Chapter 7 Pastoral Care: Dominican Friars as Confessors and Catechists in 13th-Century England

In: A Companion to the English Dominican Province  
Andrew Reeves
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As Father Boyle noted, shortly after its founding, the Order of Preachers became an order of confessors. As part of their preaching mission, the Friars Preachers also conducted confessions and administered penances throughout the English province. Serving as confessors meant that they would end up serving as catechists. An impromptu education would be necessary to make sure a lay penitent understood the basic principles of mortal and venial sins. But in many instances an education would go further: summas of confession like Raymond of Peñafort’s counselled the confessor to make sure that the penitent at least have a basic command of such foundational Christian prayers as the Apostles’ Creed. Summas like Simon of Hinton’s Summa iuniorum outlined basic principles of the Christian religion such as the Articles of Faith.

Much of the historiography on Dominican texts of religious education has concentrated on the role these texts played in the religious education of friars. The doctrines present in many of these texts, however, are somewhat basic, especially given that in the Order’s first century in the English province, most recruits were drawn from the ranks of men who already had a formidable education. Moreover, many of these texts appear in the same sort of portable vademecum codices as the model sermons of prominent friars. Both of these facts suggest Dominicans catechizing laypeople. We thus have these and other pieces of evidence to suggest that not only were the Friars Preachers assisting parochial clergy by instructing laypeople from the pulpit, but also that they were providing other more personal forms of catechesis to English laypeople.

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