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A nomocanon (Greek : Νομοκανών, Nomokanōn; from the Greek nomos - law and kanon - a rule) is a collection of ecclesiastical law, consisting of the elements from both the Civil law and the Canon law. Nomocanons form part of the Oriental canon law of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and are also used by the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Civil law, or civilian law, is a legal system originating in Europe, intellectualized within the framework of Roman law, the main feature of which is that its core principles are codified into a referable system which serves as the primary source of law. This can be contrasted with common law systems, the intellectual framework of which comes from judge-made decisional law, and gives precedential authority to prior court decisions, on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions.

Canon law is a set of ordinances and regulations made by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of a Christian organization or church and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law, or operational policy, governing the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the individual national churches within the Anglican Communion. The way that such church law is legislated, interpreted and at times adjudicated varies widely among these three bodies of churches. In all three traditions, a canon was originally a rule adopted by a church council; these canons formed the foundation of canon law.


Byzantine nomocanons

Collections of this kind were found only in Oriental canon law. The Greek Church has two principal nomocanonical collections.

Oriental canon law is the law of the 23 Catholic sui juris particular churches of the Eastern Catholic tradition. Oriental canon law includes both the common tradition among all Eastern Catholic Churches, now chiefly contained in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, as well as to the particular law proper to each individual sui juris particular Eastern Catholic Church. Oriental canon law is distinguished from Latin canon law, which developed along a separate line in the remnants of the Western Roman Empire, and is now chiefly codified in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

The first nomocanon, in the sixth century, is ascribed, though without certainty, to John Scholasticus, whose canons it utilizes and completes. He had drawn up (about 550) a purely canonical compilation in 50 titles, and later composed an extract from the Justinian's Novellae in 87 chapters [1] that relate the ecclesiastical matters. To each of the 50 titles was added the texts of the imperial laws on the same subject, with 21 additional chapters, nearly all borrowed from John's 87 chapters. [2] Thus the Nomocanon of John Scholasticus was made.

John Scholasticus was the 32nd patriarch of Constantinople from April 12, 565 until his death in 577. He is also regarded as a Saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Novellae Constitutiones, or Justinian's Novels, are now considered one of the four major units of Roman law initiated by Roman Emperor Justinian I in the course of his long reign. The other three pieces are: the Codex Justinianus, the Digest, and the Institutes. Justinian's quaestor Tribonian was primarily responsible for compiling these last three. Together, the four parts are known as the Corpus Juris Civilis. Whereas the Code, Digest, and Institutes were designed by Justinian as coherent works, the Novels are diverse laws enacted after 534 that never were officially compiled during his reign.

The second nomocanon dates from the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (610–641), at which time Latin was replaced by Greek as the official language of the imperial laws. It was made by fusion of Collectio tripartita (collection of Justinian's imperial law) and Canonic syntagma (ecclesiastical canons). Afterwards, this collection would be known as Nomocanon in 14 titles.

This nomocanon was long held in esteem and passed into the Russian Church, but it was by degrees supplanted by Nomocanon of Photios in 883.

Photios I of Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople

Photios I, , also spelled Photius or Fotios, was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 858 to 867 and from 877 to 886; He is recognized in the Eastern Orthodox Church as Saint Photios the Great.

The great systematic compiler of the Eastern Church, who occupies a similar position to that of Gratian in the West, was Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century. His collection in two parts—a chronologically ordered compilation of synodical canons and a revision of the Nomocanon—formed and still forms the classic source of ancient Church Law for the Greek Church. [3]

Basically it was Nomocanon in 14 titles with the addition of 102 canons of Trullan Council (see Canon law), 17 canons of the Council of Constantinople of 861, [4] and three canons substituted by Photios for those of the Council of Constantinople in 869. Nomocanon in 14 titles was completed with the more recent imperial laws.

This whole collection was commentated about 1170 by Theodore Balsamon, [5] Greek Patriarch of Antioch residing at Constantinople. Nomocanon of Photios was supplemented by this commentary and became Pedalion (Greek : Πηδάλιον - rudder), a sort of Corpus Juris of the Eastern Orthodox Church, printed in 1800 by Patriarch Neophytos VII.

Nomocanon of Photios retained in the law of the Greek Church and it was included in Syntagma, published by Rallis and Potlis (Athens, 1852–1859). Even though called Syntagma, the collection of ecclesiastical law of Matthew Blastares in 1335) is the real nomocanon, in which the texts of the laws and the canons are arranged in alphabetical order. [6]

St. Sava's Nomocanon

First page of St. Sava's Nomocanon, manuscript, 1262 Savino Zakonopravilo - Ilovichki prepis, 1262.jpg
First page of St. Sava's Nomocanon, manuscript, 1262

The Nomocanon of Saint Sava or (Serbian : Zakonopravilo, Savino Zakonopravilo) was the first Serbian constitution and the highest code in the Serbian Orthodox Church, finished in 1219. This legal act was well developed. St. Sava's Nomocanon [7] was the compilation of Civil law, based on Roman Law [8] [9] and Canon law, based on Ecumenical Councils and its basic purpose was to organize functioning of the young Serbian kingdom and the Serbian church.

