Excommunication

EXCOMMUNICATION

An exclusion from communion. The Coptic church canons contain lists of offenses that lead to exclusion from communion. The extant ostraca from around 600 show how bishops executed the punishment. As soon as a bishop received information of an offense against the church’s canons or the Christian moral law, he notified the person concerned—after the information had been stated in evidence—of his exclusion from communion. If a member of the clergy was affected, his superior also was informed of the punishment. For the avoidance of further offenses that might lead to excommunication, the bishop composed circular letters in which, starting from a concrete case, he threatened excommunication to all who made themselves guilty of the same offense.

In the correspondence of Bishop ABRAHAM of Hermonthis, the following are named as grounds for exclusion from communion: disobedience, a hostile disposition toward one’s neighbor, the doing of injustice, blasphemy, breach of the duty of residence by one of the clergy, making young men drunk, desecration of a church or monastery, damage to churches and monasteries, the incorrect mixing of water and wine in the communion chalice, a breach of the precept of sobriety at the Lord’s table, the hindering of poor men in the catching of fish, ill treatment of the poor, and offenses against the marriage law. Among the latter offenses are marriages forbidden by reason of the kinship of the partners (marriage of brother and sister, marriage to nephews, or marrying two sisters), the divorcing of a wife without her having broken the marriage vow, the forsaking of a husband by a wife, the writing of letters of divorce, the giving of communion to people who have knowingly committed these offenses, and fornication.

In addition, excommunication is threatened by the bishop in cases that include failure to carry out injunctions of the bishop, distribution of communion in conjunction with an excommunicated member of the clergy, and distribution of communion by the abbot of a monastery while a wrongdoer ordered before the bishop is still living in the monastery.

It is not only the bishop who excludes from communion. The titular heads of churches and monasteries appointed by him can, in case of disobedience, exclude those under them from communion. Such persons are excommunicated until they come to the bishop, who then investigates the facts in a trial. If he confirms the punishment, the person punished can plead verbally and in person for readmission to communion.

This plea is submitted in writing only when the person punished cannot come to the bishop because of sickness. If the bishop lifts the punishment, the person readmitted to communion declares in writing that he will not relapse. The written declaration may take the form of a statement of obligation or a personal pledge, or several persons may stand security before the bishop that the person readmitted will not relapse. If a member of the clergy relapses, he will be punished with the next higher penalty, exclusion from the clergy. The bishop can link the readmission to a condition, such as the memorization of Bible texts.

Clergy themsleves will be excluded from communion if they are not willing to act in accordance with a verdict still awaiting decision.

[See also: Penalization.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • ‘Abd al-Masih, Yassa. “Letter from a Bishop of el-Fayyum.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 7 (1941):15-18.
  • Crum, W. E. Coptic Ostraca from the Collection of the Egypt Exploration Fund, the Cairo Museum and Others. London, 1902.
  • . Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum. London, 1905.
  • . Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the John Rylands Library, Manchester. Manchester, 1909. Reinhardt, K. “Eine arabisch-koptische Kirchenbannurkunde.” In Aegyptiaca, Festschrift fur Georg Ebers zum 1. März 1897. Leipzig, 1897.
  • Steindorff, S. “Eine koptische Bannbulle und andere Briefe.” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 30 (1892):37-43.

MARTIN KRAUSE

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