Theologians and Contract Law

The Moral Transformation of the Ius Commune (ca. 1500-1650)


The Roman legal tradition is the ancestor of modern contract law but there is no agreement as to how and when a general law of contract emerged. Wim Decock’s thesis is that an important step in this evolution was taken by theologians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They transformed the Roman legal tradition (ius commune) by insisting on the moral foundations of contract law. Theologians emphasized that the enforceability of contracts is based on voluntary consent and that a contract should not enrich one party at another's expense. While their main concern was the salvation of souls, theologians played a key role in the development of a systematic contract law in which the founding principles were freedom and fairness.

Theologians and Contract Law is winner of the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz-Preis 2014 (German Research Foundation) as well as the Raymond Derine Prijs 2012 (Raymond Derine PhD Prize) and the ASL-Prijs Humane Wetenschappen 2012 (ASL Award for Humanities 2012) by the Academische Stichting Leuven. Decock's book is also awarded the "Juristisches Buch des Jahres" (Law book of the year) by Neue Juristische Wochenschrift (47/2013: 3420).
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Wim Decock (1983), Ph.D. in Law (2011), KU Leuven and Roma Tre, is assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, at KU Leuven and affiliated researcher at the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History in Frankfurt/Main (LOEWE Research Focus Judicial and Extrajudicial Conflict Resolution).
Theologians and Contract Law has added yet another prize to its considerable list of awards and recognitions: the book has recently been awarded with the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz-Preis 2014 (German Research Foundation). The prize has been awarded annually to outstanding early career researchers since 1977 as both recognition and an incentive to continue pursuing a path of academic excellence. Read the author's reaction to winning the prize here.
Theologians and Contract Law has been elected foreign "Juristisches Buch des Jahres" (Law Book of the Year) by Reinhard Zimmermann (Director MPI Privatrecht Hamburg) in Neue Juristische Wochenschrift, 47/2013, pp. 3420: "Das Naturrecht der spätscholastischen "Schule von Salamanca" hat seit einigen Jahren Hochkonjunktur, aber nach wie vor kennt kaum jemand die einschlägigen Quellen. Decock kennt sie alle und schildert die Prägephase des modernen Vertragsrechts unmittelbar aus diesen Quellen mit einer stupenden Kenntnis ihrer theologischen und wirschaftspolitischen Hintergründe. Das ist nicht nur rechtshistorisch beeindruckend, sondern für jeden, der sich für Vertragsrecht interessiert, faszinierend. Denn Decocks Thesen, dass Salamanca der Geburtsort des modernen Vertragsrechts und katholische Theologen seine Geburtshelfer gewesen seien, wird nach der Lektüre dieses wichtigen Buchs kaum noch jemand widersprechen mögen."
Theologians and Contract Law is winner of the Raymond Derine Prijs 2012 (Raymond Derine PhD Prize) and awarded the ASL-Prijs Humane Wetenschappen 2012 (ASL Award for Humanities 2012) by the Academische Stichting Leuven.

A radio-feature with Wim Decock was aired by BR 2 on Sunday 2 March 2014; click here to listen to the complete interview (or if you just want to read the German script please click here).