During the Nemanjić dynasty (1166-1371) Serbian medieval state was flourishing in the spheres of politics, religion and culture. As the state developed, also the industry developed, so the law had to regulate various number of relations. Therefore, with the development of economy, Roman Law was taken. In that time Serbia was not a tsarish empire, so its ruler could not create code of laws, which would regulate the relations in the state and church. Serbian rulers reigned with single legal acts and decrees. In order to overcome this problem and organize legal system, after acquiring religious independence, Saint Sava finished his Zakonopravilo in 1219.

Zakonopravilo was accepted in Bulgaria, Romania and Russia. It was printed in Moscow in the 17th century. So, Roman-Byzantine law was transplanting among East Europe through Zakonopravilo. In Serbia, it was considered as the code of the divine law and it was implemented into Dušan's code (Serbian : Dušanov zakonik) [10] (1349 and 1354). It was the only code among Serbs in the time of the Ottoman reign.

During the Serbian Revolution (1804) priest Mateja Nenadović established Zakonopravilo as the code of the liberated Serbia. It was also implemented in Serbian civil code (1844). Zakonopravilo is still used in the Serbian Orthodox Church as the highest church code.

See also

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Byzantine law

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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 Oriental canon law govern the 23 Eastern Catholic particular churches sui iuris.

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<i>Syntagma Canonum</i> medieval canonical collection

Syntagma Canonum is a canonical collection made in 1335 by Matthew Blastares, a Greek monk about whose life nothing certain is known. The collector aimed at reducing canon law to a handier and more accessible form than it appeared in the Nomocanon of Photius, and to give a more comprehensive presentation than the epitomes and synopses of earlier writers such as Stephen, Aristenus (1160), Arsenius (1255), et al. The author arranged his matter in alphabetical order. He made 24 general divisions, each marked off by a letter of the Greek alphabet. These sections he subdivided into 303 titles, themselves distinguished by letters; for example, the third section contains such topics as: peri gamou, peri gynaikon, etc. The titles ordinarily treat of the civil law, as well as ecclesiastical law. Some titles however are purely ecclesiastical, others purely civil. The church ordinances are quoted from previous collections, especially from the Nomocanon (883), while the extracts from the civil law are for the most part transcribed without any reference to their origin. The compilation soon came into general use among the clergy, and preserved its authority even under Ottoman rule. A translation into Serbian followed close upon its first publication. It even worked its way into the political life of the Serbian people through an abridgment which Serbian Emperor Dušan appended to his code of laws (1349). From this the purely ecclesiastical enactments were excluded, but the civil law contained in the Syntagma was reproduced whenever adaptable to the social condition of the people. In the sixteenth century the Syntagma Canonum was translated into Bulgarian; in the seventeenth century into Russian.

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The Nomocanon of Saint Sava, known in Serbian as Zakonopravilo (Законоправило) or Krmčija (Крмчија), was the first Serbian constitution and the highest code in the Serbian Orthodox Church, finished in 1219. This legal act was well developed. St. Sava's Nomocanon was the Civil law and its basic purpose was to organize continuation and functioning of the Serbian kingdom and the Serbian church.

Saint Sava First Archbishop of Serbs

Saint Sava, known as the Enlightener, was a Serbian prince and Orthodox monk, the first Archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Church, the founder of Serbian law, and a diplomat. Sava, born as Rastko, was the youngest son of Serbian Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja, and ruled the appanage of Hum briefly in 1190–92. He then left for Mount Athos, where he became a monk with the name Sava (Sabbas). At Athos he established the monastery of Hilandar, which became one of the most important cultural and religious centres of the Serbian people. In 1219 the Patriarchate exiled in Nicea recognized him as the first Serbian Archbishop, and in the same year he authored the oldest known constitution of Serbia, the Zakonopravilo nomocanon, thus securing full independence; both religious and political. Sava is regarded as the founder of Serbian medieval literature.

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Kormchaia collections of church and secular law

Kórmchaia Book, pl. Kórmchiye Books or Books of the Pilot or Pidalion or Nomocanon are collections of church and secular law, which constituted guide books for the management of the church and for the church court of Orthodox Slavic countries and are transmission of several old texts. It were written in Old Church Slavonic and Old Russian.


  1. For the canonical collection see Voellus and Henri Justel, "Bibliotheca juris canonici", Paris, 1661, II, 449 sqq.; for the 87 chapters, Pitra, "Juris ecclesiastici Græcorum historia et monumenta", Rome, 1864, II, 385)
  2. Voellus and Justellus, op. cit., II, 603.
  3. Fr. Justin Taylor, essay "Canon Law in the Age of the Fathers" (published in Jordan Hite, T.O.R., & Daniel J. Ward, O.S.B., "Readings, Cases, Materials in Canon Law: A Textbook for Ministerial Students, Revised Edition" (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990), p. 61
  4. "Photian Synods of Constantinople (861, 867, 879)". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1908. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  5. Nomocanon with Balsamon's commentary in Voellus and Justellus, II, 815; P. G., CIV, 441.
  6. P. G., loc. cit.; Beveridge, "Synodicon", Oxford, 1672.
  7. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-23. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  8. "S. P. Scott: The Civil Law" . Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2010-05-10.
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-03. Retrieved 2010-07-25.


Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Nomocanon". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton.