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Saturday, January 17, 2009


It is cold, it is dark, and it is morning. I want to go back to bed.

However, I'm not. I'm going to class, and it's a consolation that the class is fascinating!

Last night we started Canon Law, and I was struck by the different perspective Canon Law takes versus Secular American Law. Even the term "civil law" has a different meaning in the Church.

I don't have my notes at home, but we were given a history of Canon Law, and in that was a discussion of Roman Law, upon which Canon Law is based. In Roman Law, a "crime" was an offense against a person. In American is an offense against the State.

In Canon Law, each case is taken on its own merit and judged according to the letter of the law. Each person is an individual and thus each set of circumstances has the law applied to it individually.

In our secular laws, everything is based on a precedent. For example, an attorney may argue that in a prior case with similar circumstances, the decision was X and if the attorney liked that outcome, he or she may argue for that same decision not based on the merits of the present case, but because the relative prior decision has become a "precedent."

The more this was discussed the more I realized our very legal system has, in part, inherently caused the rampant relativism we see today. Our system has caused activist judges that don't look at the law and the Constitution as something to be interpreted based on what it says, but by what decisions were made about it in the past. This is why we get Supreme Court decisions that have nothing to do with the actual black-and-white words on the paper.

My undergrad degree is in Criminal Justice, so of course I studied the roots of our secular laws and the system upon which it was founded, and then changed to fit our country. This class is a reminder of those things I've not thought about for a long time, and in looking at it through Catholic eyes in light of the philosophy of the Church and Canon Law, the differences are really highlighted.

I'll probably have more to say on this, but I need to finish my coffee, walk the dog, and get cleaned up for class. Besides, I'm not sure this post makes sense...I'm not quite awake yet.

One other thing: Latin is the ONLY language of Canon Law, because some things can only be accurately expressed in Latin, and it is a universal Law that applies to the Roman Church. Although translations are allowed, they are ONLY allowed in order to aid in understanding.

So we may be learning some Latin this semester!


uncle jim said...

sounds like good and thought provoking stuff

Anonymous said...

Many countries in Europe are structured on the Roman law system as well. In fact, that's what the majority of lawyers actually study.

It's completely different from what is taught here.

I hope you will write more about this fascinating subject.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I have a huge giant book on this desk of Canon Law...ah, I get to break it out now :)...I look forward to the new posts.

Fr. V said...

"In our secular laws, everything is based on a precedent."

Which is something that people do not take into consideration when discussing such things as a change in what we recognize as a marriage. So we completely change "precident." Then it is no longer connected to anything - therefor "precident" becomes anything. Why not a man and two women then? Why not two men AND two women? Why not recognize a whole convent or abbey as a marriage in order to protect THIER rites? When you allow it to change - when precident is change, how can you stop it? (Remember there was a time when it was thought it would be impossible to imagine changing it to recognize same sex.)

Adoro said...

Uncle Jim ~ It is! We all love the prof and the class!

Brother Juniper ~ Unfortunately, our system now isn't so much based on Roman Law. it's maybe where the roots are, but even Roman Law saw crime as an act against a person, not the State. I was hoping to write more on tohis tonight but my outline is in my 3 subject notebook...and in the classroom for the night! Maybe tomorrow...

Fr. V! You're back! That's exactly it...the classmate who drove me into class and I were talking about that this morning en route. It's so clear why we're so messed up. Our law here is based on bad philosophy (John Locke, etc.)