Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

While the essential principles of the constitution and government of the Church were immutably fixed by her Divine Founder, ecclesiastical legislation, emanating as it does from the authority established by Christ in His society, has shared all the vicissitudes of the latter. This means that it was not a finished product from the beginning, but rather a gradual growth, each phase of which was dictated by the ecclesiastical wisdom of the time. This is especially true of the earlier Christian centuries, when as yet the Church lived largely on tradition and custom, and when such written laws as existed were not originally universal laws but local or provincial statutes, to which later a broader obligation was added through the express or tacit approbation of the legitimate authority. Hence arose the necessity of collecting, or in a way codifying, such legislation.


These ancient collections may be classified either according to their historical authority or according to the method of the compiler .


If we consider only their historical authority these collections are genuine (e.g. the "Versio Hispanica"), or apocryphal, i.e. made with the help of documents forged, interpolated, wrongly attributed, or otherwise defective (e.g. the Pseudo-Isidore collection ). If we consider their juridical authority they are official, authentic, i.e. promulgated by competent authority, or private, the work of individuals, and owning no value other than their intrinsic worth or that derived from habitual usage.


If we consider the method of the compiler, these collections are chronological, in case their laws are classified according to the time of promulgation, or systematic (logical, methodical), if the collection follow a rational order. Naturally, in the earlier centuries the collections are brief and contain few laws chronologically certain. Only with the increase of legislation did a methodical classification become necessary, or at least the addition of methodical tables (see below, African and Spanish collections).

In this article we shall describe the ancient collections of canons;

  • (1) From the earliest Christian times to the period of the apocryphal collections (middle of the ninth century);
  • (2) From the end of the ninth century to the Decretum of Gratian (1139-50).

The forged collections of the middle of the ninth century will be treated in the article, FALSE DECRETALS. Much of our knowledge of these matters is owing to the historical researches begun at the end of the sixteenth century, whence issued the critical editions of the Fathers, the councils, and the papal decretals . We are particularly indebted, however, to two works of primary importance:

  • (1) the dissertation (P. L., LVI) of the Ballerini brothers of Verona (eighteenth century) "Concerning the ancient collection and collectors of Canons as far as Gratian" — a study quite unique for its erudition and critical acumen;
  • (2) the history of the sources and literature of canon law by Frederic Maassen (Geschichte der Quellen und Literatur des Canonischen Rechts, Gratz, 1870, vol. I), in which the learned professor of Gratz took up this subject where the Ballerini had left it, but with a far richer supply of documents. Unfortunately he stops at Pseudo-Isidore.


Collections of the Apostolic Period

The Apostles certainly issued disciplinary regulations, either as inspired authors (Divine Apostolic law, pertaining to the immutable deposit of faith ), or simply as ecclesiastical legislation (human Apostolic law ). In the primitive Christian ages there were current divers collections attributed to the Apostles. These collections were apocryphal, although there may be in it some regulations of really Apostolic origin. lt is all very interesting, partly because of the vestiges it offers of the earliest Christian life, and partly because, de facto , many of these regulations were long considered truly Apostolic and, as such, influenced seriously the formation of ecclesiastical law. The most important of these collections are the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Apostolic Canons (see CANONS, APOSTOLIC). The Apostolic Constitutions , though originally accepted throughout the Orient, were declared apocryphal in the Trullan (Quinisext) Council of 692 ; they were never accepted as ecclesiastical law in the West. The Apostolic Canons (eighty-five) were, on the other hand, approved by the above-mentioned Trullan Council. Dionysius Exignus, a Western canonist of the first half of the sixth century, noted that "many accept with difficulty the so-called canons of the Apostles ". Nevertheless he admitted into his collection the first fifty of these canons. The so-called Decretum Gelasianum, de libris non recipiendis (about the sixth century), puts them among the apocrypha. From the collection of Dionysius Exiguus they passed into divers Western collections, though their authority was never on one level. We find them admitted at Rome in the ninth century in ecclesiastical decisions; in the eleventh century Cardinal Humbert accepts only the first fifty (Adversus Simoniacos, I, 8, and Contra Nicætam, 16 P. L., CXLIII). Only two of them (20, 29) found their way into the Decretals of Gregory IX.

Papal Decretals

In primitive Christian centuries the popes carried on ecclesiastical government by means of an active and extensive correspondence. We learn from a synod of the year 370, under Pope Damasus, that the minutes of their letters or decretals were kept in the papal archives. These archives (see VATICAN ARCHIVES) have perished up to the time of John VIII (died 882). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries attempts were made to reconstruct them; the most successful is that of Jaffé ("Regesta RR. Pont.", 2nd ed., 1885; cf. the important revision of Jaffé by P. Kehr, "Italia Pontificia", Berlin, 1906 sqq.). During the period under discussion (i.e. to the middle of the eleventh century) we shall note a constant use of the papal decretals by the compilers of canonical collections from the sixth century on.

