Corpus Juris Canonici

Last updated

The Corpus Juris Canonici (lit. 'Body of Canon Law') is a collection of significant sources of the canon law of the Catholic Church that was applicable to the Latin Church. It was replaced by the 1917 Code of Canon Law which went into effect in 1918. The 1917 Code was later replaced by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the codification of canon law currently in effect for the Latin Church. In 1990, Eastern Catholic canon law was codified in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which is currently in effect for the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The Corpus juris canonici was used in canonical courts of the Catholic Church such as those in each diocese and in the courts of appeal at the Roman Curia such as the Roman Rota .


The term corpus juris canonici was used to denote the system of canonical law beginning in the thirteenth century. [1]

The term corpus (Latin for 'body') here denotes a collection of documents; corpus juris, a collection of laws, especially if they are placed in systematic order. It may signify also an official and complete collection of a legislation made by the legislative power, comprising all the laws which are in force in a country or society. The term, although it never received legal sanction in either Roman or canon law, being merely academic phraseology, is used in the above sense when the "Corpus juris civilis" of the Christian Roman Emperors is meant.

The expression corpus juris may also mean, not the collection of laws itself, but the legislation of a society considered as a whole. Hence Benedict XIV could rightly say that the collection of his Bulls formed part of the corpus juris. [2] One best explains the signification of the term corpus juris canonici by showing the successive meanings which were usually assigned to it in the past and at the present day.

Under the name of "corpus canonum" ('body of canons') were designated the collection of Dionysius Exiguus and the Collectio Anselmo dedicata (see below). The Decretum of Gratian is already called Corpus juris canonici by a glossator of the 12th century, and Innocent IV calls by this name the Decretales or Decretals of Gregory IX. [3]

Since the second half of the 13th century, Corpus juris canonici in contradistinction to the Roman Corpus juris civilis of Justinian I, generally denoted the following collections: the "Decretals" of Gregory IX; those of Boniface VIII (Sixth Book of the Decretals); those of Clement V (Clementinæ) i. e. the collections which at that time, with the Decretum of Gratian, were taught and explained at the universities. At the present day, under the above title are commonly understood these three collections with the addition of the Decretum of Gratian, the Extravagantes (laws 'circulating outside' the standard sources) of John XXII, and the Extravagantes Communes.

Thus understood, the term dates back to the 16th century and was officially sanctioned by Gregory XIII. [4] The earliest editions of these texts printed under the now usual title of Corpus juris canonici, date from the end of the 16th century (Frankfort, 8vo, 1586; Paris, fol., 1587).

In the strict sense of the word the Church does not possess a corpus juris clausum ('closed body of law'), i. e. a collection of laws to which new ones cannot be added. The Council of Basle (Sess. XXIII, ch. vi) and the decree of the Congregation "Super statu regularium" (25 January 1848) do not speak of a corpus clausum; the first refers to "reservationibus in corpore juris expresse clausis": reservations of ecclesiastical benefices contained in the Corpus juris, especially in the Liber sextus of Boniface VIII, to the exclusion of those held in the Extravagantes described below, and at that time not comprised in the Corpus juris canonici; the second speaks of "cuilibet privilegio, licet in corpore juris clauso et confirmato", i. e. of privileges not only granted by the Holy See but also inserted in the official collections of canon law.

Jus novum and Corpus juris canonici

Decretum Gratiani

It was about 1150 that Gratian, professor of theology at the University of Bologna and sometimes believed to have been a Camaldolese monk, composed the work entitled by himself Concordia discordantium canonum, but called by others Nova collectio, Decreta, Corpus juris canonici, also Decretum Gratiani, the latter being now the commonly accepted name. He did this to obviate the difficulties which beset the study of practical, external theology (theologia practica externa), i. e. the study of canon law. In spite of its great reputation and wide diffusion, the Decretum has never been recognized by the Church as an official collection.


