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Canon Law, Canons of Discipline, Canons and Decretals of Rome.
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
The canons or rules of discipline of the Romish Church form a body of law which has been accumulating for centuries. They are made up of the so- called Apostolical Canons, of decrees of councils, and of decrees and rules promulgated by the popes. The different collections of these are,
1. For the early ages, the so-called "Apostolical Canons," the Greek"Collections" in the Codex Canonum;
2. For the Middle Age, up to Gratian's time, a number of collections;
3. From the twelfth century onward, the decretals of Gratian, of Gregory IX, and Boniface VIII, the Clementines, the Extravagants, and the Corpus Juris Canonici.
I. Early Ages. —
(I.) CANONS APOSTOLICAL, a collection of canons (in number seventy-six or eighty five, according to the different methods of division), not to be attributed, as the name implies, to the apostles. Beveridge, in his Codex Can. Eccl. Prim., seeks to show that these canons are the synodal rules and regulations made in councils anterior to the Council of Nicsea, in which view Petrus de Marca, Dupin, and others agree. Daille (DePseudepigraphis Apostolicis) considers them the work of the fifth century. That they are not of apostolical origin is very clear from the use in them of terms and mention of ceremonies quite unknown in the apostolic age, as well as from the fact that they were never even cited under the name of apostolical before the Council of Ephesus, if, indeed, we ought not, assome think, to read in the acts of that council, instead of "the canons of the apostles," "the canons of the fathers." Previously to this synod they are cited as Canones Patrum, Canones antiqui or ecclesiastici. Bellarmine and Baronius claim apostolical authority for only the first fifty canons. Pope Gelasius (Distinct. xv, can. Sancta Romana) plainly declares, Liber Canonum Apostolorum apocryphus est; but the authenticity of the passage is doubted. It is the opinion of Beveridge (Cod. Canonum Ecclesiastes Primitive, Lond. 1678) that the Apost. Canons were enacted in different synods about the close of the second century and beginning of the third;and that the collection was made soon after, but since that time interpolated; and that the compiler of the collection cannot be ascertained.
Dr. Schaff sums up the whole case in the following judicious passages:" The contents of the so-called Apostolical Canons are borrowed partly from the Scriptures, especially the Pastoral Epistles, partly from tradition, and partly from the decrees of early councils at Antioch, Neo-Caesarea, Nice, Laodicea, etc. (but probably not Chalcedon, 451). They are therefore evidently of gradual growth, and were collected either after the middle of the fourth century or not till the latter part of the fifth, by some unknown hand, probably also in Syria. They are designed to furnish a complete system of discipline for the clergy. Of the laity they say scarcely a word. The eighty-fifth and last canon settles the canon of the Scripture, but reckons among the New Testament books two epistles of Clement and the genuine books of the pseudo-Apostolic Constitutions. The Greek Church, at the Trullan C ouncil of 692, adopted the whole collection of eighty-five canons as authentic and binding, and John of Damascus even placed it on a parallel with the epistles of the apostle Paul, thus showing that he had no sense of the infinite superiority of the inspired writings. The Latin Church rejected it at first, but subsequently decided for the smaller collection of fifty canons, which Dionysius Exiguus, about the year 500, translated from a Greek manuscript." — Schaff, Church History, vol. 1, § 114.
Although these canons have special reference to discipline, they are not entirely silent on the subject of dogmas, morals, and the ceremonial of worship. They clearly distinguish between the orders of bishop and priest, affirm the superiority of the former, speak of an altar and a sacrifice in the Church of Christ, and prescribe matters to be observed in the administration of baptism, the eucharist, penance, ordination, with many other things evincing a late date. They may be found in Labbei Concilia, vol. i, and in Cotelerii Patr. Opera, 1:199; also in Ultzen, Constitutiones Apostolicce (Rostock, 1853, 8vo); in English, in Chase, Constitutions andCanons of the Apostles (New York, 1848, 8vo), and in Hammond, Canons of the Church (N. Y. 1844, p. 188 sq.). See Krabbe, De Codice Canonum, etc., translated by Chase, in Bibliotheca Sacra, 4:1; Mosheim, Commentaries, cent. 1, § 51; Bunsen, Hippolytus (Engl. transl. vols. 5-7); and the article CLEMENTINES (See CLEMENTINES) .
(II.) Greek Collections: CODEX CANONUM.