Greek Collections
  • (1) In 451 there was quoted at the Council of Chalcedon a collection of councils no longer extant, nor has the name of the compiler ever transpired. It seems to have been based on the canons of Ancyra (314) and Neo-Cæsarea (314-25), to which were added later those of Gangra (36-70). At the beginning of the collection were then placed the decrees of Nicæa (325); subsequently the canons of Antioch (341) were included, in which shape it was known to the Fathers of Chalcedon. In the latter part of the fifth century the canons of Laodicæa (343-81), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451), were incorporated with this ecclesiastical code, and finally (after the canons of Neo-Cæsarea) the decrees of Sardica (343-44), in which form the collection was in use during the sixth century. Though unofficial in character, it represents (inclusive of sixty-eight canons taken from the "Canonical Epistles" of St. Basil, I, III) the conciliar discipline of the Greek Church between 500 and 600.
  • (2) This collection was chronological in order. Towards 535 an unknown compiler classified its materials in a methodical way under sixty titles, and added to the canons twenty-one imperial constitutions relative to ecclesiastical matters taken from the Code of Justinian. This collection has been lost.
  • (3) Some years later (540-550) Johannes Scholasticus, Patriarch of Constantinople, made use of this code to compile a new methodical collection, which he divided into fifty books. It is printed in the second volume of Voel and Justel, "Bibliotheca Juris Canonici veteris" (Paris, 1661). After the emperor's death (565), the patriarch extracted from ten of the former's constitutions, known as "Novellæ", some eighty-seven chapters and added them to the aforesaid collection.
  • (4) In this way arose the mixed collections known as Nomocanons (Gk. nomoi , "laws", kanones , "canons"), containing not only ecclesiastical laws but also imperial laws pertaining to the same matters. The first of these was published under Emperor Maurice (582-602); under each title were given, after the canons, the corresponding civil laws. This collection (wrongly attributed to the afore-mentioned patriarch) is also found in the second volume of Voel and Justel (op. cit.).
  • (5) The Quinisext Council (692) of Constantinople, called Trullan from the hall of the palace ( in trullo ) where it was held, issued 102 disciplinary canons; it included also the canons of the former councils and certain patristic regulations, all of which it considered constitutive elements of the ecclesiastical law of the East. This collection contains, therefore, an official enumeration of the canons which then governed the Eastern Church, but no official approbation of a given collection or particular text of these canons. It is to be noted that the Apostolic See never fully approved this council. In 787 a similar recapitulation of the ancient canons was made by the Second Council of Nicæa.
Italo-Latin Collections (1) Latin Version of the Canons of Nicæa and Sardica

The former council (325) was always held in the highest repute throughout the West, where its canons were in vigour together with those of Sardica, the complement of the anti-Arian legislation of Nicæa, and whose decrees had been drawn up originally in both Latin and Greek. The canons of the two councils were numbered in running order, as though they were the work of but one council (a trait met with in divers Latin collections), which explains why the Council of Sardica is sometimes called œcumenical by earlier writers, and its canons attributed to the Council of Nicæa. For the text of the version as found in the various collections see Maassen, op. cit., p. 8 sqq. The oldest versions of these canons quoted in the papal decretals are no longer extant.

(2) The "Hispana" or "Isidoriana" Version

Towards the middle of the fifth century, perhaps earlier, there appeared a Latin version of the afore-said canons of Nicæa, Ancyra, Neo-Cæsarea, and Gangra, to which were added a little later those of Antioch, Laodicæa, and Constantinople; the canons of Sardica were inserted about the same time after those of Gangra. Bickell considers it possible that this version was made in Northern Africa, while Walter inclines to Spain ; it is now generally believed that the version was made in Italy. It was long believed, however, that it came from Spain, hence the name of "Hispana" or "Isidoriana", the latter term derived from its insertion in the collection attributed to St. Isidore of Seville (see below, Spanish Collections ), in which it was edited, of course according to the text followed by the Spanish compiler.

(3) "Prisca" or "Itala" Version

This, too, seems to have grown up gradually in the course of the fifth century, and in its present shape exhibits the afore-mentioned canons of Ancyra, Neo-Cæsarea, Nicæa, Sardica, Gangra, Antioch, Chalcedon, and Constantinople. It came to be known as "Itala" from the place of its origin, and as "Prisca" because of an overhasty conclusion that Dionysius Exiguus referred to it in the preface of his first collection when he wrote: "Laurentius offended by the confusion that reigned in the ancient version [ priscœ versionis ]." It was edited by Voel and Justel in the first volume of their above-quoted "Bibliotheca juris canonici veteris"; a better text is that of the Ballerini brothers in the third volume of their edition of the works of St. Leo (P. L., LVI, 746).

(4) Collection of Dionysius Exiguus

The collections we have now to describe were justified and called for by the increasing canonical material of the Latin West in the course of the fifth century. It may be said at once that they were far from satisfactory. Towards 500 a Scythian monk, known as Dionysius Exiguus, who had come to Rome after the death of Pope Gelasius (496), and who was well skilled in both Latin and Greek, undertook to bring out a more exact translation of the canons of the Greek councils. In a second effort he collected papal decretals from Siricius (384-89) to Anastasius II (496-98), inclusive, anterior therefore, to Pope Symmachus (514-23). By order of Pope Hormisdas (514-23), Dionysius made a third collection, in which he included the original text of all the canons of the Greek councils, together with a Latin version of the same. Of this collection the preface alone has survived. Finally, he combined the first and second in one collection, which thus united the canons of the councils and the papal decretals ; it is in this shape that the work of Dionysius has reached us. This collection opens with a table or list of titles, each of which is afterwards repeated before the respective canons; then come the first fifty canons of the Apostles, the canons of the Greek councils, the canons of Carthage (419), and the canons of preceding African synods under Aurelius, which had been read and inserted in the Council of Carthage . This first part of the collection is closed by a letter of Pope Boniface I , read at the same council, letters of Cyril of Alexandria and Atticus of Constantinople to the African Fathers, and a letter of Pope Celestine I. The second part of the collection opens likewise with a preface, in the shape of a letter to the priest Julian, and a table of titles; then follow one decretal of Siricius, twenty-one of Innocent I, one of Zozimus, four of Boniface I, three of Celestine I, seven of Leo I, one of Gelasius I, and one of Anastasius II. The additions met with in Voel and Justel (op. cit.) are taken from inferior manuscripts.

There were gaps in the work of Dionysius; he seems, in particular, to have taken the papal decretals , not from the archives of the Roman Church, but from previous compilations, hence certain omissions, which need not arouse any suspicion of the authenticity of documents not quotes. In spite of its defects this collection far surpassed all previous efforts of the kind, not alone by its good order, but also by the clear, intelligible text of its version, and by the importance of its documents. Very soon it superseded all earlier collections and was much used ( celeberimo usu ), especially in the Roman Church , says Cassiodorus. It became popular in Spain and Africa and even before Charlemagne had found its way into Gaul and Britain. It was the medium by which the African canons reached the East. Copyists used it to correct the text of the other collections, a fact not to be lost sight of at the risk of taking an interdependence of manuscripts for an interdependence of collections. Despite its authority of daily use and its occasional service in the papal chancery, it never had a truly official character ; it even seems that the popes were wont to quote their own decretal letters not from Dionysius, but directly from the papal registers. In time the "Collectio Dionysiana", as it came to be known, was enlarged and some of these additions entered the "Collectio Hadriana", which Adrian I sent (774) to Charlemagne, and which was received by the bishops of the empire at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 802. It is none other than the "Collectio Dionysiana", with some additions in each of its two parts. In this shape it acquired and kept the title of "Codex Canonum". Neither the action of Pope Adrian nor the acceptance by the Synod of Aix-la-Chapelle conferred on the book an official character, or made it a code of universally obligatory laws ; with much greater reason may it be said that it did not thereby become an exclusively authoritative code of ecclesiastical law. It was first printed in the first volume of Voel and Justel (op. cit.), re-edited by Lepelletier (Paris, 1687), and reprinted in P. L., LXVII. A new and more satisfactory edition is that of Cuthbert Hamilton Turner, in "Ecclesiæ Occidentalis Monumenta Juris Antiquissima" (Oxford, 1899- 1908), vol. II, fasc. II.

(5) The "Avellana" Collection

The Avellana Collection, so-called because its oldest known manuscript was bought for the abbey of Santa Croce Avellana by St. Peter Damian (died 1073). The collection probably dates from the middle of the sixth century. It follows neither chronological nor logical order, and seems to have grown to its present shape according as the compiler met with the materials that he has transmitted to us. Nevertheless, the Ballerini pronounce it a very valuable collection because of the great number of early canonical documents (nearly 200) that are found in no other collection. All its texts are authentic, save eight letters from divers persons to Peter, Bishop of Antioch. The "Avellana" has never been edited as such, though all its documents have passed into the great works of Sirmond, Coustant, Baronius, and Foggini, with the exception of two letters whose text is given by the Ballerini, in whose work, quoted above, are also indicated the places where the various texts of the "Avellana" may be read.

