Can one be excommunicated without knowing it?


#1

Hello all, a question that has been causing me grief for quite some time is whether or not one can incur an automatic excommunication without knowing it.

I'm aware that among a select few sins, the sins of heresy, apostasy, and schism, carry with them the penalty of automatic excommunication.

With this in mind, I am aware that there are other stipulations in canon law that severely narrow those who would be subject to a penalty of an automatic excommunication.

My concern here is in regards to heresy, although I certainly do not hold any heretical beliefs I am concerned about certain occasions in the past where I might have committed the sin of heresy, but am not totally sure.

On one such situation, I was in my Spanish class and off the cuff my teacher asked me (in spanish) what the meaning of life was to me, or what the most important thing in my life was, I can't quite remember. And in the few seconds it took for me to think of an articulate an answer I said finding happiness, I think because I was self conscious about saying something overtly religious which is what I wanted to say but felt too self conscious to. And now after the fact I'm afraid I might have committed the sin of heresy and thus incurred an automatic excommunication because I might have said something contrary to Church teaching; I don't know if the Church has a definitive exclusive teaching on what the meaning of life is, I can imagine a lot of answers being "correct" like: getting to Heaven, serving God, loving God & neighbor, being holy, spreading the gospel, etc. but I'm afraid what I said was done in bad faith because I basically lied and said "finding happiness" because I was afraid to appear really religious in front of my classmates :o I brought this up in confession recently, and the priest didn't comment on it.

I don't think at the time I thought I committed heresy, and I certainly didn't consider the fact that I might have been excommunicated, in fact the worry that I might have committed heresy and incurred an excommunication only arose several weeks after this happened if I remember correctly.

So I'm basically wondering if I have this excommunication business totally wrong, and it's a situation where you can only incur an automatic excommunication if you absolutely know 100% without a doubt that you have earned one. It just makes me sad that such penalties exist as they do where it can leave so many people agonizing and uncertain over their status like I am.

I wouldn't be so concerned normally, because normally with almost any other sin I would be able to simply take it to confession and be absolved, but an automatic excommunication prevents you from participating in the sacraments until the censure is lifted, but I don't even know if I am under a censure! The prospect that my recent confessions could be invalid without me knowing it is plaguing me right now and really robbing me of a sense of peace. :(


#2

Can one be excommunicated without knowing it?

No. To make a long story short:

Can. 1321 §1. No one is punished unless the external violation of a law or precept, committed by the person, is gravely imputable by reason of malice or negligence.


#3

There is a situation where automatic excommunication occurs, and that is material participation in an abortion:

Canon 1398 provides that, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.

Source:ewtn.com/expert/answers/abortio2.htm


#4

Matthew91, I encourage you to do a little basic research on what constitutes heresy. What you said in class isn't heresy by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that your priest didn't say anything about it when you confessed it is a clue. ;)


#5

[quote="LittleRose, post:3, topic:308000"]
There is a situation where automatic excommunication occurs, and that is material participation in an abortion:

[/quote]

With exceptions, as noted at the end of the link you provided.


#6

[quote="Matthew91, post:1, topic:308000"]
Hello all, a question that has been causing me grief for quite some time is whether or not one can incur an automatic excommunication without knowing it.

I'm aware that among a select few sins, the sins of heresy, apostasy, and schism, carry with them the penalty of automatic excommunication.

With this in mind, I am aware that there are other stipulations in canon law that severely narrow those who would be subject to a penalty of an automatic excommunication.

My concern here is in regards to heresy, although I certainly do not hold any heretical beliefs I am concerned about certain occasions in the past where I might have committed the sin of heresy, but am not totally sure.

On one such situation, I was in my Spanish class and off the cuff my teacher asked me (in spanish) what the meaning of life was to me, or what the most important thing in my life was, I can't quite remember. And in the few seconds it took for me to think of an articulate an answer I said finding happiness, I think because I was self conscious about saying something overtly religious which is what I wanted to say but felt too self conscious to. And now after the fact I'm afraid I might have committed the sin of heresy and thus incurred an automatic excommunication because I might have said something contrary to Church teaching; I don't know if the Church has a definitive exclusive teaching on what the meaning of life is, I can imagine a lot of answers being "correct" like: getting to Heaven, serving God, loving God & neighbor, being holy, spreading the gospel, etc. but I'm afraid what I said was done in bad faith because I basically lied and said "finding happiness" because I was afraid to appear really religious in front of my classmates :o I brought this up in confession recently, and the priest didn't comment on it.

I don't think at the time I thought I committed heresy, and I certainly didn't consider the fact that I might have been excommunicated, in fact the worry that I might have committed heresy and incurred an excommunication only arose several weeks after this happened if I remember correctly.

So I'm basically wondering if I have this excommunication business totally wrong, and it's a situation where you can only incur an automatic excommunication if you absolutely know 100% without a doubt that you have earned one. It just makes me sad that such penalties exist as they do where it can leave so many people agonizing and uncertain over their status like I am.

