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Penance
By
April Gentry
Introduction
I would like to explore the history and the development of penance. In my exploration I will examine the ancient church penance, review the priestly penance and legal penalty, and discuss the method and humiliation of public penance. Furthermore I would like to examine how penance contributed to the medieval Catholic Church.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)." Mankind has been committing sins since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The word sin is defined as a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle according to dictionary.com. Often people seek redemption for committing a sin therefore, they seek deliverance or to be rescued from the sin. Throughout history there have been various punishments and wages for committing sins.
“For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” The Catholic Church required parishioners to repent for their sins through penance. The sacrament of penance is a historical practice of the Catholic Church. Public and private confession was a method of sacrament to reconcile people with God. When one sins they separate themselves from God, his grace and his mercy. In this research paper I will first explore ancient church penance, second I will review priestly penance and legal penalty, and lastly I will discuss the method and humiliation of public penance.
The early Church was structured around the practice of public penance. Penance is more than a priest intervening on behalf of the church to ease ones consciences or to relieve the regretful aspect of committing a sin. “Penance is a sacrament instituted by God in which forgiveness of transgressions committed after baptism is granted through the priest's absolution to those who with honest sorrow confess their transgression and agree to satisfy for the same (E. Hanna, 1911)." Public penance was required only of those convicted of what then were called by pre-eminence “mortal sins, idolatry, murder, and adultery. According to J. McNeill & H. Gamer (1965) p.4-5:
Christianity from the first applied austere standards of behavior and in the course of its advance in the Graeco-Roman world, developed a discipline for the correction of Christians who violated the code. In the first stage this took the form of public confession made before the assembled congregation. Neither sins committed in secret nor those already given a scandalous publicity were exempt from the requirement of open confession and repudiation. In the graver offenses and in cases of impenitence or of public scandal, this discipline was accompanied by a period of exclusion from the fellowship. St Paul’s description of this exclusion, “to deliver unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit maybe saved,” in all probability points to some severe remedial discipline.
In short Christians guilty of moral sins private or secret were obliged to go undergo public penance.
For every action there is a reaction, mankind has always been held accountable for their transgressions. Throughout history there has been a form of punishment in place with the intent of amendment regarding a religious sin or a layman’s criminal act. During the medieval Middle Ages the state and church cooperated in attempt to combat both religious sins and criminal acts. The state and church practiced different methods of combating crimes, reinforcing laws and penance. According to T. Oakley p.516-517, “In contrast to our present practices, the secular laws of that time constantly reiterated that crimes were sins, and that secular penal law had a religious, as well as a punitive purpose.
In addition to being wrongs against individuals or the state, crimes were regarded as defiling the soul of the committer (Oakley, 1932).” Sins and crimes are parallel to one another due to committing one is to commit the other, it is a sin to commit a crime. They both are derived from the same root of evil and require redemption. During middle ages no one was without sin, even the priest commented sins; however, they were held to a different standard regarding penance (Hopkins, 1924) p.245-248.
Two authorities upheld the laws during the middle ages “the king and the priest.” The priests made their own rules (laws) and penances, which vary from slight to severe religious exercises, such as fasting and singing (repeating) certain text. If the priest sin unintentional or if he sin intentionally and have preformed penance, the priest is to be banished with his property; however, men of other casts who perform penance have their whole property confiscated if they have sinned unintentionally. They are banded and banished if they have sinned intentionally. Penances for priests alone remains without legal force as a manual of atonements made for priest by priest.
In short the priests were considered part of the privilege casts.
Priest during confessions were considered a direct line of communication to God. They were ordained officials given the authority to perform religious practices, however they do not have the authority to save souls only God can judge sins and save souls. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own (I Corinthians 6:19)?" While reading the above scripture, I could not help but to wonder why the Catholic Church parishioners confessed their sins to a priest instead of God. I was not raised Catholic so naturally I do not understand their religious practices, however I do understand that a priest is a man much like a pastor who is a vassal that God uses to teach his people.
The Holy Spirit lives within us all. Therefore man has a direct line of communication to God himself. One can confess his sins to God and ask for forgiveness directly. To confess ones sins privately could be embarrassing and shameful; however to confess a sin in a public arena in front of peers and fellow countryman must have been overwhelming. The early church required people to confess their sins publicly and some were embarrassed and humiliated (Mansfield, 1989) p.1-2.
Long after the thirteenth century, public humiliation remained a favorite punishment for both secular and religious offenses, and the expression faire amende honorable, once reserved for the performance of such spectacles, has become a general term for suffering humiliation, “eating crow.” The early medieval rite took two main forms the dramatic public humiliation of the sinner, and the “tariffed” private penances of the local penitential’s; which assigned heavy penalties of fasting, alms, or money redemptions for “tariffs.” That second, private form of penance then began to evolve and it supposedly came to replace public rite.
In short the public penance purpose was to teach the penitential a lesson while humiliating them.
One may assume that the public penance purpose was not only to teach people a lesson but to humiliate them enough not to commit the sin again. Public penance probable prevented others from committing sins in order to reframe from humiliation. Penance and redemption is an accentual aspect in any believers life, due to the fact no one is prefect and we all sin. I just thank God that we all can be forgiven through God’s mercy and grace.
Analysis I
Focus: In today’s society there is a separation between church and state regarding various laws. However, during the Middle Ages the church and state cooperated in combating crimes. A crime in its popular sense means an offense punishable by law (515). Although the church and state cooperated with one another in combating crimes, there were various differences within their laws. Private vengeance was still allowed in some cases, and sometimes developed into dangerous private wars (515).

