Theologians and contract law. The moral transformation of the ius commune (c.1500-1650)
PhD student: Dr W. Decock
Promotor: L. Waelkens
Duration: 1/10/2006 - 31/12/2011
PhD defence: Leuven, 8/12/2011
This dissertation explores the moral foundation of modern contract law. The rise of global commericial capitalism in the wake of the discovery of the Americas (1492) urged scholars to rethink traditional contract law. A special role in this transformation was played by the moral theologians. They were counsellors to merchants and princes, just as the jurists. They reshaped the medieval 'ius commune', that is the synthesis of Roman law and canon law which had spread all over Europe during the late Middle Ages, by rethinking the foundations of contract law from a philosophical perspective grounded in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. As a result, a general law of contract was elaborated, notably the principle of freedom of contract, within a moral framework, particulary the concern about justice and equilibrium in exchange. This transformation of contract law has left an indelible mark on the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius' treatment of contract law. In a more modest way, its influence can still be seen today.