Carlson, Written & Oral Penitence in the Adoptionist Controversy

Written & Oral Forms of Public Penitence during the Adoptionist Controversy

Laura M. Carlson (Queen’s University)

This paper will examine aspects of public penance within the Carolingian Empire as related to the Adoptionist Controversy in the late-eighth and early-ninth centuries. I will examine the Adoptionist Controversy on two fronts: firstly, the Carolingian justification in denouncing the heresy based on royal and patristic authority; secondly, the Carolingian imposition of public forms of penance, both written and oral, on Adoptionist leaders, specifically Felix of Urgel. Primary evidence for this paper will concentrate largely on the survival of an anti-Adoptionist “dossier” from the early ninth century, Rheims 385. In the first instance, I will examine the Carolingian framing of Adoptionism as a latter-day manifestation of a late antique heretical movement, Luciferianism. The textual paralleling of Adoptionism with Luciferianism in Rheims 385, a heresy that engaged patristic writers as well as the Emperor Theodosius, reinforced the fused religious and political spheres of Carolingian justice. In the second instance, I will examine Felix of Urgel’s Confessio Fidei as found in Rheims 385, an unusual early Carolingian form of written “public” contrition and penance. The discussion will analyse whether Felix’s Confessio was intended as a Carolingian reinvention of paenitentia publica, inherited from late antiquity. This will necessarily touch on the public nature of written material among the Carolingian elite, and the relationship this text may have had to other forms of elite social and religious networks, such as letter collections. The discussion also will include whether this text can be considered as part of the emergent tradition of public penance as a fourfold ritual recently explored by Mayke de Jong: sin, confession, ritual of imposition, and subsequent atonement. Felix’s written confession will be analysed in the context of his other public penitential actions, specifically his exile and eventual imprisonment in Lyon. The potential involvement of Hincmar of Rheims’ in collating Rheims 385 will also be touched upon in the paper, particularly in light of the wider emergent trend of public penance in relationship to Louis the Pious in the ninth century.