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


5 jan 2013

Resources in the General History of Canon and Roman Law

Related Pages


Master Page on

Corpus Iuris Canonici


Master Page on

Gratian's Concordantia


Master Page on the

Ius Decretalium


Resources on

Ius Decretalium (Friedberg edition)


Resources on the

Ius Novissimum


Readings in the

History of Canon Law



Anyone who knows merely the text of the Code of Canon Law ... will posses inadequate knowledge [of it]; the whole field of the development of canon law will be a closed book to him. Obviously, the ignoring of centuries of jurisprudence is not desirable either in the training of a canonist or in his subsequent work. E. Roelker, Invalidating Laws (1955) p. vii,


History of Canon Law, General Treatments

In order of suggested reading, from very light fare to much more sophisticated.


It is de rigueur to say that some of the works listed here have been eclipsed by later studies, and so I will say it. But, while we rejoice in the great strides made in recent decades in the history of canon law, the works listed here are of real value and were carefully read and understood by those who later improved on them. Would that I knew as much as these older scholars did, if only the more to appreciate what the newer have done.


"Canon Law” and “Canon Law, History of” in P. Stravinskas, ed., Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia (1991/1998). Both entries by E. Peters (unsigned). Very short.


aa.vv., "Canon Law, History of," NCE III: 34-50. Multi-part, excellent, with a series of good bibliographies. Look also for numerous individual entries on specific works and canonists.


Jules Besson, "Canons, Collections of Ancient," Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) III: 281-287; and, A. Boudinhoun, "Law, Canon," Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) IX: 56-66. Excellent, both.


Pietro Gasparri, "Praefatio [Codicis Iuris Canonici emendationem]", available in any monographic printing of the Pio-Benedictine Code; Eng. trans. in Edward Peters, The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code in English Translation with Extensive Scholarly Apparatus (Ignatius, 2001) 1-19. The first half of Card. Gasparri’s famous Preface brings the reader up to the 19th century, while the second half narrates the development of the 1917 Code. On the authority of Gasparri, see, e.g., G. Osterlé, "Gasparri (Pierre)", DDC V: 939, and W. Peters, "Gasparri, Pietro" NCE2 VI: 103-104.


Constant Van de Weil, History of Canon Law (Peeters/Eerdmans, 1991). Review: R. Trupia in The Jurist 52 (1992) 740-741. Order here. • One can (and perhaps should, if a beginner) skip the introduction and the first chapter (but read them later). Though Van de Weil sometimes strays into a bit too much religious order history, overall this is a solid “first book”.


Robert Mortimer (1902-1976), Western Canon Law (University of California, 1953) 92 pp. Reviews: E. Roelker in The Jurist 14 (1954) 373-374, and W. Morris in The Journal of Religion 35 (1955) 188-=, • Five classic lectures, only one of which (no. 4) does not call for careful reading and rereading. The shortest of the genuine “must reads” in this field.


A. Cicognani

Amleto Cicognani (Italian prelate, 1883-1973), Canon Law, 2d ed., (various publishers, 1934). Review: E. Roelker in The Jurist 7 (1947) 439. • Roughly the first 425 pages of this famous work are a history of canon law. It's about as complex and detailed as one can get in English studies.


John Gilchrist, The Collection in 74 Titles: a Canon Law manual of the Gregorian reform (Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies, 1980) 288 pp. • One’s best first exposure to reading an actual historical source, this is a beautiful and very approachable work for beginning students.  


Alphonsus Van Hove (Belgian priest, 1872-1947), Prolegomena ad Codicem iuris canonici [1928], 2nd ed., (Dessain, 1945) 671 pp. Review: P. Fedele in Ephemerides Iuris Canonici 4 (1948) 473-474. See also R. Naz, "Van Hove (Alphonse)", DDC VII: 1402-1403, and C. Lefebvre, "Mgr. A. Van Hove", Ephemerides Iuris Canonici 3 (1947) 573-575. • Simply magisterial. Editions after the first are greatly expanded and even more valuable.




Alphonsus Stickler (Austrian Salesian/Roman prelate, 1910-2007), Historia Iuris Canonici Juris Latini, Historia Fontium (Augustae Taurinorum, 1950) 469 pp. Reviews: E. Roelker in The Jurist 11 (1951) 442-443, and P. Fedele, Ephemerides Iuris Canonici 6 (1950) 93-94. • Superb. Titled as if it were the first volume of a projected three-volume work, the other two volumes were never written (pressing duties from the Holy See prevented Stickler's return to the project), so the numeric "1" may be, and should be for clarity's sake, omitted from the title.


