|AUTHOR:||Karen A. Winstead|
|TITLE:||CHAUCER'S PARSON'S TALE AND THE CONTOURS OF ORTHODOXY|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 43 no3 239-59 2009|
The surge of interest in Lollardy among scholars of Middle English has naturally led to reappraisals of Chaucer's religious sympathies. Eschewing the once hot topic of whether Chaucer was or was not a Lollard, recent studies have examined the concerns Chaucer shares with Wyclif and his followers, manifested variously throughout his oeuvre, from his lyrics to his Canterbury tales and links.(FN1) That Chaucer was fundamentally orthodox is no longer widely questioned. As Katherine Little aptly put it, "Chaucer's orthodoxy seems to have become a kind of Chaucerian orthodoxy."(FN2) However the character of his orthodoxy, the extent of his sympathy with Wycliffite views, is far from settled. A figure crucial to understanding that orthodoxy is the elusive Parson -- a pilgrim much admired by generations of critics, but one who, paradoxically, recounts one of Chaucer's least-admired tales.(FN3)
Chaucer's only explicit reference to Lollardy directly implicates the Parson. In the Epilogue to the Man of Law's Tale, Harry Bailly, with a pair of casual oaths, demands a tale from the Parson, who rebukes him for swearing "so synfully."(FN4) "I smelle a Lollere in the wynd," retorts the Host (II 1173), who then calls, with yet another oath, for the pilgrims to attend while "This Lollere heer wil prechen us somwhat" (II 1177). "Nay, by my fader soule,... Heer schal he nat preche" (II 1178-79), exclaims one of the company, and the Parson is not heard from again until the very end of the Canterbury tales. Indeed, Harry Bailly renews his invitation only when the waning of the day would seem to dictate a very short tale: "But hasteth yow; the sonne wole adoun; / Beth fructuous, and that in litel space" (X 70-71). The Host, one might deduce, has arranged that this "Lollere" not "preche" -- at least not for very long! For his part, the Parson tells a tale that seems designed to refute the charges of Lollardy and the prediction that he will preach the gospel; indeed, many critics find his tale strangely at odds with the Wycliffite resonances that mark his portrait in the General Prologue, and for most, his recitation of a tract on penance establishes his orthodoxy beyond a doubt.(FN5)
In the exchange between the Host and the Parson, Chaucer appears to anticipate that rhetoric of coercive orthodoxy whose effects are attested in so many fifteenth-century sources.(FN6) During the first decades of the fifteenth century, the orthodox poet John Audelay decried those who use the label of Lollard to intimidate and bully "trew Cristyn men" who "kepyn Cristis comawndmentis nygt and day, / And don Godis wil in dede and worde."(FN7) In Thomas Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes and in Margery Kempe's Book, insinuations or gratuitous charges of Lollardy elicit fervent expressions of orthodoxy.(FN8) As Paul Strohm has emphasized, Chaucer was writing at a crucial time in English social and religious history, when the seeds of what would become a censorious persecuting society were being sown.(FN9) When we read the Parson's Tale in conjunction with the Epilogue to the Man of Law's Tale, we appear to be seeing Chaucer's dramatization of a pre-Arundelian censorship, wherein accusations of heresy thwart certain kinds of religious expression and produce bland and uninspired pieties.
Yet the Parson's Tale shows more defiance than compliance. The Parson flouts the Host's exhortation to be hasty by telling the longest of the Canterbury tales. What's more, the Parson includes, in his discussion of the sin of wrath, an unusually long disquisition about the evils of swearing, which Chaucer has expanded from his Latin source (X 587-603).(FN10) Significantly, that disquisition immediately follows a passage reprimanding those who get upset when their priests chastise them (X 583-86)! The Parson does not seem concerned about being mistaken for a Lollard when, in his prologue, he advertises an aversion to "fables" (X 34) -- an aversion that, like his aversion to swearing, was shared by the Lollards.(FN11) Peggy Knapp, indeed, has maintained that the way the Parson uses "fable" and certain other words recalls Anne Hudson's "Lollard vocabulary," while Derrick G. Pitard has argued that the Parson's Tale, though "spotlessly orthodox," shares with the Lollards a goal of lay empowerment effected through the development of "a new variety of self-consciously erudite vernacularity": "The Tale gives penitents the means to textualize themselves and thus become their own interpreters, to incorporate and potentially rewrite Latinate terms in their own native tongue."(FN12)
This essay will explore and contextualize what I will argue is a different facet of the tale's project of lay empowerment: departing from the practices of contemporary vernacular penitential tracts, Chaucer reduces radically both the presence of the priest in the text and the importance of oral confession in the penitential process. Though Chaucer's treatment of the confessor has ample precedent in unimpeachably orthodox penitential tracts composed in Latin, it was not the treatment favored by the clergy of his day and might even be taken to have heterodox overtones. Chaucer uses a genre whose orthodoxy would have been taken for granted by many to offer a richer, more liberal, definition of orthodoxy, recovering a tradition of penitential thought that had been elided in vernacular tracts. In this respect, he anticipates an approach to vernacular religious literature, as well as strategies for dealing with censorship, that flowered in the generation following his death.
Though the Parson's Tale is most often compared to other penitential tracts, I will argue that the work is best understood in a broader context that includes not only other penitential tracts but also lay and female-authored devotional tracts with which it has ostensibly little in common -- Julian of Norwich's Revelations, Eleanor Hull's commentary on the penitential psalms, Thomas Hoccleve's dialogues, and the Book of Margery Kempe. In their various ways, these authors were taking a critical look at the penitential process as it was being construed for their generation by a clerical elite. The Parson's Tale is an especially creative and subtle contribution to this larger process of interrogation in that it appropriates a genre favored by the clergy and claims a clerical spokesperson. That Chaucer co-opts a clerical voice at once acknowledges and subverts the authority of the priest.
TRADITION AND CHALLENGE
In its long history from late Antiquity to the Reformation, the sacrament of penance involved three components: the sinner was required to regret his or her transgressions, to voice those transgressions, and to perform some sort of atonement for them.(FN13) These components -- codified in penitential manuals as contrition, confession, and satisfaction -- received varying treatments and emphases through the centuries. Satisfaction dominated early medieval penitentials, many of which merely recounted the punishments to be meted out for specific sins. In the twelfth century, however, contrition gained preeminence, thanks largely to the influence of Abelard and Peter Lombard. The most extreme of the contritionists, Lombard asserted in his Sentences that confession and satisfaction were merely advisable.(FN14) Most contritionists, however, insisted that all three components were necessary, often resorting to tortured arguments to explain why penitents need bother with confession and satisfaction if heartfelt remorse had already secured God's forgiveness. An alternative tradition, established by Aquinas and Duns Scotus, displayed little interest in the penitent's inner state but rather insisted that forgiveness was only effected when the priest pronounced the words of absolution. As one might expect, an absolutionist stance gained primacy following the Fourth Lateran Council, when theologians were especially anxious to explain and justify the requirement imposed by Omnis utriusque sexus that individuals confess their sins annually to their priest.
