Family Values
March 6, 2006 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Why aren't western marriages arranged? So the Church could make more money. (via fark)
posted by jeffburdges (19 comments total)
So, the author is saying that capitalism sometimes results in a benefit to society? Radical!
posted by spock at 7:57 AM on March 6, 2006

Weird. I wish the article spelled the evidence for the connection out a little more clearly — as well as the nature of the connection itself. Did they really make it harder to keep money in the family just on the off chance that some of the surplus would come their way?

Still, neat article. It never occurred to me, but it is interesting that the medieval Church would have pushed for something so subversive as freedom from arranged marriages.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:57 AM on March 6, 2006

The marriage link seems tenuous to me. Priestly celibacy is the real money-maker.
posted by klarck at 8:03 AM on March 6, 2006

Yeah the author doesn't try to make a case that there are any connections between the various changes, but it's just a puff piece for a website so m'eh.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:06 AM on March 6, 2006

Well, the Church liked arranged marriages, as long as they got their cut. The medieval Church was, in general, very much into feathering its own nest, and if it annoyed the secular powers-that-be, so much the better. Prohibiting marriages between relatives broke up the really huge familial estates, and increased the chances that a portion of the estate would wind up with the church eventually.

And it wasn't really an "off chance". It was fairly common for childless adults to will some/all of their property to the church upon their death, so that someone would pray for them.
posted by jlkr at 8:14 AM on March 6, 2006

the church is a pretty fucked-up little institution when you sit and think about it for a while.
posted by wakko at 8:14 AM on March 6, 2006

This was not only justifiable on theological grounds, but it was in keeping with the Church's general tendency of making the individual couple, not the family, the basic unit of society.

This is interesting.

After all, if your lands weren't the collective property of your entire clan, but rather your own to sell or give away, then your uncles and cousins couldn't do anything about the forest you just donated to the abbey down the road.

This seems a bit simplistic.
posted by three blind mice at 8:15 AM on March 6, 2006

There is definitely some truth to this article, though as with much popular history, it's a bit oversimplified. The Church was certainly not above making decisions based on the bottom line, but there were also real theological issues at stake, too. For one, the notion of intentionality is really key to the Catholic worldview. Just as it is a sin to think about murdering someone as well as to actually murder someone, an intended marriage is the same as a real marriage. This distinction was one of the key things that separated early Christianity from Judaism - and led to the notion that Catholics feel guilty about thinking impure thoughts, etc.
posted by piers at 8:35 AM on March 6, 2006

The entire article is 'a bit simplistic'. 'A bit simplistic' doesn't even cover it. As somebody who has studied medieval history fairly extensively, i consider this man to be of a similar ilk to George W Bush. And in both situations, i try to see the comic side, rather than get angry:

The barbarians who took over the Western Roman Empire hundreds of years before Margery and Richard were born were more than hairy, smelly guys who drank their mead with their elbows on the table and never washed their chain mail — they were also sexist pigs

Truly this man has, after years of careful, dedicated and intelligent study, probed beneath the surface of medieval culture and uncovered those fundamental truths which reconcile this strange and foreign society to our own. And then has chosen to ignore said truths, and instead make quite remarkably superficial generalisations about centuries of political struggle, religious climate, evolution of manners & what we have come to understand as 'civilised society', and on which night the heretics were burnt.

I'm going to try to restrain myself from hyperbole, or pointless generalisations - like wakko did - and i'm also going to avoid tearing apart every line of the article, because that would make a boring post. However, I'll flag up a couple of inconsistencies/factual problems in the article, and leave you to make your own judgements
1) He skips over how important the political and financial element to marriage was in medieval society in about half a sentence. A dowry was often a significant amount of a father's entire net worth. The ebb and flow of dowry payments was therefore crucial to the changing munificence of a family.
2) The king profited considerably more from controlling marriages (specifically of his aristocracy) than the church did.
3) Monasteries and bishoprics became the wealthiest landowners in Europe because they were really, really, really, really useful. As well as colonising the huge swathes of waste-land that were present in Europe and providing the monarch with a counter-weight to the power hungry aristocracy, they also fulfilled a service. Everybody wanted monks praying for them. There was no atheism as we understand it - the church didn't need to promote couples over families, or introduce the idea of consent into marriage, or any other ridiculous idea to make money they were already earning.

I'm going to stop now, before (ha!) I get carried away. If you're actually interested in this matter, i recommend R.W. Southern's The Making of The Middle Ages.
posted by jrengreen at 8:48 AM on March 6, 2006

This fellow doesn't have a very good grasp on the Middle Ages. Frankish Kings did not practice polygamy. Heck, one of the more famous recorded incidents in Frankish history was the Divorce of Lothar II in the 9th century. (He could only have one wife and wanted to ditch one for another.) The main say in the event was the Church, as the divorce required the blessing of the current Pope in Rome. (Two Frankish bishops got excommunicated after taking Lothar's side in the divorce...oops.)

The Franks, who sought to emulate much of the late Roman culture, certainly did not take up multiple wives. (As Romans did not, either). Wives were political tools, and it would not please one political faction to see their daughter's husband take another wife.

I'm not aware of Saxons taking up multiple wives, either. Or Scandinavians. Hrm.

