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Response to Review no. 486

This is a sensible and very intelligent review. Professor Mazo Karras is right that I tried not to build into my arguments any assumptions unlikely to be shared by the overwhelming majority of medieval scholars. To adapt a remark by Clifford Geertz, there is no such thing as absolutely value free history just as there is no such thing as an absolutely sterile environment, but one does not conduct operations in a sewer.

A comment about a point of disagreement: Professor Mazo Karras pointed out that the constant iteration of a message may not necessarily make people accept it. They may just ignore it, as they do ‘No litter’ signs. The issue was whether the constant repetition of messages about marriage symbolism would lead the laity to internalise the values in question. I think that a difference from ‘No litter’ signs is that the form in which the message about marriage symbolism reached lay congregations was constantly varied. Different model sermon collections arranged the repertory of ideas in different ways, and preachers would adapt their models in different ways. That would probably have made a difference. I note that government health warnings against smoking in the UK nowadays vary the ways in which the core message is presented. I would also note that in this message neither the image, marriage in a literal sense, nor what it stood for – the union of Christ and the Church, etc – was the whole message. The relation between the two was the message.

My thanks to Professor Mazo Karras for her thoughtful assessment.