(6) Various Other Collections

Despite the exceptional popularity of Dionysius Exiguus, which caused the previous compilations to be disused and soon forgotten, several of them were preserved, as also were some other contemporary collections — among them several that still offer a certain interest. See the above-quoted dissertation of the Ballerini, II, iv, and Maassen (op. cit., 476, 526, 721). It will suffice to mention the collection known as the "Chieti" or "Vaticana Reginæ", through which a very old and distinct version of the decrees of the Council of Nicæa has reached us. It has been edited by the Ballerini (P. L., LVI, 818).

Collection of the African Church (1) Canons of the African Councils

From the Eastern Church Northern Africa received only the decrees of Nicæa (325), which it owed to Cæcilianus of Carthage, one of the Nicene Fathers. The African Church created its domestic code of discipline in its own councils. It was customary to read and confirm in each council the canons of preceding councils, in which way there grew up collections of conciliar decrees, but purely local in authority. Their moral authority, however, was great, and from the Latin collections they eventually made their way into the Greek collections. The best-known are:

  • (a) the Canons of the Council of Carthage (Aug., 397) which confirmed the "Breviarium" of the canons of Hippo (393), one of the chief sources of African ecclesiastical discipline ;
  • (b) the Canons of the Council of Carthage (419), at which were present 217 bishops and among whose decrees were inserted 105 canons of previous councils.
(2) "Statuta Ecclesiæ Antiqua"

In the second part of the "Hispana" (see below) and in other collections are found, together with other African councils, 104 canons which the compiler of the "Hispana" attributes to a Pseudo-Fourth Council of Carthage of 398. These canons are often known as "Statuta Ecclesiæ Antiqua", and in some manuscripts are entitled "Statuta antiqua Orientis". Hefele maintains that in spite of their erroneous attribution, these canons are authentic, or at least summaries of authentic canons of ancient African councils, and collected in their present shape before the end of the sixth century. On the other hand, Maassen, Mgr. Duchesne, and Abbé Malnory believe them a compilation made at Arles in the first part of the sixth century; Malnory specifies St. Cæsarius of Arles (q.v.) as their author.

(3) The "Breviatio Canonum" of Fulgentius Ferrandus

It is a methodical collection and under its seven titles disposes 230 abridged canons of Greek ("Hispana" text) and African councils. It was compiled towards 546 by Fulgentius, a deacon of Carthage and a disciple of St. Fulgentius of Ruspe ; the text is in P. L., LXVII.

(4) The "Concordia" of Cresconius

This writer, apparently an African bishop, compiled his collection about 690. It is based on that of Dionysius Exiguus ; only, in place of reproducing in full each canon, it cuts it up to suit the demands of the titles used; hence its name of "Concordia". Between the preface and the text of the collection the writer inserted a resume of his work. This took on the name of "Breviatio Canonum" which led some to imagine that the latter title implied a work other than the "Concordia", whereas it meant only a part or rather the preamble of the latter, whose text is in P. L., LXXXVIII.

Collections of the Spanish Church

Under this heading the historian of canon law generally understands the collections that arose in the lands once under Visigothic rule — Spain, Portugal, and Southern Gaul. In this territory councils were very frequent, especially after the conversion of King Reccared (587), and they paid much attention to ecclesiastical discipline. Naturally the need of canonical collections was soon felt. As a rule, such collections contain, besides the decrees of Spanish synods, the canons also of Nicæa and Sardica (accepted in the Spanish Church from the beginning), those of the Greek councils known through the "Itala", and those of the Gallican and African Councils, quite influential in the formation of Spanish ecclesiastical discipline. Three of these collections are important: —

(1) The "Capitula Martini"

It is divided into two parts, one dealing with the bishop and his clergy, the other relative to the laity ; in both the author classifies methodically the canons of the councils in eighty-four chapters. He says himself in the preface that he does not pretend to reproduce the text literally, but with set purpose breaks up, abridges, or glosses the same, in order to make it more intelligible to "simple people"; possibly he has occasionally modified it to suit the Spanish discipline of his time. Though much has been borrowed from Latin, Gallican, and African Councils, it is the Greek Councils that furnish the greater part of the canons. The "Capitula" were read and approved at the Council of Braga (572). Some writers, misled by the name, attributed them to Pope Martin I ; they are in reality the work of Martin of Pannonia, better known as Martin of Braga, of which place he was archbishop in the sixth century. Their text was incorporated with the "Isidoriana", from which they were taken and edited apart by Merlin and by Gaspar Loaisa, and in the first volume of the oft-quoted work by Voel and Justel, after collation of the variants in the best manuscripts.

