01 Nov 2014 Articles No comments

Ossuary of James - II: Bad Aramaic Made Easy

Written By Jimmy Akin In 2002 a unique archaeological find was announced: a limestone ossuary (bone box) that may have held the remains of James the “brother" …

Read more

07 Sep 2015 News USA Comments (1)

Poll: majority of Americans unaware of papal visit

A majority of Americans are unaware of the impending visit by Pope Francis, according to a telephone survey of 1,331 Americans conducted in August by the Public…

Read more

04 Sep 2015 News USA No comments

Massive mural of Pope Francis to look out over New York

Huge picture is close to where Francis will celebrate Mass A 225ft tall billboard of Pope Francis has been placed in Midtown Manhattan ahead of the Pope’s visi…

Read more

12 Oct 2015 News Vatican No comments

Be detached from riches in order to follow Christ, Pope says in Angelus address

Pope Francis warned of the dangers of attachment to money in his October 11 Sunday Angelus address. Commenting on the day’s Gospel reading at Mass (Mk. 10:17…

Read more

08 Jun 2016 Articles No comments

The Eucharist's Long Shadow Across the Bible

In God’s request that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:2) we find the second of two Eucharistic types in the book of Genesis. The first was the bread an…

Read more

01 Jul 2016 News No comments

‘Don’t look for scapegoats’: cardinal issues plea with other religious leaders

Cardinal Nichols joins the Archbishop of Canterbuery, the Chief Rabbi and an imam in urging Britain to unite against prejudice The spiritual leader of Catholic…

Read more

05 Oct 2015 News Vatican Comments (2)

Pope warns against Satan’s snares, seductions

In an October 3 homily for the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City, Pope Francis preached on the heavenly war between the good angels, led by St. Michael, and …

Read more

26 Jul 2016 Vatican Comments (1)

Pope Francis to pray at John Paul II's tomb with Children suffering from cancer

Before taking off for WYD in Krakow, Pope Francis will pray at the tomb of St. John Paul II alongside children who have cancer, and will bring their prayers to …

Read more

21 Nov 2015 Asia-Pacific News No comments

Thailand's Five religions sends a strong Message to Paris

On thursday 19th of November, the five recognized and known religions of Thailand came together to unite in a march of Peace and condolence for the people Paris…

Read more
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Does the Church condemn those who disagree with its teachings?

Full Question

Why does the Catholic Church pronounce anathemas upon those who disagree with its teachings? This was done, for example, at the Council of Trent. Isn’t it presumptuous of the Catholic Church to “damn to hell” someone who refuses to submit to its doctrines?


The Catholic Church has no power to damn anyone to hell (that, of course, is each individual’s unique prerogative – if you go to hell, you choose to go there), and the term anathema sit does not mean “let him be damned to hell,” but “let him be cut off.” There is a great difference.

First, let’s examine the biblical meaning of the Greek word anathema. It literally means to be suspended, placed on high, or set aside. In the Bible the term is sometimes used in the positive sense of being to something which is dedicated to God.

For example, in Judith 16:23, “Judith dedicated as a votive offering [anathema] to God all the things of Holofernes that the people had given her, as well as the canopy that she herself had taken from his bedroom.”

In an act of desperation as he saw God’s wrath being kindled against him, the evil King Antiochus “vowed to the Lord, who would no longer have mercy on him, that he would set free the holy city, toward which he had been hurrying with the intention of leveling it to the ground and making it a common graveyard. . . [and that] he would adorn with the finest offerings [anathemata] the temple which he had previously despoiled” (2 Mc 9:13-14, 16). Luke describes the Temple as being, “adorned with costly stones and votive offerings [anathemata]” (Lk 21:5).

In other instances anathema is used in sense of being cursed or cut off. Paul says, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated [anathema] from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin, according to the flesh” (Rom 9:3). He also warns us, “If anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed [anathema]!” (Gal 1:9, see also 1 Cor 16:22).

When the Catholic Church uses the term, such as at the Council of Trent and in its official documents, it is in the sense of excommunication or being cut off from the life-giving unity of the Church. If someone knowingly and publicly denies a defined (de fidei definita) doctrine of the Catholic Church, he can be formally declared to be excommunicated, meaning that he no longer enjoys unity with the Catholic Church.

That’s why, for example, the Council of Trent said, “If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema” (session VI, can. 9). This use of the term anathema has a very precise meaning: Let him be cut off from the Church, not let him be damned to hell. And this is done by the Church in her wisdom as a way of trying to bring the one in error to his senses – before it’s too late and he is damned to hell by virtue of his obstinacy.

An anathema or excommunication is designed to remind the sinner of his eventual fate if he doesn’t repent. That’s why the Church is always ready to absolve and receive back the repentant sinner. That’s why those who willingly disobey the Church’s teachings may be anathematized – so that they will recognize the grave danger of such a course and be willing to return to the fold. And, of course, the Lord himself taught that excommunication is the Church’s most severe method of dealing with members who sin grievously (heresy, schism, willingly procuring or helping someone to procure an abortion, illicitly ordaining bishops, and apostasy) when he said,

If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that “every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses” [Dt 19:15]. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile o r a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt 18:15-18)

Paul expands on the theme of excommunication:

It is widely reported that there is immorality among you and immorality of a kind not found even among the pagans. . . The one who did this should be expelled from your midst. I, for my part, although absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as if present, pronounced judgment on the one who has committed this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus: When you have gathered together and I am with you in spirit with the power of the Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. . . Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough. . . . Purge the evil person from your midst. (1 Cor 5:1-7, 13)


Leave a Reply

  1. most read post
  2. Most Commented
  3. Choose Categories