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
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CHAPTER IX
Synodical Decisions and Ecclesiastical Opinions relating to the Penitentials

1. FROM THE CANONS OF THE COUNCIL OF CLOVESHOE (747)

[THE FOLLOWING extract from canon 27 of the council of Cloveshoe illustrates the rise of vicarious penance, an abuse connected with certain relaxations permitted in some of the penitentials. The council was held under Cuthbert, archbishop of Canterbury, in 747. The text of this paragraph is found in Wilkins, Concilia, I, 99; Mansi, XII, 406; and Haddan and Stubbs, III, 373 f. The canon is entitled: Of the profitableness of the sacred psalmody."]

[Sinners are to fast and sing psalms in person, not vicariously, though they are to invite the intercession of as many of the servants of God as possible.]

We must discuss this matter the more at length for the reason that recently a certain man rich according to this world, seeking to have reconciliation speedily accorded him for some grave sin he had committed, asserted in writing that this same misdeed, as he had been assured by many persons, was so fully expiated that if he should be able to live yet three hundred years the [requirement regarding] fasting would have been fully met by these means of satisfaction; namely, the psalmody, fasting, and alms of others, without fasting on his own part, and no matter how little he should fast. Therefore, if the divine justice can be appeased by others in this way, why, ye foolish boasters, are rich men--who are able with bribes to purchase the limitless fastings of others for their own offenses--said by the voice of Truth to enter the Kingdom of Heaven with more difficulty than a camel goes through a needle's eye?1

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1
Matt. 19:24.

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