This is my presentation for yesterday's Saving the Sinners seminar and the subject is penitential manuals of the 13th century seen in view of their forebears at the University of Paris. Since this is a text intended for a particular audience it may not be that accessible to the general reader and there is a multitude of names apt to cause more confusion than clarity. However, the main argument should be sufficiently clear, or else I have strongly overestimated myself.
But these civil penalties are either mitigated or rendered more severe for various causes and are rather to be called penalties than penances. Ecclesiastical satisfactions are properly called penances since they usually proceed from inward penitence.
- Liber Poenitentialis, Alan de Lille (ca. 1114-1203)
All the faithful of either sex, after they have reached the age of discernment, should individually confess all their sins in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year, and let them take care to do what they can to perform the penance imposed on them.
- Lateran IV, constitution 21
Behold, thy soul is in thy hands. Choose therefore for thyself whether to be sufficiently punished in this life according to canonical or authentic penances or to await purgatory.
- Liber Poenitentialis, Robert of Flamborough
The Summula - or little treatise - of Walter de Cantilupe (c. 1195-1266) was aimed for teaching clerics how to hear confessions and how to prescribe penance, and it was meant to accompany and complete the synodal statutes issued at the synod of Worcester in 1240. Walter recognised a necessity in educating the clergy in this matter and assailed the task diligently. The necessity itself stemmed from the Fourth Lateran Council whose 21st constitution states that men and women having reached the age of discernment should confess their sins to their priests at least once a year. In order for the clerics to perform the correct prescription of penance, they had to be educated in the matters of sin and how sins could be amended. It was also necessary that the clergy was in unison on these matters and therefore Walter de Cantilupe wrote a manual to edify his underlings for the benefit of his flock.
In their article "The Summulae of Bishops Walter de Cantilupe (1240) and Peter Quinel (1287)" in Speculum volume 67, Joseph Goering and Daniel S. Taylor places the Summulae of Walter de Cantilupe in relation to his forebears saying that his work "is indebted to the tradition of English works on penance and pastoral care," listing a range of clerics and theologians whose writings have preceded and more or less directly influenced Walter de Cantilupe's own writings. Goering and Taylor claim Walter's immediate inspiration in particular to be the works of Alexander of Stavensby and Robert Grosseteste, the latter being the author of the treatise Templum Dei. They also list a number of other writers of penitential matters, all of whom are Englishmen, and include the handbooks produced by the early Dominican order, which was approved by the Papal See December 22 1216.
Robert of Grosseteste, 13th century
However, I find it insufficient to limit the chain of influence to an English sphere, which is what it appears to be despite the mention of the Dominican manuals. This was an age where churchmen like Walter de Cantilupe, his contemporary episcopal colleagues and his clerical and scholarly forebears belonged to or identified themselves with the Papacy rather than the temporal realms of their age. It is of course true that the writers in question operated to a great extent within the realm of the English king, but these were men of erudition who had spent their youth outside whatever parish they resided in at a later age, and I seek therefore to attempt extending the range of influence beyond the English sphere by looking at the backgrounds of the various writers of penitential literature.
The tradition of English penitential guides is said to have started with Robert of Flamborough's Liber Poenitentialis (1208-13). Contemporary works are Summa de penitentia by Thomas of Chobham (d. 1230's) and Summa qui bene presunt (c. 1220) by Richard of Wetheringsett (active c. 1200 - c. 1230). These men were all English by birth, but it is insufficient to label them as Englishmen, since they were a part of the vast Papal network operating on a level of its own regardless of temporal boundaries. Their relationship to this network becomes evident once we start looking a bit closer at these writers and their backgrounds.
Robert of Flamborough's book of penances was written on the instigation of Richard Poore, bishop of Salisbury and in his youth student in Paris under Stephen Langton. Robert himself was also canon-penitentiary at the abbey of Saint Victor in Paris.
Thomas of Chobham studied arts and theology in the 1180s and was influenced by Peter the Chanter, whose theology echoes in his mature writings. After a period at Salisbury under Richard Poore's older brother Herbert, in which he wrote the Summa de penitentia et officiis ecclesiae, Thomas returned to Paris and apparently taught theology in the 1220s.
Richard of Wetheringsett was not a Parisian student, but studied at the cathedral school in Lincoln. However, his master, William de Montibus had sometimes in the 12th century - maybe the 1160s - studied theology under Peter Comestor and others. He also taught theology himself in a school outside the Paris walls, and it would be surprising if this did in no way reflect on the young Richard. Also Walter's contemporary Robert de Grosseteste had studied in Lincoln.
As we can see Paris is the perhaps main unifying feature of these churchmen. Pope Innocent III himself, in his days as Lotario di Conte Segni, had also studied at Paris, and among the master's there penance had been one of the many issues frequently debated. Among the grandest names in this respect are Alan de Lille who wrote his book on penances in the period c.1175-1200. Alan de Lille was in turn a student of Peter Abelard who himself discussed the nature of sin in a heated argument with Bernard of Clairvaux.
Penance had of course been an aspect of Christian life long before the 12th century, but with Lateran IV's mandatory annual confession there comes a paradigm shift for penance which demands much more from both the laity and the clergy in terms of knowledge and awareness and opens up for the range of penitential literature. At the core of this change lies the intellectual milieu of the University of Paris, its masters and its student, and it is above all in that tradition we must consider Walter di Cantilupe's summulae.