Canon Law, the public and general code of laws of the Catholic church. This church claims to be a perfect visible society, containing within herself all that is neces3ary for a complete and independent organization. Hence she has her own rulers, rights, and laws. Some of these laws, given by Christ himself or by the apostles in his name, are held to be immutable; others have been promulgated by the ordinary ecclesiastical authority, and can be modified or abrogated by the power whence they derive their force. The discipline or practice of the church is therefore partly unchangeable and partly changeable. The changeable discipline, deriving its origin from the ordinary ecclesiastical power, has been different in various times and places. Hence, besides the general law of the church, there are in every particular country peculiar and local rights, customs, and practices, which form what is called the code of particular or national churches. These, however, are subject to the supreme authority, which can at any time annul them, should such a course he judged expedient or necessary.
Thus, besides the general law of the church, Roman Catholics in the United States are regulated by the decrees of the councils of Baltimore and of the provincial councils held in the different provinces which have been approved of by the competent authority. There is also another source of difference in ecclesiastical polity. From the very beginning the eastern and western churches, although agreeing in the same faith and in the observance of the same moral law, and looking upon each other as integral portions of the same church, have yet observed on many points a totally different ecclesiastical discipline. This state of things continues to the present day, and the oriental churches in communion with Rome retain their own liturgy and their peculiar observances. Hence, the canon law of the Latin or western church is different in many points from that of the Greek or eastern. - The divisions of ecclesiastical law can be marked as follows: 1. The general law of the church, binding all her subjects of all nations and countries. 2. Laws peculiar either to the oriental or Latin church. 3. Laws that are observed by only one particular or national church, belonging to either of these two divisions. 4. Diocesan regulations, which have no force out of the bishopric for which they are made. - Canon law comprises the general laws for either of the two churches, eastern or western.
Thus there is the canon law of the oriental and of the Latin church. To the knowledge of this the canonist must unite an acquaintance with the particular laws and customs of his own nation or province, as well as with the statutes of the diocese to which he belongs, in order to be able to apply his general rules and principles to the practical cases which may fall under his cognizance. The* authority whence ecclesiastical laws derive their force is held by Catholics to be vested primarily and principally in the pope as the vicar of Christ. General councils also possess the same authority. These are composed of all or of the greater number of the bishops of the church. The decrees of a legitimate general council, that is, one presided over by the pope either personally or through his representative, when ratified by the same authority, are binding over the whole church. Patriarchs and provincial councils legislate merely for the portion of the church under their jurisdiction, their legislation being subject to the approbation or rejection of the pope.
Bishops have the right to make laws or statutes for their own dioceses; these are sometimes promulgated in diocesan synods, which are composed of the principal priests of the diocese. - As the discipline of the church has not always been the same, but has been and is different in different times and places, so, too, canon law has not always been uniform. Many regulations which once were of force have been subsequently modified or totally abrogated. Hence the chief difficulty in the study of canon law is to discern between that which is in force and that which has gone into disuse. The laws of the church have been for the most part embodied in collections. These have naturally been modified as the laws themselves have suffered changes. The history of canon law is a narrative of these different modifications. For some time after the death of the apostles, there was in all probability no written collection of laws. The faithful who lived during this period had vividly impressed on their minds the decrees and teachings of those who had conversed with the Lord. But in the course of time unruly and rebellious spirits began to manifest themselves, and discipline suffered many serious violations.
As crimes occurred, decrees were enacted either to punish the transgression or prevent its recurrence in the future. These decrees generally originated in the locality in which the crime had been committed, and by degrees, through the force of similar circumstances, were adopted throughout the whole church. Thus, in the course of two centuries, many new regulations had been gradually introduced, and the primitive discipline had been more or less modified. This introduced the necessity of making a collection of these new laws, so that all might know their exact import, and thus uniformity, at least on the leading points of discipline, might be secured. Hence the first collection we meet with is commonly supposed to have been promulgated either toward the end of the 2d or the beginning of the 3d century. It is called that of the Ganones Apostolici, or "Apostolical Canons." This name was given because these laws were represented as having been promulgated by the apostles. This, however, is not true of them, at least as they appear in this collection; for they bear the evidences of a development of organization not yet existing in the apostolic times. Most probably the rules given by the apostles for the guidance of the faithful began to be committed to writing during the 2d century.
By degrees new regulations were added to them, and the collection thus gradually assumed its present form, retaining the name to which, in a certain sense, it was originally entitled. Whatever may have been its origin, it represents faithfully the discipline of the eastern church toward the latter part of the 2d and commencement of the 3d century. All, however, did not agree as to the number of the canons; the Roman church recognized only the 50 which had been translated into Latin by DionysiusExiguus; the eastern church, after the council in Trullo, in the 6th century, received 85. The work called Constitutiones Apostolicce, or "Apostolical Constitutions," is intimately connected with the collection of canons. It is proved by Beveridge that it appeared toward the end of the 3d century. It does not throw any new light on the discipline of that period, as it agrees on all points with the canons. The next collection that we meet with in the East is that which was produced in the council of Chalcedon, in the 5th century, called the Codex Canonum. It seems to have contained originally canons enacted in the general council of Nice, and in those of Ancyra, Neo-Csesarea, and Gangra. These three councils, although not oecumenical or general ones, had obtained great authority throughout the whole eastern church, and their enactments were universally adopted.
