st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas

smart guys!

from jack goody’sThe Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe” [pgs. 56-8]:

“What were the grounds for these extensive prohibitions on consanguineous marriages? The ‘Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique’ (1949) gives three general reasons that have been proposed:

“1. The moral reason, that marriage would threaten the respect and shame due to near ones.
2. The social reason, that distant marriages enlarge the range of social relations. This common ‘anthropological’ notion was put forward by those great theologians, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who recognised that out-marriage multiplied the ties of kinship and thus prevented villages from becoming ‘closed communities’, that is, solidary ones.
“3. The physiological reason, that the fertility of the mother or the health of the children might be endangered.

“The statements of Thomas Aquinas, which appeared in his ‘Summa Theologica‘ and was highly influential during the Middle Ages, raised a number of possible objections to consanguineous marriage…. Third, such unions would ‘prevent people widening their circle of friends’ (2 above)….

“In Thomas Gilby’s translation of the Summa, the passage reads as follows [this is St. Thomas Aquinas]:

‘The third reason is that incest would prevent people widening their circle of friends. When a man takes a wife from another family he is joined in special friendship with her relations; they are to him as his own. And so Augustine writes, “The demands of charity are fulfilled by people coming together in the bonds that the various ties of friendship require, so that they may live together in a profitable and becoming amity; nor should one man have many relationships restricted to one other, but each single should go to many singly.”‘

so, i’ve been writing in previous posts (and reading in various sources) that the church tried to limit consanguineous marriages for financial reasons, i.e. to fiddle with the social structures of european society so that more legacies would be left to the church and not so much to people’s families.

i still think there is something to that, but — whoa! — clearly the church fathers were also just interested in social engineering for social engineering’s sake. and both augustine and thomas a. clearly understood how social relationships operate (altho prolly not the biological underpinnings).

they went for some serious reconstruction of european society — and it worked! consider me impressed.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and inbreeding amongst germanic tribes

(note: comments do not require an email. or an ecclesiastical background.)

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17 Comments

  1. “but — whoa! — clearly the church fathers were also just interested in social engineering for social engineering’s sake. and both augustine and thomas a. clearly understood how social relationships operate (altho prolly not the biological underpinnings).”

    Pretty clear cut.

    .
    “i still think there is something to that”

    I don’t doubt people like Thomas Aquinas or St Augustine were motivated by the greater good but changes generally happen much easier if there’s direct self-interest involved. as well. That way one type of person can support the line simply because they agree with it while others support it because they can see an angle.

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  2. Very interesting line of thinking. What follows are some off-the-cuff speculations – not carefully-considered opinions:

    It could help explain why Western Christendom is falling apart into individualism now that Christianity has been subtracted from it.

    *

    Maybe Catholic Christianity initially enabled the development of large scale, non-kin cooperation and specialization (the key to Western success) – but take away the cohesive style of Christianity (which process took a few hundred years, from the Reformation) and – because the kin/ tribal level has been dissolved – there is now ‘nothing’ left in The West but detached individuals and tiny, powerless nuclear families.

    The middle level of kin/ tribal organization has been deleted.

    *

    This might imply that the West *must* have some large scale non-kin ideology – probably religious (preferably Catholic Christian, preferably Eastern Orthodox – had to get that in somehow ;=) -…

    OR – if not religious *at least* the West requires a secular non-kin/ tribal ideology (such as some types of nationalism, fascism, or old style Communism) in order to function; indeed in order to survive *at all*, when confronted by challenge from societies with tribal levels of cooperation still intact.

    *

    Or, to summarize, the West has been subjected to a very sustained process of divide and rule.

    But the ‘rule’ has now gone, and so we are left only with division.

    Ergo we need ‘rule’ again…?

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  3. @bgc – “It could help explain why Western Christendom is falling apart into individualism now that Christianity has been subtracted from it.”

    yes. and, no.

    my view on it at the moment is that contemporary westerners (some more than others) exhibit this extreme sense of individualism because of our extreme outbreeding, which has been happening for quite a while now. at least since the early middle ages if not, in some parts of europe, from even before that.

    western christendom is falling apart, imho, not because christianity has been subtracted from the social equation, but because our genetic bonds are now so loose — so, all parts of our society are flaking away, including our religion. there’s too little holding us together anymore.

    i’m not sure that just ideology can hold a people together. i think that, maybe, there needs to be, minimally, a fairly closely related “people” at the bottom of any human (or other animal) society to keep it running.

    maybe. maybe i’m wrong.

