Introd. to THE
(c. 650)


The following is adapted from J. Mc Neill, Medieval Handbooks of Penance: A Translation of the Principal Libri Poenitentiales and Selections from Related Documents, Chapter 1, “Early Irish Penitentials,”, ser: Records of Civilization Sources and Studies, no. 29 (Columbia University Press, New York,  1938)., pp. 98-99

THE PROLOGUE is substantially a quotation from [a text wrongly attributed to] Caesarius of Arles (ca. 470-542), Homilies XII ( Migne, P.L., LXVII, 1075). The dependence extends to most of the peculiarities of the scriptural quotations, which differ considerably from the approved text of the Vulgate. This little homily in [the PL edition of] Caesarius is entitled Of the Twelve Remissions of Sins. Cummean uses “remissio” only in the first of the series, but the word is understood with the numeral adjective in each subsequent instance. Caesarius himself has done little more than compress a more amply phrased passage in Cassian. The latter’s Conference of Abbot Pinufius, chap. viii( Collationes, XX, viii, C.S.E.L., XIII, 561 ff.), contains a list of penitential works, described by Cassian as “fruits of penitence by which we attain to the expiation of our sins.” Cassian’s list is identical with that of Caesarius, except for the latter’s insertion of the numerals, and his transfer of the second remission to the twelfth place in his list. Cassian in a rather lax spirit presents these remissions as alternative ways of obtaining pardon. The principle is similar to that of the commutations in the penitentials. His table of remissions is in turn largely dependent on Origen Second Homily on Leviticus, which offers a numbered list of seven remissions. These are: baptism, martyrdom, almsgiving, forgiveness of others, conversion of sinners, fulness of love, and penance with tears. Migne, P.L., XI, 418.  For the use in Pseudo-Cummean and other penitentials of Cassian’s scheme of the Deadly Sins see P. Schulze, Die Entwicklung der Hauptlaster- und Haupttugendlehre von Gregor dem Grossen bis Petrus Lombardus, pp. 68 ff. 

A SERIES of “iudicia,” or decisions, on matters of penance, attributed to an Irish abbot named Cummean or Cominianus, were in circulation in the Frankish Empire in the early ninth century. The belief that Cummean was the author of a penitential book is attested by the appearance of his name in connection with the so-called Excarpsus Cummeani. 1

J. Zettinger has given reasons for identifying the work here translated as the original Penitential of Cummean. The manuscript, Codex Vat. Pal. Lat. 485, was written in the monastery of Lorsch (a center of Irish influence) in the ninth century. From internal evidence and detailed comparison with other penitentials, Zettinger concludes that the book was compiled about the middle of the seventh century in either Scotland or Ireland. In another manuscript, Codex Vat. 1349, the prologue of this document is given with an ascription to “Cumianus Longus” (Cummean the Long). This leads Zettinger further to suggest the author’s identification with this Cummean, whom he, however (following A. Theiner, Disquisitiones criticae, 1836, p. 280), mistakenly supposes to have become abbot of Iona. Cummean or Cummine the Long (“Fota” or “Foda”), who lived about 592-662 A.D., was a son of King Fiachna of West Munster, founded the monastery of Kilcummin, King’s County, and may be the distinguished Cummean of St. Brendan’s foundation of Clonfert. By some he has been identified with the bishop Cummean who, leaving Ireland at the age of seventy-five, spent his later life, a period of more than twenty years, in the monastery of Columban at Bobbio, and died there in the reign of Liutprand ( 711-44).2

 The publication, since Zettinger’s study, of the Old Irish Penitential edited by Dr. Gwynn, 3which has references to “Cummine Fota” some of which harmonize with passages in the present document, lends support to the view of his authorship of this penitential. Even if we suppose that the author went to the Continent, it still seems rather probable that the document originated in Ireland. There is no reason to connect it with Iona. That it was known in Ireland in the seventh century seems probable from parallels in the Irish Canons. W. Finsterwalder has indicated also a high probability for its use by Theodore or by Eoda, the first compiler of the Penitential of Theodore, 665-90.4 Penitential texts of later origin ascribed to Cummean show the influence of Continental councils, of which Zettinger finds here no trace. In these texts Cummean is several times described as an abbot of Irish birth--”abbas in Scotia ortus.” Possibly the fame of the aged Cummean of Bobbio led his Continental admirers to regard him as the author of the penitential. The genuine penitential was evidently used as a basis for later formulations to which Cummean’s name was attached.

The work is greatly indebted to the writings of Cassian, and depends for its plan on his scheme of the eight principal sins. The translation is made from Zettinger’s edition, which is given with a valuable introduction under the title “Das Poenitentiale Cummeani”, A.K.K.R., LXXXII ( 1902), 501-40. The manuscript has also been consulted. In addition a few corrections have been made from the seventh or eighth century uncial manuscript Copenhagen Ny Kgl. S. 58 of the Excarpsus Cummeani. Cf. p. 67, above.]


1 See McNeill, Medieval Handbooks, pp. 266 ff.

2 Wasserschleben, Bussordnungen, pp. 61 ff.; W. Stokes, The Martyrology of Oengus, p. 243; Kenney, pp. 420, 428, 516; J. O’Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, VIII, 288 ff. (cf. VI, 605 ff.). It was Cummean the White (Ailbe or Fionn, d. 669), son, or more probably grandson, of another Fiachna, who was Abbot of Iona. W. Reeves, Life of St. Columba, 1st ed., pp. 119, 342, 373 ff.; R. I. Best and H. J. Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght, p. 19. The inscription on the tomb erected by Liutprand to the Bobbio Cummean is translated by M. Stokes, Six Months in the Apennines, pp. 171 ff. See also my “Note on Cummean the Long”, Rev. celt., L ( 1933), 289 ff.; and T. P. Oakley’s detailed comparison with GwynnOld Irish Penitential in “A Great Penitential and Its Authorship”, Romanic Review, XXV( 1934), 25-33.

3 See McNeill, Medieval Handbooks, pp. 155 ff.

4 See McNeill, Medieval Handbooks, pp. 180 f.

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