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Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of EuropeAn Interpretation of "The Spirit of the Laws"$
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Vickie B. Sullivan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226482910

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226483078.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 02 August 2021

The Ideas of Early Christianity, Their Absorption in Roman Law, and Their Abusive Reverberations in Modern Europe

The Ideas of Early Christianity, Their Absorption in Roman Law, and Their Abusive Reverberations in Modern Europe

Chapter:
(p.111) Chapter Four The Ideas of Early Christianity, Their Absorption in Roman Law, and Their Abusive Reverberations in Modern Europe
Source:
Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of Europe
Author(s):

Vickie B. Sullivan

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226483078.003.0005

Montesquieu writes at length on the development of Roman law in The Spirit of the Laws, focusing especially on the changes made to the civil code by the Christian emperors. Montesquieu attributes to the influence of early Christian ideas a number of repressive and unnatural provisions in Rome’s civil code that have burdened Europe since their introduction. The Christian emperors not only revived the pagan laws that equated sacrilege and treason, but also asserted their own divine status as a means to punishing with impunity. Montesquieu claims that the Christian idea of celibate perfection encouraged the Christian emperors to reverse the marriage laws of Augustus, which had encouraged vigorous population growth. Constantine and Justinian introduced laws that restricted divorce and remarriage, stifling procreation in favor of an otherworldly ideal. Accordingly, the Christian notion of perfection was incorporated into the digests of Roman law that would eventually underpin the civil codes of the European monarchies. In France, the laws of the Christian emperors served as sources of precedent even in the 18th century. Montesquieu teaches that the dangerous ideas of antiquity can linger in obscurity for centuries before reappearing to inspire new abuses.

Keywords:   Montesquieu, despotism, Christianity, Roman law, canon law, Constantine, Justinian, sacrilege, treason, celibacy

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