Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Excommunication Definition:

The exclusion of a specified individual from a particular church.

One of the most severe forms of censure under ecclesiastical law.

In ancient times, excommunication meant forfeiture of the excommunicated persons lands, as well as a variety of corporal punishments. In 1690, this was ended in England by the effect of a Statute of the Realm.1

Traditionally, excommunication was divided into two grades or scales: lesser excommunication and greater excommunication.

Charles Sweet explains in his 1882 law book:

"The lesser excommunication deprives the offender of the use of the sacraments and divine worship. This sentence was formerly passed by judges ecclesiastical on such persons that were guilty of obstinacy or disobedience ....

"The greater excommunication is that whereby men are deprived not only of the sacraments and benefits of divine offices, but of the society and conversation of the faithful. It can only be pronounced as a punishment or censure for an ecclesiastical offence. If the person does not submit within 40 days after sentence of excommunication, he may be arrested and imprisoned for any time not exceeding 6 months...."

In Davis, Justice of the wrote:

"Excommunication is an exercise of fundamental religious beliefs which requires a decision as to whether or not a party must be dismissed or thrown out as a church member."

In the modern world, excommunication has no effect on a person's civil rights and often, a church will re-instate an excommunicated person upon repentance.

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