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Instructions for use for preachers and confessors

· The penitential discipline under Gregory VII ·

Gregory VII's pontificate was both significant and difficult and in the end was seen by the Pope as a defeat. It was a pontificate marked by great political importance although it derived from a very strong religious connotation: the awareness that a new Christianization of the world was necessary is what inspired the Pope's action. The project assigned to the clergy an irreplaceable role in guiding and disciplining society. The centuries were centuries of profound transformations that also marked the history of penance and of its forms, in which the figure of the priest was to acquire an ever more important role.

In order to give "instructions to every priest, even if he were not particularly competent", so that he might be of help to every person of both sexes and of every condition, to the healthy and to the sick, Burchard of Worms wrote in the nineteenth book of his Decretum , precisely, the Corrector , o Medicus, destined to cover "in all their aspects both corporal punishments and likewise spiritual remedies". Burchard's work had an impact on the penitential discipline of the centuries to come until the dawn of the twelfth century, when Alain de Lille wrote his Liber poenitentialis , the testimony of a transition which had by then occurred. The penitential discipline thus seems to be focused on the contritio cordis , which alone can encourage complete conversion, rendered visible by concrete works which ended by giving greater prominence to the ministry of the priest, called to make a sensitive discernment that demanded of him the sagacity of a diligens inquisitor and the wisdom of a subtilis investigator . The greater and recognized role of the priest likewise developed his knowledge of the importance of preaching with regard to penance.

A clergy equal to the situation was called for that could administer the most effective remedy to penitents, for whom the Fourth Lateran Council made obligatory the encounter with the priest himself. The clergy was to be able to deal adequately with the pentitential forum – for it was henceforth a question of a true and proper forum – in the face of the new forms assumed by the celebration of the sacramental rite; the clergy had to be endowed with knowledge and prudence, skill and tact, to induce penitents to make a sincere and full confession of their sins. So it was that appeals to evangelize the de-Christianize people multiplied and warnings to those of them who failed to carry out their proper task increased.




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 6, 2019