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Ecclesiological Differences and Law: Is the Eastern Churches Canon Law a Bridge Between the Western and the Eastern Canonical Tradition?

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Part of the Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue book series (PEID)


The chapter is dedicated to the problem of receiving the canon law of the Eastern Catholic Churches as an instrument in ecumenical dialogue. This ecumenical role of the Eastern Catholic law is often identified in Catholic documents and studies. However, Orthodox authors tend to emphasize the ecclesiological differences in processing canonical material in the Catholic West and in the Orthodox East. This chapter will consider several attempts which were made in the twentieth century to create a bridge between Catholic and Orthodox juridical traditions in legislative texts of the Catholic Church.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-55458-3_10
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  1. 1.

    See Francesco Coccopalmerio, “Fondare teologicamente il diritto della Chiesa?” in Facoltà Teologica dell’Italia Settentrionale (ed.), La teologia italiana oggi. Ricerca dedicata a Carlo Colombo nel 70° compleanno (Brescia: Morcelliana, 1979), 395–410.

  2. 2.

    Codex Iuris Canonici auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus. (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983). Abbreviated as “Latin Code” or “CIC.”

  3. 3.

    John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones, Acta Apostolicae Sedes 82 (1990): 1033–1044.

  4. 4.

    Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1990. Abbreviated as “Eastern Code” or “CCEO.

  5. 5.

    The Congregation as the autonomous department of the Roman Curia was found by the motu proprio Dei Providentis of Pope Benedict XV on May 1, 1917, and was named Congregatio pro Ecclesia Orientali (Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church). Pope Paul VI gave it its current name by adopting the plural Congregatio pro Ecclesiis Orientalibus with the apostolic constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae of August 15, 1967.

  6. 6.

    Pius XII promulgated ten of twenty-four titles of the Code, woven together by the aforesaid commission, in the form of apostolic letters motu proprio. The others, in a text approved at the same time by the cardinal members of the commission and for the most part printed “for promulgation,” by pontifical mandate, remained in archives of the commission, because it was the last day of the Pontificate. The next epoch, which began with the announcement by Pope John XXIII of the Second Vatican Council, was marked by the new codification project (compiled as CCEO) (See about these historical milestones John Paul II, Sacri canones, 1033–1044).

  7. 7.

    On March 27, 1631, at the home of Cardinal Luigi Capponi on a plenary of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide seven cardinals and a councilor of the Holy Office met together to examine some doubts and petitions made by Capuchin missionaries operating in the East, among which was the question whether to avail themselves of the faculties granted to them by the Congregation of the Holy Office, the missionaries must request the permission of the schismatic bishops. See Federico Marti, “Il Codice del 1917 e l’Oriente. Presupposti storici e teorici,” in Diritto canonico e culture giuridiche. Nel centenario del Codex Juris Canonici del 1917, edited by Jesús Miñambres (Roma: EDUSC 2019), 149.

  8. 8.

    Captivus Vaticani (a prisoner of the Vatican) is how Pope Pius IX was described following the capture of Rome by the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy on September 20, 1870. For the next 59 years, the popes refused to leave the Vatican in order to avoid any appearance of accepting the authority wielded by the Italian government over Rome. The period ended in 1929, when the Lateran Treaty created the modern state of Vatican City.

  9. 9.

    This motive—the existence among states in the modern era—is indicated in detail by C. Fantappiè. “Código de derecho canónico de 1917 ysu repercusión en la vida de la Iglesia,” Ius communionis 5 (2017): 209–224. “En segundo lugar, entraba en juego un conjunto de motivos políticos. No se debe olvidar el contexto histórico en el que se desarrolla el pontificadode Pío X. La iglesia romana se sentía asediada por los Estados nacionales deideología liberal. Éstos, no solo habían privado a la Iglesia de buena parte desus propiedades en muchos países de Europa y de América Latina, sino quele negaban cualquier tipo de reconocimiento jurídico de su autonomía y laequiparaban a tantas otras asociaciones que estaban sujetas a control estatal. Desde el punto de vista político, el código canónico pío-benedictino puede interpretarse como un instrumento de oposición jurídica y política de la Iglesia frente a la pretensión de someter su propia organización al ordenamiento del Estado liberal. La Iglesia quiso así reivindicar una posición de igualdad y, al mismo tiempo, de superioridad moral frente al Estado liberal, mediante un universalismo jurídico-espiritual, que no excluye el ordenamiento estatalal reconocerlo como válido y necesario en su propio ámbito de competencia. En este sentido, la codificación canónica se puede considerar una forma de “imitación por oposición” de la Iglesia frente al Estado modern” (Ibid. 212–213).