(2) The Spanish "Epitome"

The Epitome is the name of the collection edited by the Ballerini (op. cit., III, IV) from two manuscripts (Verona and Lucca ). It has two parts: one includes the canons of Greek, African, Gallican, and Spanish councils; the other divers papal decretals from Siricius to Vigilius (384-555), with two apocryphal texts of St. Clement and an extract from St. Jerome. The compiler designedly abridged his texts, and mentions only three sources, a Braga collection (the "Capitula Martini", his first chapter being a resume of that work), an Alcalá (Complutum) collection, and one of Cabra (Agrabensis). Though characterized by lack of order and exactness, the "Epitome" interests us because of the antiquity of its sources. Maassen thinks it connected with the "Codex Canonum", the nucleus of the group of collections whence eventually issued the "Hispana", and of which we shall treat apropos of the latter.

(3) The "Hispana" or "Isidoriana"

This collection must not be confounded with the above-described "Versio Hispanica" or "Isidoriana", among the earlier Latin collections, and which contained only canons of Greek councils. The collection in question, like that of Dionysius Exiguus on which it is based, contains two parts: the first includes canons of Greek, African, Gallican, and Spanish councils, with some letters of St. Cyril of Alexandria and Atticus of Constantinople, while the second has the papal decretals as found in Dionysius, together with some others, most of the latter addressed to Spanish bishops. This is the chronological "Hispana". Somewhat later, towards the end of the seventh century, it was recast in logical order, by some unknown writer, and divided into ten books, which were again subdivided into titles and chapters. This is the methodical "Hispana". Finally, the copyists were wont to place at the beginning of the chronological "Hispana" a table of contents of the methodical collection, but with references to the text of the chronological: in this shape it was known as the "Excerpta Canonum". The chronological "Hispana" seems to have been originally the "Codex Canonum" mentioned at the Fourth Council of Toledo (633), with later additions. In the ninth century it was attributed, with insufficient evidence, to St. Isidore of Seville. In spite of this erroneous attribution, the "Hispana" contains very few documents of doubtful authenticity. Later on, additions were made to it, the latest being taken from the seventeenth council of Toledo (694). In this enlarged form, i.e. the "Codex Canonum", the "Hispana" was approved by Alexander III as authentic ( Innocent III, Ep. 121, to Peter, Archbishop of Compostella). Until the thirteenth century, its authority was great in Spain. Pseudo-Isidore (see below) made a generous use of its materials. (See the text in P. L., LXXXXIV, reprinted from the edition of Madrid, 1808-21, executed at the Royal Printing House).

Gallican Collections (1) The "Collectio Quesneliana"

The close relations of the churches of Gaul with those of Italy and Spain familiarized the former at an early date with the canonical collections of the latter churches, to which were added the canons of their own Gallican synods. At the beginning of the sixth century there arose in Gaul an extensive collection, based apparently on the "Antiqua Isidoriana", the "Prisca", the "Chieti" collection (see above), and the African collections, and which, besides the earliest Eastern and the African councils, includes papal decretals, letters of Gallican bishops, and other documents. It is of Gallican origin, though it includes no councils of Gaul. Its name is derived from the Oratorian, P. Quesnel, its first editor, who wrongly entitled it "Codex Canonum ecclesiæ Romanæ", and tried to prove that it was an official collection of the Roman Church . It cannot, therefore, serve as authentic confirmation of the usages of that Church or of the churches of Africa. The Ballerini reprinted it in the third volume of their edition of the works of St. Leo I, with excellent dissertations against Quesnel (P. L., LVI). During the sixth and succeeding centuries the canonical compilers kept at their task; they received the African canons, those of Gallican councils, the statutes and letters of national bishops. Some of these collections were chronological, others methodical (see the Ballerini, II, x and Maassen, op. cit., 556, 821). We have already called attention to the importance (after 802) of the "Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana".

(2) The "Codex Carolinus"

A collection of papal decretals addressed to Charles Martel, Pepin, and Charlemagne, compiled by the latter's order in 791 (P. L., XCVIII), not to be confounded with the "Libri Carolini" (see CAROLINE BOOKS) in which were set forth for Pope Adrian I various dubia concerning the veneration of images.

