Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


1152 x 864


20 apr 2017

Codex Vivens (Introduction)



Books I-VII





Canonical information has never been more available to ecclesiastical leaders, ministers, and scholars than it is today, but the volume of that material and its complexity makes accessing it a formidable challenge even to canonists let alone to others interested in Church law. The Codex Vivens attempts to meet that challenge.



As John Paul II noted when he promulgated the 1983 Code, canon law provides order to the Catholic ecclesial society, but the nature of the Church as a communion of persons and communities, impelled by faith to bring the light of Christ to an incalculable variety of situations, requires a legal system that is simultaneously able to facilitate the application of old insights to new problems, welcome new solutions to old questions, and, as circumstances suggest, even incorporate novel responses to first-time issues.


Catholic Canon Lawin part because it is modeled on ancient Roman law, in part because it works in service to doctrine—achieves this balance between stability, adaptability, and creativity by undergoing textual refinements by ecclesiastical authority, experiencing concrete applications to life by pastoral ministers, and by being subjected to continuous scholarly examination by qualified thinkers. This marked interdependence of ecclesiastical authority, experience, and academics makes canon law unique among the world's legal systems, and it is what presents special challenges to Church leaders, pastors, and scholars researching canon law.


Ratio of the

Codex Vivens


Lincoln Bouscaren




The Codex Vivens builds on good ideas that came before it (notably, the Canon Law Digest) and complements some good ideas already underway (such as Canon Law Abstracts).


Canonists practicing under the Pio-Benedictine Code (indeed, those doing research on it now!) owed an immense debt of gratitude to T. Lincoln Bouscaren, the American Jesuit canonist, teacher, and chronicler of codified law as it unfolded in the Roman Church during the first half of the twentieth century. For nearly 40 years, Bouscaren collected, translated, and systematically published (helped in his later years by his co-religionist James O'Connor) as many official and semi-official documents of the Holy See impacting the 1917 Code as he could find. The development of the 1917 Code and many of its most important pastoral applications cannot be traced without access to Bouscaren's magnificent Canon Law Digest.


In certain respects, of course, Boucaren's project can be improved upon today: (a) in this electronic age, canonical research must be computerized and not remain limited to hardcopy publications; (b) the emergence of episcopal decision-making in the wake of the Second Vatican Council makes more important the inclusion of governing decisions by local ecclesiastical authorities as well as those coming from the Holy See; and (c) the variety of academic research into canonistics needs to be more effectively bought to the attention of and shared among Church leaders, pastoral ministers, and thinkers. The Codex Vivens attempts to meet these three canonical research needs.


The volume of materials coming from the Holy See and around the world is significant, but those being produced by canonical commentators and academics in related fields is immense. A great effort at tracking this scholarly material as it appears in canon law journals is being carried out by members of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain & Ireland though its famous Canon Law Abstracts. No attempt to duplicate their service (or that of, say, the Canon Law Society of America by indexing its valuable 'Advisory Opinions') is feasible, and none is attempted here. Other religious research databases (such as ATLA), while sometimes useful for canonical research, are not geared to the particular needs of canonical researchers. Codex Vivens is organized according to the methods and categories of those researching canon law topics.


Materials and 'sources' (fontes) encountered in canon law

Canonical researchers need access to two broad kinds of materials, official or normative provisions, such as canons, decrees, decisions, and so on, and private or scholarly materials, such as academic commentaries and reflections. (The concrete experiences of pastoral administrators, while of importance in shaping the canonical system as noted above, usually enter that system either by being legislated by Church authority or by being discussed among Church scholars.)


These two broad kinds of materials being appreciated, in gathering and organizing normative materials, canonists have long distinguished between fontes essendi (sources of law's being, such as popes for the universal Church and bishops for local Churches) and fontes cognoscendi (sources for knowing what the law is, such as ecclesiastical journals or compendia of dicasterial decisions). Despite the risk of some duplications and omissions in such a system, this two-part approach to normative matters is followed in the Codex Vivens.


Scholarly materials, on the other hand (which lack a meaningful fons essendi) are usually organized with reference to where they were published (according to their fons cognoscendi, as it were). In other words, the  fontes essendi of canon law always have one referent (Church leadership) while fontes cognoscendi of canon law could be concerned with either ecclesiastical leadership or with academics.


The specific fontes essendi and the fontes cognoscnedi consulted in developing the Codex Vivens are discussed in more detail at Repertorium.