Most Middle English writings on penance exemplify that trend. Perhaps anxious about the empowering potential of vernacular penitential tracts, which make available to the laity texts once only accessible to a Latinate elite, virtually all Middle English writers take pains to underscore the authority of the priest.(FN15) When addressing confessors, they explain the biblical origins of confession, stress the priest's authority to grant absolution, and emphasize his identity as a stand-in for God.(FN16) Though they may encourage the priest to acknowledge that he, too, is a human and a sinner (an admission designed to ease a penitent's sense of shame), they exhort him to state in no uncertain terms, "I syt here in goddes stede."(FN17) Being too ashamed to confess one's sins to God's deputy will only lead to humiliation in the hereafter, the priest should stress.(FN18) Not surprisingly, contrition is deemphasized, and other orthodox avenues to forgiveness are discouraged. If a person is on the point of death and no priest is available, he may confess to a layman, writers grudgingly allow, while adding that even though God will not disdain a contrite heart, "þai þat dies so be noth so sone delyverid of þe payne as þai þat ar shrevyn unto prestes."(FN19)
Tracts targeting the laity convey the same points. Take, for example, Robert Mannyng of Brunne's treatment of penance in his early-fourteenth-century Handlyng Synne. Mannyng introduces the topic by declaring the importance of confessing to a priest:
To man behoueþ vs to telle oure trespass
Syn he [Christ] knew alle þat yn man was.
For whan we shryue vs to þe preste,
To God we shewe vs yn mannes breste.
Much of his discussion delineates the proper relation between the individual and his confessor, emphasizing the priest's role as "crystys vycarye" (11789): "Gif þou meke þe to þy prest, / Þou mekës þe to Goddës brest" (11469-70); "Þou seyst hyt nat vnto þe prest, / Þou shewest hyt vnto God-dys breste" (11751-52). There is very little about contrition in Mannyng's tract, and what little there is also makes reference to the priest. When Mannyng discusses "sorowe of herte," his chief concern appears to be how the penitent should approach the priest: with "byttyr teres" (11562), just as Mary Magdalene approached Jesus. Even an exemplum demonstrating that confession is ineffective without contrition revolves around a priest: When a devil, masquerading as a penitent, makes his confession, the astute confessor "sagh yn hym no répentaunce, / Ne no sorowe made of contrycyun" (12568-69) and sends him back to hell. What little Mannyng says about satisfaction emphasizes the priest's power of absolution and the importance of carrying out the "penaunce þat was hem gyue" (11966).
Emphasizing oral confession to a priest acquired a new urgency in the face of Wycliffite challenges to the sacraments and to the priest's role in dispensing God's grace. Wyclif held that contrition alone is essential for obtaining absolution; since only God can know the heart of a sinner, only God can forgive sins.(FN21) During the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, variants of that position were disseminated to the laity through vernacular sermons and tracts. Lambasting the claim that priests are "commissariis of God," the Twelve Conclusions, posted at Westminster in 1395, charged that "a feynid power of absoliciun enhaunsith prestis pride."(FN22) The Sixteen Points, written in response to episcopal charges against Lollards, allows that oral confession "is nedeful to al suche þat ben counselid of God for to make it mekeliche."(FN23) However, contrition is "more nedeful," for "wiþougten schrift of mouþe may a syneful man be saued in many a caas, but wiþougen veri contricioun of herte mai no syneful man of discrecioun be saued." The only confession that is "as nedeful as contricioun" is the "confessioun of hert done to þe hige prest Crist." That such views found a receptive audience among the lewid is attested in the records of the Norwich heresy trials of 1428-31. By Norman Tanner's reckoning, confession was the most frequently mentioned sacrament, with references occurring in thirty-seven of the sixty trials.(FN24) Of the Lodden wife Hawisia Moone's opinions, we read:
[C]onfession shuld be maad oonly to God, and to noon other prest, for no prest hath poar to remitte synne ne to assoile a man of ony synne.
Also that no man is bounde to do no penance whiche ony prest enjoyneth [hym] to do for here synnes whyche thei have confessed unto the pr[est], for sufficient penance for all maner of synne is every persone to abstyne hym fro lyyng, bakbytyng and yvel doyng, and no man is bounde to do noon other penance.(FN25)
The parchment-maker John Godesell and his wife Sibilla, the wright John Pyry, the skinner William Colyn, and many other very ordinary people were similarly charged with believing "quod confessio facienda est soli Deo, et nulli sacerdoti" (that confession should be made to God alone and to no priest)(FN26) Though these "admissions" may not accurately represent the views of the accused, they do represent what sort of views the Bishop of Norwich considered heretical.
Other Lollards diminished, rather than categorically denied, the priest's role in confession. A case in point is the anonymous "Nota de Confessione," perhaps the most extensive Wycliffite treatment of confession in the vernacular.(FN27) The anonymous writer discusses two modes of confession: "Summe is mad oonly to god truly by herte or mouþe. And sum confessioun is made to man, and þat may be on many maneres; ouþer opynly & generaly, as men confesseden in þe oolde lawe; Or priuely & rownyngly, as men confessen nowe-a-daies."(FN28) Citing King David, he maintains that confession is ultimately a matter between the sinner and God -- "David spekeþ to god þus: 'I seide, i shulde shryue my synnes agens me to þee, lord; & þou forgauest me my synnes.' lord, wher god be not as merciful as he was in þe olde lawe?"(FN29) Nevertheless, he urges readers also to confess their sins "to man, bi voice of mouþe."(FN30) He even allows that a good priest is an ideal recipient of one's confession, though he insists that confessing to a bad priest is worse than useless, and one should instead unburden oneself to a worthy layperson. But what truly matters is the state of one's heart: "whenne a man wiþ contrite herte shriueþ him opynly to god or man, þenne his voice, þat is token of his hooly sorowe of herte, may be called a sacrament."(FN31)
Though the vast Lollard Sermon Cycle, as Little has discussed, treats institutional rather than individual sin, other Lollard sermons discuss the importance of individual penance.(FN32) These discussions invariably privilege contrition in the penitential process and are deeply ambivalent, often ambiguous, about the role of the confessor. A sermon for the First Sunday in Lent stresses the importance of "doing penance," but does not explain exactly what that entails and makes no mention of a priest.(FN33) A sermon from the same collection for the Second Sunday in Lent maintains that the most important condition for an "effectual shrift" is to trust that God alone can forgive sins.(FN34) The penitent is to imitate the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15, who, seeing that "she mygt not spede, neiþer by her owne pre[y]er ne by þe preyer of þe disciplis," cried after Christ "wiþ deuoute preyer and open shrift of mouþe."(FN35) The reader may well conclude that Christ is the only confessor the penitent needs -- priests, or "disciples," are ineffectual. The sermon on the Third Sunday in Lent castigates sinners who "when þei comen in Lenton to þe prest to confession, þei knelen stille tofore þe prest and wolen seie no worde, as a doumbe man þat mygt not speke"; he exhorts his readers, "shew þi conuersacion þorow true shrift of þi mouþe, and be þou not ashamed til to þe deeþ for to be iustefied, whiche is done by true confession."(FN36) The sermonist immediately shifts his attention from "dumb" sinners to "dumb" priests who fail to preach the word of God. The sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent is in many ways surprisingly orthodox: its author discusses the three traditional components of penance -- contrition, confession, and satisfaction -- and even acknowledges that the "pantreris" whom "God haþe ordeyned to... departe þis lofe of penaunce ben prestis."(FN37) Yet he complains that many priests, in minding the pantry, care only about the key of power and not the key of knowledge, rendering their ministry ineffective, and explains that departing the loaf means transmitting one's knowledge of the sacrament to the laity. When he goes on to describe the steps necessary for an efficacious penance, he does so without directly referring to any role in the process for "prestis."(FN38) Thus, the requirement that a complete confession be made to a single priest is stated as follows: "Þe secound condicion of shrift: þat is, þat it be hool wiþouten departing. Not a gobet to oon and a parcel to an oþer."(FN39)
Wycliffite views on confession were by and large compatible with those of Peter Lombard, whose orthodoxy was unquestioned and whose Sentences remained required reading for students of theology throughout the Middle Ages. Lombard, indeed, sounds very much like the anonymous author of "Nota de Confessione" when he points out, "David dixit: Dixi: Confitebor Domino; et tu remisisti, etc.; non ait sacerdoti, et tamen remissum sibi peccatum dicit" (David said: I said: I will confess to the Lord; and you forgave, etc.; he does not state "to the priest," and yet he says his sin was forgiven).(FN40) As we have seen, his view that confession to a priest is required only when it would not be an undue burden to find a good confessor was also shared by the "Nota" author, among others;(FN41) so was his claim that the priest merely announces the absolution that God has already effected. Contritionist views such as these came to be perceived as threatening when they were enmeshed within the larger anticlerical agenda of Wyclif and his followers, and they were taken as evidence of heresy when articulated outside an academic setting by the likes of Hawisia Moone and John Godesell.
