Title Background

The Doctrine of Compunction in Medieval England: Holy Tears.

The Doctrine of Compunction in Medieval England: Holy Tears.

Whereas contrition for sins requires objective, exterior evaluation by a priest, compunction remains a subjective and interior experience of the relationship with God. The Confession of the Sins effectively juxtaposes contrition and compunction, which converge most comprehensively in Sloth’s confession; the importance of weeping is stressed in Repentance’s interruption of Wrath. Gregory’s weeping over Trajan and Vigilate’s weeping over Sloth demonstrate the second cause of true compunction, namely weeping for the sins of others. Piers’s decision to weep after tearing the pardon manifests a movement away from externally fulfilled mandates and toward interiority, by which he becomes a model of compunction. The third, fourth, and fifth visions likewise close on moments of interior recognition marked by tears, while Contrition is shown to fail in B.20.


Studies in Medieval Literature 8. Lewiston, NY; Queenstoll, Ontario; Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales: Edward Mellen Press, 1990. 162-81.


McEntire, Sandra J.