The Rights of Children in Medieval Canon Law
44 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2007
Date Written: 2007
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.
Keywords: Canon law, legal history, children's rights, children and the law
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