At roughly the time Chaucer was writing his Parson's Tale, writers of orthodox treatises were taking particular pains to combat the Lollard challenges to and elisions of clerical authority, stressing that confession to a priest is vital and that confession entails more than "hooly sorowe of herte." In his sermon on penance, the anonymous author of the Speculum Sacerdotale considers its three components -- contrition, confession, and satisfaction -- but places greatest emphasis on confession: only confession to a priest can ensure salvation, he claims.(FN42) "Swyftly rynne to the preste, and abide nogt for ligt of the day," he urges sinners.(FN43) "Renne to the preste," he iterates only two sentences later. "Yche synful man" should "putte hym alle togeder in the dome and pouste of the preste," being "redy in alle poyntis for to doo and perfourme as he woll consayle hym for the redempcion of his sowle and for euitacion of euerlastyng deþe."(FN44) The priestly orientation of penitential writings was translated into iconography: the priest, either granting absolution or, more commonly, hearing confession, represented the sacrament of penance in the so-called "seven-sacrament art" that flourished from 1350 well into the sixteenth century.(FN45)
Colorful exempla admonish the faithful that a single unconfessed sin might condemn them to eternal damnation and assure them that the most heinous sins will be expunged through the good offices of their confessor. The author of Jacob's Well, written in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, tells of a woman who slept with her son, then slew the baby born of that incestuous union.(FN46) The murderer was indubitably contrite: "in here herte, sche was sory, & alwey preyed god of mercy"; she also "dede scharpe dedys of penaunce, & made restitucyoun of here wrongys." But she balked at oral confession: "sche durste nogt be schreuyn of here cursyd synne, for schame." When the devil, in the form of a cleric, accuses her to the emperor, she saves herself by seeking out a priest and performing contrition, confession, and satisfaction in the correct manner: "wyth full sorwe of herte & wepyng, sche schrof here to a preest. He comfortyd here, & gaf here... penaunce." Unable to recognize the properly shriven woman as the sinner he formerly accused, the devil babbles, "It is nogt þis womman þat I haue accusyd; þis womman is holy." Far from damaging the sinner's good name, then, confession allows her both to retain her "hyg worschype" and to escape "fro temperall deth & fro endles deth."
The confessor's identification with God is, as we would expect, a recurring theme in vernacular penitential tracts. If Lollards aver that confession must be made to God, authors of penitential tracts were more eager than ever to emphasize that confessing to the priest is confessing to God. "Mekelyche knele downe to the prest as to god himself," one anonymous writer admonishes his readers, "for he sittes ther in goddess stede."(FN47) Similarly, the author of Jacob's Well advises, "gif þou schryue þe mekely þou spekyst to god, and þi preest is goddys eere, and all þat he heryth, he heryth as god & nogt man."(FN48) The identification of the priest with Christ is very clearly conveyed in one sermon exemplum, which recounts the story of a woman who could not bring herself to confess a particularly obnoxious trespass.(FN49) In a dream, Christ invites her to thrust her hand in the wound in his side. After she has done so, he tells her, "Loo, dowgter, þou hast feled and seeyn my herte and all me prevetees. Why arte þou aschamed to shewe me þin herte more þan I am to shewe þe myn herte blode þat I shede for þeg." Chastened, she immediately went "vn-to hur goostely fadere and was shryven of þat fowle synne." Revealing the sin to her confessor is obviously equivalent to revealing it to Christ. Even more bluntly, another anonymous author admonishes that no one should "lye to þe preste in schryfte, for þe prest is set in Godes name. And perfore apon þy knees speck to God and nat to man."(FN50) This anonymous author very carefully situates the verses from Psalms 31 that, as we have seen, were cited by the Lollard writer of "Nota de Confessione" and by Peter Lombard as evidence that the sinner need only confess to God. First, the author invokes the Book of Kings to demonstrate that when David had sinned he confessed to the Old Testament equivalent of a priest, namely, the prophet Nathan. He then asserts that David's words, "I byþowhte me to schryue me, and God forgafe þe wyckednesse," indicate that "whanne a man hym byþynketh to schryue, God is redy to forgyve."(FN51) An anonymous sermonist similarly reconciles Psalm 31 with an absolutionist philosophy by interpreting David's words as a lesson on "why man shuld shryve hym... and þe avail þer-of."(FN52)
Very much in this tradition of orthodox vernacular tracts are the three late-fourteenth-century treatises on penance that, Lee Patterson has argued, most nearly resemble the Parson's Tale: the Book of Penance, the Way to Paradise, and the Cleansing of Man's Soul.(FN53) These tracts, like Chaucer's, are meant to be read by a lay audience.(FN54) Each focuses on the sacrament of penance and is organized around its three constituent parts: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Each includes a disquisition on the Seven Deadly Sins and, for the most part, eschews colorful exempla for a more somber expository style.
