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 John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


1152 x 864


3 jan 2013

Review of E. Caparros, ed., Code of Canon Law Annotated, 2nd ed., (Wilson & Lafluer, 2004) 2066 pp.

Edward Peters, Review of Caparros, ed., Code of Canon Law Annotated, 2nd ed., (2004), in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (Dec 2005) 73-75.


Series Gratianus (Wilson & Lafleur, Montreal: 2004) 2,066 pages, adapted from the 6th Spanish language edition of Código de derecho canónico, edicion bilingüe y anotada (University of Navarra). ISBN: 2-89127-629-9 or 1-890177-44-X.



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The 1983 Code of Canon Law took effect just over twenty years ago. During the first dozen years of its enforcement, English language explanations of the 1983 Code were dominated, nay, monopolized by the 1,100 page pan-textual commentary published by the Canon Law Society of America published in 1985. Known informally as the “big red book”, and a testament to (almost exclusively) American canonical talent, the [1985] CLSA Commentary immediately established itself as a powerful presence in canonistics. For all its strengths, though, the CLSA Commentary could not and did not represent the last word in canonical interpretation. Other voices would be needed with the passing years.


In the mid-1990s, two more English-language commentaries on the 1983 Code appeared. One was the product of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain & Ireland (though drawing on, in some areas, leading Canadian canonists). This thousand-page work immediately secured high regard among canon lawyers for being true to its title, Letter & Spirit (1996), and ably reflecting both aspects of modern canonistics. The other 1990s pan-textual commentary in English, a precursor in fact to the one being reviewed here, started winning its share of recognition more slowly, for it differed in some significant respects from the commentaries organized by the Americans and the British.


The original edition of Code of Canon Law Annotated (1993), although edited and released in Canada by a leading legal publishing house therein (Wilson & Lafleur in Montreal), was not originally an English language or even a culturally Anglo work: it was a translation of a Spanish canonical commentary first developed by the University of Navarra in Spain. This fact worked both for and against reception of the work in North America. The advantage of an English version of Code Annotated (a French version had been released in 1990) was that it made immediately available to English readers impressive scholarship from a leading continental canonical community, Spain. The disadvantage, though, was that some of the categories, issues, and lines of reasoning used by the Spanish did not relate well, or at least easily, to Anglo-American canonical approaches, suggesting at first a rather limited applicability to North American needs. There was, I think, some truth behind this perception, but over time, the value of the Spanish scholarship, beyond being adapted in some places to Anglo concerns by able Canadian editors, proved quite worth the efforts required to utilize the first edition of Code Annotated. It sold nearly 10,000 copies over ten years, a huge number by canonical standards.


Having proven the welcome that the “little red book” (Letter & Spirit being the “medium red book”) had won in English-speaking canonical circles, and a revised edition of the Spanish original coming available in 2001, the decision was taken to revise the English edition of Code Annotated. In 2004 that work became available and is the subject of this review.


Beautifully printed and sturdily bound, the revised edition of Code Annotated, still a “little red book” albeit of some 2,000 pages, features canon by canon glosses on nearly every norm of the 1983 Code. Latin originals and English translations (revised from the basic British version) of each canon are given, with commentary following immediately. A conscious effort has been made by the editors to trim materials that were of little canonical interest outside of Spain, and to augment the commentary with information more relevant and available to English-speaking canonists. While Rome’s official fontes (source footnotes to the 1983 Code) are not provided herein, there is more than ample textual citation to both pre- and, even better, post-promulgation canonical documentation as an aid to further research.


In contrast to the 1917 Code, the 1983 Code calls for considerable enabling legislation to be enacted at the episcopal conference level, and Code Annotated does an excellent job of assembling this particular legislation from numerous English-language conferences and organizing it in a useable appendix. The usual correlating tables to Pio-Benedictine and Eastern canon law are provided along with Latin-English versions of apostolic constitutions Divinus perfectionis, Spirituali militum, Pastor bonus and Universi dominici. The topical index is quite extensive.


While canonical commentaries are consulted overwhelmingly by canonists aware of the context in which these tomes arise and comfortable with the inherent limitations on their authority, given the happy resurgence of canonical interest among non-specialists, a few words should be said about the limitations that bear on any scholarly text of this sort. Briefly, one should recognize that, Code Annotated being the work of canonists qua canonists, and not of canonists qua legislators, administrators, or judges, one consults this volume for the opinions of the scholars it contains. Put another way, what one reads in Code Annotated need not, and usually should not, be taken as the only canonically compelling articulation that could be given an issue. Two examples should illustrate the point.


Canon 209 may be described as the single canon that most directly requires Catholics to act like Catholics all the time. Canon 209 occurs near the beginning of a block of canons new in canon law articulating the fundamental rights and duties of the faithful (1983 CIC 204-231). Canon 209 is the subject of considerable commentary among canonists in English-speaking nations, a reflection, I think, of the deep awareness among canonists from nations of the common law tradition of the importance of enunciating in law (as opposed to in custom, in common sense, and so on) the individual’s fundamental rights and duties. But Code Annotated, reflecting perhaps its original continental predispositions, does not even discuss Canon 209! Of course, not every canon of the 1983 Code is worthy of individual treatment, but the failure to discuss Canon 209 will strike English-readers as odd.


1983 CIC 209


    § 1. The Christian faithful, even in their own manner of acting, are always obliged to maintain communion with the Church.

    § 2. With great diligence they are to strive to fulfill the duties which they owe to the universal Church and the particular church to which they belong according to prescripts of law.

Or, consider Canon 1055, opening the 1983 Code’s treatment of marriage. One of the most hotly debated questions arising under Canon 1055 is the degree to which the Johanno-Pauline Code accepts? modifies? rejects? the Pio-Benedictine Code’s assertion that marriage has three hierarchic and subordinated ends in contrast to the two co-equal ends of marriage that are clearly reflected in the revised law. It is an important question with significant implications for everything from parochial marriage preparation programs to tribunal cases being plead before the Roman Rota. But to consult only Code Annotated, one would not know there was even a debate in this area. The Spanish author of this section presents marriage as being ordered to the procreation of children. Period. No allusions to the presence of differing discussions on this topic are offered, not even an acknowledgment that the words of the canon itself seem to be using decidedly “co-equal” terminology. Of course, a scholar is free to argue a “hierarchic ends” interpretation of Canon 1055, but to present such an unnuanced reading of the law as if it were the only position conceivable might lead the uninitiated to assume that the matter is settled, when it is not.

 1983 CIC 1055


   § 1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.

   § 2.  For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.


Canon law, after decades of disastrous post-Conciliar neglect, is once again being recognized as an indispensable component of ecclesiastical stability and pastoral effectiveness. Most bishops, pastors, religious superiors, and active laity, not being canon lawyers of course, will turn to concise and reliable commentaries on the 1983 Code in order to bring law to bear on their ecclesiastical work. The various American and British commentaries are a great service in this regard, but with Canada’s gift of Code Annotated, especially in this revised edition, English-speaking clergy and faithful alike will experience a valuable share of continental Europe’s approach to the many canonical issues that the Catholic world faces and that must be incorporated for progress toward a fuller understanding of the universal Church’s teaching, sanctifying, and governing missions.