Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Four principal words are rendered maledictio in the Vulgate, "curse" in Douay Version :

(1) 'rr

The most general term, used more often perhaps of men than of God.

(2) qll

Literally "to treat lightly", but also used in the sense of "cursing", whether of God, Deuteronomy 21:23, or of men, Proverbs 26:14 . It frequently expresses no more than "to revile", 2 Samuel 16:6-13 ; and also perhaps 1 Peter 2:23 , in Septuagint epikataraomai .

(3) 'lh

"To curse", Deuteronomy 24:19-20 , more correctly "to take an oath ", apparently from the root 'lh and meaning "to call God to witness", Genesis 26:28 ; Leviticus 5:1 ; Deuteronomy 24:13 , also in the sense of "calling God down on any one", Job 31:30 , hence in margin of R.V. "adjuration", in Septuagint ara , or horkos .

(4) hrm

"To devote a thing", the thing may be devoted to God, Lev., xxvii, 28, or condemned to destruction, Deut., ii, 34. The Sept. seems from the manuscripts to use anathema (spelled with an eta ) of the thing devoted to God, but anathema (spelled with an epsilon ) of a thing doomed to destruction, cf. Luke, xxi, 5; and Thackeray, "Grammar of the Old Testament in Greek", p. 80. The accepted translation of hrm is "ban", signifying that something is interdicted and hence accursed, cf. Deut., vii, 26; Mal., iii, 24.

Amongst the Semitic peoples cursing was a religious act, and the Sinaitic legislation was rather of the nature of a purification of already existing usages than a newly-bestowed religion; as appears from the Code of Hammurabi. For the Semites the tribal deity was the protector of his people ( 1 Kings 20:23 , and cf. the Moabite Stone 11, 4, 5, 14), and to "curse" was but to call down his vengence on their opponents. Again, the Hebrews were a chosen people, they were set apart, and in this seclusion lay their defence; hence at the conquest we find the cities and peoples of Chanaan declared to be hrm , or under a "ban": their religion was to bring salvation to the world, so it required the highest sanction and needed to be hedged about with anathemas against all who infringed its regulation. Again, the curses of the O.T. must be interpreted in the light of the times, and those times were hard "lex talionis" was the rule not only in Palestine but in Babylonia as well, cf. the Code of Hummurabi, nos. 196, 197, 200. It was the special feature of the New Testament that it abolished this spirit of retaliation, Matt., v, 38-45; the abuse of cursing was, however, forbidden by the Old Law as well, Lev., xx, 9, Prov. xx, 20. At the same time there are passages where the use of curses is hard to explain. The so-called comminative psalms must always remain a difficulty, few would be now prepared to defend St. Augustine's view that they expressed not a desire but a real prescience of what would happen ("Contra Faustum" xvi, 22, and "Enarr. in Ps. cix."; see P SALMS ). Simularly the curse of Eliseus on the little boys, 2 Kings 2:23-24 , is at first repellent to modern ears, but it is to be viewed "in speculo aeternitatis," as St. Augustine says expressly (Enarr. in Ps. lxxxiii, 2, and in Ps. lxxxiv, 2). But though cursing plays a very prominent part in the Bible , we rarely find irrational curses in the mouths of Biblical characters. Nowhere do we find in the Biblecurses on those who shall violate the tombs of the dead, such as we find everywhere in Egypt and Babylonia, or on the sarcophagus of Eshmunazar at Sidon.

We referred above to the hrm , or "anathema". This is the most important of the O.T. curses in its bearing on N.T. doctrines. The doctrine enshrined in this word lies at the root of St. Paul's expressions touching the Atonement, e.g. in Gal., iii, 10-14; and it is the precise meaning of the word "cherem" which enables him to treat of our redemption from sin as he does; cf. II Cor., v, 21. The same idea is manifested in the words of the Apocalypse, xxii, 3: "And there shall be no curse any more." Cf. also I Cor., xii, 3, and xvi, 22.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 3:2-12
2 You have surely heard the way in which God ... Read More

Psalm, Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
2 Look, he is the God of my salvation: I shall have ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:39-48
39 You may be quite sure of this, that if the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Pope John Paul II
October 22: Karol J. Wojtyla, known as John Paul II since his October 1978 ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter