- How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments: The Sacramental Theology of Marriage from its Medieval Origins to the Council of Trent by Philip L Reynolds
In the rich proliferation of literary forms that emerges during the Renaissance and Baroque, Spanish authors concern themselves with the private lives of their characters in ways that allow readers to see these as both creatures and creators of their circumstances. Across diverse genres, concepts of matrimony in particular are explored, praised, castigated, diagnosed, edified, and preached upon by authors of the Siglo de Oro. Indeed, in the past twenty years Tobias Brandenberg and other scholars have defined a “literatura de matrimonio” as a unifying theme and frame that develops from the well-known works of Juan Luis Vives and Fray Luis de León and becomes a central literary concern by Miguel de Cervantes’s time, for example, in his entremés, “El juez de los divorcios,” or his El casamiento engañoso. Didactic works that sought to directly shape the married lives of the faithful led to literary works that undertook to inculcate a theological understanding of the sacramentality of matrimony shaped by the Catholic Reformation, which found its definitive codification through the Council of Trent (1546–1563).
Philip Reynolds’s encyclopedic study of the development of matrimony as a sacrament is a valuable resource for scholars of Spanish letters interested in definitions of marriage as a framework for analyzing literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Reynolds focuses specifically on the question of marriage as a sacrament rather than as a social, political, or economic reality. Nevertheless, the question of sacramentality that is his focus necessarily involves a consideration of the circumstances in which people married and in which theologians pondered its definition. As Reynolds demonstrates, the sacramentality of marriage emerges repeatedly as a pastoral question, with immediate consequences for how the Church is seen to relate to the created world. Although Reynold’s stated theme is focused, his temporal scope is vast, covering theology and canon law of the period from St. Augustine (354–430) until the Council of Trent. Wisely, Reynolds allows himself an excursus of a few chapters to examine how marriage was practiced among Jews, pagans, and Christians from [End Page 239] antiquity through the twelfth century. And, while Trent serves as the endpoint of the author’s examination, the hinge is clearly the twelfth century, for it is from this point on that he considers customs, law, theology, and related developments in a unified temporal survey that culminates in Trent and the Roman Catechism of 1566.
One feature that makes this voluminous study especially suitable for non-specialists in theological history is the use of headings for each chapter that offer typologies of the genres in which leading thinkers wrote and the essential terms of art these authors used to make their cases. Students of the Baroque Spanish novel, for example, could use Reynold’s study to comprehend the scope and commonalities of the “sentential” literature of the early twelfth-century schoolmasters. Likewise, one would not need to search elsewhere for a careful and immediately comprehensible explanation of Aristotle’s four causes as understood by Scholastic theologians.
Reynolds’s analysis becomes considerably more precise and contextualized beginning with his examination of thirteenth-century theologians and canonists. He examines minute differences in what constituted a sacrament, in the definition of marriage, and the place of sexual intercourse in both signifying and ratifying marital union. Along the way, Reynolds introduces numerous Latin terms in both theological and canonical discourse on sacramental marriage, an especially useful feature for readers who might want an orientation to the theological depth of argument that lurks beneath an expression such as excusatio coitus.
Fittingly for such an epochal event, Reynolds dedicates over two hundred pages to the Council of Trent, exploring its historical and theological context, and looking in depth at the debates that were resolved by the council. By the end of the council, marriage...