Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
The questions of heresy and schism have plagued the Church from the earliest days of the faith, when doctrinal debates over the true nature of Jesus and his relationship to God threatened to divide the Church. The most severe form of punishment for heresy is excommunication, in which the Christian is excluded from the sacraments, and, in very serious cases, prevented from attending Church services.
Despite efforts to preserve the unity of the Church from the earliest days of Christianity, the Christian Church ultimately separated into two distinct churches: the eastern Church, based in Constantinople, and the western Church, based in Rome, and later in the West, the Protestant churches. Geographical distance and different political and historical challenges gradually divided them and the split was formalized in 1054. Though Christian leaders made attempts to reunite, the Crusaders' decision in 1204 to divert their mission from Egypt to Constantinople and their pillaging of the city sealed the schism. The Muslim armies of the Ottoman dynasty conquered Constantinople in the 15th century, thus finally eliminating the possibility of reunification.
|We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one
in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].
With the Father and the Son he is
worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic
and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one
baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The New Testament, and Jesus himself, places great importance on unity, and Christians are troubled by both ancient and modern divisions within the Church. Divergent views concerning baptism, ordination, and the doctrine of apostolic succession can provoke profound passions. These differences are discussed in the articles devoted to the different Christian traditions. Efforts at reconciliation, like those found in the ecumenical movement, have focused on commonalities of belief and practice between denominations, and there is hope that some major denominations will eventually agree to mutual recognition of baptism and ministry. Although dedicated representatives of the major churches continue to work to build consensus, matters of considerable complexity and importance are at stake and progress toward reconciliation remains slow.
1. What is the difference between the Catholic Church and the catholic church?
2. How does one become a member of a Christian church?
3. What is heresy? How is it punished?
4. How have schisms affected the organization of Christianity (as a whole)?