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Edward Peters


Canon Law Reviews




     Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Prepared under the Responsibility of the Faculty of Canon Law, University of Navarre, English edition edited by Ernest Caparros, (Wilson & Lafleur / Midwest Theological Forum, 2004). Five volumes bound as eight, approx 8,000 pages. List price US $ 1,200. Contact: or


     The Exegetical Commentary is a breath-taking achievement. Nothing like it exists in canonical circles (except, of course, for the original Spanish language Comentario Exegético upon which this updated English edition is based.) One has to go back a hundred years to the publication of Francisco Wernz’s Ius Decretalium to find a similar treatise in canonistics that, immediately upon publication, was recognized as a standard by which future scholarly efforts would be measured. The same collegial spirit and widespread collaboration that Pope John Paul II noted had gone into the development of the 1983 Code is reflected in this great commentary not only by the fact that more than one hundred canonists from some dozen nations contributed their expertise to the project, but also in the teams of translators, reviewers, and editors that came together under Dr. Caparros’ leadership to produce a truly universal canonical commentary free of regional parochialisms and narrow concerns. There is, quite simply, a lifetime of learning contained within these pages. I cannot imagine an undertaking of comparable scope and quality even being attempted for decades to come. I add, finally, that, as is true of all major publications in the Series Gratianus, these volumes are quite beautifully printed and bound. They can be, and will be, consulted for centuries. enp


Reviews in:


Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly (28:1, Spring 05)


 Exegetical Commentary

on the Code of Canon Law


in 8 volumes


Ernest Caparros, JCD, LLD

General Editor, English Edition



Available directly from:

Midwest Theological Forum (USA)

Wilson & LaFleur (CAN)



Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly (28:1, Spring 05), pp. 43-44.

rev. by Edward N. Peters


Reflected in the very name of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars is the idea that no single scholarly discipline represents the totality of the Church’s contribution to man’s welfare, nor can an individual scholar within a discipline speak comprehensively for his or her field, let alone for the Church. In canon law, recognition that many minds are needed to describe the sweep of ecclesiastical legislation has been quietly gaining ground for decades. Once, say, Bachofen, Cappello, Coronata, and Jone, passed from the scene, no lone lawyers remained who could attempt the great multi-volume, pan-textual commentaries that dominated canonistics before the Second World War. Instead, what began to appear in canonical circles were encouraging experiments in scholarly collaboration. The pre-conciliar Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique and the Comentarios al Código de Derecho Canónico come readily to mind, as do some famous canonical pairings such as Abbo-Hannon, Bouscaren-Ellis, and Vermeersch-Creusen.

Since the Second Vatican Council, this collaborative methodology in canon law (applied even to the drafting of what eventually became the 1983 Code) has blossomed into impressive coordinated efforts by teams of experts to produce respectable commentaries on the whole of the 1983 Code. The British commentary (1995), for example, used 15 scholars to treat the revised law. The first American commentary (1985) represented 24 authors, and the second (2000) drew on an impressive 36 canonists. Similar works in Italian (29 contributors) and Spanish (6 in one, 11 for another, 22 in a third) could be cited.

Prescinding, though, from whether every contributing author’s opinion on every canon in each of these works is entirely sound, and notwithstanding the obvious achievement that such pan-textual tomes undoubtedly represent, some in canon law (perhaps especially those who could look at their yellowing sets of Bachofen in eight volumes or Blat or Coronata in five) quietly reminded a new generation of canon lawyers that the canonistics behind most of the norms in the 1983 Code were not being adequately sounded by, in too many cases, a few paragraphs here or a couple pages there between the boards of a thick monograph.

Onto this stage strides the stunning Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

At five volumes bound as eight, encompassing approximately 9,000 pages of commentary and apparatus, the Exegetical Commentary dwarfs all other treatises on the 1983 Code. Moreover, an astounding 115 experts (hailing from some dozen nations) directly contributed to this project, more than triple the number authors contributing to any of the individual works mentioned above. Of course, however impressive, sheer quantity in a commentary is not the dispositive factor in assessing its scholarly worth; there is, of course, also quality.

I am not on the extremely short list of beati who can claim (say, in the course of editing this massive set) to have read the entire manuscript yet. Indeed, my present reading schedule suggests eligibility for that fraternity only about the year 2012. Instead, I begin an assessment of scholarly potential by examining the List of Collaborators for the Exegetical Commentary. There one sees that something over half the authors are Spanish (see below), a fact that still left room for dozens of other canonists from throughout Europe and the Americas. Generously scattered through the predictable designations of faculty members, moreover, one sees listed many Vatican officials, tribunal judges, sitting diocesan bishops, and officials of or consultants to many particular churches. In short, academe and the chancery have come together in this work.

The plurality of Spanish contributors to the Exegetical Commentary is explained thus: the present English edition grew out of and largely represents a translation of and updating to the original Comentario Exegético al Código de Derecho Canónico published by the University of Navarre in 1996 (a project it took on in addition to producing and continually updating its Código de Derecho Canónico edición bilingűe y anotada, albeit in only 2,000 pages.) But, notwithstanding Spain’s rich tradition in canonical sciences (second only to Italy’s) and despite the fact that Spanish remains a primary reference language in canon law, too few researchers outside of Spain knew of its latest canonical accomplishment. The decision to move the Comentario Exegético into English assures, of course, a world-wide distribution—and bolsters the claim I have made elsewhere that English has become the leading modern language in canonical studies. Finally, concerns among non-Spaniards that a mere translation of the original Comentario would import excessively Iberian issues or approaches into a treatise proposed for universal consultation were anticipated—and as far as I can tell, were admirably resolved—by the editorial decisions made in producing the English text of the Exegetical Commentary.

Producing the English version required more than six years of labor, and even that speed was possible only because the task of directing this project was accepted by one of the few men in the world today who could carry it off, Dr. Ernest Caparros, emeritus of the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. With dual doctorates in canon and civil law, pentalingual, and with an astounding array of juridic publications and legal leadership positions to his credit, Caparros’ early commitment to the project (even amid several other major canonical publications he was overseeing for the Series Gratianus) assured the many others who be would needed to bring this massive project to fruition of eventual success. And so it has happened. The Exegetical Commentary is now complete; it rightly takes its place as the most extensive study of the 1983 Code of Canon Law available today.

There remains but to sketch the straight-forward structure of the work. Each canon is set out first in Latin, then in English (using the Great Britain & Ireland translation, but following mostly American spelling). Rome’s vitally important footnotes (fontes) immediately follow, and unofficial but quite useful cross-references within the 1983 Code are suggested. Then begins the scholarly comment (each article is signed). Observations might run less than a page if the material warrants no more, but often cover several pages if such is needed to paint a sufficiently detailed picture of the norm and its referents. Additional footnotes vary by scholar, but they tend to be “European” in style, i.e., lighter and less frequent than North American lawyers are inclined to use. The actual commentary is clearly ordered toward the great task of applying canon law within the Church today and in that sense it seems to avoid extended historical treatments of topics. Those who need that kind of information (and in complex cases the best canonical answers might well require such understandings) do best to master the law as given us today with the help of resources such as the Exegetical Commentary, and then follow the fontes supplied by the Legislator back to Pio-Benedictine predecessors, and even to decretal law where that is appropriate.

The Exegetical Commentary is a gift to the Church. These beautifully printed and bound pages, offering competent and faithful explanations of modern canon law, will be consulted for centuries, inspiring others to deepen their own appreciation of and cooperation with the laws of Christ and His Church. +++