Imagine lawyers doubling as judges in order to keep the system moving
Imagine a system of law where parties do not confront witnesses and, where witnesses can telephone in their testimony
Imagine a system of law that is universal, whose subjects are found all over the world, in every culture.
This system of law is canon law.
Canon law is a body of law legislated by ecclesiastical authority to organize and govern the Catholic Church.
One thing that makes this system unique is that many baptized Christians do not know that these laws exist in relation to them. In order that a person be bound by canon law, four factors be bound by canon law, four factors must be present: One must be baptized; one must have the use of reason; one must have attained 7 years of age; and the law must be in force in the place where one is.
Therefore, in theory, the Catholic Church had jurisdiction over all baptized persons. A second unique factor is that this system of canon law comes under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The ultimate purpose of the system of canon law is to aid the Holy Spirit to work in and through the visible organization of the Catholic Church on Earth, to preach the message of Christ, and to administer His sacraments.
It was Pius X in 1904 who established a commission of cardinals to draft that first Code of Canon Law. That code was written in short articles called canons in much the same way as all modern states were codifying their legislation. On Pentecost Sunday, 1917, Pope Benedict XV finally promulgated the completed Codes Juris Canonici.
The Code itself consists of 1,752 canons or laws, divided into seven books. Book I is “The General Norms”, a long and dense recitation of the definitions of the basic legal principles and terms used in the rest of the Code. Book II, “People of God”, deals with who’s who and where they fit into the system, not to mention the basic rights of the people as guarantee by the Code. The third Book encompasses “The Teaching Office of the Church” and dictates the laws on mission work and Catholic education. This is the section that establishes the Pope as infallible, heretics as insufferable and university professors as tenable only if they are a Catholic in “good standing”.
Book V involves the area that most vexes civil attorneys. It is titled “The Temporal Goods of the Church.” This book rules the acquisition and administration of property and assets, as well as contracts and alienation of property. Because even the Church recognizes that money talks, it frequently finds itself with interests conflicting to civil parties, and even religious orders and lay people functioning within the Church.
Many find Book VI to be the most contemporarily provocative of the books in that it deals with sanctions in the Church. These run the gamut of actions from striking the Pope to aborting a baby. Within it there are outlines of penalties each as suspension from the office of the priest to excommunication of a lay person, or the firing of a Bishop.
The final Book VII, achieves the most difficult part of the legal system, the process by which all of the order aspired to by the system is maintained. Jurisdiction is observed, parties are defined and tribunals are established, along with rules of proofs and procedures.
It seems sad that those first Ten Commandments were not enough. With martyrs to be canonized and popes to elect, the Church’s need for law instantly became gnawing.