Medieval Handbooks of Penance: A Translation of the Principal Libri Poenitentiales and Selections from Related Documents

By John T. McNeill; Helena M. Gamer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Early Irish Penitential Documents

1. CANONS ATTRIBUTED TO ST. PATRICK

FOR DISCUSSION of the origin and date of these canons see J. H. Todd, Life of St. Patrick, pp. 486 ff.; Haddan and Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, II, 328 ff.; and J. B. Bury, Life of St. Patrick, pp. 233 ff. In opposition to the other historians mentioned, Bury contends for the genuineness, in substance, of the first set of canons. He thinks their later dating by Todd is based on arguments which apply only to canons 25, 30, 33, 34, and a clause of canon 6--passages which may be explained as interpolations. Apparently later, and less authoritative, are the canons of the second series. Bury notes that the Collectio canonum Hibernensis (ca. 700) ascribes to Patrick the canons which it quotes from Synodus I but does not ascribe to him those which it quotes from Synodus II." Haddan and Stubbs, while holding an early date for the second series of canons, have pointed out1 that one of them (27) is in direct contradiction to a passage in the Confession of St. Patrick. Bury shows reasons for believing that this document is derived from the acts of an Irish synod of the seventh century.2

The inclusion of these canons in a collection of penitential documents may not seem entirely justifiable. They are not strictly within the class of penitential materials, since they do not consist of lists of offenses with periods of penance. Yet they have to do with church discipline and excommunication, and in some of the canons the duration of the penance is determined. Their authors seem, however, to have approached the whole question of discipline in a somewhat different way from that of the authors of the great penitential documents. Hence, even if Patrick's authority is to be claimed for some of them, he can hardly be regarded as the founder of the typical Irish penance. Instead, the principle of the ancient public discipline seems to be reflected in many of the canons, although there is no evidence of public reconciliation. Whatever their date and source, they represent a type of discipline which gave place in Ireland to that represented by the foundation documents of our series.

____________________
1
Op. cit., II, 333.
2
Life of St. Patrick, p. 239. See also, Hefele-Leclercq, II (2). 888 ff.

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