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The expression anathema ( Ancient Greek ἀνάθημα or ἀνάθεμα "the consecrated to God, curse"), also anathem , ban ray , excommunication or - in connection with a curse - ban curse , denotes a condemnation by a church that goes hand in hand with the exclusion from the ecclesiastical community and canon law tantamount to excommunication .


The original meaning of the word is set up (set up noun to ἀνατιθέναι) . From there the term narrowed to that which is set up in the temple, a gift of consecration (see Anathem ) and further to that which is delivered up to the deity, left to her mercy or wrath (as in the Septuagint ).

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

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 separation from the divinely protected area, combined with surrender to God's judgement. So it was adopted into the language of the Church ( Church Latin ) and also into German.

The Orthodox Churches still define it strictly according to the original meaning that an anathema is not a curse by the Church, but the one concerned is left to his own devices outside the Church.

text sample

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)

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


Since the New Testament, the anathema has been the church's traditional reaction to heresy ( Gal 1.8  EU ) and 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 through the anathema formula.

Pope Honorius I was anathema forty years after his death by the Third Council of Constantinople (680/681) for his lenient attitude towards the Monothelites .

In 1054 the Eastern and Western Churches mutually anathematized each other.

In ecclesiastical Latin , after Gal 1.8, the word became the technical term for exclusion from the church community ( excommunication ), which was imposed on heretics and disobedient ones or threatened with them. According to the conviction on which it was based, the completed ban separated not only from the church , but also from God . The anathema was imposed in a solemn form according to the Pontificale Romanum (c. 2257 §2 CIC /1917), which was later not adopted by the CIC/1983.

Due to inflation and use as a means of political pressure by many popes , the anathema lost its character as an exclusive church punishment and thus its effectiveness as early as the Middle Ages. A well-known example is the bull of excommunication Decet Romanum Pontificem , according to 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 formulated as anathema.

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

Even the current Roman Catholic canon law (CIC/1983) knows no excommunication, but the church penalty of excommunication .

Major and minor excommunication

Until 1869, a distinction was made between the minor church ban and the major church ban :

See also


  • Konrad Zawadzki: The Beginnings of "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 "Anathema" in the Early Church. Part 2: Evidence for Anathema in the New Testament. In: Vox Patrum. 29, No. 53/54, 2009, pp. 495-520.
  • Konrad Zawadzki: The Beginnings of "Anathema" in the Early Church. Part 3: Anathematization Practice 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.


  1. As the emphasis shows, it is not based on the Greek ἀνάθημα but on ἀνάθεμα.
  2. Denzinger-Schönmetzer : Enchiridion Symbolorum. Edition 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