Sex Difference in Medieval Theology and Canon Law: A Tribute to Joan Cadden

Sex Difference in Medieval Theology and Canon Law: A Tribute to Joan Cadden

Maaike van der Lugt

Medieval Feminist Forum: Vol. 46 (2010)


In the medieval debate about sex difference, the Church cannot be understood only as a source of values and norms, as an institution that defined and enforced a sexual code. Medieval theologians and canonists also participated actively in contemporary learned discussions about the natural body. They did so, of course, as authors of technical works on natural philosophy; Albertus Magnus and Giles of Rome, who wrote highly influential treatises on zoology and embryology, are important cases in point.

However, they did so also—as recent research by Caroline Bynum, Peter Biller, Alain Boureau, Joseph Ziegler, and others has brought to light—in strictly theological works. In discussions about the state of humanity before the fall, the resurrection at the end of time, the transmission of original sin, or the virgin birth, among other examples, scholastic theologians routinely made use of newly translated philosophical and medical learning. In some cases, theological discussions about physiology and the natural body are subtler and more original than those of the physicians and philosophers themselves.

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