The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is about the Biblical term "anathema". For the British doom metal band, see Anathema (band)

An anathema is anything laid up or suspended; hence anything laid up in a temple or set apart as sacred. In this sense the form of the word is once (in plural) used in the Greek New Testament, in Luke 21:5, where it is rendered "gifts". In the Septuagint the form anathema is generally used as the rendering of the Hebrew word herem, derived from a verb which means (1) to consecrate or devote; and (2) to exterminate. Any object so devoted to the Lord could not be redeemed (Num. 18:14; Lev. 27:28, 29); and hence the idea of exterminating connected with the word. The Hebrew verb (haram) is frequently used of the extermination of idolatrous nations. It had a wide range of application. The anathema or herem was a person or thing irrevocably devoted to God (Lev. 27:21, 28); and "none devoted shall be ransomed. He shall surely be put to death" (27:29). The word therefore carried the idea of devoted to destruction (Num. 21:2, 3; Josh. 6:17); and hence generally it meant a thing accursed. In Deut. 7:26 an idol is called a herem = anathema, a thing accursed.

In the New Testament this word always implies execration. In some cases an individual denounces an anathema on himself unless certain conditions are fulfilled (Acts 23:12, 14, 21). "To call Jesus accursed" [anathema] (1 Cor. 12:3) is to pronounce him execrated or accursed. If any one preached another gospel, the apostle says, "let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8, 9); i.e., let his conduct in so doing be accounted accursed.

In Rom. 9:3, the expression "accursed" (anathema) from Christ, i.e., excluded from fellowship or alliance with Christ, has occasioned much difficulty. The apostle here does not speak of his wish as a possible thing. It is simply a vehement expression of feeling, showing how strong was his desire for the salvation of his people.

The anathema in 1 Cor. 16:22 denotes simply that they who love not the Lord are rightly objects of loathing and execration to all holy beings; they are guilty of a crime that merits the severest condemnation; they are exposed to the just sentence of "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord".

After the time of the apostolic church, the term anathema has come to mean a form of extreme religious sanction beyond excommunication. The earliest recorded instance of the form is in the Council of Elvira (c. 306), and thereafter it became the common method of cutting off heretics. Cyril of Alexandria issued twelve anathemas against Nestorius in 431. In the fifth century, a formal distinction between anathema and excommunication evolved, where excommunication entailed cutting off a person or group from the rite of eucharist and attendance at worship, while anathema meant a complete separation of the subject from the Body of Christ. While excommunication can be announced by a simple edict or papal bull, the Roman Catholic Church has a particular ceremony necessary for anathema, where a bishop clad in purple (the liturgical color of penitence) is required, and he is surrounded by twelve priests with lighted candles. As the sentence is uttered, the priests cast their lighted candles on the ground, to symbolize the exclusion of the anathematized group from the house of Israel.

Although anathema is the highest sanction of the church, it is usually pronounced in the form, "If anyone holds that..., anathema sit". (Let him be anathema.) Thus, the person as a person is rarely given to anathema, and a person can renounce the anathematized beliefs and be reconciled to the church.

See also: excommunication, shunning

Last updated: 05-07-2005 06:30:18
Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:09:53