Collections of ancient canons contain collected bodies of canon law that originated in various different documents, such as papal and synodal decisions, and that can be designated by the generic term of canons.
These collections may be genuine (e. g. the Versio Hispanica), or apocryphal, i.e. made with the help of documents forged, interpolated, wrongly attributed or otherwise defective (e. g. the Pseudo-Isidore collection). They may be official and authentic (i.e. promulgated by competent authority) or private, the work of individuals. The forged collections of the middle of the ninth century are treated in the article on False Decretals.
The Apostolic Constitutions, though originally accepted throughout the Orient, were declared apocryphal in the Trullan Council of 692; they were never accepted as ecclesiastical law in the West. The Apostolic Canons (eighty-five) were, on the other hand, approved by the Trullan Council.
Dionysius Exiguus, a Western canonist of the first half of the sixth century, noted that "many accept with difficulty the so-called canons of the Apostles". Nevertheless he admitted into his collection the first fifty of these canons. The so-called Decretum Gelasianum, de libris non recipiendis (about the sixth century), puts them among the apocrypha.
From the collection of Dionysius Exiguus they passed into divers Western collections, though their authority was never on one level. We find them admitted at Rome in the ninth century in ecclesiastical decisions; in the eleventh century Cardinal Humbert accepts only the first fifty. Only two of them (20, 29) found their way into the Decretals of Gregory IX.
This collection was chronological in order. Towards 535 an unknown compiler classified its materials in a methodical way under sixty titles, and added to the canons twenty-one imperial constitutions relative to ecclesiastical matters taken from the Code of Justinian. This collection has been lost.
Some years later (540-550) Johannes Scholasticus, Patriarch of Constantinople, made use of this code to compile a new methodical collection, which he divided into fifty books. After the emperor's death (565), the patriarch extracted from ten of the former's constitutions, known as "Novellæ", some eighty-seven chapters and added them to the aforesaid collection.
In this way arose the mixed collections known as Nomocanons (Greek nomoi "laws", kanones "canons"), containing not only ecclesiastical laws but also imperial laws pertaining to the same matters. The first of these was published under Emperor Maurice (582-602); under each title were given, after the canons, the corresponding civil laws.
The Quinisext Council (695) of Constantinople, called Trullan from the hall of the palace (in trullo) where it was held, issued 102 disciplinary canons; it included also the canons of the former councils and certain patristic regulations, all of which it considered constitutive elements of the ecclesiastical law of the East. This collection contains, therefore, an official enumeration of the canons which then governed the Eastern Church, but no official approbation of a given collection or particular text of these canons. It is to be noted that the Apostolic See never fully approved this council. In 787 a similar recapitulation of the ancient canons was made by the Second Council of Nicæa.
The former council (325) was held in repute throughout the West, where its canons were in vigour together with those of Sardica, the complement of the anti-Arian legislation of Nicæa, and whose decrees had been drawn up originally in both Latin and Greek. The canons of the two councils were numbered in running order, as though they were the work of but one council (a trait met with in divers Latin collections), which explains why the Council of Sardica is sometimes called œcumenical by earlier writers, and its canons attributed to the Council of Nicæa. The oldest versions of these canons quoted in the papal decretals are no longer extant.
Towards the middle of the fifth century, perhaps earlier, there appeared a Latin version of the aforesaid canons of Nicæa, Ancyra, Neo-Cæsarea and Gangra, to which were added a little later those of Antioch, Laodicæa and Constantinople; the canons of Sardica were inserted about the same time after those of Gangra. Bickell considers it possible that this version was made in Northern Africa, while Walter inclines to Spain; it is now generally believed that the version was made in Italy. It was long believed, however, that it came from Spain, hence the name of "Hispana" or "Isidoriana", the latter term derived from its insertion in the collection attributed to St. Isidore of Seville (see below, Spanish Collections), in which it was edited, of course according to the text followed by the Spanish compiler.
This too seems to have grown up gradually in the course of the fifth century, and in its present shape exhibits the aforementioned canons of Ancyra, Neo-Cæsarea, Nicæa, Sardica, Gangra, Antioch, Chalcedon and Constantinople. It came to be known as "Itala" from the place of its origin, and as "Prisca" because of an overhasty conclusion that Dionysius Exiguus referred to it in the preface of his first collection when he wrote: "Laurentius offended by the confusion that reigned in the ancient version [priscœ versionis]..
Further collections were called for by the increasing canonical material of the Latin West in the course of the fifth century. They were far from satisfactory.
