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Degrees of Excommunication

Monday, July 1, 2024
Chapter 24

There ought to be due proportion between the seriousness of a fault and the measure of excommunication or discipline. The prioress or abbot determines the gravity of faults.

If monastics are found guilty of less serious faults, they will not be allowed to share the common table. Members excluded from the common table will conduct themselves as follows: in the oratory they will not lead a psalm or a refrain nor will they recite a reading until they have made satisfaction, and they will take meals alone, after the others have eaten. For instance, if the community eats at noon, they will eat in midafternoon; if the community eats in midafternoon, they will eat in the evening, until by proper satisfaction pardon is gained.

Chapter 24 makes two important points in the psychology of punishment and human association: first, the need to punish is no excuse for the arbitrary wielding of power and anger and vengeance; second, sins against community rupture the community and must be recognized as such.

Obedience is not a license to destroy another human being for the whims and fancies of an authority figure. To be a parent does not give anyone the right to beat a child. To be an official does not give anyone--the police, the president, the teacher--the right to vent either their force or their frustration on simple people for doing simple things. The nature of the punishment is always to be weighed against the nature of the offense.

The pursuit of holiness ought not to be a fearsome thing. Benedictine spirituality is a gentle manifestation of a loving and parenting God who wants us to be all that we can be.

What Benedict prescribes is one of two kinds of excommunication. In the first, for lighter offenses against the unity and peace of the community, a person is separated from the common table and denied the right to lead prayer. In the second, for more significant attacks on community well-being, the person is banished from community prayer, social life and table sharing at the same time.

Benedict is teaching very clearly that to disturb the human community is a serious thing. It makes us outcasts to our own kind. It eats away in the style of acid at the very things that a community needs to flourish and to be effective--love, trust and cooperation. And, Benedict insinuates, once you have broken the bonds that make a community a community, a family a family, a team a team, there is no growth possible until we all face the fact.