Canon law and gender stuff of mine available

1) Jon Jarrett has done a useful write-up of my recent IHR seminar paper on “Hincmar’s use and abuse of the canon law of marriage’. The paper was actually based heavily on a number of previous blog posts, so I won’t rehash my argument here unless specifically requested to. Except to say that having chosen the title more or less at random, I then ended up by deconstructing and questioning ‘Hincmar’s use and abuse’, ‘canon law’ and ‘marriage’, leaving me with ‘of’ and ‘the’ as structurally sound elements. And that I ended with a Douglas Adams allusion. And that if anyone wants a copy of the actual thing, they can e-mail me as magistra at the uk version of hotmail. It was described by one hearer as an unusually ‘chaste’ discussion of the case (which has several X-rated elements) although I did slip slightly and ad lib a reference to lesbian nuns.

2) A book to which I contributed a chapter has just been published: Cordelia Beattie and Kirsten A. Fenton (eds.), Intersections of Gender, Religion and Ethnicity in the Middle Ages (Palgrave Macmillan). If you go to Palgrave’s website now and click on the Download sample chapter bit, you will find that it is my paper: ‘“In what way can those who have left the world be distinguished?” Masculinity and the difference between Carolingian men’

3) What I will give you now, however, is a text and translation I cited in my IHR paper, which I stuck in more because I thought it was interesting than for any specific relevance to the topic of marriage. This is a notorious canon prohibiting women attending assemblies, which appears in Regino of Prüm’s De synodalibus causis from the start of the C10, attributed to the ‘Council of Nantes’ , and which has quite often been discussed by historians of Carolingian women. It goes as follows:

Regino, De synodalibus causis, 2.174, ed. Wilfried Hartmann pp. 350-351

Cum apostolus dicat: Mulieres in ecclesia taceant, non enim permittitur eis loqui; turpe est enim mulieri loqui in ecclesia [1 Cor. 14, 34-35], mirum videtur quod quaedam mulierculae contra divinas humanasque leges attrita fronte impudenter agentes placita generalia et publicos conventus indesinenter adeunt et negotia regni utilitatesque reipublicae magis perturbant, quam disponunt, cum indecens sit et etiam inter barbaras gentes reprehensibile mulieres virorum causas discutere, et, quae de lanificiis suis et operibus textilibus et muliebribus inter genitiarias suas residentes debuerant disputare, in conventu publico, ac si in curia residentes, senatoriam sibi usurpant auctoritatem. Quae ignominiosa praesumptio fautoribus magis imputanda videtur quam feminis. Unde, quia divinae leges, ut supra monstratum est, hoc contradicunt, et humanae nihilominus id ipsum prohibent, ut feminae nihil aliud prosequantur in publico quam suam causam. Ait enim lex Theodosiana [Codex Theod. II, 12, 5, Interpretatio] : «Nulla ratione feminae amplius quam suas causas agendi habeant potestatem, nec alicujus causam a se noverint prosequendam.» Idcirco ex auctoritate canonica interdicimus ut nulla sanctimonialis virgo vel vidua conventus generales adeat, nisi a principe fuerit evocata, aut ab episcopo suo, nisi forte propriae necessitatis ratio impulerit, et hoc ipsum cum licentia episcopi sui.

The apostle says: Let women be silent in church, for it is not permitted them to speak; it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. It therefore seems amazing that certain little women, acting shamelessly against divine and human laws with impudent face incessantly go to general placita and public meetings and rather perturb than arrange the business of the kingdom and the utility of the commonwealth. Since it is unsuitable and reprehensible even among barbarian peoples for women to discuss men’s cases and for those who ought to discuss their wool-working and textile work and women’s work, residing in their workshops, to usurp senatorial authority for themselves in public meetings, as if residing in courts. This disgraceful presumption should be attributed rather to their patrons than the women. Since divine laws, as is shown above, condemn this and human ones no less prohibit women pursing any other case but their own in public. For the Theodosian law says: “Women may not have for any reason the power of acting beyond their own cases, nor should they recognise anyone’s case to be pursued by themselves.” Therefore from canonical authority we prohibit any holy virgin or widow from going to general meetings, unless they should be called by the prince or by their bishop, unless perhaps reason of their own necessity impels this, and this is with the permission of their bishop.

The argument has been whether this is from an actual Carolingian council, unknown apart from Regino’s extracts, whether it’s a Merovingian text, as Hartmann has suggested, or whether Regino made it up. I argued in the paper that it looked like Hincmar’s style, combining a vast superstructure of not particularly relevant quotes from St Paul and the Theodosian code and heightened rhetoric, underneath which is the underwhelming specific demand that nuns shouldn’t normally attend assemblies (which is very little different from demands that monks shouldn’t). Some of the phrases, such as references to ‘mulierculae’ and to women’s weaving sheds also have parallels in Hincmar’s work. I don’t think there’s conclusive proof, but it is an interesting demonstration of just what a wide range of rhetorical, moral and theological themes can be present in what’s supposedly ‘canon law’. 


2 thoughts on “Canon law and gender stuff of mine available

  1. Congrats!!! Great news and thanks for the heads up on the pub! And if you’re looking for a place to publish the paper or translation, well, you know where I dwell….electronically speaking.

    Larry Swain


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