Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Canon Law Definition:

The law of the Church; based on religious beliefs.

Related Terms: Ecclesiastical Law, Theocracy, Civil Code, Common Law, Roman Law

Has little or no legal effect today except in full or partial theocracies.

In Christian societies and the state of the Vatican, rulings of popes or cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is a misnomer to call it law as canon law has little or no legal effect today even though:

"Law was not always distinguished from religion; and that originally, all precepts were deemed to be of a religious character. It was God who told you ... not to murder and God who told you to pay your debts."1

Canon law has been set by the Christian Church and which, in virtually all places, is not binding upon citizens except to the extent of exposure to oscratization by Church institutions and members, and has virtually no recognition in the judicial system.

Canon law covers such things as the process of religious service, criteria for baptism, funerals, prohibited conduct, church property, and internal boards which have jurisdiction over Church matters (ecclesiastic courts).

The Roman Catholic Church has a Code of Canon Law. A sample:

"Canon 1397. A person who procures a completed abortion incurs ... excommunication."

Pope re canon lawThe Church's grip on the word law is ancient and firm, as the field is complete with ecclesiastic law societies and journals.

Historically, canon law was enforced by the government such as the Inquisition and as such was law. Citizens could not afford to ignore it.

In most modern societies, church and state have been separated; the government will not enforce canon law and the Church has no privileged voice within in the law-making apparatus of the state.

The only attraction today of canon law, for most citizens, other than those who voluntarily abide by it as an act of faith, is to access a Church ceremony.

Also known as ecclesiastical law.

Historically, canon law operated side by side by then-developing common law and several components of common law are heavily inspired by canon law, such as estate and marriage law.

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