The general laws of a later date than the "Decree" of Gratian have been called "Extravagantes", i. e. laws not contained in Gratian's Decretum (Vagantes extra Decretum). These were soon brought together in new collections, five of which (Quinque compilationes antiquæ) possessed a special authority. Two of them, namely the third and the fifth, are the most ancient official compilations of the Roman Church (see Papal Decretals). Among other compilations at the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the 13th century the following deserve special attention: "Appendix concilii Lateranensis III"; the collections known as "Bambergensis" (Bamberg), "Lipsiensis" (Leipzig), "Casselana" (Cassel) "Halensis" (Halle), and "Lucensis" (Lucca), so named from the libraries it which the manuscripts of these collections were found; the collection of the Italian Benedictine Rainerus Pomposianus, that of the English canonist Gilbert (Collectio Gilberti), that of his countryman Alanus, professor at Bologna (Collectio Alani) and that of the Spaniard Bernard of Compostella. But soon the new era of official collections began to dawn.

Decretales Gregorii IX

In 1230 Gregory IX ordered St. Raymund of Pennafort to make a new collection, which is called the "Decretals of Gregory IX" (Decretales Gregorii IX). To this collection he gave force of law by the Bull "Rex pacificus", 5 September 1234. This collection is also known to canonists as the "Liber extra", i. e. extra Decretum Gratiani.

Liber Sextus

Boniface VIII published a similar code on 3 March 1298, called the "Sixth Book of the Decretals" (Liber Sextus), including the Regulæ Juris .

Liber Septimus

John XXII added to it the last official collection of Canon law, the "Liber Septimus Decretalium", better known under the title of "Constitutiones Clementis V", or simply "Clementinæ" (Quoniam nulla, 25 October 1317).

Extravagantes Joannis XXII and Extravagantes communes

Later on the canonists added to the manuscripts of the "Decretals" the most important constitutions of succeeding popes. These were soon known and quoted as "Extravagantes", i. e. twenty constitutions of John XXII himself, and those of other popes to 1484. In the Paris edition of the canonical collections (1499–1505) Jean Chappuis drew them up in the form since then universally accepted, and kept for the first the name "Extravagantes Joannis XXII", and called the others, "Extravagantes communes", i. e. commonly met with in the manuscripts of the "Decretals" (see Papal Decretals).

The "Corpus Juris Canonici" was now complete, but it contained collections of widely different juridical value. Considered as collections, the "Decree" of Gratian, the "Extravagantes Joannis XXII" and the "Extravagantes communes" never had a legal value, but the documents which they contain often do possess very great authority. Moreover, custom has even given to several apocryphal canons of the "Decree" of Gratian the force of law. The other collections are official, and consist of legislative decisions still binding, unless abrogated by subsequent legislation.

The collections of Gregory IX (Libri quinque Decretalium) and of Boniface VIII (Liber Sextus) are moreover exclusive. The former, indeed, abrogated all the laws contained in the aforesaid compilations subsequent to the "Decree" of Gratian. Several authors however maintained, but wrongly, that it abrogated also all the ancient laws which had not been incorporated in Gratian. The second abrogated all the laws passed at a later date than the "Decretals" of Gregory IX and not included in itself. Each of these three collections is considered as one collection (collectio una), i. e. one of which all the decisions have the same value, even if they appear to contain antinomies. In cases of contradiction, the decisions of the collections of later date invalidate those found in a collection of an earlier date.

The "Decretals" of Gregory IX, those of Boniface VIII and the "Clementinæ' are divided uniformly into five books ( liber ), the books into titles ( titulus ), the titles into chapters (caput), and treat successively of jurisdiction (judex), procedure (judicium), the clergy (clerus), marriage (connubium), and delinquencies (crimen). The rubrics, i. e. the summaries of the various titles, have the force of law, if they contain a complete meaning; on the other hand, the summaries of the chapters have not this juridical value.

Manner of statutory citation

It is customary to quote these collections by indicating the number of the chapter, the title of the collection, the heading of the title, the number of the book and the title. The "Decretals" of Gregory IX are indicated by the letter "X", i. e. extra Decretum Gratiani; the "Sixth Book" or "Decretals" of Boniface VIII by "in VIº" i. e. "in Sexto"; the "Clementines" by "in Clem.", i. e. "in Clementinis". For instance: "c. 2, X, De pactis, I, 35", refers to the second chapter of the "Decretals" of Gregory IX, first book, title 35; "c. 2, in VIº, De hæreticis, V, 2", refers to the second chapter of the "Decretals" of Boniface VIII, fifth book, title. 2; "c. 2, in Clem., De testibus, II, 8", refers to the second chapter of the "Clementines", second book, title 8. If there is only one chapter in a title, or if the last chapter is quoted, these passages are indicated by "c. unic.", and "c. ult.", i. e. "caput. unicum" and "caput ultimum". Sometimes also the indication of the number of the chapters is replaced by the first words of the chapter, as for instance: c. Odoardus. In such cases the number of the chapter may be found in the index-tables printed in all the editions.

