Theses Doctoral

The Burden of Forgiveness: Franciscans’ Impact on Penitential Practices in the Thirteenth Century

Yee, Ethan Leong

This dissertation explores the activities of the Friars Minor relating to penance, seeking to identify the distinctive characteristics of their penitential ideals and practices and understand how they affected the penitential lives of those around them. The first three chapters draw from sources dating to the thirteenth and occasionally early fourteenth centuries from all over Western Christendom, while the last two chapters use sources mainly from thirteenth-century Northern Italy. In the Franciscan Summae confessorum, handbooks for confessors, three distinctive Franciscan penitential ideals emerge: a willingness to undermine the established order of the Church in order to gain more influence in the penitential forum; a desire for more lenient interrogation methods and imposition of penances; and a conception of indulgences as a normal part of the penitential process rather than as extraordinary privileges. These ideals influenced the way Franciscans directed penitential policy when they became prominent under the Franciscan pope Nicholas IV. Absolution and dispensation were made more available through delegation, bishops were left out of the process, and indulgences were granted in larger numbers. Franciscan penitential ideals also spread to the laity through preaching. Franciscans’ emphasis on lenient penances was paired with sermons that urged the laity to do lifelong penance and exalted their spiritual status. Franciscan spiritual advice also moved holy women such as Angela of Foligno and Margaret of Cortona to moderate their excessive penitential practices, seek out indulgences, and criticize prelates. But many lay people resisted Franciscan influence, such as the confraternities of Florence who rejected Franciscan guidance. In general, there was a relationship of mutual influence between the friars and laity in which the friars aimed to control penitential practice to some extent, but also left room for and encouraged lay autonomy, which can be seen in testaments from Bologna.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Senocak, Neslihan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 12, 2019