By Charles Donahue, Jr.
Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Esztergom-Budapest, August 3–9, 2008
Introduction: The rules of the classical canon law on the formation of marriage are well-known and easy to state:
First, present consent, freely given between parties capable of marriage, made a valid marriage. This marriage was indissoluble — with one exception not relevant here — so long as the parties lived.
Second, future consent, freely given between parties capable of marriage, made an indissoluble marriage, if that consent was followed by sexual intercourse between the parties. The two ways of forming a valid marriage were combined, at least in doctrine, by the notion that intercourse following future consent raised a de jure presumption of present consent.
Third, with minor exceptions, any Christian man was capable of marrying any Christian woman provided: (1) that they both were over the age of puberty, (2) that they were not too closely related to each other, and (3) that neither had taken a solemn vow of chastity and that the man was not in major orders. The rules about relationship were complicated, extending as they did to blood relatives, affines and spiritual relatives, but recent research would suggest that they were not so important socially as had once been thought.