Does it bother anyone else the marriageable age was 12 before?

Somewhat recently I’ve learned that the marriageable age for girls in the past, according to Canon Law, was 12. I’ve been trying to wriggle my way around this but it bothers me too much that the Church wouldn’t consider it a sin to take marry and take the virginity of a 12-year-old. For context. a 12-year-old would be in middle school and would most likely not have the mental capabilities to actually understand what they were getting into despite reaching puberty. Frankly, it makes it seem like pedophilia was justified in the past and I’m having trouble coming to terms with this.

Also for the people that say it was because of a high mortality rate, this is actually skewed by the high amount of deaths infants had. When someone reached puberty they were actually expected to live a long time if they don’t die of disease or other things.


Canon Church law as in everywhere or just certain countries?

It was everywhere except where local civil law mandated a higher age. I have always thought this former teaching of the Church was one of the many contributing factors in the abuse crisis as it suggested that children were in some way free agents in choosing sex.

It was Canon Law. However the ages changed in 1917 so that marriagable age become 14 and 16 for females and males respectively. Before it was 12 and 14

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Culture was different in earlier centuries.

While I understand your discomfort, with the idea of a twelve year old marrying, you have to remember that before the Victorian era, the concept of childhood was nearly non-existent and once you hit puberty, you could marry (although it’s unclear how widespread adolescent marriage actually was). And not just in Christian Europe, but all over the world.


Wow did not know that. I think hubby had an aunt that married at 14. Then later for his niece to get married at 16 she had to have her parents ’ legal consent.

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I don’t know what to say other than the fact that our current cultural norms don’t reflect 99% of human history. Over 99%, actually. When Jesus walked the Earth there would have been married teenagers all over the place and nothing was thought of it.

Life is different now so that canon law has been changed. We can be pretty much 100% positive that a century from now in 2120 some of our current habits and social norms will appear brutish.


For context a 12 year old would not be in school let alone “middle school”. There was no such thing. Around that age, they’d be finished with school, if they had any schooling at all. That is, unless they were in a convent.

There also was no such thing as “being a kid” or “being a teenager”. Every kid out of toddler years had a job on the farm or apprenticed with someone, etc. They were working when they were 6 or 7. Cooking, cleaning, gathering eggs, tending sheep, milking cows and goats. Boys and girls. Boys were hunting, girls sewing.

By age 12, they’d entered puberty and they were adult, expected to work and contribute as an adult, in their parent’s household until they married and their own home afterwards. Most marriages didn’t take place that young, although some did.

But they were not children. Not until the last 100 years or so.


So if 12 year olds were considered adults and able to participate in the marital act why are we disgusted when they are exposed to porn in that early age? I’m not contesting that porn is immoral as I do consider it to be as it makes a mockery of the marital act. However, when someone gives a reason for why porn is bad one of the reasons they say its bad is because kids are exposed to it at around 11 or 12 years old.

As a couple others have said – culture and views were vastly different for MANY different cultures and centuries. If we are to hold the Catholic church accountable for viewing 12 as a marriageable age, then we must likewise hold equally to account EVERY culture of every era that has seen 12 as a suitable age for marriage.

Ancient Greece, for instance, regarded 12 as the lower limit.
Likewise, 12 in ancient Rome:
In ancient Egypt, girls might also marry as young as 12:

Average ages at marriage were typically young by our standards and often tied to fertility:

In certain periods in China, an 18 year old girl might have a ‘husband’ of 12 months old:

In parts of Africa, child marriage is still being practiced:

There is evidence that Mohammed married Aisha when she was 9 and that children are still married off in some countries today:

My point is: if we are to condemn the Catholic Church, then there are a great many other cultures, countries, faiths, and eras, which we must equally condemn.

We really have to give some leeway, in judging others, to the times in which they were living in. We are ALL products of our times. There are some today who cast great judgment on those of the past without considering how future times may likewise cast judgment on them. Which of us today hopes to be judged by the standards of a generation yet to be born, whose standards and life may vary greatly from our own?


Well, for starters, porn’s entire reason for existing is to encourage masturbation, so exposing anyone to it is going to be an issue.


The purpose of porn is not to teach kids about sex.
Or to start a frank and respectful discussion about sex.
It’s for entertainment purposes and to entice sexual arousal outside the bonds of marriage.


It used to be 12 until quite recently:

“Vatican State has its own criminal system based on the former Italian criminal code (called “Zanardelli Code”, issued in 1889). Art 331 (1) of this code provides that the age of consent is set at 12 years old”

It was then brought into line with Italian law in (I think) 2013.

Currently: ‘The age of consent is 14 for girls and 16 for boys when the couple is married(they can consent to their spouse only).’,consent%20to%20their%20spouse%20only).

I hesitate to bring this up, but the female body is not fully developed to bring forth children at that age. She might be biologically capable of conceiving, but how was it a “good idea”? And if we are given to understand that people physically matured at a later age than they do now, then matters would be even worse. Did young people marry before they had even reached puberty?

The brain is not fully developed either, but I have a feeling people didn’t comprehend this back in those times, and there was little if any concern for growing in knowledge or wisdom. You stayed in the same social status as your father, and his father before him, you did the same kind of work, you didn’t get too far away from home, you married someone from the village, you had children, and that was simply that. That’s all there was to life.

There would have been exceptions.

Yes? And?..

And…it used to be 12 until a few years ago and now it’s 14. My apologies if you didn’t want the relevant facts. I thought they’d be helpful.

How old was Mary?

12 year olds and teens have fought and won wars.
History cannot be judged by our present standards. But yeah, the idea of a 12 year old marrying is queasy. How many of these marriages happened?

I don’t know where this ‘intellectual’ preoccupation of viewing past norms critically, through modern lenses, started, but we see are seeing it everywhere in modernity. You have to try to view social norms of the past through the context of past economics and culture.

First of all: No birth control at all > often too many mouths to feed in the home. Once the labor needs of the farm were met, sons were sent at early ages to the navy, army, or to labor in factories and sweatshops. This reduced the economic burden in overpopulated homes. Similarly, pretty daughters who were virgins could be wed to well established, older men, strengthening the household economy or estate by advantageous marital unions. Homely daughters might be married, too, but the bride usually had to pay a dowry to her new husband.

So, there was an incentive in past society to marry off younger women. Many of these parameters have disappeared or changed, so the socially acceptable age for marriage has risen.

Marriage served an important political function (as among the aristocrats of Europe) in extending and unifying important families, empires, nations, or kingdoms. These considerations may have outweighed the nuptial (mating) concerns in some circumstances. The Church as arbiter of marriage, would have had Canon law compatible with the prevailing requirements of states in such matters.

Mohammed supposedly had 13 wives. He betrothed his last wife, Aisha, at age 6 or 7, but did not marry her until age 9. Supposedly “in his mercy” consummation of the marriage took place later, at age 11 or 12.

It is absurd to judge antiquity through modern lenses.

What does it change? Those times are long gone. The modern Church is not responsible for ancient Canon law.

P.S.: The consent to marry was largely PARENTAL…not “informed consent” of the bride. Young women were a household commodity belonging to the parents. Must have been a lot of elopements!


Indeed. Our brains aren’t fully mature until the early twenties. I’m not sure if I approve of my daughter having sex now and she’s been married for 10 years.


I just don’t get working oneself into a snit because culture used to be different.

I mean, 12 or 14 is a somewhat arbitrary cut off.

There are very good biological and psychological reasons to not marry in early adolescence, but I’m not sure it rises to the level of morality, especially against the backdrop of kids being way more mature in those days.

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