So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel;
therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
—Ezek. 33.7

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The Anatomy of a Schismatic,

Drawn From

The Life of Novatian,

Sometimes called Novatus.

X Editor’s Introduction.

Which is more likely in your judgment, dear reader: that men who are already schismatics at heart, should thereafter take the course of schism; or that those who fall into bad paths, or inconvenient circumstances, should only then become schismatics by being guilty of disturbances against the Church’s unity?  In any case, it will be worth our noticing, that this work of the flesh, which like every other corruption comes forth from the heart, may long abide in a man who is within the true Church; and indeed, there is no such thing as a true church which is not vulnerable to this defect, of harboring schismatics; for the earliest churches needed to be warned about the schism in the body, 1 Cor. 12.25.  Seeing then that we are not only, every one of us, in danger of meeting schismatic spirits in our own company, in the best of churches and societies, but likewise in danger of bringing forth from ourselves these same characteristics and fruits by way of the old man and his remaining strength; it is very suitable for us to consider how schismatic we are, or have been, rather than whether we have been thus guilty, or who among our acquaintance has been tainted with so great a fault.

To that end, we may make an instructive example for ourselves out of an early and famous schismatic, Novatian of Rome, sometimes also called Novatus, whose particular character and deeds will tell us much about this general sin, and serve to direct each of us in a thorough self-examination, and renewed endeavors at the mortification of this sin, if we properly fear becoming one of this unhappy man’s successors.

It is hardly needful to say, that the times of Novatian were those when the Church of Jesus Christ was gradually declining into human invention and tradition, as to ecclesiastical government and other matters.  Nevertheless, the practical and spiritual lessons to be gleaned from the writers of these times are obvious enough, amidst the occasional references to bishops, sub-deacons, other orders, or practices which have now been set aside in the Reformation of the Church.  For example, when we are warned of a man who would presume to “grasp and seize the episcopate,” it is obvious that the warning must extend also to those would “grasp and seize” any office or authority, ecclesiastical or otherwise; and that all that we have presumed to grasp beyond our proper calling, has served for either the injury of those we offered to help, or the dishonour of ourselves, of our brethren, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ.



Section   One: From the History of Eusebius

Section   Two: From an Epistle of Cyprian, Novatian’s Contemporary

Section Three: Interrogatory Reflections from this Character based on Sections 1 & 2

Section  Four: A Presbyterian Reformer’s Estimate of Novatian

Section  Five: The Anatomy of a Schismatic as Inferred from what was Learned Above

Section   Six: Forms of Schism Affecting the Church

Section Seven: Other References on Novatian or on Schism

Section One: From the History of Eusebius

Novatian, his Manner of Life and his Heresy.

AFTER this, Novatus, a presbyter of the church at Rome, being lifted up with arrogance {286:B} against these persons, as if there was no longer for them a hope of salvation, not even if they should do all things pertaining to a genuine and pure conversion, became leader of the heresy of those who, in the pride of their imagination, call themselves Cathari.  Thereupon a very large synod assembled at Rome, of bishops in number sixty, and a great many more presbyters and deacons; while the pastors of the remaining provinces deliberated in their places privately concerning what ought to be done.  A decree was confirmed by all, that Novatus and those who joined with him, and those who adopted his brother-hating and inhuman opinion, should be considered by the Church as strangers; but that they should heal such of the brethren as had fallen into misfortune, and should minister to them with the medicines of repentance.

There have reached us epistles of Cornelius, bishop of Rome, to Fabius, of the church at Antioch, which show what was done at the synod at Rome, and what seemed best to all those in Italy and Africa and the regions thereabout.  Also other epistles, written in the {287:A} Latin language, of Cyprian and those with him in Africa, which show that they agreed as to the necessity of succoring those who had been tempted, and of cutting off from the Catholic Church the leader of the heresy and all that joined with him.  Another epistle of Cornelius, concerning the resolutions of the synod, is attached to these; and yet others, on the conduct of Novatus, from which it is proper for us to make selections, that any one who sees this work may know about him.  Cornelius informs Fabius what sort of a man Novatus was, in the following words:

