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Catholic Dictionary




A willful separation from the unity of the Christian Church. Although St. Paul used the term to condemn the factions at Corinth, these were not properly schismatical, but petty cliques that favored one or another Apostle. A generation later Clement I reprobated the first authentic schism of which there is record. Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians also gives an accurate description of the concept. "Why do we wrench and tear apart the members of Christ," he asks, "and revolt against our own bodyk and reach such folly as to forget that we are members of one another?" While the early Church was often plagued with heresy and schism, the exact relation between the two divisive elements was not clarified until later in the patristic age. "By false doctrines concerning God," declared St. Augustine, "heretics wound the faith; by sinful dissensions schismatics deviate from fraternal charity, although they believe what we believe." Heresy, therefore, by its nature refers to the mind and is opposed to religious belief, whereas schism is fundamentally volitional and offends against the union of Christian charity. (Etym. Latin schisma; from Greek skhisma, a split, division, from skhizein, to tear, rend.)