HomeDisunions. Church-initiated separation of couples in the Catholic world (12th c. - 21st c.)

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Disunions. Church-initiated separation of couples in the Catholic world (12th c. - 21st c.)

Désunions. La séparation du couple à l'initiative de l'Église dans le monde catholique (XIIes. - XXIe s.)

Desuniones. La separación de parejas por iniciativa de la Iglesia en el mundo católico (s. XII - s. XXI)

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Published on Friday, June 14, 2024

Abstract

"What God has joined together, let no one separate" (Mk 10:2-16). In certain circumstances, the Catholic Church may however exercise this right, usually at the request of one of the spouses, but sometimes on its own initiative. Although canon law does not recognize divorce, since the Middle Ages representatives of the Church have endeavored to bring about the separation of certain couples. All these unions have been considered by the Church to be in contradiction to canon law, ecclesiastical discipline, the definition of Christian marriage or Christian morality. Recent scholarship has enabled us to gain a better understanding of matrimonial separations initiated by the spouses in the Middle Ages and the Modern period. The objective of this workshop is to tackle a rarer case, one that has scarcely been addressed by historians to date: that of separations initiated by the Church.

Announcement

Argument

« What God has joined together, let no one separate » (Mk 10:2-16). In certain circumstances, the Catholic Church may however exercise this right, usually at the request of one of the spouses, but sometimes on its own initiative.

Although canon law does not recognize divorce, since the Middle Ages representatives of the Church have endeavored to bring about the separation of certain couples. One can think of the action taken by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) to break up the marriage of Philip Augustus and Agnes of Merania, the king being considered a bigamist by the papacy ; or of the clerical couples forcibly separated in the 12th century, when certain priests' wives were excluded from cathedral enclosures by force. Historians have also brought to light more recent examples of same-sex marriage or cohabitation, which the Church tries to separate once they are discovered. The case of Elisa and Marcela, who married in La Coruña in 1901, has been particularly highlighted in Spain over the past decade or so: described in the sources as a "marriage without a man" (La Voz de Galicia, 10/06/1901), it has been reclaimed by today's LGBTQI+ movements as Spain's "first same-sex marriage". All these unions have been considered by the Church to be in contradiction to canon law, ecclesiastical discipline, the definition of Christian marriage or Christian morality.

Recent scholarship has enabled us to gain a better understanding of matrimonial separations initiated by the spouses in the Middle Ages and the Modern period, the reasons for them, the process followed by the parties concerned before the courts, and the consequences of such separations from an economic point of view, particularly for women. The objective of this workshop is to tackle a rarer case, one that has scarcely been addressed by historians to date: that of separations initiated by the Church.

We will be looking at “disunions” (separation from bed and board, annulment of marriage, obligation to cease cohabitation) encouraged or forced by the Church, through the direct intervention of a representative of the ecclesiastical body or through a third party. All types ofunions will be considered, from the 12th century, when marriage was defined as a sacrament and its rules specified by the ecclesiastical institution, to the present day.

To this end, we propose three main lines of research:

1/ By virtue of what principles and under what circumstances does the Church undertake to separate couples, whether married or not? 

In the case of the clerical or same-sex couples mentioned above, it is because these unions are defined as illicit by theologians and canonists that they are prohibited (in the first case because they contradict ecclesiastical discipline, in the second because they are defined as unnatural). But the possibility of separations ordered by the Church to protect one of the spouses (more probably the wife) could also be envisaged, in cases of conjugal violence for example. In nineteenth-century Spain, the wife was sometimes allowed to take refuge in a “neutral” house for the duration of the trial. Could such measures be more definitive? This also raises the question of whom the Church wishes to separate. At certain times and in certain regions, for example, were notoriously adulterous spouses separated?

Furthermore, while procedures that took place before the courts may be privileged, notably because they leave historical traces in the archives, cases of separation that were not the subject of an official procedure may also be addressed.

2/  On whose initiative do separations take place? 

We are also interested in situations where a representative of the Church interferes in a couple's intimacy and encourages separation or compliance with canonical marriage norms (in cases of bigamy, same-sex couples or unconsummated marriages, for example). The figure of the confessor for instance may be worth exploring, in line with recent studies on priestly masculinity. Did the fact that confessors were men pose a problem in couple relationships, or and in their role as impromptu marriage counselors? To what extent?

Cases of denunciation, whether anonymous or not, or more broadly any kind of situation where the Church is approached by a third party who is not a member of the couple, and who uses canon law or Christian morality to denounce or oppose a union deemed fraudulent, may also be addressed.

3/  Finally, what are the practical consequences for separated persons, especially women?

In this respect, we will be paying particular attention to research analyzing concrete cases from the study of judicial archives, at the crossroads between the history of law, the history of judicialsystems and economic history. How did law (canonical and secular, civil and criminal) frame these separations in legal and juridical terms? How did the players seize upon these frameworks and the different jurisdictions, sometimes bringing them into competition with one another, in order to maximize their assets? The various laws in force in medieval and then modern Europe, right up to the formalization of contemporary civil and criminal law in the 19th century, adopt gender differentiated perspectives on the management of a couple's property, and grant greater or lesser autonomy to women in the event of separation (even if the law remains largely favorable to men, in marriage as in separation). Well-supported women can also, where appropriate, bring competing rights into play to maximize economic benefits in the event of separation.

Submission guidelines

Proposals for papers of 300 words (2000 characters including spaces) must be sent to the organisers

(emilie.kurdziel@univ-poitiers.fr and marie.walin@univ-poitiers.fr)

by 1 July 2024.

They should include a title, 5 keywords and details of the authors' institutional affiliation.

Convenors

  • Marie Walin (U. Poitiers/Criham)
  • Emilie Kurdziel (U. Poitiers/CESCM)

Places

  • Bâtiment E13 - 24 rue de la chaîne
    Poitiers, France (86)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


Date(s)

  • Monday, July 01, 2024

Keywords

  • couples, union maritale, séparations, histoire maritale, Église, monde catholique, XIIe-XXIe siècle

Contact(s)

  • Marie Walin
    courriel : marie [dot] walin [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr
  • Émilie Kurdziel
    courriel : emilie [dot] kurdziel [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr

Information source

  • Vanessa Ernst-Maillet
    courriel : vanessa [dot] ernst [dot] maillet [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Disunions. Church-initiated separation of couples in the Catholic world (12th c. - 21st c.) », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, June 14, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/11tk4

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