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§ 67. Books of Ecclesiastical Law.
I. Bibiliotheca juris canonici veteris, ed. Voellus (theologian of the Sorbonne) and Justellus (Justeau, counsellor and secretary to the French king), Par. 1661, 2 vols. fol. (Vol. i. contains the canons of the universal church, Greek and Latin, the ecclesiastical canons of Dionysius Exiguus, or of the old Roman church, the canons of the African church, etc. See a list of contents in Darling’s Cyclop. Bibliographica, p. 1702 sq.)
II. See the literature in vol. ii. § 56 (p. 183). The brothers Ballerini: De antiquis tum editis tum ineditis collectionibus et collectoribus canonum ad Gratianum usque in ed. Opp. Leon M. Ven., 1753 sqq. The treatises of Quesnel, Marca, Constant, Drey, Theiner, etc., on the history of the collections of canons. Comp. Ferd. Walther: Lehrbuch des Kirchenrechts, p. 109 sqq., 8th ed., 1839.
The universal councils, through their disciplinary enactments or canons, were the main fountain of ecclesiastical law. To their canons were added the decrees of the most important provincial councils of the fourth century, at Ancyra (314), Neo-Caesarea (314), Antioch (341), Sardica (343), Gangra (365), and Laodicea (between 343 and 381); and in a third series, the orders of eminent bishops, popes, and emperors. From these sources arose, after the beginning of the fifth century, or at all events before the council of Chalcedon, various collections of the church laws in the East, in North Africa, in Italy, Gaul, and Spain; which, however, had only provincial authority, and in many respects did not agree among themselves. A codex canonum ecclesiae universae did not exist. The earlier collections because eclipsed by two, which, the one in the West, the other in the East, attained the highest consideration.
The most important Latin collection comes from the Roman, though by descent Scythian, abbot Dionysius Exiguus,649649 It is uncertain whether he obtained the surname Exiguus from his small stature or his monastic humility. who also, notwithstanding the chronological error at the base of his reckoning, immortalized himself by the introduction of the Christian calendar, the “Dionysian Era.” It was a great thought of this “little” monk to view Christ as the turning point of ages, and to introduce this view into chronology. About the year 500 Dionysius translated for the bishop Stephen of Salona a collection of canons from Greek into Latin, which is still extant, with its prefatory address to Stephen.650650 It may be found in the above-cited Bibliotheca, vol. i., and in all good collections of councils. He says in the preface that, confusione priscae translationis (the Prisca or Itala) offensus, he has undertaken a new translation of the Greek canons. It contains, first, the, fifty so-called Apostolic Canons, which pretend to have been collected by Clement of Rome, but in truth were a gradual production of the third and fourth centuries;651651 “Canones, qui dicuntur apostolorum, ... quibus plurimi consensum non praebuere facilem;” implying that Dionysius himself, with many others, doubted their apostolic origin. In a later collection of canons by Dionysius, of which only the preface remains, he entirely omitted the apostolic canons, with the remark: “Quos non admisit universitas, ego quoque in hoc opere praetermisi.” On the pseudo-apostolic Canons and Constitutions, comp. vol. i. § 113 (p. 440-442), and the well-known critical work of the Roman Catholic theologian Drey. then the canons of the most important councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, including those of Sardica and Africa; and lastly, the papal decretal letters from Siricius (385) to Anastasius II. (498). The Codex Dionysii was gradually enlarged by additions, genuine and spurious, and through the favor of the popes, attained the authority of law almost throughout the West. Yet there were other collections also in use, particularly in Spain and North Africa.
Some fifty years after Dionysius, John Scholasticus, previously an advocate, then presbyter at Antioch, and after 564 patriarch of Constantinople, published a collection of canons in Greek,652652 Σύνταγμακανόνων, Concordia canonum, in the Bibliotheca of Justellus, tom. ii. which surpassed the former in completeness and convenience of arrangement, and for this reason, as well as the eminence of the author, soon rose to universal authority in the Greek church. In it he gives eighty-five Apostolic Canons, and the ordinances of the councils of Ancyra (314) and Nicaea (325), down to that of Chalcedon (451), in fifty titles, according to the order of subjects. The second Trullan council (Quinisextum, of 692), which passes with the Greeks for ecumenical, adopted the eighty-five Apostolic Canons, while it rejected the Apostolic Constitutions, because, though, like the canons, of apostolic origin, they had been early adulterated. Thus arose the difference between the Greek and Latin churches in reference to the number of the so-called Apostolic canons; the Latin church retaining only the fifty of the Dionysian collection.
The same John, while patriarch of Constantinople, compiled from the Novelles of Justinian a collection of the ecclesiastical state-laws or νόμοι, as they were called in distinction from the synodal church-laws or κανόνες. Practical wants then led to a union of the two, under the title of Nomocanon.
These books of ecclesiastical law served to complete and confirm the hierarchical organization, to regulate the life of the clergy, and to promote order and discipline; but they tended also to fix upon the church an outward legalism, and to embarrass the spirit of progress.
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