The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered
The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered (Cambridge University Press, 2009) (Chinese translation by Ruihua Zhong, 2011; Korean translation forthcoming)
For nearly two millennia, Western law visited the sins of fathers and mothers upon their illegitimate children, subjecting them to systematic discrimination and deprivation. The graver the sins of their parents, the further these children fell in social standing and legal protection. While some reformers have sought to better the plight of illegitimate children, only in recent decades has illegitimacy lost its full legal sting. Yet the social, economic, and psychological costs of illegitimacy still remain high even in the liberal, affluent West. John Witte analyzes and critiques the shifting historical law and theology of illegitimacy. This doctrine, he argues, misinterprets basic biblical teachings on individual accountability and Christian community. It also betrays basic democratic principles of equality, dignity, and natural rights of all. There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents, Witte concludes, and he presses for the protection and rights of all children, regardless of their birth status.
Table of Contents
Excerpt from a review by Don S. Browning, University of Chicago, for
The Christian Century
"Histories of slavery abound, but we had lacked cogent historical, legal, and moral accounts of the form of stigmatizing bondage inflicted on children whose parents violated marital laws and custom through the centuries. John Witte is distinctively--I want to say “uniquely”--equipped to address the various heritages which perpetuated the cruel policies and attitudes--the traditions of Judaism and Christianity, Rome and Medieval Christianity and, alas, Modernity. He has fused their story into a single plot. For all the sadness of that story, this is a book which speaks, at the end, of a nation at least being "put on the right path" and suggests directions for the long road ahead."
--Martin E. Marty, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago
"John Witte has done it again! Sins of the Fathers demonstrates what his readers always expect from him: painstaking historical research, lucid presentation, plus jurisprudential and theological gravitas. But here we see even more: the profound humanity of this man, born of his familial experience, and revealed in the book's moving dedication, which gives us the leitmotif of this exceptional work."
-- David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Toronto
"Witte, one of the world's foremost thinkers on law and religion, has now produced this authoritative investigation of the often deeply disturbing history of illegitimacy in the Western world. It is not only grounded in rigorous scholarship and perceptive theology but also offers wise reflections on how civil responsibility, adoption and the institution of marriage might contribute more to the welfare of children today."
-- David F. Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge
"This little book is a large achievement. It exemplifies the modern ideal of scholarship – complexly interdisciplinary, masterfully cross-cultural, lavishly learned, startlingly insightful, movingly personal, lucidly argued, and luminously written."
-- Carl E. Schneider, Chauncey Stillman Professor of Law and Professor of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan