- The Germans and the Papal Penitentiary:Repertorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum
German relations with the Roman Curia in the fifteenth century most often are considered in terms of proposals for reform of the Church in "head and members" together with the related issue of papal versus conciliar power. These issues are political, large scale, and easy to document. Other approaches, however, are possible. The German community in Rome, which included some of Italy's earliest printers, has been studied.1 More recently, Ludwig Schmugge and his several colleagues have opened up a rich vein of material, the Supplication Registers of the Papal Penitentiary, found in the Vatican Archives.2 This series of repertoria for successive pontificates gives us insights not found in the negotiations of princes or the writings of theologians, canonists, or humanists. The work done by Schmugge and his associates fits into a more general pattern of study of the Penitentiary, including the work of scholars such as Filippo Tamburini, David d'Avray, Wolfgang Müller, Peter D. Clarke, and Patrick Zutschi.3
The Penitentiary dealt with such mundane concerns as marriage dispensations, the effects of illegitimacy, and absolution of excommunication and other censures. These favors or graces affected large numbers across all of Western Europe, from Iceland to the eastern borders of Poland.4 A broader spectrum of the population of any region was affected by these supplications and their curial responses than happened with almost any other branch of the Curia. Consequently anyone from the humblest Christian to one of the best-known musicians of the Renaissance may appear as a suppliant seeking a dispensation or pardon.5 (The registers are particularly useful for the study of medieval women of lesser social status.6 ) The Penitentiary was also a sensitive agency when reforms were proposed. Fees or "taxes" paid for documents received might be regarded as simoniacal.7 These "writer's" fees had become shared by many, including the Cardinal Penitentiary, not just the scriptores who drafted [End Page 109] them. Moreover, there were financial "composition" fees received as part of a pardon granted, and these too could look simoniacal.8 Consequently, Nicholas of Cusa made it a particular focus of his proposed reform of the Curia.9
The Repertorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum begins with the pontificate of Eugenius IV (1431–1447), and, to date, covers those of five successors: Nicholas V (1447–1455), Calixtus III (1455–1458), Pius II (1458–1464), Paul II (1464–1471), and Sixtus IV (1471–1484). Thus it records the period from the...