EXCLUSIVE BRETHREN. See Plymouth Brethren.


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 of Scripture (Matt. xvi. 19; xviii. 18; John xx. 23; I Thess. v. 14; James v.16; I John i. 8 sqq.; v.16; II Cor. v. 18 sqq.; for 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 him (Gk. 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 synodales 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.


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