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


21 feb 2017

Master Page on the Pio-Benedictine Code of 1917





The Pio-Benedictine Code of 1917 was the first integrated code of canon law in the Roman Catholic Church. Promulgated by Pope Benedict XV on 27 May 1917 and taking full force on Pentecost 1918 (19 May), the 1917 Code replaced the Quinque Libri Decretalium (1234) of Pope Gregory IX that had governed the faith life of Roman Catholic Christians around the world for several centuries. The 1917 Code was abrogated on 27 November 1983 when the Johanno-Pauline Code of 1983 took effect.


Editio Typica (official text)

Codex Iuris Canonici Pii X Pontificis Maximi, iussu digestus, Benedicti Papae XV, auctoritate promulgatus, as amended, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 9/2 (1917) 11-521. Original version in Google digitized format here (including footnotes and supporting documentation) and in dispositive text (canons only) here. Numerous monographic printings of the 1917 Code by a variety of publishers appeared over the decades. All of them are textually reliable.




Ten resources needed to study the 1917 Code of Canon Law in English, here.


Translations for use in studying the Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, here.

No translations of the 1917 Code were authorized during its 65-year enforcement period. Nevertheless, two complete Spanish translations appeared as part of commentaries thereon, and large parts of the Code appeared in other languages within commentaries thereon, including an English rendering of nearly all of the 1917 Code in Woywod's Practical Commentary, reprinted variously.


Today the most common English translation of the 1917 Code is: Edward Peters, The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law in English Translation with Extensive Scholarly Apparatus (Ignatius Press, 2001). Order it here. This text, in addition to offering a translation of the complete Pio-Benedictine Code and all supporting documents promulgated with it, references all appearances of a given canon in the pages of the Canon Law Digest and offers citations to all English-language canonical doctoral dissertations on a given canon or block of canons.


Peters translation

of the 1917 Code





Indexes for the 1917 Code: Monographic printings of the Pio-Benedictine Code have an unofficial topical "Index Analytico-Alphabeticus" developed by Gasparri. A detailed index by word is also available: Acturus Laver, Index Verborum Codicis Iuris Canonici (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1941) 936 pp.  Review: S. Kuttner, Jurist 3 (1943) 270-279.


For a light-hearted, but very thorough, explanation of how to read Pio-Benedictine footnotes and use Gasparri's Fontes, go here.

Footnotes to the 1917 Code: The footnotes to the 1917 Code are of great value in understanding and applying Pio- Benedictine law. Making use of these footnotes, however, requires, first, knowing how to read them and, second, having access to the materials referenced therein, especially P. Gasparri & J. Serédi, eds., Codicis Iuris Canonici Fontes, in 9 vols., (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1923-1949).



Gasparri's Fontes Codicis Iuris Canonici

Pietro Cdl.Gasparri

 Architect of the Pio-Benedictine Code



 I assure you that during the whole year I would take not one day of vacation, except for Easter Sunday, which was always made up for the following Monday.


See also


G. Osterlé,

"Gasparri (Pierre)",

DDC V: 939


W. Peters,

"Gasparri, Pietro"

NCE2 VI: 103-104


Resources on the Pontifical Commission

for the Codification of Canon Law (1904-1917)

Proto-Codifications and Legislative History of the 1917 Code


At the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), the assembled Fathers called for relief from the plethora of laws under which they were expected to carry out ministry, whereupon the Church began seriously to consider the possibility of codifying her canon law roughly along the lines of the European experiments in civil codification then underway. While that ecclesiastical undertaking had to await the coincidence of a pastoral pope such as Pius X and a canonical genius such as Gasparri, concrete proposals for a code of canon law began to appear in academe. Perhaps the most sophisticated of these was that of Henrico Pezzani (b. 1856), Codex Sanctae Catholicae Romanae Ecclesiae cum Notis, in 3 vols. (Berardi, 1893-1896), although Pezzani's was just one of several models for the eventual project undertaken by Gasparri. See similar efforts by de Luise (1873), Pillet (1890), Russo (1904), and Collomiati (1898-1907). Florent Deshayes,  Memento Juris Ecclesiastici (1894/1897) although grouped with the above, was more of a manual on canon law, though much of it would lend itself to use in a code.


A translation of a brief letter sent by then-Abp. Gasparri to faculties of canon law in 1904, requesting their suggestions toward the codification of canon law, along with some brief commentary on the letter, is available here.


