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A denial, disavowal, or renunciation under oath. In common ecclesiastical language this term is restricted to the renunciation of heresy made by the penitent heretic on the occasion of his reconciliation with the Church. The Church has always demanded such renunciation, accompanied by appropriate penance. In some cases the abjuration was the only ceremony required; in others abjuration was followed by the imposition of hands or by unction, or both by the laying on of hands and by unction. St. Gregory the Great (A.D. 590-604) in a letter (Epistolae, lib. XI, Ep. lxvii, P.L., Tom. LXXVII, Col. 1204-08; Decret. Gratiani, Pars III, Dist. iv, c. xliv) to Quiricus and the Bishops of Iberia concerning the reconciliation of Nestorians, sets forth the practice of the ancient Church in this matter. According to this testimony of St. Gregory, in cases where the heretical baptism was invalid, as with the Paulinists, Montanists, or Cataphrygians (Conc. Nicaen., can. xix, P.L., II, 666; Decret. Gratiani, Pars II Causa I, Q. i, c. xlii), Eunomians ( Anomoeans ), and others, the rule was that the penitent should be baptized ( cum ad sanctam Ecclesiam veniunt, baptizantur ); but where the heretical baptism was considered valid converts were admitted into the Church either by anointing with chrism, or by the imposition of hands or by a profession of faith ( aut unctione chrismatis, aut impositione manus, aut professione fidei ad sinum matris Ecclesiae revocantur ).

Applying this rule, St. Gregory declares that Arians were received into the Church in the West by the imposition of hands, in the East by unction ( Arianos per impositionem manus Occidens, per unctionem vero sancti chrismatis . . . Oriens, reformat ), while the Monophysites, who separated from the Church in the fifth and sixth centuries, were treated with less severity, being admitted, with some others, upon a mere profession of the orthodox faith [ sola vera confessione recipit (Ecclesia) ]. St. Gregory's statement applies to the Roman Church and to Italy (Siricius, Epist., i, c. i; Epist., iv, c. viii; Innoc. I, Epist. ii, c. viii; Epist. xxii, c. iv), but not to the whole Western Church, since in Gaul and Spain the rite of unction was also in use [Second Coun. of Arles, can. xvii; Coun. of Orange (A.D. 529), can. ii; Coun. of Epaon, can. xxi; Greg. of Tours, Historia, lib. II, c. xxxi; lib. IV, cc. xxvii, xxviii; lib. V, c. xxxix; lib. IX, c. xv].

As to the Eastern Church, St. Gregory's phrase entirely agrees with the rule laid down in the seventh canon of Constantinople, which, though not emanating from the Ecumenical Council of 381 bears Witness nevertheless to the practice of the Church of Constantinople in the fifth century [Duchesne, Christian Worship (London, 1904), 339, 340]. This canon, which was inserted in the Trullan or Quinisext Synod (canon xcv), and thus found a place in Byzantine canon law, distinguishes between sects whose baptism, but not confirmation, was accepted and those whose baptism and confirmation were rejected. With the Arians, consequently, are classed the Macedonians, Novatians (Conc. Nicaen., I, can. ix; Nicaen., II, can. ii), Sabellians, Apollinarists, and others, who were to be received by the anointing with chrism on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears. Some identify this ceremony of the laying on of hands with the rite of confirmation, and not merely an imposition of hands unto penance. A similar discussion prevails in regard to the anointing with chrism.

I. Imposition of Hands

The imposition of hands, as a sign that due penance had been done, and in token of reconciliation (Pope Vigilius, P.L., CXXX, 1076), was prescribed first for those who had been baptized in the Church and who had later fallen into heresy. St. Cyprian in a letter to Quintus (epist. lxxi, in P.L., IV, 408-411) is witness of this practice, as is also St. Augustine (De baptismo contra Donatistas, lib. III, c. xi, in P.L., XLIII, 208). This rite was prescribed, secondly, for those who had been baptized in heresy. Regarding Pope Eusebius (A.D. 309 or 310) we read in the Liber Pontificalis (edit. Duchesne, I, 167): Hic hereticos invenit in Urbe Roma, quos ad manum impositionis [sic] reconciliavit. The same work (I, 216) declares of Pope Siricius (A.D. 384-399): Hic constituit hereticum sub manum impositionis reconciliari, prsesente cuncta ecclesia. [This latter was doubtless copied from the first chapter of the decretals of Pope Siricius, writing to Himerius, Bishop of Tarragona in Spain (P.L., XIII, 1133, 1134; Duchesne, Liber Pontif;, I, 132, 133).] Pope St. Stephen declares this rite to be sufficient (see St. Cyprian, Epist. lxxiv, in P.L., IV, 412, 413; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VII, iii, in P.G., XX, 641). The first Council of Arles (A.D. 314), can. viii [ Labbe, Concilia (Paris, 1671), I, 1428; P.L., CXXX, 376] inculcates the same law. (See also St. Leo, Epist. clix, c. vii; Epist. clxvi, c. ii; Epist. clxvii, Inquis. 18; P.L., LIV.)

