The Celtic Literature Collective

The Penitential of Gildas

1. A presbyter or deacon committing natural or sodomite fornication, if he have taken a monk's vow previously, shall do penance for three years, shall pray for forgiveness every hour, shall do superpositio every week with the exception of the fifty days after Passio, shall have bread without measure and food fattened slightly with butter on the Lord's day; but on other days, if he be a workman, a measure of biscuit and broth slightly thickened, cabbages, a few eggs and British cheese, a Roman half-pint of milk because of weakness of flesh at that time; but a Roman pint of whey or butter-milk to quench his thirst, and the same quantity of water. He is not to have his bed furnished with much straw; let him make some addition by three quadragesimae, as far as his strength will admit. Let him from his deepest heart weep for his fault; let him above all things follow after obedience; after one year and a half he may take the Eucharist and come to communion; let him sing the Psalms with his brethren, lest his soul be lost completely, by so long a time of the heavenly discipline.

2. If a monk placed in a lower grade commit the same sin, he is to do penance for three years, but let the measure of his bread be heavier. If a workman, let him take a Roman pint of milk and another of whey, and as much water as suffices to quench his thirst.

3. But if a presbyter or deacon, without a monk's vow, sin, let his penance be similar to that of a monk without orders. 

4. If a monk intend to commit a sin, his penance shall be for one year and a half. The Abbot, however, has authority to moderate in this matter, if the monk's obedience be pleasing to God and to his Abbot.

5. The ancient fathers have fixed twelve years of penance for a presbyter, seven for a deacon. |281 

6. A monk that has stolen a garment or any article shall do penance for two years in the way described above, if he be a junior; if a senior for one whole year. If he is not a monk, let him do the same for one year and, at most, three quadragesimae.

7. If a monk owing to a disordered stomach shall vomit the sacrifice during the day, he is not to take his dinner, and if it be not on account of weakness, he shall atone for his offence by seven superpositiones; if through weakness and not gluttony, by four.

8. If he has not vomited the sacrifice, let him be punished by superpositio of a day and frequent rebuke.

9. If any one in negligence lose any of the sacrifice, he shall do penance for three quadragesimae, leaving it to be consumed by wild beasts and birds.

10. If any one because of drunkenness is unable to sing the Psalms, being stupefied and without speech, he is deprived of dinner.

11. A man that sins with an animal will do penance for one year: if by himself alone, let him atone for his offence by three quadragesimae.

12. He that shall hold communion with a man excommunicated by his Abbot shall do penance forty days.

13. A man eating carrion unknowingly (shall do penance), forty days. 

14. It must, however, be known that as long as a man delays in sins, penance must be proportionately increased to him.

15. If a certain work is imposed upon any man, and he, in contempt, omits to do that work, let him go without his dinner; if from real forgetfulness, he will have half his daily share of food.

16. But if he undertake the work of another, let him make that known to the Abbot with modesty, in the hearing of no one except the Abbot, and let him perform it if commanded.

17. For he who retains anger in his heart a long time, is in death. But if he confess his sin, let him fast forty days, and if he persist further in his sin, two quadragesimae, and if he commit the same sin, let him be cut off from the body as a decayed member, because anger nourishes homicide.

18. If a man is offended by anyone, he ought to make this known to the Abbot, not with the feeling of an accuser, but of one desiring to heal, and let the Abbot decide.

19. Who does not meet at the finishing [of the second Psalm], let him sing eight Psalms in order; if, when roused, he comes in after the reading is finished, let him repeat whatever the brethren have sung, in due order. But if he come to the second reading, let him go without his dinner.

20. If any one by mistake change anything of the sacred words where "danger" is marked, let him observe a three days' fast or three superpositiones.

21. If through neglect the consecrated element fall to the ground, let him go without dinner.

22. He that has of his own will defiled himself in his sleep, if the monastery have plenty of beer and meat, shall keep vigil for three hours of the night standing, provided he is really a man of strength. If, however, the food be poor, let him, standing as a suppliant, recite twenty-eight or thirty Psalms, or make recompense by extraordinary work.

23. For good kings we ought to make the sacred offering, for the bad not.

24. Presbyters are not prohibited from offering for their bishops.

25. He that is proved guilty of any offence and is checked as one inconsiderate, let him go without dinner.

26. He that breaks a hoe that had previously no fracture, should make restitution for it by extraordinary work, or should observe a superpositio.

27. Whoever shall see one of the brethren breaking the commands of the Abbot, ought not to hide it from the Abbot; but let him previously admonish the sinner to confess, himself, to the Abbot his evil deed; let him be found not so much an informer, as a man who carries out the rule of truth.

So far Gildas. 

Gildas. De Excidio Britanniae, Fragmenta, Liber de Paenitentia, "Lorica Gildae", etc. ed. by Hugh Williams. Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. London: David Nutt, 1901.