“But that you may know that a long time ago this remarkable man desired the episcopate, but kept this ambitious desire to himself and concealed it,—using as a cloak for his rebellion those confessors who had adhered to him from the beginning,—I desire to speak.  Maximus, one of our presbyters, and Urbanus, who twice gained the highest honour {287:B} by confession, with Sidonius, and Celerinus, a man who by the grace of God most heroically endured all kinds of torture, and by the strength of his faith overcame the weakness of the flesh, and mightily conquered the adversary,—these men found him out and detected his craft and duplicity, his perjuries and falsehoods, his unsociability and cruel friendship.  And they returned to the holy church and proclaimed in the presence of many, both bishops and presbyters and a large number of the laity, all his craft and wickedness, which for a long time he had concealed.  And this they did with lamentations and repentance, because through the persuasions of the crafty and malicious beast they had left the church for the time.”  A little farther on he says:

“How remarkable, beloved brother, the change and transformation which we have seen take place in him in a short time.  For this most illustrious man, who bound himself with terrible oaths in nowise to seek the bishopric, suddenly {288:A} appears a bishop as if thrown among us by some machine.  For this dogmatist, this defender of the doctrine of the Church, attempting to grasp and seize the episcopate, which had not been given him from above, chose two of his companions who had given up their own salvation.  And he sent them to a small and insignificant corner of Italy, that there by some counterfeit argument he might deceive three bishops, who were rustic and very simple men.  And they asserted positively and strongly that it was necessary that they should come quickly to Rome, in order that all the dissension which had arisen there might be appeased through their mediation, jointly with other bishops.  When they had come, being, as we have stated, very simple in the craft and artifice of the wicked, they were shut up with certain selected men like himself.  And by the tenth hour, when they had become drunk and sick, he compelled them by force to confer on him the episcopate through a counterfeit and vain imposition of hands.  Because it had not come to him, he avenged himself by craft and treachery.  One of these bishops shortly after came back to the church, lamenting and confessing his transgression.  And we communed with him as with a layman, all the people present interceding for him.  And we ordained successors of the other bishops, and sent them to the places where they were.  This avenger of the Gospel then did not know that there should be one bishop in a catholic church; yet he was not ignorant (for how {288:B} could he be?) that in it there were forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolyths, fifty-two exorcists, readers, and janitors, and over fifteen hundred widows and persons in distress, all of whom the grace and kindness of the Master nourish.  But not even this great multitude, so necessary in the church, nor those who through God’s providence, were rich and full, together with the very many, even innumerable people, could turn him from such desperation and presumption and recall him to the Church.”  Again, farther on, he adds these words:

“Permit us to say further: On account of what works or conduct had he the assurance to contend for the episcopate?  Was it that he had been brought up in the Church from the beginning, and had endured many conflicts in her behalf, and had passed through many and great dangers for religion?  Truly this is not the fact.  But Satan, who entered and dwelt in him for a long time, became the occasion of his believing.  Being delivered by the exorcists, he fell into a severe sickness; and as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by affusion, {289:A} on the bed where he lay; if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it.  And when he was healed of his sickness he did not receive the other things which it is necessary to have according to the canon of the Church, even the being sealed by the bishop.  And as he did not receive this, how could he receive the Holy Spirit?”  Shortly after he says again:

“In the time of persecution, through cowardice and love of life, he denied that he was a presbyter.  For when he was requested and entreated by the deacons to come out of the chamber in which he had imprisoned himself, and give aid to the brethren as far as was lawful and possible for a presbyter to assist those of the brethren who were in danger and needed help, he paid so little respect to the entreaties of the deacons that he went away and departed in anger.  For he said that he no longer desired to be a presbyter, as he was an admirer of another philosophy.”  Passing by a few things, he adds the following: {289:B}

“For this illustrious man forsook the Church of God, in which, when he believed, he was judged worthy of the presbyterate through the favor of the bishop who ordained him to the presbyterial office.  This had been resisted by all the clergy and many of the laity; because it was unlawful that one who had been affused on his bed on account of sickness, as he had been, should enter into any clerical office; but the bishop requested that he might be permitted to ordain this one only.”  He adds to these yet another, the worst of all the man’s offenses, as follows:

“For when he has made the offerings, and distributed a part to each man, as he gives it he compels the wretched man to swear in place of the blessing.  Holding his hands in both of his own, he will not release him until he has sworn in this manner (for I will give his own words): ‘Swear to me by the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that you will never forsake me and turn to Cornelius.’  And the unhappy man does not taste until he has called down imprecations on himself; and instead of saying Amen, as he takes the bread, he says, I will never return to Cornelius.”  Farther on he says again:

“But know that he has now been made bare and desolate; as the brethren leave him every day and return to the church.  Moses {290:A} also, the blessed martyr, who lately suffered among us a glorious and admirable martyrdom, while he was yet alive, beholding his boldness and folly, refused to commune with him and with the five presbyters who with him had separated themselves from the church.”

