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Conscience and Authority in the Medieval Church$
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Alexander Murray

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198208839

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198208839.001.0001

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Confession before 1215

Confession before 1215

(p.17) 1 Confession before 1215
Conscience and Authority in the Medieval Church

Alexander Murray

Oxford University Press

Sacramental confession kept a place for ‘counsel’, whereby the priest, before absolving the penitent, advised him or her on the moral aspects of the acts confessed, and might use the occasion to give instruction in moral theology. Because the whole procedure was secret, historians cannot know much about how this part of it worked in practice. But deductions are possible, and they are confirmed by the scraps of evidence we have. A priest, after all, might have to produce at almost no notice ‘tailor-made’ advice for penitents he hardly knew. Especially in the better-educated societies of the late Middle Ages, misjudgements were possible, and may have contributed to a crescendo of unease about confession which ‘justification by faith’, as a doctrine, was well-calculated to soothe.

Keywords:   confession, priests, moral theology, Renaissance Italy, unknown personal situations

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