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Decretal

[dih-kreet-l]
Decretals (Epistolae decretales) is the name that is given in Canon law to those letters of the pope which formulate decisions in ecclesiastical law.

They are generally given in answer to consultations, but are sometimes due to the initiative of the popes. These furnish, with the canons of the councils, the chief source of the legislation of the church, and formed the greater part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici before they were formally replaced by the Codex Iuris Canonici of 1917. However, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri led the papal commission for the revision of canon law and later on published a guide to the fonts used in the 1917 code, many canons in this code can easily be retraced in their relationship to and dependency on medieval decretals as well as Roman law.

In themselves the medieval decretals form a very special source which throws light on medieval conflicts and the approaches to their solution. They are sometimes concerned with very important issues touching on many aspects of medieval life, for example marriage and legal procedure.

Definition and early history

In the wide sense of the Latin term decretalis (in full epistola decretalis) signifies a pontifical letter containing a decretum, or pontifical decision.

In a narrower sense it denotes a decision on a matter of discipline.

In the strictest sense of the word, it means a papal rescript (rescriptum), i. e. an answer of the pope when he has been appealed to or his advice has been sought on a matter of discipline.

Papal decretals are therefore not necessarily general laws of the Church, but frequently the pope ordered the recipient of his letter to communicate the papal answer to the ecclesiastical authorities of the district to which he belonged; and it was their duty then to act in conformity with that decree when analogous cases arose. It is generally stated that the most ancient decretal is the letter of Pope Saint Siricius (384-398) to Himerius, Bishop of Tarragona in Spain, dating from 385; but it would seem that the document of the fourth century known as "Canones Romanorum ad Gallos episcopos" is simply an epistola decretalis of his predecessor, Pope Damasus (366-384), addressed to the bishops of Gaul (Babut, La plus ancienne décrétale, Paris, 1904). The decretals ought to be carefully distinguished from the canons of the councils; from the epistol dogmatic, i. e. the pontifical documents touching on Catholic doctrine; from the constitutiones, or pontifical documents given motu proprio, i.e. documents issued by the pope without his being asked to do so or consulted upon a subject.

Finally, under the name decretals are known certain collections, containing especially, but not exclusively, pontifical decretals. These are the canonical collections of a later date than the "Decretum" of Gratian (about 1150). The commentators on these collections are named decretalists, in contradistinction to the decretists, or those who commented upon the "Decretum" of Gratian. Eventually some of these collections received official recognition; they form what is now known as the "Corpus Juris Canonici". An account follows of the collections of decretals, particularly of those of Gregory IX.

Decretal collections

The early collections of decretals were not commissioned by the popes. A number of bishops collected decretals and tried to organize them into collections. Burchard of Worms and Ivo of Chartres made influential collections. From the Collectio Francofurtana (around 1180) onwards collections get a more systematic character. In quick succession four socalled compilationes appeared between 1191 and 1226, a sign of the growing importance of papal decretals. The fifth compilation, the Compilatio Quinta was made by the canonist Tancred (d. about 1235) for Honorius III in 1226, who sent it immediately to the university of Bologna. It was organized in five books

Pope Gregory IX commissioned the Dominican Raymund of Peñafort to edit a comprehensive collection of papal decretals. This collection of nearly 2000 decretals appeared in 1234 as the Decretales Gregorii IX, also known as the Liber Extra, which was also immediately send to the universities of Bologna and Paris. In 1298 pope Boniface VIII published the next major collection of decretals. He entrusted three canonists with its redaction. This collection is known as the Liber Sextus. In the fourteenth century a few small collections followed: the Constitutiones Clementinae or Clementines (1317), edited by Anastasius Germonius and published by pope John XXII, and the Extravagantes Johannes XXII (1325-1327).

The Quinque Compilationes Antiquae Decretalium

The "Decretum" of Gratian was considered in the middle of the twelfth century as a corpus juris canonici, i. e. a code of the ecclesiastical laws then in force. As such however, it was incomplete and many new laws were made by succeeding popes; hence the necessity of new collections. Five of these collections exhibited pontifical legislation from the "Decretum" of Gratian to the pontificate of Gregory IX (1150-1227). These are known as the "Quinque compilationes antiquæ". On account of their importance they were made the text of canonical instruction at the University of Bologna, and like the "Decretum" of Gratian were glossed, i. e. notes bearing on the explanation and interpretation of the text were added to the manuscripts. The first collection, the "Breviarium extravagantium" or summary of the decretals not contained in the "Decretum" of Gratian (vagantes extra Decretum), was compiled by Bernard of Pavia in 1187-1191. It contains papal decretals to the pontificate of Clement III inclusive (1187-1191). The compilation known as the third (Compilatio tertia), written however prior to the second collection (Compilatio secunda), contains the documents of the first twelve years of the pontificate of Innocent III (8 January, 1198 — 7 January, 1210) which are of a later date than those of the second compilation, the latter containing especially the decretals of Clement III and Celestine III (1191-1198). The "Compilatio tertia" is the oldest official collection of the legislation of the Roman Church; for it was composed by Cardinal Petrus Collivacinus of Benevento by order of Innocent III (1198-1216), by whom it was approved in the Bull "Devotioni vestræ" of 28 December, 1210.

