- Early Practise (§ 1).
- The Lesser and Greater Excommunication (§ 2).
- Various Legal Provisions (§ 3).
- Changes Introduced by the Reformation (§ 4).
1. Early Practise
Excommunication is the exclusion of an offender
from full church fellowship, which may occur as a
means of discipline in varying degrees. On the
basis of various passages
(Matt. xvi. 19; xviii. 18;
John xx. 23;
I Thess. v. 14;
I John i. 8 sqq.;
II Cor. v. 18 sqq.;
the old Testament ban, see
Law, Hebrew, Civil and Criminal),
the Church of the earliest times
undertook to punish grievous sinners by such
exclusion, and either refused entirely to restore
them to its fellowship or restored them only after
they had attested their sorrow by penance (q.v.).
After the Councils of Ancyra (314) and Nicaa (325),
four stages of penance developed
through which the offender had to pass.
During the first year he lay prostrate
and weeping in the vestibule of the
church and begged those entering in to pray for
prosklausis; Lat. fletus). Next, com
monly for three years, he had a place in the back
of the church, with the unbaptized catechumens,
where he was allowed to hear the reading of the
Scriptures (akroasis ; auditio). Then he was al
lowed to enter the body of the church, and to pray
prostrate, while the bishop and the faithful inter
ceded for him (hypoptosis ; gems ftezio, substralio).
After further penitential exercises, he was allowed
to pray standing, with the rest of the congregation,
and to be present at the most sacred portion of the
liturgy, the missa ftdelium, from which the cate
chumens were excluded (systasis ; cmesistentia).
Only after the completion of this long process was
he restored to full communion. Originally this
discipline was applied also to sins which had given
no public scandal, until Pope Leo I. forbade them
to be publicly confessed (450), after which public
penance was only applied to open sins-the graver
ones in the manner described, the lesser ones with
out exclusion from the fellowship of the faithful,
but still so as to atone for public scandal, and cov
ering the exclusion from the missa fidelium. Both
of these methods are called peen. medicinales by
Augustine; their application belonged to the bishop,
whose action must be recognized by his brother
bishops, and could be reversed only by himself.
In the Frankish kingdom, after the institution of
the Synodal Courts (q.v.), penitential discipline
was placed in their charge, when once the testes
had established the existence of an open
scandal. By degrees the old distinct stages of
penance, which had at first been
accepted also in
the West, fell into disuse in the Frankish kingdom.