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CANON LAW

We can mention here only the chief editions of the Corpus. The council of Trent, as we know, ordered that the official books of the Roman Church—sacred books, liturgical books, Editions. &c.—should be issued in official and more correct editions; the compilations of ecclesiastical law were also revised. The commission of the Correctores romani,[1] established  The “Correctores
romani.”
about 1563 by Pius IV., ended its work under Gregory XIII and the official edition, containing the text and the glosses, appeared at Rome in 1582. Richter’s edition (2 vols., Leipzig, 1839) remains valuable, but has been greatly surpassed by that of E. Friedberg (Leipzig, “Institutiones Lancelotti.” 1879–1881). Many editions contain also the Institutiones composed at the command of Paul IV. (1555–1559) by Giovanni Paolo Lancelotti, a professor of Bologna, on the model of the Institutes of Justinian. The work has merits, but has never been officially approved.

Though the collections of canon law were to receive no more additions, the source of the laws was not dried up; decisions of councils and popes continued to appear; but there was no attempt made to collect them. Canonists obtained the recent texts as they could. Moreover, it was an epoch of trouble: the great Schism of the West, the profound divisions which were its result, the abuses which were to issue in the Reformation, were conditions little favourable for a reorganization of the ecclesiastical laws. Thus we are brought to the third period.

3. After the Council of Trent.—The numerous important decrees made by the council of Trent, in the second part of its sessions, called de reformatione, are the starting-point of the canon law in its latest stage, jus novissimum; it is this which is still in force in the Roman Church. It has in no way undermined the official status of the Corpus juris; but it has completed the legislation of the latter in many important respects, and in some cases reformed it.

The law during this period, as abstracted from the texts and compilations, suggests the following remarks. The laws are formulated in general terms, and the decisions in particular cases relegated to the sphere of jurisprudence; Final state
of the law.
and the canonists have definitely lost the function which fell to them in the 12th and 13th centuries: they receive the law on authority and no longer have to deduce it from the texts. The legislative power is powerfully centralized in the hands of the pope: since the reforming decrees of the council of Trent it is the pontifical constitutions alone which have made the common law; the ecumenical council, doubtless, has not lost its power, but none were held until that of the Vatican (1870), and this latter was unable to occupy itself with matters of discipline. Hence the separation, increasingly marked, between the common law and the local laws, which cannot derogate from the common law except by concession of the Holy See, or by right of a lawfully authorized custom. This centralization, in its turn, has greatly increased the tendency towards unity and uniformity, which have reached in the present practice of the Roman Church a degree never known before, and considered by some to be excessive.

If we now consider the laws in themselves, we shall find that the dispersed condition of the legislative documents has not been modified since the closure of the Corpus juris; on the contrary the enormous number of pontifical Dispersion of the texts. constitutions, and of decrees emanating from the Roman Congregations, has greatly aggravated the situation; moreover, the attempts which have been made to resume the interrupted process of codification have entirely failed. As regards the texts, the canon law of to-day is in a very similar position to that of English law, which gave rise to J. S. Mill’s saying: “All ages of English history have given one another rendezvous in English law; their several products may be seen all together, not interfused, but heaped one upon another, as many different ages of the earth may be read in some perpendicular section of its surface.”[2] Nothing has been abrogated, except in so far as this has been implicitly demanded by subsequent laws. From this result insoluble controversies and serious uncertainties, both in the study and practice of the law; and, finally, it has become impossible for most people to have a first-hand knowledge of the actual laws.

For this third period, the most important and most considerable of the canonical texts is the body of disciplinary decrees of the council of Trent (1545–1563). In consequence of the prohibition issued by Pius IV., they have not Decrees of the Council of Trent. been published separately from the dogmatic texts and other acts, and have not been glossed;[3] but their official interpretation has been reserved by the popes to the “Congregation of the cardinal interpreters of the Council of Trent,” whose decisions form a vast collection of jurisprudence. Next in importance come the pontifical constitutions, which  Pontifical
 constitutions.
are collected together in the Bullarium; but this is a collection of private authority, if we except the Bullarium of Benedict XIV., officially published by him in 1747; further, the Bullarium is a compilation arranged in chronological order, and its dimensions make it rather unwieldy. In the third place come the decrees of the Roman Congregations, which have the force of law. Several Decrees of the Curia. of these organs of the papal authority have published official collections, in which more place is devoted to jurisprudence than to laws; several others have only private compilations, or even none at all, among others the most important, viz. the Holy Office (see Curia Romana). The resulting confusion and uncertainty may be imagined.

These drawbacks were felt a long time back, and to this feeling we owe two attempts at a supplementary codification which were made in the 16th century, both of which are known under the name of Liber Septimus. The first “Liber septimus” of P. Mathieu. was of private origin, and had as its author Pierre Mathieu, the Lyons jurist (1563–1621); it appeared in 1590 at Lyons. It is a continuation of the Extravagantes communes, and includes a selection of papal constitutions, from Sixtus IV. (1471–1484) to Sixtus V. (1585–1590) inclusive, with the addition of a few earlier documents. It follows the order of the decretals. This collection has been of some service, and appears as an appendix in many editions of the Corpus juris; the chief reason for its failure is that it has no official sanction. The second attempt was official, but it came to nothing. It was connected with the movement of reform and revision which followed the council of Trent. Immediately after the publication of the official edition of the Corpus juris, Gregory XIII. appointed a committee of cardinals charged with the task of drawing up a Liber septimus. Sixtus V. hurried on its execution, which was  of Clement VIII. rapidly proceeded with, mainly owing to Cardinal Pinelli, who submitted the draft of it to Clement VIII. The pope had this Liber VII. printed as a basis for further researches; but after long deliberations the volume was suppressed, and the idea of a fresh codification was abandoned. The collection included the decrees of the council of Trent, and a number of pontifical constitutions, arranged in the order of the titles of the decretals.[4] But even had it been promulgated, it is doubtful whether it would have improved the situation. It would merely have added another collection to the previous ones, which were already too voluminous, without resulting in any useful abrogations.

  1. The history of this commission and the rules which it followed for editing the Decretum, will be found in Laurin, Introductio in corpus juris canonici, p. 63, or in the Prolegomena to Friedberg’s edition of the Decretum.
  2. Quoted by Hogan, Clerical Studies, p. 235.
  3. There are innumerable editions of the council of Trent. That which is favoured by canonists is Richter’s edition (Leipzig, 1863), in which each chapter de reformatione is followed by a selection of decisions of the S.C. of the council.There are innumerable editions of the council of Trent. That which is favoured by canonists is Richter’s edition (Leipzig, 1863), in which each chapter de reformatione is followed by a selection of decisions of the S.C. of the council.
  4. Republished by F. Sentis, from one of the few copies which have escaped destruction: Clementis Papae VIII. Decretales, quae vulgo nunenpantur Liber septimus Decretalium Clementis VIII. (Freiburg im B., 1870).