The second compilation, also called "Decretales mediæ" or "Decretales intermediæ", was the work of a private individual, the Englishman John of Wales (Johannes de Walesio, Walensis or Galensis). About 1216 an unknown writer formed the "Compilatio quarta", the fourth collection, containing the decretals of the pontificate of Innocent III which are of a later date than 7 January, 1210 and the canons of the Fourth Lateran Council held in 1215. Finally, the fifth compilation is, like the third, an official code, compiled by order of Honorius III (1216-1227) and approved by this pope in the Bull "Novæ causarumn" (1226 or 1227). It must also be noted that several of these collections contain decretals anterior to the time of Gratian, but not inserted by him in the "Decretum". Bernard of Pavia divided his collection into five books arranged in titles and chapters. The first book treats of persons possessing jurisdiction (judex), the second of the civil legal processes (judicium), the third of clerics and regulars (clerus), the fourth of marriage (connubium), the fifth of delinquencies and of criminal procedure (crimen). In the four other collections the same logical division of the subject-matter was adopted. (For the text see Friedberg, Quinque compilationes antiquæ, Leipzig, 1882.)

The Decretals of Gregory IX

Pope Gregory IX ordered in 1230 his chaplain and confessor, St. Raymond of Peñaforte (Pennafort), a Dominican, to form a new canonical collection destined to replace all former collections. It has been said that the pope by this measure wished especially to emphasize his power over the Universal Church. The papacy had indeed arrived at the zenith of its power. Moreover, a pope less favourably circumstanced would, perhaps, not have thought of so important a measure. Nevertheless, the utility of a new collection was so evident that it is needless to seek other motives than those which the pope himself gives in the Bull "Rex pacificus" of 5 September, 1234, viz., the inconvenience of recurring to several collections containing decisions most diverse and sometimes contradictory, exhibiting in some cases gaps and in others tedious length; moreover, on several matters the legislation was uncertain.

St. Raymond executed the work in about four years, and followed in it the method of the aforesaid "Quinque compilationes antiquæ". He borrowed from them the order of the subject-matter, the division into five books, of the books into titles and of the titles into chapters. Of the 1971 chapters which the Decretals of Gregory IX contain, 1771 are taken from the "Quinque compilationes antiquæ", 191 are due to Gregory IX himself, seven are taken from decretals of Innocent III not inserted in the former collections, and two are of unknown origin. They are arranged, as a general rule, according to the order of the ancient collections, i. e. each title opens with the chapters of the first collection, followed by those of the second, and so on in regular order; then come those of Innocent III and finally those of Gregory IX. Almost all the rubrics, or headings of the titles, have also been borrowed from these collections, but several have been modified as regards detail. This method considerably lightened St. Raymond's task. However, he did more than simply compile the documents of former collections. He left out 383 decisions, modified several others, omitted parts when he considered it prudent to do so, filled up the gaps, and to render his collection complete and concordant, cleared up doubtful points of the ancient ecclesiastical law by adding some new decretals. He indicated by the words et infra the passages excised by him in the former collections. They are called partes decis . The new compilation bore no special title, but was called "Decretales Gregorii IX" or sometimes "Compilatio sexta", i. e. the sixth collection with reference to the "Quinque compilationes antiquæ". It was also called "Collectio seu liber extra", i. e. the collection of the laws not contained (vagantes extra) in the "Decretum" of Gratian. Hence the custom of denoting this collection by the letter X (i.e. extra, here not the Roman numeral for ten).

