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Latincelt wrote:

Hi, guys —

In 1306 A.D., King Robert The Bruce, before he was King, murdered John Comyn in front of the altar in Greyfriars Kirk. He immediately went to Bishop Wishart to confess and was absolved of this sacrilege for which he could have been excommunicated. Pope Clement V, later did excommunicate Bruce for this murderous sacrilege.

  • How could the Pope excommunicate Bruce later, for murder and sacrilege, when Bishop Wishart had already given him absolution and absolved Bruce for this murderous sacrilege?

Bruce's sin was forgiven and absolved.


  { How could the Pope excommunicate Bruce, if he had been absolved for murder and sacrilege? }

Mike replied:

Dear Latincelt,

Your question really falls outside the scope of our mission as none of us are historians.
I'm not familiar with that time in history but was able to dig this information up which may provide an answer to some of your question.

First, you're asking the wrong question.

You said:

  • How could the Pope excommunicate Bruce later, for murder and sacrilege, when Bishop Wishart had already given him absolution and absolved Bruce for this murderous sacrilege?

I've been reading articles on New Advent and Wikipedia. I suggest you use both of this for future historical research questions you have.

First, just because a person has been absolved of previous grievous sins, doesn't prohibit him from choosing to sin again. In Wikipedia under the Bishop and the Bruce it notes that at that time Church law demanded excommunication:

The Bishop and the Bruce

On 10 February 1306 Robert Bruce and a small party of supporters murdered John Comyn, a leading rival, in the Church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries.[1] It was an act of political rebellion: perhaps even more serious, it was an act of supreme sacrilege. He now faced the future as an outlaw and an excommunicate, an enemy of the state and the church. It was to be many years before the Pope was prepared to forgive him; but the support of Wishart and the other Scottish bishops was of inestimable importance at this moment of crisis.

Bruce went to Glasgow, where he met Wishart, in whose diocese the murder had been committed. Rather than excommunicate the miscreant, as church law demanded, Wishart immediately absolved him and urged his flock to rise in his support. He then accompanied Bruce to Scone, the site of Scottish coronations of ages past, and there met his brother bishops of St. Andrews and Moray, as well as other prominent churchmen, in what gives the appearance of a well-arranged plan. Less than seven weeks after the killing in Dumfries, along with a number of prominent lay figures they all witnessed the coronation of King Robert I on 25 March. The country was immediately put on a war footing, with Wishart himself, despite his advancing years, being in the forefront of the preparations. The timber the English had given him to repair the bell tower of Glasgow Cathedral was used for making siege engines, and he took personal charge of the assault on Cupar Castle in Fife, 'like a man of war', as the enemy later complained.

All these hopes and efforts were soon frustrated by the advance of an English army under Aymer de Valence in the summer of 1306: Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Methven, soon to be forced into hiding, and Wishart was captured at Cupar. He was taken south in chains, and incarcerated in an English dungeon, saved only from execution by his clerical orders. Edward was delighted with the capture of this 'traitor and rebel', and wrote to the Pope in September telling him that Wishart, along with William de Lamberton, was being held in close confinement, and that custody of the see of Glasgow had been entrusted to Geoffery de Mowbray.

Wishart was to remain in prison for the next eight years, going blind in the course of his captivity. It was not until after King Robert's triumph at the Battle of Bannockburn that he was released as part of a prisoner exchange. He returned to Scotland to live out his life in relative peace, finally dying in Glasgow in November 1316, indisputably one of the great figures in the struggle for Scottish independence . . . the patron and friend of Wallace and Bruce, the persistent opponent of Plantagenet pretensions, an unheroic hero of the long war. (Barrow, 1976, p. 372).

Because Church law required Bruce be excommunicated, the better question would be:

  • Why didn't Bishop Wishart excommunicate Bruce?

New Advent provides a possible answer.

Robert Wishart (consecrated 1272, died 1316) was conspicuous for his patriotism during the War of Independence, and was the close friend of Wallace and Bruce.

You may find this article interesting too:

I hope this helps,


Latincelt replied:

Dear Mike,

Thanks for the information you provided. As you say, I need a Catholic historian and also someone knowledgeable in canon law for that time to get the full story.

In reference to your question regarding Bishop Wishart. He was a patriot, more so because the English Archbishop Of York claimed full authority over the Scottish Church, who only had Bishops who were only subject to Rome.

The Scottish wars of independence were a Holy Crusade as well as political which Scotland won. That's why today Scotland has her own Cardinal, Archbishops, and is subject only to Rome, not to England.

Wishart never excommunicated Bruce, because an excommunicant could not be crowned King, so Wishart rushed Bruce to Scone to be crowned before the Pope excommunicated him.

Unfortunately, two Popes took the English side and Bruce was excommunicated twice more for disobeying the Popes. Scottish clergy, nobles, and the nation were interdicted for supporting Bruce. This interdict was lifted when Scotland won her Independence, which was independent before the English invasion.

The facts are that if all had obeyed the Pope and submitted to England, Scotland would probably not be a nation today so it seems the Pope's were wrong but they had been plagued with English anti-Scottish propaganda.

Bruce's absolution was sacramental, although the Pope excommunicated him after his Confession and coronation by Bishop Wishart.

Maybe this is a case where the Papacy was getting too much involved in politics at that time.


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