Schism is regarded by the Church as a most serious fault, and is punished with the penalties inflicted on heresy, because heresy usually accompanies it.These are: excommunication incurred ipso facto and reserved to the sovereign pontiff (cf.Have we not one and the same God, one and the same Christ? Ignatius insists no less forcibly on the necessity of unity and the danger of schism.
In this etymological and full meaning the term occurs in the books of the New Testament. Paul characterizes and condemns the parties formed in the community of Corinth ( 1 Corinthians ): "I beseech you, brethren", he writes, ". The union of the faithful, he says elsewhere, should manifest itself in mutual understanding and convergent action similar to the harmonious co-operation of our members which God hath tempered "that there might be no schism in the body" ( 1 Corinthians ). Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church (In Ep. Schism, therefore, is usually mixed, in which case, considered from a moral standpoint, its perversity is chiefly due to the heresy which forms part of it.
Thus understood, schism is a genus which embraces two distinct species : heretical or mixed schism and schism pure and simple. In its other aspect and as being purely schism it is contrary to charity and obedience; to the former, because it severs the ties of fraternal charity, to the latter, because the schismatic rebels against the Divinely constituted hierarchy.
In the material sense of the word there is schism, that is rupture of the social body, if there exist two or more claimants of the papacy, each of whom has on his side certain appearances of right and consequently more or less numerous partisans.
But under these circumstances good faith may, at least for a time, prevent a formal schism; this begins when the legitimacy of one of the pontiffs becomes so evident as to render adhesion to a rival inexcusable.
Some theologians distinguish "active" from "passive" schism.