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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Schisms and Sects

Written by: Christopher Bellitto

There were also differences in discipline (married or celibate clergy), liturgy (leavened or unleavened bread), and doctrine (whether the Spirit proceeded from the Father alone or from the Father and Son, the latter described by the Latin word filioque). Such differences, especially concerning jurisdiction, bubbled for centuries until the unfortunate moment in 1054 when east and west excommunicated the other-an excommunication mutually lifted in 1965 by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I.

The second major schism was the Great Western Schism (1378-1417) when three rival papacies (complete with three colleges of cardinals) competed for power. From 1378 to 1409, there was one pope each in Rome and Avignon. Although there had been antipopes before, this was the first time in history that the same college of cardinals gathered in conclave elected one man in 1378 and then, months later, repudiated their choice and chose another. The split was compounded in 1409 when a council at Pisa designed to resolve the split only made it worse with the addition of a third claimant. The Schism was resolved at the Council of Constance, convened in 1414.

The third major schism--a word that is itself contentious given one's position as a Catholic or Protestant--dated from the papal excommunication of Martin Luther in 1520.Soon after, there were not only Lutherans, but Calvinists and other Protestant churches throughout Europe and then the rest of the world, which split the unified Latin west for the first time in a millennium and a half. Since Vatican II (1962-1965), there have been serious efforts at ecumenical dialogue with important steps forward, such as the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999. At the same time, Vatican statements such as Dominus Iesus (2000) and a 2007 statement clarifying certain parts of it, have been seen as controversial, given Rome's assertion that Protestant groups should not technically be called churches, let alone sister churches on an equal footing with Rome.

isms, Sects

Study Questions:
     1.    Explain dualism’s role in the heretical movement.
     2.    Name a few of history’s major theological heresies. Why were they categorized as this?
     3.    Describe how power became the dividing factor of the first Christian schism.
     4.    What event was named the second major schism? What was its result?
     5.    When did Protestantism develop? What is the relationship between it and Catholicism?


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