Promulgation (Catholic canon law)

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Promulgation in the Catholic canon law is the publication of a law by which it is made known publicly, and is required by canon law for the law to obtain legal effect. Universal laws are promulgated when they are published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis , and unless specified to the contrary, obtain legal force three months after promulgation. [1] Particular laws are promulgated in various ways but by default take effect one month after promulgation. [2]

Definition and nature

Promulgation is the act by which the legislator manifests to those subject to his jurisdiction the decision that he has made and makes known to them his intention to bind them to the observance of his law. [3]

Without having been promulgated, the canonical law in question has no legal effect, since promulgation is "an essential factor of legislation" [4] and "an absolute condition for the effectiveness of a law". [3]

For as law is a rational precept, no one can be bound to obey it if it have not been sufficiently made known to him. Ignorance takes away the voluntary ; [5] and where there is nothing voluntary there can be no fault or punishment. [6]

Promulgation is a "formal and fundamental element" [7] of canon law. For the purposes of canonical jurisprudence, promulgation is equivalent to publication. [7]

Once promulgation takes place, a canonical law acquires its last "essential condition" and takes immediate effect, [8] subject to the vacatio legis imposed by universal law, or by the particular legislator issuing a law (see section below).

The nature of promulgation in its relation to the nature of canon law is a matter of discussion among canonical writers. Some canonists hold that promulgation as such "enters the very essence of the law", [8] while Abbo & Hannan hold what they assert to be "the more probable opinion that promulgation is merely an extrinsic essential condition sine qua non." [8]

For sufficient promulgation, the law must be published in such a way that it can come to the notice of the community, although it be not brought specially and singly before the notice of individuals. [6]

Universal & particular law

A law issued by the Pope (or with his consent in the case of laws issued by an ecumenical council or congregation) is promulgated when it is published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis , and by default has the force of law three calendar months [9] after promulgation. [1]

Pontifical laws and apostolic constitutions begin to oblige, so far as is ex se, the whole world as soon as they have been solemnly promulgated in Rome and come to the knowledge of others. It is not necessary that they should be promulgated in every province or diocese unless such is stated in the laws themselves. [6]

Particular laws, issued by bishops and particular councils, are promulgated in various ways but, unless specified to the contrary, take effect one calendar month [9]

Vacatio legis

In principle, a law becomes binding from the time of its promulgation. But because there are often reasons that the immediate efficacy of a law would be detrimental to those upon whom it enjoins, the legislator often orders a delay—vacatio—in the law's applicability. [10] In Latin canon law, the vacatio legis is three months for universal laws, [11] and one month for particular laws, [12] unless the law itself establishes a longer or shorter period of time. [11] [12] The legislator of the law can stipulate a longer or shorter time of vacatio than that which is stipulated generally. [7]

Computation of time

Months are computed according to the calendar from the date of publication. [7] A "canonical month" (in contradistinction to a "calendar month") is a period of 30 days, [13] while a "calendar month" is a continuous month. The vacatio legis is computed according to the calendar; for example, if a law is promulgated on 2 November, and the vacatio legis is 3 months, then the law takes effect on 2 February. [9] So a universal law has a vacatio legis of approximately 90 days—3 months taken according to the calendar—while a particular law has a vacatio legis of approximately 30 days—1 month taken according to the calendar—unless specified to the contrary.


According to Canon 7 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Lex instituitur cum promulgatur ("A law is instituted when it is promulgated"). [14] This is an ancient provision in Latin-rite canon law, dating in its plural form to the Latin formulation of the great twelfth-century codifier of canon law, Gratian: Leges instituuntur cum promulgantur ("Laws are instituted when they are promulgated"). The exact same formulation found in Gratian's Decretum was reproduced in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, [15] while the Latin plural of the original was modified to its singular form (Leges to Lex, instituuntur to instituitur, and promulgantur to promulgatur).

