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Bell, Book and Candle

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It is a sad reflection on modern Christians that they get their ‘theology’ from popular myths and magazines, TV and films. One of these myths is the way we handle demonosis: by ‘bell, book and candle’. But, this is not what the term is used for! It was once used by the Roman Catholic religion as a method of excommunication… and that is how we will approach this short paper.

Catholicism never excommunicates lightly (unless it is in the personal interest of a particular priest or bishop), because Rome does not like to get rid of any of its number. But, if it considers a sin awful enough it will condemn the person by throwing him out of communion with the ‘church’. This is an example of ‘major excommunication’.

First used in about the 9th century, the ceremony involved 12 priests and a bishop. The bishop repeated an oath at the altar. The wording went like this:

“We separate him, together with his accomplices and abettors, from the precious body and blood of the Lord and from the society of all Christians; we exclude him from our Holy Mother, the Church in Heaven, and on earth; we declare him excommunicate and anathema; we judge him damned, with the Devil and his angels and all the reprobate, to eternal fire until he shall recover himself from the toils of the devil and return to amendment and to penitence.”

In this we see the seed of the later Romish Arminianism, which claimed that no man is absolutely saved, but needs to confess before a priest, etc., to retain salvation. Today’s Arminian might not defer to a priest, but he certainly believes our salvation is not secure. Note, too, how in Rome’s eyes a man can be eternally lost UNLESS he confesses to a priest, thus placing the priest on the same level as God!

Following this solemn rite, all the priests acknowledged the words and said “So be it”. The bishop then rang a bell, symbolic of the death toll, and closed a holy book (any one held in veneration by Rome would do!), signifying the person’s separation from the ‘church’, and snuffed out the candles… hence: ‘bell, book and candle’. The bishop, with typical Romish drama, then swept the items to the floor. This symbolised that the person’s soul was cast out from God’s sight. See what divine power they thought they had… and still do?

The idea that the rite of ‘bell, book and candle’ can exorcise evil spirits is even found in comic form in a play by Terry Prachett (a popular novelist), so the idea, though a corrupt form of the Roman ritual, has some appeal to people. The rite is also used in a variety of computer games – which is why parents should always keep a check on what their children are doing, even in games.

In the Roman rite, the candles (each of the 13 priests held one), though extinguished (when each was thrown to the ground) also held out a hope that the condemned person would repent and return to the Roman fold. A bell was used to show that the rite is a public act for everyone to see and hear. The book represents NOT the authority of scripture, but the authority of the bishop.

Once the rite had been executed, the presiding bishop wrote letters to the other bishops to tell them what had happened, even though the rite was always practised in a public place anyway.

The rite seems first to have been used in Rheims in the 9th century, but the phrase ‘bell, book and candle’ is first recorded in Old English in about 1300: “Curced in kirk an sal ai be wid candil, boke, and bell”. More interestingly, the rite is noted in occultism, because of its closeness to occult practices (as in

Those who the Roman ‘church’ excommunicated included witches, but they do not care nowadays, because they believe theirs is the true and most ancient religion ( Note how occultists align themselves with this rite, just as they did with the birth of Pentecostalism (see article on Azusa Street).

A Catholic who dies excommunicated is never prayed for; Catholics say that though excommunicated the person is not damned. But, the rite uses the words: “we declare him excommunicate and anathema; we judge him damned, with the Devil and his angels and all the reprobate, to eternal fire”! So, if he has not repented he must be damned, in the eyes of Rome. (For more on Roman excommunication and Protestant ‘Disfellowship’, see my book, ‘The Left Boot of Fellowship’).

The rite once used by Rome was really a curse upon the sinner who refused to be as Rome wanted him to be. One Anglican expert, Canon Benham, wrote there is no record that the rite was officially sanctioned by Rome, even though its bishops practised it. Some Catholics even claim the rite was invented by Protestants! (‘Cursing by Bell, Book and Candle’, Benham,

However, pope Gregory once withheld the curse from Sir Ingoldsby Bray when Bray handed him a substantial number of gifts! It is amazing how money can somehow stop a heavenly curse!

© March 2011

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
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