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Date(s) - 4 Dec 2012
5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

Columbia University Faculty House


The third meeting of the University Seminar on Medieval Studies for the 2012-2013 academic year will take place on Tuesday, December 4, from 5:30-7:00pm in Room 2 of Faculty House (Columbia University). Please note that this talk was previously scheduled for November 27.

What can we learn about the practice of married life from the clerical celibacy debate in the central Middle Ages?

Elisabeth van Houts, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge and New York University

From the middle of the eleventh century consecutive popes proposed radical changes to the ways in which secular priests lived their lives. Whereas up to that time most secular priests were married and had families, the reform policies stipulated that they ought to become celibate, cast away their wives and children and concentrate exclusively on their pastoral role. Not surprisingly, there was immense resistance against these proposals which took almost one hundred years to be properly implemented. While much modern scholarship has focused on the theological and ideological aspect of this debate, relatively little attention has been paid to what these sources reveal about the actual practice of married life amongst priests. A second related question follows from such an investigation, namely how different in practice was the life of a married priest and his wife from that of a lay couple? These questions matter not least because they force us to reflect on the validity of ecclesiastical texts as the unique sources we have for marriage amongst the the priesthood and the laity. I am particularly interested in the sources that reveal deep anxiety amongst the priests’ families about the proposed breakup of their social lives together as well as the emotional toll this took. Such strong feelings about married life cannot easily be found elsewhere.

The talk will be followed by dinner at Faculty House. All those who wish to dine with the speaker after the talk must make reservations by contacting the rapporteur of the seminar, Jeffrey Wayno, either by phone or by email no later than one week before the talk (email: jmw2202@columbia.edu). Dinner is a fixed buffet menu, which costs $25 per person. Payment can be made to the rapporteur by cash or check, although checks are strongly preferred. Please make checks out to “Columbia University.”