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Winner of the Haskins Medal

The Haskins Medal

The 2019 Haskins Medal is awarded to Philip L. Reynolds, How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments: The Sacramental Theology of Marriage from its Medieval Origins to the Council of Trent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 

Committee members: Jocelyn Wogan- Browne (Chair), Alastair Minnis, Ruth Evans.

The title of Philip L. Reynolds’ How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments: The Sacramental Theology of Marriage from its Medieval Origins to the Council of Trent (Cambridge UP, 2017) indicates the book’s enormous scope and the centrality of its subject.  Thought on marriage from the earliest Christian writings to the mid sixteenth-century is analyzed here with extraordinary depth and lucidity, and the title question is pursued across 1051 pages of cogent analysis, supported by a large bibliography of French, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, and English sources.  The book shows how marriage, regarded in the early church as a holy estate, a Christian vocation, and a protection against fornication, underwent redefinition and reclassification in the high Middle Ages as a sacrament of the New Law, was deemed capable of conferring conjugal grace in the thirteenth century and continued to provoke a wide range of debate before becoming a dogma of faith at Trent in 1563.  Engaging directly and freshly with much erudite and often opaquely elaborate discussion by medieval theologians and canon-lawyers, the book allows a vast array of thinkers the space to speak for themselves, and it renders comprehensible the convolutions of their debates with relish and wit.

As the book also admirably brings out, the sacramentalization of marriage was a major exercise in church control over human relationships within and outside itself, particularly in respect of sexual desire.  A charged nexus between doctrine and social practice, marriage engenders a breadth of concern: the book expertly shows, for instance, how theologians evaluated marriage as designed not only for procreation but for partnership and support; how they strove to save the sexual pleasure of Adam and Eve’s original paradisal marriage as requiring containment after the fall rather than eradication;  how, while reserving the enjoyment of conjugal goods in their fullest forms to Christian marriage, they allowed considerable value to the marriage of non-Christians; how, if marriage doctrine involved embracing Others, it also, as in concern about clandestine marriage at the Council of Trent, illuminates the anxieties of Christian civic polity.  The book gives us a rich and magisterial treatment of the development of a significant medieval creation, and one which, particularly in the formulations from Trent, continues to have some power to affect millions of Catholic men and women.


Careful consideration has been given to readers’ pathways through a book that is weighty in all its dimensions.  Drawing on appropriately medieval techniques, Reynolds’ summa matrimonialis provides introductions and summaries for its sub-sections, and divisions and sub-divisions for its chapters. Whether for reading straight through or choosing particular topics, the book’s careful structuring and a clear, accessible, engaging style make it easy to use.   And used it will be, as the standard work, for the foreseeable future. In addition to religious and sociopolitical historians and historians of ideas, any literary critic or art historian looking at the treatment of marriage in vernacular texts and visual and material culture will need to refer to Reynolds. No medievalist or early modernist can afford to ignore this magisterial book, and all can be encouraged by its knowledgeable and humane arguments.  If the medieval theology of marriage served socio-political ends, it was also, as the book shows, the job of theologians to give shape to intuitions that marriage is moving and important.

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