excommunication, formal expulsion from a religious body, the most grave of all ecclesiastical censures. Where religious and social communities are nearly identical it is attended by social ostracism, as in the case of Baruch Spinoza, excommunicated by the Jews. In Christianity the Roman Catholic Church especially retains excommunication; the church maintains that the spiritual separation of the offender from the body of the faithful takes place by the nature of the act when the offense is committed, and the decree of excommunication (or anathema) is a warning and formal proclamation of exclusion from Christian society. Those who die excommunicate are not publicly prayed for; but excommunication is not equivalent to damnation. Excommunications vary in gravity, and in grave cases readmission may be possible only by action of the Holy See. Excommunicates are always free to return to the church on repentance. Protestant churches have generally abandoned excommunication.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.