Monday, March 25, 2013

The Limits of Canon Law

Since I've been looking into canon law lately (here and here), I thought I would share an interesting facet of Medieval era canon law: its self-imposed limits.

Although canon law borrowed a great deal from the jurists and civil law decisions of the Classical Era, it was grounded in church teachings. Therefore, from early jurists up until at least 1200, it was agreed that canon law did not apply to non-Christians. The rules of consanguinity adhered to by the church, for instance, forbidding the marriage of those who were related too closely by blood or legal ties (such as in-laws), did not apply to Jews or pagans. Nor was it legal for Jews or pagans to be made to tithe or be baptized against their will.

Of course, Christianity's goal was to spread the Gospel and convert the world, so it would be only a matter of time (it was thought) before canon law would apply to everyone. (The second post ever on DailyMedieval was about the Domus Conversorum, established in 1232 in England by Henry III to provide a home and daily stipend for Jews who wished to convert to Christianity, making their decision an easy one.)

Christianity ran into an unexpected obstacle to its ultimate goal, however, especially during the era of the Crusades. Whereas Jews were found in small and non-violent communities, Muslims were far more numerous and warlike; moreover, they were on their own mission to convert the world. This led—outside of the Crusades themselves—to border skirmishes where newly acquired Middle East Christian territories brushed up against Muslim lands.

The debate that followed will be looked at in the next post.

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