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Catholic Dictionary




The complete abandonment of the Christian religion and not merely a denial of some article of the creed. Since apostolic times, it was classified among the major crimes, along with murder and adultery, whose remission in the sacrament of penance carried severe censures and, among certain rigorists, even remission of the sin was denied. St. Cyprian (d. 258), Bishop of Carthage, defended the Church's right to remit apostasy before the hour of death, and the practice was supported by Pope Cornelius (d. 253). Under the Christian Roman Empire, apostates were punished by deprivation of civil rights, including the power to bequeath or inherit property. During the late Middle Ages, Christian who apostatized were subject to trial and punishment by the Inquisition.

The code of canon law of 1918 declared that apostates from the faith (as also heretics and schismatics) incur ipso facto excommunication, are deprived, after warning, of any benefice, dignity, pension, office, or any position they may have in the Church, and are declared under infamy. After a second warning, clerics are to be deposed, and members of a religious community automatically dismissed.