It quickly becomes apparent in each of these three tracts that the most important aspect of penance is "confession of mouth." The Way to Paradise relates in its introduction the story of a woman who repents deeply of a sin she cannot bring herself to confess.(FN55) Each day she goes to church and weeps, begging God's forgiveness and promising to do "so myche penaunce and so myche good for the loue of God, that these dedes schulde avayle hyre more thanne ten tymes to ha ben schryuen." As she makes those promises, she is beset by laughing devils. Only when she confesses her sin to a priest do the devils go away. "[H]it semeth wel," the author of the Way concludes, "that schryft is nedful to hym that wil haue forgeuenes of synne"; contrition and satisfaction are not enough. Likewise, the Book of Penance and the Cleansing of Man's Soul take pains to explain why contrition and "confessioun of the hert" are insufficient, emphasizing that Christ himself mandated "schrift of mouth."(FN56) The authors of these two tracts acknowledge that in a dire emergency one can receive forgiveness without a priest, but they insist that such emergencies should be forestalled at all costs by frequent and thorough confessions; the sinner who cannot find a priest may confess to a layperson, who is obliged to relay the sin to the appropriate priest at the earliest opportunity.(FN57)
The Way to Paradise, the Book of Penance, and the Cleansing of Man's Soul dwell on priestly prerogative, delineating priestly jurisdictions and emphasizing the importance of a complete, frequent, and heartfelt confession to a single priest. These tracts labor to dispel the fears and prejudices that might hinder "schrift of mouth." The Book of Penance and the Cleansing of Man's Soul include lengthy model confessions.(FN58) The sheer number of direct references to the priest and confessor, especially as God's vicar, convey an overwhelming sense of the Church's control over salvation. That control is reinforced in the program of illustrations found in the only surviving manuscript of the Way to Paradise. For example, a king brandishing a sword above a kneeling man accompanies the admonition, "the kynge of paradys seyth to the sinful man that gif he sey al his mysdedes to on confessowr with owten seyyng oon partye to oon and the tother partye to another he schal forgeven hym al. This is thane an esy thing to sey al his / euel dedes to on confessour."(FN59) References to the priest and to the importance of oral confession recur throughout the three tracts, not just in the sections dealing with confession but also in the discussions of contrition and satisfaction and of the Seven Deadly Sins.
CHAUCER AND THE PRIEST
The Parson's Tale may resemble the Book of Penance, the Way to Paradise, and the Cleansing of Man's Soul in its structure, in the topics it covers, and in its anticipation of a lay audience, but in its emphasis and in its coverage of those conventional topics, it contrasts markedly with those analogues as well as with the dominant tradition of Middle English writing about penance. A comparison of Chaucer's tract to these close analogues only underscores its departure from that vernacular tradition. Most obviously, Chaucer emphasizes that contrition, alone of the three components of penance, is absolutely essential, and the penitent's heart replaces shrift of mouth as the dominating theme of his tract. To convey this theme, he used as his Latin source Raymund of Pennaforte's thirteenth-century Summa de poenitentia.(FN60) Raymund, as Thomas Tentler discusses, was highly respected throughout the late Middle Ages as the "initiator" of the penitential tract as genre, though his "direct influence declined in the fourteenth century."(FN61) That decline might be at least partly attributable to his heavy emphasis on contrition, which was not suited to the absolutionist agenda of so many later theologians and writers of vernacular tracts. Yet Raymund's contritionism appears to have been precisely what attracted Chaucer, for his own emphasis on contrition sets the Parson's Tale apart from the Middle English penitential tracts of his day. In fact, as Thomas Bestul has shown, Chaucer augmented the "incentives to contrition" found in his source by shifting Pennaforte's "didactic treatise... in the direction of a private meditation" on Christ's passion.(FN62)
Chaucer explains at the outset that in order to be "a verray penitent," one "shal first biwaylen the synnes that he hath doon, and stidefastly purposen in his herte to have shrift of mouthe, and to doon satisfaccioun" (X 87; my emphasis). What is crucial, then, is not shrift of mouth per se, but rather the intent to make an oral confession. At the end of his section on contrition, Chaucer iterates "contricion availleth noght withouten sad purpos of shrifte, if man have oportunitee" (X 310; my emphasis). He avers that "litel worth is shrifte or satisfaccioun withouten contricioun" and that sometimes, indeed, contrition alone is necessary for forgiveness: "I seye that somtyme contricioun delivereth a man fro synne" (X 310, 308). In support of this position, Chaucer cites David: "'I seye,' quod David (that is to seyn, I purposed fermely) 'to shryve me, and thow, Lord, relessedest my synne'" (X 309; my emphasis). Left unstated, but easily inferred, is Peter Lombard's point: "non ait sacerdoti, et tamen remissum sibi peccatum dicit" (He does not state "to the priest," and yet he says his sin was forgiven). In his section on confession, Chaucer reiterates, very much in the spirit of Lombard, that confession of mouth is essential only "if ther be a confessour to which he may shriven hym" and that satisfaction is necessary only "if he have lyf to parfournen it" (X 981).
Unlike the authors of the Book of Penance and the Cleansing of Man's Soul, Chaucer neither insists on the rarity of circumstances that justify bypassing the priest nor does he discuss the importance of avoiding such circumstances. He emphasizes, invoking Holy Church's authority, the expectation that the true penitent will be spared regardless -- one is left to infer -- of whether she or he confesses to a priest:
repentant folk, that stynte for to synne and forlete synne er that synne forlete hem, hooly chirche holdeth hem siker of hire savacioun. And he that synneth and verraily repenteth hym in his laste, hooly chirche yet hopeth his savacioun, by the grete mercy of oure Lord Jhesu Crist, for his repentaunce. (X 93-94)
If such a penitent must expect increased time in purgatory, Chaucer does not mention it, saying only, rather obliquely, "but taak the siker wey," before moving on to the next topic. Nor does Chaucer allude to the priest's role as God's stand-in, a ubiquitous theme in other penitential tracts, as we have seen, and one that also crops up in his source: "non verecundetur confiteri, quia non homini confitetur, sed Deo" (he should not be ashamed to confess because he is confessing not to a man but to God).(FN63)
Following his source, Chaucer raises the question of whether confession "oghte nedes be doon or noon" (X 317), but he omits Raymund's lengthy consideration of the differing opinions on this topic, along with Raymund's explanation of the reasons to confess, and quickly moves on to a discussion of the nature of sin.(FN64) By contrast, the Cleansing of Man's Soul, which also uses Raymund's Summa as a source, replaces Raymund's question with the declaration "þat confessioun is nedefull be resoun and be auctorite," followed by a lengthy explanation.(FN65)
In striking contrast to the Book of Penance, the Cleansing of Man's Soul, and the Way to Paradise, the Parson's Tale has little to say about priests except in the section dealing with confession; even there, the priest is no longer omnipresent. In the seventy lines that precede the long disquisition on the Seven Deadly Sins, Chaucer has nothing to say of the priest except that confession is the "verray shewynge of synnes" to him (X 318). After explaining in a mere two lines what is meant by "verray," Chaucer switches the topic to sin: "And forther over, it is necessarie to understonde whennes that synnes spryngen" (X 321). Only after his long excursion into the Seven Deadly Sins -- that is, over seven hundred lines into the section on confession and over a thousand lines into the treatise as a whole -- does Chaucer speak in any detail at all of the role of the priest in confession. Then, in a mere seventy lines, he explains "confessioun of mouth," economically summarizing the rules governing process, procedure, and preparation.
