Penitential canons

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Penitential canons are religious rules laid down by councils or bishops concerning the penances to be done for various sins. These canons, collected, adapted to later practice, and completed by suitable directions formed the nucleus of the Penitential Books (see Moral Theology).

Penance repentance of sins

Penance is repentance of sins as well as an alternate name for the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. It also plays a part in confession among Anglicans and Methodists, in which it is a rite, as well as among other Protestants. The word penance derives from Old French and Latin paenitentia, both of which derive from the same root meaning repentance, the desire to be forgiven. Penance and repentance, similar in their derivation and original sense, have come to symbolize conflicting views of the essence of repentance, arising from the controversy as to the respective merits of "faith" and "good works". Word derivations occur in many languages.

Contents

They all belong to the ancient penitential discipline and retain only a historic interest; if the writers of the classical period continue to cite them, it is only as examples, and to excite sinners to repentance by reminding them of earlier severity. In a certain sense they survive, for the granting of indulgences is based on the periods of penance, years, day and quarantines. The penitential canons may be divided into three classes corresponding to the penitential discipline of the East, of Rome, or of the Anglo-Saxon Churches.

Indulgence

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, an indulgence is "a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins". It may reduce the "temporal punishment for sin" after death, in the state or process of purification called Purgatory.

Penitential canons of the East

In the East, the prominent feature of penance was not the practice of mortification and pious works, though this was supposed; the penance imposed on sinners was a longer or shorter period of exclusion from communion and the Mass, to which they were gradually admitted to the different penitential "stations" or classes, three in number; for the "weepers" (proschlaiontes, flentes), mentioned occasionally, were not yet admitted to penance; they were great sinners who had to await their admission outside of the church. Once admitted, the penitents became "hearers" (achrooeenoi, audientes), and assisted at the Divine service until after the lessons and the homily; then, the "prostrated" (hypopiptontes, prostrati), because the bishop before excluding them, prayed over them while imposing his hands on them as they lay prostrate; finally the systantes, consistentes, who assisted at the whole service, but did not receive communion. The penanced ended with the rest of the faithful. These different periods amounted in all to three, five, ten, twelve or fifteen years, according to the gravity of the sins.

Mortification of the flesh

Mortification of the flesh is an act by which an individual or group seeks to mortify, or put to death, their sinful nature, as a part of the process of sanctification. In Christianity, common forms of mortification that are practiced to this day include fasting, abstinence, as well as pious kneeling. Also common among Christian religious orders in the past were the wearing of sackcloth, as well as flagellation in imitation of Jesus of Nazareth's suffering and death by crucifixion. Christian theology holds that the Holy Spirit helps believers in the "mortification of the sins of the flesh." Although the term 'mortification of the flesh', which is derived from Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5 in the Bible, is primarily used in a Christian context, other cultures may have analogous concepts of self-denial; secular practices exist as well. Old Testament precursors include Zechariah 13:6 and I Kings 18:28-29. Some forms unique to various Asian cultures are carrying heavy loads and immersion in water.

A homily is a commentary that follows a reading of scripture. In Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox Churches, a homily is usually given during Mass at the end of the Liturgy of the Word. Many people consider it synonymous with a sermon.

Eucharist Christian rite

The Eucharist is a Christian rite that is considered a sacrament in most churches, and as an ordinance in others. According to the New Testament, the rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper; giving his disciples bread and wine during the Passover meal, Jesus commanded his followers to "do this in memory of me" while referring to the bread as "my body" and the cup of wine as "the new covenant in my blood". Through the Eucharistic celebration Christians remember both Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross and his commission of the apostles at the Last Supper.

This discipline, which was rapidly mitigated, ceased to be observed by the close of the fourth century. The relative penitential canons are contained in the canonical letter of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (about 263; P. G., X, 1019), the Councils of Ancyra (314), Neocaesarea (314-20), Nicaea (325), and the three canonical letters of St. Basil to Amphilochius (Ep. 188, 199, 217 in P. G., XXXII, 663, 719, 794). They passed into the Greek Collections and the Penitential Books. Those laid down by the councils passed to the West in different translations, but were misunderstood or not enforced.

First Council of Nicaea council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in 325

The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.

Amphilochius of Iconium bishop

Amphilochius of Iconium was a Christian bishop of the fourth century, son of a Cappadocian family of distinction, born, perhaps at Caesarea, ca. 339/340, died probably 394–403. His father was an eminent lawyer, and his mother Livia remarkable for gentleness and wisdom. He is venerated as a saint on Nov. 22.

Penitential canons of Rome

The Roman penitential discipline did not recognize the various "stations", or classes; with this exception it was like the discipline of the East. The penitential exercises were not settled in detail and the punishment properly so called consisted in exclusion from communion for a longer or shorter period. But the practice of admitting to penance only once, which kept the penitents in a fixed order, was maintained longer.

The most ancient Western canons relate to the admission or exclusion from public penance; for instance, the decision of Callixtus (Tertullian, "De pudic.", i) to admit adulterers, that of St. Cyril and the Council of Carthage (251) (Ep. 56) to admit the lapsi or apostates, although the Council of Elvira (about 300, Can. 1, 6, 8, etc.) still refused to admit very great sinners. Other canons of this council ordained penances of several years' duration.

After Elvira and the Council of Arles in 314 the penitential canons were rather infrequent. They are more numerous in the councils and decretals of the popes after the close of the fourth century—Siricius, Innocent and later St. Leo. They reduce the duration of the penance very much, and are more merciful towards the lapsi or apostates. These texts, with the translations of the Eastern councils, passed into the Western canonical collections.

Penitential canons of the Anglo-Saxon and Irish Churches

More striking in the penitential canons of Anglo-Saxon and Irish origin is the particular fixation of the penitential acts imposed on the sinner to insure reparation, and their duration in days, quarantines (carina), and years; these consisted in more or less rigorous fasts, prostrations, deprivation of things otherwise allowable; also alms, prayers, pilgrimages etc.

These canons, unknown to us in their original sources, are contained in the numerous so-called Penitential Books (Libri Poenitentiales) or collections made in, and in vogue from, the seventh century.

These canons and the penitential discipline they represent are introduced to the Continent by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, and were at first received unfavourably (Council of Châlons, 814; Paris, 829); finally, however, they were adopted and gradually mitigated. (See COLLECTION OF ANCIENT Canons.)

Sources

PD-icon.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton.

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