Towards 500 a Scythian monk, known as Dionysius Exiguus, who had come to Rome after the death of Pope Gelasius (496), and who was well skilled in both Latin and Greek, undertook to bring out a more exact translation of the canons of the Greek councils. In a second effort he collected papal decretals from Siricius (384-89) to Anastasius II (496-98), inclusive, anterior therefore, to Pope Symmachus (514-23). By order of Pope Hormisdas (514-23), Dionysius made a third collection, in which he included the original text of all the canons of the Greek councils, together with a Latin version of the same; but the preface alone has survived. Finally, he combined the first and second in one collection, which thus united the canons of the councils and the papal decretals; it is in this shape that the work of Dionysius has reached us. This collection opens with a table or list of titles, each of which is afterwards repeated before the respective canons; then come the first fifty canons of the Apostles, the canons of the Greek councils, the canons of Carthage (419), and the canons of preceding African synods under Aurelius, which had been read and inserted in the Council of Carthage. This first part of the collection is closed by a letter of Pope Boniface I, read at the same council, letters of Cyril of Alexandria and Atticus of Constantinople to the African Fathers, and a letter of Pope Celestine I. The second part of the collection opens likewise with a preface, in the shape of a letter to the priest Julian, and a table of titles; then follow one decretal of Siricius, twenty-one of Innocent I, one of Zozimus, four of Boniface I, three of Celestine I, seven of pope Leo I, one of Gelasius I and one of Anastasius II. The additions met with in Voel and Justel are taken from inferior manuscripts.
There were gaps in the work of Dionysius; he seems, in particular, to have taken the papal decretals not from the archives of the Roman Church, but from previous compilations, hence certain omissions, which need not arouse any suspicion of the authenticity of documents nor quotes. In spite of its defects this collection far surpassed all previous efforts of the kind, not alone by its good order, but also by the clear, intelligible text of its version, and by the importance of its documents. Very soon it superseded all earlier collections and was much used (celeberimo usu), especially in the Roman Church, says Cassiodorus. It became popular in Spain and Africa and even before Charlemagne had found its way into Gaul and Britain. It was the medium by which the African canons reached the East. Copyists used it to correct the text of the other collections, a fact not to be lost sight of at the risk of taking an interdependence of manuscripts for an interdependence of collections. Despite its authority of daily use and its occasional service in the papal chancery, it never had a truly official character; it even seems that the popes were wont to quote their own decretal letters not from Dionysius, but directly from the papal registers. - In time the "Collectio Dionysiana", as it came to be known, was enlarged and some of these additions entered the "Collectio Hadriana", which pope Adrian I sent (774) to Charlemagne, and which was received by the bishops of the empire at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 802. It is none other than the "Collectio Dionysiana", with some additions in each of its two parts. In this shape it acquired and kept the title of "Codex Canonum". Neither the action of Pope Adrian nor the acceptance by the Synod of Aix-la-Chapelle conferred on the book an official character, or made it a code of universally obligatory laws; with much greater reason may it be said that it did not thereby become an exclusively authoritative code of ecclesiastical law.
All its texts are authentic, save eight letters from divers persons to Peter, Bishop of Antioch. The best edition is Otto Günther: Epistvlae imperatorvm pontificvm aliorvm inde ab a. CCCLXVII vsqve ad a. DLIII datae Avellana qvae dicitvr collectio. Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum, vol. 35. Vindobonae: F. Tempsky, 1895.
Despite the popularity of Dionysius Exiguus, which caused the previous compilations to be disused, several of them were preserved, as also were some other contemporary collections. Suffice it to mention the collection known as the "Chieti" or "Vaticana Reginæ", through which a very old and distinct version of the decrees of the Council of Nicæa has reached us.
From the Eastern Church Northern Africa received only the decrees of Nicæa (325), which it owed to Cæcilianus of Carthage, one of the Nicene Fathers. The African Church created its domestic code of discipline in its own councils. It was customary to read and confirm in each council the canons of preceding councils, in which way there grew up collections of conciliar decrees, but purely local in authority. Their moral authority, however, was great, and from the Latin collections they eventually made their way into the Greek collections. The best-known are: (a) the Canons of the Council of Carthage (August, 397) which confirmed the "Breviarium" of the canons of Hippo (393), one of the chief sources of African ecclesiastical discipline; (b) the Canons of the Council of Carthage (419), at which were present 217 bishops and among whose decrees were inserted 105 canons of previous councils.
In the second part of the Hispana (see below) and in other collections are found, together with other African councils, 104 canons which the compiler of the Hispana attributes to a Pseudo-Fourth Council of Carthage of 398. These canons are often known as Statuta Ecclesiæ Antiqua, and in some manuscripts are entitled Statuta antiqua Orientis.
