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BOOK REVIEWS309 The Humiliation ofSinners:Public Penance in Thirteenth-Century France. By Mary C. Mansfield. (Ithaca, New York: CorneU University Press. 1995. Pp. xvi, 343. $39.95.) Mary Mansfield's The Humiliation of Sinners was completed as a doctoral dissertation at Berkeley in the spring of 1989· She died Ui an automobUe accident the foUowing August at the age of 29. Her dissertation dUector, Gerard Caspary and her father, Harvey Mansfield, prepared the manuscript for pubUcation, preserving it, they teU us, as she had left it.Thus the publication date of 1995 is for a manuscript finished in 1989. It is the work of a formidable scholar whose intensive research in a wide range of sources produced a bold reinterpretation of the history of medieval penance. The book has two principal, interrelated goals.The first is to reject the thesis that medieval penance is the progenitor of the privacy, interiority and individualism that we believe are characteristic of modern western culture.That argument (waged throughout but most clearly summarized in the final chapter) is inevitably speculative, and although it produces important reflections on this problem, I found it beyond the reach of her evidence.The second goal is to "rehabiUtate " public penance by showing that historians have misunderstood its longevity and vitality between about 1000 and 1350.That project is founded on new, varied, and extremely interesting evidence. The restoration of public penance to the prominence it enjoyed in medieval Ufe and values rests first of all on a critique of the reigning paradigm in the history of penance. In the first three chapters, "Penance and Privacy," "The FaUure of aTheology of Private Penance," and "The PubUcity of Private Penance," Mary Mansfield undermines that history by insisting that historians (foUowing CyrUle Vogel rather than the seventeenth-century Oratorian Jean Morin) have been misled by the clarity of distinctions drawn by scholastic theologians and canonists .Where historians have seen a neat progression from canonical, to tariffed,to private, sacramental, auricular confession, her reading of Lanfranc, Peter Comestor, Alan of IiUe, Robert of Flamborough, and Thomas of Chobham uncovers an awkward period of transition in which confusions—never successfully resolved—about public, private, and sacrament abound. Her examples of penitential practice that embarrass attempts to see in auricular confession a preserve ofwhat we caU "privacy" are not unfamUiar and not without counter-arguments: the pubUc site of confession, the recourse to "reputation " to uncover sinners to be disciplined, sins reserved to higher ecclesiastical authorities, rigorous satisfactions specified by penitential canons that retained their prestige, restitution as a condition of absolution, and excommunications, especiaUy latae sententiae. Medieval society prized humiUation."Behind aU the praise of contrition lurks a longing for pubUc humiUation," she asserts, and describes a "general phenomenon of hauling secret sinners into the Ught of day" (pp.46, 124). Chapter four defines the terms and explains the procedures of pubUc penance, with concrete examples of her thesis that pubUc penance was -widely 310BOOK REVIEWS observed north of the Loire (unlike Italy and southern France). It punished ecclesiastical crimes such as clerical concubinage,violence against clerics, and destruction of church property, as weU as crimes shared with secular jurisdictions such as adultery,usury, and blasphemy. Once again, therefore, certain features of the received history of penance remain vaUd: "Solemn pubUc penance was for criminals, not saints" (p. 100); nor, one might add, for routine sinners. The analysis ofecclesiastical seasons and theU ritual (particularly penitential) celebrations in chapter five, "CoUective Expiation, CoUective Rejoicing," discerns a"ritual logic" (p. 158) that prepares for an impressive textual history and analysis of seventy-five French pontificals from 1150 to 1350 in chapters six and seven. She plots pontifical genealogies, orders them in fifty-year periods, and submits them to a meticulous reading. Her argument for the reliability of her sources is persuasive. French scribes did not merely copy rites of public penance from earlier models, they constantly revised them. In short, they experimented and thereby chronicled dramatic changes from the eleventh to the fourteenth century. In the earUer period, the ritual was genuinely communal: the expulsion and reconciUation of"scapegoats"were joyously received as a purification of the community. But in the thirteenth century, the rite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 309-311
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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