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  4. “western christendom is falling apart, imho, not because christianity has been subtracted from the social equation, but because our genetic bonds are now so loose ”

    But surely the genetic bond were loose *before* it began to fall apart? SO something else was holding it together. And the accelerating speed of falling apart is too rapid for genetic explanations?

    “i’m not sure that just ideology can hold a people together. i think that, maybe, there needs to be, minimally, a fairly closely related “people” at the bottom of any human (or other animal) society to keep it running.”

    I think you underestimate the power of ideology. The twentieth century shows that adding or subtracting an ideology (including the institutional means of implementation) made a huge and very rapid difference to countries like Germany, Russia or China. Or the very *rapid* effects (on a timescale of weeks) of Islamic revolutions.

    Of course we then need to explain ideologies, and where they come from…

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  5. @bruce – “But surely the genetic bond were loose *before* it began to fall apart?”

    yes-ish. but what i think we need to look at is how loose the bonds are/were (edit: at different stages in european history).

    sure, westerners have been outbreeding for a long time, but these things are cumulative. you don’t automatically, overnight, across a whole population become so outbred that your society falls apart — unless everyone in europe in one generation all mated with some distant population like, say, australian aborigines.

    what i envision happened was that, starting at least in the early medieval period, europeans began to outbreed, and they kept outbreeding to greater and greater degrees over several hundreds of years. for a while the effects were terrific! tribes disappear and larger polities take their place. stronger and stronger feelings of individualism start to arise (because people are individuals to a greater degree, genetically speaking) and ideas like democracy and liberty appear. sentiments of nationalism develop — because people’s extended families are really extended by that point. but, by the end of it, western civilization starts to fall apart because we’re not, so much, a closely knit family anymore. we’re too outbred.

    i don’t mean to ignore historical occurences, btw. clearly famines and wars and plagues and invasions, etc., all affect a population and its historical trajectory. i just think that the degree of relatedness in human populations and the effects of that have been overlooked, so i’m trying to focus on it.

    @bruce – “I think you underestimate the power of ideology.”

    i probably do. keep reminding me about it! (^_^)

    @bruce – “Of course we then need to explain ideologies, and where they come from…”

    exactly my point! and emmanuel todd’s, too. (i’m still working my way through his book. i will post about it one of these days.)

    Reply

  6. I get it, keep going on this line! Certainly, the fact that kins selection is a major cause of altruism does imply that the decline of tribalism would have some kind of effect on altruism. Real/ biological altruism may decline as abstract/ theoretical atruism increases

    (e.g. conservatives are much more altruistic in practice than liberals whose major ethic is altruism. At some appropriate level of analysis – perhaps international comparisons – and using a well designed instrument for measurement, in/ out breeding is probably strongly related to political views. How does East Asia fit in? ).

    One possibly aspect is the Western turn against ‘supernatural’ or spiritual beliefs. I used to write a lot about ‘animism’ and how it could be regarded as a generalization of social intelligence.

    Maybe a decline in tribalism causes a decline in social intelligence and the disposition to regard the world socially – and as a by product a turn against spiritual and supernatural explanations, and an increase in alienation (lack of any personal relation to the world).

    In sum, there might be some relation between out-breeding, abstraction and alienation; or between inbreeding, social intelligence and supernaturalist religiousness.

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  7. @bruce – “In sum, there might be some relation between out-breeding, abstraction and alienation; or between inbreeding, social intelligence and supernaturalist religiousness.”

    well, you just blew my mind with that one! i’m gonna have to sleep on that idea and get back to you in the a.m. — or maybe sometime next year. (~_^)

    @bruce – “conservatives are much more altruistic in practice than liberals whose major ethic is altruism…”

    or, at least, liberals say their major ethic is (a broad, all-inclusive) altruism. (~_^) really, i think most of them are just selfish individualists who mostly don’t give a you-know-what about others.

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  8. “i think most of them are just selfish individualists who mostly don’t give a you-know-what about others”

    My feeling is that liberals believe that altruism ought to be abstract and coercive – sp they prefer taxes and subsidies rather than voluntary charitable giving.

    It may be liberals believe this partly because they themselves are often personally selfish and un-charitable, so therefore liberals cannot believe that enough other people can be relied upon to be generous and compassionate.

    Thus liberals advocate taking matters out of individual hands and instead *force* people to be ‘generous’ – i.e. by the state confiscating resources from undeserving people and allocating them to more deserving people…

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  9. “This might imply that the West *must* have some large scale non-kin ideology”

    Two premises:

    1) Co-operativeness requires a minimum sense of unity.
    2) A sense of unity can come from blood-ties or idealogy or the sum of both.
    3) Clan level and tribe level endogamy are in a zero sum relationship. If clan level endogamy goes down then tribe level endogamy goes up.

