Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Sacrament of Penance and Religious Life in Golden Age Spain

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Sacrament of Penance and Religious Life in Golden Age Spain

Article excerpt

The Sacrament of Penance and Religious Life in Golden Age Spain. By Patrick J. O'Banion. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2012. Pp. xii, 233. $69.95. ISBN 978-0-8271-05899-3.)

Recently, Spanish history has seen a movement away from the social/religious histories of the 1980s and 1990s, toward studies that focus on particular theological concepts and sacramental activity. In his new study of the sacrament of penance, Patrick O'Banion has tried to combine the old and the new. He both analyzes religious literature and attempts to present a portrait of actual Spaniards engaging with the sacrament in a variety of ways.

O'Banion argues that rather than the reflection of a clerical/lay hierarchy, early modern confession was a constant negotiation between confessor and parishioner. In the first two chapters, O'Banion takes the reader through the basic aspects of the sacrament: how to become a confessor and how to confess. He provides an overview of the theological issues involved, as well as the expectations about the relationship between the confessor and the confessant. He then details the process of confession, including a discussion of the basic physical rituals of kneeling and crossing oneself. In chapter 3, O'Banion explores the Catholic Reformation's attempt to regulate Easter confession. Unexpectedly, parish confessions declined toward the end of the sixteenth century. He argues that it was not that laypeople ignored the confessional; rather, they evaded the surveillance of parish priests (and friends and neighbors) by confessing to other clergy. Indeed, in the next chapter, he analyzes how the bula de la cruzada, which allowed purchasers to choose their own confessors, gave Spaniards surprising agency in their confessional practices. O'Banion then examines the roles of class and gender on the confessional experience, followed by a look at how Spain's converso, morisco, and gypsy populations engaged with the sacrament. …

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