II. Unction

The unction alone or together with the imposition of hands was also in vogue. The Council of Laodicea (A.D. 373) in canon vii (Labbe, Concilia, I, 1497) confirms this usage in the abjuration of Novatians, Photinians, and Quartodecimans. The second Council of Arles (A.D. 451) in canon xvii (Labbe, IV, 1013) extends the discipline to adherents of Bonosius, adversaries of the virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary ( Bonosianos . . . cum chrismate, et manus impositione in Ecclesia recipi sufficit ). The Council of Epaon (A.D. 517), canon xvi (Labbe, IV, 1578), allows the same rite ( Presbyteros, . . . si conversionem subitam petant, chrismate subvenire permittimus ).

III. Profession of Faith

Especially after the birth of Nestorianism and Eutychianism, to abjuration of heresy was added a solemn profession of faith. It was thus the bishops who, in the Second Council of Ephesus, had espoused the cause of Eutyches and Dioscurus were reconciled to the Church. St. Cyril of Alexandria (Epist. xlviii, ad Donat. Epis. Nicopol., P.G., LXXII, 252) received a like profession from Paul of Emesa, who was thought to be affected with Nestorianism. St. Leo (Epist. i, Ad Episc. Aquilens. c. ii, in P.L., LIV, 594) required the same from the votaries of Pelagianism, as did also a council, held at Aachen in 799, from Felix, Bishop of Urgel [ Alzog, Universal Church Hist. (tr. Cincinnati, 1899), II, 181].

It is to be noted that as clerics, unless degraded or reduced to the lay state, were not submitted to the humiliation of public penance, so, consequently, their admission into the Church involved no imposition of hands or other ceremony except a profession of faith ( Fratres Ballerini , in Epist. S. Leon., n. 1594, P.L., LIV, 1492). In all cases there was demanded the presentation of a libellus , or form of abjuration, in which the convert renounced and anathematized his former tenets. After declaring his abjuration to be free from compulsion, fear, or other unworthy motive, he proceeded to anathematize all heresies in general and in particular that sect to which he had belonged, together with its heresiarchs, past, present, and future. He then enumerated the tenets accepted by said sect, and, having repudiated them singly and generally, he ended with a profession of his belief in the true Faith. Sometimes there was added, under pain of punishment, a promise to remain in the Church. Accidental differences only are found in the ancient formulas of abjuration extant. Later, in the countries especially where the Inquisition was established, three sorts of abjuration were practised:

  • Abjuration de formali (of formal heresy ), made by a notorious heretic or apostate ;
  • de vehementi (of strong suspicion of heresy ), made by a Catholic strongly suspected of heresy ;
  • de levi (of slight suspicion of heresy ), made by a Catholic slightly suspected of heresy.
The abjuration demanded of converts in the present discipline of the Church is essentially the same as the above. A convert to the Church who has never been baptized is not obliged to abjure heresy. A convert, whose baptism is considered valid, or who, at most, on his reception into the Church is rebaptized conditionally, is required to make a profession of faith, which contains an abjuration of heresy. A salutary penance also is imposed (S. Cong. S. Off., Nov., 1875. See Appendix Conc. Plen. Balt., II, 277, 278; American edit. Roman Ritual, 1, 2, 3). No abjuration is required from converts under the age of fourteen (S. Cong. S. Off., Mar. 8, 1882, in Collectanea S. Cong. de Propag. Fid., n. 1680, ed. 1903).

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