How to use

this resource





Like the Canon Law Digest, Codex Vivens is arranged fundamentally by individual canon number, but groupings of canons, as designated by the Legislator, are indicated here as well.


For each canon or set of canons, there are from one to six categories of information provided as follows: OFFICIAL, SEMI-OFFICIAL, CITED IN, SCHOLARLY, OTHER, and NOTES. Occasionally sub-categories are added for clarification. Within categories and sub-categories information is presented first in order of prestige (if such can be identified), and then in order of publication date, with more recent publications listed first:


 ► OFFICIAL: Papal, Dicasterial, Episcopal Conferences, Episcopal, Other.

 ► SEMI-OFFICIAL: There are relatively few items listed here, for example, dicastery official delivering a talk is not speaking on behalf of his office, but neither is he simply one more scholarly looking at an issue.

 ► CITED OR SUGGESTED IN: Identifies the ecclesiastical document wherein the canon in question is cited or seems to be suggested.  Full citations for these documents are found in the Repertorium. It is for individual researches to determine whether the discussion of the canon in question is significant.

 ► SCHOLARLY: Dissertations, monographs, articles, and so on dated 1980 or later. If the full citation for a given scholarly work is not given in Books I-VII it is provided in the Repertorium.

 ► OTHER: Identifies other discussions (often non-canonical) of the canon in question or its subject matter.

 ► NOTES: Comments and suggestions.


Of course, not every canon was the object of all, or even of any, of the above kinds of treatments. Sometimes, just knowing what one need not look for is a help.


Additional Points


Language conventions. The organizing language of the Codex Vivens is American English (e.g., "John Paul II" instead of "Johannes Paulus II"). For the sake of simplicity, however, names of months in the official citations below are always given in Latin and abbreviated. Document titles are usually given in their original language (e.g., "De munere Episcopi Romae Successoris Sancti Petri abdicatione" instead of "Abdication of the Pope"). The language of the document title is the language of the document itself except where noted otherwise (e.g., Pope Francis' Evangelii gaudium, despite its Latin title, is written in Italian and is so noted). Links to documents lead to English versions (usually the Vatican's) except as noted (e.g., Spirituali militium curae links to the Latin text in default of an English translation).


Canons Cited or Impacted. One of the most useful aspects–if also one of the most challenging to develop–of the Codex Vivens is the listing, in gray-shading, of 'Canons cited in (or impacted by) such-and-such document:'. As a rule, important canons expressly cited in a given document are listed in this shaded area, while canons that seem to be impacted by the document in question, but which are not actually cited, are listed in parentheses. Obviously, some judgments had to be made in order to prevent explicit but trivial canonical citations from crowding the information below, while inclusions of some merely implicit canonical references were made but with which other scholars might disagree.


Scholarly Materials and Notes. =


Technical Points


  • All canons are listed below in four digits (e.g., 0001, 0002, 0003, instead of simply 1, 2, 3). This largely eliminates the annoyance that a search for a canon number will turn up, say, stray page numbers or dates instead.

  • An official citation for an official document is always presented when available.

  • Entries marked "bis" appear in two places, those marked "ter" appear in three, and so on.

  • Dates for Roman dicasterial documents are indicated in terms of publication, and not papal approval.

A note on

legislative history

Two works very important for appreciating the textual development of the canons of the 1983 Code are:

  • Pontificium Consilium de Legum Textibus Interpretandis, Congregatio Plenaria, diebus 20-29 Octobris 1981 habita, (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1991) 637 pp. Reviews: D. Le Tourneau, Studia Canonica 28 (1994) 266-267 and J. Alesandro The Jurist 51 (1991) 504-507; and,

  • Pontificia Commissio Codici Iuris Canonici Recognoscendo, Relatio complectens synthesim animdaversionum ab Em.mis atque Exc.mis Patribus commissionis ad novissimum schema codicis iuris canonici exhibitarum, cum responsionibus a secretaria et consultoribus datis, (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1981) 358 pp., largely available in Communicationes 14-16 (1982-1984).

These two works are correlated in: Edward Peters, Incrementa in Progressu 1983 Codicis Iuris Canonici: a Legislative History of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, (Wilson & Lafleur, 2005) xci +1549 pp. Reviews: J. Huels, Studia Canonica 40 (2006) 261-262 and Thomas Green, The Jurist 67 (2007) 265-267, and so are not treated here. See also, Resources on the Legislative History of the 1983 Code, here. 




more coming




[1983, Johanno-Pauline, or Western] Code of Canon Law, cc. 0001-1752, Latine


Codex Vivens


Books I-VII