1. The first mention of a Codex Canonum is found in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), where a number of canons of previous councils (Nice, Ancyra, Antioch, Laodicea, and Constantinople) were approved. Other collections existed at the time, and others, again, followed, but none were considered as law for the whole Church. The so- called Codex Canonum Ecclesic Universce (Book of the Canons) was first published by Justellus (Paris, 1610, 8So), reproduced in the Bibli. otheca Juris Canon. Vet., op. Voelli et Justelli (Paris, 1661, vol. 1), and also in Migne, Patrol. Curs. Conplet. (Paris, 1848, vol. 67). It is not authentic; the title and arrangement are Justeau's, and the work is only an unsuccessful attempt of his to make an authentic Greek Codex from the old collections and MSS.
2. In the fifth century we find the Western Church recognizing the authority of the Greek canons, and there are three principal collections of them, viz.:
(1) The Spanish or Isidorian (erroneously so called because found in Isidor of Seville's later collection). It contained the canons of Nice, Ancyra, Neo- Cmesarea, and Gangra. As to its date, we know for certain only this much, that this translation of the Nicene canons was known in Gaul A.D. 439 (Concil. Regense, c. 3), and that of the Ancyran canons was quoted in the Concil. Epaonens, A.D. 517. A later translation, adding the canons of Antioch, Constantinople, and Chalcedon to those above named, was compiled toward the end of the fifth century. It was first published from an Oxford MS. under the title Codex Eccleszce Romance (ad. Paschas. Quesnell, in Opp. Leonis, Par. 1675, t. 2.)
(2) The so-called Versio or translutio prisca, first published by Justellus in the Bibliothecajur. Canon, 1:275, from an incomplete MS., and afterward, in more complete form, by Ballerini (Opp. Leonws, 3:473).
(3) The translation and collection made by Dionysius Exiguus (q.v.), made probably at Rome toward the end of the fifth century. He afterward (about A.D. 510?) made a second collection, adding a number of papal decretals. These were merged into one, and the codex thus formed was generally accepted throughout the Church. Pope Adrian (A.D. 774) presented an enlarged copy of it to Charlemagne, and it became the basis of the French canon law. In this enlarged form it is designated as the Adriano-Donysian Codex. It may be found in the Biblioth. Jur. Can. 1:101, and in Migne's Patrol. Lat. (Par. 1848, vol. 67).
II. Middle Age. —
1. In Africa the Nicene canons were supplemented by those of native councils, especially of Carthage (q.v.). Fulgentius Ferrandus (q.v.), in 547, composed the Breviatio Canonum, adding African decisions up to 427: it was published by Pithou (Paris, 1588), and in Migne, Patrolog. (1848, vol.67, p. 949). Cresconius, an African bishop, about 690 issued a Concord-aCanonum (Bibl. Jur. Song of Solomon 1, App. p. 33).
2. In Spain a Codex existed in the sixth century, which was afterward the basis of the pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. In the seventh century it assumed the form in which we know it (Codex Canonum Eccl. Hisp. (Madrid, 1808, fol.); and part 2:Epistole decretales, etc. Romans Pontuiicum (Madrid,1821, fol.). It contains canons of the Greek, African, French, and Spanish councils and synods, with Papal decrees from Damasus to Gregory I. It does not appear that Isidor of Seville really had any share in preparing the collection which, after the discovery of the fraudulent decretals, (See PSEUDO-ISIDORIAN), was known by his name. A new edition of the fraudulent decretals appeared in 1863, viz. Decretales Pseudo-Isidoriance, etc., ed. Paulus Hinschius (Leipsic, 2 vols. 8vo).
3. In the British Islands and in the Anglo-Saxon Church native canons prevailed, of which we have no early records. D'Achery has gathered the fragments of an Irish Codex of the eighth century in his Spicilegium, 1:491 sq., which contains Greek, African, Gallic, mind Spanish canons, as well as native ones. See also Spelman, Concilia, decreta, etc. in re eccl. orbis Britannici (Lond. 1639-64, 2 vols. fol.).
4. In France the Spanish collection came into use in the eighth century, along with the Adriano-Dionysian mentioned above. In the ninth century many of the forged decretals from the pseudo-Isidorian collection were mingled with the authentic canons. The confusion led to several new collections:
(1) Canonum collectio, in 381 titles, toward the end of the eighth century;
(2) Collectio Acheriana (perhaps of the beginning of the ninth century);
(3) the Penitentialis of bishop Halitsgar of Cambray, A.D. 925. Besides these there were numerous small collections, called Capitula Episcoporum.
