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"A Priest Who Appears Good": Manuals of Confession and the Construction of Clerical Identity in Early Modern Spain

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image of Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis / Dutch Review of Church History
For more content, see Church History and Religious Culture.

Like the Eucharist, the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance, particularly the practice of frequent private confession, became an increasingly important element of lay religious devotion in early modern Catholic Europe. Historians often view this development as part of a larger clerical attempt to impose a somber and uniform institutional piety upon traditional forms of folk Catholicism. Through a close reading of early modern Spanish manuals of confession and related sources, this article argues that the relationship between confessor and penitent more closely resembled a complicated series of dialogues and negotiations than a unilaterally imposed religious settlement. While confession was conducted within a stable and hierarchically ordered framework, significant checks existed that limited the undue exercise of priestly power and gave agency and influence to laypeople.


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