Canon law

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In Western culture, canon law is the law of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. The Eastern Orthodox concept of canon law is similar to but not identical to the more legislative and juridical model of the West. In both traditions, a canon is a rule adopted by a council (From Greek kanon/κανον, for rule, standard, or measure); these canons formed the foundation of canon law.

In the official Anglican Church of England, the ecclesiastical courts that formerly decided many matters such as disputes relating to marriage, divorce, wills, and defamation, still have jurisdiction of certain church-related matters (e.g., discipline of clergy, alteration of church property, and issues related to churchyards). Their separate status dates back to the 12th century when the Normans split them off from the mixed secular/religious county and local courts used by the Saxons. In contrast to the other courts of England the law used in ecclesiastical matters is at least partially a civil law system, not common law, although heavily governed by parliamentary statutes. Since the Reformation, ecclesiastical courts in England have been royal courts. The teaching of canon law at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge was abrogated by Henry VIII; thereafter practitioners in the ecclesiastical courts were trained in civil law, receiving a Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) degree from Oxford, or an LL.D. from Cambridge. Such lawyers (called "doctors" and "civilians") were centered at "Doctors Commons," a few blocks south of St Paul's Cathedral in London, where they monopolized probate, matrimonial, and admiralty cases until their jurisdiction was removed to the common law courts in the mid-19th century. (Admiralty law was also based on civil law instead of common law, thus was handled by the civilians too.)

Other churches in the Anglican Communion around the word (e.g., the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the Anglican Church of Canada) still function under their own private systems of canon law.

In the Roman Catholic church, the canons of the councils were supplemented with decretals of the Popes, which were gathered together into collections such as the Liber Extra (1234), the Liber Sextus (1298) and the Clementines (1317).

In the 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church began attempting to codify canon law, which two millennia of development had become a complex and difficult system of interpretation and cross-referencing. The first code of canon law was published in 1917. A revised code, the Codex Iuris Canonici (Code of Canon Law, CIC) was published in 1983. Canon law within the Catholic Church is a fully developed legal system, with all the familiar trappings of courts (including lawyers); the highest degree of education in canon law is the J.C.D. (Juris Canonici Doctor, Doctor of Canon Law).

The Eastern Catholic Churches have a separate code of canon law. The first attempt to codify Eastern law under the name Codex Iuris Canonici Orientalis (Code of Eastern Canon Law) was partially completed when Pope Pius XII promulgated portions of the canons in 1948. However, when the project neared completion in 1959, Pope John XXIII suspended work as the expected conciliar reforms would affect the code. The Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, CCEO) was promulgated in November 1990. The majority of canons correspond closely to the Roman code, but incorporates certain differences in the hierarchy, administration and other areas.

The Orthodox Christian tradition is generally much less legalistic, and treats many of the canons more as guidelines than as absolute laws, adjusting them to cultural and other local circumstances. Some Orthodox canon scholars point out that, had the Ecumenical Councils (which deliberated in Greek) meant for the canons to be used as laws, they would have called them nomoi/νομοι (laws) rather than kanones/κανονες (standards).

Greek-speaking Orthodox have collected canons and commentary upon them in a work known as the Pedalion/Πεδαλιον (rudder--so called because it is meant to "steer" the Church). However, this is not a codification, but simply a compilation of one tradition of interpretation of the canons.

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