Jacques Le Goff on “The Evolution of Marriage”

I’ve been reading a book on the Middle Ages – by internationally renowned scholar of the period Jacques Le Goff. Here’s his short bit on “The Evolution of Marriage” – as this section is called:

“In the evolution of sensibilities and customs that took place at the beginning of the feudal period, new attitudes to love hold a particularly important place. They were elaborated against the background of a decisive evolution in the concept of marriage. Marriage figured as an important element in the Gregorian reform (to which we shall be returning below) through which the Church bestowed upon it new characteristics that have remained for the most part constant throughout most of Europe, down to the present day. Marriage now became decidedly monogamous, where as the aristocracy had thitherto practiced a de facto polygamy; it also became dissoluble. It was now difficult to repudiate a wife. The Holy See endeavored to monopolize judgment on this matter. Virtually the only justification for it that it accepted was consanguinity, closely defined down to the fourth degree and over which it maintained a strict control. At the same time and no doubt in reaction to these stricter rules on marriage, adultery, which seemed to be on the increase, was punished extremely severely. No doubt the most important point here is that marriage, which until then had been a civil contract, now increasingly became aa religious matter controlled by the Church. The latter managed to reduce the number of arranged marriages by ruling that union must be by mutual consent, and thereby improved the status of women, even if the decisions made by families and men remained crucial. In the twelfth century, marriage was classed as one of the sacraments that only priests could administer. The Church’s method of controlling marriage and avoiding unions between blood relatives was essentially by getting the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) to make it obligatory to publish bans that were posted up in the church were the ceremony was planned to take place. All the same, the celebration of marriage took some to penetrate the actual edifice of the church. Right down to the sixteenth century, marriages usually took place outside the church rather than inside it.”

Pages 56 – 57 of Jacques Le Goff, “The Birth of Europe”; Blackwell Publishing, (c) 2005 Malden Massachusetts and Oxford England.

From the bio-blurb: Mr. Le Gooff is “professor of History at Ecole des Haute Etudes en Sciences Socialese in Paris. He is among France’s “great” historians, and is considered internationallyto be one of the foremost scholars of his generation. He has written widely on medieval history and his book include, “Medieval Civilization,” “Intellectuals and the Middle Ages” and “The Medieval World”

So – let us say that “marriage” has been changing and undergoing ‘redefinition’ for quite some time. And that incest – or within the fourth degree of consanguinity – or common blood – was quite common until the church put a stop to it. So was “de facto” polygamy. So was adultery. I dare say – all the fears that “gay marriage” will lead to any of this are so absurd I can’t imagine anyone holding that we are returning to the period of 1000 years ago. Not to mention that until the 1500s – marriages weren’t even performed in Churches – and at most on the steps outside.

So this whole nonsense about this historical marriage that has existed forever exactly as it always has is sort of nonsense.

And then, just as the Church was getting its clutches on the institution – another noted historian, John Boswell, noted that with the coming of the Black Death – the blessing of male-couples seems to have disappeared. Before then it seemed to be quite common for a small percentage of the male population. Mr. Boswell’s books “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” and others – are well researched and documented – but of course – since Boswell was gay – that would be bad to point to his books. You know, “Promoting Homosexuality” or something.

And it is mind numbing of late to hear politicians and many preachers too – be so historically illiterate that the spout mumbo-jumbo of their faith without any historical reference and proof. It’s unseemly. And shows that politicians and preachers aren’t really that smart, when you get down to it – but are more winners of the popularity contest, in the case of politicians, and the dweeb contest, in the case of preachers. In either case – they have their axes to grind – and so remain willfully ignorant of the reality of history.

Still, one finds interesting things in books. Perhaps if politicians and preachers didn’t spend so much time fundraising they might well find the time to educate themselves.  


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