What Exactly Is Schism?

By pintswaquinas December 28, 2023

Christ calls us all to be united in one Church under one head — the pope, the Vicar of Christ.

Throughout history, various divisions have arisen in the Body of Christ. Some of these have led to schisms.

Here’s what schism is and what it is not.

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Schism is a sin against the unity God willed His Church to possess.
The Church possesses a real unity of faith and governance. It is structured as a hierarchy, not a democracy. The pope represents Christ, the head of the Mystical Body.

The Church consists of relationships between the members and their relationship to their head. A schismatic refuses to be in communion with those subject to the Roman pontiff or to submit to the pontiff himself.

Here’s an important point: Schism is disobedience to the pope as head of the Church. The pope has authority over the discipline of the Church and guards the authentic faith passed down from Christ and the Apostles.

However, he doesn’t have control over all aspects of your life. If the pope ordered you to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for all three meals, you’d ignore him.

You’re also not required to submit to every off-the-cuff remark a pope makes, although you should give his opinions respectful consideration. If they’re ambiguous, give him the benefit of the doubt and avoid rushing to judgment.

How is schism different from heresy? When you reject the pope’s headship intellectually, that’s heresy. When you reject it with your behavior, that’s schism. A schismatic may theoretically accept that the pope is head of the Church, but their behavior may not be in line with this belief.

The best way to avoid schismatic behavior is by nurturing charity in your heart. Charity orders all of our relationships as God intended. It inspires us to pray for the pope when he does something confusing.

Ultimately, charity will keep you united with the Church, so that you can safely navigate the wild seas of this life and reach the safe harbor of heaven.


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