This page considers sacrilege, highlighting conceptualisation
It covers -
As the preceding page indicated, the demarcation of sacrilege
and blasphemy is unclear, with the former often being characterised
of a sacred or holy place"
or irreverent treatment of sacred objects", including
theft and vandalism of relics or ritual artefacts
of sacred objects or sites (eg arson of churches or temples)
or speech that "dishonour" the deity (or the deity's
representative) and so forth.
The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary characterises
the crime of stealing or misappropriating a sacred object
or objects especially from the church. Later any offence
against a consecrated person, or violation or misuse of
whatever is recognised as sacred or under Church protection
the Shorter Collins defining sacrilege is
the misuse or desecration of anything regarded as sacred
or as worthy of extreme respect [or an] instance of taking
anything sacred for secular use.
Notions of sacrilege are apparent in all pre-industrial cultures
(and beyond), including prohibitions on the unitiated, unbelieving
or ritually unclean (eg women) entering sanctified spaces
or sighting holy objects. Those notions are evident in Australian
Indigenous customary law, with weak recognition by Australian
The meaning of sacrilege and its recognition in law has changed
substantially over the past two thousand years. Sacrilege
has been a capacious concept. Late Roman Emperor Gratian stated
in ignorance disturbs, or through negligence violates or
offends, the sanctity of the divine law, commits sacrilege
conveniently went on to claim in 384 that
will of the Emperor must not be disputed; it is like a sacrilege
to doubt whether a party whom the emperor has appointed
Codex Justinianus, a jurisprudence featuring the
insight that earthquakes were attributable to homosexuality,
punishment of the sacrilegious is imposed, either more heavily
or more lightly, according to the character of the persons
and the sin and the time and the age and the nature. For
some are turned over to wild animals; some are burned, some
are impaled. A fitting punishment, however, is for him who
commits sacrilege at night to be turned over to wild beasts,
while he who commits a moderate sacrilege in daytime is
condemned to the mines, whereas he who is a dignitary is
archbishop James Quinn (1819-1881) eschewed the wild beasts
but modestly proclaimed that
am a sacred person … anyone attacking my character
commits a most gross and sacrilegious act.
proclamation did not receive support from Australian courts
or from many of Quinn's clerical colleagues. One reason was
that UK law was biased in favour of the established church,
with theft or destruction of the property of other religious
entities being treated as property crime.
In 1820 for example London burglar Philip Phillips was found
guilty at the Old Bailey "Of stealing, but not sacrilegiously"
and transported to Australia for a mere seven years. He had
been indicted for "sacrilegiously stealing" one
gown, two sets of robes, a writing-desk, a Bible and a piece
of carpet from a Congregationalist Chapel.
The Court ruled that the offence "was not sacrilege,
as the statute only affixed that protection to places of worship
belonging to the Establishment".
In most advanced economies 'sacrilege', if indeed recognised
by law, serves as a surrogate for other offences such as -
of coins or other monetary offerings in a church
of texts, images or other entities
typically as property offences.