State
Church
Medieval Penance and Secular Law
Secular law sometimes left unpunished certain heinous offences (516).
Penal law had a religious, as well as a punitive purpose (516).
Reiterated severe laws requiring the performance of public and private penance (518).
Called upon the bishops to impose penance upon the offenders, and to excommunicate their masters who failed to desist and repent (519).
Oaths sworn on relics, or on other holy articles or persons, involving property, abduction, seduction, surety and contracts, and the induction of a judge into office (520).
For perjury penance must be performed, in addition to the payment of heavy secular fines (520).
Perjury involving the ownership of property entailed restitution, plus the payment of honor-price and a fine (521).
Penalties were usually money compensations, paid to victim’s kindred in case of homicide (523).
Criminals must perform penance, in additional to fulfilling the secular penalties (523).
Chief instrument for such discipline was penance (516).
Regulated varied matters as food and drink, marriage, sexual relations, and charity etc (516).
Exile, outlawry, fines or imprisonment those who refused to do penance (518).
Supplied potent religious sanctions to reinforce the law. Many religious concepts and customs profoundly affected various phases of secular law (519).
Oaths were used in cases concerning distraint of property boundaries and controversies respecting honor-price (520).
The penances for perjury were differentiated according to circumstances, ranging from one to two years to six or seven (520).
Clerics guilty of perjury involving ownership of property lost full honor-price, plus ecclesiastical penalties (521).
Provided penances for homicide committed in revenge, as well as for other forms (523).
Discipline generally consisted of fasting for three days a week or for three forty-day periods a year (523).
Implications: In the historical relations of church and state, the rise of orderly and relatively peaceful methods of settling disputes (515) was not always in line with one another. These orderly processes had to struggle against powerful obstacles, which long retarded the development of peaceful justice (515). Although there were slight differences between the church and state laws, they both punished criminals for their sins. Both laws possessed many ramifications, which penetrated deeply into numerous phases of medieval society, secular as well as ecclesiastical (516).
Analysis II
Focus: Criminal law during the medieval middle ages appeared to be matters upheld by priestly penance as well as by legal penalty. Different caste was punished in various ways by different systems; therefore, there are clear lines of demarcation between the two systems (243). The King implemented one system, with his corporal punishment and fines acting as guardian of his people. The other system apart from the King was the Priests, who made for offenses their own rules (laws) and penances (247).

