Bell, book, and candle

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The phrase "bell, book, and candle" refers to a method of excommunication, known as anathema, imposed on one who had committed a particularly grievous sin. Apparently introduced around the mid-8th century by Pope Zachary,[1] the practice was once used by the Catholic Church; in modern times, a simple pronouncement is made.[citation needed]

Ritual[edit]

The ceremony was described in the Pontificale Romanum up until the time of the Second Vatican Council. Subsequent post-conciliar editions of the Pontificale omitted mention of any particular solemnities associated with excommunication.

The ceremony traditionally involved a bishop, with 12 priests with candles, and is solemnly pronounced in some suitably conspicuous place. The bishop would then pronounce the formula of the anathema, which ends with the following words:

Idcirco eum cum universis complicibus, fautoribusque suis, judicio Dei omnipotentis Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, et beati Petri principis Apostolorum, et omnium Sanctorum, necnon et mediocritatis nostrae auctoritate, et potestate ligandi et solvendi in coelo et in terra nobis divinitus collata, a pretiosi Corporis et Sanguinis Domini perceptione, et a societate omnium Christianorum separamus, et a liminibus sanctae matris Ecclesiae in coelo et in terra excludimus, et excommunicatum et anathematizatum esse decernimus; et damnatum cum diabolo, et angelis ejus, et omnibus reprobis in ignem aeternum judicamus; donec a diaboli laqueis resipiscat, et ad emendationem, et poenitentiam redeat, et Ecclesiae Dei, quam laesit, satisfaciat, tradentes eum satanae in interitum carnis, ut spiritus ejus salvus fiat in die judicii.[2]

In English:

Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive him and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.[1]

After reciting this the priests would respond: "Fiat, Fiat, Fiat!" ("So be it! So be it! So be it!") The bishop would then ring a bell, close a holy book, and he and the assisting priests would snuff out their candles by dashing them to the ground. However, the rite of anathema as described in the Pontificale Romanum only prescribes the candles to be dashed to the ground. After the ritual, written notices would be sent to the neighbouring bishops and priests to report that the target had been anathematized and why, so that they and their constituents hold no communication with the target.[2] The frightful pronouncements of the ritual were calculated so as to strike terror into the ones so excommunicated and bring them to repentance.

The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875) by Jean-Paul Laurens. The officiants have just excommunicated Robert as per the ritual, and left the quenched candle behind.

This form of excommunication was inflicted on Robert II of France by Pope Gregory V for his marriage to Bertha of Burgundy in the year 996, because Bertha was his cousin. He was later reconciled with the Church after negotiations with Gregory's successor Pope Silvester II.[3]

Cultural references[edit]

The dramatic nature of the ritual has lent itself to frequent depictions in culture and media.

Art, media, and entertainment[edit]

Film[edit]

  • In the 1958 film Bell, Book and Candle, based on the play by John Van Druten, the title phrase is misidentified as a method of exorcism rather than excommunication.
  • In the film Becket (1964), Archbishop Thomas Becket excommunicates Lord Gilbert with something resembling a bell, book and candle ceremony. However, the bells are rung at the start, no book is in evidence (Becket instead casts down his candle first, followed by the others in attendance) and nothing to the effect of "until he shall recover himself...." is pronounced.

Ring the bell. Close the book. Quench the candle. What's that? Never heard the final sentence of excommunication?

Fine art[edit]

In Jean-Paul Laurens' painting, The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875), the officiants have just excommunicated Robert as per the ritual, and left the quenched candle behind.

