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CELTIC-L  April 1998

CELTIC-L April 1998

Subject:

Sex and the Church (long, but read till the end for the juicy parts)

From:

"d. w. fortin" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Fri, 17 Apr 1998 23:02:20 PDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (125 lines)

Salvete,

In the recent past, some of our discussions have fallen within
"mainstream" history, and most particularly, questions have come up
regarding the role of the Chuch in medieval society.  The Church has
played a very important part in the histories of Ireland, Wales,
Scotland, ad Brittany, so it is important to understand the Church's role
within society as a whole.  Now granted, that role changed, especially
after the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, and again, once we
move into the "modern" period (though to me, everything after the 16th C
is journalism :)).

In my recent studies, I have been dealing with marriage litigation in
England and Wales (essentially, most places where Canon Law was applied
for such things).  Along the way, I ran into the following, which really
struck me as being very much not in line with what we usually generalize
about Church attiditudes regarding such things.  I hope this will help to
dispell some of those attitudes and further enlighten those of you who
have read down this far as to how the Church acted within society and
what its role in society was.

In a nutshell, the Church had courts which were supposed to hear cases
regarding spiritual matters only.  This concept evolved, and the spirit
of this evolution is best captured in a 14th C gloss:

"A layman may not sue a layman before am ecclesiastical judge over a
civil matter unless in default of secular justice or unless custom allows
it." (from Joannes Andreae in the Novella Commentaria, 1348).

What the above means is that the Church allowed its courts to hear cases
of many types, if the custom of that region had already established that
the Church courts handled such affairs, or if there was no recourse in
secular courts.  An example of this is defamation cases in England.  Any
case where one person was "wounded" by the words of another (essentially
the wounded person had to be imputed with a crime--In other words "You
stole my two sheep" versus "You are a sheep-stealer") was handled by the
Church courts.

The other major cases handled by ecclesiastical courts othr than
defamations were marriage litigation, (to include divorces) wills and
testements, and tithes.  I'd like to focus on marriage cases.

Essentially, marriage does not become a sacrament of the Church until the
Council of Trent (16th C.).  Prior to this, the only thing needed for a
marriage to be valid was consent, and usually some form of contractual
agreement which was witnessed by good and honest people.  Here's a sample
of how it worked from my MS project (Cheshire Record Office, Depositions,
1534-43) (punctuation added by me):

"... as this deponent (it's in a divorce case) went on a filde called the
Bryne filde the sayde Thomas Sandley and Alice Irlonde and Hugh Gyndlen
stoud togedder. Wich called this deponent and John Penkth unto them and
deferred them to stonde by.  Bayne recorde what shold be said wherupon
Hugh Gyndley said this wordes:  'Thomas, art thou content to have this
woman to thy wiffe?' and he said 'Aye'.  'Then says after me:  I Thomas
take thee, Alice, to my weddit wiff for better and worse till deth do
depart and therto I plight thee my troth'.  And then they drew hands and
toke by the hands agayn and the said Hugh askyt her whedder she was
content to have the said Thomas to her husbande and she said 'Aye'.  And
then she said after me:  I, Alice take you Thomas to my weddit husbande
for better for worse till deth us depart, and therto I plight thee my
troth,' and drew hands and kist."

OK.  There's no cleric involved, and in many cases, only some form of
outward consent was needed--for example, if two people were cohabiting,
and it was known widely in the community that they were doing so, the
Church might just go ahead and consider them as wedded--an important
issue when matter regarding legitimacy of children and inheritance.

As for ages, generally the Church had a rough time with this, but they
eventually put into the Canon Law that any marriage contracted before the
said individuals were 7 years old was null and void.  If the contract
were made between the ages of 7 and puberty, then it would be suspended
until the parties reached puberty, whereupon they had the right to annull
the earlier arrangement, or to enforce it through consensual sex.  What
was regarded as puberty, and hence the age whereupon two people could
contract a marriage, was finally decided as 12 for girls and 14 for boys.

Moving into divorce cases, the Church handled most of these, provided the
litigants didn't come to some agreement outside of the court (and thus
avoiding court fees).  Divorces mainly came about for matters of
consanguinity and affinity, prior contracts, the utilization of force and
fear by one side, the impediment of a crime having been committed by one
side without the knowledge of the spouse, and if the marriage was
consecrated when one of the parties was under-age.  Another divorce issue
was impotence by one of the parties.  The Church, since it was running a
court, and needing to maintain standards, demanded proof of the
impotence, so that one party could not just feign impotence to get out of
the marriage (and thus avoid inheritance issues, etc).  A most intiguing
method which was used by Church courts in the 15th Century in York and
Canterbury was the following (and this is the point of this whole post):

A group of seven women were deputized by the court to prove the man's
impotence.  They were to inspect the man, but not the woman.  Their job
was to incite the man's sexual desires.  Here's a deposition from the
York records, 1433 (from "Marriage Litigation in Medieval England" by RH
Helmholz (Cambridge University Press, 1974), trans. from the Latin):

"The same witness exposed her naked breasts, and with her hands warmed at
the said fire, she held and rubbed the penis and testicles of the said
John.  And she embraced and frequently kissed the same John, and stirred
him up in so far as she could to show his virility and potency,
admonishing him that for shame he should then and there prove and render
himself a man.  And she says, examined and diligently questioned, that
the whole time aforesaid, the said penis was scarcely three inches
long,...remaining without any increase or decrease."

That done, the women (all seven who were still present at the time of the
above) cursed the unfortunate man for his faiure, and then walked out.

Now, I ask you folks, given the above, can we really consider the Church
as the prudish institution which is made of it (for example in the recent
postings on the Goddess Aine)?  I think not.  I can even come up with
more examples for those interested.

This is not to say that the Church did not change its values and morals
as time progressed.  It did.  But prior to the Council of Trent, this was
not the case at all.

Comments?

Valete,

Dave

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