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Absoluimus uos uice beati petri apostolorum principis. Episcopal authority and the reconciliation of excommunicants in England and Frankia c. 900-c.1050

Medieval bishopAbsoluimus uos uice beati petri apostolorum principis. Episcopal authority and the reconciliation of excommunicants in England and Frankia c. 900-c.1050

Sarah Hamilton

Frankland: The Franks and the World of Early Medieval Europe, (Manchester University Press, 2008), 209-41

Abstract 

The brothers of a man who refused to accept his (accidental) killer’s offer of compensation told Bishop Wulfstan II of Worcester (1062-95), when he intervened, ‘they would rather be excommunicated than fail to avenge their brother’s killing.’1 Wulfstan responded by publicly declaring them to be sons of the devil and the assembled crowd ‘shouted that this was true’; God’s vengeance followed immediately, with one of the contumacious brothers being struck down with madness, whereupon the others offered peace and begged for mercy, which the bishop granted after mass, restoring the sufferer to health, and peace to all. This well-known account of feud also points to the significance of excommunication – the invocation of God’s vengeance – for episcopal authority in eleventh-century England.

Excommunication was a weapon of last resort, because it entailed exclusion from both the Church and society, in the next life as well as this, buts its intention was to end a dispute, forcing the excommunicant to repent and acknowledge the bishop’s authority. Whilst scholars have investigated the law and rituals surrounding the imposition of excommunication, little attention has been paid to the reconciliation rites which marked its end. Yet, as tales such as this suggest, reconciliation embodied an important aspect of the bishop’s ministry, his role as peacemaker.

Click here to read this article from Frankland: The Franks and the World of Early Medieval Europe



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