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Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe [Paperback]

James A. Brundage
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 15, 1990 0226077845 978-0226077840
This monumental study of medieval law and sexual conduct explores the origin and develpment of the Christian church's sex law and the systems of belief upon which that law rested. Focusing on the Church's own legal system of canon law, James A. Brundage offers a comprehensive history of legal doctrines-covering the millennium from A.D. 500 to 1500-concerning a wide variety of sexual behavior, including marital sex, adultery, homosexuality, concubinage, prostitution, masturbation, and incest. His survey makes strikingly clear how the system of sexual control in a world we have half-forgotten has shaped the world in which we live today. The regulation of marriage and divorce as we know it today, together with the outlawing of bigamy and polygamy and the imposition of criminal sanctions on such activities as sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, and bestiality, are all based in large measure upon ideas and beliefs about sexual morality that became law in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages. "Brundage's book is consistently learned, enormously useful, and frequently entertaining. It is the best we have on the relationships between theological norms, legal principles, and sexual practice" Peter Iver Kaufman, Church History

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Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe + Handbook of Medieval Sexuality + Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

James A. Brundage is the Ahmanson-Murphy Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Law at the University of Kansas. He is the author of nine books, including The Medieval Origins of the Legal Profession: Canonists, Civilians, and Courts, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 698 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (January 15, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226077845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226077840
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Accomplishment in Historical Research December 16, 2003
Format:Paperback
I have difficulty believing this book has been listed this long on Amazon without gaining even the most cursory review. Nevertheless, serious students of the medieval period should seek out this book, if only to see how true academic scholarship should be performed.
For those not familiar with this text, Brundage transcribed, translated, edited, and summarized a vast corpus of materials from the medieval period and presents his results here. He consulted everything from medieval penitentials (confessors' manuals) to Roman law codes, from Germanic statutes to patristic doctrine, but does so without ever simplifying his source beyond recognition. In each chapter, he covers similar ground: marriage statues; laws regarding fornication and adultery; clerical marriage and celibacy regulations; prostitution, homosexuality, and concubinage. So, for example, he might outline in brief the arguments found in Gratian's Decretum regarding the legally binding aspects of marriage, followed by his arguments opposing divorce. Brundage was always careful not to generalize, and the ideas he presents are always attributed to their sources. The footnotes are meticulous, and his research apparatus impeccable.
This work is astounding. It is not the kind of text intended for a light summer's read, but the culmination of a career of research and analysis. While it should not substitute for primary source research on the part of the academic historian, it is nevertheless an essential summary of ideas and trends in law during the past. It is a remarkable achievement.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Now Dear - it's Wednesday October 28, 2008
Format:Paperback
Through an in-depth, comprehensive examination of source material, this book provides a summary of laws related to sexuality from the early days of Christianity through the Reformation.

Brundage has divided this book into 12 chapters, 10 of which cover different time frames, one devoted to Gratian's Decretum, and a final chapter titled, "Modern Sex Law and Modern Society: Recapitulation, Reflections and Conclusions." This last chapter is largely Brundage editorializing but I won't criticize that too heavily. Based on the quality of the other 11 chapters, I'd say he's earned the right.

The way Brundage organized this book is by taking time frames, such as from 1140-1190 or 1234-1348 and examine a relatively consistent set of issues for each period. This allows the reader either to go through the entire book as a whole and glean a narrative evolution of sexual laws and restrictions, or to examine, for example, how the laws and penalties regarding nonmarital sex differed between the 14th and 11th centuries.

The book begins with an examination of sexual laws in the ancient world and proceeds through the 11th century. With much less source material to work from, these first 4 chapters are briefer, though still valuable. When Brundage begins relating the impact of Gratian's Decretum, first "published" around 1140, this work really hits its stride. At this time a great deal of material becomes available and Brundage dives in, discussing the Church's views on marriage, sex within and out of wedlock, divorce, marital property, clerical celibacy, homosexuality, prostitution and concubinage and also how Canon law influenced civil law.

There are dozens of interesting aspects which he discusses.
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I have used this book for multiple research papers both in undergrad and graduate school. Brundage is a very talented writer and balances his use of primary sources with his own research and the historiography of other authors. His book is often cited in other scholarly materials I have used. His explanation of the many different aspects to sexuality in the Middle Ages is compounded by his knowledge of canon law and the power of the Church to control sexuality. He cites many sources, including two of my favorites, the work of Gratian and of Thomas Aquinas. His research is thorough and very well informed. It is a long book but a fascinating read if you are at all interested in the development of modern ideas about sexuality and how they are influenced by these Medieval views.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, detailed, well sourced! November 28, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I own quite a few Brundage books, and I absolutely adore them. If you want to get a comprehensive, detailed and extremely well sourced guide to Medieval Sexuality, Brundage is the man. What should be noted is that a fairly substantial chunk of the book is not merely "medieval" but also Roman. I completely agree with his backtracking in order to understand where western sexuality had been and where it was going. I just sat down this morning to reread this book without thesis deadlines looming over my head. Now I can enjoy the book more than blow through it.

Brundage also goes over some European societies and time periods that are not Christian (although they do become such). He also discusses wergelds in terms of sex, which I found an interesting note to make, but only makes is briefly in the section on Germanic peoples. He really doesn't leave many stones unturned. I wish there was more written about morgengable, but I realize that's much more of a German academic term and not often found in English texts.

James A. Brundage is an extraordinary scholar. I would recommend any of his books.
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