The Catholic Church is composed of a great number of local churches,
each with its own bishop.
These are combined for the sake of order
in provinces, patriarchates, and national churches;
but bishops as bishops are members of one order
whether they are simple diocesans, archbishops, primates, or patriarchs.
All these local churches are normally "in full communion" with
that is, a member of any one of them on presenting his credentials
is admitted to all the privileges of membership in all the others.
A bishop, priest, or deacon visiting another church is received
in accordance with his rank and may be invited to perform the duties of his order.
If two or more churches cease to be in full communion with one another,
they are said to be "in schism".
The most usual cause of schism is alleged error in doctrine.
If one church has reason to believe that another is denying the common faith or teaching what is not in accordance with it, the members of the latter may be refused communion in the former.
Or people may come to think that the church to which they belong is in grave error,
so grave that they cannot conscientiously remain members of it.
For it has always been held that anything, even schism, is better than to assent to false doctrine, to declare that to be true which we are sure is false, or that to be false which we are sure is true.
But unnecessary schism is a very grave sin.
It is "rending the seamless robe of Christ",
destroying the united witness of the Church,
and placing a stumbling block in the way of the simple and of those outside.
Unfortunately there have been many schisms that were unnecessary.
For instance, in the later Middle Ages
when the Pope was a temporal prince, a
ny State which had a dispute with him was excommunicated
as an ordinary method of diplomatic pressure.
Today at any rate in the English-speaking world the spread of individualism,
combined with the denial that the Church universal is visible,
has destroyed the fear of schism.
For schism has no meaning to those who do not believe that the universal Church is visible.
If the Church were a kind of religious club,
there would be no reason why those who did not like it should not start a new one.
But if the visible Church is the people of God,
to divide it is civil war,
and to leave it altogether is treason and apostasy.
The Anglican Communion abhors schism much more than false doctrine.
The Anglican bishops would do almost anything rather than cause a schism.
It is a healthy feeling (though it may be carried too far).
Schisms produce vested interests and fixed habits,
and continue after the original cause has disappeared;
but false doctrine, when it has not hardened into schism, often dies away.
On the other hand, the history of Presbyterianism and Methodism shows how
easily they split into sects.
We cannot call these sects "schisms" because those who form them do not believe that the universal Church is visible and do not think that to separate from the visible organization is necessarily wrong.
The contrast on this point between the Tractarians in England and the contemporary
Free Kirk in Scotland is very striking.
The Tractarians had grave complaints against the official Church of England,
but they could not and did not secede because to have done so would have implied that the English Church was no longer a true church.
The Free Kirk seceded on the question of interference by Parliament with church government, but its members did not regard the Established Kirk as no longer a true church even though they set up a rival congregation in every parish in Scotland.
Anglican Churchmen, like Romanist or Orthodox Churchmen, believe that the universal Church is visible and that to separate from the local church, if it is still orthodox, is to separate from the universal Church.
Presbyterians believe that the universal Church is invisible;
[Apparently they hold that the visible Church is the sum of all Christian societies, however organized, and that baptism is not necessary to its membership.]
and therefore separation from the local church is not a schism and does not imply that the church they have left has ceased to be a true church.
There are two kinds of schism,
which must be sharply distinguished from one another:
schism IN the Church,
and schism FROM the Church.
Schism IN the Church is a breach of communion between
local churches or groups of local churches though neither side has changed
the fundamental faith and order of the Church.
The most famous and most disastrous example was the schism between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople in 1054.
After the schism both sides kept the same faith and order, the same creeds, sacraments, and ministry as before.
The dispute was about the relations of Rome with Constantinople, "which was to be accounted the greater";
and about various minor questions such as whether Bulgaria should be under Rome or Constantinople, and whether the bread for the Eucharist should be leavened or unleavened.
The schism between the Anglican and Roman Communions was a schism within
The English Church did not reject any part of the faith
but only additions that had been made to it,
and has never separated from the communion of Rome.
Queen Elizabeth claimed that she and her people were as good Catholics as any one else.
Both sides kept the same faith and order, the same creeds, sacraments, and ministry as before the schism.
But the Roman Communion added the dogmas of Trent and later those of the Vatican Council which the Anglican Communion rejects as being no part of the traditional faith.
Such schisms do not completely destroy unity;
for both sides are united by the faith and sacraments that they share.
Both sides are still in communion with the Church at rest,
the inheritance of which they have in common though outwardly divided.
St. Francis of Assisi and St. Sergius, St. Francis de Sales and Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, shared the same faith and the same sacraments.
Schism FROM the Church is the revolt of a group
of persons, large or small, who separate themselves from the Church by rejecting
her faith and order, for instance the Reformation at Geneva.
Calvin rejected not only the developments added to the faith by the medieval Church but the Church herself which he declared to be the synagogue of Antichrist.
