English: Excommunication of Emperor Frederick ...
Excommunication of Emperor Frederick II. Emperor Frederick II is excommunicated by pope Innocent IV. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Catholicism excommunication is a separation of an individual from the saving power of the Catholic Church due to a serious theological idea or practice deemed contrary to the Church. The excommunicated may not participate in the sacraments nor associate with the community of believers.

Historically speaking, “the term (excommunicatus— ἀκοινώνητος) first appeared in Church documents in the fourth century.”¹ Minor excommunications were conducted by local bishops for associating with an excommunicated Catholic. Major excommunication is carried out by the Pope in an official ceremony.

Excommunication is terminated upon repentance and satisfying the demands of the Church, at which point the once condemned person is received again and fully recognized as a Catholic. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:

It is also a medicinal rather than a vindictive penalty, being intended, not so much to punish the culprit, as to correct him and bring him back to the path of righteousness.²

Excommunication is not exclusive to Catholicism; various forms are found in most world religions.³

¹ LAWLOR, F. X., and T. J. GREEN. “Excommunication.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 504-506. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 May 2012.

²  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05678a.htm

³ This Wikipedia entry gives a good overview of the situation among various faith groups » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excommunication

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