Though Chaucer's exposition on oral confession is exceedingly brief in comparison to that of his source and of other Middle English redactors, he takes care to note exceptions to the rules. Thus, where Raymund and the authors of the Way to Paradise, the Cleansing of Man's Soul, and the Book of Penance state only that one must confess aloud and in person, rather than through a letter or by a messenger, Chaucer writes, "Thou most eek shewe thy synne by thyn owene propre mouth, but thow be woxe dowmb" (X 1021; my emphasis). (FN66) Likewise, as Patterson has noted, Chaucer departs from both his source and the practice of other vernacular tract writers by briefly noting two exceptions to the rule that one must confess all one's sins to a single priest.(FN67) That one of these exceptions, again as noted by Patterson, is cited by Thomas in the Summoner's Tale as grounds for declining to confess to the greedy friar is, to me, evidence that Chaucer's intent in discussing such exceptions was in part to provide ammunition that lay people could use to defend themselves against predatory clergy.(FN68)
Chaucer also tends to deemphasize the priest through rhetorical means. Even where priests are implied, they are actually mentioned far less often than in the other vernacular treatises. For example, in delineating the five signs of sorrow and bitterness in confession, the Cleansing of Man's Soul emphasizes one's "redynesse to obey lowely to his confessour" and the importance of placing oneself "in þe dome of þe prest which is his confessour."(FN69) Chaucer, by contrast, says that the penitent must "be obeisant to receyven the penaunce that hym is enjoyned for his synnes" (X 997). Where the Cleansing of Man's Soul defines "priuat penaunce" as "þat penaunce which is done alday whan a man will priuely be confessed of his schrifte fadir, or elles... to his persoun or to his parisch prest," adding, "therto is ech man & woman bounde,"(FN70) Chaucer instead writes, "Pryvee penaunce is thilke that men doon alday for privee synnes, of whiche we shryve us prively and receyve privee penaunce" (X 106). These rhetorical moves, though minor in themselves, work in conjunction with Chaucer's omission of much of the discussion of priests that was so common in contemporary treatises, serving to change the tenor of his penitential tract by reducing the presence of the institutional Church.
In minimizing the priest, the Parson's Tale bears an intriguing resemblance to the Lollard sermon discussed above for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Yet it also acknowledges the priest's role as God's vicar and iterates (albeit with minor qualifications) standard, orthodox tenets about penance. Nonetheless, its presentation of these tenets departs significantly from orthodox Middle English analogues. Chaucer in effect finds a different way of talking about penance, one that places more emphasis on the individual and his or her conscience and less emphasis on the institutional Church, one in which understanding the nature of one's own sinfulness is as important as articulating one's sins to another. Peggy Knapp has proposed that the Parson's Tale "delineates moral terrains shared by devout Christians of 'orthodox' and 'heterodox' views."(FN71) Similarly, Little has observed that the Parson's "choice of penitential language, along with his outright rejection of narrative," is "neither Wycliffite nor orthodox, but something new that responds to the pressures of both."(FN72) While I agree that Chaucer's Parson's Tale is neither orthodox nor heterodox as those categories would come to be defined by the English Church hierarchy, its views of penance are representative of a traditional, more nuanced, flexible, and intellectual orthodoxy that had thrived for centuries. Chaucer is, in effect, engaged in what would become a critical struggle over the definition of orthodoxy.
The Parson's Tale is consonant with a certain approach and attitude toward religion that is developed through much of Chaucer's oeuvre. Its avoidance of "fables" in favor of straightforward exposition affirms a skepticism that surfaces continually in the Canterbury tales about the capacity of fiction to convey religious or moral lessons. Its emphasis on understanding sin contributes to Chaucer's larger project of lay empowerment, while its de-emphasis of the priest iterates Chaucer's unease with the institutional Church. David Aers has discussed the "remarkable absences" of references to the sacraments in Chaucer's work, absences that, he avers, "bespeak a diminished role of the sacraments in relation to their place in the tradition from within which Chaucer wrote, a remarkable shift in models of sanctification."(FN73) How fitting, then, that the single time Chaucer focuses his attention on a sacrament, he should de-emphasize its institutional underpinning.
If we look beyond penitential tracts, we find views of penance in vernacular religious writing that are more closely akin to Chaucer's. Julian of Norwich's reflections on penance, expressed in chapters 39 and 40 of her Long Text, are a striking instance. Julian begins with a description of the penitential process. First, she explains, contrition moves the sinner to thoughts of God's mercy, and his soul is "turned into the life of holy church."(FN74) The Holy Ghost then leads him "to confession, wilfully to shew his sinnes, nakedly and truly, with gret sorow and with gret shame."(FN75) Note here that Julian implies the presence of the priest without actually naming him, very much as Chaucer does in the Parson's Tale. Her only mention of the priest is an allusion to the "domesman" who imposes atonement "grounded in holy church by the teching of the holy gost."(FN76) Almost immediately following this fairly conventional rehearsal of the penitential process, Julian describes what might almost be taken as an alternative penitential triad, consisting not of contrition, confession, and satisfaction, but rather of "contrition," "compassion," and "tru longing to God."(FN77) Through these three stages, she avers, "alle soules com to heven." In the next chapter, Julian similarly explains, "we [be] stered of the holy gost by contrition into prayer and desyer to amending of oureselfe" and "hope... that God hath forgeven us oure sinne."(FN78) And he does forgive them, she assures her readers, concluding, "Thus are sinnes forgeven be grace and mercy, and oure soule worshipfully received in joy... by the gracious werking of the holy gost and the vertu of Cristes passion."
A similar conception of penance pervades the commentary on the seven penitential psalms composed during the 1440s by the Hertfordshire gentlewoman Eleanor Hull.(FN79) Hull outlines the standard tripartite penitential process: the sinner should "be verrey repentant to hys maker and a meke and true knowlecher to hys confessour in trowthe of word and worþyly do hys penance" (29). However, the commentary's overwhelming emphasis is on contrition, exciting the sinner's heart to remorse for wrongdoing. Like Julian, Hull at certain points in her treatise expresses a vision of redemption that does not include confession, though it does include contrition and satisfaction ("for-to wepe and do satysfaccion for our synnys" ). Hull frequently avers that "wylful con-fescyon" is essential for salvation, but it is not obvious that the confession should be made to a priest (28). Sometimes she simply does not specify whom she assumes to be the recipient of a confession, as when she writes, "of al our synnys that we know we schal knowleche to oþer" (27). In the absence of other references to a human confessor, it is far from clear that we can even infer the presence of a priest when Hull alludes to confession in her interpretation of Psalm 31's "Dixi confitebor... et tu remisisti impietatem peccati mei" (I said "I will confess"... and you forgave the impiety of my sin) as follows:
As sone as man purposyth to leue synne, God forgeuyth hym. And when he knowlechyth hyt in hys conscyence and by confescyon, þen God confermyth hys pardon and aftyr parfyt penance, in þys world er in anoþer, þen God Geuyth hem parfyt sesyn of al hys swete mercy, by þys swete mercy þat Dauid seyth that God had for-geue hym þe felonye of hys synnes. (36)
Most often, Hull identifies God as the recipient of the penitent's confession, as the one to whom the penitent should "renne" (44). David, who confesses his sins directly to God, is set forth as a model for readers to emulate, who "schewyth to ous hou grete a þyng hyt ys for-to knowleche our synnys to God and hertly crye mercy of our mysdedys" (47). Since David also voices his contrition to God, it is not surprising that contrition and confession tend to converge in Hull's commentary: "Make me knowl-eche my wykkydnes in verrey contrycyon of hert," David prays (116); the penitent "schewyth his synnys with verrey contrycyon of hert" (115).
