Church excommunication and exclusion from heaven

How come an excommunicated person has a possibility to go to heaven if the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth (therefore not being in communion with Christ) and outside the Church there’s no possibility of salvation?

You misunderstand the idea of salvation. We are not saved by being Catholic (many Catholics will probably go to hell).

We are saved by Christian Baptism ALONE (and you don’t need to be Catholic to receive that). We can forfeit our salvation through mortal sin, but can regain it through Sacramental Confession (which, admittedly, one must normally be Catholic to receive, but the Church does not teach that Baptized persons are likely (or unlikely) to fall into mortal sin).

Excommunication is a judicial process (not a doctrinal process), normally pronounced by a tribunal of judges (who are often not even ordained Catholic ministers, but laypeople who are canon lawyers). Excommunication is not an infallible proclamation of the Church. It is entirely possible that a person may be excommunicate who is not actually guilty of mortal sin, in which case that person goes to heaven, because excommunication does not condemn us - only mortal sin can do that.

St. Joan of Arc was excommunicate when she died. She is now a Saint of the Church.

Bishops do not have the power to sever someone from the Mystical Body of Christ. Even in the old days when some transgressions resulted in being shunned, the act of excommunication did not put a man outside the Church. If the transgressor were outside the Church, he did that himself by his schismatic act. The declaration of excommunication merely alerted the faithful that he in fact did this, and applied various remedial penalties to the transgressor (exclusion from the sacraments, and so on, depending on the crime).

But the Church’s declaration can be mistaken, as in the case of St. Joan of Arc, who was wrongly charged with heresy. Her excommunication did not sever her from the Church, but merely brought disgrace to her name for a time and made her suffer the more grievously at her death.

I’m sorry, but this is incorrect. If we have to do something to maintain our baptismal grace then it is not baptism alone (but faith, hope, charity, obedience, good works, union with the Church, etc.–of course according to our age, knowledge, ability, state in life, etc.).

St. Augustine maintained that the sacraments do not avail unto salvation for heretics; and whether or not he was right, Vatican II teaches in any case that men cannot benefit fully from the means of salvation unless united with the Church (UR 3).

Sorry, but it is correct, and (unlike you) I can actually cite it:

By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God. [CCC 1263, emphasis mine]

The part about “nothing remains” really and literally means that nothing remains - not faith, or works, or anything else. The Church does not teach that Baptism + ANYTHING leads to salvation. That idea is absolute, unmitigated heresy, and is borne of the fathers of the protestant faiths.

It is possible that our FAILURE to have faith, or perform works, etc might (or might not) constitute mortal sin, which could nullify our Baptismal Grace (which is restored, not by faith or works or any other thing, but by Sacramental Confession).

Inclusion in the Church, or the Kingdom work of God
is THRU Jesus death and resurrection! Anyone who
believes in that is SAVED and go to heaven.
However, the **Church on earth **that Jesus came to
form IS BUILT ON Peter(Matt 16:18) Even tho it
has suffered A LOT of attacks from the enemy
AS PREDICTED by the phrase “gates of hell will
not PREVAIL AGAINST her” Gates are the Strongest
parts of any city in antiquity(2 Sam 11:22-23, Gen 24:60)
and THE FACT that the Catholic Church has suffered
more attacks from hell than any other church organization
attests to her AUTHENTICITY!!!

From the catholic ecyclopedia: "a medicinal rather than a vindictive penalty, being intended, not so much to punish the culprit, as to correct him and bring him back to the path of righteousness. "

Because no one on earth can know what is in the heart of a person, excommunicated or not, or what will happen even at the moment of death in their own soul, or the mercy of God.

A person may be excommunicated on the information that is apparent, but there may well be any multitude of details that only God can know. Only God can know whether one is truly severed from the Body of Christ.

I was told this by a Canon Lawyer, this is not merely my personal opinion

David, I’ve created a new thread to deal with this issue, so that we don’t derail the thread anymore. I know, I started it. :o

It is true, excommunicated persons are not members of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, as Pope Pius XII declared:

[quote=Mystici Corporis]22. Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.


That being said, there are situations where an excommunicated person is not severed from the Church in the eyes of God and may be saved. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

