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The Historiography Of Early Medieval Penance

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Chapter Summary

The historiography of penance can be described in many different ways. This chapter focuses on persistent medieval idea of the existence of a Roman penitential. The method to demonstrate that this penitential was mythical in character was developed in 19th-century forms of textual criticism, which flourished mainly in Germany. This German tradition has proved to be a recurring feature of research into penitential texts to the present day. The most influential historical framework within which these texts have been interpreted was designed by Bernhard Poschmann in the period between the two World Wars, a framework that has only recently come under critical scrutiny. The famous humiliation of the emperor Henry IV before Pope Gregory VII at Canossa, for example, traditionally described as a ritual of public penance, has lately been regarded as such a ritual of submission. The chapter focuses on contribution of penance to early medieval society at large.

Keywords: Bernhard Poschmann; early medieval penance; Germany; Roman penitential



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