Upcoming Event - Medieval Sex Crimes and Consent in Canon Law

The Department of Religious Studies | Notes from the Field | Winter 2024

Medieval Sex Crimes and Consent in Canon Law

Prof. Grace Delmolino, French and Italian

Feb 20, 2024, 12:10-1:00 PM, 126 VOORHIES


In the Middle Ages, the legal system of the Western Christian Church used ideas of consent to define and criminalize certain sexual activity. Today, consent is usually set in a black-and-white opposition to the crime of rape. But the medieval distinction between ethical and illicit sex depended heavily on Christianity’s external system of morality rather than on the internal disposition of the participants’ will. Thus, in medieval canon law, the presence of consent could have a neutral or even negative effect on the moral acceptability of a given sex act. This talk will analyze the standard taxonomy of medieval sex crimes as defined in canon law, discuss how consent relates to these crimes, and reflect on how the medieval crime of “raptus” morphed into the etymologically connected (but conceptually divergent) “rape” of the 21st century.

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