Marriage rights in Christendom: one data point

In 1201 he [Pope Innocent III] decreed that such was the need of the Holy Land that a man could take the Cross without his wife’s assent.  This ran counter to the traditional principle of canon law on the binding and enduring consequences of the marriage contract:  no one could unilaterally refuse his partner marital rights without that partner’s permission.  Even Urban II had been careful to state that no young married man was to join the First Crusade without his wife’s consent.  Innocent had made an elementary mistake and later canon lawyers were careful to limit the exception to the sole case of the interests of the Holy Land.

From “What Were the Crusades?” by Jonathan Riley-Smith

8 Responses

  1. This just confuses me even more. I have a very hard time understanding the principle of Catholic obedience and things like the ability of the clergy to bind Catholics “under pain of mortal sin” , etc. I suppose this is very Protestant but it seems to me that something is, objectively, either sinful or not sinful and that this reality is independent of a clerical decision, particularly one that isn’t infallible. Can someone explain this to me in brief language that someone of modestly above-average intelligence can understand?

  2. It seems, then, that you have a problem with the concept of authority as such. Having authority just means being able to impose moral obligations on one’s subjects.

  3. I’m not sure that’s the case. In general, I have a passive personality and am inclined towards obedience. I like being led, including by clergy. Christ was obedient to the Father and I can see how our relationship to clergy should mirror that relationship.
    I think I don’t understand the Catholic position so that’s why I’m asking. It seems to me like there should be some sort of objective reality (which maybe only God knows with certainty in a given situation) as to whether or not something is sinful. If disobedience is sinful, is it only sinful when it is disobedience with respect to issues of faith and morals? Infallible teachings and dogma? If disobedience itself is objectively sinful, it seems like all instances of it should be sinful. As a Catholic Christian, do you have the ability/authority to decide when it’s a circumstance where disobedience is not sinful?

  4. Another, not unrelated question I have.
    Do the clergy have the power to make something that might be sinful, not-sinful by virtue of their authority to bind?
    E.g. if they listen to an annulment case and sincerely, using the best of their ability, determine that there is reason to believe the sacrament is invalid is their decision binding regardless of the objective reality of the facts? What if their knowledge of the facts is wrong? If the husband thinks his marriage is annulled and is told so by the clergy, is he not committing a sin if he remarries? Does the clergy’s exercise of authority make lack-of-sin in this circumstance an objective reality?
    These are issues I don’t understand that have real world implications for one’s faith and practice. I’m asking sincerely and in good faith.

  5. Again, I don’t think any of these are distinctively Catholic issues.

    > Do the clergy have the power to make something that might be sinful, not-sinful
    No, not even the pope has any such authority. (Thus, arguably Innocent III was acting illigitimately in claiming a man might go on crusade without his wife’s permission. After all, marriage rights are recognized by the Church, not created by her.) In the false annulment case, a remarriage is objectively adulterous and sinful. The spouse’s ignorance of his true state removes his personal culpability, but the objective injustice remains, and it will no doubt still do spiritual harm.

    > If disobedience itself is objectively sinful, it seems like all instances of it should be sinful.
    Obedience is morally required when the authority is legitimate, is commanding within its jurisdiction, is not directly overriden by a higher authority, and does not command something intrinsically immoral. I think it is unavoidably the case that subjects do have to decide when these conditions are met.

    What is distinctive to Catholicism is its claim to be infallible as well as authoritative, that is, to issue edicts that bind the intellect as well as the will. Of course, each individual must decide whether or not to believe the teachings of the Church but must do so knowing that the truth of these teachings proposed as definite is bound up with the truth of Catholicism as a whole. Thus, to reject any infallible teaching is to reject the Church entirely. Even apart from Magisterial teaching, the tenets of Catholicism are so tightly interrelated that rejecting one piece tends to bring one quickly into opposition to the whole rather quickly in any event.

  6. So, as I understand it, the position was that a woman had a right to her husband’s conjugal affection, expressed physically. Which in effect means that the husband was not allowed to travel without the wife’s consent. Were there canonical limits on this that set a lower bound of days away that were permissible without consent? And how was it enforced–was it solely a matter of conscience, was there some kind of action in canon law that the wife could bring if the husband traveled anyhow, or at least could and would priests deny communion if they found out that the husband was denying the marriage rights?

  7. I’m not sure, actually. This was the first I’d heard of the Church checking up on such things (besides, of course, not allowing anyone to take a vow of celibacy without his or her spouse’s consent), which is why I found it interesting.

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