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CANON, eccl. law. This word is taken from the Greek, and signifies a rule or law. In ecclesiastical law, it is also used to designate an order of religious persons. Francis Duaren says, the reason why the ecclesiastics called the rules they established canons or rules, (canones id est regulas) and not laws, was modesty. They did not dare to call them (leges) laws, lest they should seem to arrogate to themselves the authority of princes and magistrates. De Sacris Ecclesiae Ministeriis, p. 2, in pref. See Law, Canon.
LAW, CANON. The canon law is a body of Roman ecclesiastical law, relative to
such matters as that church either has or pretends to have the proper
2. This is compiled from the opinions of the ancient Latin fathers, the decrees of general councils, and the decretal epistles and bulls of the holy see. All which lay in the same confusion and disorder as the Roman civil law, till about the year 1151, when one Gratian, an Italian monk, animated by the discovery of Justinian's Pandects, reduced the ecclesiastical constitutions also into some method, in three books, which he entitled Concordia discordantium canonum, but which are generally known by the name of Decretum Gratiani. These reached as low as the time of Pope Alexander III. The subsequent papal decrees to the pontificate of Gregory IX., were published in much the same method, under the auspices of that pope, about the year 1230, in five books, entitled Decretalia Gregorii noni. A sixth book was added by Boniface VIII., about the year 1298, which is called Sextus decretalium. The Clementine constitution or decrees of Clement V., were in like manner authenticated in 1317, by his successor, John XXII., who also published twenty constitutions of his own, called the Extravagantes Joannis, all of which in some manner answer to the novels of the civil law. To these have since been added some decrees of the later popes, in five books called Extravagantes communes. And all these together, Gratian's Decrees, Gregory's Decretals, the Sixth Decretals, the Clementine Constitutions, and the Extravagants of John and his successors, form the Corpus juris canonici, or body of the Roman canon law. 1 Bl. Com. 82; Encyclopedie, Droit Canonique, Droit Public Ecclesiastique; Dict. de Jurispr. Droit Canonique; Ersk. Pr. L. Scotl. B. 1, t. 1, s. 10. See, in general, Ayl. Par. Jur. Can. Ang.; Shelf. on M. & D. 19; Preface to Burn's Eccl. Law, by Thyrwhitt, 22; Hale's Hist. C. L. 26-29; Bell's Case of a Putative Marriage, 203; Dict. du Droit Canonique; Stair's Inst. b. 1, t. 1, 7.