“You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

Canonist Ed Peters has a good reminder about excommunication at his fine blog.  HERE

Bottom lines:

  • It isn’t as easy to get excommunicated as one might think.
  • Excommunication, it isn’t easy as thinking that someone ought to be excommunicated.
  • “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”
  • People who are excommunicated are still members of the Church!
  • People who are excommunicated are still obliged to fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation, but they cannot go to Communion.
  • People who are excommunicated must have the censure lifted before they can receive any sacrament, including Penance (NB: danger of death is game changer).
  • If you are excommunicated, really, do something about it.
  • Not all priests have faculties to lift the censure imposed for all offenses/sins.
  • Talk to someone!

Okay, that’s a little more than what Peters wrote.   But check his post anyway!

BTW… he thinks that latae sententiae excommunication should be abolished.   In This Present Crisis I am tempted to bring back vitandus!

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23 Responses to “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

  1. cengime says:

    Dr Peters is technically right that the excommunicated are still members of the Church, but his arguments for this do not make sense. The excommunicated are still bound by the canons about fasting, Mass attendance, and canonical form of marriage because they have been baptised in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism, which makes them subjects of ecclesiastical law (c. 11). But being subjects of the Church does not make them members of it, and he is making a mistake by collapsing these categories.

    The doctrine of the membership of the Church reflected in c. 205 is expounded more fully by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi: heretics, apostates, schismatics, and those excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed cease to be members of the Church, with the last part referring to excommunication. If someone is to us as a heathen and a publican, how is he a member of the Church? Hence in the ordo excommunicandi, the bishop says, “membrum putridum et insanabile … ab Ecclesiae corpore abscindamus … et a liminibus sanctae matris Ecclesiae in coelo et in terra excludimus” when he pronounces someone anathema. The bond of ecclesiastical governance is a bilateral relationship. You haven’t unilaterally rejoined the Church just because you are working to restore it. And if the obligations someone bears under c. 11 make them a member of the Church, why even have c. 205? Since heretics and apostates are also still bound to canonical form of marriage, does that mean they’re members of the Church too?

    The real reason the excommunicated are members of the Church (unless the excommunication is for heresy, apostasy, or schism) is that the penalty applied today is a watered-down partial excommunication invented in the 15th Century. According to Scholastic authors, it is excommunicatio plena et perfecta that cuts one off from the Church, that is, vitandus excommunication. Billot says that excommunicati tolerati belong to the body of the Church whether they are occult or notorious excommunicants, and nowadays there are only tolerati.

    [It seems that we have a couple different notions of membership working side by side. If you are baptized, you are a member of Christ’s Mystical Person, the Church. You may have cut yourself from the life giving source that she is. But you cannot be de-baptized.]

  2. fmsb78 says:

    “It isn’t as easy to get excommunicated as one might think.” Unless you go against the current and draw the line for tradition. In that case, excommunication can be expedited. It comes to mind a name of a certain French Archbishop [That was not an easy excommunication from the point of view of the act he performed: consecration of a bishop without pontifical mandate. I guess it was “easy” in sense that by that very act he incurred it.]
    from the 70s and just recently a priest in Italy…

  3. JabbaPapa says:

    cengime :

    Dr Peters is technically right that the excommunicated are still members of the Church, but his arguments for this do not make sense. The excommunicated are still bound by the canons about fasting, Mass attendance, and canonical form of marriage because they have been baptised in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism, which makes them subjects of ecclesiastical law (c. 11). But being subjects of the Church does not make them members of it, and he is making a mistake by collapsing these categories.

    No, you’re wrong — not every person excommunicated is an Apostate, and it is you who’s “collapsing categories”.

    It was definitively established in the 15th Century that, without actual Apostasy, the excommunicated do not cease to belong to the Church ; indeed, Pope Martin V expressly forbade attempts to ostracise them.

  4. HvonBlumenthal says:

    It comes up a lot in connection with SSPX. Since only Abp Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated were excommunicated, logically the priests of the SSPX were not. After that the excommunications were lifted, so it is absurd to talk of any SSPX priests or bishops being excommunicated, let alone laity who go to their masses.

