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Excommunication

pronounced, person, writ, sentence, ecclesiastical, bishop, excommunicate, court, excommunicated and communication

EXCOMMUNICATION is the high est ecclesiastical censure which can be pronounced by a spiritual judge. The person against whom it is pronounced is for the time excluded from the com munion of the church. This punish ment, according to some opinions, had its origin in the advice given by St. Paul when reproving the early Christians for scandalizing their profession by prosecut ing law-suits against each other before heathen judges ; and the apostle accord ingly recommended them to leave all matters in dispute between them to the decision of the Ecelesia, or the congrega tion of the faithful.

The bishop and his clergy, and after wards the bishop alone, became sole judge in these disputes ; but possessing no coercive powers to enforce their de crees, they were obliged to adopt the only means of which they could avail them selves, to bring the refractory to sub mission, namely, by excluding them from the rites of the Church, and warning other Christians from their company and presence. A Christian thus shut out from the fellowship of his own_ brethren could not do otherwise than submit.

This censure, although instituted by the primitive church as the means of pre. serving its purity, and of enforcing obe tlience to its laws, was afterwards used for the extensive promotion of ecclesias tical power, and was converted into a means of oppression in those countries which were most subject to ecclesiastical power. (Robertson's History of ( harks V., vol. ii. p. 109.) In England excommunication became at an early period the means of punish ment under the authority of the bishops, and others who had ecclesiastical juris diction. It was divided into the greater and the less excommunication. The lat ter only removed the person from a par ticipation in the sacraments, and is what was most commonly meant by the term excommunication ; the other was called anathema, and not only removed the party from the sacraments, hut from the Church and all communication with the faithful, and even deprived him of Chris tian burial. Subjects were absolved from their allegiance to an excommunicated prince. Gregory V. was the first pre late who ventured to excommunicate a reigning prince in the case of Robert, King of France, in 998. John and Henry VIII. are well-known instances in Eng - lish history.

The following offenders were punished with the greater excommunication : di viners, heretics, their receivers and com forters; simoniacs ; violators and plun derers of churches ; those who spoiled clerks going to Rome ; the plunderers of the property of a bishop which ought to go to his successor ; those who gave aid, favour, or counsel to excommunicated persons ; those who laid violent hands on clerks or religious persons, or commanded others to do so.

Those punished with the less excom munication were persons committing any mortal sin, as sacrilegious persons ; those who received a ehurch from lay hands ; 1.Jtorious offenders ; those who talked with, saluted, or sat at the same table with, or gave anything in charity to per sons excommunicated by the greater ex communication, unless they were fami liars or domestics.

Excommunication was also pronounced for other matters which belong to eccle siastical jurisdiction, such as adultery and fornication, or for contempt of any ecclesiastical order or sentence. A sen

tence of excommunication was preceded by three monitions at due intervals, or one peremptory, containing the legal space of time, with a proper regard to the quality of the person and the nature of the offence. But, as Blackstone in his usual manner remarks, " heavy as the penalty of excommunication is, considered in a serious light, there are, notwithstand ing, many obstinate or profligate men, who would despise the brzttum fulmen of mere ecclesiastical censures, especially when pronounced by a petty surro gate in the country, for railing or con tumelious words, for non-payment of fees or costs, or other trivial causes. The common law therefore compassionately steps in to the aid of the ecclesiastical ju risdiction, and kindly lends a supporting hand to an otherwise tottering authority." This was effected by the writ "de excom municato capiendo," or for seizing the excommunicate. But before the writ for taking the excommunicated person could be granted, the contumacy and contempt of the party were to be certified by the bishop to the court of Chancery by letters under his seal ; and by 5 Eliz. c. 23, the writ was made returnable into the King's Bench. By the statute just cited the cause of excommunication was to be stated in the writ, in order that the court might judge as to the justice of the case. The sentence of excommunication might be revoked by the judge who passed the sentence, or upon appeal the party might be absolved. Absolution generally be longed to the same person who passed the sentence, unless in some particular cases, which were referred to the pope or a bishop. (Reeves's Hist. of English Law ; Sullivan's Lectures.) By a sentence of excommunication, both greater and less, the excommunicated were excluded from the right of Chris tian burial, from bringing or maintaining actions, from becoming attorneys or jury men, and were rendered incapable of becoming witnesses in any cause. But since the 53 Geo. III. c. 127 (54 Geo. III. c 68, for Ireland), excommunication cannot now be pronounced in England or Ireland, except in certain cases (as spi ritual censures for offeuces of ecelesias tical cognizance) ; and by the 3rd section of that statute " no person who shall be pronounced or declared excommunicate (pursuant to the second clause of this statute) shall incur any civil penalty or incapacity, in consequence of such ex communication, save such imprisonment, not exceeding six months, as the court pronouncing or declaring such person excommunicate shall direct." The pro ceedings in those cases, in which excom munication may still be pronounced, are the same, as to the issuing and return of the writ, as they were before the act of 53 George HI. By the same act (53 George HI. c. 127), in all cases cogniza ble by the laws of England in ecclesias tical courts, when any person shall refuse to appear when cited by such court, or shall refuse to obey the lawful order or decree of such court, no sentence of ex communication, except in the cases above alluded to, shall be pronounced ; but a writ "de contumace capiendo" shall issue, which in effect is the same as the old writ " de excommunicate capiendo" Ws.