Wikipedia says that formal schismatics are those who:

knowing the true nature of the Church, have personally and deliberately committed the sin of schism.

But if formal schismatics have to truly know the true nature of the Church, is it ever actually a category that can apply to people?

For example, Protestants reject the authority of the Catholic Church and the Pope, and so would not be said, I would think, to know the true nature of the Church.

Likewise, are the SSPX truly formal schismatics if, in their rejection of Vatican II, they believe the true nature of the church is other than that of the Catholic Church after Vatican II?

If you have to know and truly believe in the true nature of the Church in order for your rejection of it to be "formal", then it seems to be that this is a largely academic category, and that there would be exceedingly few actual cases of formal schismatics.

  • The SSPX are not a schismatic group: they don't reject the nature of the Church (validiity of the Pope, his being a true pope etc.). Nor do they deny any aspect of the Faith. You also give too much credit to heretics. Nov 27 '18 at 12:37
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    Actually, formal schismatics are those against whom a formal declaration of schism is made, as opposed to material schismatics who are in schism for all intents and purposes. There have been several groups in the past against whom such declarations have been made, like Henry VIII, for instance. It's not done much nowadays because modern men just double down on their position when a formal schism is declared.
    – Wtrmute
    Nov 27 '18 at 23:14
  • This question about a debate raging within the Catholic Church has important consequences for this question, I think: whether non Catholic churches and ecclesial communities should be considered a "particular church" or merely containing "ecclesial elements" May 12 at 13:39
  • Doesn't the Orthodox Church fit the bill here? The Orthodox recognize the true nature of "the Catholic Church," yet deliberately committed schism from her. I put "the Catholic Church" in quotations here because "the Roman Catholic Church" isn't 'the Catholic Church" according to either group. The Bishop of Rome, however, is the de facto leader of the Catholic Church according to both the East and the West, and the East decided to be in schism with him.
    – jaredad7
    Jul 7 at 23:11

Your Wikipedia article explains this:

Roman Catholic theology considers formal schismatics to be outside the Church, understanding by "formal schismatics" "persons who, knowing the true nature of the Church, have personally and deliberately committed the sin of schism".[8] The situation, for instance, of those who have been brought up from childhood within a group not in full communion with Rome, but who have orthodox faith, is different: these are considered to be imperfectly, though not fully, members of the Church.

It's not that someone knows the Catholic Church is the true Church, but rather that someone knows the true nature of the Church. For example, if a Catholic refuses to submit to the Pontiff without understanding the Pontiff's role in the Church, he is not a formal schismatic. If he does understand the Pontiff's role and still refuses to submit, then he is a formal schismatic. Only in the latter case does he understand the true nature of the Church.

The OP asks, "What's an example of someone who is a formal schismatic?"

See Canon 751 for the definition of schism. Schism occurs in relation to a specific Church. If a Catholic leaves the Catholic Church and joins the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he would be in schism from the first but not the second. Two simple examples of formal schismatics would be Luther and Calvin:

Thus the schism was well consummated by [Luther and Calvin] before it was solemnly established by the authority which they rejected and transformed by that authority into a just penal sanction.

-Schism, Catholic Encyclopedia

  • What's an example of someone who is a formal schismatic? As I wrote, if Protestants and those who reject Vatican II are not, then isn't it largely an academic category?
    – curiousdannii
    May 1 at 7:04
  • @curiousdannii Schism is like mortal sin, it needs "full knowledge and full consent". The most perfect candidate are the clergy & prelates. Why? they made an "oath of obedience" to the Pope and His Magisterium while ordinary laity most of the time lack knowledge or vows. So, if a clergy & prelates despite having full knowledge of the consequences of schism they openly, repeatedly, and continouusly doing it, making it obstinate, then they become "formal schismatics" and incur latae sententiae. Canon1364 May 1 at 7:11
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    @MikeBorden Since Martin Luther left the Church, the definition of schism written in Canon751 no longer applies to him. Schism is for Catholics who stay in the Church but do not submit to Magisterium and the Pope. That's why, Protestant is in better position because the Holy Spirit inspired a means to be united to Peter again thru Ecumenism. This is what Archbishop Lefevbre is seeking with St. Pope Paul VI, a similar status to Protestant but it was rejected. May 1 at 13:41
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    @jongricafort On January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, which excommunicated Martin Luther from the Catholic Church.
    – Ken Graham
    May 1 at 16:05
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    He was excommunicated for being in schism by Pope Leo X! Thus formal schism was acknowledged. It is not what we think is formal schism, but what the Church says. Our opinions do not matter! Canon 751 very much applies to him. Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the christian faith. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
    – Ken Graham
    May 1 at 16:19

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