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Online Etymology Dictionary
1520s, "an accursed thing," from Latin anathema "an excommunicated person; the curse of excommunication," from Greek anathema "a thing accursed," originally "a thing devoted," literally "a thing set up (to the gods)," from ana- "up" (see ana-) + tithenai "to place," from PIE root *dhe- "to put, to do" (see factitious).
Originally simply a votive offering, by the time it reached Latin the meaning had progressed through "thing devoted to evil," to "thing accursed or damned." Later applied to persons and the Divine Curse. Meaning "formal act or formula of consigning to damnation" is from 1610s.
Catholic Encyclopedia, "Anathema."
Placed on high, suspended, set aside.
A term formerly indicating offerings made to the divinity which were suspended from the roof or walls of temples for the purpose of being exposed to view. Thus anathema according to its etymology signifies a thing offered to God. The word anathema is sometimes used in this sense in the Old and New Testaments: In Judith 16:23, it is said that Judith, having taken all the arms of Holofernes which the people had given him and the curtain of his bed which she herself had brought, offered them to the Lord as an anathema of oblivion. In II Mach., ix, 16, Antiochus promises to adorn with precious gifts (anathemata) the temple he has pillaged; and in Luke 21:5, mention is made of the temple built of precious stones and adorned with rich gifts (anathemata). As odious objects were also exposed to view, e.g. the head of a criminal or of an enemy, or his arms or spoils, the word anathema came to signify a thing hated, or execrable, devoted to public abhorrence or destruction.


Old Testament

  • Judith 16:22-23
  • Numbers 21:1-3
  • Deuternonomy 7:26
  • Deuteronomy 13:12-17
  • Joshua 6:17

New Testament

Rom 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh.
1 Cor 12:3 Therefore, I tell you that nobody speaking by the spirit of God says, “Jesus be accursed.” And no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the holy Spirit.
1 Cor 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed.
Gal 1:8-9 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach [to you] a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!

1 Cor 5: model of excommunication ...


Catholic Encyclopedia, "Anathema."
Anathema remains a major excommunication which is to be promulgated with great solemnity. A formula for this ceremony was drawn up by Pope Zachary (741-52) in the chapter Debent duodecim sacerdotes, Cause xi, quest. iii. The Roman Pontifical reproduces it in the chapter Ordo excommunicandi et absolvendi, distinguishing three sorts of excommunication:
  • minor excommunication, formerly incurred by a person holding communication with anyone under the ban of excommunication;
  • major excommunication, pronounced by the Pope in reading a sentence;
  • and anathema, ... the penalty incurred by crimes of the gravest order, and solemnly promulgated by the Pope.
In passing this sentence, the pontiff is vested in amice, stole, and a violet cope, wearing his mitre, and assisted by twelve priests clad in their surplices and holding lighted candles. He takes his seat in front of the altar or in some other suitable place, amid pronounces the formula of anathema which ends with these words:
"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, 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." Whereupon all the assistants respond: "Fiat, fiat, fiat."
The pontiff and the twelve priests then cast to the ground the lighted candles they have been carrying, and notice is sent in writing to the priests and neighboring bishops of the name of the one who has been excommunicated and the cause of his excommunication, in order that they may have no communication with him. Although he is delivered to Satan and his angels, he can still, and is even bound to repent. The Pontifical gives the form for absolving him and reconciling him with the Church. The promulgation of the anathema with such solemnity is well calculated to strike terror to the criminal and bring him to a state of repentance, especially if the Church adds to it the ceremony of the Maranatha.


The Church does not teach that only Catholics go to Heaven and all others go to Hell.

The Church is not sitting in judgment of Protestants when it says that those who object to her teaches are to be treated as outcasts (anathema sit). She is not saying that all Protestants are going to Hell.

Rather, the purposes of the using the term is to teach Catholics that the doctrine is an essential part of the faith and that one may not claim to be Catholic without assenting to the doctrine. Whoever objects to what is taught with authority by the Church is by that objection placed outside of the Church--they make themselves "anathema," outcasts. What effect that has on their salvation is known only to God.

Notice that even in the most severe form of excommunication, the purpose of the separation from the Body is to bring the person to repent of their sins and be forgiven.

This kind of definition of doctrine is a way of saying that this teaching is serious and that rejecting the teaching is the kind of thing that can break our relationship with God. "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Luke 10:16).

This is the peroration of Pope Pius IX at the end of the definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in Ineffabilis Deus: "Hence, if anyone shall dare--which God forbid!--to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart."

The conditions of mortal sin are that the sin in question be a grave matter, that we understand the gravity of the sin, and that we give full and free consent to the sin despite the warnings of conscience against doing so.

It seems very likely to me that few Protestants are able to commit a mortal sin by rejecting the solemn definitions of doctrine the Church precisely because their rejection of the teaching authority of the Church keeps them from knowing that this is "a grave matter." How culpable they are for their rejection of the Church's authority is something that only God knows for sure--it is not something that can be determined by looking at the Church's definitive texts.

"Are YOU 'Anathema'? How about Your Protestant Friend?"
Like other excommunications, anathemas didn’t do anything to a person’s soul. It didn’t make him “damned by God” or anything like that. The only man who can make a man damned by God is the man himself. The Church has no such power. An anathema was a formal way of signaling him that he had done something gravely wrong, that he had endangered his own soul, and that he needed to repent. Anathemas, like other excommunications, were thus medicinal penalties, designed to promote healing and reconciliation.
Also like (many) excommunications, anathemas were not automatic. Just because someone, somewhere, uttered a heresy, this did not cause the relevant bishop to drop whatever he was doing and automatically perform the ceremony like a puppet on strings. Instead, if someone committed an ecclesiastical crime that was potentially subject to an anathema the matter had to be reported, investigated, judged, and only after that would the ceremony happen—if it did.
Also also like other excommunications, they applied to people who were (or had been) in communion with the Catholic Church. There is no point excommunicating somebody from the Catholic Church who had never been part of the Catholic Church, and so people who had never been Catholics were not anathematized, no matter what they said or did. (This comes as quite a surprise to many in the Protestant community, where it is often—unfortunately—claimed that the Catholic Church anathematizes them for their beliefs. Not so. It may disagree with some of their beliefs; it may hope and pray that they adopt the fullness of the faith as found in the Catholic Church; but it does not anathematize them.)