Per Pope Paul VI, Canon Law is of its very nature pastoral because it is the law of the Church and that its juridical aspect manifests and is of service to the divine life of the faithful especially in the matter of charity.
Catholic Encyclopedia‘s definition: Canon law is the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members.
This is my own timeline version on how the Church came up with our current Code of Canon Law of 1983.
1250 BC – The Ten Commandments
In the Exodus event, when the people of God were escaping from Egypt to the promised land, God wrote ten laws in a stone plate and gave them to the people through Moses. Hundreds of Mosaic laws were derived from these commandments to their tiniest details. Jesus and Paul during their ministries criticized these derived laws that have little to no relevance to the original commandments.
AD 30-33 – Jesus’s New Commandments of Love
Jesus reaffirmed these commandments in Mark 10:19 and Matthew 5. He gave the Church two new but same commandments of love – love of God (the first three commandments) and the love of neighbors (the other seven commandments). Reference verses: Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:28-34.
AD 33-98 – The Apostolic Times
The apostles, including Paul, gave dispositions and ordinances as to how the Church has to be governed. Only few of these have been included in the New Testament. Paul said that the Law of Moses was a custodian or disciplinarian confined for the faith that was to be revealed in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:24-25). In 1 Timothy 3, Paul set the qualities that a bishop should possess and keep for the good of the Church. Other dispositions and ordinances that were not written in the New Testaments were the words of the apostles. The people considered their words law too and there was a need for these words to be put in writing.
AD 98-1100s – Pseudo-apostolic Collections
After the death of the apostles, alternatives were made to the authority of the apostles in order to deal with heretics. The pseudo-apostolic writings contains not only Christian doctrines but also many moral, liturgical, and disciplinary norms. The Pesudo-apostolic collections include the Didache (2nd century), Didascalia Apostolorum (3rd century), Traditio Apostolica of Hippolytus (around 3rd century), The Apostolic Constitutions (4th century), and the Canones Apostolorum (5th-7th century).
AD 1140 – Gratian’s Decree
Gratian was an Italian Camaldolese monk who taught practical theology (Canon Law) in monasteries at Bologna. In the year 1140, he published the “harmony of discordant laws” or Concordantia Discorantium Canonum. He put the entire mass of church legislation of the Latin Church in proper order. He also removed those canons that were no longer applicable in his times. Later on the book was called Gratian’s Decree. It dealt with many areas like the sources of law, elections, simony, law of procedure, ecclesiastical property, monks, schismatics, sacraments and sacramentals, etc.
AD 1234 – The Decretals of Gregory IX
With the help of St. Raymond of Pennafort, new papal law were added to the Gratian’s Decree and this was called The Decretals of Gregory IX. It dealt with judges, trials, clergy, marriage, and crime. This was promulgated in the year 1234 and it became the first authentic collection of the Church.
AD 1298 – Liber Sixtus (The Book Six)
A supplement to the Decretals of Gregory IX was promulgated by Pope Boniface VIII. Liber sixtus was the result of this supplement plus the five books of the the decretals.
AD 1305-14 – Liber Septimus (The Constitutions of Clement)
Pope Clement V added one book to the previous six books. This was promulgated by his successor Pope John XXII. It was called Seventh Book or Liber Septimus.
AD 1500s – Extravagantes
These were two other decretals circulating outside the other compilations. John Chapuis was an expert canonist who edited these two collections containing the Extravagantes of John XXII and the Extravagantes Communes. The latter were the decretals issued by different Popes in the last half of the 15th century.
AD 1580s – Corpus Iuris Canonici (The Body of Canon Law)
This was the official collection of canons for the Latin Church. The Body of Canon Law contains the previous six decretals or constitutions.
AD 1917 – The Code of Canon Law of 1917
The purpose of the 1917 Code of Canon Law was to unify and purify the then existing laws of the Church. It was appropriate that a new codification of all the laws of the Church be done in order to have an official Code of Canon Law that would apply to the circumstances of those times in the Church. Before the 1917 Code of Canon Law there were set of decretals from many different sources and from time to time new canons would be added that need codifications. Pope Pius X, with same motive-to bring order out of the chaos-as his predecessor Pope IX, directed that all Church laws up to his time should be brought together into one clear and orderly whole. That those abrogated and antiquated laws no longer pertaining to present times were to be deleted. And that the rest of the laws should adjust to the circumstances of their times. It was a laborious task during his pontificate but with the help of an appointed commission of Cardinals, bishops, and Canon Law experts (Canonists), the Church was able to come up with an authentic, universal, one, exclusive, juridical, special, organic, well ordered, complete and harmonious Code of Canon Law of 1917.
AD 1983 – The Code of Canon Law of 1983
Pope John XXIII in 1959 first intended to revise the 1917 Code and set up a commission of cardinals for the job in the year 1963. This was postponed because of the Second Vatican Council . The commission completed their work in 1971 and for seven years different drafts were given to bishops all over the world for consultation. In 1980, a compiled draft, in one volume with all the canons arranged in sequential order, was presented to the members of the commissions. It was then evaluated and another draft was again circulated to the bishops for world wide consultation. The evaluated draft was completed and submitted on July of 1981. The final draft was presented to the pope on October 29, 1981. The pope with a small group of canonists studied the final draft and made several changes. Finally, after 24 years, a new Code of Canon Law was promulgated on January 25, 1983 by Pope John Paul II.
Let us serve Christ and the Church in all circumstances!