Oriental canon law

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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 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches is the title of the 1990 codification of the common portions of the Canon Law for the 23 Eastern Catholic churches in the Catholic Church. It is divided into 30 titles and has a total of 1546 canons. The Western Latin Church is guided by its own particular Canons.

Western Roman Empire Independently administered western provinces of the Roman Empire

In historiography, the Western Roman Empire refers to the western provinces of the Roman Empire at any time during which they were administered by a separate independent Imperial court; in particular, this term is used to describe the period from 395 to 476, where there were separate coequal courts dividing the governance of the empire in the Western and the Eastern provinces, with a distinct imperial succession in the separate courts. The terms Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire are modern descriptions that describe political entities that were de facto independent; contemporary Romans did not consider the Empire to have been split into two separate empires but viewed it as a single polity governed by two separate imperial courts as an administrative expediency. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476, and the Western imperial court was formally dissolved in 480. The Eastern imperial court survived until 1453.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law, also called the Johanno-Pauline Code, is the "fundamental body of ecclesiastical laws for the Latin Church". It is the second and current comprehensive codification of canonical legislation for the Latin Church sui iuris of the Catholic Church. It was promulgated on 25 January 1983 by John Paul II and took legal effect on the First Sunday of Advent 1983. It replaced the 1917 Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Benedict XV on 27 May 1917.



A nomocanon is a collection of ecclesiastical law, consisting of the elements from both the civil law and the canon law. Collections of this kind were found only in Eastern law. The Greek Church has two principal nomocanonical collections.

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.

The first nomocanon is the "Nomocanon of John Scholasticus" of the sixth century. He had drawn up (about 550) a purely canonical compilation in 50 titles, and later composed an extract from the Justinian's Novellae Constitutiones in 87 chapters [lower-alpha 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. [1]

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 (r. 610–641). It was made by fusion of the 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

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. [2]

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 held in 861, [3] 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.

The Council of Constantinople of 861, also known as Protodeutera, was a major Church Council, convened upon the initiative of Emperor Michael III of Byzantium and Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople, and attended by legates of Pope Nicholas I. The Council confirmed the deposition of former Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople, and his replacement by Photios. Several dogmatic, ecclesiological and liturgical questions were also discussed, and seventeen canons were produced. Decisions of the Council were initially approved by papal legates, but their approval was later annulled by the Pope. In spite of that, the Council is considered as valid by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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. [4]


Following the example of the famous council of Lebanon for the Maronites, held in 1730, and that of Zamosc for the Ruthenians, in 1720, the Eastern Churches, at the suggestion of Leo XIII, drew up in plenary assembly their own local law: the Syrians at Sciarfa in 1888; the Ruthenians at Leopol in 1891; and a little later, the Copts. [5]

Benedict XV founds the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church

Until 1917, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had a division for the "Affairs of the Oriental Rite", which ceased to exist on 30 November 1917. Benedict XV founded the, Motu Proprio Dei Providentis. [6]

The Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church was presided over by the Supreme Pontiff himself and included several Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, one of which functioned in the capacity of Secretary. [7] There were also Councillors, chosen from among the more distinguished clergy and those experienced in things oriental. [7]

Reforms of Pius XII

With his concern for the Eastern Catholic Churches with their combined ten million members, Pope Pius continued the initiatives of his predecessors, especially Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI. These Churches, not unlike the Latin Church before the Code of 1917, had their own ancient laws, which were not codified. The reform of Oriental Church laws, the CIC Orientalis for the Oriental Churches, was completed during the pontificate of Pius XII. The new, very comprehensive Church laws governed matrimonial law, [8] Church trials, [9] administration of Church properties and religious orders, [10] and individual rights. [11]

Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) is the 1990 codification of the common portions of the Canon Law for the 23 of the 24 sui iuris Churches in the Catholic Church. It is divided into 30 titles and has a total of 1540 canons, [12] with an introductory section of preliminary canons. Pope John Paul II promulgated the CCEO on October 18, 1990, by the document Sacri Canones, [13] and the CCEO came into force on October 1, 1991. [14] The 23 sui iuris Churches which collectively make up the Eastern Catholic Churches have been invited by the Catholic Church to codify their own particular laws and submit them to the pope so that all canon law within Catholicism may be fully and completely codified. The Latin Church is guided by its own particular canons found in the 1983 Code of Canon Law .

Congregation for the Oriental Churches

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The Congregation for the Oriental Churches is a dicastery of the Roman Curia and the curial congregation responsible for contact with the Eastern Catholic Churches for the sake of assisting their development, protecting their rights and also maintaining whole and entire in the one Catholic Church, alongside the liturgical, disciplinary and spiritual patrimony of the Latin Rite, the heritage of the various Oriental Christian traditions. It "considers those matters, whether concerning persons or things, affecting the Catholic Oriental Churches" [15] and was founded by the Motu Proprio Dei Providentis of Pope Benedict XV as the "Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church" on 1 May 1917.

Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Oriental Churches, and the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, are members of this Congregation by virtue of the Law itself. [16] The consultors and officials are selected in such a way that reflects as far as possible the diversity of rites. [17]

This congregation has authority over

  1. all matters which relate to the Oriental Churches referred to the Holy See (structure and organisation of the Churches; exercise of the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling; status, rights and obligations of persons) and
  2. the ad limina visits of Eastern bishops. [18]

This congregation's competence does not include the exclusive competence of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the Causes of Saints, of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Signatura, and the Rota (including what pertains to dispensations for a marriage ratum sed non consummatum . [lower-alpha 2] In matters which affect the Eastern as well as the Latin Churches, the Congregation operates, if the matter is important enough, in consultation with the Dicastery that has competence in the matter for the Latin Church. [19]

The Congregation pays special attention to communities of Eastern Catholic faithful who live in the territory of the Latin Church and attends to their spiritual needs by providing visitors and even their own hierarchs, so far as possible and where numbers and circumstances require, in consultation with the Congregation competent to establish Particular Churches in the region. [21]


  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. This is according to Pastor Bonus article 58 §2. [19] However, in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI amended Pastor Bonus with the Motu Proprio Quaerit Semper, thereby transferring jurisdiction over ratified and non-consummated marriage from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to a special Office of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. The law obrogated the provision stating the 'exclusive competence' of the Congregation for Divine Worship regarding these marriages, for this provision was not expressly abrogated and the Office at the Roman Rota now oversees dispensations from such marriages. [20]

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The Eastern Catholic Churches or Oriental Catholic Churches, also called the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches, and in some historical cases Uniate Churches, are twenty-three Eastern Christian particular churches sui iuris in full communion with the Pope in Rome, as part of the worldwide Catholic Church. Headed by patriarchs, metropolitans, and major archbishops, the Eastern Catholic Churches are governed in accordance with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, although each church also has its own canons and laws on top of this, and the preservation of their own traditions is explicitly encouraged. The total membership of the various churches accounts for about 18 million, according to the Annuario Pontificio, thus making up about 1.5 percent of the Catholic Church, with the rest of its more than 1.3 billion members belonging to the Latin Church, also known as the Western Church or the Roman Catholic Church.

An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Roman Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop. The word comes from Late Latin encyclios.

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The Congregation for the Oriental Churches is a dicastery of the Roman Curia, and the curial congregation responsible for contact with the Eastern Catholic Churches for the sake of assisting their development and protecting their rights. It also maintains whole and entire in the one Catholic Church, alongside the liturgical, disciplinary, and spiritual patrimony of the Latin Rite, the heritage and Oriental canon law of the various Eastern Catholic traditions. It has exclusive authority over the following regions: Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, southern Albania and Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Turkey, and also oversees jurisdictions based in Romania, Southern Italy, Hungary, India and Ukraine. It was founded by the Motu Proprio Dei Providentis of Pope Benedict XV as the "Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church" on 1 May 1917 and "considers those matters, whether concerning persons or things, affecting the Catholic Oriental Churches."

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The Declaration on Masonic Associations is a declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith re-iterating the prohibition of Catholics from joining Masonic organizations. Its Latin title is Declaratio de associationibus massonicis. The document states that Catholics who join Masonic organizations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. It was issued in 1983 by the prefect of the congregation, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005.

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.

A nomocanon 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.

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Orientales ecclesias is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII concerning the persecution of the Eastern Catholic Churches and describing the desperate situation of the faithful in Bulgaria.

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The Eastern canonical reforms of Pope Pius XII were the several reforms of Oriental canon law and the Codex Iuris Canonici Orientalis, applying mainly to the Oriental Churches united with the Latin Church in communion with the Roman Pontiff. The Holy See's policy in this area had always two objectives, the pastoral care of approximately ten million Christians united with Rome and the creation of positive ecumenical signals to the two-hundred and fifty million Orthodox Christians outside the Church of Rome.

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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.

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  1. Voellus and Justellus, op. cit., II, 603.
  2. Taylor 1990, p. 61.
  3. Herbermann 1908.
  4. P. G., loc. cit.; Beveridge, "Synodicon", Oxford, 1672.
  5. 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, "Canon Law"
  6. Benedict XV 1917, n. 1.
  7. 1 2 Benedict XV 1917, n. 2.
  8. Pius XII 1949.
  9. Pius XII 1950.
  10. Pius XII 1952.
  11. Pius XII 1957.
  12. Vere & Trueman 2007, p. 123.
  13. John Paul II 1990.
  14. Kuzhinapurath 2008, p. 79.
  15. John Paul II 1988, art. 56.
  16. John Paul II 1988, art. 57 §1.
  17. John Paul II 1988, art. 57 §2.
  18. John Paul II 1988, art. 58 §1.
  19. 1 2 John Paul II 1988, art. 58 §2.
  20. Benedict XVI 2011.
  21. John Paul II 1988, art. 59.


  • PD-icon.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1908). "Photian Synods of Constantinople (861, 867, 879)". Catholic Encyclopedia . 4. New York: Robert Appleton. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain:  Walter George Frank Phillimore (1911). "Canon Law". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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