Canon law (Catholic Church)

By | September 1, 2019

The canon law of the Catholic Church is
the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the hierarchical
authorities of the Church to regulate its external organization and government
and to order and direct the activities of Catholics toward the mission of the
Church. It was the first modern Western legal system.
Positive ecclesiastical laws, based directly or indirectly upon immutable
divine law or natural law, derive formal authority in the case of universal laws
from the supreme legislator, who possesses the totality of legislative,
executive, and judicial power in his person, while particular laws derive
formal authority from a legislator inferior to the supreme legislator. The
actual subject material of the canons is not just doctrinal or moral in nature,
but all-encompassing of the human condition. It has all the ordinary
elements of a mature legal system: laws, courts, lawyers, judges, a fully
articulated legal code, principles of legal interpretation, and coercive
penalties. It lacks civilly-binding force in most secular jurisdictions.
Specialists in the field are usually called canonists. Canon law as a field
is called canonistics. History and codification
The Catholic Church has the oldest continuously functioning legal system in
the West, much later than Roman law but predating the evolution of modern
European civil law traditions. What began with rules adopted by the Apostles
at the Council of Jerusalem in the first century has developed into a highly
complex legal system encapsulating not just norms of the New Testament, but
some elements of the Hebrew, Roman, Visigothic, Saxon, and Celtic legal
traditions. The history of Latin canon law can be
divided into four periods: the jus antiquum, the jus novum, the jus
novissimum and the Code of Canon Law. In relation to the Code, history can be
divided into the jus vetus and the jus novum.
The canon law of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which had developed some
different disciplines and practices, underwent its own process of
codification, resulting in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
promulgated in 1990 by Pope John Paul II.
=Jus Antiquum=The period of canonical history known as
the Jus Antiquum extends from the foundation of the Church to the time of
Gratian. This period can be further divided into three periods: the time of
the apostles to the death of Pope Gelasius I, the end of the 5th century
to the spurious collection of the 9th century, and the last up to the time of
Gratian. In the early Church, the first canons
were decreed by bishops united in “Ecumenical” councils or “local”
councils. Over time, these canons were supplemented with decretals of the
Bishops of Rome, which were responses to doubts or problems according to the
maxim, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est”. A common misconception, the
Catholic Encyclopedia links this saying to St Augustine who actually said
something quite different: “jam enim de hac causa duo concilia missa sunt ad
sedem apostolicam; inde etiam rescripta venerunt; causa finita est” in response
to the heretical Pelagianism of the time.
In the first millennium of the Roman Church, the canons of various ecumenical
and local councils were supplemented with decretals of the popes; these were
gathered together into collections.=Jus Novum=
The period of canonical history known as the Jus Novum or middle period covers
the time from Gratian to the Council of Trent.
The spurious conciliar canons and papal decrees were gathered together into
collections, both unofficial and official. In the year 1000, there was no
book that had attempted to summarized the whole body of canon law, to
systematize it in whole or in part. The first truly systematic collection was
assembled by the Camaldolese monk Gratian in the 11th century, commonly
known as the Decretum Gratiani but originally called The Concordance of
Discordant Canons. Before Gratian there was no “jurisprudence of canon law”.
Gratian is the founder of canonical jurisprudence, which merits him the
title “Father of Canon Law”. Canon law greatly increased from 1140 to
1234. After that it slowed down, except for the laws of local councils, and
secular laws supplemented. In 1234 Pope Gregory IX promulgated the first
official collection of canons, called the Decretalia Gregorii Noni or Liber
Extra. This was followed by the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, the Clementines
of Clement V, the Extravagantes Joannis XXII and the Extravagantes Communes, all
of which followed the same structure as the Liber Extra. All these collections,
with the Decretum Gratiani, are together referred to as the Corpus Juris
Canonici. After the completion of the Corpus Juris Canonici, subsequent papal
legislation was published in periodic volumes called Bullaria.
In the thirteenth century, the Roman Church began to collect and organize its
canon law, which after a millennium of development had become a complex and
difficult system of interpretation and cross-referencing. The official
collections were the Liber Extra of Pope Gregory IX, the Liber Sextus of Boniface
VIII and the Clementines, prepared for Clement V but published by John XXII.
These were addressed to the universities by papal letters at the beginning of
each collection, and these texts became textbooks for aspiring canon lawyers. In
1582 a compilation was made of the Decretum, Extra, the Sext, the
Clementines and the Extravagantes.=Jus Novissimum=
The third canonical period, known as the Jus Novissimum, stretches from the
Council of Trent to the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law which took
legal effect in 1918. The start of the Jus Novissimum is not universally agreed
upon, however. Dr. Edward N. Peters argues that the Jus Novissimum actually
started with the Liber Extra of Gregory IX in 1234.
=Jus Codicis=The fourth period of canonical history
is that of the present day, initiated by the promulgation of the 1917 Code of
Canon Law on 27 May 1917. It is sometimes referred to as the Jus Codicis
or, in comparison with all law before it, the Jus Novum. From time to time,
the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts issues authentic interpretations
regarding the code. The pope occasionally amends the text of the
codes. Pio-Benedictine law
By the 19th century, the body of canonical legislation included some
10,000 norms. Many of these were difficult to reconcile with one another
due to changes in circumstances and practice. The situation impelled Pope
St. Pius X to order the creation of the first Code of Canon Law, a single volume
of clearly stated laws. Under the aegis of the Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, the
Commission for the Codification of Canon Law was completed under Benedict XV, who
promulgated the Code on 27 May 1917, effective on 29 May 1918. The work
having been begun by Pius X, it was sometimes called the “Pio-Benedictine
Code” but more often the 1917 Code to distinguish it from the later 1983 Code
which replaced it. In its preparation, centuries of material was examined,
scrutinized for authenticity by leading experts, and harmonized as much as
possible with opposing canons and even other codes, from the Code of Justinian
to the Napoleonic Code. Johanno-Pauline law
In the succeeding decades, some parts of the 1917 Code were retouched, especially
under Pope Pius XII. In 1959, Pope John XXIII announced, together with his
intention to call the Second Vatican Council a Synod of the Diocese of Rome,
that the 1917 Code would be completely revised. In 1963, the commission
appointed to undertake the task decided to delay the project until the Council
had been concluded. After the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican closed
in 1965, it became apparent that the Code would need to be revised in light
of the documents and theology of Vatican II. When work finally began, almost two
decades of study and discussion on drafts of the various sections were
needed before Pope John Paul II could promulgate the revised edition, which
came into force on 27 November 1983, having been promulgated via the
apostolic constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges of 25 January 1983.
Containing 1752 canons, it is the law currently binding on the Latin Roman
Church. This edition is referred to as the 1983
Code of Canon Law to distinguish it from the 1917 Code. Like the preceding
edition, it applies to Roman Catholics of the Latin Rite.
Oriental law For Eastern Catholics two sections of
Eastern canon law had already, under Pope Pius XII, been put in the form of
short canons. These parts were revised as part of the application of Pope John
XXIII’s decision to carry out a general revision of the Church’s canon law; as a
result a distinct Code for members of the Eastern Catholic Churches came into
effect for the first time on 1 October 1991. The Code of Canons of the Eastern
Churches, as it is called, differs from the Latin Code of Canon Law in matters
where Eastern and Latin traditions diverge, such as terminology, discipline
concerning hierarchical offices and administration of the sacraments.
Canon law as legal system Much of the legislative style was
adapted from that of Roman Law especially the Justinianic Corpus Juris
Civilis. As a result, Roman ecclesiastical courts tend to follow the
Roman Law style of continental Europe with some variation. After the ‘fall’ of
the Roman Empire and up until the revival of Roman Law in the 11th century
canon law served as the most important unifying force among the local systems
in the Civil Law tradition. The Catholic Church developed the inquisitorial
system in the Middle Ages. This judicial system features collegiate panels of
judges and an investigative form of proceeding, in contradistinction to the
adversarial system found in the common law of England and many of her former
colonies, which utilises concepts such as juries and single judges.
The institutions and practices of canon law paralleled the legal development of
much of Europe, and consequently both modern civil law and common law bear the
influences of canon law. Edson Luiz Sampel, a Brazilian expert in canon law,
says that canon law is contained in the genesis of various institutes of civil
law, such as the law in continental Europe and Latin American countries.
Sampel explains that canon law has significant influence in contemporary
society. Canonical jurisprudential theory