English and Irish Collections

Before the seventh century we meet with no collections of canons particular to the English and Irish Churches. In England ecclesiastical discipline is at this time based on the provincial councils, which draw their inspiration from the general councils, and are reinforced by the ordinances of the Anglo-Saxon kings. Roman collections appear in 678 when Dionysius Exiguus is quoted at the Council of Herford. Thenceforth appear various collections of local origin, e.g. the "De Jure Sacerdotali" (P. L., LXVIII) and the "Exceptiones" attributed (but without sufficient reason) to Egbert of York (died 767). The most celebrated of these collections is the "Synodus Patritii" or "Collectio Hibernensis", of the early part of the eighth century, whose compiler put together previous ecclesiastical legislation in sixty-four to sixty-nine chapters, preceded by extracts from the "Etymologiæ" of St. Isidore concerning synodal regulations. The preface states that for the sake of brevity and clearness, and to reconcile certain juridical antinomies, effort is made to render the sense of the canons rather than their letter. It is a methodical collection to the extent that the matters treated are placed in their respective chapters, but there is much confusion in the distribution of the latter. In spite of its defects this collection made its way into France and Italy and until the twelfth century influenced the ecclesiastical legislation of churches in both countries (Paul Fournier, De l'influence de la collection irlandaise sur les collections canoniques).

Particular Collections

Apart from the above-described general collections there are some special or particular collections that deserve brief mention.

  • (1) Some of them deal with a particular heresy or schism, e.g. the collections of Tours, Verona, Salzburg, Monte Cassino , those of Notre Dame, of Rustiens, the Novaro-Vaticana, and the "Codex Encyclius" relative to Eutyches and the Council of Chalcedon, the "Veronensis" and the "Virdunensis" in the affair of Acacius.
  • (2) Others contain the documents and juridical texts that concern an individual church or country, e.g. the collection of Arles, in which were gathered the privileges of that Church, the collections of Lyons, Beauvais, Saint-Amand, Fécamp, etc., in which were brought together the canons of the councils of France.
  • (3) In the same category may be placed the capitula or episcopal statutes, i.e. decisions and regulations collected from Various quarters by local bishops for the use and direction of their clergy (see CAPITULARIES), e.g. the "Capitula" of Theodulf of Orléans, end of the eighth century (P. L., CV), of Hatto of Basle (882, in Mon. Germ. Hist: Leges, 1, 439-41), of Boniface of Mainz (745, in D'Achéry, Spicilegium, ed. nova I, 597). Still other collections deal with some special point of discipline. Such are the ancient liturgical collections called by the Greeks "Euchologia" (q.v.) and by the Latins "Libri mysteriorum", or "sacramentorum", more usually "Sacramentaries" (q.v.), also since the eighth century the "Ordines Romani" (q.v.) found in P. L., LXXVIII. Here, too, belong the collections of ecclesiastical formulæ (see FORMULARIES, BOOKS OF), especially the "Liber Diurnus" of the Roman Chancery, compiled probably between 685 and 782 (P. L., CV, 11), edited by Garnier (Paris, 1680) and anew by M. de Rozières (Paris, 1869), and by Th. Sickel (Vienna, 1889). Special mention is due to the "Penitentials" (Libri Pœnitentiales), collections of penitential canons, councils, and catalogues of ecclesiastical sanctions, to which were gradually added rules for the administration of the Sacrament of Penance. This important subject will be treated more fully under the article PENITENTIAL BOOKS.
Collections of Ecclesiastico-Civil Laws

The civil law, as such, has no standing in the canonical forum. Yet in the first centuries of her existence the Church often rounded out her own legislation by adopting certain provisions of the secular laws. Moreover, either by mutual agreement, as under the Carlovingian kings, or by the civil power's usurpation of ecclesiastical domain, as frequently happened under the Byzantine emperors, the civil authority legislated on matters in themselves purely canonical; such laws it behooved an ecclesiastic to know. Moreover, the priest often needs some acquaintance with the pertinent civil law in order to decide properly even in purely secular matters that are occasionally submitted to him. Hence the utility of collections of civil laws concerning ecclesiastical matters or the administration of the canonical laws ( praxis canonica ). We have already noted in the East the collections known as "Nomocanones"; the West also had mixed collections of the same nature.

(1) Collections of Roman Law

This law interested quite particularly the ecclesiastics of the barbarian kingdoms that rose on the ruins of the Western Empire, since they continued to live by it ( Ecclesia vivit lege romana ); moreover, apart from the laws of the Anglo-Saxons, the legislation of all the barbarian peoples of Gaul, Spain, and Italy was profoundly Influenced by the Roman law. (a) The "Lex romana canonice compta", apparently compiled in Lombardy during the ninth century, and handed down in a manuscript of the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. It includes portions of the "Institutiones" of the "Codex" of Justinian, and of the "Epitome" of Julian.