Julian of Norwich and Eleanor Hull are more radical than Chaucer in their vision of a penitential process that has little to do with the clergy. Chaucer is at most advocating a shift in emphasis from confession as it was conventionally defined (i.e., to a priest) to contrition. His very use of the genre of the penitential tract suggests a general satisfaction with ecclesiastically sanctioned formulas of forgiveness. Nevertheless, it is tempting to see in Chaucer, Julian, and Hull an indication of lay resistance to the prevailing view of penance, with its priestly orientation -- evidence that the importance of the priest was not obvious to an educated readership that did not have a vested interest in preserving priestly prerogative. Thomas Hoccleve might also be part of that process: Little has observed in his Regiment of Princes a "democratization" of confession, which Hoccleve accomplishes by "remov[ing] the authority of the priest" and "replac[ing] that authority with the authority of virtuous examples."(FN80) Similarly, Ethan Knapp notes that in "Learn to Die," Hoccleve "presents a drama of remorse and contrition in which sacramental confession is entirely absent."(FN81)
The Book of Margery Kempe is also intensely concerned with the sacrament of penance, though its message about the sacrament is ambiguous. Margery appears at first glance to be a poster child for the valuation of oral confession that was promoted in most Middle English penitential tracts. In fact, "Renne to the preste" would make a plausible subtitle for a book that begins with Margery's anguish over an unconfessed sin, that repeatedly alludes to her sincere and frequent confessions, and that details her relations with her various confessors. Surely, Robert Mannying of Brunne and the authors of such tracts as the Cleansing of
Man's Soul would nod approvingly as she declares, "Gyf ge wil be contrite & schreuyn of gowr synne, wilfully don penawnce & leuyn it whil ge may, in wil no mor to turne agen þerto, I dar wel say ge schal be sauyd" (136).(FN82) In the Book, God praises her for her obedience to Holy Church and to her confessor: "I am wel plesyd wyth þe, dowtyr, for þu stondist vndyr obedyens of Holy Cherch & þat þu wylt obey þi confessowr & fol-wyn hys cownsel, whech thorw auctorite of Holy Cherch hath asoyld þe of þi synnes" (72-73). So complete is her devotion to her confessor that she startles even the Virgin Mary with her declaration that she would prefer to have a seat beside her in heaven reserved for him rather than for her father or her husband because of "þe gracyows labowrys þat he hath had a-bowt me in heryng of my confessyon" (20).
Yet the Virgin's surprise should give us pause. Is Kempe the author drawing attention to the excesses of her protagonist? Robert Mannyng and his ilk might not have been altogether comfortable with Margery's frenetic confessions "sum-tyme twyes or thryes on þe day, & in specyal of þat synne which sche so long had conselyd" (12); indeed, her repeated confession of the same sin casts doubt upon the efficacy of priestly absolution.(FN83) Even though Margery "was schrevyn many tymes & oftyn, and dede hir penawns what-so-euyr hir confessowr wold jn-joyne hir to do, & was gouernd aftyr þe rewelys of þe Chirch," she is plagued by a "dyspeyr" that is only alleviated when Jesus himself assures her, "I... forgefe þe þi synnes" (16). And even though "sche was schreuyn & dede al þat sche myth," she "fonde no relesyng" from temptation "tyl sche was ner at dispeyr" (145). The priest's ubiquity in Kempe's Book raises questions about his role in conveying God's forgiveness just as surely as his absence does in the other texts discussed.
Chaucer thus stands at the beginning of a lay engagement with the ideology of the sacrament of penance. What sets him apart from his contemporaries and near-contemporaries who also engaged that issue in the vernacular is that he adopts the form of the penitential tract itself. Of course, the Parson's Tale is not merely another such tract-though it was so anthologized in two fifteenth-century collections.(FN84) Rather, Chaucer presents it as a fictional treatise, or at least as a treatise complicit in a fiction, participating in the ongoing debates that permeate the Canterbury tales. Chaucer does not show the Parson retreating into orthodoxy in the face of the accusation of Lollardy lodged in the Epilogue to the Man of Law's Tale; rather, the Parson's Tale dramatizes the refusal of orthodoxy, liberally defined, to retreat in the face of censorship or intimidation. Nor is the Parson's Tale, as many have argued, at odds with the Parson's portrait in the General Prologue. Downplaying the role of the priest in penance is consonant with Chaucer's depiction of the Parson as one who, in so many other ways, humbly eschews priestly prerogative. Identifying the views of any of the Canterbury pilgrims with Chaucer's own is of course dangerous; indeed, Chaucer surely valued such ambiguity. Presenting his penitential treatise as merely a parson's tale allowed him to put its viewpoint into wider circulation without explicitly endorsing it. He thus was free to introduce into the vernacular an ideology of penance that, however well established in the Latin penitential tradition, was deprecated by the clergy of his day and might even be taken to have heterodox overtones. In so doing, moreover, Chaucer reclaims the figure of the "good priest" for orthodoxy and rejects the identification of certain themes and modes of writing with Wyclif and his followers.
If the Epilogue to the Man of Law's Tale anticipates the culture of repression that was to emerge during the first decade of the fifteenth century, the tale itself embodies fifteenth-century strategies of orthodox resistance. In particular, the appropriation of indubitably orthodox genres to the discussion of controversial points and the invocation of unimpeachable Latin sources were to become hallmarks of fifteenth-century efforts to continue in English an orthodox discourse that was at once more traditional and more flexible than that which the Arundelians sought to impose.
Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. Examples include Fiona Somerset, "Here, There, and Everywhere? Wycliffite Conceptions of the Eucharist and Chaucer's 'Other' Lollard Joke," in Fiona Somerset, Jill C. Havens, and Derrick G. Pitard, eds., Lollards and Their Influence in Late Medieval England (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2003), 127-38; William Komowski, "Chaucer and Wyclif: God's Miracles against the Clergy's Magic," Chaucer Review 37 (2002): 5-25; Andrew Galloway, "Chaucer's Former Age and the Fourteenth-Century Anthropology of Craft: The Social Logic of a Premodernist Lyric," ELH 63 (1996): 535-54; Susan Signe Morrison, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell: The Wife of Bath Disobeys Orders," Exemplaria 8 (1996): 97-123; and Susan Schibanoff, "Worlds Apart: Orientalism, Antifeminism, and Heresy in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale," Exemplaria 8 (1996): 59-96. See also Derrick G. Pitard, "A Selected Bibliography for Lollard Studies," in Somerset, Havens, and Pitard, eds., Lollards and Their Influence, 251-319.
2. Katharine Little, "Chaucer's Parson and the Specter of Wycliffism," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 23 (2001): 225-53, at 228; an elaborated version of this essay can be found in her monograph, Confession and Resistance: Defining the Self in Late Medieval England (Notre Dame, Ind., 2006), 79-100, at 81.
3. This view is gradually changing. A concerted attempt at a reappraisal is David Raybin and Linda Tarte Holley, eds., Closure in "The Canterbury tales": The Role of The Parson's Tale (Kalamazoo, Mich., 2000). Most recently, Frances McCormack's Chaucer and the Culture of Dissent: The Lollard Context and Subtext of the Parson's Tale (Dublin, 2007) argues that ParsT "may well be the most complex" of Chaucer's writings, a work at once "deeply political" and "deeply personal" (104), and she resurrects the question of whether Chaucer might have been a Lollard.
4. The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987), II 1171. All subsequent fragment/line numbers refer to this edition. For a very different reading of this exchange, see McCormack, Chaucer and the Culture of Dissent, who argues that Chaucer is inviting readers to discern Lollard elements within the tale the Parson eventually tells.