The "Extravagantes Communes" are divided and quoted in the same manner as the "Decretals", and the collection is indicated by the abbreviation: "Extrav. Commun." For instance: "c. 1 (or unicum, or Ambitiosæ), Extrav. Commun., De rebus Ecclesiæ non alienandis, III, 4", refers to the first chapter (the only chapter) in book III, title 4 of the "Extravagantes Communes". This collection omits the usual "Liber IV" which treats of marriage. The "Extravagantes of John XXII" are divided only into titles and chapters. They are indicated by the abbreviation, "Extrav. Joan. XXII". For instance: "c. 2, Extrav. Joan. XXII, De verborum significatione XIV" refers to the second chapter of the fourteenth title of this collection.

Very soon after the invention of printing editions of the "Corpus Juris", with or without the gloss (comments of canonists) were published. We already mentioned the importance of the Paris edition (1499–1505) for the two collections of "Extravagantes"; it includes the gloss. The last edition with the gloss is that of Lyons (1671).

Post-Tridentine Revision

Though the Council of Trent (1545–63) did not order a revision of the text of the canonical collections, St. Pius V appointed in 1566 a commission to prepare a new edition of the "Corpus Juris Canonici". This commission devoted itself especially to the correction of the text of the "Decree" of Gratian and of its gloss. Gregory XIII decreed that no change was to be made in the revised text. [5] This edition of the "Corpus" appeared at Rome in 1582, in œdibus populi Romani, and serves as exemplar for all subsequent editions. The best-known, previous to the 19th century, are those of the brothers Pithou (Paris, 1687), Freiesleben (Prague, 1728) and the Protestant canonist Böhmer (Halle-Magdeburg, 1747). The text of the latter edition differs from that of the Roman edition of 1582, and does not therefore possess practical utility. The edition of Richter (Leipzig, 1833–39) avoids this defect and is valuable for its critical notes. The edition of Friedberg (Leipzig, 1879–81) does not reproduce the text of the Roman edition for the "Decree" of Gratian, but gives the Roman text of the other collections. it is the best and most critical edition.

Further reading

Smith, Sebastian B. (1882) [1882]. Elements of ecclesiastical law. 2 (1st ed.). New York [u.a.]: Benziger brothers. OCLC   847944562.
Smith, Sebastian B. (c. 1890) [1888]. Elements of ecclesiastical law. 3 (3rd ed.). New York [u.a.]: Benziger brothers. OCLC   6319850.


  1. Berman, Law and Revolution, pg. 253
  2. Jam fere sextus, 1746
  3. Ad expediendos, 9 September 1253
  4. Cum pro munere, 1 July 1580
  5. "Cum pro munere", 1 July 1580; "Emendationem", 2 June 1582


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Corpus Juris Canonici". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Related Research Articles

Giovanni dAndrea

Giovanni d'Andrea or Johannes Andreæ was an Italian expert in canon law, the most renowned and successful canonist of the later Middle Ages. His contemporaries referred to him as iuris canonici fons et tuba. Most important among his works were extensive commentaries on all of the official collections of papal decretals, papal judgments in the form of letters to delegated judges that were at the core of canon law.

Religious law includes ethical and moral codes taught by religious traditions. Different religious systems hold sacred law in a greater or lesser degree of importance to their belief systems, with some being explicitly antinomian whereas others are nomistic or "legalistic" in nature. In particular, religions such as Judaism, Islam and the Baháʼí Faith teach the need for revealed positive law for both state and society, whereas other religions such as Christianity generally reject the idea that this is necessary or desirable and instead emphasise the eternal moral precepts of divine law over the civil, ceremonial or judicial aspects, which may have been annulled as in theologies of grace over law.

Decretals are letters of a pope that formulate decisions in ecclesiastical law of the Catholic Church.