(2) Capitularies of the Frankish Kings

The laws of the latter were very favourable to religious interests; not a few of them were the result of the mutual deliberations of both the civil and the ecclesiastical power. Hence the exceptional authority of the royal capitularies (q.v.) before ecclesiastical tribunals. In the first half of the ninth century Ansegisus, Abbot of Fontenelles (823-33), collected in four books capitularies of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious, and Lothaire; the first two books contain provisions concerning the "ecclesiastical order", the latter two exhibit the "law of the world". Ansegisus himself added three appendixes. His work was widely used in France, Germany, and Italy, and was quoted in diets and councils as an authentic collection.

This rapid sketch exhibits the vitality of the Church from the earliest centuries, and her constant activity for the preservation of ecclesiastical discipline. During this long elaboration the Greek Church unifies her legislation, but accepts little from beyond her own boundaries. On the other hand the Western Church, with perhaps the sole exception of Africa, makes progress in the development of local discipline and exhibits an anxiety to harmonize particular legislation with the decretals of the popes, the canons of general councils, and the special legislation of the rest of the Church. Doubtless in the above-described collection of canons, the result of this long disciplinary development, we meet with forged decrees of councils and decretals of popes, even with forged collections, e.g. the collections of pseudo-Apostolic legislation. Nevertheless the influence of these apocryphal works on other canonical collections was restricted. The latter were, almost universally, made up of authentic documents. Canonical science in the future would have been nourished exclusively from legitimate sources had not a larger number of forged documents appeared about the middle of the ninth century (Capitula of Benedict Levita, Capitula Angilramni, Canons of Isaac of Langres, above all the collection of Pseudo-Isidore. See FALSE DECRETALS ). But ecclesiastical vigilance did not cease; in the West especially, the Church kept up an energetic protest against the decay of her discipline ; witness the many councils, diocesan synods, and mixed assemblies of bishops and civil officials, also the numerous (over forty) new canonical collections from the ninth to the beginning of the twelfth century and whose methodical order foreshadows the great juridical syntheses of later centuries. Being compiled, however, for the most part not directly from the original canonical sources, but from immediately preceding collections, which in turn often depend on apocryphal productions of the ninth century, they appear tainted to the extent in which they make use of these forgeries. Such taint, however, affects the critical value of these collections rather than the legitimacy of the legislation which they exhibit. While the "False Decretals" affected certainly ecclesiastical discipline, it is now generally recognized that they did not introduce any essential or constitutional modifications. They gave a more explicit formulation to certain principles of the constitution of the Church, or brought more frequently into practice certain rules hitherto less recognized in daily use. As to the substance of this long development of disciplinary legislation, we may recognize with Paul Fournier a double current. The German collections, while not failing to admit the rights of the papal primacy, are seemingly concerned with the adaptation of the canons to actual needs of time and place; this is particularly visible in the collection of Burchard of Worms . The Italian collections, on the other hand, insist more on the rights of the papal primacy, and in general of the spiritual power. M. Fournier indicates, as especially influential in this sense, the Collection in Seventy-four Titles. Both tendencies meet and unite in the works of Yvo of Chartres. The compilations of this epoch may, therefore, be classed in these two broad categories. We do not, however, insist too strongly on these views, as yet somewhat provisory, and proceed to describe the principal collections of the next period, following, as a rule, the chronological order.


In these two centuries the ecclesiastical authorities were quite active in their efforts to withstand the decay of Christian discipline ; the evidence of this is seen in the frequency of councils, mixed assemblies of bishops and imperial officials, and diocesan synods whose decrees (capitularies) were often published by the bishops. In this period many new collections of canons were made, some forty of which, as already said, are known to us.

The "Collectio Anselmo Dedicata"

Though as yet unedited, this collection is generally accounted quite valuable by reason of its abundance of materials and its good order; it was also one of the most widely used. Its twelve books treat the following subjects: hierarchy, judgments, ecclesiastical persons, spiritual things (rules of faith, precepts, sacraments, liturgies ), and persons separated from the Church. Its sources are the "Dionysiana", the "Hispana", the correspondence ( Registrum ) of Gregory I, and various collections of civil laws. Unfortunately it has also drawn on Pseudo-Isidore. It is dedicated to Anselm, doubtless Anselm II of Milan (833-97), and is now held to have been compiled in Italy towards the end of the ninth century. It is certainly anterior to Burchard (1012-23), whose work depends on this collection. The author is unknown.