5. See, however, McCormack, Chaucer and the Culture of Dissent, who finds Lollard resonances throughout the tale.
6. See especially Nicholas Watson, "Censorship and Cultural Change in Late-Medieval England: Vernacular Theology, the Oxford Translation Debate, and Arundel's Constitutions of 1409," Speculum 70 (1995): 822-64; and Rita Copeland, Pedagogy, Intellectuals, and Dissent in the Later Middle Ages: Lollardy and Ideas of Learning (Cambridge, U.K., 2001).
7. The Poems of John Audelay, ed. Ella Keats Whiting, EETS o.s. 184 (1931; repr., Millwood, NY, 1988), 141 (lines 253-55). Audelay's works have recently been reedited: John the Blind Audelay, Poems and Carols (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 302), ed. Susanna Fein (Kalamazoo, Mich., 2008).
8. On this point, see Karen A. Winstead, John Capgrave's Fifteenth Century (Philadelphia, 2007), 51-53. On the orthodoxy of Hoccleve and Kempe, see, for example, Ethan Knapp, The Bureaucratic Muse: Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England (University Park, Pa., 2001); Ruth Nissé, "'Oure Fadres Olde and Modres': Gender, Heresy, and Hoccleve's Literary Politics," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 275-99; Paul Strohm, England's Empty Throne: Usurpation and the Language of Legitimation, 1399-1422 (New Haven, 1998); John H. Arnold, "Margery's Trials: Heresy, Lollardy and Dissent," in John H. Arnold and Katherine J. Lewis, eds., A Companion to "The Book of Margery Kempe" (Cambridge, U.K., 2004), 75-93; Ruth Shklar (Nissé), "Cobham's Daughter: The Book of Margery Kempe and the Power of Heterodox Thinking," Modern Language Quarterly 56 (1995): 277-304; and Lynn Staley, Margery Kempe's Dissenting Fictions (University Park, Pa., 1994).
9. Paul Strohm, "Walking Fire: Symbolization, Action, and Lollard Burning," in his Theory and the Premodern Text (Minneapolis, 2000), 20-32.
10. For a convenient comparison of ParsT with its source at this point, see Kate Oelzner Petersen, The Sources of The Parson's Tale (Boston, 1901), 53-54.
11. On the implication of the Parson's rejection of "fables," see Little, Confession and Resistance, 90-94.
12. Peggy Knapp, "The Words of the Parson's 'Vertuous Sentence,'" in David Raybin and Linda Tarte Holley, eds., Closure in "The Canterbury tales": The Role of The Parson's Tale (Kalamazoo, Mich., 2000) 95-113; Derrick G. Pitard, "Sowing Difficulty: The Parson's Tale, Vernacular Commentary, and the Nature of Chaucerian Dissent," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 26 (2004): 299-330, at 307, 317, 324. On the contribution of Chaucer's Parson to his larger project of lay empowerment, see also Larry Scanlon, Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition (Cambridge, U.K., 1994), 3-26. See also McCormack, Chaucer and the Culture of Dissent, who discusses the Parson's use of themes and vocabulary associated with Lollards and his sympathy for what she views as Lollard projects of lay empowerment.
13. The most extensive study of the sacrament's history is still Henry C. Lea's three-volume opus, A History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church (Philadelphia, 1896). For a more up-to-date survey, see Thomas N. Tentler, Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation (Princeton, 1977). On different facets of the medieval practice of confession, see Peter Biller and A. J. Minnis, eds., Handling Sin: Confession in the Middle Ages (York, 1998).
14. For a full discussion and contextualization of Lombard's views on penance, see Marcia L. Colish, Peter Lombard, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1994), 2:583-609.
15. Pitard discusses the empowering potential of vernacular penitential tracts ("Sowing Difficulty," 307-16). See also Jerry Root, "Space to Speke": The Confessional Subject in Medieval Literature (New York, 1997), 77-79.
16. A representative example is London, British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A.xxv, fols. 46r-55v, which begins by asserting that it is "necessarie" for a priest to know the origins of confession, and then gives various biblical precedents. See also London, British Library MS Sloane 1584, fols. 7r-10r. For more information on these and other (mostly unedited) tracts, see Robert R. Raymo, "Works of Religious and Philosophical Instruction," in J. Burke Severs, Albert E. Hartung, and Peter G. Beidler, eds., A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500, 11 vols. (Hamden, Conn., 1967-2005), 7:2300-2304.
17. London, British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A.xxv, fol. 49v.
18. London, British Library MS Sloane 1584, fol. 71v.
19. London, British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A.xxv, fol. 46v.
20. Frederick J. Furnivall, ed., Robert of Brunne's "Handlyng Synne," EETS o.s. 119, 123 (1901, 1903; repr., Millwood N.Y., 1988); passages are cited from this edition by line number. A few passages of this tract address confessors, but the work is aimed principally at the penitent. Most penitential tracts seem to assume both a lay and clerical audience, though they usually address themselves principally to one or the other. See the very similar emphasis on the priest as God's ears in the roughly contemporary Ayenbite of Inwyt: the penitent should reveal his sins "mid greate drede," for the priest is listening with "þet yeare of god," and he hears "not nagt ase man, ac ase god" (Pamela Gradon, ed., Dan Michel's Ayenbite of Inwyt or Remorse of Conscience EETS o.s. 23 [London, 1965], 177). The same themes recur in W. Nelson Francis, ed., The Book of Vices and Virtues, EETS o.s. 217 (London, 1942), 172-84. In this discussion, the "schrifte-fadre" is God's "bailiff" (174).
21. For an overview of Wycliffite views of penance, see Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford, 1988), 294-301. For Wyclif's personal views, see, for example, De eucharistia, tractatus maior: Accedit tractatus de eucharistia et poenitentia sive de confessione, ed. Johann Loserth (London: Trübner, 1892), 329-43; and Trialogus, ed. Gotthardus Lechler (Oxford, 1869), 326-33.
22. Anne Hudson, ed., Selections from English Wycliffite Writings (1978; repr. Toronto, 1997), 27.
23. Hudson, ed., Selections from English Wycliffite Writings, 20-21.
24. Norman P. Tanner, ed., Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich, 1428-31 (London, 1977), 11. According to Tanner's tabulation, the Eucharist was mentioned in only twenty-four. Only the issue of images was mentioned as frequently as confession in the trials.
25. Tanner, ed., Norwich Heresy Trials, 140-41. See also Hudson, ed., Selections from English Wycliffite Writings, 34.
26. Tanner, ed., Norwich Heresy Trials, 60, 66-67, 72, 91 (quote at 91).
27. F. D. Matthew, ed., The English Works of Wyclif Hitherto Unprinted, EETS o.s. 74 (London, 1902), 327-45. Hudson notes, "few other Lollard texts add much to its discussion" of confession (Premature Reformation, 297).
28. Matthew, ed., The English Works of Wyclif, 327-28.
29. Matthew, ed., The English Works of Wyclif, 330. The quote is translated from Psalms 31.5, which reads, "dixi confitebor scelus meum Domino et tu dimisisti iniquitatem peccati mei" (I said "I will confess my sin to God," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin) (Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Versionem, ed. Robert Weber, 2 vols. [Stuttgart, 1969], 1:805).