The great increase of the worldly power of the clergy under the Carlovingian dynasty necessitated more copious and complete collections of the canons. Among the more important we name
(1) the Collectio Anselmo dedicata (883-897, 12 vols.), of Italian origin. It includes the pseudo-Isidorian decretals, and also the Institutes of Justinian, which for the first time now appear in the canon law collections.
(2) Regini's Libri duo de causis Synodalibus et discip eccles. was compiled about A.D. 906, and includes also some of the false decretals. It is important for its account of the acts of German councils.
(3) Burchard's Liber decretorum collectarium (1012-1023), in 20 books. To strengthen the authority of certain canons, Burchard ascribes them to too early dates, and his errors, followed by Gratian, have been incorporated into later Looks. The nineteenth book, treating of penitential discipline, one of whose titles is Consuetudines svup(rstitiosce, throws much light on the state of society in that age. Several editions exist: the latest is in Migne, Patrolog. vol. 140 (Paris,1853).
(4) Important manuscript collections of the eleventh century are the Collectio ducdecim partium (after 1023); that of Anselm of Lucca (died 1086), in 13 books; two collections of cardinal Deusdedit, each in 4 books (1086-1087), in which the valuable archives of the Lateran were employed.
(5) To Ivo of Chartres (died 1117) two collections are ascribed, viz.: the Decretum, in 17 books, and the Pannormia, in 8 books, of which the former seems to be a collection of materials for the latter. They are given by Migne, Patrolog. Lat. vol. 161. There are several other MS. collections of minor importance.
III. From the Twelfth Century. —
1. Gratian's. The want of a collection containing all canons and decretals of general interest, omitting merely local ones, and having a good arrangement, began to be universal about the twelfth century. GRATIAN, a monk of the convent of St. Felix, in Bologna, undertook to supply it. His work is now known as the Decretum Gratiani. It was compiled from all preceding books and many MSS. It is divided into three parts. The first part is subdivided into 101 Distinctiones, and each of these into canons. Of the distinctiones, 81 relate to the clergy, and this part of the book is called by Gratian himself Tractatus ordinandorum. Part 2 contains 16 causce, or points of law, subdivided into questiones, each of which is answered by canones. Part 3, De consecratione, contains the sacraments, in five Distinetiones. In this work Gratian not only made a collection of the different canons in a certain order, but presented all the canons treating upon one subject under that head. The decretum, with all its shortcomings— for it was not yet a complete work — soon superseded all other collections. But what mostly helped to, gain for this decretum its position is, that Gratian's comments and elucidations resulted in the formation of a new school of canonists and decretalists at Bologna. This made the decretum known to all the churches, and brought it into such high esteem that the popes themselves quoted it, though it was not received by them as an official codex.
2. Other Collections before Gregory IX. — The papal decretals after the twelfth century became so abundant on points of discipline that the collection of Gratian, however complete at first, soon ceased to be so, and new collections were made. We mention only the principal ones.
(1.) The Breviarium extravagantiun of Bernardus of Pavia (t bishop of Pavia 1213), compiled in 1190, and containing newer decretals not in Gratian's Decretum, and therefore called extra decretum vagantes, for which he made use of several minor collections posterior to Gratian, e.g. the Arpendix Concilii Lateranensis, etc. His divisions under the titles Index, Indicium, Clerus, Connubia (Sponsalia), and Crimen were adopted in subsequent collections. The Summa of this work, written by Bernardus himself, was approved of by the Bologna school. As this was the first collection of Extravagantes, it is known as Volumen primur, or Compilatio prima.
(2.) The compilation of Petrus Collivacinus, made by order of Innocent III, containing the decretals of Innocent during the first eleven years of his reign (1198-1210). It was approved by the Bologna canonists, and known as Compdlatio tertia. The decretals of the popes, from Alexander III (1181) to Celestin III (1198), were compiled by Gilbertus and Alanus, two Englishmen, but were not received at Bologna until they were revised and completed by Johannes Gallensis, which was admitted and known as Compilatio secunda.
(3.) The Compilatio quarta was made after the fourth Lateran Council (1215), and contains the decretals of Innocent after 1210. These four compilations are given by Labbe, Antiques collectiones decretalium cum Ant. August. et . Cujacii not. et emend. (Paris, 1609-1621).
