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How the Church Changed Love

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Depending whom you ask, love can be interpreted in so many different ways. Ask a biologist and he will explain in great detail the neurological condition called love in a sense that it’s just chemistry, a feeling more or less like hunger. Ask a philosopher, and if you're stuck with an admirer of metaphysics, the discussion will probably be an everlasting monologue leaving you with a terrible headache. The nun however might be even worse.

Now I don’t think many people have heard a legal historian’s opinion before. The first thing that probably pops in your head is how love and law relate to one another. This connection is actually not that hard to make. What do big expanding powerful institutions do? Well they can establish certain morals, morals that might differ from previously held values or norms, and how else to enforce this than by the word of the law. This is exactly what happened in the 7th century AD when the Christian Church became a huge moral authority throughout Europe. With her new position, the Church changed some conceptions about marriage that our modern society still holds on to. Marriage continued to change more often than not. Many believe that marriage as we know it has been around for ages, truth is it changed more then we might think of at first.

As the Christianization of Europe became more prominent, the Church found a way to establish a monopoly on marriage law. Nowhere else was the European unity more remarkable than in this field. Initially the Church encountered resistance during the Carolingian dynasty, hence her limited influence. While on the other hand gaining a legislative and judicial authority, but not an exclusive one. As the Carolingian dynasty began falling apart in the late 9th century could the Church finally take its final grasp on marriage law.

She introduced two new principles. First of all marriage was based on the mutual loving relationship between a man and a woman. The Germanic people viewed marriage mostly as a formal agreement between families as a means to bring the two together. The husband’s family gives to the in-laws a gift; in return the man receives the right to claim the woman as his wife. Personal preferences between the soon-to-wed were set aside for the greater good, the family and its survival. Based on this principle the Church also stood firm against polygamy and marriages without the woman’s consent.

Nowadays forced or arranged marriages definitely occur less often than in medieval times, bear in mind forced marriage are still practiced in many parts of the world, even among immigrants to the West.

Second of all marriage became sacred, a divine union between man and wife, an agreement which can’t be terminated (just like the lease I have with my annoying landlord). We still refer to this as the sanctity of marriage. Giving up on marriage is sacrilegious and shameful; it mustn’t be taken lightly, while doing so might jeopardize your good standing with the man above. Marriage demands personal sacrifice, but reaps in great rewards.

Ask the legal historian and he’ll likely claim that the teachings of the Church firmly established in the early 7th century gave meaning to love and durability as we know and understand today. Maybe on second thought you shouldn't ask him and ask the romantic novelist instead.



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