A suggestion for reordering the major divisions of canonical history.


Quo in genere, nemo sane ignorat, leges, quae ante Gratianum (intra ann. 1140-1150) latae sunt, ius antiquum, nostra quoque aetate, appellari; quae a Gratiano ad Concilium Tridentinum (ann. 1545-1563), ius novum, etsi iam nobis antiquissimae sunt; quae denique post Tridentinam Synodum, ius novissimum. Gasparri, Praefatio [CIC] ¶ 2.


Gasparri's expertise regarding the development of canon law is beyond dispute, but in this one regard, I think that his admiration for the substance of Tridentine legislation led him to over-estimate that council's importance for the fundamental development of the canonical system itself (as opposed to the content of that system) and, consequently, to under-appreciate the central role that Gregorian decretal law played in organizing canonistics for three centuries before Trent and for three-and-a-half after.























Basically, Gasparri suggests the following sequence in the development of canon law:

c. 1140


1917, 1983

Ius Antiquum

Gratian inaugurates Ius Novum

Trent inaugurates

the Ius Novissimum



This presentation has the attractiveness of cleanly breaking legal history into distinct, sequential periods. But law, like life, is not always so neatly arranged. Gasparri's time-line overlooks the radical difference in canonical organization that Gregory's decretal law brought about and which Trent left essentially undisturbed. By the time of Trent, decretist commentary on Gratian had all but ceased and canon law was driven by decretalist commentary on the Quinque Libri Decretalium until, indeed, the great Jesuit canonist Wernz, Ultimus Decretalistarum, published his Ius Decretalium in the first decade of the twentieth century. The great codifications of the twentieth century replaced the Ius Novissimum, yes, but that Ius Novissimum did not start with Trent, but rather, with Gregory IX's Liber Extra as composed by Peñafort. The Liber Sextus, the Clementinae, the two books of Extravagantes, and Decretales Clementis VIII, all followed Gregory's organization, not Gratian's.


I suggest that the following sequence more accurately reflects what happened in canon law:

c. 1140      1234


1917, 1983

Ius Antiquum

Gratian inaugurates the Ius Novum




Gregory IX inaugurates the Ius Novissimum


 Salvo sapientiorum iudicio.


History of Canon Law, Other Treatments

Alphabetical by author/editor


Harold Berman (American law prof., 1918-2007), Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Harvard, 1983) 674 pp. Order here. Reviews: Berman's book was quite widely and very positively reviewed. Of special interest to canonists would be, however, the negative review by J. Soria in Studia Canonica 28 (1994) 487-515 and the rebuff of Soria's review by C. Reid in Studia Canonica 29 (1995) 433-480.


James Brundage,  Medieval Canon Law (Longman,1995) 260 pp. Reviews: C. Reid, Studia Canonica 32 (1998) 563-565, and K. Christensen, The Jurist 56 (1996) 948-949. Order it here. Very readable, quite accessible to non-canonists (even those who have not read everything in "General Overviews"), paints an engrossing picture of the practice of canon law. Excellent work to introduce longer studies. Good chapters on pre-medieval canon law, too. Consider starting with chapter 4, and saving ch. 2-3 for last.


Brian Ferme, Introduction to the History of the Sources of Canon Law: the ancient law up to the Decretum of Gratian, (Wilson & Lafleur, 2007) 320 pp. Review: E. Peters, Journal of Law and Religion 25 (2009) 589-591, here. • Excellent work.




Richard Helmolz, The Spirit of Classical Canon Law (University of Georgia, 1996) 514 pp. Order here. Review: J. Brundage in The Jurist 58 (1998) 257-259.


Stephan Kuttner, "Harmony from Dissonance" [The Wimmer Lecture] (Archabbey Press, 1960) 64 pp.


Robert Kretzschmar, Alger von Lüttichs Traktat 'De misericordia et iustitia', (Jan Thornbecke Verlag Sigmaringen, 1985)  411 pp.






