An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Penitentials (Penitential Books)

Manuals or guides for confessors, including prayers, lists of questions to be asked by the confessor, and penances to be assigned for various sins. The practice of private penance, or reconciliation of a penitent, began in the Celtic Church and later spread through Europe with the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon missions. Penitentials for use by confessors in private penance appeared in the sixth through ninth centuries. These books were not decreed by episcopal synods. Their authority rested on the reputation of their compiler or editor. Public penances were assigned for public sins that caused scandal for the church. Private penances were assigned for private sins or matters of conscience. The penitentials were generally more flexible than the church's ancient penitential system which they largely replaced. Later penitentials tended to provide guidance for the confessor instead of rigid rules and penalties. See Penance; see Penitent.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.