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 IV
Penitentials by Irish Authors Which Were Apparently Compiled on the Continent

1. THE PENITENTIAL OF COLUMBAN (ca. 600)

[THE TEXT of the Poenitentiale Columbani, or S. Columbani abbatis de poenitentiarum mensura taxanda liber, was published in 1667 by Th. Sirinus from the till then unpublished collection of Columban's works made by Patrick Fleming in 1626. This collection--Patricii Flemingi collectanea sacra seu S. Columbani acta et opuscula--was republished by Migne.1 The text may also be found in Wasserschleben2 and in Schmitz.3 The best edition is by O. Seebass.4 The document is extant in two Bobbio manuscripts now in the National Library of Turin, G V 38, and G VII 16, respectively, the former of the tenth, the latter of the tenth or eleventh century. The text of Fleming is apparently taken from a third manuscript, now lost.

The penitential is in two parts, A and B. The offenses in A are apparently those of monks alone. In an introduction to the document,5 Seebass combats the view of Schmitz that Columban is not the author of the book and cannot be credited with any penitential. The references in Jonas Life of Columban6 to the exercise of penance among the people of the district around Luxeuil, while somewhat general,7 show that a generation later there was an awareness of the penance aspect of Columban's work. Schmitz thought the absence here of specific reference to a penitential book was evidence against such a compilation. But the fact of penitential discipline in an age when Irish abbots were writing penitential books may rather be taken as presumptive evidence that Columban prepared such a book. The close resemblances of the work to the Penitential of Finnian, Columban's Irish predecessor, also accord per-

____________________
1
P.L., LXXX, 209 ff.; the Penitential begins with col. 223.
2
Bussordnungen, pp. 353-60.
3
Schmitz I, pp. 588-602.
4
"Das Poenitentiale Columbani," in Zeitschr. f. Kirchengesch., XIV ( 1894), 430 ff.; text, pp. 441-48.
5
Ibid., pp. 430 ff.
6
The Vita Columbani written by Jonas of Bobbio has been edited by Bruno Krusch in M. G. H., Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum, IV, 64 ff. An English translation by Munro is contained in the Pennsylvania Translations and Reprints, II, 7.
7
"The people," says Jonas, "flocked together from all sides for the medicine of penance."-- Vita, 17.

-249-

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