3. Decretal of Gregory IX. — In 1230 Gregory IX directed his chaplain, Raymond of Pennaforte, to make a new collection of decretals, suppressing many superfluous parts of the old collections, and arranging the whole systematically. This Decretalium Gregorii IX compilatio was in 1234 sent by the pope to the University of Bologna, with the bull Volentes igitur, superseding the older compilations, although two of them had been published by popes. The new collection was introduced into university instruction as well as general practical use. Appendices and supplements were added by Innocent IV (1245), Alexander IV, Urban IV, Clement IV, and Gregory X.
4. Decretal of Boniface VIII. — In 1298 a new collection, including the post-Gregorian decretals, was published by Pope Boniface VIII under the title Liber sextus, because it was a completion of the five books of Gregory. After the publication of the Liber sextus Boniface issued a series of decretals (among which we find the celebrated Unam sanctam against Philip of France in 1302), as did also his successor, Benedict XI. These were united under the style of Constitutiones extravagantium libri sexti, with comments by cardinal Johannes Monachus.
5. The Clementines. — In 1313 Pope Clement V published Liber septimus, which included constitutions of the General Synod of Vienna (1311) and his own decretals, in five books, and sent it to the University of Orleans. Here he seems to have stopped its circulation, intending to replace it by anew collection, which was completed under his successor, John XXII, who sent it to the Universities of Paris and Bologna. It became a full authorityin the Church, under the name Clementines (Constitutiones Clementinae). With the Clementines the code of canon law, as such, may be said to have been completed, as "the power of the popes has not since been sufficient to give the force of law to their enactments throughout Christendom." Later laws have been added from papal decretals, decisions of Trent, etc., but they have never obtained legal authority.
6. Corpus Juris Canonici. — The Decretum Gratiani, Gregorian collection, Liber sextus, and Constitutiones Clementince, were afterward, however, collected under the joint appellation of CORPUS JURIS CANONICI. The Paris edition, edited by Chappuis (1499-1502), divides the Extravagantes into two parts; first, Extravagantes Joannis P. XXII, contains 20 decretals of John XXII, under 14 titles, arranged in the usual system; the second, or Extravagantes communes, embraces 74 decretals, from Urban IV (1261-1264) to Sixtus IV (1471-1484). There have been many editions of the Corpus Juris Canonici; among them may be named that of Lancelotti (Cologne, 1783, 2 vols. 4to); of Boehmer and Richter (Lips. 1839, 2 vols. 4to). The Paris edition of 1687 (2 vols. 4to) is much esteemed.
Petrus Matthews, of Lyon, compiled in 1590 a Liber septimus decretalium,in 5 vols., containing decretals from Sixtus IV to Sixtus V (1585-1590), and forming a sort of supplement to the Extravagantes communes; but the work was not sanctioned. Gregory XIII gave orders for the compilation of an authentic Liber septimus, which was completed under Clement VIII (1598). It contains the dogmatic decisions of the Synods of Florence and Trent, but was soon after withdrawn. No attempts have since been made to collect the decretals of the succeeding popes.
Prevalence of the Canon Law in Modern Times. — "The canon law, borrowing from the Roman civil law many of its principles and rules of proceeding, has at different times undergone careful revision and the most learned and scientific treatment at the hands of its professors, and was very generally received in those Christian states which acknowledge the supremacy of the pope; and it still gives ecclesiastical law, more or less, to Roman Catholic Christendom, although its provisions have in many countries been considerably modified by the Concordats (q. v) which the popes now and then find it expedient to enter into with Roman Catholic sovereigns and governments, whose municipal system does not admit of the application of the canon law in its integrity. Indeed, the fact of its main object being to establish the supremacy of the ecclesiastical authority over the temporal power is sufficient to explain why, in modern times, it is found to conflict with the views of public law and government, even in the case of the most absolute and despotic governments."
In the Protestant Church of Germany the canon law is still the basis of the common Church law. Luther burned the Corpus Juris at Wittenberg (Dec.20, 1520); but, nevertheless, the canon law was afterward taught in the universities, and its rules as to benefices, marriage, etc., became the basis of ecclesiastical law in the German Protestant Church (Herzog, Real- Encyklopaidie, s.v.). Calvin calls the legislation of the Roman Church "an overgrown and barbarous empire;" and maintains that Church laws bind the conscience only as they are Christ's laws (Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 10).