At the close of his letter he gives a list of the bishops who had come to Rome and condemned the silliness of Novatus, with their names and the parish over which each of them presided.  He mentions also those who did not come to Rome, but who expressed by letters their agreement with the vote of these bishops, giving their names and the cities from which they severally sent them.  Cornelius wrote these things to Fabius bishop of Antioch.

An Epistle of Dionysius to Novatian.

BUT let us see how [Dionysius] addressed Novatus when he was disturbing the Roman brotherhood.  As he pretended that some of the brethren were the occasion of his apostasy and schism, as if he had been forced by them to proceed as he had, observe the manner in which he writes to him:

“Dionysius to his brother Novatus, greeting.  If, as thou sayest, thou hast been led on unwillingly, thou wilt prove this if thou retirest willingly.  For it were better to suffer everything, rather than divide the Church of God.  Even martyrdom for the sake of preventing division would not be less glorious than for refusing to worship idols.  Nay, to me it seems greater.  For in the one case a man suffers martyrdom {291:A} for the sake of his own soul; in the other case in behalf of the entire Church.  And now if thou canst persuade or induce the brethren to come to unanimity, thy righteousness will be greater than thine error, and this will not be counted, but that will be praised.  But if thou canst not prevail with the disobedient, at least save thine own soul.  I pray that thou mayst fare well, maintaining peace in the Lord.”

This he wrote to Novatus.

Section Two: From an Epistle of Cyprian, Novatian’s Contemporary

IN reference, however, to the character of Novatian, dearest brother, of whom you desired that intelligence should be written you what heresy he had introduced; know that, in the first place, we ought not even to be inquisitive as to what he teaches, so long as he teaches out of the pale of unity.  Whoever he may be, and whatever he may be, he who is not in the Church of Christ is not a Christian.  Although he may boast himself, and announce his philosophy or eloquence with lofty words, yet he who has not maintained brotherly love or ecclesiastical unity has lost even what he previously had been.  Unless he seems to you to be a bishop, who—when a bishop has been made in the Church by sixteen co-bishops—strives by bribery to be made an adulterous and extraneous bishop by the hands of deserters; and although there is one Church, divided by Christ throughout the whole world into many members, and also one episcopate diffused through a harmonious multitude of many bishops; in spite of God’s tradition, in spite of the combined and everywhere compacted unity of the Catholic Church, is endeavouring to make a human church, and is sending his new apostles through very many cities, that he may establish some new foundations of his own appointment.  And although there have already been ordained in each city, and through all the provinces, bishops old in years, sound in faith, proved in trial, proscribed in persecution, (this one) dares to create over these other and false bishops: as if he could either wander over the whole world with the persistence of his new endeavour, or break asunder the structure of the ecclesiastical body, by the propagation of his own discord, not knowing that schismatics are always fervid at the beginning, but that they {334:A} cannot increase nor add to what they have unlawfully begun, but that they immediately fail together with their evil emulation.  But he could not hold the episcopate, even if he had before been made bishop, since he has cut himself off from the body of his fellow-bishops, and from the unity of the Church; since the apostle admonishes that we should mutually sustain one another, and not withdraw from the unity which God has appointed, and says, “Bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Eph. 4.2,3.]  He then who neither maintains the unity of the Spirit nor the bond of peace, and separates himself from the band of the Church, and from the assembly of priests, can neither have the power nor the honour of a bishop, since he has refused to maintain either the unity or the peace of the episcopate.

Then, moreover, what a swelling of arrogance it is, what oblivion of humility and gentleness, what a boasting of his own arrogance, that any one should either dare, or think that he is able, to do what the Lord did not even grant to the apostles; that he should think that he can discern the tares from the wheat, or, as if it were granted to him to bear the fan and to purge the threshing-floor, should endeavour to separate the chaff from the wheat;[1] and since the apostle says, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth,” [2 Tim. 2.20,] should think to choose the vessels of gold and of silver, to despise, to cast away, and to condemn the vessels of wood and of clay; while the vessels of wood are not burnt up except in the day of the Lord by the flame of the divine burning, and the vessels of clay are only broken by Him to whom is given the rod of iron. [Rev. 2.27.]

