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Ecclesiastical Law in United Kingdom

Definition of Ecclesiastical Law

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Ecclesiastical Law : (canon law, ecclesiastical law)

Church law, such as the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law and, in England, the law of the Church of England. Unless subsequently becoming *legislation or *custom, it is not part of the laws of England but is binding on the clergy and lay people holding ecclesiastical office, e.g. churchwardens. See ecclesiastical courts.

(Source: the University of South Caroline Gould School of Law) After the conversion of England to Christianity, the Church adopted the Canon Law. This was based on the rules of discipline and government adopted by the early Christian community. “When Constantine (AD 306-337) publicly sanctioned Christianity, these rules passed from the realm of conscience to that of law, for the Church was given the legal power to enforce them. They were embodied in canons framed by ecclesiastical councils, definitions of doctrine, like the Creeds, and elaborate lists of sins with their corresponding tariffs of money values, called penitentials… To these were added ecclesiastical laws issued by the Anglo-Saxon kings on the advice of their bishops, with whom they were closely allied.” (43) An extensive treatment of ecclesiastical law can be found in Maxwell.(44) Only the main sources are listed below.

Duggan, Charles. Twelfth-Century Decretal Collections and Their Importance in English History. University of London Historical Studies, 12. London: University of London, Athlone Press, 1963.

Abstract: Register of decretals cited, 203-211.

Gibson, Edmund, ed. Codex Juris Ecclesiastici Anglicani: or, The Statutes, Constitutions, Canons, Rubricks and Articles, of the Church of England, Methodically Digested Under Their Proper Heads. With a Commentary, Historical and Juridical. Before It, Is an Introductory Discourse, Concerning the Present State of the Power, Discipline and Laws, of the Church of England: and After It, an Appendix of Instruments, Ancient and Modern. 2 Vols. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1761.

Abstract: Reprinted in 1969.

Haddan, Arthur W., William Stubbs, and David Wilkins, eds. Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland. 3 Vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press , 1964.

Abstract: Contents:

Vol. 1, British church during the Roman period: AD 200-450. British church during the period of Saxon conquest: AD 450-681. Church of Wales: AD 681-1295. Church of Cornwall: AD 681-1072.

Vol.2, pt.1, Church of Cumbria or Strathclyde: AD 600-1188. British churches abroad: British church in Armerica: AD 387-818. See of Breton~a in Gallicia: AD 569-830. Church of Scotland during the Celtic period and until declared independent of the see of York: AD 400-1188.

Vol. 2, pt.2, Church of Ireland; memorials of S. Patrick

Vol. 3, English churches during the Anglo-Saxon period: AD 595-1066. Originally published 1869-1878. Based upon the Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae of Wilkins, which was itself an enlargement of Spelman and Dugdale’s Concilia decreta, leges, constitutiones in re ecclesiarum Orbis Britannici.

Johnson, John, and John Baron, eds. A Collection of the Laws and Canons of the Church of England From Its First Foundation to the Conquest, and From the Conquest to the Reign of King Henry VIII: Translated into English With Explanatory Notes. 2 Vols. Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. New edition, 54, 55 ed. Oxford : J.H. Parker, 1850-1851.

Luard, Henry R. Annales Monastici. 5 Vols. Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores (Rolls Series), 36. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1864-1869.

Lyndwood, William, Cardinal Otho, Pope Adrian, and John Acton, eds. Provinciale Seu Constitutiones Angliae Continens Constitutiones Provinciales Quatuordecim Archiepiscoporum Cantuariensium, Viz. a` Stephano Langtono Ad Henricum Chichleium : Cum Summariis Atque Eruditis Annotationibus, Summa Accuratione Denuo Revisum Atque Impressum. Early English Books, 1641-1700, 36:3. Oxford: H. Hall, 1679.

Abstract: A compilation of the canon law of the province of Canterbury from the time of Stephen Langton to that of Henry Chichele.

Thorpe, Benjamin, and R. Price, ed. & trans. Ancient Laws and Institutes of England; Comprising Laws Enacted Under the Anglo-Saxon Kings From Aethelbirht to Cnut, With an English Translation of the Saxon; the Laws Called Edward the Confessor’s; the Laws of William the Conqueror, and Those Ascribed to Henry the First; Also, Monumenta Ecclesiastica Anglicana, From the Seventh to the Tenth Century; and the Ancient Latin Version of the Anglo-Saxon Laws. With a Compendious Glossary, Etc. 2 Vols. London: Commissioners of the Public Records, 1840.

