QUESTION 23: OF COMMUNICATION WITH EXCOMMUNICATED PERSONS
We must now consider communication with those who are excommunicated.
Under this head there are three points of inquiry:
(1) Whether it is lawful to communicate in matters purely corporal with
one who is excommunicated?
(2) Whether one who communicates with an excommunicated person is
(3) Whether it is always a mortal sin to communicate with an
excommunicated person in matters not permitted by law?
Article 1: Whether it is lawful, in matters purely corporal, to communicate with an excommunicated person?
Objection 1: It would seem that it is lawful, in matters purely corporal, to
communicate with an excommunicated person. For excommunication is an act
of the keys. But the power of the keys extends only to spiritual matters.
Therefore excommunication does not prevent one from communicating with
another in matters corporal.
Objection 2: Further, "What is instituted for the sake of charity, does not
militate against charity" (Cf. Question , Article , Objection ). But we are bound by
the precept of charity to succor our enemies, which is impossible without
some sort of communication. Therefore it is lawful to communicate with an
excommunicated person in corporal matters.
On the contrary, It is written (1 Cor. 5:11): "With such an one not so
much as to eat."
I answer that, Excommunication is twofold: there is minor
excommunication, which deprives a man merely of a share in the
sacraments, but not of the communion of the faithful. Wherefore it is
lawful to communicate with a person lying under an excommunication of
this kind, but not to give him the sacraments. The other is major
excommunication which deprives a man of the sacraments of the Church and
of the communion of the faithful. Wherefore it is not lawful to
communicate with one who lies under such an excommunication. But, since
the Church resorts to excommunication to repair and not to destroy,
exception is made from this general law, in certain matters wherein
communication is lawful, viz. in those which concern salvation, for one
is allowed to speak of such matters with an excommunicated person; and
one may even speak of other matters so as to put him at his ease and to
make the words of salvation more acceptable. Moreover exception is made
in favor of certain people whose business it is to be in attendance on
the excommunicated person, viz. his wife, child, slave, vassal or
subordinate. This, however, is to be understood of children who have not
attained their majority, else they are forbidden to communicate with
their father: and as to the others, the exception applies to them if they
have entered his service before his excommunication, but not if they did
Some understand this exception to apply in the opposite way, viz. that
the master can communicate with his subjects: while others hold the
contrary. At any rate it is lawful for them to communicate with others
in matters wherein they are under an obligation to them, for just as
subjects are bound to serve their master, so is the master bound to look
after his subjects. Again certain cases are excepted; as when the fact of
the excommunication is unknown, or in the case of strangers or travelers
in the country of those who are excommunicated, for they are allowed to
buy from them, or to receive alms from them. Likewise if anyone were to
see an excommunicated person in distress: for then he would be bound by
the precept of charity to assist him. These are all contained in the
following line: "Utility, law, lowliness, ignorance of fact, necessity,"
where "utility" refers to salutary words, "law" to marriage, "lowliness"
to subjection. The others need no explanation.
Reply to Objection 1: Corporal matters are subordinate to spiritual matters.
Wherefore the power which extends to spiritual things, can also extend to
matters touching the body: even as the art which considers the end
commands in matters ordained to the end.
Reply to Objection 2: In a case where one is bound by the precept of charity to
hold communication, the prohibition ceases, as is clear from what has
Article 2: Whether a person incurs excommunication for communicating with one who is excommunicated?
Objection 1: It would seem that a person does not incur excommunication for
communicating with one who is excommunicated. For a heathen or a Jew is
more separated from the Church than a person who is excommunicated. But
one does not incur excommunication for communicating with a heathen or a
Jew. Neither, therefore, does one for communicating with an
Objection 2: Further, if a man incurs excommunication for communicating with
an excommunicated person, for the same reason a third would incur
excommunication for communicating with him, and thus one might go on
indefinitely, which would seem absurd. Therefore one does not incur
excommunication for communicating with one who is excommunicated.
On the contrary, An excommunicated person is banished from communion.
Therefore whoever communicates with him leaves the communion of the
Church: and hence he seems to be excommunicated.