In previous times laws issued by the Holy See were affixed to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Peter, the Palace of the Apostolic Chancery, and in the Campo dei Fiori. Since the laws had been posted publicly in the city (Urbi), they were deemed to have been promulgated to the world (Orbi). [3] The current method of promulgating universal laws—publishing them in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis—was introduced by Pope Pius X with the apostolic constitution Promulgandi of 29 September 1908, and was confirmed by the 1917 Code. [3]

A recent trend is to promulgate universal laws independently of their publication in the Acta Apostolicæ Sedis, with the Acta remaining the source for their official Latin text. [16] In general, the Holy See does not give its assent to translations of the Latin originals (so-called "'authentic' translations" [16] ); the Holy See is content to publish the Latin alone, as Latin is the official language of canon law. [16]

Promulgation in general

(Lat. promulgare, to make known, to post in public). This is the act by which the legislative power makes legislative enactments known to the authorities entrusted with their execution and to the subjects bound to observe them. Philosophically it is a matter of dispute whether promulgation is of the essence of a law. It seems indisputable that the essential element of a law is the will of the legislator, but it is clear that the legislator should make known his will and intention in one way or another. This manifestation is the promulgation of the law, which is not necessarily distinct from the very elaboration of the law, provided that this takes place by external acts-such as the vote of a legislative assembly or by royal sanction. Such is the practice observed in England and in most of the states of the American Union, but, as it was thought too severe, the legislation of various countries requires the promulgation of laws by a special formal act, through which the text of the law is made known to the community, e.g. by publication of this text in an official journal or bulletin of the Government. Previous to this publication the law does not take effect. The promulgation of a law must not be confounded with its publication, the object of the first being to make known the will of the legislator, of the second to spread the knowledge of legislative enactments among subjects bound to observe them.

Promulgation in canon law

The Church has long exacted the promulgation of a law by a special act of the authorities: "Leges instituuntur cum promulgantur", a law is not really a law until it has been made known, says Gratian (Decretum Gratiani, pt. I, c. 3, dist. VII). However, no special form is prescribed for acts of ecclesiastical authorities inferior to the pope, even synodal decrees being considered sufficiently promulgated by being read in the synod. The Constitution "Promulgandi" of Pius X (29 September 1908) determined the ordinary method of promulgating pontifical laws, namely by the insertion of the text of the law in the "Acta Apostolica Sedis" (the official publication of the Holy See), after the insertion has been ordered by the secretary or the supreme authority of the congregation or the office through the medium of which the pope has passed the law. A regulation of 5 January 1910, divides the official bulletin of the Holy See into two parts: in the first or official part should be inserted all documents requiring promulgation to have the force of law; the second merely serves to illustrate and supplement the first (Acta Apost. Sedis, 1910, p. 36). However, the pope explicitly reserves the right to determine in exceptional cases another method of promulgation. Prior to this law two systems had been chiefly in use in the Church-provincial promulgation, until the end of the thirteenth century, and Roman promulgation. During the first period promulgation often took place in the different ecclesiastical provinces either through special envoys or through the bishops. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that laws binding in one province were also binding in others. During the second period the custom, which became exclusive during the fifteenth century, developed of having the new laws read and posted up by cursores at Rome only, at the doors of the great basilicas, the Palazzo Cancellaria, the Campo de' fiori, and sometimes at the Capitol. The value of this means of promulgation was disputed in modern times: some claimed that the Church had admitted the arrangements of Novels lxvi and cxvi of Justinian, which required provincial promulgation for some laws; others maintained that in theory publication at Rome was sufficient, but that the popes did not wish to bind the faithful before the laws were made known to them by the bishops; while others appealed to ancient customs, to which the pope should conform. This last theory, made use of by the Gallicans and Febronianists, furnished the State with a pretext for preventing the promulgation of laws which it did not like. A special method of promulgation was also introduced with the express or tacit consent of the Holy See for the decrees of congregations; they were published at the secretariate of the dicasteries from which they emanated.

Related Research Articles

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 four 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.

