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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Suicide in Church Law

The Church has quite early encountered suicide as a major sin and an offense against canon law. In the Christian East and West the ban of the ecclesiastic funeral and burial as well as of relevant services is also early established as the penalty par excellence for this infraction. The “penalty” is introduced in the ecclesiastic practice and is later validated by the canon of the law both the Eastern (canon 14 of Timotheus of Alexandria) and the Western Church. The argument justifying this kind of penalty, which at least in the law of the Eastern Church is not imposed for even much graver ecclesiastic offences, is that the perpetrator through his act challenges his Creator himself, the only master of his life and death. To put it more explicitly, the suicide, being at the same time victim and victimizer, is in reality unable to repent his act, since his very death realizes his offense. Judas’ suicide is often mentioned as a typical example. The objective of this harsh approach is to consolidate in the common consciousness the demerit of the Church for this act, which after all is only turned against nobody else but the suicide himself. If, nevertheless, can be proved that the perpetrator had lost his reason in committing suicide, then he is dispensed from the after death “penalty”. Thus, from the time of ancient Church until today the same long practice is applied: the family of the deceased seeks to attain ecclesiastic funeral of its member by invoking true or usually false testimonies and expert opinions and by exploiting the general “complicity” or consent (cf. Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 5, scene 1). The sensitivity of our present society has imposed the expressed or silent abandonment of the aforementioned ban (this reality is also acknowledged in the new codes of canon law of the Roman Catholic Church), a practice that the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece seems inclined to follow quite hesitantly.