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The expression anathema ( ancient Greek ἀνάθημα or ἀνάθεμα "the consecrated, cursed"), also anathema , ban ray , church ban or - in connection with a curse - ban curse , denotes a condemnation by a church , which is accompanied by the exclusion from the ecclesiastical community and canonically with a excommunication is to be equated.


The original meaning of the word is set up (noun to ἀνατιθέναι set up). From there, the term narrowed to the deity placed in the temple, consecration gift (see Anathem ) and further to the deity surrendered to the deity, left to her grace or anger (as in the Septuagint ).

This resulted in anáthema estô as a formula: He be given up (to God)! In this sense the word appears several times in the New Testament ( Gal 1,8  EU ; 1 Cor 12,3  EU [from Jesus ]; 1 Cor 16,22  EU ; Rom 9,3  EU ).

The focus of its originally dualistic blessing and curse character was already in the Septuagint and especially in the New Testament on the curse. This meant the segregation from the divinely protected area, combined with the surrender to the judgment of God. So it was adopted into the language of the church ( church Latin ) and also into German.

The Orthodox Churches still define, strictly according to the original meaning, that an anathema is not a curse by the church, but that the person concerned is left to himself outside the church.

Text example

Si quis unum verum Deum visibilium et invisibilium creatorem et Dominum negaverit: anathema sit. ( Vaticanum I : Constitutio dogmatica " Dei Filius " de fide catholica, Canon 1.1)

Whoever denies the one true God, the Creator and Lord of visible and invisible things, is excluded.


The anathema since the New Testament has been the traditional reaction of the church to heresy ( Gal 1,8  EU ) as well as to serious cases of sin without the will to repent (cf. 1 Cor 5,12f.  EU ).

Since the Synod of Elvira (around 306), conciliar doctrinal condemnations have been pronounced using the anathema formula.

Forty years after his death, Pope Honorius I was given the anathema by the Third Council of Constantinople (680/681) because of his indulgent attitude towards the monothelets .

In 1054 the eastern and western churches mutually occupied one another with anathematics.

In church Latin , the word according to Gal 1,8 became the technical term for the exclusion from the church fellowship ( excommunication ), which was imposed or threatened on heretics and obedience refusers. According to the underlying conviction, the executed ban separated not only from the church , but also from God . According to the Pontificale Romanum, the anathema was imposed in a solemn form (c. 2257 §2 CIC / 1917), which was later not adopted by the CIC / 1983.

Due to inflation and its use as a means of political pressure by many popes , the anathema already lost the character of an exclusive church punishment and thus its effectiveness in the Middle Ages . A well-known example is the bull of excommunication, Decet Romanum Pontificem , after which Martin Luther was excommunicated on January 3, 1521.

The two dogmatic constitutions Dei Filius and Pastor Aeternus of the First Vatican Council (1870) were concluded by canons, which are formulated as anathemic.

The texts of the Second Vatican Council do not use the anathema, since this council was designed more as a pastoral council and deliberately avoided doctrinal condemnations. On the last day of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, in Rome and in Constantinople, the anathemas of the year 1054 “were solemnly erased from the memory and from the center of the Church and the condemnations of the Eastern Churches against the Western and the Western against the Eastern repealed ”.

Even the current Roman Catholic canon law (CIC / 1983) does not recognize the ban on church, but the church punishment of excommunication .

Major and minor excommunication

Until 1869, a distinction was made between the small church ban and the big church ban :

See also


  • Konrad Zawadzki: The beginnings of the “anathema” in the early church. Part 1: Status quaestionis. In: Vox Patrum. 28, No. 52, 2008, ISSN  0860-9411 , pp. 1323-1343.
  • Konrad Zawadzki: The beginnings of the “anathema” in the early church. Part 2: Clues to the anathema in the New Testament. In: Vox Patrum. 29, No. 53/54, 2009, pp. 495-520.
  • Konrad Zawadzki: The beginnings of the “anathema” in the early church. Part 3: Practice of anathematization in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and in the apocryphal letter to the Corinthians. In: Vox Patrum 30, No. 55, 2010, pp. 721-766.

Individual evidence

  1. As the emphasis shows, it is not based on the Greek ἀνάθημα, but ἀνάθεμα.
  2. Denzinger-Schönmetzer : Enchiridion Symbolorum. Editio XXXIV. Herder, Freiburg 1965, p. 592
  3. Denzinger-Schönmetzer: Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum Editio XXXIV. Herder, Freiburg 1965, pp. 592-601
  4. Nikolaus Wyrwoll in