    Yet people, especially conservative Catholics, continue to use this kind of language about SSPX

  5. iPadre says:

    vitandus – Kind of like the early Church. “Therefore do not associate with them” Eps 5:7 Everyone wants to return to the “early” Church, the “historical” Church. Bet they wouldn’t like what It had to offer. Confession once in your lifetime after Baptism, etc…

  6. cengime says:

    not every person excommunicated is an Apostate, — Which is not what I said.

    It was definitively established in the 15th Century that, without actual Apostasy, the excommunicated do not cease to belong to the Church ; indeed, Pope Martin V expressly forbade attempts to ostracise them. — Not true. Martin V explicitly said in Ad Evitanda that this legislation was for the benefit of the faithful, not the excommunicated person: “omnibus Christi fidelibus tenore praesentium misericorditer indulgemus…. Per hoc tamen huiusmodi excommunicatos, suspensos et interdictos, non intendimus in aliquo relevare, nec eis quomodolibet suffragari.” Though we are not obliged to shun the excommunicatus toleratus, we are entirely free to shun him voluntarily.

  7. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Inconceivable

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    Ad Evitanda Scandala states really that there is no need to shun such persons as much in sacred spaces and in the Rites, as in any circumstances outside of such spaces and undertakings, i.e. either in church or the world.

    This is, quite simply, a polite Latin way of stating “you will stop doing this” ; even though no ecclesiastical nor canonical penalty is attached to a refusal of obedience of this Constitution.

    As for your “Per hoc tamen huiusmodi excommunicatos, suspensos et interdictos, non intendimus in aliquo relevare, nec eis quomodolibet suffragari“, I have no idea where you’ve taken it from, as it is NOT from Pope Martin V’s Ad Evitanda Scandala.

    For your assistance, here is the full text :

    ———-

    Ad evitanda scandala et multa pericula, subveniendumque conscientiis timoratis, omnibus Christi fidelibus, tenore praesentium, misericorditer indulgemus, quod nemo deinceps a communione alicius in sacramentorum administratione vel receptione aut aliis quibuscumque divinis, vel extra ; praetextu cuiuscumque sententiae aut censurae ecclesiasticae a iure vel ab homine generaliter promulgatae, teneatur abstinere vel aliquem vitare ac interdictum ecclesiasticum observare : nisi sententia vel censura huiusmodi fuerit in vel contra personam collegium universitatem ecclesiam communitatem aut locum certum vel certa a iudice publicata vel denunciata specialiter et expresse : constitutionibus apostolicis et aliis in contrarium facientibus non obstantibus quibuscumque ; salvo si quem pro sacrilegio et manuum iniectione in clerum sententiam latam a canone adeo notorie constiterit incidisse, quod factum non possit aliqua tergiversationi celari, nec aliquo iuris suffragio excusari. Nam a communione illius, licet denunciatus non fuerit, volumus abstineri, iuxta canonicas sanctiones.

    Take note, that communio here refers not to the Holy Eucharist, but it is used as meaning “association” more generally ; praetextu has the very same negative connotation as the equivalent word in modern English ; as for nemo deinceps a communione alicius (…) teneatur abstinere vel aliquem vitare, it’s : “no-one hence shall hold that (…) are to be [these are absolute infinitives] shunned nor avoided by anyone”

    etc.

  9. Joe in Canada says:

    Well, yes, truth is truth.
    I hate to give comfort to pro-abortion Catholics, who will use this to say “see, we’re not so bad after all”.

  10. Pius Admirabilis says:

    @ cengime:

    Although I cannot contribute much to this discussion, and I go off-topic with this; I just want to thank you for standing up for Tradition! Maybe your account is not complete, and if I had more time, I would certainly argue some points you made, but generally I highly appreciate your attempt at clearing up this question!

    I think Peters’s article falls horribly short, and is wrong many times – thus I agree with you in your criticism.

    [You should read Peters’ book on excommunication. HERE]

  11. Imrahil says:

    While Dr Peters is, and I should say obviously, right, this does not mean that the law ought not to be changed in such a way as to excommunicate parliamentarians that vote against penalizing or for de-penalizing abortion, and that fail to initiate and support a move for re-penalizing abortion when the Church says they should.