Section Three: Interrogatory Reflections from this Character based on Sections One & Two

Eight Questions to Detect a Schismatic Disposition.

  1. Does my arrogance lead me to account any man as being beyond the hope of salvation?

  2. Does my arrogance lead me to account any church to be beyond the hope of reformation?

  3. Does my arrogance lead me to account any church to be beyond the hope of growth and better organization?

  4. Does a vain imagination of my personal holiness carry me on to call myself a Puritan?

  5. Does a vain admiration of my progress in reformation principles carry me on to call myself a Puritan?

  6. If others will be puritans, will my pride compel me to be something more refined than this?

  7. Have I been eager to learn rules of church discipline that impede Christ’s commission to bring forgiveness to the lost?

  8. Do I count it spiritual to restore brothers in the spirit of meekness (Gal. 6.1,) but more spiritual to restore them in some other spirit?

Thirty-Eight Questions to Detect a Schismatic Worker.

  1. Do I desire ecclesiastical office purely out of concealed ambition?

  2. Do I desire ecclesiastical office somewhat out of concealed ambition?

  3. Do I desire ecclesiastical office somewhat out of concealed ambition, and otherwise out of ambition that is quite disclosed to the whole world?

  4. When I gather adherents or friends of spiritual excellence, do I love them for their spiritual excellence, or for the credit my association with them will bring to myself?

  5. How many of my former friends consider my friendship a cruel friendship?

  6. Do my persuasions serve to lead men to join the Church, or to leave the Church?

  7. Am I such a defender of the doctrine of the Church, that I must abuse the Church itself?

  8. Would a defender of the Church itself, necessarily be inferior to me as a defender of the Church’s doctrine?

  9. Have I employed agents to persuade unwary souls to engage in projects serving Christ’s end, as proposed, but serving my ends, as pursued?

  10. Am I pleased to be among the few simple-minded ecclesiastics who would exalt to office a man who could not receive it in a lawful way?

  11. Have I set the Lord’s ministers to work on projects that agree not with his assignments?

  12. Do I view the ministers of Jesus Christ as useful tools for my personal mission?

  13. Do drunken souls find my religious agenda more agreeable than sober souls?

  14. Do drunken pastors consider me more fit for ecclesiastical office than sober pastors?

  15. Will I take the imposition of hands to myself by craft, if it come not to me by good course?

  16. Could I gladly be a preacher of the Gospel, without also being an avenger of the Gospel?

  17. Does my church appoint bishops where bishops are already appointed?

  18. Would 46 Presbyters and innumerable people be sufficient to recall me from my desperation?

  19. Have I received the Holy Spirt, to enable me to the discharge of the calling I profess?

  20. Have I ever offered to men, that I would renounce the very calling I formerly claimed was from the Lord?

  21. Is it my agenda to make a party oath, or expression of personal allegiance, the condition of fellowship in my church?

  22. Would dedication to the Catholic Faith and Authority of our Sovereign Lord be insufficient for membership in my church?

  23. How many have left me through a desire to return to the Church?

  24. Am I willing to “suffer everything” rather than “divide the Church of God”?

  25. Is it more convenient for me to teach within or without the pale of the Church’s unity?

  26. Does the eloquence of lofty words appeal to me more than brotherly love?

  27. Do I address others as if the eloquence of lofty words should be more appealing to them than my Christian charity?

  28. Have I used bribe-like persuasions to entice deserters of the Church to adhere to my church?

  29. Is the church that I am building largely dependant on human effort, tradition, and agreement?

  30. Why is the church I am building more largely dependant on human effort, tradition, and agreement, than that built by the Apostles?

  31. Do I propagate concord, or discord?

  32. Do my adversaries affirm that I propagate concord, or discord?

  33. Do my un-bribed friends affirm that I tend to propagate concord, or discord?

  34. What exactly would persuade me that the religious effort I have begun, has failed?

  35. What exactly would persuade me that the man I am emulating has failed?

  36. Is it easier for me to hold my office or maintain my dignity with or without the cooperation of fellow office-bearers?