Hefele maintains that in spite of their erroneous attribution, these canons are authentic, or at least summaries of authentic canons of ancient African councils, and collected in their present shape before the end of the sixth century. On the other hand, Maassen, Louis Duchesne, and Arthur Malnory believe them a compilation made at Arles in the first part of the sixth century; Malnory specifies Caesarius of Arles as their author.
Compiled c. 546 by Fulgentius Ferrandus, it is a methodical collection and under its seven titles disposes 230 abridged canons of Greek ("Hispana" text) and African councils. Fulgentius was a deacon of Carthage and disciple of St. Fulgentius of Ruspe.
Cresconius Africanus, apparently a bishop, compiled his collection about 690. It is based on that of Dionysius Exiguus; only, in place of reproducing in full each canon, it cuts it up to suit the demands of the titles used; hence its name of "Concordia". Between the preface and the text of the collection the writer inserted a resume of his work.
Such collections contain, besides the decrees of Spanish synods, the canons also of Nicæa and Sardica (accepted in the Spanish Church from the beginning), those of the Greek councils known through the "Itala", and those of the Gallican and African Councils, quite influential in the formation of Spanish ecclesiastical discipline. Three of these collections are important.
It is divided into two parts, one dealing with the bishop and his clergy, the other relative to the laity; in both the author classifies methodically the canons of the councils in eighty-four chapters. He says himself in the preface that he does not pretend to reproduce the text literally, but with set purpose breaks up, abridges, or glosses the same, in order to make it more intelligible to "simple people"; possibly he has occasionally modified it to suit the Spanish discipline of his time. Though much has been borrowed from Latin, Gallican and African Councils, the Greek Councils furnish the greater part of the canons. The "Capitula" were read and approved at the Second Council of Braga in 572. Some writers, misled by the name, attributed them to Pope Martin I; they are in reality the work of Martin of Pannonia, better known as Martin of Braga, of which place he was archbishop in the sixth century. Their text was incorporated with the "Isidoriana", from which they were taken and edited apart by Merlin and by Gaspar Loaisa, and in the first volume of the oft-quoted work by Voel and Justel, after collation of the variants in the best manuscripts.
This is the name of the collection edited by the Ballerini from two manuscripts (Verona and Lucca). It has two parts: one includes the canons of Greek, African, Gallican and Spanish councils; the other divers papal decretals from Siricius to Pope Vigilius (384-555), with two apocryphal texts of St. Clement and an extract from St. Jerome. The compiler designedly abridged his texts, and mentions only three sources, a Braga collection (the "Capitula Martini", his first chapter being a resume of that work), an Alcalá (Complutum) collection, and one of Cabra (Agrabensis). Though characterized by lack of order and exactness, the "Epitome" interests us because of the antiquity of its sources. Maassen thinks it connected with the "Codex Canonum", the nucleus of the group of collections whence eventually issued the "Hispana", and of which we shall treat apropos of the latter.
The collection in question, like that of Dionysius Exiguus on which it is based, contains two parts: the first includes canons of Greek, African, Gallican and Spanish councils, with some letters of St. Cyril of Alexandria and Atticus of Constantinople, while the second has the papal decretals as found in Dionysius, together with some others, most of the latter addressed to Spanish bishops. This is the chronological "Hispana". Somewhat later, towards the end of the seventh century, it was recast in logical order, by some unknown writer, and divided into ten books, which were again subdivided into titles and chapters. This is the methodical "Hispana". Finally, the copyists were wont to place at the beginning of the chronological "Hispana" a table of contents of the methodical collection, but with references to the text of the chronological: in this shape it was known as the "Excerpta Canonum". The chronological "Hispana" seems to have been originally the "Codex Canonum" mentioned at the Fourth Council of Toledo (633), with later additions. In the ninth century it was attributed, with insufficient evidence, to St. Isidore of Seville.
In spite of this erroneous attribution, the "Hispana" contains very few documents of doubtful authenticity. Later on, additions were made to it, the latest being taken from the seventeenth council of Toledo (694). In this enlarged form, i. e. the "Codex Canonum", the "Hispana" was approved by Pope Alexander III as authentic.
Until the thirteenth century, its authority was great in Spain. Pseudo-Isidore made a generous use of its materials.
This rapid sketch exhibits the vitality of the Church from the earliest centuries, and her constant activity for the preservation of ecclesiastical discipline. During this long elaboration the Greek Church unifies her legislation, but accepts little from beyond her own boundaries. On the other hand the Western Church, with perhaps the sole exception of Africa, makes progress in the development of local discipline and exhibits an anxiety to harmonize particular legislation with the decretals of the popes, the canons of general councils, and the special legislation of the rest of the Church. Doubtless in the above-described collection of canons, the result of this long disciplinary development, we meet with forged decrees of councils and decretals of popes, even with forged collections, e. g. the collections of pseudo-Apostolic legislation. Nevertheless the influence of these apocryphal works on other canonical collections was restricted. The latter were, almost universally, made up of authentic documents. Canonical science in the future would have been nourished exclusively from legitimate sources had not a larger number of forged documents appeared about the middle of the ninth century (Capitula of Benedict Levita, Capitula Angilramni, Canons of Isaac of Langres, above all the collection of Pseudo-Isidore. See False Decretals). But ecclesiastical vigilance did not cease; in the West especially, the Church kept up an energetic protest against the decay of her discipline; witness the many councils, diocesan synods and mixed assemblies of bishops and civil officials, also the numerous (over forty) new canonical collections from the ninth to the beginning of the twelfth century and whose methodical order foreshadows the great juridical syntheses of later centuries. Being compiled, however, for the most part not directly from the original canonical sources, but from immediately preceding collections, which in turn often depend on apocryphal productions of the ninth century, they appear tainted to the extent in which they make use of these forgeries. Such taint, however, affects the critical value of these collections rather than the legitimacy of the legislation which they exhibit. While the "False Decretals" affected certainly ecclesiastical discipline, it is now generally recognized that they did not introduce any essential or constitutional modifications. They gave a more explicit formulation to certain principles of the constitution of the Church, or brought more frequently into practice certain rules hitherto less recognized in daily use. As to the substance of this long development of disciplinary legislation, we may recognize with Paul Fournier a double current. The German collections, while not failing to admit the rights of the papal primacy, are seemingly concerned with the adaptation of the canons to actual needs of time and place; this is particularly visible in the collection of Burchard of Worms. The Italian collections, on the other hand, insist more on the rights of the papal primacy, and in general of the spiritual power. M. Fournier indicates, as especially influential in this sense, the Collection in Seventy-four Titles. Both tendencies meet and unite in the works of Yvo of Chartres. The compilations of this epoch may, therefore, be classed in these two broad categories. We do not, however, insist too strongly on these views, as yet somewhat provisory, and proceed to describe the principal collections of the next period, following, as a rule, the chronological order.
Its twelve books treat hierarchy, judgments, ecclesiastical persons, spiritual things (rules of faith, precepts, sacraments, liturgies) and persons separated from the Church. Its sources are the "Dionysiana", the "Hispana", the correspondence (Registrum) of Gregory I and various collections of civil laws. Unfortunately it has also drawn on Pseudo-Isidore.
It is dedicated to Anselm, doubtless Anselm II of Milan (833-97), and is held to have been compiled in Italy towards the end of the ninth century. It is certainly anterior to Burchard (1012-23), whose work depends on this collection. The author is unknown.
Its two books treat of the clergy and ecclesiastical property viz. of the laity. Each book begins with a list (elenchus) of questions that indicate the points of chief importance in the eyes of the bishop. After this catechism, it adds the canons and ecclesiastical authorities relative to each question.
The collection was made about 906 and seems to depend on an earlier one edited by Richter entitled "Antiqua Canonum collectio qua in libris de synodalibus causis compilandis usus est Regino Prumiensis" (Marburg, 1844).
It deals with the clergy, ecclesiastical property, monks and their relations with the bishops. Besides the canons and papal decretals, Abbo made use of the Capitularies, the Roman civil law, and the laws of the Visigoths; his collection is peculiar in that he enclosed within his own context the texts quoted by him.
It was well known in and out of Italy and furnished to other collections not only their general order, but also much of their material. Fournier believes it the source of the collection of Anselm of Lucca, of the Tarraconensis and the Polycarpus, also of other collections specified by him.
It has no preface; from the beginning (Incipit) of a Vatican manuscript it is clear that Anselm of Lucca compiled the work during the pontificate and by order of Pope Gregory VII (died 1085). It passed almost entire into the Decretum of Gratian.
His work is dedicated to Pope Victor III (1086-87), the successor of Gregory, and dates therefore from the reign of Victor; its four books on the papal primacy, the Roman clergy, ecclesiastical property and the Patrimony of Peter, reflect the contemporary anxieties of the papal entourage during this phase of the conflict of Investiture between the Church and the Holy Roman empire.
He has left us: