Canon Law

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The Corpus contains the three major parts of the Corpus Juris Canonici: the Decretum of Gratian (ca. 1140), the Liber Extra of Gregory IX (1234), and the three final official decretal collections -- the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, the Clementinae of John XXII, and the Extravagantes (first gathered by Jean Chappuis, 1499-1505).

The main objective of the project is not to provide access to the laws themselves (these are available in the nineteenth-century critical edition of Emil Friedberg), but to the extensive marginal commentaries, known as the standard glosses, or glossa ordinaria. The 1582 edition is the final example of a Corpus canonicum glossatum, or glossed edition of the Corpus, a practice that began in the medieval schools soon after Gratian had compiled his collection, which is itself composed both of canons and Gratian's dicta. Because Canon Law does not consist of a finite body of statutes, but rather of principles drawn from a wide range of sources, it was necessary for canonists to construct a harmonious legal system that could consistently reconcile theory with practice and offer a basis for jurisprudence.

Gratian's collection, regarded as the first textbook and general summary of the law, was intended to harmonize discordant canons (Concordia discordantium canonum). It initiated a long process that consisted of two parallel streams of text: decretal collections, composed both privately and officially as a record of decisions made by popes in particular cases, and added at intervals to the Corpus; and glosses, extensive commentaries written by teachers and scholars that assisted students and practitioners in navigating their way through the canons and applying principles to cases before the courts. The glosses in the 1582 edition are the final state of a complex process of textual recension whose history begins with the notes made by students, and perhaps commercial scribes, in the law schools of medieval universities. These notes contained explanations of words and concepts, practical applications of principles from real or imaginary cases, and cross-references to other canons. By the early thirteenth century, law faculty had agreed on a standard form of gloss (glossa ordinaria) which then became an essential apparatus as authoritative as the canons themselves. The work of a succession of masters is embedded in the standard glosses, which begin with the work of Johannes Teutonicus (d. 1245), and continued with that of Bernard of Parma (d. 1263) and Giovanni d'Andrea, who finished his gloss on the Clementines in 1326. The glosses are also embellished by references to the work of other masters, and make use of standard abbreviations (sigla) to cite authors and works.