What happens when (distant) cousins fall in love and want to get married? Canon law says they need marriage dispensation. Let us take a look at an example of a couple that lived in Roermond, Limburg, in the 18th century.
27 februarii habita mea Licentia Con
traxerunt matrimonium Cum dispen
satione in tertio et quarto mixto Con-
sanguinitatis gradu et in tribus ban
bis petrus willems ex Amstenraedt
et elisabeta pijls ex Amstenraedt
Coram ^patre Antonino Crous subregente
in seminario ruraemondano, testibus
petro wilhelmo grovers et petro
A loose translation of this Latin text reads as follows.
On the 27th of February – with prior license – married Petrus Willems, of Amstenrade, and Elisabeth Pijls, of Amstenrade. They obtained dispensation for consanguinity in the third and fourth mixed degree and for three bans. Present was father Antoninus, deputy rector of the seminary in Roermond, and Petrus Wilhelmus Grovers and Petrus Hoen served as witnesses.
In this article we focus on the kinship dispensation.
In a previous article we spoke about marriage intentions. But what are marriage dispensations. And who needed them?
The Roman Catholic church did not (and does not) allow alliances between family members who were related by marriage (affinity) or blood (consanguinity), unless they asked for special approval. The official term for this approval is dispensation (in Lation: dispensatio). Since the 13th century (distantly) related couples needed dispensation for kinship up to the fourth degree. [source] It was often a bishop that could grant dispensation.
Do we know anything about the relationship between Petrus Willems and Elisabeth Pijls? Yes, documents in the episcopal archives of Roermond tell us that they were second cousins once removed. [source] The following chart demonstrates their kinship.
Petrus’ great-grandparents were identical to Elisabeth’s 2x great-grandparents. This made them second cousins once removed. We use the term once removed because Elisabeth is not on the same generation level as Petrus. Her father was and he was therefore a second cousin to Petrus.
When we count the steps from Philippus Kleuters/Elisabeth Knoren to Petrus Willems, we end up with three. Similarly, we need four steps for Elisabeth. Hence, according to canon (church) law their kinship was a mix of a third degree with a fourth degree.
The system of kinship degrees in canon law differs from that in civil law. In civil law the kinship degree equals the amount of steps required to get from one person to the other. In our case: it takes three steps up from Petrus to his great-grandparents and another four down back to Elisabeth. This makes that in civil law they were relatives of the 7th degree. Keep this in mind when you are reading Roman Catholic parish registers!