The Canon Law Legal System

Canon2Canon Law, the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the western world, is the internal legal system of the Catholic Church:

 Internal: canon law lies wholly within the Church’s authority to compose and administer, this, in contrast to the wide variety of external (usually civil) laws to which the Church generally defers in the pursuit of her divine mission;

  • Legal: canon law operates according to the principles of law chiefly as set out in Aristotelian-Thomistic legal philosophy, this, in contrast to suggestions that canon law is simply applied theology, morals, or the rules of religious cult;

 System: canon law must be read as a whole for proper understanding and use, this, in contrast to suggestions that canon law is a collection of principles or aphorisms that are capable of being rightly appreciated in isolation from each other.

Canon law affects virtually every aspect of the faith life of over one billion Catholic Christians around the world. But, as Pope St. John Paul II explained when he promulgated the Code in 1983, canon law “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.” John Paul II, ap. con. Sacrae disciplinae leges (1983) 16. The more that Catholics understand their canonical rights and duties, the more effectively they can partake in the Church’s mission. May the materials on this website further that participation!

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