"Decock's book is undoubtedly a milestone in the study of the approach to contract law by early modern theologians. It is exhaustive and yet reader-friendly, a clear sign of the writer's mastery of the subject and, at the same time, a relief for the reader interested in but not very familiar with late mediaeval and early modern Continental legal thought. It highlights the insufficient amount of studies of the same calibre on related subjects, such as the progressive separation of conscience from canon law, the relationship between catholic and protestant moral theologians, the influence of moral theologians on the emergence of natural law, and so on. As with any great study, it equally fills and furthers our ignorance: one realises both how much one does not know, and how much there is still to study.” - Guido Rossi, in: Ecclesiastical Law Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2 (May 2015), pp. 249-252 [DOI: 10.1017/S0956618X15000204]
"[...] niezwykle wazna ksiazka." ["an extremely important book."] - Marcin Bukala, in: Przeglad Tomistyczny, Vol. 20 (2014) pp. 286-293
"[...] [A] useful guide for those who want a systematic and historical approach to the beginnings of modern common law and theory of contracts, with a deep study of the topics and a good comprehension of the relationships and different approaches to this subject (theological, philosophical, juridical, historical, and economic). It is also a very good contribution to the studies of this amazing and suggestive historical moment." - Idoya Zorroza, in: Journal of Markets & Morality, Vol 16, No 2 (2013), pp. 669-671
"Dit is zonder meer een grootse en belangwekkende studie die niet meer voor filosofen en intellectueel historici dan voor rechtshistorici van belang is. Het corpus teksten dat aan de basis hiervan ligt - de gedrukte werken van de katholieke moraaltheologen en kerkjuristen tussen ca. 1500 en 1650 - is indrukwekkend. [...] [E]en zeer welgekomen bijdrage die een grote meerwaarde heeft voor de studie van [...] vroegmoderne scholastici." - Erik de Bom, in: Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, Vol. 76 (2014), No. 1, pp. 134-136
"With Theologians and contract law an enormous gap in the existing literature has been filled. [...] [E]xtensive, profound and thorough [...]. Undoubtedly the degree of complexity of such research makes great demands on the investigator’s competence. [The author is a] master of various disciplines, such as law, history and theology, and, moreover, [...] competence in both Latin, its technical terminology and also in a number of modern languages. [...] It is a difficult, laborious and arduous investigation and we can congratulate the author. His efforts have certainly borne fruit." - Jan Hallebeek, in: Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis / Revue d'Histoire du Droit / The Legal History Review, Vol. 81 (2013), No 3/4, pp. 660-662 [DOI: 10.1163/15718190-08134p20]
"Decock designed a well-balanced project with the core theme, the guiding moral theologian (Lessius), the comprehensive bibliography of primary sources and academic literature on the topic as of early 2012. [...] The reviewed book convincingly demonstrates theoretical innovations of the School of Salamanca for transforming contract law of ius commune. [...] [T]he book is definitely a notable contribution [...]." - Dmitry Poldnikov, in: Journal on European History of Law, Vol. 4 (2013), No. 2, pp. 169-171
"[E]l libro de Decock es de gran provecho para historiadores del derecho e, incluso, para privatistas." - Andrés Botero Bernal, in: Revista Jurídica - Mario Alario D'Filipo, Vol. 5, No. 1/9 (first half of 2013), pp. 182-189
"Muchas son las ideas que contienen este espléndido libro de historia del derecho y del pensamiento jurídico. El autor ha lidiado con textos difíciles y eruditos, que no están conceptualmente al alcance de muchos de los iusprivatistas de nuestros días. Es necesario poseer una sólida cultura jurídica, histórica, filosófica y teológica para estudiar estos autores de la escolástica tardía. [...] [E]l libro de Wim Decock es un modelo para ulteriores trabajos sobre estos temas." - Rafael Ramis Barceló, in: Revista de Estudios Histórico-Jurídicos, Vol. 35 (2013), pp. 810-814
"Decock’s judicious and insightful book participates in the rediscovery of the theological foundations of modern Western law. [The] deeply researched, judicious monograph is […], of great value in its chosen field of contract law, helps us better understand the implications of the juridification of conscience for early modern politics and society." - Richard Ross, in: Jotwell: The Journal of Things We Like (Lots), 1 April 2013.
Notes on the Text and its Modes of Reference

1 Method and Direction
2 Theologians and Contract Law: Contextual Elements
3 Toward a General Law of Contract
4 Natural Limitations on 'Freedom of Contract'
5 Formal Limitations on 'Freedom of Contract'
6 Substantive Limitations on 'Freedom of Contract'
7 Fairness in Exchange
8 Theologians and Contract Law: Common Themes

All interested in the history of law, moral theology, economic thought, and also those reflecting on the relationship between freedom and justice, Church and State, market morality and capitalism.
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