Censures, Church

Censures, Church

(Censurae ecclesiasticae), the penalties by which crimes are visited by Church authority (potestas; διακριτική), the scriptural authority for which is found in such passages as Tit 1:13; Tit 3:10; 1Ti 5:20; Mt 17:17-18; Joh 20:23; 1Co 5:3; 2Th 3:6-7; Ga 5:12. These censures are, in the state churches, admonition, degradation (q.v.), excommunication (q.v.), suspension, interdict (q.v.), and irregularity (q.v.), which hinders a man from being admitted into higher orders.

"The canonists define an ecclesiastical censure to be a spiritual punishment, inflicted by some ecclesiastical judge, whereby he deprives a person baptized of the use of some spiritual things, which conduce not only to his present welfare in the Church, but likewise to his future and eternal salvation. It differs from civil punishments, which consist only in things temporal — as confiscation of goods, pecuniary mulets or fines, and the like; but the Church, by its censures, does not deprive a man of all spirituals, but only of some in particular. This definition speaks of such things as conduce to eternal salvation, in order to manifest the end of this censure; for the Church, by censures, does not intend the destroying of men's souls, but only the saving them, by enjoining repentance for past errors, a return from contumacy, and an abstaining from future sins" (Hook, Church Dictionary, s.v.). All churches claim the right of censure. Art. 30 of the Westminster Confession is as follows: "Of Church Censures. — The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his Church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof they have power respectively to retain and remit sins, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent both by the word and censures, and to open it unto penitent sinners by the ministry of the Gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require. Church censures are necessary for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren; for deterring of others from like offenses; for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump; for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel; and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer his covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notoribus and obstinate offenders.

For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition, suspension from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for a season, and by excommunication from the Church, according to the nature of the crime and demerit of the person." In most Protestant churches, censures can only be inflicted after trial by the peers of the accused person. On the persons liable to Church censures, and the crimes for which they were inflicted in the ancient Church, see Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 16, ch. 3; and on the rightfulness of Church censures, Burnet, On the Articles, art. 33; Palmer, On the Church, 2:277; Watson, Theol. Institutes, 2:600 (N. Y. ed.). SEE DISCIPLINE; SEE EXCOMMIUNICATION.

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