The author is also simplifying greatly the relationship between the Church and Gentry. Ah well.
posted by Atreides at 9:01 AM on March 6, 2006

The genes flowed through the ages, a ripplingly turbulent torrent that carved its own path as it went. The strictures and prejudices of the past were flung down like eroding banks - the rules societies put in place to govern who mated with whom were overtopped like the scantest of levies before the raging flood of lust and desire seated in the deepest recesses of cellular memory.

To be sure, there were laws which stood - laws of caste and class, propriety and property, invaders and invadees. In retrospect, though, in the long view of history and the short one of cultural context, all served the purposes of that rushing stream of genes.

How blind we were, until it was far too late, to see ourselves as the actors - or still more arrogant, the *goal* - of that process. How blindly self-important: to think ourselves anything but the vehicles, the vessels, the vectors. To think our societies and civilizations anything but the eddies and rapids of that flow; our history anything but the slope from headwaters to ocean.

Until the genes no longer needed us, at which time all was far too clear.
posted by freebird at 9:21 AM on March 6, 2006

So -- if I've understood this correctly -- the rule that "consent makes a marriage" was introduced by the medieval church in order to further its own power.

It's an interesting argument -- the medieval church as unwitting parent of modern individualism -- but I don't know that it really stands up to examination. I think the principle of "consent = marriage" reflects an essentially secular understanding of marriage as a legally binding contract between two consenting parties.

The principle of "consent = marriage" meant that you didn't need a priest to marry you, and you didn't need a church to get married in. All you needed was a mutual agreement, preferably in front of witnesses, and symbolised by the exchange of rings or other tokens -- and hey presto, you had a legally enforceable contract.

Ultimately, I'm not convinced by the argument that the Church was all-powerful in the medieval period and then gradually saw its power slipping away. I don't believe the Church ever fully succeeded in controlling marriage. The history of marriage in the West is basically the history of a series of compromises between canon law, civil law and popular custom.

That's my take on it, anyway -- but I'll be interested to see what other people have to say.
posted by verstegan at 9:42 AM on March 6, 2006

Problem: A shift away from arranged marriages is very common throughout human history. In places where it's still practiced in very complex socieities, it tends to be the exception rather than the norm, or constrained by social class.

Problem: The real profit motive is questionable. Arranged marriages probably had as much benefit as un-arranged marriages.

Problem: Arranged marriages tend to promote more social stability and a greater tendency to accept the order of things. Since the Church favored stability, it would probably favor arranged marriages. Upheavals would probably have been more valuable to the reformers. So just at a first guess, sitting right here behind my keyboard, I'd expect to find the greatest growth in un-arranged marriages to be in areas more heavily influenced by Reformation ideas: Switzerland, northern Europe, England, America. And (again, seat of the pants), that's what what I think I see.

So I'm really not seeing the case.
posted by lodurr at 10:56 AM on March 6, 2006

I recall reading an essay by Stephen J. Gould in Natural History where he argued that the Church's consanguinity rules for marriages were much much broader than what was needed to prevent the deleterious effects of inbreeding.

He said a major point of such rules was to prevent property accumulation in families and to help the Church accumulate property.

I haven't been able to google up a reference to this essay.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2006

Um, Churches extracting money from their parishoners isn't capitalism, spock, it's coercion.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:32 AM on March 6, 2006

Mental Wimp: Sure it is, they were just the ones with the capital at the time so they got to set the game. No different from now.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:44 AM on March 6, 2006

Who says that the west has no history of matchmaking. You think Henry VIII wanted to marry crazy ass, mustachioed Catherine of Aragon?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:09 PM on March 6, 2006

Problem: Arranged marriages tend to promote more social stability and a greater tendency to accept the order of things. Since the Church favored stability, it would probably favor arranged marriages. Upheavals would probably have been more valuable to the reformers. So just at a first guess, sitting right here behind my keyboard, I'd expect to find the greatest growth in un-arranged marriages to be in areas more heavily influenced by Reformation ideas: Switzerland, northern Europe, England, America. And (again, seat of the pants), that's what what I think I see.

So I'm really not seeing the case.
posted by lodurr at 10:56 AM PST on March 6 [!]

But the Church also believed strongly that consent was required from both parties. The bishop who made the decision in the case cited was a pre-Reformation bishop - belief in the importance of consent is something both Catholic and Protestant churches shared. Also, I don't believe that the Catholic areas of Belgium, France, Germany, etc, have any more or less arranged marriages than Protestant areas.

The beliefs of the Church never supported arranged marriage (though, of course, it tacitly tolerated them, especially for powerful people). But just look at the huge number (the majority?) of early female saints who were women who preferred to die (often in hideously ways, making for good s rather than to lose their virginity in an unwanted marriage. The Church honoured them for this, and used them as an example to other women.
posted by jb at 1:51 PM on March 6, 2006

jb, what are you suggesting -- that the Church's stated position might have been the main reason they did something? You don't build a career suggesting things like that!

Anyway, you're testing my hypothesis and rendering it null. That's how it's supposed to work. (Fortunately I wasn't married to it.)
posted by lodurr at 10:09 AM on March 7, 2006

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