Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fiat! Fiat! Fiat!

After the time of the apostolic church, the term anathema has come to mean a form of extreme religious sanction beyond excommunication, known as major excommunication. The earliest recorded instance of the form is in the Council of Elvira (c. 306), and thereafter it became the common method of cutting off heretics. Cyril of Alexandria issued twelve anathemas against Nestorius in 431. In the fifth century, a formal distinction between anathema and excommunication evolved, where excommunication entailed cutting off a person or group from the rite of Eucharist and attendance at worship, while anathema meant a complete separation of the subject from the Church.

While "minor excommunication" could be incurred by associating with an excommunicate, and "major excommunication" could be imposed by any bishop, "anathema" was imposed by the Pope in a specific ceremony described in the Pontificale Romanum. Wearing a purple cope (the liturgical color of penitence) and holding a lighted candle, he, surrounded by twelve priests, also with lighted candles, pronounced the anathema with a formula that concluded with the phrase:

"Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive (Name) himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment."
The priests responded: "Fiat, fiat, fiat" (Let it be done), and all, including the pontiff, cast their lighted candles on the ground. A notice is sent in writing to the priests and neighboring bishops of the name of the one who has been excommunicated and the cause of his excommunication, in order that they may have no communication with him. Although he is delivered to Satan and his angels, he can still, and is even bound to repent. The Pontifical gives the form for absolving him and reconciling him with the Church.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad I read through this post. I thought at first, with the "Fiat! Fiat! Fiat!," you were having a personal sports car moment...

I now realize that if you were, it would probably have been, "Miata! Miata! Miata!" (Or Corvette...Or Porsche...or Ole Bessie...)

12:07 PM  
Blogger Fr LWG said...


I'd be saying: "Chrysler! Chrysler!Chrysler!"

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was this post just one of your informative ones or do you have a subject for excommunication in mind?


7:25 PM  
Blogger Fr LWG said...

The Pope's words last week about excommunication for politicians who support abortion prompted the post. Although, I do know several heretics and apostates who, being unrepentant, should incur some sort of ecclesiastical penalty.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Do you happen to know off-hand whether local ordinaries still have the right to impose excommunication on their subjects as a canonical penalty, or has it been reserved to the Holy See?

Fr Seán Ó Buaidhe

12:35 PM  
Blogger Fr LWG said...

Per Canon Law:

Can. 1341 An ordinary is to take care to initiate a judicial or administrative process to impose or declare penalties only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.

Can. 1342 §1. Whenever just causes preclude a judicial process, a penalty can be imposed or declared by extrajudicial decree; penal remedies and penances, however, can be applied by decree in any case whatsoever.

§2. Perpetual penalties cannot be imposed or declared by decree, nor can penalties be so applied when the law or precept establishing them prohibits their application by decree.

§3. What a law or precept states about the imposition or declaration of a penalty by a judge in a trial must be applied to a superior who imposes or declares a penalty by extrajudicial decree unless it is otherwise evident or unless it concerns prescripts which pertain only to procedural matters.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll go and check out the commentary on 1341 & 1342. Many thanks.

Fr ÓB.

Btw, since posting the question, the events of Linclon, Nebraska, a few years since came to mind.

12:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home