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Penitence, Confession, and the Power of Submission in Late Medieval Women's Religious Communities
Department of Religious Studies, University of Missouri, 221 Arts & Science Building, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
Received: 7 July 2012; in revised form: 23 July 2012 / Accepted: 25 July 2012 / Published: 6 August 2012
Abstract: This article argues that depictions of penance and confession in late medieval "Sisterbooks," which were written by women religious for communal use, show that medieval women understood religious authority to be enhanced through submission and service to community members. These collections of the lives and reminiscences of deceased sisters and father confessors construct idealized piety and religious authority through public acts of obedience and submission which built a reputation for sanctity, not just for the individual penitent, but for her entire community. Thus in the Sisterbooks, obedience to a confessor or spiritual director for both male and female penitents shifts the locus of spiritual authority from the confessor to the penitent and her community through communal observation and evaluation. These medieval Christian women understood the relationships between confessors and confessants as one which conferred power and authority to the penitent, complicating Foucault's influential claim that the sacrament of confession granted all power to the confessor who heard sins in secret. In the Sisterbooks, interactions between women religious and their confessors are depicted as relational, complex, and constantly in flux.
Keywords: women; gender; authority; leadership; power; religion/religious; confession; Medieval Convents; Sisterbooks; women authors; Medieval Christianity
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MDPI and ACS Style
Gregory, R. Penitence, Confession, and the Power of Submission in Late Medieval Women's Religious Communities. Religions 2012, 3, 646-661.
Gregory R. Penitence, Confession, and the Power of Submission in Late Medieval Women's Religious Communities. Religions. 2012; 3(3):646-661.
Gregory, Rabia. 2012. "Penitence, Confession, and the Power of Submission in Late Medieval Women's Religious Communities." Religions 3, no. 3: 646-661.