Yesterday I wrote on the excommunication scene in the movie Beckett . Last night while looking up the exact definition of anathema , I found the actual text of the old rite of anathematization, the gravest form of excommunication:

“Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive N— himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate . . . .”

In the film, it all ends there. Lord Gilbert is condemned to eternal fire. The honor of God is defended. So be it.

But the actual declaration continues: “so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.” The whole point of the act is made clear: Excommunication is the last resort to bring about repentance and salvation. It should be a punishment given in mercy and for good, not out of vengeance.

Though Becket’s declaration of excommunicaton ends in judgment, the story continues. For as he proceeds to confront the sheriff sent to arrest him, the chorus of monks begins the Miserere of Psalm 51—a reminder of their own sinfulness and an example of the right response to it.

Articles by Nathaniel Peters

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