  12. cengime says:

    That is well and good, except that teneatur is passive: “let no one be bound to shun or avoid someone, unless…” That is why there is no penalty attached for disobedience. He isn’t binding the faithful to do anything, he is mercifully indulging those whose minds are disturbed about whether they have to shun certain individuals due to the advent of a large number of crimes incurring latae sententiae excommunication. Now they are not bound to shun someone unless there has been a judicial sentence in his case, or he has notoriously committed sacrilegious violence against a cleric. However, the excommunicated person is still obliged not to associate with the faithful in divinis of his own accord.

    I found the last sentence of the bull in the text on pp. 285–6 of the first volume of Giuseppe Ferrari’s Summa Institutionum Canonicarum, 7th edition. I also found it quoted by Samuel B. Smith in his treatise Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, volume III, p. 285.

    Fr Z: I think that link is not to the book intended.

  13. TonyO says:

    Wait just a minute. The Church does not claim to be free from error in levying an excommunication. The Church authority (bishop, pope, whomever) might be in error about the facts or about the person’s obstinacy in his actions. Hence an excommunication might be handed out to a person who is not guilty of the act or who is guilty of it in the past but not deserving of the extreme censure now because of repentance. Excommunication is a temporal penalty, and it does not declare the state of soul of a person. There have been in the past numerous bishops with mutual excommunications, in the history of heresies and schisms, and (almost of necessity) at least one bishop had it all wrong.

    If a person is excommunicated unjustly, then, he is not judged by the Church to be in a state of current damnation if he should die at that moment. It is a censure, not a state of soul determination. God alone judges souls.

    So, if a person is excommunicated unjustly, he is (really) deprived of access to the sacraments, but he may possibly be in a state of grace and thus be in reality within the Church and within God’s favor.

  14. JabbaPapa says:

    cengime :

    That is well and good, except that teneatur is passive: “let no one be bound to shun or avoid someone, unless…”

    That’s not how Latin works.

    It’s “let it be held by none that (…), unless”

  15. cengime says:

    But then Martin would desire that it be teneatur a nemine and not that nemo…teneatur. You are twisting his words. Stop torturing the grammar and use plain common sense. Would he really deny us the right to avoid, say, receiving the sacraments from Richard Williamson?

  16. JabbaPapa says:

    cengime :

    But then Martin would desire that it be teneatur a nemine and not that nemo…teneatur. You are twisting his words. Stop torturing the grammar and use plain common sense.

    I am NOT “twisting his words”, you are — Latin Passives do NOT mean the reverse of the Actives, as you keep on implicitly suggesting, but they mean the exact same thing, with the subject and object simply reversed.

    A “tenet” in the 15th Century Latin and the Catholic Tradition is basically “that which is to be believed” — the straightforward Passive Form “teneatur” in the simple Present of the Indicative after “nemo” means very clearly that whatever is being described is for nobody to believe.

    i.e. nobody is to hold, unless specific censures have been proclaimed by the Ecclesial Authority, that anyone at all should be shunned or avoided, either at church or in society, for whatever pretexts of heresy or etc. Specific exception being given against those guilty of violences upon the clergy.

    use plain common sense.

    I prefer to look at what is actually written black on white, than to use “common sense” as a technique of textual analysis.

    Would he really deny us the right to avoid, say, receiving the sacraments from Richard Williamson?

    Oh deary me …

    1) Williamson is under a formally declared penalty of excommunication from the legitimate Authority, and he has therefore been suspended a divinis — this precise situation is very clearly explained in Ad Evitanda Scandala as an exception to its general provisions

    2) Ad Evitanda Scandala establishes no general principles regarding the Sacraments nor the Eucharistic Communion particularly, and as I have already pointed out to you, the word “communio” in the text is used in the meaning of “association, social life, etc” — it is a decree condemning disordered refusals to have ordinary relationships with imperfect Christians, NOT about the necessary State of Grace that one needs to be in for the reception of the Sacraments

  17. cengime says:

    Yes, it reverses the subject and object, just like your payment to whoever taught you Latin ought to be reversed because they did a lousy job.

    nemo teneat — “nobody should hold”

    nemo teneatur — “nobody should be held”

    You see how the subject becomes the object. If you want to specify that it is nobody who should be doing the holding, then you use the ablative case.