Games[edit]

  • In the board game Betrayal at House on the Hill, the bell, book and candle are three findable items which have greatly increased powers when used together
  • In the multi-platform game Castle of Magic (2008-2009), the bell, book and candle are used as items in the Ritual Spell.
  • In the video game Hugo 3: Jungle of Doom (1992), a bell, book, and candle are required to exorcise an evil spirit to enter a cave.
  • In the videogame Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim (2000), one of the first and easiest missions one can play is named "The Bell, The Book and The Candle". In it, the player must retrieve the three stolen artifacts from monster-infested ruins and shrines.
  • The Bell of Opening, The Book of the Dead, and the Candelabrum of Invocation are used by the player in the game of NetHack (1987) to perform the Invocation Ritual and reach the lowest dungeon level.
  • Ultima IV (1985) uses the items in a somewhat positive light, requiring reading from the Book of Truth, lighting the Candle of Love and ringing the Bell of Courage (plus destroying the Skull of Mondain, a token of evil) to enter the Abyss and recover the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom to conclude the game.
  • In Sam & Max Season Two, Episode 5, "What's New, Beelzebub?" (2008), the antagonists use a bell, a book, and a candle to open a portal to a flaming pit in hell.
  • An important quest in the videogame Wizardry IV (1987) similarly involves the use of bell, book, and candle to bypass a portal to the flaming abyss.
  • In the early text-based computer game Zork (1977–79), the player must gather a bell, a book, and a candle in order to gain access to the lowest regions of Hell.

Music[edit]

  • Peter Hammill's song "Empress's Clothes" from the album Sitting Targets (1981) contains the line: "You carry the bell, book and candle..."
  • Boo Hewerdine's song "Bell, Book, and Candle", on his CD A Live One (2001), refers to his efforts to rid himself of thoughts and memories of a previous lover, and contains the line: "Every night I see your face when I have to pray. I need a bell, book and candle to keep your ghost away". Boo's recording was used on the episode of Emmerdale when Tricia Dingle died[which?][citation needed]. The song was also recorded by Eddi Reader and appears on her CD Angels and Electricity (1998, Blanco Y Negro 3894-22816-2).
  • John Lennon's song "Scared" (1974) contains a line: "No bell, book and candle will get you out of this".[4]
  • The track "Tetragrammaton" from The Mars Volta album Amputechture (2006) contains the lines: "We summon by candle, by book, and by bell."
  • The Rolling Stones' song "Winter" (1973) includes the lyrics, "But I been burnin' my bell, book and candle."

Print[edit]

  • In Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus (1604), the lead character is subjected to excommunication using this process: "Bell, book, and candle; candle, book and bell, / Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell." (Scene 7, lines 83-84)
  • William Shakespeare referenced the practice in King John (1623): "Bell, book, and candle, shall not drive me back / When gold and silver becks me to come on" (Act 3, Scene 3).
  • Although omitting a candle reference, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's character Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, in The Brothers Karamazov (1880) says in a tirade to local monks, "[y]ou cursed me with 'bell and book,' you spread stories about me all over the place. Enough, fathers!" (Book II, Chapter 8)
  • The Informer (1925), by Liam O’Flaherty, contains the line: “Yer ol’ man gev me dog’s abuse and drov’ me outa the house, an’ he cursed ye be bell, book an’ candle light.”
  • Used for comic effect in Good Omens (1990) by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, believing that the ceremony can banish evil spirits, attempts to exorcise Aziraphale with it.
  • In the Old Kingdom Trilogy of books by Garth Nix, bells are used as a tool to banish undead spirits, originating from the bell, book and candle.

Television[edit]

  • In the Charmed season 4 episode, "Charmed Again" (October 4, 2001), the song "Bell, Book, and Candle", recorded by Eddi Reader in 1998, is played during Prue Halliwell's funeral procession.

Restaurants[edit]

  • Bell, Book & Candle is the name of a restaurant in the West Village section of New York City.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Joseph Gignac, "Anathema" in Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1907)
  2. ^ a b "ORDO EXCOMMUNICANDI ET ABSOLVENDI". Liturgia Latina. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  3. ^ Lea, Henry C.: Studies in Church History: The Rise of the Temporal Power, pp. 339ff, Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, 1869.
  4. ^ ""Scared" - John Lennon". MusixMatch. Retrieved June 22, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Bell Book & Candle, 141 W. 10th St., New York, NY 10014 (nr. Waverly Pl. )". New York Magazine. 

Further reading[edit]