Gasparri outlined the history of the codification process in his Prefatio [ad Codicis Iuris Canonici editionem], available in all monograph printings of the 1917 Code, English trans., Preface [to the 1917 Code]in my 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law in English Translation  1-19, esp. 10-19. See also:

  • A. Stickler, De efformatione Codicis iuris canonici, in Alphonse Stickler (Austrian prelate, 1910-2007), Historia Iuris Canonici Latini (Taurinorum, 1950) 376-384, drawing on Cdl. Gasparri’s informal but fascinating reminisces offered in his “Storia della Codificazione del diritto canonico per la Chiesa latina”, in Acta Congressus Juridici Internationalis Romae [1934], in 5 vols., (Pont. Instituti Utriusque Iuris, 1935-1937) IV: 1-10.

  • Stephan Kuttner, Il Codice di diritto canonica nella storia, Apollinaris 40 (1967) 9-27, Eng. trans., "The Code of canon law in historical perspective", The Jurist 28 (1968) 129-148. • Fascinating talk that describes the mechanics of Gasparri's Herculean efforts and the impact of codification on Church's legal tradition; good remarks on the sacredness of canons, calls for greater use of common law insights in canon law.

  • Constant Van de Wiel, History of Canon Law (Peeters/Eerdmans, 1991) 165-174. Order it here.

Drafts of what would actually become the 1917 Code were published, but were not widely circulated, coming.


Structure of the 1917 Code


When referring to a "§" of a canon, I prefer the English word "section" to "paragraph" but either term works.


There is some evidence that Gasparri considered a closer modeling of the projected Code on Decretal law, especially in regard to its use of "titles". See his letter Perlegisiti, translated and commented upon here.

Fundamentally, the 1917 Code consists of 2,414 canons, many of which were subdivided into two or more "paragraphs" (§) and/or "numbers" (°). Canons qua canons are of equal worth in codified canon law, but various means of assessing the relative weight of canons for specific purposes are available.


Pio-Benedictine canons were grouped into five "books", namely, General Norms, Persons, Things, Procedures, and Delicts & Penalties. These books, too, were of equal legal value; historians will recognize the influence of the great Roman legal categories (De Personis, De Rebus, De Actionibus) in the structure of the Code. To some degree, the organization of Decretal law into books and titles is also echoed in the sometime organization of the 1917 Code under "parts", "sections", "titles", "chapters", and "articles", but these subdivisions are of no legal moment and are generally ignored.


Most printings of the 1917 Code provide a table of contents, key promulgating documents, a Profession of Faith (for use with many canons, e.g., c. 1406), Gasparri's famous Preface, and a topical index. Except for the topical index (which functions only in Latin of course) all of these documents are available in English.


Virtually all canons of the 1917 Code were supported by footnotes provided by Gasparri. These footnotes are not binding, but they are of great value in coming to understand the law. Deciphering these footnotes and tracking them through canonical sources is thoroughly explained here.


Several "Documenta" were promulgated as part of the 1917 Code. The reason these documents were selected for re-promulgation was never clear, and some were abrogated during the enforcement period of the Code, but there is no question but that they did constitute law in the Church.



of the Law




Once the 1917 Code was promulgated it could be officially modified in five ways, namely, by:

  • textual correction (which was not needed);

  • emendation (which happened only once);

  • authentic interpretation;

  • formal instruction; and

  • authoritative application.


Only one textual emendation was made to the 1917 Code, as follows: Pius XII, m.p. Abrogatur alterum comma (1 aug 1948), AAS 40 (1948) 305-306, Eng. trans. CLD III: 463-464, derogating from 1917 CIC 1099 § 2, by striking its second part, to wit "item ab acatholicis . . . acatholica contraxerint."


See also Pio Ciprotti (Italian layman, 1914-1993), Observaciones al Texto del Codex Iuris Canonici [1944], 2nd ed., (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1950) 208 pp., for numerous suggestions toward revising the text of the 1917 Code, a project mooted by Vatican II and the subsequent complete reform of codified law.


In the course of the Second Vatican Council, many Pio-Benedictine canons were modified by conciliar and/or papal action. For more information on these special emendations of the 1917 Code, go here. coming.


Authentic Interpretation






Officially binding interpretation of codified law is reserved to the Legislator or to those to whom he commits the authority to so interpret the law. 1917 CIC 17. Establishment of a pontifical interpretation commission was effected by Pope Benedict XV, m.p. Cum Iuris Canonici (15 sep 1917), AAS 9/1 (1917) 483-484, Eng. trans., CLD I: 55-57. The Code commission decided early on that it would not answer questions from private individuals, but would consider only inquiries submitted by Ordinaries, Major Superiors, and so on. See Pontificia Commissio ad Codicis Canones Authentice Interpretandos, De dubiorum solutione (9 dec 1917), AAS 10 (1918) 77, Eng. trans. CLD I: 57.


