The Subject of Canon Law: Confessing Covetise in Piers Plowman B and C and the Memoriale Presbiterorum‘ ,
This essay on the B and C versions of Covetise’s confession to Repentance scrutinizes L’s revisions from the perspective of penitential legislation concerning restitution. It contends that the various additions, excisions and interpolations that L makes while revising the B version of Covetise’s confession indicate a lateral relationship between the revised poem and the near contemporary penitential manual Memoriale presbiterorum on the question of restitution. At first it uncovers a shift in emphasis in the C revisions from penitent to confessor, from Covetise’s obligation to express contrition for his sins to the confessor’s obligation to impose restitution on usurious penitents. The essay then juxtaposes L’s revised handling of restitution with that found in the Memoriale presbiterorum to shed light on a shared socio-legal mentalité of restorative justice—one grounded in canon law. It argues that both L and the author of the Memoriale clarify the canon law of restitution from the confessor’s perspective: the confessor can legitimately grant absolution to penitents like Covetise only after they have made full restitution to their victims. Drawing extensively upon passages on restitution in the Memoriale, it attempts to substantiate recent scholarly speculation about the kinship between the revised poem and penitential manual. At the same time, the essay attempts to demonstrate that L, like the author of the Memoriale, holds all confessors—both regular and secular—answerable to the canon law of restitution. (AT)
YLS, 24 (2010), 139-68.