Parental Authority and Freedom of Choice: The Debate on Clandestinity and Parental Consent at the Council of Trent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


After a long debate the Council of Trent decided, in 1563, against the validity of marriages contracted informally, without a public ceremony. Marriages without parental consent, however, remained valid. These decisions are frequently described as a pragmatic compromise, where one controversial reform was rejected in favor of another, equally controversial. Yet there was, as this article will show, a significant difference in how the delegates addressed the questions of publicity and parental consent. While the discussion of the former mostly concerned how (not if) a reform could be carried out, the discussion of the latter concerned the very principle of mandatory parental consent. The ensuing debate reflects the clash between two opposing views of marriage in sixteenth-century Europe: on the one hand, the couple-oriented, consensualist conception of classical canon law; and on the other, the family-oriented conception of both Protestant and Catholic reformers with its emphasis on order, stability, and parental authority.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History of Ideas


  • Marriage, Parental consent, Council of Trent, Early Modern
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-72
JournalSixteenth Century Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch

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