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The Catholic Encyclopedia

Penitential Redemptions

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Penitential redemptions are the substitution of exercises (especially alms-deeds), either easier or extending over a shorter period, for works of penance imposed according to the penitential canons. These redemptions allow an alleviation, or a shortening of the time of penance; they thus resemble an indulgence, and have a place in the history of indulgences. Among the Anglo-Saxons and the Irish, as manifested by their penitential books, the fundamental idea was reparation in proportion to the number and gravity of the sins, as it were a weregild paid to God and the Church. The confessor imposed a certain number of penitential acts, prayers, fasts, flagellations, alms-deeds etc., extending over a more or less considerable period; hence arose quite naturally the desire to condense the penance into a shorter time. The priest might fix them in each case, but the penitential books show that there actually was a sort of scale in current use. Three things were considered in determining the new works: the penances already imposed, the difficulty of the penitent's accomplishing them, and finally his material condition, especially in the case of alms-deeds. Thus one unable to fast could replace fasting by the Psalter (fifty psalms); an alms of twenty solidi (for the poor, ten solidi or even less) replaced fasts of seven weeks ( a carina ). A penance of a week, a quarantine, or a year might be accomplished in a short time by accumulating psalters, genuflexions, palmatœ (blows on the breast with the palm of the hand), or by condensing two days of slight into one of severe fasting. These substitutions assumed numerous combinations, and the Irish canons (Wasserschleben, "Die Bussordnungen", Halle, 1851, 193) show nine methods of accomplishing a year's penance in a short time. It was even attempted to have the penance performed by others (cf. "Leges" or "Pœnitentiale" of Eadger in Hardouin, "Concilia", VI, i, 659 sq.), but these substitutions, accessible only to the great, were a contradiction of penance and were severely condemned (cf. Conc. of Clovesho of 747, cans. xxvi-xxvii). The redemptions considered in the penitential books had only practical and not official value; however, they were officially adopted by several councils. Thus the Council of Tribur of 895 (can. lvi), in determining the penance for a homicide, authorizes the redemption (while travelling or at war) of the fast on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday by paying a denier , or by caring for three poor. Eventually these redemptions were offered indiscriminately to all, especially at the Council of Clermont of 1095 (can. ii), when the crusade was suggested as a ransom from all penance. This was the modern indulgence, save that in the case of an indulgence the penance to be redeemed has not been imposed on individuals, but to the proposed work is attached by ecclesiastical authority a reduction of penitential satisfaction. (See INDULGENCES.)

WASSERSCHLEBEN, op. cit.; SCHMITZ, Die Bussbücher u. Bussdisciplin der Kirche, X (Mainz, 1883), 144 sq. See PENANCE; PENITENTIAL CANONS.


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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Penitential Redemptions'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

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