Book Series Studia Traditionis Theologiae, vol. 25

Healing not Punishment

Historical and Pastoral Networking of the Penitentials between the Sixth and Eighth Centuries

Wilhelm Kursawa

  • Pages: 358 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2017

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57589-6
  • Paperback
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  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57591-9
  • E-book
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Penitentials in the Insular Church


“Kursawa’s innovative study of the penitentials found in Ireland, Britain and Gaul between the sixth and eighth centuries will be a useful addition to the increasing interest in these texts (…) this book is a stimulating contribution to its field, for which Kursawa is to be thanked.” (Benedict G. E. Wiedemann, in Francia-Recensio, 3, 2018)


Wilhelm Kursawa (Dr. theol. 2005, PhD 2017) is the Roman Catholic Parish Priest of St Matthias' Parish in Schwalmtal, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. 


The entire conception of repentance and penance in the Oriental Church in the first six centuries is a remedial one: sin represents an ailment of the soul. The confessor is called upon to meet the confessing person as a spiritual physician or soul-friend. Penance does not mean punishment, but healing like a salutary remedy. Nevertheless the lack of privacy led to the unwanted practice of postponing repentance and even baptism to the deathbed. An alternative procedure of repentance arose from the sixth century onwards in the Irish Church as well as in the Continental Church under the influence of Irish missionaries, and in the South-West-British and later the English Church (Insular Church). In treatises about repentance, called penitentials, ecclesiastical authorities of the sixth to the eight centuries wrote down regulations on how to deal with the different capital sins and minor trespasses committed by monks, clerics and laypeople. Church-representatives like Finnian, Columbanus, the anonymous author of the Ambrosianum, Cummean and Theodore developed a new conception of repentance that protected privacy and guaranteed a discrete, affordable as well as predictable penance, the paenitentia privata. They established an astonishing network in using their mutual interrelations. Here the earlier penitentials served as source for the later ones. But it is remarkable that the authors appeared as creative revisers, who took regard of the pastoral necessities of the entrusted flock. The aim of the authors was to enable the confessors to do the healing dialogue qualitatively in a high standard. The penitents should feel themselves healed, not punished.