In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 334-335

[Access article in PDF]

Book Review

The Practice of Penance, 900-1050

The Practice of Penance, 900-1050. By Sarah Hamilton. [Royal Historical Society, Studies in History, New series, Volume 20.] (Rochester, New York: The Royal Historical Society; The Boydell Press. 2001. Pp. xiv, 275. $75.00.)

The author's intent is expressed in this manner: "This study seeks to demonstrate that the development of penitential practice in the tenth and early eleventh centuries, whilst it owed a considerable debt to that under the Carolingians, also showed considerable independence, as witnessed by the changes recorded in the penitential liturgies of this period" (p. 18). The temporal limits (900-1050) are defined by Regino of Prüm (d. 915), who incorporated much of the Carolingian liturgical material into his collection, and the reform movement that began in the middle of the eleventh century. The geographical boundaries are "the Reich" (p. 19, 207), specifically, "Italy, east Francia and Lotharingia, stretching into the province of Rheims in west Francia" (p. 19).

In this richly documented study Sarah Hamilton examines a wide range of topics to illustrate the early medieval approach to the practice of penance: the legal collections of Regino of Prüm and Burchard of Worms (chap. 1); the [End Page 334] means used by bishops to instruct the lower clergy (chap. 2); penance among monks and canons (chap. 3); actual cases of penance in narrative sources covering different social orders (e.g., royalty, the lower orders) and spheres of action (e.g., politics, warfare, sex) (chap. 6).

The core of the study is in the fourth and fifth chapters, which deal with formal liturgies of penance. In the fourth chapter the author presents a careful analysis of the rituals (ordines) of public and private penance in the Romano-German Pontifical (PRG) (ca. 950). Her aim seems to be threefold: to analyze the rituals, to note diversity of practices among copies, and to make the point that the PRG did not dominate the field. The last two points are then illustrated in the fifth chapter, which deals in a less detailed manner with other liturgical rituals of penance: (1) the Fulda sacramentaries, (2) "'the north-central' family of rites of public penance" (p. 150), and (3) evidence from Italian rites. The discussion of the formal rituals of penance is enhanced by two appendices, one dealing with the distribution of manuscripts of the PRG, the other dealing with formal rites of penance outside the PRG tradition. The approach is indebted to Mary Mansfield's methodology (The Humiliation of Sinners: Public Penance in Thirteenth-Century France [1995]).

This is a fine study that generally fulfills the author's intent cited above and expands our knowledge of a neglected period in the history of penance. Space allows but a few critical remarks. One must remember that talk of the distribution of the PRG is simply about the distribution of its thirty-nine extant manuscripts. Destroyed or undiscovered manuscripts could well modify theses about distribution. Although the author deals briefly with the rituals of penance in some later penitentials (pp. 44-50), it would have been helpful if she had related those rituals to the formal rituals that she studies in detail. This may well have thrown light on the question of the origins of one-stop penance, i.e., confession, the assignment of penance, and the reception of absolution in one confessional event. Finally, I do not believe the expression "secret penance" is preferable to "private penance." Whatever the problems of calling a confession private that was performed openly in a church, the confession was most definitely not secret. I believe the confession was, in a thirteenth-century formula—in the open, in the sight of all but out of earshot.

Two points: the author uses the same abbreviation (Va) for two different manuscripts (Vat. lat. 3548 [p. 138] and Vat. lat. 472 [p. 169]). The PRG was published in the series "Studi e testi," Volumes ccxxvi (not ccvi), ccxxvii (not ccvii), and cclxix.


Pierre J. Payer
Mount Saint Vincent...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 334-335
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.