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The Rights of Children in Medieval Canon Law

Charles J. Reid Jr.

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)


U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-34

This article considers the medieval uses of the language of rights to describe the legal status of children. It begins with the late antique Christian campaign against the ubiquitous pagan population-control measure of infant exposure. Christian jurists and emperors outlawed the ancient Roman "right of life and death" that the Roman patriarchal father exercised over his offspring. The article considers measures the Church sought to put in place to see to the needs of abandoned children in the early middle ages. It also considers the development in the high middle ages of canonistic devices to enforce the right of children born out of wedlock to obtain support from their fathers. The article also considers two basic freedoms adolescent children and young adults possessed, vis a vis their parents. Children had the right to seek their own marriage partner, free from outside coercion, including especially parental coercion. They also had the right to seek a vocation within the Church (although no one has a right to ordination or to monastic profession, individuals at least have the right to be free from parents' preventing such a choice from being made). The article uses as a case study the struggle Thomas Aquinas was forced to fight with his family, who did not wish him to pursue a vocation with the Dominican Order.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 44

Keywords: Canon law, legal history, children's rights, children and the law

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Date posted: September 19, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Reid, Charles J., The Rights of Children in Medieval Canon Law (2007). U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-34. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1015403 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1015403

Contact Information

Charles J. Reid Jr. (Contact Author)
University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )
MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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