  37. Am I endeavouring to do what even the apostles were not granted opportunity or grace to do?

  38. Is my house more or less free of all vessels of wood and clay, compared to the houses of those I contemn?

Section Four: A Presbyterian Reformer’s Estimate of Novatian, from the History of Patrick Simpson

NOVATUS a Presbyter at Rome, was a man of a contentious spirit, and men that are humorous, high-minded, and contentious, they are wise to do evil, but they can do no good.  Such a man was NOVATUS, who disquieted with schism, and heresy, two of the most notable Churches in the world at that time, viz. Carthage and Rome, by giving out a rigorous sentence against those who in time of persecution had fallen, albeit they had repented after their fall, and all outward tokens of unfeigned repentance had been seen in them; yet his opinion was that they should not be admitted again to the fellowship of the Church.  This opinion was not only repugnant to the words of Isa. 1, Ezek. 18, Matth. 11, and to innumerable more places of sacred scripture, but also it was a foolish opinion advancing the kingdom of the devil and not the kingdom of God.  For the two great wheels of the cart of the devil, whereby he carrieth men headlong to hell, are presumption and desperation: and merciless NOVATUS teaching a doctrine that strengthened not the knees of the weak, he did what in him lay to move sinners to despair.  Therefore CYPRIAN B. of Carthage who excommunicated him, and CORNELIUS B. of Rome who did the like with advice of a grave and worthy Council gathered at Rome,[2] Euseb. lib. 6. cap. 43, are to be counted wise men, because they endeavoured timeously to suppress those errors that weakened the hearts of the children of God.  I read of no heresy preceeding the heresy of ARIUS and EUTYCHES that continued longer time in the Church of God than the heresy of NOVATUS, partly because it crept in under pretence of zeal to the glory of God, and under pretence of a detestation of sin: partly also, because the Novatian Heretics in the question concerning the divinity of Christ were conformable to the opinion of the true Church, Sozomen lib. 7. cap. 12.  Thirdly, because in time of the Arian persecution the Novatians were banished and troubled with no less hateful malice and despite than the members of the true Church were: yea and the true Catholics and Novatians being companions of one and the self-same suffering were content also to give their lives one for another, Socrates lib. 2. cap. 38.  And the foresaid author saith, Parúmque abfuit quin coadunarentur, Socrat. ibid. that is, They were near by united and agreed together, to wit, the true Catholics and Novatians.  But what was the impediment that hindered their union?  Read the history, and it shall not be found in the true Catholics, but in the obstinacy and wilfulness of the Novatians.  And so it falleth out at all times that men who are authors of heresies and schisms, are also the principal hinderers of the redintegration [making-whole] of the unity of the Church.  The razing and demolishing of the Temple of the Novatians in Cyzicum a famous town of Bithynia, together with the calamity of the people of Mantinium a town of Paphlagonia, Socrat. lib. 2. cap. 38, clearly proveth that the Novatian heresy continued until the days of CONSTANTIUS the son of CONSTANTINE, an Arian Emperour and persecuter of the true faith.  The favour that they obtained in the days of JULIAN I pass over with silence.  But in the days of the reign of THEODOSIUS, the Novatians by the Emperour’s edict were permitted to have public conventions in Constantinople, to enjoy such privileges as other Christians had, and to possess the oratories and temples whereinto they were accustomed to serve God.  All this toleration and liberty was granted to them by the good Emperour THEODOSIUS, because in the head of doctrine anent the divinity of Christ they damned the Arians, and agreed with the Homousians, Socrat. lib. 5. cap. 10.  The Magdeburg history saith that this heresy continued in Constantinople until the time that it was conquessed by the Turks, Cent. 3. cap. 5.  I have written of this heresy at greater length to admonish all true Christians that it is not enough to adhere to some points of the true faith, and to suffer persecution for righteousness at some times, and to love brotherly fellowship at some times, so that we are content to [sacrifice our] life for our brethren: all these things did the Novatians, and were favoured by the Emperour THEODOSIUS, as said is, yet were they both schismatics and heretics, because they would be wiser than God, and debarred them from the bosom of Christ’s compassions whom Christ inviteth to come unto him, saying, Come unto me all ye that are weary and laden, and I will ease you, Matt. 11.28.  Let the example of the Novatians admonish men, who study singularity, and to bring in new customs or opinions into the Church of God, to take heed that their opinions be not repugnant unto the written word; lest, after they have continued a long time, in end they be rejected as opinions, foolish, vain, heretical, and not agreeing with the scriptures of God.  Novatian’s followers were called καθαροι or puritans, Euseb. lib. 6. cap. 43. Hist. Magd. cent. 3. cap. 5.  Let this name rest in the bosom of Heretics.  And men who are not guilty of the faults, that were in the Novatians, if they be undeservedly charged with this name given of old to Heretics, let them say with humble hearts, that in one sense they are καθαροι because they are purged from sin in the fountain of the blood of Christ, 1 John 1.7.  But in no other sense & meaning can true Christians be called καθαροι, except only in this, because their sins are freely forgiven in Christ, and God hath begun the work of sanctification in them, to be a testimony that they are planted in the stock of Christ.  In this sense speaketh the Evangelist JOHN, ηδη υμεις καθαροι εστε δια τον λογον ον λελαληκα υμιν, that is, Now are ye clean through the word that I have spoken unto you, John 15.3.

