Tracing the Tradition of Medieval Parochial Peace-Making
My paper questions a persistent paradigm in the history of Catholic confession that argues for a medieval shift, beginning with the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, from the reconciliation of community members towards greater emphasis on the reconciliation of individual sinners to God. The older tradition, it has been argued, demanded that sinners re-establish charity with their enemies before seeking forgiveness from God—especially as a prerequisite for Easter communion. This paper focuses on strongly-articulated theology of communal reconciliation that is closely associated with Diocese of Salisbury, especially in Bishop Richard Poore’s statutes and Thomas of Chobham’s Summa confessorum. However, a closer examination of these texts and their Ottonian, Carolingian and Patristic sources reveals that medieval instructions for confessors were ambiguous about the penitential reconciliation of penitents and that communal reconciliation was not universally demanded, even in the pre-Lateran IV era. It turns out, that, through the early and late Middle Ages, the literal force of Biblical injunctions to seek peace with one’s neighbour before making peace with God was tempered by Augustine’s spiritualizing interpretation: an inward, psychological preparedness to forgive or ask forgiveness was considered sufficient as reconciliation. This, no doubt, accounts for the lack of evidence for widespread penitential reconciliation that has often been considered characteristic of medieval Christianity. It also reveals that a concern for the psychological disposition of the penitent was not an innovation of the 16th century (John Bossy) let alone the 18th century (Foucault).