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In the early Christian church, schism was used to describe those groups that broke with the church and established rival churches. The term originally referred to those divisions that were caused by disagreement over something other than basic doctrine. Thus, the schismatic group was not necessarily heretical, see Heresy.

Right from the start many different interpretations of Jesus and his teachings arouse in the Christian community. To resolve disagreements and to create an unique interpretation of Christian teachings ecumenical conference were held up. The first two Councils excluded Arianism from the Christian church. The Council of Ephesus had condemned the Nestorianism. The teachings of these groups were declared as Heresy.

The decisions became more and more dogmatic but the dissent grew. These ecumenical conferences rather split than unified all the different churches. Nevertheless, the question of leadership and power became more and more important. The first schism separated the Oriental Orthodox Church in the 5th century. The Great Schism separated the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century. The Reformation split the Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century.

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest group of Christianity. This church has a strict hierarchical structure with the Pope as its head. The Roman Catholic Church esteems the Pope as the highest representative of God on earth.
The Catholic Encyclopedia provides an introduction of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

Oriental Orthodox Church

Oriental Orthodox Church refers to the communion of Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only the first three ecumenical councils, namely the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus, The dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon were rejected.

Eastern Orthodox Church

Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholicism during the Great Schism caused by disputes over papal authority, conventionally dated to 1054. Nevertheless, the separation was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement between the Latin speaking Western and the Greek speaking Eastern Church. The Church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographic lines, and the fundamental breach has never been healed.


Protestantism summarized various Christian groups having the same religious beliefs but denying the leadership of the pope in person and the Roman Catholic Church in general. In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church has become so powerful and wealthy that many church officials misused their power to gain personal wealth. Even the Roman Catholic Church itself was criticized to be more interested in earthly wealth than spiritual values. Thus, many individual preachers or churches advocated a formal separation from the Roman Catholic Church.

The roots of many Protestant movements goes back to the Reformation in the 16th century where Martin Luther creating the branch of Lutheranism.

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