Tag Archives: marriage

Late Roman History and Canon Law

Last week, I had blood taken. As the nurse extracted it, and I looked the other way, she made small talk, presumably to keep my mind off the grotesque and bizarre occurrence underway. She asked if I was on my way to work (it feels like a triumph when people no longer assume I’m a student), and I said sort of, that I’m an academic and can work anywhere with a book and my laptop, and that I was headed for a café afterwards.

She asked what my research was.

I said that I research Durham’s medieval manuscripts of canon law.

I think her response was something of a crestfallen, ‘Oh,’ — that sounds boring, being the subtext.

I said that it’s can actually be very interesting. For example, when you read late antique papal letters, interesting questions come up: What do you do if someone who had been captured by barbarians comes back to Roman territory and finds his wife has remarried? Leo the Great (pope, 440-461) says that the first marriage stands (Ep. 159).

The nurse seemed unconvinced and wished me a good cup of coffee. Probably the least interested/impressed person I’ve ever told about my job.*

Sometimes, when I tell people the story from Leo’s letters, they respond, ‘Well, of course, the man wins.’ In fact, the same case came up during the episcopate of Innocent I (pope, 401-417), only in Innocent’s case it was a woman returning from captivity. He also ruled in favour of the first marriage — precedent for Leo in 458.

Now, there are important and interesting things going on with the canons of marriage here, I can assure you, including their relationship to Roman law and the development of sacramental theology.

However, those are not what I’m thinking about when I try to prove to people that canon law is interesting. Rather, I’m thinking: Hey! Look, canon law tells us about normal people! ‘Normal’ people are often voiceless in our sources, aren’t they? And, if we imagine canon law as merely a body of regulations, then we see only the bishops and councils. But why does Nicetas of Aquileia write to Leo about these cases, anyway?

Here we meet ‘normal’ people — the people of the Roman Empire who are having to put the pieces back together after the barbarians have left town. In this case, men who were legally (or presumed) dead return to Romania and have to fight for their legal privileges. This displacement of persons by barbarians is not uncommon — in other cases, we learn of people carried off as children who do not know whether they were baptised before their abduction by barbrians (see Leo I, Ep. 167).

In the case of Aquileia, I imagine that the displaced men presumed dead were carried by Attila in 452. The people who were abducted as children, mentioned in Ep. 167, have returned to Narbonne around 458. Are they victims of the Battle of Narbonne, 436/7? That would account for their return home as adults. I am not certain.

But here, in these two little incidents, canon law texts are giving us the human face of the Later Roman Empire and the post-430 disruptions that were occurring in people’s lives in western Europe. This is what makes canon law interesting.

*Medievalists, including one fellow who researches scholasticism, often act as though they are in awe of anyone who dares touch canon law with a ten-foot pole, given its complexity.

Dudes: Time to cowboy up and do some housework

We actually own this magnet

We actually own this magnet

Some quick thoughts, related to my eight-year-old post about husbandliness. I noticed today whilst scrolling about in Tumblr someone hunting for stay-at-home moms on Tumblr, looking for advice and stuff. Said person was having a bit of trouble dealing with coursework as a student and housework as well, therefore thinking about becoming a stay-at-home mom.

I have no comments as to whether not this Tumblrer should finish her degree or stay home.

That’s up to her and her dude.

Also, I don’t know too many details about the lifestyle of this particular dude.

Nonetheless, it reminded me of dudes and keeping house.

Go vacuum or something.

I’m serious, gentlemen. One of the enduring problems of how we regard work — in a world where we (mostly at least play lip service…) think that women should have the same career opportunities (and pay! equal pay for equal work = LOGIC) as dudes — is the devaluing of domestic engineering.

Work outside the home is good.

Work inside the home is good.

Dudes have traditionally dominated work outside the home.

Women are joining them.

Who’s doing the work inside the home, though?

In seeking to gain opportunities for women outside the home, we have inadvertently denigrated work inside the home as inferior or degrading. Even including the raising of children. (As an aside, do we pay nannies so little because they tend to be immigrant women or because we don’t think our kids are worth the money? [Or because we can’t afford more?])

Once we acknowledge the intrinsic goodness of both kinds of work for the functioning of a healthy society, more dudes should be changing diapers. For example. Or washing dishes. Or cooking dinner. Or doing laundry. Or making their wives cocktails. Whatev, y’know?

Not that I’m a perfect example, mind you.

Nevertheless, especially in a situation where my wife is working full-time, it doesn’t strike me as just at any level that the majority or full burden of housekeeping should fall to her. The majority probably does fall to her, and that’s my fault, but I at least try.

And dudes whose wives are staying home all day caring for your children? As a former manny and as a dude who’s heard his share of hearsay, that is actually a very tiring job. Ease the load for her when you get home from work. From what I’ve heard from women, she will appreciate it, and in doing this, you will show her how much you love her.

Share the load.

Oh — and Christian dudes: Doing housework isn’t a very big sacrifice. St Paul calls you to love your wives the same way Christ loves His church. Christ shed his entire life’s blood for the Church. Pretty sure you can do some sacrificial dishwashing. Just sayin’.

Sometimes the philosophers are talking straight to me

Having trouble gettings files of my wife on the blog; here’s Seneca instead. Not nearly as much of a looker.

My greatest of the temporal consolations (let’s leave the Divine out of the equation for now) is not a lovely garden or a good book or a warm cup of tea or a Slurpee or playing ‘guess the Emperor’. The greatest consolation I have in this life, that I can touch, hold, and see, is my lovely wife.

I left her in a train station in Stuttgart this morning. She is safely in Edinburgh now. We had a fantastic ten days together — reading together, walking around Tübingen together, visiting Heidelberg together, then seeing my cousin in Mosbach together, eating together, eating ice cream together, eating cake together, eating Schnitzel together, being together. After almost two months part, it was really wonderful to be together.

And I’m happier now than I was ten or so days ago, because the effect she has on me is more long-lasting than simply when she’s just around.

Yet I am, nevertheless, back in my undergrad accommodation in Tübingen. Things are eerily quiet right now; I should probably get to bed in a bit to exploit the fact! Anyway, you know the situation from earlier posts, and especially if we’re friends on Facebook. Not my favourite.

After leaving the lovely Jennifer at the train, I visited the Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart and read some Seneca. And here’s where the title gets relevant.

Letter 28 (Book III.7) of Seneca’s correspondence to Lucilius is about the fact that Lucilius will never shake off his sadness and depression and learn contentment by changing his location. The problem, says Seneca, is not where you are but, in essence, who you are.

The seeds and material for contentment are available to everyone everywhere. Certainly, quiet, rest, and leisure, retirement from the world, come highly recommended by this Stoic. But the truly wise man can be content anywhere, for that is a matter of inner circumstances.

He writes:

Whatever you do, you are acting against your interests and harming yourself with the movement, since you are jolting a sick man. But when you have eliminated this evil, every change of scene will be agreeable; you may be driven to the remotest lands and set down in some random corner of a barbarian region, but that place, whatever it is like, will be welcoming to you. … Can anything be as crowded as the forum? Yet you can live calmly there too if you need to. (28.5, 6, trans. Elaine Fantham for Oxford World’s Classics)

I can find contentment in less-than-suitable accommodation. I can find rest for my soul even here. Even with all-night parties. Even with people smoking in my kitchen. Even with my greatest consolation off in Edinburgh.

I will try.