Power over the Body, Equality in the Family:
Rights and Domestic Relations in Medieval Canon Law

(Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans, 2004).

Reviewed in the
American Historical Review, Vol. 111, No. 1 (February 2006)
Review by Jacqueline Murray

Charles J. Reid, Jr. provides an introduction to the development of Western legal perspectives on issues pertaining to what might broadly be termed family law. The author meticulously traces the origins of some legal concepts from their foundations in Roman law through their subsequent refinement through the interpretative lens of Christian theology and canon law. Many modern perceptions of individual rights and social institutions have developed out of the innovations and interpretations of the medieval canonists, who worked to reconcile Roman legal principles with Christian beliefs and values. In particular, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were rich in legal scholars who endeavored to compile, study, systematize, and rationalize law, as it had evolved over a thousand years of inconsistent application and interpretation. The results of these efforts provided the foundation of Western jurisprudence that endured for centuries, vestiges of which are still visible in Western societies.

. . .

      As a work that traces the various layers of development and interpretation of law, this is an excellent study. The research is meticulous and fully acknowledges the conflicting and complicated influences that contributed to producing the complex system of medieval canon law. There is, however, an implicit, and occasionally explicit, suggestion that the values of the medieval canonists might have been more respectful and preferable to the individualistic laws at work in liberal democracies today. This may leave some readers uneasy. Setting that uneasiness aside, Reid has presented a faithful and careful examination of how medieval ideas on these topics evolved. Whether they are relevant or have a place in contemporary society is a question that each reader will grapple with individually.


Peace in a Nuclear Age:
The Bishops' Pastoral Letter in Perspective
(editor) (The Catholic University of America Press, 1986).

Reviewed in the
New York Times, December 28th, 1986
Review by Karen Sue Smith

This volume of 24 essays, drawn mainly from Roman Catholic academics and policy consultants, is neither the first nor will it be the last commentary generated by the 1983 National Conference of Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response," which rejected the quest for nuclear superiority and called for "progressive disarmament." "Peace in a Nuclear Age" will rank among the most scholarly and most unsettling of responses. It is intellectually vigorous, even when it is predictable (yes, the pacifists and the just war proponents are still at it), and its 426 pages are crammed with information, including two sets of data used to support conflicting claims about whether United States defense expenditures are rising in relation to social spending. These essays demonstrate how contemporary Bible scholars, ethicists and weapons strategists define terms, ask questions and develop positions. The section on public policy is unevenly weighted. Four writers allege that the bishops have failed to consider seriously the Soviet threat, to which the lone voice of the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir - the bishops' chief foreign policy adviser - is raised, explaining in passing that the bishops' attitude toward the Soviet Union is one of "cold realism." The reader deserves a wider range of viewpoints. Lest one take sides prematurely, read the pastoral letter along with the commentary. It is one-third the length.