Medieval Marriage and Family: Jean Gerson (1363-1429)

The sacrament of marriage.
T. 10, 31


This sacrament requires and ordains that the husband loves his wife as he does his own body, and the wife also loves her husband, because they are but one flesh; they must be but one heart and one will in every good; it is God's pleasure when they agree to do Good. They must enjoy one another, be loyal, and not believe anything said against the other. The wife must gently obey her husband in what is reasonable, and the husband must honestly direct his wife according to his status, without pride, and keep peace and concord. If God gives them children, they must teach them their the faith and punish them if they curse or swear


The wife must not refuse intercourse with her husband if she has not a strong and good reason for it. They must abstain from making love when she has given birth and during her secret illnesses (which should not be mentioned), because they could get a serious disease from it, and the children who might be conceived would be lepers, hunchbacked, lame or deformed. They should also abstain on days of religious feasts or imposed fasting, when they want to receive communion or go on a pilgrimage; if their intention is mere pleasure, they are also better to abstain. They must avoid using marriage, so much honored by God, in dishonest ways that go against Nature because they would sin very gravely.

T. 7, 861.
Is it possible for a married woman to make a vow of chastity, to go to church, or to do mortifications, such as wearing a hair shirt, without her husband's consent? I say that the wife can make a vow not to ask her husband for intercourse, even if it is not a safe request. But she cannot make a vow forcing her not to obey her husband when he asks for her body. The same applies to the husband. As far as the mortifications are concerned, if they seriously harm the woman and make her weak and ugly, and unpleasant to her husband, then he can forbid them. But if she has received advice that her soul would be less valuable if she did not practice asceticism, she should hold to her behavior. Or if her mortifications are light and ordinary, then she can do them. About going to convents, I say that on Sundays and feasts, the husband cannot reasonably forbid his wife to go to church and attend mass; the other days, he can forbid it according to the needs of the household.

Is a married person allowed to go to a pilgrimage or to give alms without the spouse's consent? If the pilgrimage is far away, I answer no. If it is near, the wife must avoid any suspicion, and get her husband's consent, and tell him where and with whom she is going. A wife must avoid any cause of jealousy for her husband, and the same applies to him. The husband must not be suspicious groundlessly. About alms: either they may be small, or come from the proper goods of the spouse. In both cases, they can be given. Or they may be substantial, and such that if the spouse knew them, they would not be permitted: then the wife cannot give them.

Wives should patiently conceal their husbands' faults. Some tolerate abuse from their lovers and nothing from their husbands. Wives who complain and quarrel make quarreling husbands. Abigail waited until the morning before admonishing her husband. Wives should behave like her, and not react when their husband is angry, giving insult for insult, blow for blow. With their patience, they win over their husbands. Husbands, on the other hand, must support their wives' frailty. If they are young, the husband can chastise them, first with gentle words, then with a rod.

Watching one's wife too vigilantly is not good: if she is good, she should not be treated strictly; if she is bad, she cannot be held so tightly that she will not find ways of escaping.

The husband must look after important outside tasks without involving his wife. The wife must manage the household with sobriety, fairness, and frugality, without bothering her husband. A wife who spends too much is a great shame. The wife must be subject to her husband before people and guests, and a loved spouse in bed. This means that she should not be treated as a servant or a chambermaid, but fairly. She should demonstrate her love to her husband, as she wants to be treated, showing gentleness to him in front of other people. Quietness, humility, sobriety, chastity, are the qualities which will make her please her husband. And also each one should like the other's friends, welcoming them pleasantly, and without suspicion.

If the wife tells her husband that she is not well, should he believe her and not ask for sex? I say yes, if it does not seem to be a trick. If he does not believe her, and he asks for her body, and she cannot escape, she will not commit a sin in obeying; her husband will be the sinner. The same if she is pregnant and the fruit dies.

Is a husband allowed to have intercourse with his pregnant wife without committing a sin? Yes, if the foetus is not harmed. Is it possible for a spouse to have intercourse with a partner who is suffering from leprosy? Yes if it can be done without any threat on one's health.

If a spouse asks the other spouse to behave dishonestly, should the partner obey? No, even under the threat of death. One can secretly complain to a priest or to friends, then to a judge if there is no other remedy.

If a spouse made a vow of chastity, is it a sin to have intercourse with the other spouse? No, especially if the act is made at the express or implicit request of the partner. A spouse cannot make a vow of chastity without the other partner's consent, and after marriage has been consummated.

T. 7, 820.
Does a spouse have to tell a confessor secrets implicating the other spouse? Yes, if the sin cannot be mentioned otherwise. But in that case, it is better to confess, with one's priest's permission, to a priest who does not know the partner; only if such a priest cannot be found can confession be made to one's own priest.

T. 7, 865.
Parents should behave gently with their children without leading them too harshly or too softly. However gentleness is better than severity. [...] The most important thing is to maintain their good health, not giving them bad nurses who are drunkards, idiots or loose women. Or conceiving them in periods of sickness, especially leprosy, and having intercourse too often. Or giving them too much to drink and eat, and allowing them bad companions and habits.