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The Legacy of Paradise

Marriage, Motherhood and Woman in Carolingian Edifying Literature

Katrien Heene

Within the framework of the Carolingian religious and moral reform (750-900) various measures were taken which had direct or indirect implications for the experience of sexuality among the laity as well as among the religious. Those and other measures also influenced the position of women both in the Church and in the world. Taking the Church Fathers as points of reference, this book offers a detailed analysis of the view of marriage, sexuality, motherhood and women as constructed in Latin edifying writings of the time, i.e. hagiographical texts, moral treatises and sermons. By studying the ideas and opinions of the male religious authors of these texts the author aims to examine whether and, if so, to what extent the attitude of the Carolingian Church was inspired by feelings of misogyny and misogamy. In writings addressing the lay public such feelings may have been hidden for pastoral reasons. Therefore attention was more particularly paid to the presence of misogyny and misogamy in texts which were chiefly written for religious readers. In the last analysis the overall attitude towards women-related matters turns out to be different and in many respects more positive than the one found in the writings of the Fathers and of many medieval male religious authors. To explain this phenomenon the author puts forward a number of socio-cultural and psychological arguments.


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27 PART 1 : SOCIO-CULTURAL CONTEXTS I. The Carolingian age as a period of religious and moral reform A. Charlemagne: the indispensable infrastructure It is mainly because they considered the Christian religion an important means of expanding and stabilizing their power that the first Carolingian rulers supported the attempts of the Anglo-Saxons Willibrordus and Bonifatius to do missionary and reform work1• This is proved a.o. by the fact that they themselves behaved as masters of the Church and kept doing it economic harm by secularizations, in spite of their donations and their opposition to the abuses of noble laymen2 • However, from Pepin the Short the power of the Carolingian rulers was legitimised and consacrated by the Roman Church. Kingship consequently became a sacred function, as under the Old-Testament kings, with well defined religious responsibilities and duties, which Pepin duly put into practice. He tried a.o. to restore the possessions of the Church and supported the reform of the Frankish Church3• Under Charlemagne the collaboration between ecclesiastical and worldly authorities was intensified. Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor by the Pope, wanted with the help of the Church to establish a single and stable empire, uniting the Christians of continental Europe4 • In spite of the fact that he still thought that he could freely dispose of the goods and personnel of the Church, he behaved as someone whom God made responsible not only for the conduct and well-being of his subjects on this earth, but also for their salvation after death5 . Charlemagne developed...

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