Quotations from this collection are made by indicating the number of the chapter, the name the work goes by (X), the number of the book, and that of the title. Usually the heading of the title and sometimes the first words of the chapter are quoted; for instance, "c. 3, X, III, 23", or "c. Odoardus, X, De solutionibus, HI, 23", refers to the third chapter, commencing with the word Odoardus, in the Decretals of Gregory IX, book III, title 23, which is entitled "De solutionibus". If the number of the chapter or of the title is not indicated it will easily be learned on consulting the alphabetical indexes of the rubrics and of the introductory words of the chapters, which are to be found in all editions of the "Corpus Juris Canonici". Gregory IX sent this new collection to the Universities of Bologna and Paris, and declared, by the Bull "Rex pacificus" of 5 September, 1234, that this compilation was the official code of the canon law. All its decisions have the force of canon law whether they be authentic or not, whatever the juridical value of the texts considered in themselves, and whatsoever the original text. It is a unique collection; all its decisions were simultaneously promulgated, and are equally obligatory, even if they appear to contain, or if in fact they do contain, antinomies, i. e. contradictions. In this peculiar case it is not possible to overcome the difficulty by recourse to the principle that a law of later date abrogates that of an earlier period. Finally, it is an exclusive collection, i.e. it abrogates all the collections, even the official ones, of a later date than the "Decretum" of Gratian. Some authors (Schulte, Launin) maintain that Gregory IX abrogated even those laws prior to Gratian's time which the latter had not included in his "Decretum", but this opinion is contested by several others (von Scherer, Schneider, Franz Xavier Wernz, etc.). The controversy is no longer of practical interest.

The Decretals of Gregory IX differ widely from modern codes. Instead of containing in one concise statement a legislative decision, they generally start with an account of a controversy, the allegations of the parties in dispute, and a demand or the solution of the question; this species facti or the pars historica has no juridical value whatever. The enacting part of the chapter (pars dispositiva) alone has the force of law; it contains the solution of the case or the statement of the rule of conduct. The rubrics of the titles have the force of law when their sense is complete, as for instance, Ne sede vacante aliquid innovetur (Let there be no innovation while the see is vacant), because the headings form an integral part of the official code of the laws. However, they ought always to be interpreted according to the decisions contained in the chapters. The historical indications concerning each chapter are often far from being exact, even since they were corrected in the Roman edition of 1582. It may be regretted that St. Raymond did not have recourse to the original documents themselves, of which a large number must have been at his disposal. The summaries (summaria) which precede the chapters are the work of the canonists and may assist in the elucidation of the text. The partes decis are sometimes of like use, but never when these parts were designedly omitted from a desire to extinguish their legal force or because they contain decisions irreconcilable with the actual text of the law.

Like the former canonical collections, the Decretals of Gregory IX were soon glossed. It was customary to add to the manuscript copies textual explanations written between the lines (glossa interlinearis) and on the margin of the page (glossa marginalis). Explanations of the subject-matter were also added. The most ancient glossarist of the Decretals of Gregory IX is Vincent of Spain; then follow Godefridus de Trano (died 1245), Bonaguida Aretinus (thirteenth century) and Bernard of Botone or Parmensis (died 1263), the author of the "Glossa ordinaria", i. e. of that gloss to which authoritative credence was generally given. At a later date some extracts were added to the "Glossa ordinaria" from the "Novella sive commentarius in decretales epistolas Gregorii IX" by Giovanni d'Andrea (Johannes Andreæ). After the invention of printing, the Decretals of Gregory IX were first published at Strasburg from the press of Heinrich Eggesteyn. Among the numerous editions which followed special mention must be made of that published in 1582, in dibus populi romani, by order of Gregory XIII. The text of this edition, revised by the Correctores Romani, a pontifical commission established for the revision of the text of the "Corpus Juris", has the force of canon law, even when it differs from that of St. Raymond. It is forbidden to introduce any change into that text (Papal Brief "Cum pro munere", 1 July, 1580). Among the other editions, mention may be made of that by Le Conte (Antwerp, 1570), of prior date to the Roman edition and containing the partes decis ; that of the brothers Pithou (Paris, 1687); that of Böhmer (Halle, 1747), which did not reproduce the text of the Roman edition and was in its textual criticism more audacious than happy; the edition of Richter (Leipzig, 1839) and that of Friedberg (Leipzig, 1879-1881). All these authors added critical notes and the partes decis.

To indicate the principal commentators on the Decretals would mean writing a history of canon law in the Middle Ages. Important canonist include Innocent IV (died 1254), Enrico de Segusio or Hostiensis (died 1271), the "Abbas antiquus" (thirteenth century), Johannes Andreæ, Baldus de Ubaldis (died 1400), Petrus de Ancharano (died 1416), Franciscus de Zabarellis (died 1417), Dominicus a Sancto Geminiano (fifteenth century), Joannes de Imola (died 1436) and Nicolò Tudesco also called the "Abbas Siculus", or "Modernus", or "Panormitanus" (died 1453). Among the modern commentators, Manuel Gonzalez Tellez and Fagnanus may be consulted advantageously for the interpretation of the text of the Decretals. The Decretals of Gregory IX remain the basis of canon law so far as it has not been modified by subsequent collections and by the general laws of the Church (see Corpus Juris Canonici).

