Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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LAW, Canon. The two expressions canon law and canonical law are continually taken one for the other, and are applied indifferently, as well to the science of canons and ecclesiastical laws as to the body itself or collection of these laws. Still, Doujat, author of a history of canonical law, after having acknowledged that in common usage no distinction is made between these two terms, thinks that by canon law should rather be understood the body of ecclesiastical laws, and by canonical law the science of these laws. As for the word canon, which, in Greek, signifies rule, it is taken in its most general sense for all ecclesiastical law or constitutions, and, in its most restricted sense, for those constitutions which are inserted in the body of the law, old as well as new.


—Canonical law rests upon the following bases: 1, and chiefly, the Holy Scriptures; 2, the authority of the general councils and that of the particular councils, "whose discipline has been received by all the church"; 3, the constitutions of the popes; 4, custom, which has also great authority "when it is commendable and established by long practice, by the consent of the pastors of the church. at least by their public knowledge." (Fleury.)


—The body of canon law, properly speaking, is composed of six parts, which have each a special name. These are so many compilations of canons, decrees and decretals, which have been drawn up at different times and inserted successively in the corpus. The first part is a full collection of all kinds of ecclesiastical constitutions, made by Gratian, a monk of St. Benedict, and published about the middle of the twelfth century. It is known under the name of the Gratian decree, or simply the decree. This compilation had been preceded by many others: but, more complete and better arranged, it took their place in the schools and consigned them to oblivion. It was carefully revised under the supervision of Pope Gregory XIII., and, after this work of correction, was recommended to the faithful by a bull of June 22, 1582. The second collection is that of the decretals of the popes, which was made by Saint Raymond of Pennafort, under the auspices of Gregory IX. This collection embraces all the letters of the popes presenting any interest, which appeared from the year 1150 to the year 1230, and, besides, some decrees of the councils and decisions of the popes which had escaped the notice of Gratian. It was divided into five books; Boniface VIII. had the subsequent decisions collected in a sixth book, which, by reason of this, was called the Sextus. The next collection was called Clementinus, because it was devoted to the canons of the council of Vienna, presided over by Clement V., and to the constitutions of that pontiff; the extravagantes, a series of constitutions of John XXII, which, at first, remained outside (extra) the corpus, and was only inserted in it some time afterward; and the extravagantes communes, a last collection, which contained the constitutions emanating from different popes. Here stops the law styled new, in contradistinction to the law anterior to Gratian, or ancient law. The law called newest is composed of subsequent canons, decrees, etc., which have not been inserted in the corpus, but which none the less have an authority of their own. Canon or canonical law must not be confounded with the civil ecclesiastical law, which comprises the laws made by the temporal power to regulate certain relations of church and state in certain countries of Europe.


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