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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Body, Mutilation of the

a frequent practice, which we here consider only under certain aspects in reference to ecclesiastical affairs. (See CUTTING IN THE FLESH).

I. Its Bearing upon Clerical Orders. The Pentateuch forbade the exercise of the priest's office to any of the Aaronites who should have a "blemish," a term extending even to the case of a "flat nose" (Leviticus 21:17-23); while injuries to the organs of generation excluded even from the congregation (Deuteronomy 23:1). The prophets announce a mitigation of this severity (Isaiah 56:3-5), and its stringency finds no place in the teaching of our Saviour (Matthew 19:12), nor does any trace of it remain in the rules as to the selection of bishops and deacons in the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Nevertheless, the Jewish rule seems to have crept back into the discipline of the Christian Church witness the story of the monk Ammonius having avoided promotion to the episcopate by cutting off his right ear. One of the so-called apostolical canons, which provides that one-eyed or lame men who may be worthy of the episcopate may become bishops, "since not the bodily defect, but the defilement of the soul, pollutes" the man, leaves at least open the question whether such defects were a bar to the first reception of clerical orders. No general rule as to mutilation is to be found in the records of any of the early General Councils, but only in those of the non-oecumenical ones of the West, or in the letters, etc., of the popes, always of suspicious authority. The rule of the Church as to mutilations and bodily defects may be taken to be generally as follows: such mutilations, etc., were a bar to ordination, especially if self-inflicted; but, supervening involuntarily after ordination, they were not a bar to the fulfilment of clerical duties or to promotion in the hierarchy. There is, however, one particular form of mutilation that of the generative organs which occurs with peculiar prominence in early Church history, and is dealt with by special enactments. The most notorious instance of self-mutilation in Church history is that of Origen, who was, nevertheless, ordained by the bishops of Caesarea and Jerusalem; but he was condemned and sentenced to be deprived of his orders for self- mutilation by the Council of Alexandria, A.D. 230. According to the apostolical canons, while a man made a eunuch against his will was not excluded from admission to the clergy, yet self-mutilation was assimilated to suicide, and the culprit could not be admitted, or was to be "altogether condemned" if the act was committed after admission. A layman mutilating himself was to be excluded for three years from communion. The Nicene Council (A.D. 325) enacted that, if any one had been emasculated by a medical man in illness, by barbarians, or by his master, he might enter or remain in the clergy; but, if any have mutilated himself, he is, if a cleric already, to cease from clerical functions, and if not already ordained not to be presented for ordination. (See EUNUCH).

II. As a Crime. An alleged decretal of pope Eutychianus (275-276), to be found in Gratian, enacts that persons guilty of cutting off limbs were to be separated from the Church until they had made friendly composition before the bishop and the other citizens; refusing to do so after two or three warnings, they were to be treated as heathen men and publicans. The elevepth Council of Toledo, Song of Solomon 6, enacts that clerics shall not inflict or order the mutilation of a limb on any persons whomsoever, under penalty of losing the honor of their order and being subject to perpetual imprisonment with hard labor. The excerpt from the fathers and the canons attributed to Gregory III bears that, for the wilful maiming another of a limb, the penance is to be three years, or, more humanely, one year. The Capitulary of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 789, and the Council of Frankfort, 794, forbid abbots for any cause to blind or mutilate their monks. (See DISCIPLINE, ECCLESIASTICAL).

III. As a Punishment. Mutilation was no unfrequent punishment under the Christian emperors of the West: Constantine punished slaves escaping to the barbarians with the loss of a foot. The cutting-off of the hand was enacted against exactors of tribute who should fail to make proper entries of the quantities of lands, and against those who should copy the works of the heretic Severus. It is, nevertheless, remarkable that the 134th Novel finally restricted all penal mutilation to the cutting-off of one hand only. In the barbaric codes mutilation is a frequent punishment. The Salic law often enacts castration of the slave, but only as an alternative for composition (for thefts above forty denarii in value; for adultery with the slave-woman who dies from the effects of it). (See ADULTERY); (See CORPORAL INFLICTIONS).

Even in the legislation of the Church itself mutilation as a punishment occurs; but only in its rudest outlying branches, or as an offence to be repressed. Thus, to quote instances of the former case, in the collection of Irish canons, supposed to belong to the end of the 7th century, Patrick is represelited as assigning the cutting-off of a hand or foot as one of several alternative punishments for the stealing of money either in a church or a city within which sleep martyrs and bodies of saints. Another fragment from an Irish synod enacts the loss of a hand as an alternative punishment for shedding the blood of a bishop, where it does not reach the ground and no salve is needed, or the blood of a priest when it does reach the ground and salve is required. Instances of the latter case have been already: given in the enactments against abbots maiming their monks, which was, no doubt, done at least under pretext of enforcing discipline. In the Excerptions ascribed to Egbert, archbishop of York (but of at least two centuries later date), we find a canon that a man stealing money from the church-box shall have his hand cut off or be put into prison. (See CORPORAL PUNISHMENT).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Body, Mutilation of the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/body-mutilation-of-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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