In England, the canon law, even in Roman Catholic times, never obtained so firm a footing as. on the Continent. Hook (Church Dictionary, s.v. Canon) says that "as to the Church of England, even at that time, when the papal authority was at the highest,: none of these foreign canons, or any new canons, made at any national or provincial synod here, had any man. ner of force if they were against the prerogative of the king or the laws of the land. It is true that every Christian nation in communion with the pope sent some bishops, abbots, or priors to those foreign councils, and generally four were sent out of England; and it was by those means, together with the allowance of the civil power, that some canons made there were received here, but such as were against the laws were totally rejected. Nevertheless, some of these foreign canons were received in England, and obtained the force of laws by the general approbation of the king and people (though it may be difficult to know what these canonsare); and it was upon this pretense that the pope claimed an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, independent of the king, and sent his legates to England: with commissions to determine causes according to those canons, which were now compiled into several volumes, and called jus canonicum: these were not only enjoined to be obeyed as laws, but publicly to be read and expounded in all schools and universities as the civil law was read and expounded there, under pain of excommunication to those who neglected. Hence arose quarrels between kings and several archbishops and other prelates who adhered to those papal usurpations.
There was, however, a kind of national canon law in England, composed of legative andprovincial constitutions, adapted to the particular necessities of the English Church. The legative constitutions were ecclesiastical laws enacted in national synods, held under the cardinals Otho and Othobon, legates from Pope Gregory IX and Pope Clement IV, in the reign of king Henry III, about the years 1220 and 1268. The provincial constitutions are principally the decrees of provincial synods, held under divers archbishops of Canterbury, from Stephen Langton, in the reign of Henry III, to Henry Chicheley, in the reign of Henry V, and adopted also by the province of York in the reign of Henry VI. At the dawn of the Reformation, in thereign of Henry VIII, it was enacted in Parliament that a review should be had of the canon law; and till such review should be made, all canons, constitutions, ordinances, and synodals provincial being then already made, and not repugnant to the law of the land or the Kling's prerogative, should still be used and executed. And as no such review has yet been perfected, upon this enactment now depends the authority of the canon law in England, the limitations of which appear, upon the whole, to be as follows: that no canon contrary to the common or statute law, or the prerogative royal, is of any validity; that, subject to this condition, the canons made anterior to the parliamentary provision above mentioned, and adopted inour system (for there are some which have had no reception among us), are binding both on clergy and laity; but that canons made since that period,and having no sanction from the Parliament, are, as regards the laity at least, of no force." (See CANONS OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND).
Before the Reformation, degrees were as frequent in the canon law as in the civil law. Many persons became graduates in both, or juris utriusque doctores; and this degree is still common in foreign universities. But Henry VIII, in the twenty-seventh year of his reign, issued a mandate to the University of Cambridge to the effect that no lectures on canon law should be read, and no degree whatever in that faculty conferred in the university for the future. It is probable that Oxford received a similar prohibition about the same time, as degrees in canon law have ever since been discontinued in England (Penny Cyclopcedia, 6:244).
In Scotland, Presbyterian though the ecclesiastical system of that country be, the old Roman canon law still prevails to a certain extent. "So deep hath this canon law been rooted," observes Lord Stair, in his Institutes of the Scotch Law, "that even where the pope's authority is rejected, yet consideration must be had to these laws, not only as those by which Church benefices have been erected and ordered, but as likewise containing many equitable and profitable laws, which, because of their weighty matter, and their being once received, may more fitly be retained than rejected." In two old Scotch acts of Parliament, made in 1540 and 1551, the canon lawis used in conjunction with the Roman law to denote the common law of the country, the expression used being "the common law, baith canon, civil, and statutes of the realme" (Chambers's Encyclopedia, s.v.).
In the United States the Roman Catholic Church is ruled by the Roman canon law, and also by the decrees of national and provincial councils, and by the regulations set forth by the bishops, subject to the revision of Rome.
See, on the subject of this article generally, the following authorities; Herzog, Real-Encyklopddie, 7:303 sq.; Blackstone, Commentaries, 1:83; Knight, Political Dictionary, s.v.; Denoux, Theol. Scolastique, 2:204 sq.; Cunningham, Historical Theology, vol. ii, ch. xv; Hagenbach, Theol. Encykloladdie, § 112; Walter, Fontes juris Ecclesiastici (Bonn, 1162); Boehmer, Institutt. Juris Canonici (Hal. 1770, Fith ed.).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Canon Law, Canons of Discipline, Canons and Decretals of Rome.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​c/canon-law-canons-of-discipline-canons-and-decretals-of-rome.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.