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Liber de penitentia


Book on penitence

In his brief prologue to the Liber de penitentia, Vincent of Beauvais states that for those who commit mortal sin after baptism, penitence is the only remedy for life. And he adds a quote from the Church Father Ambrose: "It is easier to find those who have preserved their innocence than those who have made an appropriate penance."

Vincent continues: In order that by many who scoff rather than repent, might better be recognised what the true form of penitence is, it seemed to me, who is admittedly a sinner, more than useful to collect, by extracting from the sentences of the holy fathers who wrote very much on this subject before us, some citations on penitence and to describe them in an appropriate manner and order.

The work has 195 chapters. As far as we know, there are no studies on the content of the Liber de penitentia.

List of surviving manuscripts



I - Additional information on the speculum text as present in the manuscript, or on other texts present in the manuscript, or on material damage; D - Date of the manuscript; P - Country, region or place of production; if available, information on the scribe(s) of the manuscript; O - Medieval and pre-modern owners of the manuscript; L - Hyperlink to digital facsimiles of the manuscript; R - Reference to manuscripts listed in other parts of the inventory, with which this manuscript at the time of its production constituted a set of volumes. Manuscripts that have been collected into a set by a single medieval collector (library) within several decades, are indicated with cf.

4 surviving manuscripts of the Liber de penitentia are known today:

  • Basel, Öffentliche Bibliothek der Universität, B.VIII.17, ff. 1r-126r

    • D: 13th century (1246/1255 ?).

    • P:

    • O: Dominicans at Basel (f. Av: Iste liber est conuentus Basiliensis ordinis predicatorum).

  • Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm 16213, ff. 157r-242v

    • D: middle of 15th century (after 1448).

    • P:

    • O: Passau (Bavaria), cl. S. Nicolaus Can. S.Aug. (Lateran Congregation).

  • Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, lat. 3214, ff. 1r-84v

    • D: 14th century (the scribe probably copied the date 1332 at f. 122v [per manum magistri Johannis Anglici de pontificatu Lincolniensi in anno Domini millesimo CCCo tricesimo secundo] from his source).

    • P: France.

    • O: Avignon, pope Benedict XIII (1329-1423); cardinal Pierre de Foix O.F.M. (1386-1464); Toulouse, Collège de Foix; J.B. Colbert (1680); Paris, Bibliothèque royale.

    • L: A monochrome facsimile (microfilm) is available for consultation in the Gallica database.

  • Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 280, ff. 124r-195r

    • D: 13th century.

    • P:

    • O: cl. La Colombe O.Cist; cl. Morimond O.Cist.

Lost manuscript

One further manuscript of the De penitentia is known that is lost today:

  • Königsberg, Universitätsbibliothek, 1194, ff. 2r-43v (early 14th century; donated after 1360 to the Franciscan convent at Wehlau, from where the ms. entered the library of the Teutonic order at Tapiau and hence the Königsberg University library; lost during the Second World War); the ms. also contained Vincent's Liber de laudibus beate Marie Virginis and Liber de laudibus sancti Johannis Evangeliste. Several photographs of the ms. have been recovered; see A. Kovács's contribution to the Vincent of Beauvais Newsletter 42 (2018), pp. 17-26.

Editions before 1700

No early editions of this treatise have been made.

Modern editions and translations

Latin text

Image: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 3214, f° 1r.

For studies on the Liber de Penitentia

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