Person (canon law)

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In the canon law of the Catholic Church, a person is a subject of certain legal rights and obligations. [1] [2] Persons may be distinguished between physical and juridic persons. Juridic persons may be distinguished as collegial or non-collegial, and public or private juridic persons. The Holy See and the Catholic Church as such are not juridic persons, since juridic persons are created by ecclesiastical law. Rather, they are moral persons by divine law.

Physical persons

By baptism a natural person is incorporated into the church and is constituted a person in the same. All the validly baptized, called Christifideles, have the status of physical persons under Catholic canon law.

Age of reason

The age of reason is the age at which children attain the use of reason and begin to have moral responsibility. On completion of the seventh year a minor is presumed to have the use of reason, [3] but intellectual disability can prevent some individuals from ever attaining the use of reason. The term "use of reason" appears in the Code of Canon Law 17 times, but "age of reason" does not appear. [4] However, the term "age of reason" is used in canon law commentaries such as the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law published by Paulist Press in 2002.

Children who do not have the use of reason and the mentally disabled are sometimes called "innocents" because of their inability to commit sins: even if their actions are objectively sinful, they sometimes lack capacity for subjective guilt.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Eucharist and Confirmation are given immediately after baptism, even to infants who do not yet have the use of reason. In Latin Rite Catholicism, Confirmation is conferred, except in danger of death, only on persons who have the use of reason; [5] and Holy Communion may be administered to children only if "they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the Body of Christ with faith and devotion." [6] In danger of death, the Eucharist may be administered also to children who lack the use of reason, if the child can distinguish the sacrament from ordinary food and receive it reverently. [6] This is likewise true for those who have severe intellectual disabilities such that they are not assumed ever to gain the use of reason.

Age of majority

The age of majority in the Catholic Church is 18 [7] following the consensus of Civil law, though, until Advent 1983, [8] the Age of Majority was 21 in the Latin Church, [9] based on the age of majority according to Roman Law.

Juridic persons

In simple terms, a juridic person is an artificial construct under canon law that allows a group of persons or things to function and be treated under canon law as a single unit. The 1917 Code of Canon Law referred to all juridic persons as "moral persons", [10] while the 1983 Code of Canon Law uses the term "moral person" solely to designate the Apostolic See and the Catholic Church itself. [11]

A more thorough definition is given by Kennedy: "A juridic person... is an artificial person, distinct from all natural persons or material goods, constituted by competent ecclesiastical authority for an apostolic purpose, with a capacity for continuous existence and with canonical rights and duties like those of a natural person... conferred upon it by law or by the authority which constitutes it and to which it is also accountable under canon law." [12] [13]

The doctrine of juridic personality is thought to have its origins in canon law. It has been attributed to Pope Innocent IV, who seems at least to have helped spread the idea of persona ficta as it is called in Latin. In the early church, the doctrine of persona ficta allowed monasteries to have a legal existence that was apart from the monks, simplifying the difficulty in balancing the need for such groups to have infrastructure though the monks took vows of personal poverty. Another effect of this was that as a fictional person, a monastery could not be held guilty of delict due to not having a soul, helping to protect the organization from non-contractual obligations to surrounding communities. This effectively moved such liability to individuals acting within the organization while protecting the structure itself, since individuals were considered to have a soul and therefore capable of being guilty of negligence and excommunicated. [14]

Canonical age

Canonical age in Roman Catholic canon law is an age one must reach, counting from birth, when one becomes capable of incurring certain obligations, enjoying special privileges, embracing special states of life, holding office or dignity, or receiving the sacraments.

Each of these human acts requires a development of mind, body, or spirit appropriate to its free and voluntary acceptance and an adequate knowledge of, and capacity for, the duties and obligations attached. The ages prescribed by canon law differ, as do the privileges, offices, and dignities to which they apply.


  1. Baptism: the sacrament can be validly administered regardless of age.
  2. Confirmation: the canonical age is seven, the age of reason.
  3. Holy Communion: the canonical age is seven [ dubious ], the age of reason. Children in danger of death, capable of committing and confessing to mortal sin, and of distinguishing heavenly from ordinary food, when desirous of receiving Holy Communion, must not be denied it, although they may not have achieved the minimum age prescribed.
  4. Confession: the canonical age is seven, the age of reason. From this age, Catholics are bound by the law of annual confession.
  5. Anointing of the Sick: the sacrament is to be administered to a Catholic of seven years or older.
  6. Holy Orders: the sacrament can be received at the earliest at 23 years (deacons), 25 years (priest) or 35 years (bishop), according to canon 1031 CIC. Dispensations can be granted by the Apostolic See.
  7. Marriage: the marriageable age is 16 years for males and 14 years for females. The same minimum age is required for a non-sacramental marriage (e.g. marriage between a Catholic and a non-Christian). Dispensations (by the Apostolic See) are theoretically possible, yet even theoretically only if the children in question have reached sexual maturity).