Notes: Also available online in HeinOnline and Modern Economy (subscription databases)Abstract: Contains the earliest recorded Anglo-Saxon laws – enactments or dooms made by King and Witan from ca. 601 up to and including the laws of Henry I. Vol. 1, Secular laws; Vol. 2, Ecclesiastical laws. Contains a concordance. Begun by R. Price and completed after his death by B. Thorpe. Reprinted in 2003.

Ecclesiastical Law and Medieval Law

Ecclesiastical Law and Legal History

Ecclesiastical Law and Roman Law in late Medieval Law

Contact of English with Roman and canon law

the restoration of order after the anarchy of Stephen’s reign and the accession to the throne of a prince who would treat England as the buttress of a continental empire must have induced a critical period in the history of English law. But we must add that in any case the middle of the twelfth century would have been critical. Even had Harold held his own, had his sons and grandsons succeeded him as peaceful and conservative English kings, their rule must have come into contact with the claims of the cosmopolitan but Roman church, and must have been influenced, if only in the way of repulsion, by the growth of the civil and canon law. Of all the centuries the twelfth is the most legal. In no other age, since the classical days of Roman law, has so large a part of the sum total of intellectual endeavour been devoted to jurisprudence.

Roman and canon law in England

The history of law in England, and even the history of English law, could not but be influenced by them. Their action, however, hardly becomes visible until the middle of the twelfth century is at hand. If the compiler of the Leges Henrici adopts a sentence which can be ultimately traced to the Theodosian Code through epitomes and interpretations, if the compiler of the Leis Williame seems to have heard a few Roman maxims, all this belongs to the pre-scientific era.

If William of Malmesbury, when copying a history of the Roman emperors, introduces into his work a version of the Breviary of Alaric, he is playing the part of the historian, not of the jurist.15 It is remarkable enough that within a century after Lanfranc’s death, within much less than a century after the death of Irnerius, a well-informed Norman abbot ascribed to them jointly the credit of discovering Justinian’s books at Bologna.16 The story is untrue, for Lanfranc had left Italy long before Irnerius began to teach; still his name would never have been coupled with that of Irnerius had he known no Roman law. Lanfranc’s pupil Ivo of Chartres, the great canonist, knew much Roman law and becomes of importance in English history; it was his legal mind that schemed the concordat between Henry I. and Anselm.

More to the point is it that from Burchard of Worms or some other canonist the author of our Leges Henrici had borrowed many a passage while as yet the Decretum Gratiani was unwritten. Yet more to the point, that already in the reign of Rufus, William of St. Calais, Bishop of Durham, when accused of treason in the king’s court, shows that he has the Pseudo-Isidorian doctrines at his fingers’ ends, demands a canonical tribunal, formally pleads an exceptio spolii, appeals to Rome, and even—for so it would seem—brings a book of canon law into court. When Stephen made his ill-advised attack on Roger of Salisbury and the other bishops, once more the exceptio spolii was pleaded, again the demand for a canonical tribunal was urged, and the king himself appealed to the pope. The time when Gratian was at work on the Decretum, when the four doctors were flourishing at Bologna, was a time at which the English king had come into violent collision with the prelates of the church, and those prelates were but ill agreed among themselves.

Vacarius

At this time it was that Archbishop Theobald, at the instance perhaps of his clerk Thomas,—Thomas who was himself to be chancellor, archbishop and martyr,—Thomas who had studied law at Bologna and had sat, it may be, at the feet of Gratian21—imported from Italy one Vacarius. The little that we know of his early life seems to point to Mantua as his home and a short tract on Lombard law has been ascribed to him. It is not unlikely that Theobald availed himself of the help of this trained legist in his struggle with Stephen’s brother, Henry Bishop of Winchester, who, to the prejudice of the rights of Canterbury, had obtained the office of papal legate. That Vacarius taught Roman law in England there can be no doubt; a body of students looked up to him as their magister and reverently received his glosses.