In the place of the Church of Geneva he set up a new organization on the model of what he supposed to have been the state of the Church in the apostolic age.
It had no succession from the apostolic Church and claimed none.
Calvin put a "preacherhood" (the word is Dr. Ainslie's
[The Doctrines of Ministerial Order in the Reformed Churches in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.])
in place of the apostolic ministry, and the pulpit in the place of the altar.
The Church of Geneva continued to exist.
St. Francis de Sales was its bishop.
Calvin and Beza were the leaders of a new organization set up against it,
differing from it in faith and order.
It is easy to see why Calvin and other reformers were determined to destroy
the existing Church.
The corruption was appalling, and they could see no possibility of curing it.
But it was not only the moral and administrative corruption against which they protested.
They held that the faith and order of the Catholic Church were a complete misinterpretation of the New Testament.
And wherever their system was set up, the Church was destroyed.
This is the difference between the English Reformation and the Scottish Reformation, between Matthew Parker and John Knox.
["God forbid", said Parker, "that we should have such a reformation here as Knox hath made in Scotland."]
It is one thing to clean and recondition an ancient building,
another to raze it to the ground and build a new one in its place.
But all schisms from the Church are not as complete as this.
The Novatianists in the third century separated from the Church because
they would not admit that any one should be absolved for grave sin after
They did not otherwise differ from the Church, and they obtained a bishop (if the story is true, by disreputable means), whom they set up at Rome in opposition to the Catholic bishop.
Their possession of the right faith and episcopal succession did not make them members of the Church from which they had seceded;
for the possession of a ministry which the Church recognizes does not necessarily imply membership of the Church.
It may even make the schism worse; for the establishment of rival altars is worse than the establishment of independent pulpits.
It is of no use to have a ministry that is valid
(that is, recognized by the Church)
without being in communion with the Church.
The modern denominations composed of persons who have seceded from the Church
(or their descendants) are contractual, not organic, societies, for their
membership is not based on the Divine gift of the new birth but on the acceptance
of a certain man-made order.
They do not themselves claim that the visible societies or "churches" to which they belong are anything more than human societies blessed and guided by God.
They believe that the universal Church -
the society that alone is Divine -
For instance, the Methodist "connection" or society founded by
John Wesley, within the Church of England at first, was a society based on
the agreement of its members to observe certain rules.
In this respect it did not differ from the Society of Jesus
or the Church of England Men's Society.
And what it was then,
it is still,
except that it is no longer within the Church of England.
But a Jesuit is not a member of the Church because he is a Jesuit
but because he is baptized and in communion with the bishops.
A member of the CEMS is a member of the Church
not because he is member of the CEMS
but because he is baptized and in communion with the bishops.
A Methodist is a member of the Church universal
not because he is a Methodist
but because he is baptized;
and the fact that he is not in communion with the bishops,
but belongs to a society (however excellent in itself) that rejects their authority,
is an obstacle to his complete membership.
The case is the same when the society is a whole nation or the greater part
A group called the Lords of the Covenant founded the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
That covenant was not the baptismal covenant but a covenant between men to establish the Reformed religion of Calvin,
which rejects the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
The national church founded by them was therefore not an organic
but a contractual society.
So the popular notion
that the English Nonconformists are to the Church of England
what the Church of England is to the Roman Communion
is a mistake.
The Church of England was in communion with Rome before the Reformation
and is not in communion with Rome now;
but she is the same church.
Her revolt was not the revolt of individuals but of a group of dioceses.
Her sacraments and her ministry are the same now as they were before the revolt.
But the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists had no existence before the Reformation.
Their revolt was not a revolt of dioceses but of individuals.
Their sacraments and their ministry are not the same as those of the Church of England before or since the Reformation.
The Roman and the Anglican doctrine of baptism is exactly the same.
The Presbyterian and Congregationalist doctrine of baptism,
even at its highest, is very different.
The Church of England claims for her bishops and priests
all that Romanist bishops and priests are and do.
The Presbyterians and Congregationalists make no such claims for their ministers.
Our dispute with the Romanists is where the limits of the visible Church lie.
Our dispute with the Presbyterians and with the sects
is whether there is a visible universal Church at all.
The Church has always forbidden her members to take part in the worship
of those who do not belong to her.
The reason for this prohibition is,
first, that those who join in such worship may easily be infected by false doctrine,
in particular the dangerous and all too popular notion
that it does not matter what we believe
or what denomination we belong to;
second, that even if they are not infected themselves,
they may cause others to be so,
especially the young and the badly instructed;
third, that our duty towards those outside is not to encourage them in their separation, but to persuade them to come back.
This rule is not interpreted so strictly now as in ancient times.
It is not necessary to lay down rules for all possible cases,
but the following principles should be observed.