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APOSTASY (Gk. Apostasia, “Revolt”): According to the teaching of the earlier ages, apostasy might be either apoatasia perfidiœ, inobedientite, or irregularitatis (i.e., revolt against the faith, authority, or the rules). The two latter classes often ran into each other, and have been reduced by later theologians to two distinct though still related kinds of desertion, namely, apostasia a monachatu and a clericatu, which of course occur only in non-Protestant churches, while the apostasia a fide or perfidiœ is contemplated in Protestant church law also. Apostasia a monachatu, the abandonment of the monastic life, takes place when a member of a religious order leaves it and returns to the world, whether as a cleric or as a layman, without permission of the proper authority. Apostasia a clericatu, the abandonment of orders, is in like manner the unauthorized return to the world of a person in holy orders; the minor orders which require no irrevocable self-dedication do not come under the same head. As early as the Council of 239 Chalcedon (451) such offenders were excommunicated; and later ecclesiastical law maintains this position even more strongly, requiring the offender’s diocesan to arrest and imprison him, if a cleric, or, if a monk, to deliver him to the authorities of his order, to be punished according to its own laws. In non-Catholic countries both classes of apostates may commonly be forgiven on condition of voluntary return to obedience; and the bishops possess various faculties for the purpose. Neither of these forms of apostasy is punished by the State.
Apostasia a fide is the deliberate denial, expressed by outward acts, of the Christian faith, whether connected or not with the adoption of a non-Christian religion. This is allied to heresy, of which, in fact, it forms a higher degree. The passages of Scripture on which the treatment of this form of apostasy is based are Heb. iii. 12, vi. 4-9, x. 16-29; II Pet. ii. 15-21; II John 9-11; Luke xii. 9. During the epoch of persecution such apostasy was of course far commoner than in later times; but the primitive Church made a distinction, calling apostates only those who had abandoned the faith of their own free will, distinguishing them from those who had yielded to violence or seduction. According to the various manners of denying Christ, they were classified as libellatici, sacrificati, traditores, etc. (see Lapsed). All were by the very nature of the case excommunicated, and at first some churches felt bound, in accordance with the passages cited above, to refuse absolution altogether or withhold it until the hour of death. Afterward this severity decreased, and apostates, like other excommunicated persons, were restored to communion on fitting penance. Among later enactments, the decree of Boniface VIII. (1294–1303) prescribing the same procedure for apostates to Judaism as for heretics has been of special influence not only in ecclesiastical, but in civil legislation.
Under the first Christian emperors, the Roman state considered apostasy as a civil crime, to be punished by confiscation of goods, inability to make wills or serve as a witness, and infamy. During the Middle Ages the Empire had no occasion to adopt special legislation against apostasy, but was content to adhere to the ecclesiastical view of it as a qualified heresy. Since in the countries for which the Protestant legal codes were designed apostasy to Judaism or idolatry was not looked for, they make no mention of such a crime. It is, however, in the very nature of a State Church, that it can not tolerate desertion of its communion, but must mark its sense of the evil by such means as are in its power. Nowadays, of course, the aid of the State can no longer be called in to punish such offenders.
Bibliography: G. M. Amthor, De apostasia, Coburg, 1833; E. Platner, Quœstiones de jure criminum Romano, Marburg, 1842; N. München, Das kanonische Gerichtsverfahren und Strafrecht, ii. 357, Cologne, 1865.
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