Forgiveness in late medieval sermons: On the unforgiving servant

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This study contributes to the history of forgiveness. It samples twenty-nine Latin model sermons on the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18. 23–35) to access instructions and persuasive material used to teach late medieval Christians about interpersonal forgiveness, peacemaking, or reconciliation. Only half the surveyed sermons discuss forgiveness. Of those that do, only two authors explained the qualified obligation to forgive: to obtain divine forgiveness, Christians must be willing to forgive a penitent offender agreeing to make amends. Christians could still seek justice for harm suffered, so long as they did so without resentment or the desire to harm their offender. These authors also acknowledged the practical difficulties of loving enemies. Unconditional forgiveness remained a goal for those seeking a heavenly reward for Christian perfection, especially monks and nuns. More sermons discouraged anger or warned of God’s wrath against the unforgiving without detailing the norms for forgiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-60
Number of pages19
JournalMedieval Sermon Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan. 2018


  • Anger
  • Christian ethics
  • Forgiveness
  • Love of enemies
  • Medieval sermons
  • Peacemaking
  • Reconciliation


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