The Practice of Penance, 900-1050

By Payer, Pierre J. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2002 | Go to article overview

The Practice of Penance, 900-1050


Payer, Pierre J., The Catholic Historical Review


The Practice of Penance, 900-1050. By Sarah Hamilton. [Royal Historical Society, Studies in History, New series, Volume 20.1 (Rochester, New York: The Royal Historical Society; The Boydell Press. 2001. Pp. xiv, 275. $75.00.)

The author's intent is expressed in this manner: "This study seeks to demonstrate that the development of penitential practice in the tenth and early eleventh centuries, whilst it owed a considerable debt to that under the Carolingians, also showed considerable independence, as witnessed by the changes recorded in the penitential liturgies of this period" (p. 18). The temporal limits (900-1050) are defined by Regino of Prim (d. 915), who incorporated much of the Carolingian liturgical material into his collection, and the reform movement that began in the middle of the eleventh century. The geographical boundaries are "the Reich" (p. 19,207), specifically,"Italy, cast Francia and Lotharingia, stretching into the province of Rheims in west Francia" (p. 19).

In this richly documented study Sarah Hamilton examines a wide range of topics to illustrate the early medieval approach to the practice of penance: the legal collections of Regino of Prim and Burchard of Worms (chap. 1); the means used by bishops to instruct the lower clergy (chap. 2); penance among monks and canons (chap. 3); actual cases of penance in narrative sources covering different social orders (e.g., royalty, the lower orders) and spheres of action (e.g., politics, warfare, sex) (chap. 6).

The core of the study is in the fourth and fifth chapters, which deal with formal liturgies of penance. In the fourth chapter the author presents a careful analysis of the rituals (ordines) of public and private penance in the Romano-- German Pontifical (PRG) (ca. 950). Her aim seems to be threefold: to analyze the rituals, to note diversity of practices among copies, and to make the point that the PRG did not dominate the field. The last two points are then illustrated in the fifth chapter, which deals in a less detailed manner with other liturgical rituals of penance: (1) the Fulda sacramentaries, (2) "`the north-central' family of rites of public penance" (p. …

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