Canon law

Image - A page from Kormchaia kniga (15th century).

Canon law (Greek: κανών [norm]). The set of laws regulating the internal order of the church. The oldest source of canon law in the postapostolic era is Διδαχὴ τών δώδεκα ̓αποστόλών (The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles), dating from the 1st century AD. The body of church laws accepted in the church (and state) of Byzantium was called the Nomocanon. One canonical collection, compiled by John the Scholastic, consisted of 50 titles (the first edition, AD 550, contained 85 canons of the Apostles, the canons of 10 synods, and 68 canons of Saint Basil the Great; the second edition, AD 565, contained more canons of Saint Basil as well as those of other church fathers). The most famous Nomocanon, ca AD 883, consisted of 14 titles and is attributed to the patriarch Photius.

The Slavic translation of the Nomocanon (of 50 titles) is called Ustiuzhska Kormcha or the Nomocanon of Saint Methodius (13th century); the translation of the Nomocanon (of 14 titles) is entitled Efremovska Kormcha (11th century). Another Slavic source is the Kormchaia kniga (The Rudder Book), composed by the Serbian archbishop Sava (ca 1199–1207) at Mount Athos. In 1260 it was transferred from Serbia through Bulgaria to Rus’, where, in 1274, it was accepted as the official source for church law at the synod of Vladimir-on-the-Kliazma under the metropolitan of Kyiv, Cyril II. Kormchaia kniga consisted of different Byzantine sources of canon law, later supplemented with some sources of Ukrainian origin, such as Ruskaia Pravda (Rus’ Truth [Law]). Some other Ukrainian sources of canon law are Mirylo pravednoie (The Just Measure, 14th century, dealing with judicial procedure), the synopsis of canons of 1420, the Nomocanon of 226 chapters (several editions: Kyiv 1620, 1624, 1629; Lviv 1646), and Zinar (a penitential collection from the 12th–14th century). These collections form the basis of the canon law of the Orthodox church, including the Ukrainian Orthodox church.

At the beginning of the 16th century a collection of canon laws known as Corpus Iuris Canonici was prepared in the Roman Catholic church. This collection expanded constantly but was never approved. The official codification of Catholic canon law began in 1904, and the new code, entitled Codex Iuris Canonici (Code of Canon Law), came into effect in 1918. The code is binding on the Roman Catholic church but affects the Eastern church only in certain relevant sections. Outside this code there is room for special laws adopted by the individual church provinces.

To compile a similar code of canon law for the Eastern church, in 1929 Pope Pius XI appointed a commission of cardinals, which consisted of two subcommissions: one to collect the sources of Eastern canon law, and the other to prepare a code of laws of the Eastern church. The consultant from the Ukrainian Catholic church to the codification subcommission was Rev Dionisii Holovetsky, and to the editorial subcommission, Rev Yosyp Ivan Zaiachkivsky. The editorial subcommission planned to unify the laws of the scattered Eastern churches, to orientalize these laws (eg, a number of Eastern legal terms were introduced), and to reconcile the Eastern code with the code of canon law of the Western church. The code of canon law of the Eastern church was prepared in full, but in 1957 Pope Pius XII published only a few of its parts, including those relating to Eastern rites.

After the Second Vatican Council a new period of codification of canon law was begun. A pontifical commission for the revision of canon law for Eastern churches was established and included as the Ukrainian representatives Metropolitan Maksym Hermaniuk and Bishop Myroslav Marusyn (now the commission’s vice-president), as well as several other Ukrainians in the role of consultants.

Pavlov, A. Kurs tserkovnogo prava (Moscow 1902)
Lotots'kyi, O. Ukraïns'ki dzherela tserkovnoho prava (Warsaw 1931; Rome 1960)
Holoweckyj, D. Fontes iuris canonici Ecclesiae Ruthenae (Rome 1932)
Wojnar, M. ‘The Code of Oriental Canon Law—De Ritibus Orientalibus et Personis,’ Jurist, 19 (Washington 1959)
De Clercq, C. Fontes iuridici Ecclesiarum Orientalium (Rome 1967)
Pontificia Commissio Codici Iuris Canonici Orientalis Recognoscendo. Nuntia, 1–13 (Rome 1975–81)
Pospishil, V. Eastern Catholic Church Law according to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Brooklyn, NY 1993)

 Vasyl Laba, M. Meletius Wojnar

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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