In course of time the Codex was enlarged by the addition of the canons of a council held at Antioch, and of those of the council of Chalcedon itself, and lastly of those adopted in the next general council held at Constantinople. These were' the principal collections of canon law in the early centuries. - In the West there seems to have been no collection of this sort made before the council of Nice. Custom, the decrees of the bishops of Rome, which were issued as occasion required, and those of particular synods, were the basis of ecclesiastical legislation during the first three centuries. The canons promulgated at Nice were translated into Latin immediately after the celebration of the council, and were observed in the western church, together with those enacted a short time afterward at Sardica. After some time two Latin translations appeared of the Codex which was used at Chalcedon; one was called Isidoriana, or of Isidore; the other prisca, or ancient. In reality, then, up to the 6th century there was no regular collection of ecclesiastical laws in the western church. This want was at that period supplied by Dionysius Exi-guus, a learned monk, who published a celebrated collection, which has ever since borne his name.
It contained the principal points of the legislation of both branches of the church: the 30 canons of the apostles, then those of Nice, Ancyra, Neo-Caesarea, Gangra, Antioch, Laodicea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon, translated from the Greek; the 21 canons of Sardica, from the Latin original, together with 138 enacted in different councils of Africa. These formed the first part. The second embraced the decretals of the popes Siricius, Innocent L, Zosimus, Boniface I., Celestine, Leo the Great, Gelasius, and Anastasius II. These decretals were letters sent by the popes to different bishops or churches, containing those decrees which they deemed necessary for the maintenance of discipline and the good of religion. These, as is evident, formed no unimportant part of church law. To the above mentioned were afterward added the decretals of the popes Hilarius, Felix II., Simplicius, Ilor-misdas, Symmachus, and Gregory II. The collection of Dionysius thus augmented was presented in the 8th century to Charlemagne, by Pope Adrian I., when the former came to Rome. Adrian did not give it any new public authority; yet from the fact of his having presented it, and from the quasi sanction thereby bestowed, it acquired great importance, and was called emphatically the Codex Canonum, or code of canons.
Such were the principal documents through which access could be had to the knowledge of ecclesiastical legislation during the first nine centuries of the Christian era. - Thus far the science of ecclesiastical legislation had advanced in a regular and more or less uniform way. The churchmen had copied the forms of the old civil lawyers, and many made ecclesiastical polity the study of their lives. With the destruction of the Western empire, and the universal subversion of all the ancient landmarks of civilization and learning, the church law had to undergo some of the calamities of the age. The barbaric rulers often brought charges against leading ecclesiastics, either for the purpose of confiscating the property of the church, or of revenging the condemnation of their vices; and as the knowledge of canon law had shared in the decline of all science, the churchmen were left unprotected, from a want of acquaintance with laws which would have extricated them from their difficulties. A new collection was therefore required, and did in fact appear, but unfortunately the real erudition of the work was tainted by an inexcusable spirit of imposture on the part of the author.
He gave himself a feigned name, that of Isidore Mercator (merchant), or Peccator (sinner). It is not very clearly known who he really was. The most probable opinion seems to be that his real name was Benedictus Levita, or the deacon, living at Mentz in the 9th century. The documents of which this collection was composed can be divided into three classes. There were some perfectly genuine, and attributed to their real authors; next, others substantially so, but published under the name of popes or councils to whom they did not belong; others, again, were altogether spurious, and perhaps invented by Isidore himself. The English Bishop Beve-ridge, after much erudite and patient toil, discovered that all the decrees or letters invented by the impostor were in reality nothing but tissues of passages selected from the canons of councils, epistles of popes, and works of ecclesiastical writers, especially of the 5th and 6th centuries. Isidore was everywhere held in honor, till on the revival of letters doubts arose as to the genuineness of parts of his work.
During this time the collection of John Scholas-ticus, who flourished in the 6th century, was the principal one in the East. Photius revised it, and added many important laws, and it yet remains the basis of the legislation of the Greek church. Up to the 13th century the principal collections in the West were those of Burchard, Ivo, and Cardinal Deusdedit. At last, however, the light dawned, sciences and literature began to be cultivated, and the civil law of the Roman empire became the subject of profound and toilsome investigation. Gratian, a Benedictine monk, a native of Tuscany, undertook a new collection of canon law, and published in 1151 his Goncordantia Discordantium Gano-num. This was composed of various texts of Scripture, of the Canones Apostolici, of the decrees of general and particular councils, of the decretal letters of popes, of extracts from the writings of the fathers, and of the enactments of the old civil law of the empire, or of the Frankish kings. It received afterward the title of Decretum, by which name it is now known. It contains many spurious documents, which were for the most part taken from the collection of Isidore. With all its faults, however, it is a wonderful work, considering the age in which it appeared.