30. Matthew, ed., The English Works of Wyclif, 340.
31. Matthew, ed., The English Works of Wyclif, 341.
32. Little, Confession and Resistance, 17-47, an elaboration of "Catechesis and Castigation: Sin in the Wycliffite Sermon Cycle," Traditio 54 (1999): 213-44.
33. Gloria Cigman, ed., Lollard Sermons, EETS o.s. 294 (Oxford, 1989), 121-48.
34. Cigman, ed., Lollard Sermons, 158.
35. Cigman, ed., Lollard Sermons, 162, 157.
36. Cigman, ed., Lollard Sermons, 169-70.
37. Cigman, ed., Lollard Sermons, 187.
38. Cigman, ed., Lollard Sermons, 188-91.
39. Cigman, ed., Lollard Sermons, 189.
40. Peter Lombard, Sentences IV, distinctio 17.3 (PL 192:881).
41. Peter Lombard, Sentences IV, distinctio 17.6 (PL 192:881).
42. Edward H. Weatherly, ed., Speculum Sacerdotale, ed., EETS o.s. 200 (1936; repr. New York, 1971), 63-75.
43. Weatherly, ed., Speculum Sacerdotale, 64.
44. Weatherly, ed., Speculum Sacerdotale, 66.
45. Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Seeable Signs: The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments, 1350-1544 (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1994), 222-41.
46. Arthur Brandeis, ed., Jacob's Well, EETS o.s. 115 (1900; repr. Millwood, N.Y., 1988), 67. For a reading of Jacob's Well as a response to Lollardy, see Moira Fitzgibbons, "Jacob's Well and Penitential Pedagogy," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 27 (2005): 213-37.
47. London, British Library MS Harley 4172, fol. 8v.
48. Brandeis, ed., Jacob's Well, 297.
49. Woodburn O. Ross, ed., Middle English Sermons, EETS o.s. 209 (1960; repr. Millwood, N.Y., 1987), 216-17.
50. Klaus Bitterling, ed., Of Shrifte and Penance: The ME Prose Translation of "Le Manuel Des Péchés," (Heidelberg, 1998), 115 (my emphasis).
51. Bitterling, ed., Of Shrifte and Penance, 119.
52. Ross, ed., Middle English Sermons, 277. James Fanale discusses representations of David and Nathan as informed more by views of confession than by the Bible ("God's Ear: The Confessor in the Theology, Art, and Literature of the Late Middle Ages," Ph.D. diss. [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1986], 104).
53. Lee Patterson, "The 'Parson's Tale' and the Quitting of the 'Canterbury tales,'" Traditio 34 (1978): 331-80, at 338-39. I am using the following editions: Richard Morris, ed., Cursor Mundi (part 5), EETS o.s. 68 (London, 1878); F. N. M. Diekstra, ed., The Middle English "Weye of Paradys" and the Middle French "Voie de Paradis" (Leiden, 1991); and C. L. Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," Ph.D. diss. (Harvard University, 1963).
54. On the audience of the Book of Penance, see Guy Trudel, "The Middle English Book of Penance and the Readers of the Cursor Mundi," Medium Ævum 74 (2005): 10-33.
55. Diekstra, ed., The Middle English "Weye of Paradys," 143.
56. Morris, ed., Cursor Mundi (part 5), 1484 (lines 26074-82); Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," 66-68.
57. Morris, ed., Cursor Mundi (part 5), 1484-86 (lines 26092-26155); Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," 74.
58. Morris, ed., Cursor Mundi (part 5), 1551-59 (lines 28068-28612); Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," 115-63.
59. British Library, MS Harley 1671, fol. 30r-v.
60. Raymund of Pennaforte, Summa de Poenitentia et Matrimonio (1603; repr. Farnborough, U.K., 1967). For a convenient side-by-side printing of ParsT and corresponding passages from Raymund's Summa, see Petersen, The Sources of the Parson's Tale.
61. Tentler, Sin and Confession, 32.
62. Thomas Bestul, "Chaucer's Parson's Tale and the Late-Medieval Tradition of Religious Meditation," Speculum 64 (1989): 600-19, at 614, 606.
63. Raymund of Pennaforte, Summa, 465.
64. Raymund of Pennaforte, Summa, 422-48.
65. Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," 60, 65-66.
66. Morris, ed., Cursor Mundi (part 5), line 1498; Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," 85; Summa, 459.
67. Patterson, "The 'Parson's Tale,'" 366-67.
68. Patterson, "The 'Parson's Tale,'" 366-67. Root likewise sees in Thomas "an acute awareness and manipulation of" the lessons found in penitential manuals ("Space to Speke," 102). See also Fiona Somerset, "'As just as is a squyre': The Politics of 'Lewed Translacion' in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 187-207.
69. Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," 82, 83.
70. Regan, ed., "The Cleansing of Man's Soul," 43. Raymund, too, is very clear about the role of the priest in private penance: "Priuata dicitur illa poenitentia, quae singulariter fit quotidie, et cum quis peccata sua secrete sacerdoti confitetur" (That penance is called "private" which is done alone daily and when one confesses one's sins privately to the priest) (Summa, 442). Following standard practice, the Cleansing author augmented his source's reference to the priest, adding the point that private confession to a priest is required of all, while Chaucer omitted the reference.
71. P. Knapp, "Words," 113; see also Peggy Knapp, Chaucer and the Social Contest (New York, 1990), 90-94.
72. Little, Confession and Resistance, 93.
73. David Aers, Faith, Ethics, and Church: Writing in England, 1360-1409 (Cambridge, U.K., 2000), 50.
74. Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins, eds., The Writings of Julian of Norwich: "A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman" and "A Revelation of Love" (University Park, Pa., 2006), 239.
75. Watson and Jenkins, eds., The Writings of Julian of Norwich, 239, 241.
76. Watson and Jenkins, eds., The Writings of Julian of Norwich, 241.
77. Watson and Jenkins, eds., The Writings of Julian of Norwich, 241.
78. Watson and Jenkins, eds., The Writings of Julian of Norwich, 243. Julian has here omitted the reference to confession that she had made in her Short Text, which reads: "And than is he stirred to contrition and be confession and othere goode dedes to slake the wrathe of God" (243).
79. Alexandra Barratt, ed., A Commentary on the Penitential Psalms Translated by Dame Eleanor Hull, EETS o.s. 307 (Oxford, 1995); passages from this edition are cited by page number. The sole surviving manuscript of this commentary concludes, "Here endeth the vij psalmus the wheche Dame Alyanore Hulle transelated out of Frensche in-to Englesche" (202), but the exact source (if one existed) has not been located. For more on Hull, her life, and her writing, see Barratt's introduction.
80. Little, Confession and Resistance, 123.
81. Ethan Knapp, "Death in Dialogue: Hoccleve, Suso and the Ars Sciendi Moriendi," paper delivered at the Forty-First International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Mich., May, 2006.
82. Sanford Brown Meech, ed., The Book of Margery Kempe, EETS o.s. 212 (Oxford, 1940); passages from this edition are cited in the text by page number.
83. Dyan Elliott discusses the clergy's unease with frequently-confessing women on the Continent ("Women and Confession: From Empowerment to Pathology," in Mary C. Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski, ed., Gendering the Master Narrative: Women and Power in the Middle Ages [Ithaca, N.Y., 2003], 31-51).
84. For a discussion of one of those appearances, MS Longleat 29, see Pitard, "Sowing Difficulty."