Guide to Understanding
The Term "Covenant"
A covenant, in its most general sense, is a solemn promise to do or not do something specified.
More specifically, a covenant, in contrast to a contract, is a one-way agreement whereby the covenantor is the only party bound by the promise. A covenant may have conditions and prerequisites that qualify the undertaking, including the actions of second or third parties, but there is no inherent agreement by such other parties to fulfil those requirements. Consequentially, the only party that can break a covenant is the covenantor.
In a Legal Context
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.
In contemporary practice in the USA, a covenant typically refers to restrictions set on contracts like deeds of sale. "Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions," abbreviated "CC&Rs," are a complicated system of covenants, known generically as "deed restrictions," built into the deeds of all the homes in a common interest development, particularly in the tens of millions of American homes governed by a homeowner association (HOA) or condominium association.
In the 1920s and 1930s, covenants that restricted the sale of property on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion were common throughout the USA, particularly in the South where the primary intent was to keep "white" neighbourhoods "white". Such a covenant prohibited a buyer of property from reselling, leasing or transferring "to any colored person or persons or any person or persons of Ethiopean (sic) or Semitic race or the any descendant [of such a race]." These were invalidated by the US Supreme Court by Hansberry_v._Lee in 1940. The playwright Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play A Raisin in the Sun based on her father's experience as lead plaintiff in that case. no more
In a Historical Context
In a historical context, a covenant applies to formal promises that were made under oath, or in less remote history, agreements in which the name actually uses the term 'covenant', implying that they were binding for all time.
One of the earliest attested covenants between parties is the so-called Mitanni treaty, dating to the 14th or 15th century BCE, between the Hittites and the Mitanni.
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 organization important in the history of Scotland. The term 'covenant' appears throughout Scottish, English, and Irish history.
The term covenant could be used in English to refer to either the Bundesbrief of 1291, or the Pfaffenbrief of 1370, documents which led to the formation of the Swiss state or "Eidgenossenschaft". In this usage the German "Eid" is being translated as covenant rather than oath in order to reflect its written status.
In a Religious Context
In a religious context, a covenant could also refer to the unconditional promises made to humanity by God.[dubious – discuss] This sort of covenant is an important concept in Judaism and Christianity, derived in the first instance from the biblical covenant tradition. An example of a covenant relationship in Judiasm and Christianity is that between Abraham and God, in which God made a covenant with Abraham that He would bless Abraham's descendants making them more numerous than the stars. In this covenant, God Himself walked through the traditional torn pieces of animal flesh Abraham had prepared on the ground. This was the typical way a covenant was formed at that time. It was a symbol saying "If I do not do as I have said, may I be torn like these pieces". (Genesis 15) A covenant may also refer to an agreement between members of a congregation to work together according to the precepts of their religion. In Islam, God enters into a covenant with Muhammad, impressing into his shoulder the seal of prophecy. In Indo-Iranian religious tradition, Mithra-Mitra is the hypostasis of covenant, and hence keeper and protector of moral, social and interpersonal relationships, including love and friendship. In living Zoroastrianism, which is one of the two primary developments of Indo-Iranian religious tradition, Mithra is by extension a judge, protecting agreements by ensuring that individuals who break one do not enter Heaven.