Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gender Equality

Another thing that's struck me in reading through the (extremely long!) section on Matrimony in St Bonaventure's commentary on the Sentences is his "modern" views on gender equality. For all the stereotypes about mediaeval misogyny Bonaventure is very clear that husband and wife are equal and reciprocal in all the rights and duties of marriage. The husband has no more rights than the wife does and the wife has no more obligations than the husband. St B. frequently appeals to the golden rule: if a husband wouldn't want his wife to do or refuse such-and-such, he shouldn't be allowed to either.

(Side note: one funny thing is just how much attention Bonventure devotes to the question of when it's acceptable for the husband to profess celibacy and when it isn't. One imagines this isn't a question that comes up too often these days. For those interested, the answer is: a) within two months of the wedding ceremony, if the marriage hasn't been consummated - but then he has to make permanent religious vows; or b) with his wife's consent and permission.)

In a section I read recently he's talking about concubinage and divorce, and why there seem to be different rules between the Old Testament and the New. One of his remarks in IV. Dist. XXXIII Art. III Q. III is interesting. An objection asked why under the Mosaic law a husband was allowed to divorce his wife but not vice versa; Bonaventure answers "In the time of the Law husband and wife were not considered equal," and a little later "the mystery of Matrimony was not completely revealed to them, because it was a time of shadow . . ." A few distinctions later, speaking of vows, something similar comes up. The old law said that if a wife made a vow and her husband objected, she was released from the obligation to fulfill it. St Bonaventure adds that the reciprocal is true as well: a husband gives up power over his body to his wife, and so if she objects to a vow, he cannot fulfill it.

Anyway it doesn't seem to me that much of a case for systemic oppression of wives by their husbands could be made of out St B.


Brother Charles said...

Perhaps B. spends a lot of time on the post-marital celibacy question either because, or for the same reasons that, it gets so much attention in the Rule.

Brother Charles said...

P.s., Hugh's De Sacramentis is another work in which the section on marriage is surprisingly long.

Michael Sullivan said...

Br Charles,

thanks for your comments!