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Robert Grosseteste’s Quoniam Cogitatio, A Treatise on Confession
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Robert Grosseteste’s Quoniam Cogitatio, A Treatise on Confession

This brief, popular work on confession, here for convenience abbreviated as QC, is ascribed to Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1168–1253), bishop of Lincoln (1235–53), in most of the known manuscripts, and circulated within many copies of collections of his sermons, in association with other texts by him, or on its own. This text enjoyed a very wide readership, as there are presently known to be thirty-six manuscripts of it (see below), all in English hands, of which eleven were copied in the thirteenth century (see MSS C, Cs, G, Gv, Hk, Js, Pt, R7, R9, U, and Z, below). Twenty-seven of these thirty-six copies were reported by S. Harrison Thomson in his catalogue, published in 1940, of Grosseteste’s writings.1 The list below could probably be extended after further searching, [End Page 341] especially in codices of theological or pastoral miscellanea, which are often inadequately catalogued.

Thomson assigned QC the number “15” in his numeration of the sermons in the bishop’s homiletic corpus, while also referring to it separately as De Confessione I and placing it among Grosseteste’s “pastoral and devotional works.”2 In some copies of the text the titles “tractatus,” “libellus,” “sententia,” “summa,” “sermo,” and “sermo uel tractatus” are used to describe it, in combination with “confessionis,” “de confessione,” “de confessionibus,” or “de modo confitendi.” Its author, when identified, is usually called “Lincolniensis,”3 and one also finds “Magister Robertus Lincolniensis episcopus,” “Magister Robertus Gros<se>teste,” “Dominus Robertus Gros<se>teste,” “Robertus Lincolniensis episcopus,” “Venerabilis pater R<obertus> Gros<s>eteste,” and “Sanctus Robertus Lincolniensis episcopus.” The variety of titles employed in the manuscripts to describe the text would suggest that, despite its eventual inclusion within the corpus of Grosseteste’s collected sermons, there was some uncertainty about its precise status or genre, although it is not in fact a sermon or homily. There does not, however, appear to be any reason to doubt that QC, which is very well attested and appears in five manuscripts described by Thomson as “principal manuscript collections of Grosseteste’s works,”4 is an authentic pastoral treatise of Robert Grosseteste. Other evidence for the accuracy of this ascription is offered below. References in parentheses in the introduction that follows are to the numbered divisions of the printed text at the end of this study.


The treatise begins with a quotation from the psalmist: “For the thought of man shall confess to Thee” (§1). This is followed (§§2–12) by twelve brief statements, ascribed to such authorities as Augustine, Bernard, [End Page 342] and Seneca, giving reasons for confessing one’s sins.5 The reasons and arguments cited here are then condensed into a memorable summary of the authorities (§13) that runs as follows:

So, confession is … the vomiting up (euomitio) of rottenness and poison; the fulfillment (effectus) and demonstration (ostensio) of humility; the removal (ablatio) of the veil that hides God from us; the concealment (absconsio) of sin from the eyes of God; the coming forth (processio), with Lazarus, from the tomb; and a bringing forth (deductio) unto the eternal confession of God’s praise. [Confession] is the revelation (manifestatio) that there is truth in us, the coming back (reditio) to God, the obtaining (impetratio) of forgiveness, the refuting (euacuatio) of the devil’s accusation, the growing sweet (indulcoratio) of God, and the gathering up again (recollectio) of us from dissipation to wholeness.

Grosseteste next (§14) cites some fifteen passages from the Old and New Testaments that likewise teach the importance of confessing our sins. As in the previous section, he concludes by drawing these isolated authorities together into a compendious description of the value of confession. It is “giving glory and praise (glorificatio et laudatio) to God, setting right (directio) the heart, obtaining (consecutio) God’s compassion (misericordia), rejoicing (glorificatio) in God’s mercies (miserationes), making known (significatio) wisdom, taking away (translatio) sin, escaping (euasio) from a sentence of death, and bringing oneself (inductio) to salvation.”

These introductory sections constitute a unique dossier of reasons, authorities, and exempla recommending confession. No other confessional or penitential treatise...