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The History of the Church 78 The Weapon of Excommunication Excommunication was a form of sanction used from the very beginnings of the church to chastise heretics and nonrepentant sinners. Those who were excommunicated were forbidden to partake of the sacraments and were removed from the community of the faithful, who were not to have any dealings with them. This punishment, both religious and social, greatly encouraged the sinner to repent. In addition, excommunication played an important political role; beginning in the Middle Ages, it was decided that excommunication automatically deprived a ruler of his state and relieved his subjects of any obligation to obeisance. Such an anathema was pronounced—with varying degrees of success—against the emperors Henry IV and Frederic II, the kings Philip the Fair and Louis XII of France, John and Henry VIII of England, and Napoleon. The first great political excommunication occurred in 998 against Robert the Pious, son of Hugh Capet, over his marriage. The church had no difficultie with his rejection of his first wife, Rozala, the daughter of an Italian king, because of her sterility, but it condemned the choice of his second wife, Bertha of Burgundy. It was deemed that this alliance was in effect a case of incest because they were cousins twice removed; the fact that they were godparents to the same child was also problematic. But Bertha was also sterile and so Robert the Pious rejected her as well, which resolved the thorny predicament. So, without further difficulties , the king was able take a third spouse, Constance of Provence. Jean-Paul Laurens (1838–1921) The Excommunication of Robert the Pious Musée d’Orsay, Paris ...


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