• Greek: schizo, divide


The rupture of ecclesiastical union, or the act by which one of the faithful severs the ties which make him a member of the Church, and the breach of ecclesiastical unity, or the state of dissociation or separation which is the result of that act. The hierarchical unity of the Church was taught by Christ and His Apostles and was maintained by the early Fathers. The great champion of ecclesiastical unity was Saint Cyprian of Carthage who conceived this unity as reposing on the effective authority of the bishops, their mutual union, and the pre-eminence of the Roman pontiff. Schisms have disturbed the Church in every age. The Ebionites in the 1st century; the schisms of Novatian; Donatus Aquilea, the Eastern and Western Schisms, Jansenism, the German Catholics, the Old Catholics, are a few of the principle breaches.

Schism is generally divided into two kinds:

  • heretical or mixed, which has its source in heresy or is joined with it
  • schism pure and simple, which is merely the rupture of the bond of subordination

The many attempts to legitimize schism have met with disfavor. Some have claimed that they cannot ally themselves with abuses in the Church, others have pleaded the division of the Articles of the Creed into fundamental and non-fundamental, and still others have advanced the theory that the individual should abide by Scripture alone. None of these views can be permitted, however, for theologians have always maintained that unity cannot be preserved save through absolute obedience to the authority of the Church as vested in the hierarchy.

Schism is a most serious sin, punishable by excommunication incurred ipso facto, by loss of ordinary jurisdiction, and incapacity to receive any ecclesiastical dignities. Moreover, the faithful are strictly forbidden to receive the Sacraments from Schismatics or to assist at any services in their temples.

MLA Citation

  • “schism”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 August 2018. Web. 19 January 2022. <>