Perfect Virgins and Suicidal Maniacs: Monks in Early Thirteenth-Century Pastoralia

Perfect Virgins and Suicidal Maniacs: Monks in Early Thirteenth-Century Pastoralia

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Session 72: English Cistercians and English Critics

Sponsor: Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies, Western Michigan Univ.
Organizer: E. Rozanne Elder, Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies, Western Michigan University
Presider: Margory Lange, Western Oregon University

Perfect Virgins and Suicidal Maniacs: Monks in Early Thirteenth-Century Pastoralia

Tristan Sharp (Centre for Medieval Studies – University of Toronto)

The ecclesiastical hierarchy valued Cistercians. Between 1190-1220, Summae were written; large scale academic works, popular accounts of law, and theological studies. The texts were to expensive and unwieldy for parish priests and were meant for instruction. Many of the writers of these Summae were reformers and the texts were aimed at the rights of the clergy. This paper is part of a broader project on law and monastic life and focused on the role of monks in a particular Summae written circa 1216.The summa was typical of the genre, and quite popular. This paper is a sketch of the important passages.

Consent: The bulk of the material focused on marriage and the discussion of consent; free consent must be given to marry or enter a monastery, parental arrangement was not enough. This summa examined the concept of the consent. A married man or woman could be religious, but the couple had to enter together lest the spouse left in the world strayed into temptation and adultery. However, there were instances where consent was not necessary. A spouse could enter the monastery without the consent of their spouse within two months of marriage provided the marriage had not been consummated. This existed so that virginity could be persevered as an offering to God.

The concept of jurisdiction: Priests were only permitted to hear confessions in their area. Penitents avoided parish priests they disliked by going to monks because they had a better reputation for knowledge. Sharp provided a case of one monk who refused to let his abbot hear his dying confession and gave it to one of his brothers instead.

There was also criticisms of the Cistercian liturgical calendar; complaints of Cistercian refusal to obey liturgical feast days. They worked on local Holy Days and this was a common complaint of ecclesiastical writers in spite of papal defense of this behaviour.

There were also complaints about other Cistercian requirements. Cistercians required confession of committed sins – even ones that were confessed before and absolved. Ecclesiastical writers believed that, ‘he who has done penance is not required to do it again’. There was a dislike of their perceived self righteousness. Cistercian practices were labelled as bad customs citing they merely made a custom out of interpretation and exceeded canonical norms.

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