Hugo Grotius and the Natural Law of Marriage: A Case Study of Harmonizing Confessional Differences in Early Modern Europe

Troy L. Harris, ed., Studies in Canon Law and Common Law in Honor of R.H. Helmholz (Berkeley, CA: The Robbins Collection)

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper

20 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2017 Last revised: 29 Jul 2019

See all articles by John Witte

John Witte

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: 2015

Abstract

Seventeenth-century Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius, worked out a detailed natural law of the family, which undergirded the competing Catholic and Protestant family and broader theological teachings of his day. Grotius showed how traditional teachings about the private and public goods of sexual pair-bonding, marriage, and parentage and traditional prohibitions against adultery, incest, prostitution, and fornication were consistent with rational natural law theory. But it took the Bible and Christian theology, he believed, to justify traditional prohibitions against polygamy, concubinage, divorce, and remarriage. This chapter evaluates Grotius’ contributions to natural law theory and family law history, lifting up themes and methods that have been central to the work of leading American legal historian, R.H. Helmholz, to whom the chapter is dedicated.

Keywords: R.H. Helmholz; Hugo Grotius; marriage; family; incest; adultery; fornication; polygamy; polygyny; polyandry; natural law; Bible; Protestant Reformation; confessionalization; Thomas Aquinas; John Locke; Richard Cumberland.

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Hugo Grotius and the Natural Law of Marriage: A Case Study of Harmonizing Confessional Differences in Early Modern Europe (2015). Troy L. Harris, ed., Studies in Canon Law and Common Law in Honor of R.H. Helmholz (Berkeley, CA: The Robbins Collection), Emory Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2897654

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