Acta Apostolicae Sedis, often cited as AAS, is the official gazette of the Holy See, appearing about twelve times a year. It was established by Pope Pius X on 29 September 1908 with the decree Promulgandi Pontificias Constitutiones, and publication began in January 1909. It contains all the principal decrees, encyclical letters, decisions of Roman congregations, and notices of ecclesiastical appointments. The laws contained in it are to be considered promulgated when published, and effective three months from date of issue, unless a shorter or longer time is specified in the law.

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.

The Corpus Juris Canonici 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, Oriental canon law was codified in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which is currently in effect for the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Ecclesiastical letters are publications or announcements of the organs of Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority, e.g. the synods, but more particularly of pope and bishops, addressed to the faithful in the form of letters.

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts is a dicastery of the Roman Curia. Its work "consists mainly in interpreting the laws of the Church".. It is distinct from the highest tribunal or court in the Church, which is the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and does not have law-making authority to the degree the Pope and the Holy See's tribunals do. Its charge is the interpretation of existing canon laws, and it works closely with the Signatura and the other Tribunals and the Pope. Like the Signatura and the other two final appellate Tribunals, the Roman Rota and the Apostolic Penitentiary, it is led by a prefect who is a bishop or archbishop.

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 Eastern Orthodox Christians outside the Church of Rome.

The Acts of Roman Congregations is a term of the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, used to designate the documents issued by the Roman Congregations, in virtue of powers conferred on them by the Roman Pontiff.

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.

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.

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".

1983 Code of Canon Law 1983 codification of canonical legislation for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church

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.

Vacatio legis is a technical term in law which refers to the period between the announcement of a legislation and the time said legislation takes legal effect.

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.

In the canon law of the Catholic Church, the computation of time, also translated as the reckoning of time, is the manner by which legally-specified periods of time are calculated according to the norm of the canons on the computation of time. The application of laws frequently involves a question of time: generally three months must elapse after their promulgation before they go into effect; some obligations have to be fulfilled within a certain number of days, or weeks, or months. Hence the need of the rules for the computation of time. With the Code of 1917 and the reformed Code of 1983, the legislator has formulated these rules with a clearness and precision that they never had before.

A decree is, in a general sense, an order or law made by a superior authority for the direction of others. In the usage of the canon law of the Catholic Church, it has various meanings. Any papal Bull, Brief, or Motu Proprio is a decree inasmuch as these documents are legislative acts of the Pope. In this sense the term is quite ancient. The Roman Congregations were formerly empowered to issue decrees in matters which come under their particular jurisdiction, but were forbidden from continuing to do so under Pope Benedict XV in 1917. Each ecclesiastical province, and also each diocese may issue decrees in their periodical synods within their sphere of authority.

The Eastern Catholic canon law is the law of the 23 Catholic sui juris (autonomous) 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 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 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.

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.


  1. 1 2 Canon 8 §1, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  2. Canon 8 §2, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  3. 1 2 3 4 Metz, René. What is Canon Law?, pg. 41.
  4. Della Rocca, Manual of Canon Law, pg. 56.
  5. Sic (space after "voluntary" and before semicolon).
  6. 1 2 3 Taunton, Ethelred Luke. The Law of the Church: A Cyclopedia of Canon Law for English-speaking Countries (1906: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Company, Limited, 1906), pg. 393.,+Cyclopaedia+Canon+law&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 accessed 18 March 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Della Rocca, Fernando. Manual of Canon Law, pg. 70.
  8. 1 2 3 Abbo & Hannan, Sacred Canons, pg. 16 (commentary on canon 8, 1917 CIC)
  9. 1 2 3 De Meester, Juris Canonici Compendium, v. 1, pg. 176.
  10. Metz, What is Canon Law?, pg. 42
  11. 1 2 Canon 8 §1
  12. 1 2 Canon 8 §2
  13. Canon 202 §1, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  14. Canon 7, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  15. Canon 8, 1917 Code of Canon Law
  16. 1 2 3 Coriden, James A., et al., The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, pg. 30 (commentary on Canon 8).


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