King Law
Priestly Law
Priestly Penance and Legal Penalty
The King shall cause a thief to return stolen property and inflict punishment of various sorts (245).
Performing prescribed penance, will not be branded but pay the highest fine 1,000 coppers (245).
Whole property is confiscated if sin is unintentionally, branded and banished if sinned intentionally (246).
Great criminals, with the exception of Brahmans, are to be put to death (246).
Punishment regarding severe religious exercises, such as fasting and singing (repeating) certain text was not meant for the mass of people (246).
In the case of all other castes, the King, after carefully examining their actions, shall punish (such sinner) by deprivation of life (253).
The penalty for one who violates any rule (of casts or order) imprisonment until amendment and banishment in case one refuse to amend his ways (253).
The King is the corrector of criminals (evil-souled) (256).
The King alone may inflict punishment and designate penalties (256).
A slave has to repay eight times the value of what he has stolen (257).
The King shall brand and banish him from his realm (245).
Pay but half that amount (245).
Banished with property if sin is unintentionally or intentionally (246).
Corporal punishment is illegal for an Brahman but must be branded and turned out of his own district, but saying a penance he is free from all guilt, including great crimes (246).
Such punishments are meant for the priests and warriors alone. Priests alone are in a position to carry out singing and reciting. (246).
Members of the Brahman castes are made to (perform the indicated penance) by force and any means of restraint (imprisonment) (253)
But all except capital crimes the intercession of a spiritual teacher, a sacrificial priest, a Snatake, or a prince might serve to mitigate deserved punishment to a lighter form of punishment (253).
Priest gave precedence to his own caste, exempted it from capital punishment and from slavery (256).
The Priest may only reprove and name the penance to be preformed (256).
A priest has to pay sixty-four times as much or even more of what he has stolen (257).
Implications: This chapter compared and contrasted the different caste and their systems of punishment and penance. There was a distinct unfairness between the punishment for laymen and that of a priest. The penances for priests alone remain without legal force, as a manual of atonements made by priests for priests (248). The priest was considered a higher caste and received lighter forms of punishments; therefore, he was considered the greatest offender due to “knowledge made a difference,” that is, the higher his caste the greater is the guilt of the offender (257).
Bibliography Sources
Hopkins, E. W. (1924). Priestly Penance and Legal Penalty. Journal of the American Oriental Society, pp. 243-257.
Mansfield, M. C. (1989). The Humiliation of Sinners: Public Penance in Thirteenth-Century France . Berkeley: Cornell University Press.
John Thomas McNeill, H. M. (1938). Medieval Handbook of Penance: a translation of the principal. Chichester: Columbia University press.
Other Sources
Hanna, E. (1911). The Sacrament of Penance. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 20, 2011 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11618c.htm
McNeill, J. T. (Jul., 1921). Review: The Development of Penance in Christianity. The Journal of Religion, pp. 437-440

pp. 515-524.


**Your paper was full of information about penance. I feel like you put time in your research paper. I enjoyed looking at the video. You prepared your paper well. Good Job! Now, I have a better understanding what penance mean and what you should do in the Roman Catholic Church if you sin. (a. w. )

*I enjoyed how you had the video and picture on your page that gave it a great touch! I tried putting a picture on mine but it did not go over to well. As far as critiquing your paper, I found a few grammatical errors but nothing major! It was just a fragment, comma and referencing. When you add a reference at the end you wanna do last name comma year and then period for example, (Smith, 1977). Other than t hat you had so much wonderful information about Penance I enjoyed reading your paper and I know you put a lot of research into it! Great job!

WOW! i thought the page was great and insightful. The page is clean and well organized. The information was researched and well documented. The bibliography was clean as well.