Och de skall vara ett hjärta : konsensusdoktrinen i medeltida kanonisk rätt

Translated title of the contribution: And They Become One Heart : The Consensualist Doctrine in Medieval Canon Law

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


One of the most important aspects of the marriage legislation in medieval canon law is the doctrine of free choice. According to this doctrine, established by pope Alexander III in the second half of the twelfth century, the validity of a marriage depended solely on the freely given consent of the parties. Neither family nor witnesses, not even the presence of a priest were necessary to form a valid marriage. The consensualist doctrine revolutionized the very conception of marriage and had important consequences for practically all layers of society. At a first glance, it seems astonishingly modern but a study of the underlying theories shows that it was founded on very different, and apparently, non-modern ideas. That these ideas can seem foreign to us should not lead to an underestimation of their actual importance, even from a modern perspective. They gave rise to one of the most fundamental aspects in the western marriage model – the individuals right to marry if, when, and with whomever he or she chooses. This study focuses on the interaction between sacramental theory and marriage legislation, more specifically, the connection between the ascetic tradition within the Church and the consensualist doctrine. Paradoxically, it was to a large extent the ascetic tradition that prompted a personalistic definition of marriage as depending primarily on the personal feelings and aspirations of the spouses. This idea of marriage was the foundation of the consensualist doctrine. Several authors have argued that the ideal of chastity in the medieval Church was incompatible with the idea of married love. This could seem like a common sense argument but in reality the ideal of chastity was a prerequisite for a more spiritual definition of marriage where the emotional relationship between the spouses was emphasized. As Hugh of Saint-Victor puts it, the spouses should not only become one flesh, but, above all, one heart. At the end of the twelfth century, the consensualist doctrine was firmly established in theory. Another question is if and how it was applied in reality and, not least, how the lay population perceived it. To answer these questions, I have studied a register from the Officials’ Court at Cerisy, Normandy, during the period 1314-1346. The importance of consent appears very clearly in the marriage litigation. Neither the family’s wishes nor the persons’ reputation (if, for example, they had previously been fined for fornication by the same Court) not even if and with whom the involved parties had children seem to have had any real bearing on the Courts rulings in these cases. Another important aspect in the register is the extent of the lay population’s knowledge of canon law, even in its more complicated aspects. The register from Cerisy not only shows how the marriage legislation in canon law was applied by the Court, but also that it had become an integrated part of rural society in fourteenth century Normandy.
Translated title of the contributionAnd They Become One Heart : The Consensualist Doctrine in Medieval Canon Law
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
  • Division of History of Ideas and Sciences
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date2003 Sep 12
Print ISBNs91-974153-6-7
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2003-09-12
Time: 10:15
Place: Department of Cultural Sciences, room 201

External reviewer(s)

Name: Bagge, Sverre
Title: Prof.
Affiliation: University of Bergen, Norway


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History of Ideas


  • history of ideas
  • History of philosophy
  • Normandy
  • Cerisy
  • asceticism
  • individualism
  • sacrament
  • consensualism
  • canon law
  • Marriage
  • middle ages
  • Filosofins historia
  • idéhistoria
  • Medieval history
  • Medeltidens historia


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