Section Five: The Anatomy of a Schismatic as Inferred from what was Learned Above

We must begin with a word of

Section Six: Forms of Schism Affecting the Church

Having spoken above “after the manner of men,” it is needful to conclude on a more plain and serious note.  Although there is much to be learned from the foregoing observations, when it comes to the type of schismatic who is most obvious for his obnoxious conduct, and failure to consolidate sufficient numbers of adherents into a form of unity that makes his work appear the more legitimate; yet it is needful to observe that there are several types or forms of schism, and many of these which sadly characterize, or at least taint, the very best Christian churches, communions, conferences, etc. in the present day.  Given the divided state of the Church of Christ, this should not be a surprize.  If we want to see the problem resolved, and our breaches healed, each community needs to identify what sort of schism characterizes its present constitution and conduct, or what schism led to its original existence as a distinct communion.  We cannot possibly all have a clean history in the matter.  So let us try which of the following will fit us best, and then hasten to amend the fault or faults.

  1. There is a schism when a man or party, in favour of heresy, makes a rupture or division in the Church.

  2. There is a schism when a man or party, contrary to the rule of love, makes a rupture or division in the Church.

  3. There is a schism when a man or party, with inordinate zeal for discipline, drives the Lord’s children out of his Church.

  4. There is a schism when a man or party, by imposing sinful practices, drives the Lord’s children out of his Church.

  5. There is a schism when a man or party, by more gently slipping in sinful practices as mandatory, drives the Lord’s children out of his Church.

  6. There is a schism when a man or party, by fostering party identities, transforms the true unity of the Church into a union of parties.

  7. There is a schism when a man or party, by offensive practices wilfully maintained, discourages or provoke brethren, and occasions them to sin.

  8. There is a schism when a man or party, by neglecting or obstructing constitutional means of discipline, persuades brethren to forsake existing unity.

  9. There is a schism when a man or party, by impatience and presumption, forsakes existing unity because it is not well maintained by others.

  10. There is a schism when a man or party, by injustice, marks the Lord’s children as offenders, and deprives them of their privileges.

  11. There is a schism when a man or party, who might accommodate a large company of offended brethren by lawful changes, chooses to not do so.

  12. There is a schism when a man or party, who might accommodate a small company of offended brethren by lawful changes, chooses to not do so.

  13. There is a schism when a man or party, who might accommodate a brother by lawful changes, chooses to not do so.

  14. There is a schism when a man or party, who might promote healing by reverting to former lawful standards or practices, despises such a suggestion.

  15. There is a schism when a man or party, who is obliged to repress heresy and sectarianism as sinful, so much favours it as to alienate brethren.

  16. There is a schism when a man or party, who is under covenant obligations with others, substitutes a less restrictive or particular covenant for one which was more particular.

  17. There is a schism when a man or party, who is obliged with others to maintain a distinct confession or testimony, chooses to set it aside for what is less distinct.

  18. There is a schism when a man or party, who has a testimony for the cause of Christ to maintain, compromises that testimony in order to pursue participation with other parties in a cause for an isolated or limited interest.

  19. There is a schism when a man or party, who is in covenant with brethren, neglects or opposes efforts to renew that covenant in a timely fashion.

  20. There is a schism when a man or party, who has been patiently endured in sin or error, resolves to try the patience of others, rather than repent.

  21. There is a schism when a man or party, knowing little of the grace of regeneration, marks out other professors as having never been converted indeed.

  22. There is a schism when a man or party, knowing little of the grace of repentance, marks out other professors as having no possibility to be brought to repentance.

