Tuesday 7 March 2023

'The Medicine for the Salvation of Souls': the Penitential of Cummean

The Penitential of Cummean (Paenitentiale Cummeani) is a seventh-century text attributed to Saint Cummean of Clonfert, who died in the year 662, according to the Annals of Ulster. One of my favourite writers on the Irish saints, Daphne Pochin-Mould, gave a summary of Saint Cummean's list of the ways by which sins can be remitted in her 1956 book The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage:

There is an Irish homily on the subject of repentance in the Leabhar Breac. It says that it is necessary to do penance both for sins actually committed and for the good that we might have done but did not. There are three ways, says the homily, in which sins can be forgiven, baptism, martyrdom, penance. There is a much more detailed list in the Penitential of Cummean (c.650) which gives twelve different ways by which sins can be remitted....Cummean's list begins with baptism and ends with martyrdom. The items in between are, however, on a different footing: they are things that we can do, or have done for us, to make reparation for our sins. The confession mentioned in the middle of the list is not apparently ordinary sacramental confession, the Christian's normal method for getting his post-baptismal sins remitted,  but a general admission of one's sins: - the scriptural reference is to Psalm 31, v. 5, 6 "I have acknowledged my sin unto thee (god) ... and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin."

Cummean's list is: - baptism; charity (this refers to Luke 7:47 in which Christ told the woman weeping at His feet which she anointed that her sins were forgiven, pointing out that she had also greatly loved); alms-giving; the shedding of tears; confession; affliction of heart and body; renunciation of vices; intercession of saints; the merit of mercy and faith; the conversion and salvation of others; our own pardon and remission of other people's injuries to ourselves - "forgive and ye shall be forgiven"; and martyrdom.

Daphne D.C. Pochin Mould, The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage (Dublin, 1956) 114-115.

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