Anathema (in Greek Ανάθεμα) meaning originally something lifted up as an offering to the gods; later, with evolving meanings, it came to mean:
# to be formally set apart,
# banished, exiled, excommunicated or
# denounced, sometimes accursed


There is some difficulty translating this word, especially since it has now become commonly associated with the term "accursed". The original meaning of the Greek word, as used in non-Biblical Greek literature, was an offering to a god. "Herem" meant something 'forbidden' or 'off limits.' The Hebrew word was used in verses such as ; ); and "none devoted shall be ransomed. He shall surely be put to death" ( an idol is called a "herem" = "anathema", understood to mean a thing accursed. There is, however, an alternative view that the Greek word 'anathema,' in these passages, was used by the Greek Septuagint translators to mean "offered up to God."

In the New Testament

The traditional view is that in the New Testament the word anathema always implies "denouncement" and "banishment". In some cases an individual pronounces an anathema on himself if certain conditions are not fulfilled (). "To call Jesus denounced" ["anathema"] ( denotes that they who love not the Lord are objects of loathing and execration to all holy beings; they are unrepentant of a crime that merits the severest condemnation; they are exposed to the sentence of "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" for they do not embrace saving beliefs, as was the sentence of all mankind before the atonement, justification and sanctification of the blood of Christ Jesus that washed away our sins. The alternative view is that Paul is saying that those who do not love the Lord should be offered up to God.

It must be said that an Anathema in the New Testament is merely a serious charge laid against a person to be delivered up for the immediate but temporary judgment of God in order to prevent the spread of false doctrine. The ultimate goal is meant to restore one to fellowship and to cease their error and to end false teaching and bad doctrine. Both the Church's process of excommunication and the Lord bringing tragedy into the offender's life is performed with the hope of bringing the offender back into a right understanding of the scripture and into a right relationship with both God and their brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

The offenses which preclude Anathema such as to preach another gospel (), are forgivable as with all offenses and sins except unbelief in the Lord Jesus Christ which may be called blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (). To our Lord Jesus Christ's preaching that all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme ().

It is valuable to note that the offense of preaching the gospel of circumcision was also dealt with in , which directs the church to "...mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned, and avoid them. For they … by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple", and , etc.] of vanity and the tares [Cf. ] of the passions make it to bear but little fruit in certain places and none in others, and with the increase in iniquity, some, opposing the truth of Thy Gospel by heresy, and others by schism, do fall away from Thy dignity, and rejecting Thy grace, the subject themselves to the judgment of Thy most holy word. O most merciful and almighty Lord … be merciful unto us; strengthen us in the right Faith by Thy power, and with Thy divine light illumine the eyes of those in error, that they may come to know Thy truth. Soften the hardness of their hearts and open their ears, that they may hear Thy voice and turn to Thee, our Saviour. O Lord, set aside their division and correct their life, which doth not accord with Christian piety. … Endue the pastors of Thy Church with holy zeal, and so direct their care for the salvation and conversion of those in error with the spirit of the Gospel that, guided by Thee, we may all attain to that place where is the perfect faith, fulfillment of hoe, and true love …." The Protodeacon then proclaims the Synodicon, anathematizing various heresies and lauding those who have remained constant in the dogma and Sacred Tradition of the church.

Roman Catholic Church

While "minor excommunication" could be incurred by associating with an excommunicate, and "major excommunication" could be imposed by any bishop, "anathema" was imposed by the Pope in a specific ceremony described in the "Pontificale Romanum". Wearing a purple cope (the liturgical color of penitence) and holding a lighted candle, he, surrounded by twelve priests, also with lighted candles, pronounced the anathema with a formula that concluded with the words:

Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive (Name) himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.

The priests respond: "Fiat, fiat, fiat" (Let it be done), and all, including the pontiff, cast their lighted candles on the ground. Notice is sent in writing to the priests and neighbouring bishops of the name of the one who has been thus excommunicated and the cause of his excommunication, in order that they may have no communication with him. Although he is delivered to Satan and his angels, he can still, and is even bound to repent. The Pontifical gives the form for absolving him and reconciling him with the Church."The Catholic Encyclopedia", [ Anathema] ]

The 1917 Code of Canon Law, which abolished all ecclesiastical penalties not mentioned in the Code itself (canon 6), made "anathema" synonymous with "excommunication" (canon 2257). The ritual described above is not included in the post-Vatican II revision of the Pontifical.


See also

* Christian Excommunication
*Mark and Avoid

External links

* [ "Anathema" from "Catholic Answers"]
* [ "Anathema" in "New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia"]
* [ Anathema sit] in Everything2
* [ St. Paul's Anathema Esto in Galatians One by Gerald O. Hoenecke]
* [ Christian Cyclopedia article on Anathema]
* [ The Word "Anathema" and it's Meaning] Eastern Orthodox view by St. John Maximovitch
* [ What is Anathema] by Theophan the Recluse
* [ The Sunday of Orthodoxy]

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