From the age of seven years, all Catholics are bound to hear Holy Mass on every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. To be a sponsor in the conferring of baptism and confirmation, they have to be confirmed and normally be 16 years old (canon 874 CIC). The days of abstinence are to be respected by Catholics of at least 14 years old; the law of fasting (i.e. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) from 18 till 59 years (canon 1252 CIC).

Priesthood, orders, and clerical office

The ancient discipline was neither universal nor fixed, but varied with circumstances of time and locality. The requisite age, according to Gratian, for tonsure and the first three minor orders, those of doorkeeper, reader, and exorcist, was seven, and for acolyte, twelve years.

The Council of Trent fixed the ages of 21 years and 1 day for subdeaconship, 22 years and 1 day for deaconship, and 24 years and 1 day for priesthood. At present, the canon 1031 CIC fixed the ages of 23 for deaconship and 25 for priesthood. The first day of the year in which the canonical age is to be reached is sufficiently timely for the reception of the order. Trent confirmed the Lateran age of thirty years for the episcopate. The age for cardinals (including cardinal-deacons) was fixed by the Council at thirty years of age. Presently, the general age for a permanent deacon is thirty-five years of age. [15]

No age is fixed by law for election to the papacy.

Generals, provincials, abbots, and other regular prelates having quasi-episcopal jurisdiction must, according to many, have completed their thirtieth year before election; according to others, their 25th year. Various orders and congregations, however, have their own rules for the requisite ages for inferior offices and dignities.

The Council of Trent (Sess. xxv, cap. 7, de regular. et monial.) fixed forty years, and eight years after her profession, for an abbess, mother general, or prioress of a religious order of nuns. Could none such be found in a monastery (convent), then a nun over thirty years old and more than five years professed, can be elected. An election contrary to these rules is invalid.

For clothing with the religious habit or entrance into the novitiate, no age is fixed by decretal law.

For religious profession, the Council of Trent prescribes sixteen years of age, with one year of novitiate. The latest enactment, prescribing simple vows for three continuous years after the novitiate before solemn profession, fixes the age for solemn profession at nineteen years for both men and women.

Related Research Articles

Anointing of the sick form of religious anointing for the benefit of a sick person, practiced by various Christian denominations

Anointing of the sick, known also by other names, is a form of religious anointing or "unction" for the benefit of a sick person. It is practiced by many Christian churches and denominations.

Confirmation rite where baptism is confirmed in several Christian denominations

In Christian denominations that practice infant baptism, confirmation is seen as the sealing of Christianity created in baptism. Those being confirmed are known as confirmands. In some denominations, such as the Anglican Communion and Methodist Churches, confirmation bestows full membership in a local congregation upon the recipient. In others, such as the Roman Catholic Church, confirmation "renders the bond with the Church more perfect", because, while a baptized person is already a member, "reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace".

Marriage in the Catholic Church

Marriage in the Catholic Church, also called matrimony, is the "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring", and which "has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptised." Catholic matrimonial law, based on Roman law regarding its focus on marriage as a free mutual agreement or contract, became the basis for the marriage law of all European countries, at least up to the Reformation.

Infant communion

Infant communion, also known as paedocommunion, refers to the practice of giving the Eucharist, often in the form of consecrated wine, to young children. This practice is standard in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches; here, communion is given at the Divine Liturgy to all baptized and chrismated church members regardless of age. Infant communion is less common in most other Christian denominations, including the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

Valid but illicit and valid but illegal are descriptions applied in Catholic Church to an unauthorized celebration of a sacrament or an improperly placed juridic act that nevertheless has effect. Validity is presumed whenever an act is placed "by a qualified person and includes those things which essentially constitute the act itself as well as the formalities and requirements imposed by law for the validity of the act".

Confirmation in the Catholic Church Catholic sacrament

Confirmation or Chrismation is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It is also one of the three sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church, the other two being Baptism and Holy Communion.

