Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope St. John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


23 August 2017

Introduction to Canon Law (AT 780)



Notices ►



General remarks



This course presents an overview of the Johanno-Pauline Code of Canon Law (1983).

  • Class meets: Thursdays, 1:15 pm to 3:25 pm, Room 114.

  • Required text: Canon Law Society of America, Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition, New English Translation (Canon Law Society of America, 2012) 751 pp., ISBN: 1-932208-32-1. Bring the Code to every class. Note: I understand that copies of this edition are hard to find now. Do the best you can; we will work out something.

  • Class format: Interactive lecture.

  • Course grading: One final exam consisting of multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and short answer questions. (A non-graded, sample exam is distributed and discussed around midterm.)

  • SHMS Bulletin description: Students will be introduced to an examination of the nature of canon law and a broad overview of its content; emphasis will be placed on the nature, purpose, and history of the law in the Church and on changes in the law brought about by Vatican II. Special attention will be given to Book Two, “The People of God,” of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and principles of interpretation. 2 credits.

Additional remarks
  • SHMS has special courses on sacramental law and on marriage law; some areas of canon law (such as religious and procedural law) have only narrow usefulness in parish and arch/diocesan life.

  • Canon law makes extensive use of scholarly commentary in both academic and administrative contexts. Various canonical commentaries are on reserve in the Szoka Library during this course, but students should become familiar with all of the admirable canon law resources available at SHMS year-round. The key shelves to be aware of are in the circulating collection, esp. nos. 4, 37, and 47, front and backs.

  • The largest and most useful canon law website in the world is mine, Likewise, my canon law blog, In the Light of the Law, addresses events and issues wherein canon law is relevant. Students should become familiar with both of these resources.

Study technique


While understanding the 1983 Johanno-Pauline Code of Canon Law requires a firm grounding in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and familiarity with the scope and method of the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law (1917), the focus of this course is on the 1983 Code itself, as modified from time to time since promulgation. Because it is essential to deal directly with the text of the revised law the following four-step approach to studies might prove useful:

  • Read the assigned canons as a whole, straight through, but carefully.

  • Identify and consider the footnoted sources, known as fontes, cited for the canons.

  • Using a standard commentary re-read the individual canons along with the scholarly remarks on each. One might also wish to consult, say, John Huels (b. 1950), The Pastoral Companion: a Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry, New Series, 4th ed., (Wilson & Lafleur, 2009) 476 pp.

  • Re-read the canons as a whole this time recalling the key points made by the commentaries.

Topic 1



Definition of canon law.


Aspects of the ecclesial society served by canon law.


Types of law found in the Code.


Literary forms of canons in the Code.


Canonical citation styles.


Required Readings:

The instrument which the Code is fully corresponds to the nature of the Church, especially as it is proposed by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in general, and in a particular way by its ecclesiological teaching. Indeed, in a certain sense, this new Code could be understood as a great effort to translate this same doctrine, that is, the conciliar ecclesiology, into canonical language. St. John Paul II, ap. con. Sacrae disciplinae leges (1983) [¶ 18].


[T]he Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace, charisms, and especially charity in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace, and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life of both the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it. St. John Paul II, ap. con. Sacrae disciplinae leges (1983) [ 16].


Pope St. John Paul II

(reg. 1978-2005)



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