Canon Law, New Code of

The authentic compilation of the disciplinary laws of the Catholic Church which was officially promulgated by Pope Benedict XV, 27 May 1917, and became binding throughout the Western Church 19 May 1918. The Church has from Christ the power to legislate. She has exercised this in the course of centuries according to the varying conditions of society. In the 13th century especially canon law became the object of scientific study and different compilations were made by the Roman pontiffs. The most important of these were the Five Books of the Decretals of Gregory IX and the Sixth of Boniface VIII. Legislation grew with time. Some of it became obsolete and contradictions crept in so that it became difficult in recent times to discover what was of obligation and where to find the law on a particular question. When the Vatican Council met in 1869 a number of bishops of different countries petitioned for a new compilation of church law that would be clear and easily studied. The council never finished its work and no attempt was made to bring the legislation up to date. Finally, Pope Pius X in his Letter, 19 March 1904, announced his intention of revising the unwieldy mass of past legislation and appointed a commission of cardinals and learned consultors to undertake this difficult work. The Catholic universities of the world and the bishops of all countries were asked to cooperate. The scholars began the work and a copy of the first draft was sent to the bishops for suggestions. In 1916 the New Code was completed and on Pentecost Sunday, 1917, officially promulgated. In order however to grant sufficient time for the study of the New Code the pope allowed a respite of a year. On Pentecost Sunday, 19 May 1918, it became operative.

The New Code is divided into five books. The first treats of general rules; the second of ecclesiastical persons; the third of sacred things such as sacramentals, altars, etc.; the fourth of canonical trials; and the last of crimes and punishments. The whole work contains 2414 canons. For the most part past legislation has been retained; in some cases the law modified, and in others entirely new. As the Code is not always easy of interpretation, Pope Benedict XV, in 1917, established a special commission with authority to interpret it. This body alone can give the authentic interpretation. The Code is universal in binding power in the Latin Church; it is authentic and the only source of universal legislation. It clears up many disputed points and has in view order, peace, and sanctity of life.

New Catholic Dictionary

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