Later Collections

The decretals of the successors of Gregory IX were also arranged in collections, of which several were official, notably those of popes Innocent IV, Gregory X and Nicholas III, who ordered their decretals to be inserted among those of Gregory IX. In addition to these, several unofficial collections were drawn up. The inconveniences which Gregory IX had wished to remedy presented themselves again. For this reason Boniface VIII made a new collection of decretals which he promulgated by the Papal Bull "Sacrosanctæ" of 3 March, 1298. This is the "Sextus Liber Decretalium"; it has a value similar to that of the Decretals of Gregory IX. Boniface VIII abrogated all the decretals of the popes subsequent to the appearance of the Decretals of Gregory IX which were not included or maintained in force by the new collection; but as this collection is of later date than that of Gregory IX, it modifies those decisions of the latter collection which are irreconcilable with its own. Clement V, also, undertook to make an official collection, but death prevented him from perfecting this work. His collection was published by John XXII on 25 October, 1317, under the title of "Liber septimus Decretalium", but it is better known under the name of "Constitutiones Clementis V" or "Clementinæ". This is the last official collection of decretals. The two following collections, the last in the "Corpus Juris Canonici", are the work of private individuals. They are called "Extravagantes", because they are not included in the official collections. The first contains twenty Constitutions of John XXII, and is named "Extravagantes Joannis XXII"; the second is called "Extravagantes communes" and contains the decretals of different popes commonly met with in the manuscripts and editions. They were brought to their modern form by Jean Chappuis in 1500 and 1503.

Extravagantes

This term (Latin Extra 'outside' + vagari 'to wander') is employed to designate some papal decretals not contained in certain canonical collections which possess a special authority, i.e. they are not found in the Decree of Gratian or the three official collections of the "Corpus Juris" (the Decretals of Gregory IX, the Sixth Book of the Decretals and the Clementines). The term was first applied to those papal documents which Gratian had not inserted in his "Decree" (about 1140), but yet were obligatory upon the whole Church, also to other decretals of a later date, and possessed of the same authority. Bernard of Pavia designated under the name of "Breviarium Extravagantium" or Digest of the "Extravagantes", the collection of papal documents which he compiled between 1187 and 1191. Even the Decretals of Gregory IX (published 1234) were long known as the "Liber" or "Collectio Extra", i.e. the collection of the canonical laws not contained in the "Decree" of Gratian. This term is now applied to the collections known as the "Extravagantes Joannis XXII" and the "Extravagantes communes", both of which are found in all editions of the "Corpus Juris Canonici". When Pope John XXII (1316-1334) published the decretals known as the Clementines, there already existed some pontifical documents, obligatory upon the whole Church but not included in the "Corpus Juris". This is why these Decretals were called "Extravagantes". Their number was increased by the inclusion of all the pontifical laws of later date, added to the manuscripts of the "Corpus Juris", or gathered into separate collections. In 1325 Zenselinus de Cassanis added a gloss to twenty constitutions of Pope John XXII, and named this collection "Viginti Extravagantes pap Joannis XXII". The others were known as "Extravagantes communes", a title given to the collection by Jean Chappuis in the Paris edition of the "Corpus Juris" (1499 1505). He adopted the systematic order of the official collections of canon law and classified in a similar way the "Extravagantes" commonly met with (hence "Extravagantes communes") in the manuscripts and editions of the "Corpus Juris". This collection contains decretals of the popes Martin IV, Boniface VIII (notably the celebrated Bull Unam Sanctam), Benedict XI, Clement V, John XXII, Benedict XII, Clement VI, Urban V, Martin V, Eugene IV, Callistus III, Paul II and Sixtus IV (1281-1484). Chappuis also classified the "Extravagantes" of John XXII under fourteen titles, containing in all twenty chapters. These two collections are of lesser value than the three others which form the "Corpus Juris Canonici"; they possess no official value, nor has custom bestowed such on them. On the other hand, many of the decretals comprised in them contain legislation obligatory upon the whole Church, e.g. the Constitution of Paul II, "Ambitios", which forbade the alienation of ecclesiastical goods. This is however not true of all of them; some had even been formally abrogated at the time when Chappuis made his collection; three decretals of John XXII are reproduced in both collections. Both the collections were printed in the official (1582) edition of the "Corpus Juris Canonici". This explains the favour they enjoyed among canonists. For a critical text of these collections see Friedberg, "Corpus Juris Canonici" (Leipzig, 1879 1881), II.

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