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Medieval MarriageSymbolism and Society$
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David d'Avray

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780198208211

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198208211.001.0001

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(p.74) 2 Indissolubility
Medieval Marriage

D. L. d'Avray (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

An apparently unique feature of the later medieval Church's marriage system in a world-historical comparative perspective is that it permitted neither divorce nor polygamy. This system was rooted in marriage symbolism, and especially in ideas synthesized out of biblical elements by Augustine of Hippo, whose thought on the matter was a time-bomb which did not go off until the central medieval period. The key idea was that the union of man and woman should be not less inseparable than the union of Christ and the Church. While the idea was accepted by churchmen in theory, it was largely ignored in practice in the early medieval period. From the Carolingian period on it began to have an impact on lay society, but powerful laymen could still easily get out of a marriage. The Gregorian Reform started a wind of change. Previously, it had been common even for senior churchmen to have wives or partners, but when celibacy began to become a reality in the higher echelons of Church government, sympathy for the ‘needs’ of patriarchal males could no longer be assumed or expected. It was however Innocent III who really turned indissolubility into a social reality, by an intransigent attitude and changes in Canon Law that closed the loopholes that had allowed easy annulments.

Keywords:   Augustine, divorce, Gregorian Reform, celibacy, polygamy, Innocent III

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