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The Code of Canon Law

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Any body without a rule, a guide or law is doomed to chaos, anarchy, and disharmony. Any group without a guiding principle will be more disorganized than organized. A people without a distinguishing mark will surely be buried in the sand of time. They will suffer extinction wrought about by their irrelevance which is the consequence of the absence of laws and hence, absence of a pattern of behavior. The church is both organized and relevant. It follows then that she must have a law guiding her children to a way of life.

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This serves as a distinguishing factor between her members and those who are not her members; making them truly salt of the earth and light of the nations. What then are those guiding principles? How did they come about? What are the antecedents that necessitated their emergence? What is (are) the importance of the history of these laws? These are some of the questions this work shall be addressing.

Canon Law Defined Etymologically the word canon is derived from the Greek word “kav????” meaning a stick or rod. It also means a standard measurement, the rule, norm, or yardstick. law on the other hand means a rule usually made by a government that is used to order the way a society behaves. In other words it is a system of rules of a particular society. 2 according to Thomas Aquinas, law is a specific ordinance of reason meant to promote common good and promulgated by one who has the responsibility for the commminity. 3 Therefore the code of canon law is a book containing the universal and fundamental laws of the Roman Catholic Church. By code is meant a unified systematic body of law and not just a loose collection of law Epochs In The Emergence of The Code of Canon Law

According to The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, “the evolution of the church law can generally be divided into three major eras: the ius antiquum (old law), the ius novum (new law), and the ius novissimum (newest law). ”4 The old law spans through the first eleven centuries; the new law begins from the twelfth century through the nineteenth century while the newest law begins from the late sixteenth century to the present age. It is obvious from the above that our scope in this work lies within the ius antiquum and the middle of ius novum. The ius antiquum

For more than five centuries, the church existed without a comprehensive body of written law. The cause of this can be attributed to the fact that Jesus Christ was himself at times at loggerheads with the legalistic system of the Jews. Secondly the Roman Empire made laws that regulated even the church so the Christians did not see themselves as capable of making their own law. These notwithstanding, the Christians within the first three centuries drew their norms from the gospels and sacred scripture, Didache, Tradittio Apostolica, and Didascalia Apostolorum. These documents shared some characteristics in common.

First, their authority derived from their apostolic origin, secondly, they drew upon scripture and practice for their norms and they aimed at Christian discipline, doctrine and worship. 5 Thus, the New Testament was a primary source of the earliest norms of the cannon law. However, as the Christian communities began to evolve into more complicated and integrated organizational structures throughout the Mediterranean world, the New Testament seemed to be inadequate as some issues could not get express guide from it. Hence, assemblies of the fathers met to deliberate and provide direction on such issues.

These assemblies are known as the councils of the church. There were a number of these councils both in the East and West. The council of Carthage (220 – 230) is the first western council of which we are well informed. It is worthy of note that Carthage is in North Africa. Moreover councils were subsequently held there almost annually during the reign of Cyprian as bishop (251-258). However, the first council that produced a set of legislative decrees in the one that was held at Elvira (Spain) around ca. 306. It was at Elvira that it was legislated that priests should be celibate. Other important councils are the council of Ancyra (314 A. D. which produced 25 canons, the council Neocaesarea (315-319 A. D. ), the council of Arles (314 A. D. ), the council of Nicaea (325 A. D. ) among others. By the fourth century, two other sources namely the writings of the fathers of the church and the letters of the bishops of Rome became sources of the church law. By the fifth century Dionysius Exiguus, commissioned by Pope Hormisdas (514-523) made a compilation of conciliar cannons. Scholars called it Collectio Dionysiana This, however, was a private and not official collection and private collections would remain the only means of preserving canonical texts till the thirteenth century.