I answer that, A person may incur excommunication in two ways. First, so
that the excommunication includes both himself and whosoever communicates
with him: and then, without any doubt, whoever communicates with him,
incurs a major excommunication. Secondly, so that the excommunication is
simply pronounced on him; and then a man may communicate with him either
in his crime, by counsel, help or favor, in which case again he incurs
the major excommunication, or he may communicate with him in other things
by speaking to him, greeting him, or eating with him, in which case he
incurs the minor excommunication.
Reply to Objection 1: The Church has no intention of correcting unbelievers as
well as the faithful who are under her care: hence she does not sever
those, whom she excommunicates, from the fellowship of unbelievers, as
she does from the communion of the faithful over whom she exercises a
Reply to Objection 2: It is lawful to hold communion with one who has incurred a
minor excommunication, so that excommunication does not pass on to a
Article 3: Whether it is always a mortal sin to communicate with an excommunicated person in other cases than those in which it is allowed?
Objection 1: It would seem that it is always a mortal sin to hold communion
with an excommunicated person in other cases than those in which it is
allowed. Because a certain decretal (Cap. Sacris: De his quae vi, metuve,
etc.) declares that "not even through fear of death should anyone hold
communion with an excommunicated person, since one ought to die rather
than commit a mortal sin." But this would be no reason unless it were
always a mortal sin to hold communion with an excommunicated person.
Objection 2: Further, it is a mortal sin to act against a commandment of the
Church. But the Church forbids anyone to hold communion with an
excommunicated person. Therefore it is a mortal sin to hold communion
with one who is excommunicated.
Objection 3: Further, no man is debarred from receiving the Eucharist on
account of a venial sin. But a man who holds communion with an
excommunicated person, outside those cases in which it is allowed, is
debarred from receiving the Eucharist, since he incurs a minor
excommunication. Therefore it is a mortal sin to hold communion with an
excommunicated person, save in those cases in which it is allowed.
Objection 4: Further, no one should incur a major excommunication save for a
mortal sin. Now according to the law (Can. Praecipue, seqq., caus. xi) a
man may incur a major excommunication for holding communion with an
excommunicated person. Therefore it is a mortal sin to hold communion
with one who is excommunicated.
On the contrary, None can absolve a man from mortal sin unless he have
jurisdiction over him. But any priest can absolve a man for holding
communion with those who are excommunicated. Therefore it is not a mortal
Further, the measure of the penalty should be according to the measure
of the sin, as stated in Dt. 25:3. Now the punishment appointed by common
custom for holding communion with an excommunicated person is not that
which is inflicted for mortal sin, but rather that which is due for
venial sin. Therefore it is not a mortal sin.
I answer that, Some hold that it is always a mortal sin to hold
communion with an excommunicated person, by word or in any of the
forbidden ways mentioned above (Article ), except in those cases allowed by
law (Cap. Quoniam). But since it seems very hard that a man should be
guilty of a mortal sin by uttering just a slight word to an
excommunicated person, and that by excommunicating a person one would
endanger the salvation of many, and lay a snare which might turn to one's
own hurt, it seems to others more probable that he is not always guilty
of a mortal sin, but only when he holds communion with him in a criminal
deed, or in an act of Divine worship, or through contempt of the Church.
Reply to Objection 1: This decretal is speaking of holding communion in Divine
worship. It may also be replied that the same reason applies both to
mortal and venial sin, since just as one cannot do well by committing a
mortal sin, so neither can one by committing a venial sin: so that just
as it is a man's duty to suffer death rather than commit a mortal sin, so
is it his duty to do so sooner than commit a venial sin, inasmuch as it
is his duty to avoid venial sin.
Reply to Objection 2: The commandment of the Church regards spiritual matters
directly, and legitimate actions as a consequence: hence by holding
communion in Divine worship one acts against the commandment, and commits
a mortal sin; but by holding communion in other matters, one acts beside
the commandment, and sins venially.
Reply to Objection 3: Sometimes a man is debarred from the Eucharist even without
his own fault, as in the case of those who are suspended or under an
interdict, because these penalties are sometimes inflicted on one person
for the sin of another who is thus punished.
Reply to Objection 4: Although it is a venial sin to hold communion with one who
is excommunicated, yet to do so obstinately is a mortal sin: and for this
reason one may be excommunicated according to the law.