[quote=CE, Excommunication]An excommunication is said to be null when it is invalid because of some intrinsic or essential defect, e.g. when the person inflicting it has no jurisdiction, when the motive of the excommunication is manifestly incorrect and inconsistent, or when the excommunication is essentially defective in form. Excommunication is said to be unjust when, though valid, it is wrongfully applied to a person really innocent but believed to be guilty. Here, of course, it is not a question of excommunication latæ sententiæ and in foro interno, but only of one imposed or declared by judicial sentence. It is admitted by all that a null excommunication produces no effect whatever, and may be ignored without sin (cap. ii, de const., in VI). But a case of unjust excommunication brings out in a much more general way the possibility of conflict between the forum internum and the forum externum, between legal justice and the real facts. In chapter xxviii, de sent. excomm. (Lib. V, tit. xxxix), Innocent III formally admits the possibility of this conflict. Some persons, he says, may be free in the eyes of God but bound in the eyes of the Church; vice versa, some may be free in the eyes of the Church but bound in the eyes of God: for God’s judgment is based on the very truth itself, whereas that of the Church is based on arguments and presumptions which are sometimes erroneous. He concludes that the chain by which the sinner is bound in the sight of God is loosed by remission of the fault committed, whereas that which binds him in the sight of the Church is severed only by removal of the sentence. Consequently, a person unjustly excommunicated is in the same state as the justly excommunicated sinner who has repented and recovered the grace of God; he has not forfeited internal communion with the Church, and God can bestow upon him all necessary spiritual help. However, while seeking to prove his innocence, the censured person is meanwhile bound to obey legitimate authority and to behave as one under the ban of excommunication, until he is rehabilitated or absolved.

Hmm, does “legitimate authority” here refer merely to canon law (if you do X, you will excommunicate yourself), or does it also include a personal power of the holy father and/or bishops in communion with him? If the latter, I will eat my words, but I’d like to see some more documentation. And if it is a personal power, can it be exercised arbitrarily and still be valid?

I’m definitely no expert in this area, but from what I understand, the “sins of separation” that automatically make one cease to be a member of the Church are schism, heresy, and apostasy. But this doesn’t mean that the Church can’t punish other sins with a true and valid excommunication.

What sins permit of excommunication or lead to it automatically have historically been governed at least to some extent by canon law to remove the risk of partiality and abuse, but canon law itself exists based on the power of the Pope and bishops, who enact it–they are determining who is worthy of excommunication and who is not. Fundamentally, however, this power to excommunicate originates in the bishop (the Bishop of Rome of course being supreme in this matter). There was obviously no canon law when St. Paul excommunicated the incestuous man in Corinth.

This discretionary power in the bishop is implied in this passage from the Council of Trent, which gives guidelines on when excommunications should be used:

[quote=Council of Trent, Session 25]**Although the sword of excommunication is the very sinews of ecclesiastical discipline, and very salutary for keeping the people in their duty, yet it is to be used with sobriety and great circumspection; seeing that experience teaches, that if it be rashly or for slight causes wielded, it is more despised than feared, and produces ruin rather than safety.**Wherefore, those excommunications, which, after certain admonitions, are wont to be issued with the view as it is termed, of causing a revelation, or on account of things that have been lost or stolen, shall be issued by no one whomsoever, but the bishop; and not then, otherwise than on account of some circumstance of no common kind which moves the mind of the bishop thereunto, after the cause has been by him diligently and very maturely weighed ; nor shall he be induced to grant the said excommunications by the authority of any Secular person whatever, even though a magistrate; but the whole shall be left to his own judgment and conscience, when, considering the circumstances, the place, the person, or the time, he shall himself judge that such are to be resolved on.

Today, it seems to me, excommunication is more tightly regulated and less discretionary, but it seems there are still canons that permit a particular sin to be punished with a “just penalty” that may include excommunication if the bishop judges it appropriate, but doesn’t necessarily have to.

As an aside, the discussion on the difference between unjust and invalid excommunications in the CE article I posted earlier is probably important here.


Thanks but I wasn’t merely asking on what grounds prelates can excommunicate. I was asking whether prelates have the personal power to sever others from the Mystical Body of Christ (not just to shun them or exclude them from sacraments). My understanding is no, but I could have been misinformed.


If I’m following you (I may not be!), I think the answer then is yes, for a just cause. It seem it is an act of jurisdiction belonging to the Pope and other bishops.

If it wasn’t part of the Pope’s or a bishop’s power, then only the sins of separation would result in excommunication, but other sins have been punished in this way often over the centuries.

The old Pius X Catechism places excommunicates outside the Church distinguishing them from heretics, schismatics, and apostates, and says excommunicating is done by a Pope or bishop:

11 Q. Who are they who are outside the true Church?
A. Outside the true Church are: Infidels, Jews, heretics, apostates, schismatics, and the excommunicated.

17 Q. Who are the excommunicated?
A. The excommunicated are those who, because of grievous transgressions, are struck with excommunication by the Pope or their Bishop, and consequently are cut off as unworthy from the body of the Church, which, however, hopes for and desires their conversion.

Does that make sense?

The St. Pius passage does seem to support your position. I am prepared to make a retraction, but want to look into the matter further. Where’s Fr David?

Even though the Church can declare an excommunication, no one, other than the sinner themselves, can sever one from the Body of Christ. This is only done through grievous sin.

Excommunication is not a severing, but a warning of extreme spiritual danger.

Do you mean grievous sin with a canonical penalty attached to it, or just in general? The St. Pius X catechism (quoted above) also says:

26 Q: And who are the dead members?
A: The dead members of the Church are the faithful in mortal sin.

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