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Catholic canon law
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
The Synod of Ancyra was an ecclesiastical council, or synod, convened in Ancyra, the seat of the Roman administration for the province of Galatia, in 314. The season was soon after Easter; the year may be safely deduced from the fact that the first nine canons are intended to repair havoc wreaked in the church by persecution, which ceased after the overthrow of Maximinus II in 313.
Confession, in many religions, is the acknowledgment of one's sins (sinfulness) or wrongs.
The Synod of Elvira was an ecclesiastical synod held at Elvira in the Roman province of Hispania Baetica, now Granada in southern Spain. Its date has not been exactly determined but is believed to be in the first quarter of the fourth century, approximately 305–6. It was one of three councils, together with the Synod of Arles (314) and the Synod of Ancyra, that first approached the character of general councils and prepared the way for the first ecumenical council. It was attended by nineteen bishops and twenty-six presbyters, mostly resident in Baetica. Deacons and laymen were also present. Eighty-one canons are recorded, although it is believed that many were added at later dates. All concern order, discipline and conduct among the Christian community. Canon 36, forbidding the use of images in churches, became a bone of contention between Catholic and Protestant scholars after the Protestant Reformation.
The Council of Epaone or Synod of Epaone was held in September 517 at Epaone in the Burgundian Kingdom.
The Christian movement known as the Penitents goes back to the 4th century. Those who had committed serious sins confessed their sins to the Bishop or his representative and were assigned a penance that was to be carried out over a period of time. After completing their penance, they were reconciled by the Bishop with a prayer of absolution offered in the midst of the community. Penance assumed many forms, such as pilgrimages to holy sites; constructing, repairing and rebuilding churches; and caring for the poor and sick.
A penitential is a book or set of church rules concerning the Christian sacrament of penance, a "new manner of reconciliation with God" that was first developed by Celtic monks in Ireland in the sixth century AD. It consisted of a list of sins and the appropriate penances prescribed for them, and served as a type of manual for confessors.
The Catholic Church historically observes the disciplines of fasting and abstinence at various times each year. For Catholics, fasting is the reduction of one's intake of food, while abstinence refers to refraining from meat. The Catholic Church teaches that all people are obliged by God to perform some penance for their sins, and that these acts of penance are both personal and corporeal. The purpose of fasting is spiritual focus, self-discipline, imitation of Christ, and performing penance. Bodily fasting is meaningless unless it is joined with a spiritual fast from sin. St. Basil gives the following exhortation regarding fasting:
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, in which the faithful obtain absolution for the sins committed against God and neighbour and are reconciled with the community of the Church. By this sacrament Catholics believe they are freed from sins committed after baptism. The sacrament of Penance is considered the normal way to be absolved from mortal sin, by which one would otherwise possibly condemn oneself to Hell. Catholic theology regarding the forgiveness of sins debates whether Christ at the judgment of the individual after their death would allow those with unconfessed mortal sins a chance to repent and save themselves – especially those who had not made plans to confess, or were not mentally ill, coerced, or suicidal. While persons with certain unconfessed mortal sins that were under some form of censure still at their death might not be allowed a Catholic Funeral Mass and burial rites, and while Catholics with unconfessed mortal sins may not receive Communion, these matters, though related, are not the same as whether an individual with unconfessed serious sins is condemned to Hell.
Collections of ancient canons contain collected bodies of canon law that originated in various documents, such as papal and synodal decisions, and that can be designated by the generic term of canons.
Lapsi were apostates in the early Christian Church, who renounced their faith under persecution by Roman authorities. The term as refers to those who have lapsed or fallen away from their faith to return later in life.
The treasury of merit or treasury of the Church consists, according to Catholic belief, of the merits of Jesus Christ and his faithful, a treasury that because of the communion of saints benefits others too. According to the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, this Catholic belief is a way of expressing the view that the good works done by Jesus and others can benefit other people, and "contemporary Roman Catholic theologians see it as a metaphor for ways in which the faith of Christ and the saints helps others".
Halitgar was a ninth-century bishop of Cambrai. He is known also as an apostle to the Danes, and the writer of a widely known penitential.
Lay communion is a term applied in the Catholic Church, to describe the status of a cleric who is in communion with the Church, but only with the standing of a lay person. In modern times lay communion is sometimes imposed, but only in exceptional cases.
The title Handbook for a Confessor, refers to a compilation of Old English and Latin penitential texts associated with – and possibly authored or adapted by – Wulfstan (II), Archbishop of York. The handbook was intended for the use of parish priests in hearing confession and determining penances. Its transmission in the manuscripts seems to bear witness to Wulfstan's profound concern with these sacraments and their regulation, an impression which is similarly borne out by his Canons of Edgar, a guide of ecclesiastical law also targeted at priests. The handbook is a derivative work, based largely on earlier vernacular representatives of the penitential genre such as the Scrifboc and the Old English Penitential. Nevertheless, a unique quality seems to lie in the more or less systematic way it seeks to integrate various points of concern, including the proper formulae for confession and instructions on the administration of confession, the prescription of penances and their commutation.
The Collectio canonum quadripartita is an early medieval canon law collection, written around the year 850 in the ecclesiastical province of Reims. It consists of four books. The Quadripartita is an episcopal manual of canon and penitential law. It was a popular source for knowledge of penitential and canon law in France, England and Italy in the ninth and tenth centuries, notably influencing Regino's enormously important Libri duo de synodalibus causis. Even well into the thirteenth century the Quadripartita was being copied by scribes and quoted by canonists who were compiling their own collections of canon law.
The Excarpsus Cummeani, also called the Pseudo-Cummeani, is an eighth-century penitential, probably written in the north of the Frankish Empire in Corbie Abbey. Twenty-six copies of the manuscript survive; six of those were copied before 800 CE. It is possible that the penitential, which extends its scope beyond monasticism to include clerics and lay people, has a connection to Saint Boniface and his efforts to reform the Frankish church in the first half of the eighth century. Geographic spread by the end of the eighth century and continued copying of the manuscript into the 9th and 10th centuries have been interpreted to mean the work was considered "by the Christian authorities" a canonical text. It was used as late as the eleventh century, "as the main source of the P. Parisiense compositum".
Jus antiquum is a period in the legal history of the Catholic Church, spanning from the beginning of the church to the Decretum of Gratian, i.e. from A.D. 33 to around 1150. In the first 10 centuries of the church, there was a great proliferation of canonical collections, mostly assembled by private individuals and not by church authority as such.
The Collectio canonum Wigorniensis is a medieval canon law collection originating in southern England around the year 1005. It exists in multiple recensions, the earliest of which — "Recension A" — consists of just over 100 canons drawn from a variety of sources, most predominantly the ninth-century Frankish collection of penitential and canon law known as the Collectio canonum quadripartita. The author of Recension A is currently unknown. Other recensions also exist, slightly later in date than the first. These later recensions are extensions and augmentations of Recension A, and are known collectively as "Recension B". These later recensions all bear the unmistakable mark of having been created by Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester and archbishop of York, possibly sometime around the year 1008, though some of them may have been compiled as late as 1023, the year of Wulfstan's death. The collection treats a range of ecclesiastical and lay subjects, such as clerical discipline, church administration, lay and clerical penance, public and private penance, as well as a variety of spiritual, doctrinal and catechistic matters. Several "canons" in the collection verge on the character of sermons or expository texts rather than church canons in the traditional sense; but nearly every element in the collection is prescriptive in nature, and concerns the proper ordering of society in a Christian polity.