generally follows the principles of Aristotelian-Thomistic legal philosophy.
While the term “law” is never explicitly defined in the Code, the Catechism of
the Catholic Church cites Aquinas in defining law as “…an ordinance of
reason for the common good, promulgated by the one who is in charge of the
community” and reformulates it as “…a rule of conduct enacted by competent
authority for the sake of the common good.”
=Sources of law=The primary canonical sources of law
are: 1983 Code of Canon Law
Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches Pastor Bonus
In the apostolic constitution Sacri Canones, by means of which he
promulgated the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, John Paul II stated
Other sources include apostolic constitutions, motibus propriis, and
particular law.=Canon law faculties and institutes,
and canonical scholarship=The academic degrees in canon law are
the J.C.B., J.C.L. and the J.C.D., and those with a J.C.L. or higher are
usually called “canonists” or “canon lawyers”. Because of its specialized
nature, advanced degrees in civil law or theology are normal prerequisites for
the study of canon law. Canon law as a field is called canonistics.
Fundamental theory of canon law The fundamental theory of canon law is a
newer discipline that takes as is object “the existence and nature of what is
juridical in the Church of Jesus Christ.” It is the philosophy and
theology of canon law. Scholars of the discipline ask questions
such as “Why does canon law exist?”, “Why should canon law exist”, “How does
canon law relate to the ‘Mystery of the Church’ and her hierarchical
constitution?” The discipline seeks to provide a
theoretical basis for the coexistence and complementarity of canon law and the
Catholic Church, and it seeks to refute the “canonical antijuridicism” of the
various heretical movements and of the Protestant Reformation on the one hand,
and on the other, the antijuridicism deriving from a belief that all law is
identifiable with the law of the state; that in order to be true law, the state
must be its maker. The discipline seeks to better explain the nature of law in
the church and engages in theological discussions in post-conciliar
Catholicism and seeks to combat “postconciliar antijuridicism”.
Canon law and Church office Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, all
seminary students are required to take courses in canon law. Some
ecclesiastical officials are required to have the doctorate or at least the
licentiate in canon law in order to fulfill their functions: judicial
vicars; judges; promoters of justice; defenders of the bond; canonical
advocates. In addition, vicars general and episcopal vicars are to be doctors,
or at least licensed in canon law or theology. Ordinarily, bishops are to
have an advanced degree in scripture, theology, or canon law.
Patron saint St. Raymond of Penyafort, a Spanish
Dominican priest, is the Patron Saint of canonists, due to his important
contributions to Canon Law. Other saintly patrons include St. Ivo of
Chartres and the Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmine.
Related terms Footnotes
=Sources consulted=Europe in the High Middle Ages William
Chester Jordan, “The Penguin History of Europe: Europe in the High Middle Ages”
Manual of Canon Law Fernando della Rocca, “Manual of Canon Law”
Law and Revolution Harold J. Berman, “Law and Revolution: The Formation of
the Western Legal Tradition” 1917 Code of Canon Law Translated by
Edward Peters, “The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: in
English Translation with Extensive Scholarly Apparatus”
1983 Code of Canon Law “Code of Canon Law” at
Publication details: Latin-English Edition, New English Translation;
Prepared under the auspices of the Canon Law Society of America, Washington, DC
20064 Catechism of the Catholic Church Dr. Edward N. Peters, JD,
JCD, Ref. Sig. Comparative Legal Traditions Mary Ann
Glendon, Michael Wallace Gordon, Christopher Osakwe, “Comparative Legal
Traditions: Text, Materials and Cases” Justice in the Church: A Fundamental
Theory of Canon Law Carlos José Errázuriz M., “Justice in the Church: A
Fundamental Theory of Canon Law” trans. Jean Gray in collaboration with Michael
Dunnigan. External links
Catholic Encyclopedia: Canon Law Sacrea Disciplinae Leges
Canon Law Commentary, Discussion and Bibliography
=Texts and translations of Codes of Canon Law=
With referenced concordances Codex Iuris Canonici, original text in
Latin Code of Canon Law but with the 1998
modification of canons 750 and 1371, English translation by the Canon Law
Society of America, on website of The Holy See
Code of Canon Law, English translation by the Canon Law Society of Great
Britain and Ireland, assisted by the Canon Law Society of Australia and New
Zealand and the Canadian Canon Law Society
Codex canonum ecclesiarum orientalium, original text in Latin
“Code of canons of Oriental Churchs”, defective English translation
Codex Iuris Canonici, original text in Latin
Without concordances Codex Iuris Canonici in French

One thought on “Canon law (Catholic Church)

  1. Hugh Norris Post author

    What is or who is a canon in the Catholic Church?


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