(c.1100 - 1172)

 Bishop Teahing  Med'l.. Illum. MS..

These two documents illustrate the progressive shift from the Sin/panance orientation of the Penitential Manuals to the need to adapt to the situation of the penitent

1) Robert of Flamborough. Liber Poenitentialis.  1210 A Critical Edition with Introduction and Notes. Ed. J.J. Francis Firth. Studies and Texts 18. 1971; xxx, 364 pp. ISBN 0–88844–018–9  978–0–88844–018–1.

2) A tract on Hearing Confessions Coventry and Lichfield, 1230

EARLY in the thirteenth century the Englishman Robert of Flamborough was canon-penitentiary at the abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris, where he heard confessions of clerics studying at the university. Richard Poore asked him to write a manual for the guidance of confessors. The resulting Liber Poenitentialis (1208–1213) has until now remained unprinted except for brief citations and Schulte’s partial and scarce edition. In this critical edition, Francis Firth’s painstaking examination of the manuscripts yields a text divided into five books, along with an analysis of textual variants.

Book I treats requirements for a fruitful confession. Book II discusses marriage, while Book III concerns orders and includes a treatise on simony. Book IV explains the seven deadly sins and their concrete manifestations. Book V lists the traditional penances for specific sins, drawn primarily from Bartholomew of Exeter and Ivo of Chartres.

Robert’s two major innovations appear to be the use of an extended dialogue between priest and penitent in Books I–IV, and the inclusion of Decretists’ opinions and papal decretals. The dialogue form was designed to instruct the confessor on how to make the penitent conscious of his sins. On occasion the penitent disputes the judgment of the confessor, and often the interrogation develops into a small treatise on a specific point. Robert appears to have been infatuated with the possibilities offered by the application of canonistic opinion to the confessional, for he drew upon Rufinus, Huguccio, and recent papal decretals. He thus made this body of opinion available to the ordinary confessor. His treatment was part of the movement away from the earlier rigid and mechanical tariff-penitentials toward penances set by the confessor himself.

Yet in applying the technical rules of church courts Robert may have introduced a new and inappropriate form of rigidity. He supported the maintenance of both older penitentials and new canon law positions, but he did favor mitigation of severe penances. Often he is overcautious and legalistic, and he even criticizes canonical judgments that he feels conflict with divine law. The treatment of the sins of ordinary Christians in Book V followed traditional lines rather than incorporating recent practice and opinion.

... Writing shortly before the Fourth Lateran Council made confession obligatory, Robert stood in the vanguard of the movement to reform Christian life, and he composed one of the first examples of the genre of Summae Confessorum that soon included Raymond of Pennafort’s Summa de casibus. Firth’s handsome, careful, and well-documented edition will take its place among recent critical editions of such writers as Peter the Chanter, Alain of Lille, and Thomas of Chobham, and should stimulate further study of Robert’s use of sources and of his influence. We may be able to ascertain whether Peter of Poitiers, also of Saint-Victor, was justified in accusing Robert of a rigid adherence to outdated penitentials uninformed by recent law and theology.

Robert of Flamborough. Liber Poenitentialis.  1210 A Critical Edition with Introduction and Notes. Ed. J.J. Francis Firth. Studies and Texts 18. 1971; xxx, 364 pp. ISBN 0–88844–018–9  978–0–88844–018–1.

– Frederick H. Russell, Catholic Historical Review

Latin text (critical edition): Robert of Flamborough. Liber Poenitentialis. A Critical Edition with Introduction and Notes. Ed. J.J. Francis Firth. Studies and Texts 18. 1971; xxx, 364 pp. ISBN 0–88844–018–9

By the early thirteenth century books of instruction for the confessor had evolved from mere tariffs of penances for various sins into manuals of pastoral instruction." This process seems to have begun with Book 19 of Burchard's Decretum (composed within 1007-15); Book 19 was often copied separately as a penitential, called Burchard's Corrector. [PL 140.942-1014] The development continued through the penitential of Bartholomew of Exeter (approximately 1150-70), to issue in a varied assortment of small books, most of them still unpublished, which had begun to appear about the beginning of the thirteenth century.53 Among these the penitential of Alan of Lille (1183-1203) was quite outstanding.54 The character of such manuals had changed because of the growing conviction that confession and especially contrition were more important than the austerity of the penances.55 Many of these new treatises included some ancient canons containing old traditional penances, but usually their main content was material based on current theology, sometimes also on mystical writings and on pastoral experience." [Firth, Prologomena. p. 10]



 In the wake of the Fourth Lateran Council's stress on the need for the professional training of parish priests, many leaders and thinkers of the church wrote short manuals of instruction intended to aid priests in performing their pastoral duties (Doc. 3). Since the Council mandated yearly confession for all Christians in its famous Canon 21, these pastoral manuals often addressed the subtleties of administering that sacrament successfully. Finesse in handling delicate matters of sin and repentance became even more important as the theory and practice of the sacrament evolved in the course of the twelfth century. Earlier handbooks for confessors, called penitentials, typically enumerated often fearsome lists of sins with a fixed penance prescribed for each one (Doc. 70. Newer manuals such as the following "Tract on [Hearing] Confessions" (Quidam Tractatus de Confessionibus) stressed the need to fit the penance to the character of the sinner, a task that demanded considerable psychological discernment. '1'ltis tract was inserted into the statutes that Bishop Alexander Stavensby compiled for his diocese of Coventry and Lichfield in England around 1224-37. It suggests what sort of interrogation and spiritual counsel a lay person might hope to encounter with a well-trained pastor. It is worth noting that the confessional box with a partition between penitent and confessor that offered a degree of comforting anonymity was an innovation of the sixteenth century; medieval people confessed face-to-face to their priest, usually while he sat on a stool and they kneeled or sat on the floor at his feet.


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