What is Excommunication? Christianity
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What is Excommunication?

seated man in red and standing man make gestures
Medieval excommunication
ceremony

May 2016 - Excommunication meant you would not be allowed to take Communion anymore. Beginning in the Roman period, bishops or groups of bishops would excommunicate people who were doing things the Church didn't like.
It might not sound so serious, but there were serious consequences. First, if you were excommunicated you could not get your soul clean for God and so you would not go to Heaven after the Last Judgment.

Second, no Christian was allowed to talk to anyone who was excommunicated, or give them food, or rent them an apartment, or in any way have anything to do with them. Even your parents and your children were not supposed to talk to you or let you in their house. When most people were Christians, in the Middle Ages in Europe, this could be life-threatening for ordinary people, and even for kings it was very inconvenient.

Some famous examples of men who were excommunicated are the Roman Emperor Theodosius, King Henry II of England, Emperor Henry IV of Germany, and King John of England.

Learn by doing: go to a church and watch people take Communion
More about Communion

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Christianity:

Communion
Main Christianity page
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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