Chapter of Faults
CHAPTER OF FAULTS
Chapter of faults is a meeting of the members of a religious community, held at an appointed time and place (usually the chapter house or room), at which those members guilty of some transgression of the rule publicly confess their faults. The custom serves, on the one hand, to guard the religious discipline of the house, and on the other hand, to exercise the members in humility and mutual understanding. From its beginnings in the 3rd century, monasticism has included in its daily or weekly schedule some kind of public confession. Precepts in St. Basil's Rules, observed by contemporary Eastern monks, provide for a confession comparable to the modern Western form of the chapter; and from the 4th to the 9th century, both in the East and the West, customs similar to the modern chapter were practiced wherever monasticism was found. But the Rule of St. Benedict, though it provided for public acknowledgment of faults, did not specifically provide for a chapter. The chapter in its contemporary form did not appear until the time of the customaries of the 8th and 9th centuries. In customaries, such as those of Cluny and Hirschau, the modern chapter is prescribed in detail; even the verbal formulas are still in use: the monks were to confess their faults in turn before the community and receive their penances from the abbot. The clamatio or proclamatio, the accusation of one monk by another in chapter, was generally included as an essential part of the chapter. This custom was more or less uniform and universal throughout the later Middle Ages. The monastic reforms and new institutions of each generation incorporated it into their constitutions. Notable among them in the 12th century were the Cistercians and the new orders of friars—the Dominicans, Carmelites, and Franciscans. It was preserved also by the new institutions of the Counter Reformation, with the exception of the Society of Jesus, which substituted other forms of discipline. The influence of Jansenism in ascetical theology helped to ensure the preservation of this custom into the 20th century; but with the widespread modern reaction against Jansenist tendencies, the chapter of faults (along with other ascetical practices misunderstood by the Jansenists) has tended to play a less serious role in monasticism than that envisioned by the early medieval constitutions. In most—though by no means in all—religious congregations the proclamatio has fallen into disuse.
Bibliography: p. schmitz, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 2:483–488.