Attitudes to excommunication in the early insular church: Returning to gildas’s letter to finnian

Stephen J. Joyce

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This article re-examines Gildas’s attitude to excommunication in surviving fragments of his letter to Finnian, utilized in Irish canon collections of the seventh and eighth centuries. It compares Gildas’s approach to that of Patrick in his open letter excommunicating the followers of Coroticus and, subsequently, to the two synods attributed to Patrick. While Patrick actively relies on excommunication as a disciplinary tool, Gildas offers an exegetically original critique of the abuse of excommunication. These contrary approaches are also reflected in the two ‘Patrician’ synods. Attempts to rehabilitate the opposing positions of Gildas and Patrick on excommunication in seventh- and eighth-century Ireland suggest memories of a connected intergenerational crisis between secular and ecclesiastical authority in the early insular church.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-30
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Medieval Monastic Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Canon law
  • Excommunication
  • Finnian
  • Gildas
  • Patrick
  • Penance

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