Management of impulses. In the middle ages marriage was serious matter for church and people. A shift towards the sacred was often at odds with the eternal profanities of sexuality and inheritance. Since 1215 the Church had adopted the barrier of four degrees in consanguinity and a comparable barrier with regard to affinity (relationship created by sexual relation marital or otherwise). The doctrines were mostly accepted by the people of Europe from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century.
This was not because they reflected instinctive or primitive taboos. People still complained that marriage to one’s kin was both more desirable in itself and more effectively preserved inheritances than exogamy. The notion of affinity conflicted with numerous historic matrimonial systems.
However the Church ruling was accepted as godly on grounds expressed by St Augustine centuries before. According to St Augustine the law of charity (from the latin root caritas meaning love) obligated Christians to pursue through marriage an alliance with those to whom they were not already bound by the natural ties of consanguinity. The idea being that the bonds of relationship and affection might thus be extended throughout the community of Christians.
Hence the sexual relation was legitimated by the social relations created. The marriage alliance became the prime means of bringing peace and reconciliation to feuding families, warring princes and litigious peasants.
The source for todays post is an all time favourite history text and one of the most memorable. It arrived from Amazon last week but even without it I can recall entire passages that I read some 20 years ago.
Bossy, J. (1985) Christianity in the West 1400-1700, Oxford: Oxford University Press