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Introduction to Canon Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights

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The following is a guest post by Dante Figueroa, a Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress.  Some of Dante’s recent posts include Resources and Treasures of the Italian Parliamentary Libraries, The Italian Legislature and Legislative Process: A Recent Institution in an Ancient Legal System, and  A Fresh Update on the Canonical Rules on the Election of a New Pontiff.

This blog post is part of our Global Legal Collection Highlights series which is intended to introduce our readers to various foreign legal collections and resources.  Canon law  is not made by a particular country, but rather is the body of laws made within and for the Roman Catholic Church.  The first systematic collection of canon law is the Decretum Gratiani: seu verius, decretorum canonicoru[m] collectanea / ab ipso auctore Gratiano primùm inscripta Concordia discordantium canonum.  This is known in English as “Gratian’s Decretum” and dates back to the twelfth century.  It is composed of several thousand texts about church discipline and regulation and was compiled by the monk Johannes Gratian between 1140-1151.  As with all main historical sources of canon law it is written in Latin, which is the official language of the Roman Catholic Church.  However, during the  upheavals of the Reformation and Counter Reformation in the sixteenth century, canon law treatises were written in multiple languages including German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Polish.  The Law Library of Congress holds many canon law materials, most of which are in the Law Library’s Rare Book Collection.  Some of these resources have been highlighted in two previous posts: Update on Medieval Canon Law, and How to Deal with a Complex Book and Canon Law Update.

The following are primary sources of canon law which are in the Law Library’s collections:

The following are books about canon law, written in various languages, in the Law Library’s general collections:

A recent book in this field, Introduzione al Diritto Canonico [Introduction to Canon Law] by Libero Gerosa (2012), reviews the essential elements of canon law in the context of its relationships with other sciences and delves into the post-Vatican II debate on the scientific method of canon law.Gerosa book

For more Canon law materials held in the Library of Congress, please visit the Library’s online catalog.  If you need research assistance, you can submit your questions through the Law Library’s Ask A Librarian system.


  1. Thanks for this post concerning canon law, surely inspired by the pope’s visit to the United States, including Washington, D.C.! I could not help spotting some studies in the section for sources, and some editions seem to be chosen arbitrarily, because more, better or earlier editions of them exist. The Extravagantes communes are now accessible in a critical edition, “Extravagantes Johannis XXII”, Jacqueline Tarrant (ed.) (Città del Vaticano 1983), no doubt present at the Library of Congress .The list with modern works mixes studies about current canon law with thsoe about earlier historical phases. Above all there is a modern standard handbook on the history of medieval canon law, “The history of medieval canon law in the classical period, 1140-1234. From Gratian to the decretals of pope Gregory IX”, Kenneth Pennington and Wilfried Hartmann (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 2008; History of Canon Law, vol. 2) [ KBR160 .H57 2008] . Kenneth Pennington teaches at the Catholic University of America, , one of the best introductory websites for the history of canon law. Work in progress on a new edition of the Decretum Gratiani led by Anders Winroth (Yale University) can be followed at . The Institute of Medieval Canon Law, founded in 1955 in Washington, D.C., is now at home in New Haven at the Lillian Goldman Law Library of Yale Law School, see .

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