Christof Rolker (Universität Konstanz, Geschichte, Post-Doc)
Paper given at the Fourteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law on 11 August (2012)
Building on an earlier paper on incest discourses mainly in the 11th c. (Two models of incest:, Carlsberg conference 2011), I argue that in the 12th and 13th centuries there were at least two distinct modes of speaking to discuss the prohibited degrees. Both modes of speaking co-existed for a long time, and one should be very careful to deduce “deeply rooted fears of pollution” from the use of a language of purity and pollution in certain sources.
Those of you who attended Anne Duggan’s paper already have learned that I am into fox hunting, and while Anne is hunting in the woods of papal decretals, my own hunting grounds are mainly the pre-Gratian canon law collections. The fox we are both hunting, hoewever, is indeed the same: an answer to the old and puzzeling question of how the canon law on marriage evolved with respect to the prohibited degrees of kinship. This question has long puzzeled scholarship, and will continue to do so. For good reasons, scholars have concentrated on the early Middle Ages, asking why the prohibited degrees and the way to count them evolved in such a way as to finally exclude such an extreme number of potential marriage partners. In the early eleventh century, the Decretum of Burchard of Worms (to which I will come back to) made it quite clear that one could not marry relatives by blood in the seventh degree of canonical computation, that is, any of the great-great-great-great- grandchildren of any of one’s 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents.
In my paper today, I will not attempt the question why it was possible that the law developed in such an extreme way as to exclude such an excessive number of people as potential marriage partners, although my opinions on some recent approaches to this problem may become transparent in the course of this talk. Instead, my interest is focussed on what I call the incest discourses in the twelfth and thirteenth century.