    Given your lack of Latin, I am not surprised that although you have posted the text, you did not notice its very explicit reference to the administration and reception of the sacraments as a particular sort of communio that nemo is teneatur to avoid with certain persons.

    Who is the authority who has declared Williamson’s excommunication (the one incurred in 2015)? Anyway, if someone has, substitute your favourite excommunicated cleric.

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Don’t know anything about canon law….

    “Nemo tenetur ad impossibile” is generally translated as “no one is bound (to do) the impossible.”

    I think, then, that it is reasonable to think that this construction is similar or even acting as an allusion, because it is such an old saw — and then we are just looking at the meaning of the subjunctive.

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    As for the postscript or whatever it was…. It would seem that a statement of having no intention of mitigating a sentence or showing favor for the convicted does not mean that the pope in question had no compassion for the excommunicated. A prison warden could order that steps be taken to prevent prison rape, or enable more inmate visits, without it being considered a statement that all the prisoners should be let out early.

    If no compassion can be felt toward the excommunicated, how could it be considered a medicinal penalty? How could any priest urge them toward repentance, without having compassion for them? How could they be fed or clothed?

    To be shunned absolutely as an outlaw is to be encouraged to die alone somewhere, naked and helpless. That was why outlaws in the old barbarian laws were even refused fire and water.

    Jesus, and hence His Church, does not desire a sinner to die in his sins. Therefore excommunication is not like being shunned for outlawry.

  20. JabbaPapa says:

    Suburbanbanshee :

    “Nemo tenetur ad impossibile” is generally translated as “no one is bound (to do) the impossible.”

    That is not the literal meaning — which in English you’d have to render into an active, “The unfeasible holds nobody,” given that English verbal grammar has no simple passive forms. It has a broader meaning than just “nobody is required to do impossible things”. It also means, for example, that accusations of impossible actions are not to be legally held against anyone.

    A pure passive use of the verb is in Cicero’s “bestiae hoc calore tenentur” — “the animals are held (maintained) by/in this warmth”

    But verbal meaning really is defined by uses in context, as well as by voice, aspect, and mood — complicated by the fact that teneor in the Passive varies more semantically than the Active teneo. But the subjunctive “nemo teneatur” >>> nobody should/could be held to >>> can accurately but more roughly rendered as, nobody is to think that they should/could ; the sense “nobody is required to” would not, for starters, be put into subjunctive (which here is very close to an imperative, as is perfectly normal of course), but it would be also expressed quite differently.

    Crikey, and that’s not to even get into such complexities as passive forms used to express a middle-voice sense, such as in “magno desiderio teneor” …

    You can see from the internet anyway, particular if you look into old European books on theology, that Pope Martin’s Ad Evitanda Scandala was resisted by some in the Church until well after the Council of Trent. It was understood in its time, quite correctly, as constituting a general permission to engage in ordinary relationships with non-orthodox Christians, thereby de facto banning — except in cases of a binding censure or of violence against clergy — the avoidance or shunning of such non-orthodox persons ; albeit not de jure as no penalty has ever been pronounced against those carrying on doing so. It does not, of course, constitute any sort of obligation to engage in such relationships …

    I do not agree with the opinion of some that I might “have no Latin”.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Very informative, Jabbapapa! Thank you!

  22. cengime says:

    Teneatur is in the subjunctive because indirect speech introduced by quod usually is: “We mercifully grant that nobody should be bound.” It is similar in this respect to Plautus’ line Scio iam filius quod amet meus istanc meretricem (“now I know that my son loves that hooker”). After the Classical period, the more learned construction of indirect speech with infinitive and subject accusative died out and this one became dominant, so indulgemus quod + subjunctive is everywhere in medieval legal documents.

  23. JabbaPapa says:

    cengime :

    Teneatur is in the subjunctive because indirect speech introduced by quod usually is: “We mercifully grant that nobody should be bound.” It is similar in this respect to Plautus’ line Scio iam filius quod amet meus istanc meretricem (“now I know that my son loves that hooker”). After the Classical period, the more learned construction of indirect speech with infinitive and subject accusative died out and this one became dominant, so indulgemus quod + subjunctive is everywhere in medieval legal documents.

    All perfectly true and useful, but it addresses not at all the point of contention in sesum.