W. Müller & M. Sommar, eds., Medieval Church Law and the Origins of the Western Legal Tradition: A Tribute to Kenneth Pennington (Catholic University of America, 2006), 26 scholarly essays in four languages, 404 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-8132-1462-7. Reviews: E. Peters in Journal of Law and Religion 23 (2007) 101-104, here. • Excellent work.


Robert Somerville & Bruce Brasington, Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity, 500-1245. (Yale, 1998) 247 pp. Order here. Reviews: A. Thompson in Studia Canonica 33 (1999) 564-566, and C. Reid in The Jurist 59 (1999) 291-295. • Just what its title says, with excellent introductions to the texts.


J. Sweeney and S. Chodorow, eds., Popes, Teachers, and Canon Law in the Middle Ages (Cornell, 1989) 342 pp. Reviews: =


Elizabeth Vodola, Excommunication in the Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1986) 281 pp. Reviews: E. McDonough in The Jurist 46 (1986) 687-688. • Standard in its field. Carefully traces its theme from Old Testament times.


Wolfgang Müller, Huggucio: The Life, Works, and Thought of a Twelfth-Century Jurist (Catholic University of America, 1994) 220 pp. Review: C. Reid in The Jurist 55 (1995) 401-403.


Roman Law



Legista sine canonibus parum valet, canonista sine legibus nihil.

Not sure I quite agree, mind, but I know what it's getting at.


Albert Gauthier (1933-), Roman Law and its Contribution to the Development of Canon Law (University of St. Paul, 1996) 169 pp., and Gauthier, Droit Romain • Albert Gauthier (1933-), Le Droit Romain et son apport à l'édifiction du Droit Canonique (Université Saint-Paul, 1996) 169 pp. Review: C. Reid, Studia Canonica 31 (1997) 272-273. Also available in English.


T. Mommsen, et al., The Digest of Justinian, Latin-English text in 4 vols., (University of Pennsylvania, 1985).


Adolphe Berger, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law (American Philosophical Society, 1954) 808 pp. Review: M. McGuire in Seminar (The Jurist) 10 (1952) 85-88.


Andrew Borkowski, Textbook on Roman Law (Blackstone, =).


William Buckland (1859-1946), A Textbook of Roman Law from Augustus to Justinian [1921], 2nd ed., (Cambridge,1932), 763 pp.


W. Buckland and Arnold McNair, Roman and Common Law, (Cambridge, 1936) 354 pp. Review: P. Ciprotti in Apollinaris 11 (1938) 595-596.


Herbert Jolowicz (1890-1954), Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law [1939] (Cambridge, 2008) 556 pp. Order here. See also S. Kuttner, "In memoriam: Herbert Felix Jolowicz", Seminar (The Jurist) 12 (1954) 1-6.


Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law (Oxford Clarendon, 1962) 281 pp. Order here.


Fritz Schultz, Classical Roman Law (Oxford Clarendon, 1951/1954) 649 pp. Review: A. Berger, Seminar (The Jurist) 10 (1952) 93-97.


See John Merryman , The Civil Law Tradition: an introduction to the legal systems of western Europe and Latin America [1969], 3rd ed. (Stanford University, 2006) 168 pp. Order here.


Ochoa-Diez, Indices Titulorum • X. Ochoa & A. Diez, Indices Titulorum et Legum Corporis Iuris Civilis (Commentarium pro Religiosis, 1965). Review: B. Deutsch in The Jurist 26 (1966) 265-266.


The Council

of Trent


Paul III



30 December 1545

Procedural matters



07 January 1546

Procedural matters



04 February 1546

Symbol of Faith



08 April 1546

Sacred Scripture



17 June 1546

Original Sin

lectureships, alms


30 January 1547




03 March 1547

Sacraments, esp. Bapt., Conf.



11 March 1547

Procedural matters



21 April 1547

Procedural matters



2 June 1547

Procedural matters


Julius III



01 May 1551

Procedural matters



01 September 1551

Procedural matters



11 October 1551


canonical procedure


25 November 1551

Penance & Anointing



25 January 1552

Procedural matters



28 January 1552

Procedural matters


Marcellus II


No conciliar sessions were held during this very brief papacy.

Pius IV



18 January 1562

Procedural matters



26 February 1562

Procedural matters



14 May 1562

Procedural matters



04 June 1562

Procedural matters



16 July 1562

Holy Communion issues



17 September 1562

The Mass



15 July 1563

Holy Orders



11 November 1563




03 December 1563

Purgatory, Saints, Religious