17:20-23, Christ prays for future believers that they “may become perfectly one.”
This unity is only possible if there is a visible Church of divine origin with an authority to settle disputes. In Matthew 16:18, when Jesus says to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”, He is establishing His Church. It is this Church instituted by Christ that He refers to in Matt. 18:17 when He says that if your brother resists your attempts to correct him, you must “tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” For the Church to be the final court of appeals for Christian disputes, it must be a Church recognizable by all Christians as an authority. Any Christians who dissent from this church are excommunicable and their teachings condemned as works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). This visible Church can be clearly seen resolving disputes throughout the book of Acts, as in the case of the circumcision controversy. When the Church decided against this practice, the decision was binding on all Christians, as Christ said; “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:17-18).
Although Christians are to respect and obey the Church’s authority (1 Thess. 5:12, Hebrews 13:17), this does not preclude the fact that there are sinners in the Church and its hierarchy. Although the Church has been given authority over its teachings, it does not possess moral impeccability. Christ never promised that His Church would be free of sinners, or that it’s leaders would be without any moral issues. Although Christ pointed out the Pharisees hypocrisy, he still told His disciples to follow their teachings (Matt. 26:1-4). While we are to break communion with those who obstinately refuse to recognize Church authority and spread false teaching, we are not called to break communion with sinners. When the servants of the householder in the parable of the wheat and weeds asked permission to weed the wheat fields (representing the Church), he told them, “No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matt. 13:29). Should the earliest Christians have rejected the apostles because Judas betrayed their Lord? Our assent to the Church is not due to its lack of sin, but rather it’s teaching authority given to it by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13)
Non-Catholic Christians recognize the Church’s guidance by the Holy Spirit, (although unintentionally), when it comes to the Church’s decisions in the fourth and fifth centuries on what books belong in the Bible, or defining christological and trinitarian doctrines, but then deny that guidance when it comes to anything that conflicts with their own views. This splitting of the mind is the very definition of schism.
The Historical Evidence for Christian Belief within the Early Church:
The Gospel of Matthew 18:17
If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
The Gospel of Matthew 24:10-13
Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
1 Corinthians 1:10
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
Hebrews 13:7-9, 17
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings;
2 Thessalonians 3:6
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.
1 Timothy 3:15
2 Peter 1:20
First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,
2 Peter 3:15-16
So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.
Church Father Quotes:
Ignatius of Antioch
“Be not deceived, my brethren: If anyone follows a maker of schism [i.e., is a schismatic], he does not inherit the kingdom of God; if anyone walks in strange doctrine [i.e., is a heretic], he has no part in the passion [of Christ]. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of his blood; one altar, as there is one bishop, with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons” (Letter to the Philadelphians 3:3–4:1 [A.D. 110]).
“We have been taught that Christ is the first-begotten of God, and we have declared him to be the Logos of which all mankind partakes [John 1:9]. Those, therefore, who lived according to reason [Greek, logos] were really Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and others like them. . . . Those who lived before Christ but did not live according to reason [logos] were wicked men, and enemies of Christ, and murderers of those who did live according to reason [logos], whereas those who lived then or who live now according to reason [logos] are Christians. Such as these can be confident and unafraid” (First Apology 46 [A.D. 151]).
Irenaeus of Lyons
“In the Church God has placed apostles, prophets, teachers, and every other working of the Spirit, of whom none of those are sharers who do not conform to the Church, but who defraud themselves of life by an evil mind and even worse way of acting. Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace” (Against Heresies 3:24:1 [A.D. 189]).
“[The spiritual man] shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, destroy it—men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For they can bring about no ‘reformation’ of enough importance to compensate for the evil arising from their schism” (ibid., 4:33:7–8).
Origen of Alexandria
“If someone from this people wants to be saved, let him come into this house so that he may be able to attain his salvation. . . . Let no one, then, be persuaded otherwise, nor let anyone deceive himself: Outside of this house, that is, outside of the Church, no one is saved; for, if anyone should go out of it, he is guilty of his own death” (Homilies on Joshua 3:5 [A.D. 250]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress [a schismatic church] is separated from the promises of the Church, nor will he that forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. . . . He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 6, 1st ed. [A.D. 251]).
