Covenant, in its most general sense, is a word for a solemn contract or similar undertaking.
Under the common law a covenant was distinguished from an ordinary contract by the presence of a seal. Because the presence of a seal indicated an unusual solemnity in the promises made in a covenant, the common law would enforce a covenant even in the absence of consideration, or quid pro quo.
In this sense, covenants are more or less obsolete in the American, England, and other jurisdictions that use the tradition of common law; seals no longer have much significance, especially after the adoption of reforms that affected contracts, such as the Uniform Commercial Code which allows contracts to be formed with fewer formalities.
The word covenant is also given to certain privately arranged rules that attach to specific tracts of real property; usually these state restrictions on how the land can be used, and thus are generally known as restrictive covenants.
Historically, certain treaties and compacts have been given the name of covenant, most notably the Solemn League and Covenant that marked the Covenanters, a Protestant political organisation important in the history of Scotland. Other important documents that have been given the name covenant include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Palestinian National Covenant.
The word is also given religious meaning by its use in Biblical interpretation; for more see Covenant (Biblical). Covenant theology in particular focuses on various covenants between God and Israel, and between God and the Christian church; Dispensationalism, on the other hand,uses the terminology in a different sense, although the imagery of covenants is maintained.
Last updated: 07-30-2005 00:01:30