Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

(This question is aimed at the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective only)

What is the difference between a heretic and a schismatic, and what are the soteriological consequences of each?

share|improve this question
Closely related: What made Luther a heretic and not a schismatic? –  Caleb Mar 24 at 8:35

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Heretic are they who restricting belief to certain points of Christ's doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure. They believe not what Christ really taught, but the suggestions of his own mind. - (Summa Theologica - Second Part of the Second Part - Question 11)

Schismatics are they who of their own will and intention separate themselves from the unity of the Church. It is to be noted that Schism is NOT the same as disobedience to authority. Some disobedience can be schematic in nature. But not every disobedience is a schism; In order to become Schism, along with disobedience to authority, there should be denial of Divine right of the Authority to command. Its is to be noted that because of this in Catholic and Orthodox tradition all Schismatics are Heretics too.

share|improve this answer
"They believe not what Christ really taught, ..." - maybe, "They believe not what the majority believes Christ really taught, ..." which is distinctly different. Basically, if you're non-orthodox, you're a heretic to the orthodox. To a Catholic, some Protestants may have heretical practices. To Protestants, some Catholics may have heretical practices. But that's the elephant in the room. –  The Freemason Mar 24 at 20:19
Just fyi, Article 1 contradicts Article 4, objection 3 –  The Freemason Mar 24 at 20:31

From Jaroslav Pelikan's 1st volume in The Christian Tradition (Ch2 3rd paragraph):

In its earliest Christian use, the term "heresy" was not sharply distinguished from "schism"; both referred to factiousness. But a dominant characteristic of such factiousness was that it created "dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught." At least as early as Irenaeus, therefore, "heresy" came to be the term for a deviation from the standard of sound doctrine. It was consistent with this development that Augustine eventually came to define heretics as those who "in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself," as distinguished from schismatics, who "in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe." Basil's distinction was only slightly different: heretics were "men who were altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith," and schismatics were "men who had separated fro some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual solution." But already in the conflict with Montanism, even more in the conflict with Donatism, and above all in the church history of the West since the Reformation, the distinction between heresy and schism has not been easy to maintain with any consistency.

share|improve this answer
Jaroslav Pelikan appears to have been a Lutheran. Can you add references to show that the Catholic and Orthodox churches agree with him? –  curiousdannii Jul 5 at 0:32
@curiousdannii No I cannot. I just added it as I'm rereading his book and surprised I forgot this. Incidentally, he converted to Orthodoxy before his death (after he wrote this). –  Matthew Moisen Jul 5 at 18:04

A heretic is one who denies a dogma of the faith. A schismatic is one who refuses to be subject to the authorities of the church. (I'll leave soteriological consequences to others.)

share|improve this answer
Would refusing to be subject to the authorities be considered denying one of the dogmas? (Ie, are schismatics all heretics?) –  curiousdannii Mar 24 at 1:48
@curiousdannii that is a good question. Don't most churches state that subjecting oneself to the authority of the church is dogma? –  Matthew Moisen Mar 24 at 4:08
Probably, although many protestants would distinguish between the authority of your local church leaders and a denomination's leaders. –  curiousdannii Mar 24 at 4:11
Could you describe what "the faith" is? –  The Freemason Mar 24 at 20:25
For Catholics, "the faith" (as used in the definition of heresy) means the statements that the Church has declared to be revealed by God. (There are plenty of other facts that have been revealed but have not been officially declared to be so; as far as I know, if you deny one of these then you're just wrong but not a heretic.) –  Andreas Blass Mar 24 at 20:42

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.