That he taught in the archbishop’s household, which was full of men who were to become illustrious in church and state, is highly probable. That he also taught at Oxford, where a school was just beginning to form itself, is not so plain, but is asserted by one who ought not to have made a mistake about such a matter. That Stephen endeavoured to silence him and to extirpate the books of civil and canon law we are told upon good authority.25 We are told also, and may well believe, that the royal edict was ineffectual. Further, we know that Vacarius wrote a book and have some reason for ascribing this to the year 1149; he wrote it for the use of poor students who could not afford to purchase the Roman texts. That book still exists. It might be described as a condensed version of Justinian’s Code illustrated by large extracts from the Digest. It is a thoroughly academic book, as purely academic as would be any lectures on Roman law delivered now-a-days in an English university. In what of it has been printed we can see no practical hints, no allusions to English affairs.

Besides this, we have from Vacarius a christological pamphlet on the assumption of the manhood, and a little tract on the law of marriage in which he appears as an acute critic of the mischievous doctrine which the canonists and divines were evolving.28 Unless he had a namesake, he spent the rest of a long life in England, held some preferment in the northern province, was attached to Becket’s rival, Archbishop Roger of York, and acted as Roger’s compurgator when a charge of complicity in the murder of St. Thomas was to be disproved.29 We do not know that he took any part in the controversy between Henry and Becket; if he did, we must look for him rather among the king’s than among the archbishop’s legal advisers. Perhaps he lived until 1198 or 1200; if so, he must have been a very young man when Theobald fetched him from Italy.

Legists and canonists in England

From Stephen’s reign onwards, the proofs that Roman and canon law are being studied in England become more frequent. The letters of Archbishop Theobald’s secretary, John of Salisbury, the foremost scholar of the age, are full of allusions to both laws; many of these occur in relation to English ecclesiastical law-suits of which John is forwarding reports to the pope. In his Polycraticus he has given a sketch of civil procedure which drew high praise from Savigny. The epistles ascribed to Peter of Blois, archdeacon of Bath and of London, are stuffed with juristic conceits. Giraldus Cambrensis is by way of lamenting that literature is being obliterated by law, while students of jurisprudence neglect its elements.

Maxims out of the Institutes or the Digest become part of the stock in trade of the polite letter writer, the moralist, and the historian. Manuscripts are being copied. Abbot Benedict of Peterborough has in his monastery the whole Corpus Iuris Civilis in two volumes, besides various parts of it, the Summa of Placentinus and the Summa—this, it is said, may be the work of a Norman or an Englishman—that is known as Olim; he has also the Decretum, a collection of Decretals and the canonical text-books of Rufinus and Johannes Faventinus.34 Thomas of Marlborough, who became monk, prior, Abbot at Evesham, had taught law at Oxford and, for so it would seem, at Exeter, and he brought with him to his monastery a collection of books utriusque iuris. It is plain that a flourishing school of Roman and canon law had grown up at Oxford.

Source: Sir Frederick Pollock, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I (1895)

Legal Materials

(Compiled by the University of South Caroline Gould School of Law) Thorpe, John, ed. Registrum Roffense: or, A Collection of Antient Records, Charters, and Instruments of Divers Kinds, Necessary for Illustrating the Ecclesiastical History and Antiquities of the Diocese and Cathedral Church of Rochester. London: W.& J Richardson, 1769.

Abstract: Includes a law record of the reign of Henry I and the laws of several of the ))Anglo-Saxon Kings((, particularly of the four kings whose laws are omitted by Lambarde, together with the Anglo-Saxon form of oaths. Text in Latin.

Whitelock, Dorothy, M. Brett, Christopher N. L. Brooke, Frederick M. Powicke, Christopher R. Cheney, and Arthur W. Haddan , eds. Councils & Synods, With Other Documents Relating to the English Church. 2 Vols. in 4. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964-1981.

Abstract: Contents:

Vol. 1, AD 871-1204 (pt. 1, 871-1066, pt. 2, 1066-1204), edited by D. Whitelock, M. Brett and C.N.L. Brooke

Vol. 2, AD 1205-1313 (pt. 1, 1205-1265, pt. 2, 1265-1313), edited by F.M. Powicke and C.R. Cheney, continues the English section of the Councils and ecclesiastical documents, (1869-78) of Haddan and Stubbs from King Alfred to King Henry VIII.

