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A gloss (Gk. glossa , Lat. glossa , tongue, speech) is an interpretation or explanation of isolated words. To gloss is to interpret or explain a text by taking up its words one after another. A glossary is therefore a collection of words about which observations and notes have been gathered, and a glossarist is one who thus explains or illustrates given texts. In Canon law, glosses are short elucidations attached to the important words in the juridical texts which make up the collections of the "Corpus Juris Canonici" (q.v.). But the term gloss is also given to the ensemble of such notes in any entire collection, e.g. the Gloss of the "Decretum" of Gratian, of the "Liber Sextus", etc. The Glossarists are those canonists who lived during the classic period of Canon law, from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, though many left works other than glosses. The canonists of Bologna in particular, favoured the method of the glossarists, and affixed to text and words the meaning which they should bear. In the beginning the masters noted down on their own copies of the "Decretum" of Gratian a few words by way of résumé, and as a help in their lectures; in course of time such notes passed into the copies of their pupils. These brief notes, at first inserted between the lines, soon overflowed the margins, and became copious enough to form a framework within which the real text was enshrined, as may be seen by an examination of ancient manuscripts and certain editions of the "Corpus Juris Canonici". Moreover, later glosses were of such ample proportions as to become at times small commentaries containing discussions on the opinions of previous canonists. As each master added his own gloss the notes began to swell in volume; but care was always taken to indicate the particular author by placing a significant abbreviation after his gloss, thus: Hug. or H. ( Huguccio ); Jo. Fa. or F. (Joannes Faventinus), etc. Gradually this mass of glosses took on in the schools a permanent form, a necessary condition to its usefulness in teaching; and became a kind of secondary canonical text, less authoritative, of course, than the original, but supplying material for oral commentary. Thus arose "ordinary gloss" ( glossa ordinaria ), endowed with a certain authority, not indeed official (as though it were actually the law on the point), but none the less real, since it represented the opinion and authority of the canonists who wrote it down, but chiefly because it expressed the teaching at the time. Hence it comes to pass that a medieval canonical gloss is often quoted even in our day; the quotation is made quite as the quotations from the canons or chapters ol the "Corpus Juris Canonici", except that the word on which the gloss bears is always indicated, e.g. "Gl(ossa)" in c. Licet, v, De Crimine falsi, vº (verbo) "Falsitatis" (the gloss on the word "falsitatis", in ch. Licet, fifth book of the Decretals ).

It is not easy to illustrate in a few words the legal learning that lies hidden in the glosses of Canon law collections. The principal heads of information are as follows:

  • résumé of the case;
  • determination of the question to be solved;
  • division of the text and statement of conclusions drawn;
  • interpretation of important words;
  • examples of real or fictitious cases showing the application of the law ;
  • discussion of the various readings of the same text as given in different manuscripts ;
  • countless references to parallel texts;
  • axioms or mnemonic helps (brocardica) often in leonine hexameter verses;
  • allusions to the teaching of various masters, and to solutions given on various occasions by pontifical letters.

Evidently the juridical value of these glosses for the teaching of canon law in our day has greatly lessened; historically, however, they still offer much precious information, The more eminent of the glossarists will be treated biographically, in their own places among the canonists of renown. Attention will be confined here to what is strictly essential in this connection. The gloss of the "Decretum" of Gratian was the work of John Zimeke, called the Teutonic (Joannes Simeca Teutonicus), between 1211 and 1215; he profited by the notes of his predecessors as well as those which he had made himself. This work, remodelled and completed by Bartholomew of Brescia (Bartholomæus Brixiensis) in 1245 or 1246, became the "ordinary gloss" of the "Decretum". Before their incorporation in the collection of Gregory IX, the so-called Five Compilations of papal Decretals (Quinque compilationes antiquæ) had all been glossed. Tancredus, archdeacon of Bologna, had written on the first of these collections (the "Breviarium" of Bernard of Pavia ) a gloss which was received as its "glossa ordinaria" until the appearance of the Decretals of Gregory IX in 1234. This last collection, as is known (see CORPUS JURIS CANONICI), caused the Five Compilations to disappear; in turn it was glossed by the masters of Bologna. The author of its "ordinary gloss" was Bernard of Botone, also known as Bernard of Parma (Bernardus Parmensis), who composed it shortly before 1263; afterwards it received many additions, especially from Joannes Andreæ, identified by the prefix Add . and at the end the initials Jo. Andr . It is to this famous canonist we owe the "glossa ordinaria" of the "Liber Sextus"; he wrote this glossa about the year 1305, Many manuscripts contain also the gloss of Joannes Monachus, famous as Cardinal Lemoine, written also about 1305. The gloss of Joannes Andreæ on the "Clementinæ", compiled soon after the appearance of this collection (1317), has become its "glossa ordinaria", with additions however by Franciscus de Zabarellis, later a cardinal, and Archbishop of Florence (died 1417). The "Extravagantes" of John XXII were glossed as early as 1325, by Zenzelin (Zenzelinus) de Cassanis. (See also CORPUS JURIS CANONICI; PAPAL DECRETALS.) The "Extravagantes Communes" had no regular gloss, but when Jean Chappuis edited this collection, in 1500, he included glosses of many authors that he came across in his manuscripts. All the glosses of the Corpus Juris are given in the official edition of Gregory XIII (1582); since then they have not been revised, and recent critical editions of the text omit them.

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