Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
Is sometimes used for a state of repentance, and sometimes for the act of repenting. It is also used for a discipline or punishment attending repentance, more usually called penance. It also gives title to several religious orders, consisting either of converted debauchees and reformed prostitutes, or of persons who devote themselves to the office of reclaiming them.
See next article. Order of penitents of St. Magdalen was established about the year 1272, by one Barnard, a citizen of Marseilles, who devoted himself to the work of converting the courtesans of that city. Barnard was seconded by several others, who, forming a kind of society, were at length erected into a religious order by pope Nicholas III. under the rule of St. Augustin. F. Gesney says, they also made a religious order of the penitents, or women they converted, giving them the same rules and observances which they themselves kept. Congregation of penitents of St. Magdalen at Paris, owed its rise to the preaching of F. Tisseran, a Franciscan, who converted a vast number of courtesans, about the year 1492. Louis, duke of Orleans, gave them his house for a monastery; or rather, as appears by their constitution, Charles VIII. gave them the hotel called Bochaigne, whence they were removed to St. George's Chapel, in 1572. By virtue of a brief of pope Alexander, Simon, bishop of Paris, in 1497, drew them up a body of statutes, and gave them the rule of St. Augustin. It was necessary before a woman could be admitted, that she had first committed the sin of the flesh. None were admitted who were above thirty-five years of age. Since its reformation by Mary Alvequin, in 1616, none have been admitted but maids, who, however, still retain the ancient name, penitents.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Penitence'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/p/penitence.html. 1802.