  10. 10.

    P. Szabó, “Tradizioni orientali e codificazione orientale,” Ius Ecclesiae 29, no. 3 (2017): 635–658.

  11. 11.

    Ibid. 638–639.

  12. 12.

    Church always used different systematical collections of law, but development of a single collection which could be used in all courts did not happened in the West until the Middle Ages. The role of the Eastern councils still is defined differently by legal historians. They are seen as tribunals which formed the canon collections or as legislators who promulgate them.

  13. 13.

    See, for instance, Dimitrios Salachas, “Principi di interpretazione del ‘Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium,’” in Attuali problemi di interpretazione del Codice di diritto canonico. Atti del Simposio Internazionale in occasione del I Centenario della Facoltà di Diritto Canonico, Roma, 24–26 ottobre 1996, edited by Bruno Esposito (Roma 1997): 266.

  14. 14.

    P. Szabó, Written, 639.

  15. 15.

    The Corpus Iuris Canonici is a collection of significant sources of the canon law of the Catholic Church used in canonical courts from the thirteenth century.

  16. 16.

    J. Sedano, “Dal Corpus Iuris Canonici al primo Codex Iuris Canonici: continuità e discontinuità nella tradizione giuridica della Chiesa latina,” Folia theologica et canonica 26/18 (2015): 215–238.

  17. 17.

    See Giuseppe Alberigo (ed.), Legge e Vangelo. Discussione su una legge fondamentale per la Chiesa. (Brescia: Paideia 1972).

  18. 18.

    G. Thils, “La Lex Ecclesiae fundamentalis remaniée,” Revue Theològique de Louvain 2, no. 2 (1971): 243–249.

  19. 19.

    Pontificium Consilium Codici Iuris Canonici recognoscendo, founded by the pope John XXIII.

  20. 20.

    L. Rosa, “La Lex Ecclesiae Fundamentalis – il lungo e faticoso iter di un Progetto,” Aggiornamenti sociali 28, no. 5 (1977): 319–337.

  21. 21.

    See Olav G.M. Boelens, Synopsis Lex Ecclesiae Fundamentalis (Leuven: Peeters Publishers 2001).

  22. 22.

    Hubert Jedin (ed.), The Church in the Modern Age (London: Burn&Oates 1981). Vol. 10, 173–177.

  23. 23.

    See the chapter “Ecumenical character of CCEO” (p.20) in Comissione della Revisione del Codice del Diritto Canonico, “Principi direttivi per la revisione del Codice di Diritto Canonico Orientale.” Nuntia 3 (1976): 3–24.

  24. 24.

    Pope Francis letter in 2016 was an attempt to bring uniformity to terminology. See Francis, motu proprio De Concordia inter Codices, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 108 (2016) 602–606.

  25. 25.

    For example of the Russian Orthodox reflections on canonical and ecclesiological problems in the relation to the term “people of God” see Николай Аксаков, Духа не угашайте (Петроград: Печатня Евдокимова 1895) [Nikolai Aksakov, Duha ne ugashaite (Petrograd: Pechatnya Evdokimova 1895)].

  26. 26.

    Victor Pospishil. J., Eastern Catholic Church Law (Brooklyn, New York: Saint Maron Publications, 1996). 347.

  27. 27.


  28. 28.

    John Meyendorff, Marriage. An Orthodox Perspective (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press 2000). 67.

  29. 29.

    See Petrus Gasparri, Praefatio: “Id fuit constans catholicae Ecclesiae propositum, ex quo potissiumum tempori imperii romanileges sunt in Corpus iuris redactae, ut sacri item canones in unum colligerentur […]. Episcopiplerique et nonnulli etiam Purpuratis Patres Apostolicae Sedi instabant adhuc, ut ius canonicumemendaretur et in aptiorem componeretur ordinem, capto a recentioribus omnibus civitatibusexemplo, quemadmodum Gregorius IX Iustinianum imitare non dubitaverit” (Codex Iuris Canonici Pii X Pontificis Maximi iussu digestus Benedicti Papae XV auctoritate promulgatus (Rome: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1917): XIX).

