The Roman Curia, the Apostolic Penitentiary and the Partes in the Later Middle Ages

By Perron, Anthony | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview

The Roman Curia, the Apostolic Penitentiary and the Partes in the Later Middle Ages


Perron, Anthony, The Catholic Historical Review


The Roman Curia, the Apostolic Penitentiary and the Partes in the Later Middle Ages. Edited by Kirsi Salonen and Christian Krötzl. [Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae, Vol. 28.] (Rome: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae. 2003. Pp. iii, 213. $30.00 paperback.)

Among the offices of the medieval papal curia, the workings of the Chancery, Camera, and Rota have understandably attracted considerable scholarly attention. It was, after all, here that affairs of high finance and politically charged litigation were conducted. Yet the office of the Penitentiary was perhaps more symbolic of the reach of papal might, governing the consciences (the forum internum) and touching the lives of ordinary people. Once it emerged as a bureau in the thirteenth century, the Penitentiary was responsible for granting dispensations and absolutions in such matters as marriage impediments, formal barriers to clerical ordination, and declarations of innocence in alleged crimes. Interest in the Apostolic Penitentiary has naturally grown since 1983 when Pope John Paul II opened the office's archives, though research is still in its early stages. Prominent in this burgeoning field are Ludwig Schmugge and the German-Swiss group working under him, not to mention Scandinavian historians like Per Ingesman, Kirsi Salonen, and Torstein Jørgensen (who continue a tradition of Nordic scholarship on the papacy that goes back to P. A. Munch's path-breaking studies in the mid-nineteenth century).

The present volume is the result of two conferences held at the Finnish Institute in Rome. It contains eleven articles (mostly in German) offering a range of perspectives on the Penitentiary material and its relationship to the documentation available in local archives in Europe (in partibus). If the book has an overarching thesis, it is that the skeletal evidence available from the "center" needs to be seen in the perspective of fleshier (yet often lacking) details from the "periphery." For example, Daniel Rutz's contribution tracing the supplication of one Hans Umbendorn for dispensation from his defectus corporis (two missing fingers on his left hand) demonstrates the complex local situation behind a terse entry in the Penitentiary registers. At the same time, the book is a reminder that students of papal relations with the churches of late-medieval Europe must be minutely sensitive to geographical diversity and chronological shifts. Brigide Schwarz's piece on "Norddeutschland und die römische Kurie im späten Mittelalter," though it draws very little on Penitentiary material, reveals both the striking variations in contact with Rome from one North-German diocese or town to another and from one decade to the next, as well as the manifold practical difficullies encountered by petitioners (e.

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