I wouldn't be so concerned normally, because normally with almost any other sin I would be able to simply take it to confession and be absolved, but an automatic excommunication prevents you from participating in the sacraments until the censure is lifted, but I don't even know if I am under a censure! The prospect that my recent confessions could be invalid without me knowing it is plaguing me right now and really robbing me of a sense of peace. :(

[/quote]

Canon Law makes it impossible to incur a penalty without knowing that you are committing something that actually incurs the penalty. If you're under a censure, you will know it. There are no gotchas in Canon Law's schedule of penalties.

What you said is not heresy. And in any case, even if it was, and you didn't know it was an excommunicable offense, You've stated several times that you were not sure and did not know if. That sounds honest and that alone prevents you from incurring any excommunication. That plus the fact that you actually committed no heresy should only reinforce that.


#7

Also, excommunication is remedied with true confession and repentance.


#8

[quote="Matthew91, post:1, topic:308000"]
Hello all, a question that has been causing me grief for quite some time is whether or not one can incur an automatic excommunication without knowing it.

[/quote]

You mentioned being a student, so it strikes me as a real chance that you are young (a minor by canon law). If so, there is no way you incurred the penalty of automatic excommunication. Canon law excludes minors from that, as far as I know. (CIC 1323 and 1324, which are a lot to read, actually).

But, say you are of age. If you honestly did not know of the penalty in canon law, but only found out after the incident, you are also off the hook for automatic excommunication. Otherwise all sorts of people would go crazy with worry once they did find out about what automatic excommunication is and the list of them, looking back over their life, worrying excessively. Mortal sin can still apply, of course.

There are many other mitigating circumstances, like inadvertence.

I can't imagine saying "finding happiness" when on the spot in class as a declaration of *obstinate *heresy. You weren't resolutely denying a doctrine of the faith. The priest would have told you if you needed to do anything more about a particular sin. Talk with your priest if you need more reassurance! He will help you feel better if you don't already. :)
2089*Incredulity *is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. "*Heresy *is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; *apostasy *is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; *schism *is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him."11


#9

Ok, to begin with, even a priest can lift an excommunication in confession, and a penitent has by canon law the right to have the excommunication lifted. Only some very grave cases are reserved to the Holy See.

Heresy would be to claim that Christ was not God, not to say that ultimately we seek happiness. Where's the heresy in that!? :) God is happiness, and Christ did say: "ask, that your joy be made full".

The error, however, would be to fall into hedonism, because while ultimately we do seek joy, the path to true happiness is far from being an easy one...in fact, it is a most sorrowful one. And how could it be otherwise? For every time I enjoy myself I am still haunted by the tears of the millions dying of hunger and sickness.

Mention it to your priest but relax :)


#10

Material heresy is the heretical belief itself. Formal heresy is the knowing and deliberate choice to adhere to material heresy. If you hold an heretical belief, but without realizing it is heresy, then it is not formal heresy.

The sin of heresy only excommunicates if it is formal heresy, not mere material heresy.


#11

Thank you all for your replies, but one more question: I was getting anxious about this subject so I spoke to my dad about it, and he was trying to reassure me even though he didn't seem to know much about this specific issue, and if I remember right he was saying basically that canon law doesn't apply to God, not that we shouldn't follow it (of course we should), but that even if my unwarranted fears were warranted God looks beyond canons that can be changed and looks at the heart. And periodically through saying things of this sort, I was unsure if what he was saying was correct, and he would periodically pause and ask me if I agreed with what he was saying, and I'd nod and "mhm" and there was a moment he said something similar to what was said above, and I think I doubted the accuracy of what he was saying thinking what was said might have been heretical (not to say he sinned in doing so, I don't think he knows much about this issue, so if he said something wrong it was out of ignorance I believe) and I motioned to agree with it on a spur of the moment reaction but immediately after, I was afraid I agreed with something that might have been heretical.

It's not like I wanted to do so, the entire purpose of the conversation was to allay fears that I might have committed such sin, but I'm afraid in that spur of the moment agreeing with what he said that might have been heretical I committed the sin of heresy. Thinking reasonably I don't think so, I didn't really think and evaluate what I motioned to agree with although I think my emotional reaction was "I don't think this sounds right" but motioned to agree with what he said anyway

And I guess this question ties into what does it mean that a doubt or denial must be "obstinate" when it comes to committing heresy? Does this mean that it is not merely a momentary thought or declaration? But rather a situation where you are presented with an idea, you have to know for sure it is heretical, and you need to accept it knowing full well the consequences at the moment you decide to accept that view? In my situation it's not like I thought beforehand that I was committing a sin and decided to do so, It was quite the opposite if I remember correctly, It was a reaction that only after the fact did I consider that I may have done something wrong.


#12

I think you are OK, but you can always confess it next time you go to confession, and certainly there is no worry about having to be dispensed from heresy, etc. and all that. Leave it to your confessor to tell you what to do, and don't worry (even though I think you are fine).

By the way, isn't "finding happiness" not too far off the mark? After all, remember what the old Baltimore Catechism says:

Question: Why did God make you?

Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.


#13

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