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 VI
Penitentials Written or Authorized by Frankish Ecclesiastics

1. THE SO-CALLED ROMAN PENITENTIAL OF HALITGAR (ca. 830)

[ABOUT the year 830, Ebbo, archbishop of Reims, wrote to Halitgar, bishop of Cambrai, a letter lamenting the confusion in penitential practice due to the discrepancies and unauthoritative character of the current penitentials and urging Halitgar to undertake a new work that would enable the priests to adjudge penance properly.1 In his reply Halitgar records his amusement at the request; mindful of his own infirmity and burdened with his tasks, he cannot undertake a literary work at present; but with the difficulty of the task enjoined he recognizes the authority of him who has enjoined it; he does not wish, nor ought he, to give a total refusal.2

A year later Halitgar died. His literary works include five books on penance based upon the patristic writers. No section of this work is of the character of a penitential. But there is added to it as Book VI a work called Poenitentiale Romanum, which Halitgar claims to have taken "from a book repository of the Roman Church." Wasserschleben denies the truth of Halitgar's statement;3 Schmitz defends the statement and regards the book as Roman in origin and use.4 Watkins suggests an origin which shields Halitgar from the charge of misstatement. According to him the book was produced about A.D. 650 in the Frankish lands, but under Celtic influence. Halitgar used the phrase "ex scrinio Romanae ecclesiae" in a loose sense, believing that the penitential was of Roman origin. Halitgar may, he thinks, have availed himself here of a phrase of Boniface in a letter to Nothelm of Canterbury ( A.D. 736), in which Boniface asks for certain materials which are not to be found "in scrinio Romanae ecclesiae."5 Fournier indicates in detail the "tripartite" character of the penitential and regards Halitgar's careful selection of those Insular materials which appeared to him to be in accord with the general

____________________
1
Migne, P.L., CV, 651.
2
Ibid., 654.
3
Bussordnungen, pp. 58 ff.
4
Schmitz I, pp. 466 ff.
5
History of Penance, II, 630, 709 f.

-295-

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