  23. There is a schism when a man or party, knowing little of the wonder of reformation, marks out whole churches as incapable of reformation.

  24. There is a schism when a man or party, loving an irresponsible ignorance, neglects the rules of higher church courts or historic standards, and makes no inquiry whether brethren are estranged thereby.

  25. There is a schism when a man or party, by imposing sinful terms for church membership, occasions Christian children or adults to remain unbaptized.

  26. There is a schism when a man or party, by imposing sinful requirements on ministers, keeps worthy men out of the ministry.

  27. There is a schism when a man or party, by imposing sinful requirements on ministers, keeps men from improving means to attain fitness for the ministry.

  28. There is a schism when a man or party, by imposing sinful requirements on ministers, gives plausible excuse to evil workers to invade the ministry.

  29. There is a schism when a man or party, who had not authority for preaching or administering ordinances, begins to do either without the Lord’s direction.

  30. There is a schism when a man or party, in the name of majority, disregard the warnings, complaints, pleadings, and suplications of a minority.

  31. There is a schism when a man or party, in the name of the fathers, requires or enforces what is not lawful by Scripture rule.

  32. There is a schism when a man or party, in the name of the fathers, requires or enforces what is not presently edifying for the Lord’s people.

  33. There is a schism when a man or party, in the name of tradition, requires or enforces what is is neither directly nor indirectly a scriptural duty.

  34. There is a schism when a man or party, on the basis of orders having no authority within the church, imposes on brethren any rule, practice, or doctrine.

  35. There is a schism when a man or party, while reformation is especially necessary, gives not due help to a majority seeking to promote it.

  36. There is a schism when a man or party, while reformation is especially necessary, gives not due help to a minority seeking to promote it.

  37. There is a schism when a man or party, proclaiming the blessedness of church-unity, procures an ecclesiastical merger harmful to the true unity of the Church.

  38. There is a schism when a man or party, proclaiming the blessedness of church-unity, procures an ecclesiastical merger which alienates those who love the proper foundation of church-unity.

  39. There is a schism when a man or party, declaiming against party-spirit, so fellowships another party in the way of sin and error, that no proper testimony against sin or error is maintained.

  40. There is a schism when a man or party, declaiming against party-spirit, foments bitterness towards those who love the proper foundation of church-unity.

  41. There is a schism when a man or party, and another man or party, keep up distinct parties as if to oppose one another’s sins, while full communion is exercised between them still.

  42. There is a schism when a man or party, leaves a company of sheep in the wilderness, and blames them for straying.

  43. There is a schism when a man or party, does not love his brother whom he has seen.

  44. There is a schism when a man or party, admits men to church ordinances without repentance, who have denied the faith, or opposed the Church’s testimony.

  45. There is a schism when a man or party, without the consent of the body of the Church, makes changes to her Confession of Faith for the worst.

  46. There is a schism when a man or party, with the consent of the multitude of backsliders, makes changes for the worst to the Church’s Confession.

  47. There is a schism when a man or party, having responsibility to teach, fails to teach the Church’s members what is needful for them to know, so that her former unity may be preserved.

  48. There is a schism when a man or party, countenances a man in his sinful intrusions into the ministry.

  49. There is a schism when a man or party, countenances a man in the exercise of greater authority than has actually been entrusted to him.

  50. There is a schism when a man or party, refuses or fails to suspend a man from the exercise of authority & administration of ordinances, when he is publicly known to be worthy thereof.

  51. There is a schism when a man or party, neglects the care of needy members until they are, as it were, compelled to seek care elsewhere.

  52. There is a schism when a man or party, begins to allow multiple interpretations to the Church’s official doctrinal statements, whereas formerly only one interpretation was received.

  53. There is a schism when a man or party, maintaining strange doctrines, perhaps tolerable enough to a number of admiring adherents, provides the occasion for some brethren to be kept apart from other brethren.

  54. There is a schism when a man or party, being compelled to separate from others for the sake of conscience, does so in such a way as to make re-union more difficult than it might have been.

  55. There is a schism when a man or party, being compelled to separate from others for the sake of conscience, chooses to give occasion to brethren to sin yet more.

  56. There is a schism when a man or party, being compelled to separate from others for the sake of conscience, seeks more the dissolving or further dividing of the opposing party, than its restoration.

  57. There is a schism when a man or party, being deficient in Christian charity, sows seeds among brethren to the effectuating of their division by separation.