<i>Decretum Gratiani</i> Collection of Roman Catholic canon law compiled and written by Gratian in the 12th century

The Decretum Gratiani, also known as the Concordia discordantium canonum or Concordantia discordantium canonum or simply as the Decretum, is a collection of canon law compiled and written in the 12th century as a legal textbook by the jurist known as Gratian. It forms the first part of the collection of six legal texts, which together became known as the Corpus Juris Canonici. It was used by canonists of the Roman Catholic Church until the Decretals, promulgated by Pope Gregory IX in 1234, obtained legal force.

The Apostolic Canons or Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles or Canons of the Holy Apostles is a 4th-century Syrian Christian text. It is an Ancient Church Order, a collection of ancient ecclesiastical decrees concerning the government and discipline of the Early Christian Church, allegedly written by the Apostles first found as the last chapter of the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions. Like the other Ancient Church Orders, the Apostolic Canons use a pseudepigraphic form.


Huguccio was an Italian canon lawyer.

The canon law of the Catholic Church is the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the hierarchical authorities of the Catholic 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 and is the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the West, while the unique traditions of Eastern Catholic canon law govern the 23 Eastern Catholic particular churches sui iuris.

Regulæ Juris, also spelled Regulae iuris were legal maxims which served as jurisprudence in Roman law.

Collections of ancient canons contain collected bodies of canon law that originated in various documents, such as papal and synodal decisions, and that can be designated by the generic term of canons.

<i>Decretales Gregorii IX</i> Canon law codification

The Decretals of Gregory IX, also collectively called the Liber extra, are an important source of medieval Canon Law. In 1230, Pope Gregory IX ordered his chaplain and confessor, St. Raymond of Penyafort, a Dominican, to form a new canonical collection destined to replace all former collections. It has been said that the pope by this measure wished especially to emphasize his power over the Universal Church.

Bernard of Botone was a noted Italian canonist of the thirteenth century. He is generally called Bern(h)ardus Parmensis or Bernard of Parma, from his birthplace Parma.

BĂ©renger Fredoli

Bérenger Fredoli was a French canon lawyer and Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati.

The Liber Septimus may refer to one of three canonical collections of quite different value from a legal standpoint which are known by this title:

Regular clergy, or just regulars, are clerics in the Catholic Church who follow a rule of life, and are therefore also members of religious institutes. It is contrasted with secular clergy, clerics who are not bound by a rule of life.

The term Extravagantes is applied to the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, to designate some papal decretals not contained in certain canonical collections which possess a special authority. More precisely, they are not found in Gratian's Decretum or the three official collections of the Corpus Juris Canonici.

1917 Code of Canon Law Former codification of canonical legislation of the Latin Catholic Church, valid from 1917 until 1983

The 1917 Code of Canon Law, also referred to as the Pio-Benedictine Code, was the first official comprehensive codification of Latin canon law. It was promulgated on 27 May 1917 and took legal effect on 19 May 1918. It was in force until the 1983 Code of Canon Law took legal effect and abrogated it on 27 November 1983. It has been described as "the greatest revolution in canon law since the time of Gratian".

Jus antiquum is a period in the legal history of the Catholic Church, spanning from the beginning of the church to the Decretum of Gratian, i.e. from A.D. 33 to around 1150. In the first 10 centuries of the church, there was a great proliferation of canonical collections, mostly assembled by private individuals and not by church authority as such.

The legal history of the Catholic Church is the history of the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the West, much later than Roman law but predating the evolution of modern European civil law 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. Eastern canon law developed separately.

Canon (canon law) Church law promulgated by a synod or ecumenical council or by an individual bishop

The word "canon" comes from the Greek kanon, which in its original usage denoted a straight rod that was later the instrument used by architects and artificers as a measuring stick for making straight lines. Kanon eventually came to mean a rule or norm, so that when the first ecumenical council—Nicaea I—was held in 325, kanon started to obtain the restricted juridical denotation of a law promulgated by a synod or ecumenical council, as well as that of an individual bishop.

Catholic canon law is the set of rules and principles (laws) by which the Catholic Church is governed, through enforcement by governmental authorities. Law is also the field which concerns the creation and administration of laws.