the schism, or when the separation becomes effective

History of a concept. The schism is to religions what the breakup is to couples, in a way. First, there are disagreements, disputes. Then the betrayals: in religion, we will sometimes speak of heresy. And finally, the schism: when the rupture becomes effective. The older the relationship, the stronger the ties, the more shattering the separation. After all, schism rhymes with earthquake.

Friday, May 27, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (5 million faithful), which had remained under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate, affirmed its “full independence and autonomy” and his “disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine”. For many observers, there is no doubt: it is indeed a schism. The term has been widely used, at least in the media. It would then be the second in the country, since the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (15 million faithful) has already left the bosom of Moscow, first by an internal decision in 1990, then by being recognized “autocephalous” by the Patriarch of Constantinople, in 2019.

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For Kirill, who responded in a homily, the decision of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is only an obstacle ” temporary “ at “spiritual unity”, not a schism. So when can we really use the term? Unlike divorces, there is no judge to decide.

From heresy to schism

The term comes from the ancient Greek skhismoswhich means “separation”, from the verb skhízô, “to cut, to split”. It is found in the first Christian writings, in Ignatius of Antioch (about 35-110), for example: it designates the groups which separate themselves from ecclesial authority. Irenaeus of Lyons (about 130-202) distinguishes, for his part, the schism from heresy: the first “is characterized by pride, which leads to tearing apart the unity of the Church”when heresy is characterized “by error and by foreign doctrines” (Dictionary of religious factsPUF, 2014).

The heretic, who questions the authorized dogma, becomes schismatic when he leaves the community to form or join another, competing, subject to another authority. In the history of Christianity, schismatics and heretics have been tracked down and punished, even to being burned at the stake, under the Inquisition.

The term schism is now used for any community hit by split

Schisms are not always due to doctrinal quarrels: behind them are often hidden issues that are well “earthly”. That between the Christians of the East and of the West, at the beginning of the second millennium, gives the most resounding example. There were, of course, real theological disputes, such as the – very serious – question of whether the Holy Spirit ” process “ of the Father and of the Son, or only of the Father. But this rupture, which will lead to the distinction between Catholics and Orthodox and will culminate in the sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders (1204), follows a series of diplomatic, economic and territorial conflicts, which have fueled dissension between Rome and the Eastern Churches.

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