In the later Middle Ages there was a strange exception to the rule that marriages were indissoluble. A non-consummated marriage could be dissolved even if there were no question of impotence on either side if the husband or wife chose to enter a religious order. From the 15th century on this developed into a papal power to dissolve unconsummated marriages for other reasons too. The intellectual origins of this development can be traced back to marriage symbolism: only a consummated marriage fully mirrors the passionate union of Christ and the Church, so that only a consummated marriage is fully indissoluble. The Carolingian marriage guru Hincmar of Reims played an early role in forming this doctrine. Alexander III in the 12th century made the ruling about entry into a religious order. Martin V may have been the first to dissolve valid but unconsummated marriages for other reasons. The practice developed further in the early modern period. The main contribution of the chapter is to show that this by-way of Canon Law is more relevant to social history than might be supposed. The evidence of the Apostolic Penitentiary Registers is one of the sources used to demonstrate this.
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