  58. There is a schism when a man or party, being deficient in Christian charity, sows such seeds among brethren that they are unable to operate together even while avoiding separation.

  59. There is a schism germinating when a man or party, as a matter of habit, custom, or preference, spends more time studying and discussing policy than theology & piety.

  60. There is a schism budding when a man or party, having a calling to do otherwise, spends more time teaching policy than theology & piety.

  61. There is a schism with fruit near ripe when a man or party, having a controversy to resolve, uses policy to enforce policy, rather than policy to enforce doctrine & law.

And so we might continue at great length, naming the many ways in which charity sometimes fails among brethren, either to the wounding of their fellowship, or as the exposing of schismatic principles at work.  But as the union which exists between Christ and his Bride, and that also which defines the individual believer’s relation to the Church, may be compared to the relation between Husband and Wife, so we may make comparison between the above charity, and the love that exists in this relation, and also between the destructive separations of the church, and the divorces by which so many marriages are now brought to ruin.

As the times in which we live, have seen men presume to make divorce both legal and common; so we see that there are men in the church, who regard her divisions helpful, and have no shame to make them many.

As the vows of husband and wife are regarded as what may be dissolved by the violations thereof, or by the policy of naughty rulers; so we see that vows of membership and office, and Covenants to unite the church, are regarded as what may be either dissolved or modified by the policy of backsliders.

As the possibility of healing conflicts and offences between husband and wife, are easily set aside by parties that have an agenda, and are more or less willing to see divided that which God has joined together; so we see that a love for something other than Christ’s Bride makes men willing to see her divided, with some taking her members one way, and others taking her members another way, even when means were at hand to keep her from being dissevered.

As there are many who, pretending strict principles about the two alone occasions when divorce may be allowed to a party in the Christian Church, will yet drive circumstance onwards into one of those two occasions, and choose to be the cause of the cause of a divorce; so we see that there are men who will speak against every unlawful form of separation with precision, and yet unlawfully practice all that is required to effectuate the circumstances needed to make an ill-planned separation well-dressed.

And others unacquainted with such arts are snared and stumbled.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me,
it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck,
and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.—Matthew 18.6.

Section Seven: Other References on Novatian or on Schism

The early histories of Eusebius, and others.

The letters of Cyprian.

Two books by Ambrose on Repentance.

A Sermon by Martin Luther on Matthew 18.21-22. American Edition of Luther’s Works, Volume 67, pages 416-422.

The Informatory Vindication, by James Renwick and others.

Plain Reasons for Presbyterians Dissenting, by Andrew Clarkson. Edition 1731, pp. 177-207.

The Unity of the Church, Discourse 2, by Thomas M’Crie.


1. We may observe this same disposition in other notable schismatics, past and present.  For example, when John Gibb and his followers separated from the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and condemned the remnant Covenanters faithfully adhering to its biblical constitution, these Gibbites stated their reason for renouncing the covenants and declarations of the covenanters as including the fact that “they may and have owned these, and are owning these, who are enemies to holiness, and were enemies to us,” as if it ought to be our agenda to devise covenants and declarations with which unbelievers could not possibly express agreement.  It is hard to tell whether such men are more ignorant of the limitations of the Church’s ability to distinguish clean from unclean, or of the boundlessness of the unbeliever’s ability to deceive others and himself too.

A more modern example, of a like character, would be Marc Carpenter of the Outside the Camp website.  Being dissatisfied with all Protestant Confessions of Faith, he drafted his own “Christian Confession of Faith.”  However agreeable the contents, the purpose is evident from the Preface.  And again, the purpose is not to Confess the Christian Faith, but to distinguish God-haters of every sort from true believers.  He will not include “extraneous” things over which true Christians can disagree, but presumptuously limits his duty of confessing the Christian Faith to such a truncated confession as fits this one purpose of distinguishing unbelievers from believers.  And when all is said and done, unbelievers are still able to mistakenly or deceitfully consent to his Confession, and true Christians are obliged to reject the document for its deficiencies, even if they found its limited content agreeable.—JTKer.

2. This seems to be a confusion of Novatian of Rome with Novatus of Carthage.  The former was excommunicated by Cornelius and the Council at Rome; The latter would have been excommunicated, along with others, by Cyprian at Carthage, but is said to have made himself a fugitive from Church discipline, by a “voluntary departure” through which he anticipated his judgment.—JTKer.