The "Collection of Regino of Prüm"

The Collection of Regino is entitled "De ecclesiasticis disciplinis et religione Christianâ" (on the discipline of the Church and the Christian religion ), and according to the preface was put together by order of Ratbod, metropolitan of Trier, as a handy manual for episcopal use in the course of diocesan visitations. Its two books treat:

  • (1) of the clergy and ecclesiastical property, and
  • (2) of the laity.

Each book begins with a list ( elenchus ) of questions that indicate the points of chief importance in the eyes of the bishop. After this catechism, the Abbot of Prüm (died 915) adds the canons and ecclesiastical authorities relative to each question. The collection was made about 906 and seems to depend on an earlier one edited by Richter under the title, "Antiqua Canonum collectio qua in libris de synodalibus causis compilandis usus est Regino Prumiensis" (Marburg, 1844). The text of Regino is found in P. L., CXXXII; a more critical edition is that of Wasserschleben, "Reginonis Abbatis Prüm. libri duo de synodalibus causis" (Leipzig, 1840).

The "Capitula Abbonis"

Abbo, Abbot of Fleury (died 1004), dedicated to Hugues Capet (died 996) and his son Robert (therefore before the end of the tenth century) a collection in fifty-six chapters, dealing with the clergy, ecclesiastical property, monks and their relations with the bishops. Besides the canons and papal decretals, he made use of the Capitularies, the Roman civil law, and the laws of the Visigoths ; his collection is peculiar in that he enclosed within his own context the texts quoted by him. This collection is found in the second volume of the "Vetera Analecta" of Mabillon (Paris, 1675-85), and is reprinted in P. L., CXXXI.

The "Collectarium Canonum" or "Libri decretorum" of Burchard of Worms

This collection is in twenty books and was compiled by Burchard, an ecclesiastic of Mainz, later Bishop of Worms (1002-25), at the suggestion of Brunicho, provost of Worms, and with the aid of Walter, Bishop of Speyer, and the monk Albert. This is the work often called "Brocardus". Burchard follows quite closely the following order: hierarchy, liturgy, sacraments, delicts, sanctions, and criminal procedure. The nineteenth book was familiarly known as "Medicus" or "Corrector", because it dealt with the spiritual ailments of different classes of the faithful; it has been edited by Wasserschleben in "Bussordnungen der abendländischen Kirche" (Leipzig, 1851). The twentieth, which treats of xxyyyk.htm">Providence, predestination, and the end of the world, is therefore a theological treatise. The collection, composed between 1013 and 1023 (perhaps in 1021 or 1022), is not a mere compilation, but a revision of the ecclesiastical law from the standpoint of actual needs, and an attempt to reconcile various juridical antinomies or contradictions. Burchard is a predecessor of Gratian and, like the latter, was a very popular canonist in his time. It is to be regretted that he depends on the above-mentioned ninth-century collections and even added to their apocryphal documents and erroneous attributions. The two collections just described (Regino and Collectio Anselmo dedicata) were known and largely used by him. Pseudo-Isidore also furnished him more than 200 pieces. The entire collection is in P. L., CXL.

The "Collectio Duodecim Partium"

Yet unedited; is by an unknown, but probably a German, author. It includes a great deal of Burchard, follows quite closely his order, and by most is held to have copied his material, though some believe it older than Burchard.

The Collection in Seventy-four Books , or "Diversorum sententia Patrum"

This collection, known to the Ballerini and Theiner, is the subject of a careful study by Paul Fournier ("Le premier manuel canonique de ha réforme du onzième siècle" in "Mélanges d'Archéologie et d'Histoire publiés par l'Ecole Française de Rome", 1894). He considers it a compilation of the middle of the eleventh century, done about the reign of St. Leo IX (1048-54), and in the entourage of that pope and Hildebrand ; moreover, it was well known in and out of Italy and furnished to other collections not only their general order, but also much of their material. Fournier

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • St. Eligius: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, December 01, 2015
  • Pope Francis does the unthinkable following emotional tragedy in ...
  • Daily Readings for Tuesday, December 01, 2015
  • Parents' Prayer For Their Children HD Video
  • Prayer For Faith HD Video
  • 'Body lifted from the ground': Young Central American woman dies ...
  • Opium, heroin or cocaine: What drug is YOUR country known for?

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Romans 10:9-18
9 that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 19:2-3, 4-5
2 day discourses of it to day, night to night hands on the ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 4:18-22
18 As he was walking by the Lake of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 30th, 2015 Image

St. Andrew
November 30: Andrew, like his brother Simon Peter, was a ... Read More