In the course of its 65-year enforcement period, the Pio-Benedictine Code experienced scores of authentic interpretations. There do not appear, however, to have been any authentic interpretations issued after 1952 until at least the end of the Second Vatican Council (at which point of such activity was more akin to provisional legislation in anticipation of the new Code rather than authentic interpretation of the old.)


The best way to determine whether a given Pio-Benedictine norm underwent authentic interpretation is to consult Sartori and Regatillo whose works eclipse all other compilations (such as Woywod's):

  • Cosmas Sartori (Italian Franciscan, 1890-1957), Enchiridion Canonicum seu Sanctae Sedis Responsiones post Editum Codicem I. C. Datae, 10th ed., rev. by B. Belluco, (Antonianum, 1961) 455 pp. Review: J. Schmidt,  The Jurist 22 (1962) 486-487.

  • Eduardo Regatillo (Spanish Jesuit, 1882-1975), Interpretatio et Iurisprudentia Codicis Iuris Canonici [1928], 3rd ed., (Sal Terrae, 1953) 719 pp.



No Pio-Benedictine canon expressly outlined that canonical institution known as an "instruction", but instructions regarding various provisions of the 1917 Code occurred with some frequency. For more information on instructions of the 1917 Code, go here. coming.


Authoritative application



"Authoritative application" is my term for an amendment to universal law that does not, strictly speaking, modify the text of the law, nor simply interpret it, nor offer an instruction as to how it should be read, but which nevertheless needs to be observed in the application of the law. For more information on authoritative applications of the 1917 Code, go here. coming.



Codified law in general, and canon law in particular, make considerable use of private scholarly commentary in the elucidation and application of legal norms. The weight to be accorded a given opinion depends less on who authored the opinion and more on the care and completeness with which the views are expressed. As a general rule, however, and subject to several qualifications, opinions appearing in academic monographs are the most respected, followed by opinions appearing in scholarly articles, followed by those appearing elsewhere. Each of these categories admits of sub-categorization.


Commentary: Pan-textual and topical commentary, dissertations, opinions, reference works


For insight into the meaning of Pio-Benedictine canons, most canonists turned first to one or more pan-textual commentaries on the Code and then, for additional and/or deeper insight, to one or more topical commentaries on the matter. See Pan-textual Commentaries on the 1917 Code, here, and Topical Commentaries on the 1917 Code, here.


An important category of canonical commentary is the formal academic treatise, i.e., the doctoral dissertation and, to a lesser degree, the licentiate thesis. For a list of canonical doctoral dissertations published in North America (i.e., Catholic University of America in Washington,  St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Université Laval, and Universidad Pontificia de México), go here. For a list of licentiate theses written from the mid-1940s to the present at CUA, go here.


A special category of canonical commentary is the advisory opinion or consultation. For information on Pio-Benedictine and Johanno-Pauline advisory opinions, go here.


A list of Dictionaries, Encyclopedia, and Reference Works on Canon Law is available here.


Commentary: peer-reviewed, other academic, and general audience articles


For further insight into the meaning of canons, to explore matters that cannot be treated adequately in the space allotted within general monographs, or to investigate other matters, most canonists turn to articles in peer-reviewed, other academic, and general but well-educated audience publications.

  • Rev. Rhode provides a list of over 40 peer-reviewed canon law journals from around the world, here. Of particular interest to English-reading canonists would be The Jurist (CUA), CLSA Proceedings, and CLSA Advisory Opinions.

  • Important articles on canon law also appear in many other academic journals. Of particular interest to English-reading canonists would be articles appearing in other academic journals such as Theological Studies, Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Josephinum Journal of Theology, and so on.

  • Some useful canonical materials appear in publications aimed at more general audiences. Of particular interest to English-reading canonists would be articles appearing in, for example, Christifideles, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, America, and so on.

A qualified bibliography of canonical articles (not including monographs) covering just the first 15 years of the Pio-Benedictine Code ran over 300 pages. See Guiscardus Moschetti, Bibliographia Iuris Canonici ex Ephemerides ab a. 1918 ad 1934 (Casa Editrice Libro Italiano, 1942) 335 pp.