In more recent times, when general attention had been called to the inaccuracies of the Decretum, many attempts have been made to correct it. Antoninus Augustinus, a learned canonist of the 16th century, devoted a great deal of time and pains to this object. A commission was appointed by Pope Pius IV. (1559-'65) to attend to this important work, which was accomplished during the pontificate of Gregory XIII. (1572-85). The persons composing it are commonly known under the name of Roman correctors. - After Gratian many learned canonists either published new collections, or improved or commented on those already existing. Among these were Bernard of Pavia, Gilbert and Bernard of Oompostella. However, their works lost almost all their importance on the publication of the collection of Pope Gregory IX. (1227-41). Gregory has been truly styled the Justinian of canon law. He saw the necessity of a more authentic work than that of Gratian, and intrusted the execution of this idea to St. Raymond de Pennafort, a learned Dominican friar. He faithfully fulfilled his trust, and in 1234 promulgated the celebrated five books of decretals.
These embraced all the laws of the church then in force, containing those texts of Scripture which referred to disciplinary matters; the decretal letters of the popes, from Gregory the Great to Gregory IX. (590-1241); the Canones Apostolici; the decrees of the councils, from that of Antioch to the fourth general one of Lateran (1215); together with many passages of the fathers, which embodied generally received customs or salutary regulations. In publishing this collection, Gregory gave it the approbation of the holy see, and commanded it to be received as authentic in all ecclesiastical tribunals, and in all schools of law. Boniface VIII. added in 1298 another book to the five of Gregory IX. It contained the canons of the second general council of Lyons, together with the different decrees issued by himself. It was called the sixth book of decretals, and received the same authenticity that had been given to the others. Such, too, was the collection made by Clement V. (1305-'14), which embraced various decrees of this pope, together with those of the general council of Vienne.
These canons commonly receive the name of Clementine, though originally called the seventh book of decretals. Next came two collections, known under the title of JExtrava-gantes, laws, as it were, wandering outside of the regular code. The first contains the decrees of John XXII. (1316-'34), the other those of the popes from Urban IV. to Sixtus IV. (1261-1484). These different collections, beginning with that of Gregory IX., form what is called the jus antiquum, or ancient law, in contradistinction to the jus recens, or modern law. - After the great schism of the West, the general council of Constance, convoked in 1414 to put an end to that schism, passed decrees for the extirpation of abuses, and recommended the pontiffs to prosecute the good work with vigor; but the many and incessant troubles that distracted the attention of Rome rendered this extremely difficult. When Luther raised the standard of opposition to Rome, a general council was convoked at Trent in 1545, and set to work in good earnest to reform the Catholic body. To this effect many new enactments had to be adopted, and the disciplinary decrees of the council of Trent form the basis and principal part of modern canon law.
Besides these, there are various bulls and briefs of the popes issued for the most part to execute or to explain more fully the canons of Trent. These are precisely the same documents that were anciently styled decretals. They are to be found in the Bullarium, an immense work, first commenced by a Roman lawyer, Laertius Cherubini. He began with Leo the Great, (440), and intended to bring his work down to Sixtus V. (1585), but died before completing it. His son, Angelo Maria, however, finished it. There is also the Bullarium Magnum, published by Jerome Mainardi, containing the papal letters or bulls, from those of Leo the Great to those of Clement XII. (1740). There is another one containing the bulls of Clement XI. (1700-'21), and another again embracing those of Benedict XIV. (1740-'58). The Bullariumis yet constantly published, and has been brought down to the reign of Gregory XVI. (1831-'46). The decisions of the congregations of cardinals enter also into the present code. They are binding for the whole church when given in answer to general questions, or when especially declared to be so.
Lastly, the concordats with different princes or governments, which are made in order to regulate those modifications of general legislation that the exigencies of the times or other circumstances may demand, are a prominent feature in the present state of ecclesiastical polity, and are gradually effecting important changes, by making what was before but a solitary exception to become an almost universal rule. - This is the history of canon law in its general bearings on the Catholic church. We have refrained from mentioning those details which have reference to particular provinces or nations. Canon law, in its present state, is almost as voluminous as was the ancient Roman code. While one small volume in octavo contains all the dogmatical decrees on matters of faith, ponderous folios are filled with disciplinary decrees. This is inevitable. A dogmatical decree remains always in force, is never modified or repealed; discipline necessarily undergoes modifications. - The canon law is used, under certain restrictions, in the ecclesiastical courts of England and the courts of the two universities.