“Let them not think that the way of life or salvation exists for them, if they have refused to obey the bishops and priests, since the Lord says in the book of Deuteronomy: ‘And any man who has the insolence to refuse to listen to the priest or judge, whoever he may be in those days, that man shall die’ [Deut. 17:12]. And then, indeed, they were killed with the sword . . . but now the proud and insolent are killed with the sword of the Spirit, when they are cast out from the Church. For they cannot live outside, since there is only one house of God, and there can be no salvation for anyone except in the Church” (Letters 61:4 [A.D. 253]).
“When we say, ‘Do you believe in eternal life and the remission of sins through the holy Church?’ we mean that remission of sins is not granted except in the Church” (ibid., 69:2 [A.D. 253]).
“Peter himself, showing and vindicating the unity, has commanded and warned us that we cannot be saved except by the one only baptism of the one Church. He says, ‘In the ark of Noah a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. Similarly, baptism will in like manner save you” [1 Peter 3:20-21]. In how short and spiritual a summary has he set forth the sacrament of unity! In that baptism of the world in which its ancient wickedness was washed away, he who was not in the ark of Noah could not be saved by water. Likewise, neither can he be saved by baptism who has not been baptized in the Church” (ibid., 73:11).
“[O]utside the Church there is no Holy Spirit, sound faith moreover cannot exist, not alone among heretics, but even among those who are established in schism” (Treatise on Rebaptism 10 [A.D. 256]).
“It is, therefore, the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. . . . Whoever does not enter there or whoever does not go out from there, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. . . . Because, however, all the various groups of heretics are confident that they are the Christians and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, let it be known that this is the true Church, in which there is confession and penance and which takes a health-promoting care of the sins and wounds to which the weak flesh is subject” (Divine Institutes 4:30:11–13 [A.D. 307]).
“Heretics bring sentence upon themselves since they by their own choice withdraw from the Church, a withdrawal which, since they are aware of it, constitutes damnation. Between heresy and schism there is this difference: that heresy involves perverse doctrine, while schism separates one from the Church on account of disagreement with the bishop. Nevertheless, there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church” (Commentary on Titus 3:10–11 [A.D. 386]).
Augustine of Hippo
“We believe also in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church. For heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God; and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor” (Faith and the Creed 10:21 [A.D. 393]).
“I do not hesitate to put the Catholic catechumen, burning with divine love, before a baptized heretic. Even within the Catholic Church herself we put the good catechumen ahead of the wicked baptized person . . . For Cornelius, even before his baptism, was filled up with the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:44–48], while Simon [Magus], even after his baptism, was puffed up with an unclean spirit [Acts 8:13–19]” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists4:21).
“The apostle Paul said, ‘As for a man that is a heretic, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him’ [Titus 3:10]. But those who maintain their own opinion, however false and perverted, without obstinate ill will, especially those who have not originated the error of bold presumption, but have received it from parents who had been led astray and had lapsed . . . those who seek the truth with careful industry and are ready to be corrected when they have found it, are not to be rated among heretics” (Letters 43:1 [A.D. 412]).
“Whoever is separated from this Catholic Church, by this single sin of being separated from the unity of Christ, no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living, shall not have life, but the wrath of God rests upon him” (ibid., 141:5).
Fulgentius of Ruspe
“Anyone who receives the sacrament of baptism, whether in the Catholic Church or in a heretical or schismatic one, receives the whole sacrament; but salvation, which is the strength of the sacrament, he will not have, if he has had the sacrament outside the Catholic Church [and remains in deliberate schism]. He must therefore return to the Church, not so that he might receive again the sacrament of baptism, which no one dare repeat in any baptized person, but so that he may receive eternal life in Catholic society, for the obtaining of which no one is suited who, even with the sacrament of baptism, remains estranged from the Catholic Church” (The Rule of Faith 43 [A.D. 524]).
John Calvin, Protestant Reformer & Founder of the Calvinist Reformed Evangelical Tradition
His complaints about factionalism and “denominations” were as follows: “Every state [of life] has its own Gospel, which they forge for themselves according to their appetites, so that there is as great a diversity between the Gospel of the court, and the Gospel of the justices and lawyers, and the Gospel of merchants, as there is between coins of different denominations.” -John Calvin’s short work Advertissement contre l’astrologie 1549.
“Herman has, if I am not mistaken, in good faith returned to the fellowship of the Church. He has confessed that outside the Church there is no salvation, and that the true Church is with us. Therefore, it was defection when he belonged to a sect separated from it.” –Letters of John Calvin, trans. M. Gilchrist, ed. J.Bonnet, New York: Burt Franklin, 1972, I: 110-111.