Other collections were made in the preceding centuries such as Dionysiana-Hadriana, Concord of Conciliar canons, Collectio Hispana, Collectio Vetus Gallica, Collectio Herbernensis among others. Ius Novum Around the twelfth century, an interesting character came to the stage; Gratian of Bologna a monk. He made a collection of the canons. His collection was titled Concordia discordantium canonum. Later it came to be known as Decretum. The influence of the Decretum was such that Gratian came to be known as the “Father of Canon Law” Gratian collected all the canon law from the earliest popes and councils up to the Second Lateran Council (1139).

These synods and letters of the Popes were written at different times and at different occasions and written to address varied problems. Therefore, some of the contents were conflicting with each other; thus the saying that the canon at that time was a confused mass of laws. Gratian’s work was an attempt to make some coherent canonical sense out of the numerous ad hoc declarations contained in many synodal and conciliar canons, in writings of the church fathers, and in papal and imperial decrees.

The Decretum was not an official document but came to be systematized source that was studied by Popes and canonists. In the thirteenth century around 1234, Pope Gregory the IX commissioned Raymond of Penafort; a Dominican priest to make the first official collection of the cannon law. Raymond’s collection which contained only the Decretal letters of Pope Gregory himself came to be called Decretals to differentiate it from the Decretum of Gratian. During the thirteenth and fourteenth century different popes continued to add their own enactment to Gregory’s Decretals.

Eventually, the Decretals of Gregory and Decretum of Gratian came to be known as the Corpus Iuris Canonici (the body of cannon law). However, even the Corpus Iuris Canonici remained “a confused mass of material. ” The codification would come much later in history under Pope Pius X Significance of The History of Canon Law As the saying goes, there is no today without yesterday. Yesterday paved the way for today. In other words, the occurrences of yesterday necessarily influenced and would continue to influence today. Consequently, a better understanding of today must begin with the knowledge of yesterday.

Thus the knowledge and understanding of the cannon law as it is today requires a study of the history of canon law. The importance of the code of cannon law cannot be over emphasized. It is vital in the organization and governance of the church. It is important for the directing the life of the members of the church. It serves as a reference, a guiding principle. Hence, the knowledge and not just knowledge but a good knowledge of code of cannon law is necessary and to have a good knowledge of the code, the study of its historical development is necessary.

Furthermore the study of the history of cannon law exposes one to the history of the church. It creates the awareness of past experience of the church both positive and negative; thus, making Christians and even non-Christians come to the knowledge of the reason(s) and events that necessitated some practices in the church. This knowledge in turn would create tolerance on the part of non-Christians and deepen the faith of the Christians. The Catholic Church has been criticized by our separated brethren (the Protestants) on the account that our laws and our teachings are not in the bible.

However, a study of the history of canon law reveals that our laws and teachings are based on the scripture and apostolic tradition. Thus the study of the history is important in clearing doubts refuting misconceptions about the church.

End Note

1. C. A. Anyanwu, An Introduction to the Essentials of Fundamental Theology. (Nigeria: San Press, 2009), P. 99. 2. P. Procter ed. , Cambridge International Dictionary of English. (India: Thomson Press, 1995) P. 809. 3. J Burke, A Short History of Canon Law. P. 58. 4. M. Glazier and M. K. Hellwig ed. , The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia. Collegeville: Liturgical Press. 2004), P. 102. 5. C. Anieke, Unpublished Lecture Note. Saviourite House of Formation Enugu, 2012/2013. BIBLIOGRAPHY Anyanwu C. A. , An Introduction to the Essentials of Fundamental Theology. Nigeria: San Press, 200. Anieke C. , Unpublished Lecture Note. Saviourite House of Formation Enugu, 2012/2013. Burke J, A Short History of Canon Law. P. 58. Glazier M. and Hellwig M. K. ed. , The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia. Collegeville: Liturgical Press. 2004. Procter P. ed. , Cambridge International Dictionary of English. India: Thomson Press, 1995.

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The Code of Canon Law. (2017, Jan 21). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-code-of-canon-law/

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