Wilkins, David, ed. Concilia Magnae Britanniae Et Hiberniae, a Synodo Verolamiensi A.D. CCCCXLVI Ad Londinensem A.D. (MD)CCXVII. Accedunt Constitutiones Et Alia Ad Historiam Ecclesiae Anglicanae Spectantia. Bruxelles: Culture et Civilisation, 1737.

Abstract: Records the legislation of ecclesiastical councils. Vol. 1, AD 446 to AD 1265; vol. 2, AD 1268 to AD1349; vol. 3, AD 1350 to AD 1545; vol.4, AD 1546 to AD 1717. Reprinted in 1964.

Bibliographies of English Law History

  • Maxwell, William H. A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Volume 1: English Law to 1800. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1955-
  • Beale, Joseph H. A Bibliography of Early English Law Books. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926.
  • Winfield, Percy H. The Chief Sources of English Legal History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925.

Legal Materials

(Compiled by the University of South Caroline Gould School of Law) Thorpe, John, ed. Registrum Roffense: or, A Collection of Antient Records, Charters, and Instruments of Divers Kinds, Necessary for Illustrating the Ecclesiastical History and Antiquities of the Diocese and Cathedral Church of Rochester. London: W.& J Richardson, 1769.

Abstract: Includes a law record of the reign of Henry I and the laws of several of the ))Anglo-Saxon Kings((, particularly of the four kings whose laws are omitted by Lambarde, together with the Anglo-Saxon form of oaths. Text in Latin.

Whitelock, Dorothy, M. Brett, Christopher N. L. Brooke, Frederick M. Powicke, Christopher R. Cheney, and Arthur W. Haddan , eds. Councils & Synods, With Other Documents Relating to the English Church. 2 Vols. in 4. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964-1981.

Abstract: Contents:

Vol. 1, AD 871-1204 (pt. 1, 871-1066, pt. 2, 1066-1204), edited by D. Whitelock, M. Brett and C.N.L. Brooke

Vol. 2, AD 1205-1313 (pt. 1, 1205-1265, pt. 2, 1265-1313), edited by F.M. Powicke and C.R. Cheney, continues the English section of the Councils and ecclesiastical documents, (1869-78) of Haddan and Stubbs from King Alfred to King Henry VIII.

Wilkins, David, ed. Concilia Magnae Britanniae Et Hiberniae, a Synodo Verolamiensi A.D. CCCCXLVI Ad Londinensem A.D. (MD)CCXVII. Accedunt Constitutiones Et Alia Ad Historiam Ecclesiae Anglicanae Spectantia. Bruxelles: Culture et Civilisation, 1737.

Abstract: Records the legislation of ecclesiastical councils. Vol. 1, AD 446 to AD 1265; vol. 2, AD 1268 to AD1349; vol. 3, AD 1350 to AD 1545; vol.4, AD 1546 to AD 1717. Reprinted in 1964.

Bibliographies of English Law History

  • Maxwell, William H. A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Volume 1: English Law to 1800. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1955-
  • Beale, Joseph H. A Bibliography of Early English Law Books. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926.
  • Winfield, Percy H. The Chief Sources of English Legal History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925.

Resources

See Also

  • Religious Law (in this legal Encyclopedia)
  • History Definition (in this legal Encyclopedia)
  • Deceit (in this legal Encyclopedia)
  • Medieval Roman Law (in this legal Encyclopedia)
  • Canon Law (in this legal Encyclopedia)
  • Medieval Justice (in this legal Encyclopedia)
  • Exchequer (in this legal Encyclopedia)
  • Economic Torts (in this legal Encyclopedia)

Concept of Ecclesiastical Law

Traditional meaning of ecclesiastical law [1] in the English common law history: The law administered by the English ecclesiastical courts, now applying chiefly to church matters. It is derived largely from the canon and civil law.

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Based on A concise law dictionary of words, phrases and maxims, “Ecclesiastical Law”, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1911, United States. This term and/or definition may be absolete. It is also called the Stimson’s Law dictionary, based on a glossary of terms, included Ecclesiastical Law.

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  • Article Name: Ecclesiastical Law
  • Author: Agostino Von Hassell
  • Description: Definition of Ecclesiastical Law In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Ecclesiastical [...]

This entry was last updated: October 17, 2020

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