Schism?

Schism seems like quite a dirty word to beat someone’s head over with. It merely means division or a split. One may have the impression that some Church-of-England Anglicans are / were going by absolutist Roman Catholic ecclesiology for the purpose of trashing Continuing Churches of the present day and the older vagante groups of the last years before the Great War.

Of course, it matters but little to me, as in ecclesial terms I’m on my own out here in France. I meet a convinced Catholic perhaps only every six months or so. All the others I meet here are not religious or are tolerant to all forms of Christianity and other religions. They are “universalists”. Perhaps, as Félicité de Lamennais would have put it, we find the infallibility of the sensus communis. Naturally I am joking, but only narrowly.

A very interesting article has come up in Fr Jonathan Munn’s blog – Schism and Continuum. I like his style of writing. He sees the essentia of things easily with his tidy and analytical mind. I have often heard this idea – heresy is preferable to schism – in Roman Catholic circles. All that matters is the system, the institution, the power and influence of the strongest. If that is so, then most people are right – get out and be spiritual but not religious. Men of the institutional Church would generally prefer us to give up religion rather than join a competing church! If we take this frame of mind to the utmost limit of its logic, it’s all a load and bunk and they know it’s all a load of bunk, but you have to keep the system going because their jobs and positions of minor authority depend on it. How depressing!

I have mentioned several times that I believe the big “mainstream” churches will die, as they already have in Europe outside the cosmopolitan cities. Conversely, small Churches like ours will survive and will be more conducive to a renewal of what Churches really are all about.

Fr Munn rightly explains the notions of heresy and schism. Heresy comes from the Greek word for to choose, rather than accept from authority. More enlightened theologians would consider heresy as the exaggeration of one or several truths at the expense of others. Balance is destroyed by failing to see the whole.

Schism has always had a more elastic definition between a person or a group separating from the Church or dividing the Church into two or more opposing groups. Very often, schism is confused with apostasy. It all depends on the one calling the other names! Apostasy actually means the complete rejection of the Christian faith. It is often applied to those who leave the particular institutional Church for whatever reason, or even who leave a religious community like a soldier deserting from the army.

The notion of schism is related to ecclesiology. Fundamentally, only one institutional church under its pope, patriarch or whatever is the true church, and all other Christians are graceless impostors and deceivers. Alternatively, the Church is a higher reality, a Platonic Universal Idea, and institutional churches are manifestations of that Universal Idea. There are also many other possible notions and descriptive analogies.

The “mainstream” churches now stand for something different, at variance with what they considered as essential a hundred years ago. Perhaps those essential things cease to be essential because the Führer says so. Black has become white and yes is no, and no is yes. Honestly I have better things to do in life. Alternatively, those essential things are no longer a part of the institution become corrupt, so the “schismatic” churches participate in the Church as the “mainstream” institutions no longer do so or do so only in a highly impaired way.

I used to battle with the dialectics and cognitive dissonance between authority and tradition, orthodoxy and heresy, everything that has happened over the past fifty years (with the roots going back centuries). We no longer have to justify ourselves. We just carry on as best as we can in a Church where we can breathe and live. In the case of Fr Munn and myself, it is the ACC. Roman Catholic traditionalists have their churches, and everyone is free to follow his or her conscience.

We don’t need to worry about being schismatic, since things have gone so far. Only a very few of us are churched at all. I have the impression of limping along and not really knowing where it’s all going.

It is, of course, much more preferable to leave all these uncharitable declarations of schism and heresy to the annals of history.

How right! It would be nice to think that the Church is like in the 1800’s in the wake of the destruction wreaked by the Revolutionaries and Madame la Guillotine, and a revival is just round the corner. But I fear that it has gone so much further this time: two world wars and the loss of faith brought by the sheer horror and mass death of it all. The old apologetics don’t work, just as they already didn’t work two hundred years ago. It is no longer a choice between the “true church” and our “own will”, “private judgement”, call it what you will.

We have two choices: conclude that it is all bunk and that everybody knows it (church people are all creepy hypocrites), or that it is possible to continue our faith and liturgical prayer in the catacombs and our little family-like communities. I see things in these terms.

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2 Responses to Schism?

  1. We are all in schism. Apparently the full unity of the Church is something that is reserved to the age-to-come.

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