    At the clan level endogamy can be at a maximum level and co-operativeness comes naturally without needing any idealogy.

    If the clans inter-marry then endogamy at the clan level goes down but at the tribe level it goes up.

    In numeric terms the clan/tribe level of endogamy might go from 10/0 to 8/2 to 6/4. However The maximum endogamy at the tribe level can never reach the maximum possible at lower levels.

    If large-scale co-operation requires the sum of blood-ties and idealogy to be above a minimum level and there’s a biological limit to the amount of unity that can be added by blood-ties alone at the larger scales then the difference would have to be topped up by idealogy.

    A maximally inter-related village might be more naturally inclined to co-operativeness than a nation could ever be naturally because the blood-ties could never be as strong at that higher level but if a nation invests in nationalist ideology it can artificially inflate the level of actual blood-ties.

    So exogamy creates the conditions for larger scales of co-operation to be reached but suitable idealogies are required to top up the differences. Any form of unifying idealogy would add to the mix but the most efficient ones would be those that leveraged the existing blood-ties e.g. nationalism or a national religion.

    So the West developed higher scales of co-operation through exogamy combined with unifying idealogies. It’s falling apart now because a) its unifying idealogies have all been under relentless attack since WWII and b) people who are much more endogamous have been brought inside the borders. This both reduces the unifying effect of blood-ties and reduces the number of people who are biologically inclined to accept unifying idealogies.

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  10. Another test of the idea, if information is available on their reproductive strategies (?Peter Frost might know), might be to compare the Kalahari Bushmen/ !Kung San with Australian Aborigines.

    These peoples inhabit similar terrain and have a similar level of cultural development – but the Aborigines have considerably larger social units.

    I have heard this explained as a result of the Aborigines totemistic religion, with its complex and elaborate methods of memorization and social transmission.

    But maybe the larger social units of Aborigines could instead/ as well be explained by the kinds of mechanisms under discussion here?

    Reply

  11. @g.w. – “It’s falling apart now because a) its unifying idealogies have all been under relentless attack since WWII and b) people who are much more endogamous have been brought inside the borders.”

    yes. this is where our rather extreme level of exogamy (compared with most other peoples in the world) becomes our achilles heel. it has served us well — allowing us to build pretty terrific, functioning nation-states (on the whole) — until now.

    btw — i just want to add that, of course, relatedness (and ideology, too) is not the only thing affecting how altruistic a population is — or how its altruistic behaviors are played out. obviously the characteristics of a population’s members — average intelligence and average personality type (like, for instance, conscientiousness) — are also major factors (but you already knew this). degree of relatedness is just one more factor in the very complicated soup du altruism.

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  12. @bruce – “But maybe the larger social units of Aborigines could instead/ as well be explained by the kinds of mechanisms under discussion here?”

    maybe! but, man — the aborigines have some really crazy-complicated kinship systems which regulate who you can and cannot marry. there are a few varieties, but they have this system of moieties and “skins” and i don’t know what. i honestly know very little about it.

    could be an interesting test case, tho, like you say — to compare !kung bushmen and aborigines.

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  13. “i’m not sure that just ideology can hold a people together. i think that, maybe, there needs to be, minimally, a fairly closely related “people” at the bottom of any human (or other animal) society to keep it running.”

    We do have such a people … except they are much closer to the top. They (or at least a very large self-sustaining core of them) have managed to resist the universal tribal solvent of Christianity for 2000 years. Which may be a primary source of the conflict.

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  14. @bill – “They (or at least a very large self-sustaining core of them) have managed to resist the universal tribal solvent of Christianity for 2000 years.”

    but it isn’t a solvent. that’s why “they” (whichever they it is you’re talking about) are still clannish. you need long-term, sustained outbreeding to get rid of extended-families/clans/tribes. just believing in something ain’t gonna do it.

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  15. […] it? Many examples of this playing out in modern societies and history can be found on her blog but St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas explain it pretty well. Populations that don’t inbreed much seem to have an easier time making […]

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  16. What should be our stance towards the church now, given the evidence? The current anti-church stance is that it savagely destroyed older pagan European traditions, alienating peoples from their national/tribal heritage, and replacing nationalist/strong/whatever you imagine values with servile values. In this worldview, the church functions like a conspiracy, not unlike freemasons or the Illuminati, that subjugates free people and nations to make them support itself. On the other hand, the church seems to have made us move towards a more civilized direction. Should we thank christianity, even though many of us might not believe so much today?

    Reply

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