In the canon law of the Catholic Church, an impediment is a legal obstacle that prevents a sacrament from being performed validly and/or licitly. The term is used most frequently in relationship to the sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders. Some canonical impediments can be dispensed by the competent authority as defined in Canon Law.

Anointing of the Sick in the Catholic Church One of the sacraments in the Catholic Church

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to a Catholic "who, having reached the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age", except in the case of those who "persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin". Proximate danger of death, the occasion for the administration of Viaticum, is not required, but only the onset of a medical condition of serious illness or injury or simply old age: "It is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."

Formal act of defection from the Catholic Church

A formal act of defection from the Catholic Church was an externally provable juridic act of departure from the Catholic Church, which was recognized from 1983 to 2010 in the Code of Canon Law as having certain juridical effects enumerated in canons 1086, 1117, and 1124. The concept of "formal" act of defection was narrower than that of "notorious" defection recognized in the 1917 Code of Canon Law and still narrower than the concept of "de facto" defection. In 2006, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts specified in what a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church consisted. In 2009, all mention of a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church and of any juridical effects deriving from it was removed from the Code.

Regarding the canon law of the Catholic Church, canonists provide and obey rules for the interpretation and acceptation of words, in order that legislation is correctly understood and the extent of its obligation is determined.

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.

Canon 1398 is a rule of canon law of the Catholic Church which declares that "a person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication."

Canon 915, one of the canons in the 1983 Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church of the Catholic Church, forbids the administration of Holy Communion to those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared or who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

Glossary of the Catholic Church

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church.

In the canon law of the Catholic Church, excommunication, the principal and severest censure, is a medicinal, spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society. Being a penalty, it presupposes guilt; and being the most serious penalty that the Catholic Church can inflict, it naturally supposes a very grave offense.

Sacraments of the Catholic Church seven visible rituals that Catholics see as signs of Gods presence, consisting of those of initiation (baptism, confirmation, eucharist), of healing (reconciliation, anointing of the sick), and of service (holy orders, matrimony)

There are seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, which according to Catholic theology were instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church. Sacraments are visible rites seen as signs and efficacious channels of the grace of God to all those who receive them with the proper disposition. The sevenfold list of sacraments is often organized into three categories: the sacraments of initiation, consisting of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist; the sacraments of healing, consisting of Penance and Anointing of the Sick; and the sacraments of service: Holy Orders and Matrimony.

Canon 844 is a Catholic Church canon law contained within the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which defines the licit administration and reception of certain sacraments of the Catholic Church in normative and in particular exceptional circumstances, known in canonical theory as communicatio in sacris.

The term ratum sed non consummatum or ratum et non consummatum refers to a juridical-sacramental category of marriage in Catholic matrimonial canon law. If a matrimonial celebration takes place (ratification) but the spouses have not yet engaged in intercourse (consummation), then the marriage is said to be a marriage ratum sed non consummatum. The Tribunal of the Roman Rota has exclusive competence to dispense from marriages ratum sed non consummatum, which can only be granted for a "just reason". This process should not be confused with the process for declaring the nullity of marriage, which is treated of in a separate title of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

The jurisprudence of Catholic canon law is the complex of legal theory, traditions, and interpretative principles of Catholic canon law. In the Latin Church, the jurisprudence of canon law was founded by Gratian in the 1140s with his Decretum. In the Oriental canon law of the Eastern Catholic Churches, Photios holds a place similar to that of Gratian for the West.


  1. Canon 96, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  2. Canon 113 §2, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  3. Code of Canon Law, canon 97 §2
  4. Code of Canon Law, concordance of the word "reason"
  5. Code of Canon Law, canon 889 §2
  6. 1 2 Code of Canon Law, canon 913
  7. 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 97
  8. Ap. Const. Sacrae Disciplinae Leges
  9. 1917 Code of Canon Law, can. 88
  10. The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, pg. 80 (commentary on Book I, Title IV, Chapter II: Juridic Persons)
  11. The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, pg. 80 (commentary on Canon 113 §1)
  12. [From Robert T. Kennedy, "Juridic Persons" in New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed. John P. Beal et al. (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000) 155. Italic text added.]
  13. Gray, Jason A., References to Statutes in the Code of Canon Law; available from; Internet; accessed 1 January 2006.
  14. (John Dewey, "The Historic Background of Corporate Legal Personality," Yale Law Journal, Vol. XXXV, April 1926, pages 655-673)
  15. Code of Canon Law 1031§3


  1. "The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary"—Edited by James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, Donald E. Heintschel (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985).

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