  30. 30.

    Carlo Fantappiè, Chiesa romana e modernita giuridica (Milano: Giuffrè 2008). 4.

  31. 31.

    See P. Gherri, “Codificazione canonica tra tecnica e sistema,” Eastern Canon Law 2 (2013) 1–110.

  32. 32.

    See for instance D. Ceccarelli Morolli, “Justinian’ s Novels and the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium. A Concrete Case of the Influence of Roman Law in the Code of Canons of the Eastern (Catholic) Churches Today,” Studi sull’Oriente Cristiano 20, no. 1 (2016), 55–62.

  33. 33.

    Here it is worth mentioning such important figures in this field as Stephan Kuttner (1907–1996), Hubert Jedin (1900–1980), Paolo Prodi (1932–2016) and Brian Tierny (1922–2019).

  34. 34.

    See Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983).

  35. 35.

    Pospishil, Eastern Catholic Church Law. 675–676.

  36. 36.

    See B. Archondonis, “A Common Code for the Orthodox Churches,” in Kanon: Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für das Recht der Ostkirchen 1 (Vienna: Herder, 1973): 45–53.

  37. 37.

    On different periods of canonistics see Eugenio Corecco, Considerazioni sul problema dei diritti fondamentali del cristiano nella Chiesa e nella società. Aspetti metodologici della questione in Eugenio Corecco, Ius et communio: scritti di diritto canonico (Lugano-Casale Monferrato: Piemme, 1997), vol. 1, 245–278.

  38. 38.

    The Russian example of the teaching of the church law in theological schools see Irina Borshch, Carisma e diritto nella missione della Chiesa: in dialogo con Sergiy Bulgakov ed Eugenio Corecco (Roma: Pontificia Università Urbaniana, 2012).

  39. 39.

    See for instance Daniele Menozzi, Chiesa e diritti umani (Bologna: Mulino, 2012).

  40. 40.

    John Paul II, Sacri Canones, 1033.

  41. 41.

    John Erickson, Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches (1988): A Development Favoring Relations Between the Churches? in La recepción y la comunión entre las Iglesias. Actas del Coloquio internacional de Salamanca, 8–14 abril 1996, eds. H. Legrand, J. Manzanares, A. García y García, Salamanca 1997, 359.

  42. 42.

    Introducing the CCEO John Paul II in the end of his speech addressed the Orthodox and expressed the hope that the Code will contribute to a fruitful ecumenical dialogue. See Ioannis Pauli PP. II, “Allocutio occasione praesentationis Codicis Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium,” Octobre 25, 1990 in AAS 83 (1991) 486–493.

  43. 43.

    Paolo Gherri states that the situation of the alliance between the ecclesiastical and secular authorities did not differ too much in the West and East, in Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism before the processes of revolutionary secularization began. The difference in practical implementation was not so significant between the Catholic West and the “Caesaropapist East.” P. Gherri, Written, 40–41.

  44. 44.

    See Stefano Violi, Il Prologo di Ivo di Chartres. Paradigmi e prospettive per la teologia e l’interpretazione del diritto canonico (Lugano: EUPRESS 2006); Cristof Rolker, Cs anon Law and the Letters of Ivo of Charters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2009).

  45. 45.

    On the different position and debate among of the Catholic canonists, where some of them doubted or even denied the need for codification, see J. Sedano, “Dal Corpus Iuris Canonici al primo Codex Iuris Canonici: continuità e discontinuità nella tradizione giuridica della Chiesa Latina,” Folia theologica et canonica 26/18 (2015): 224.

  46. 46.

    See N. Afanasiev, “The Canons of the Church: Changeable or Unchangeable?” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 11 (1967): 54–68.

  47. 47.

    See Francis, “Address to participants in the conference promoted by the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches,” September 19, 2019,

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Borshch, I. (2021). Ecclesiological Differences and Law: Is the Eastern Churches Canon Law a Bridge Between the Western and the Eastern Canonical Tradition?. In: Latinovic, V., Wooden, A.K. (eds) Stolen Churches or Bridges to Orthodoxy? . Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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