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Hardcover of the 1917 Code of Canon Law
For the Code of Canon Law currently in effect, see 1983 Code of Canon Law. For the Code governing the Eastern Catholic Churches, see Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
Scale of justice, canon law.svg
This article is part of the series:
Legislation and Legal System of the Catholic Church
Canon Law Task Force

The 1917 Code of Canon Law, also referred to as the Pio-Benedictine Code,[1] was the first official comprehensive codification of Latin canon law used in the Roman Catholic Church. Under the Pontificate of Pope Pius X, it was promulgated on 27 May 1917 and took legal effect on 19 May 1918. It was in force until the 1983 Code of Canon Law took legal effect and abrogated it[1] on 27 November 1983.[2] It has been described as "the greatest revolution in canon law since the time of Gratian"[3] (1150 AD).

Many specific laws and regulations which were present in the 1917 edition, are now either lacking or places ambiguity in the 1983 edition of canon law due to the spread of religious freedom and ecumenical efforts heralded by the Second Vatican Council.[4]



By the 19th Century, this body of legislation included some 10,000 norms. Many these were difficult to reconcile with one another due to changes in circumstances and practice. This situation impelled Pope St. Pius X to order the creation of the first Code of Canon Law, a single volume of clearly stated laws. Under the aegis of Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law was completed under Benedict XV, who promulgated the Code, effective in 1918. The work having been begun by Pius X and promulgated by Benedict XV, it is sometimes called the "Pio-Benedictine Code"[1] but more often the 1917 Code. In its preparation centuries of material was examined, scrutinized for authenticity by leading experts, and harmonized as much as possible with opposing canons and even other codes, from the Codex of Justinian to the Napoleonic Code.

In response to the request of the bishops at the First Vatican Council,[5] on 14 May 1904, with the motu proprio "Arduum sane munus", Pope Pius X set up a commission to begin work on reducing these diverse documents into a single code,[6] presenting the normative portion in the form of systematic short canons shorn of the preliminary considerations[7] ("Whereas...") and omitting those parts that had been superseded by later developments.

Promulgation and period of enforcement[edit]

The code was promulgated on 27 May 1917 as the Code of Canon Law (Latin: Codex Iuris Canonici) by his successor, Pope Benedict XV, who set 19 May 1918 as the date on which it came into force.[8] For the most part, it applied only to the Latin Church except when "it treats of things that, by their nature, apply to the Oriental",[9] such as the effects of baptism (canon 87). It contained 2,414 canons.[10]

On 15 September 1917, by the motu proprio Cum Iuris Canonici,[11] Pope Benedict XV made provision for a Pontifical Commission charged with interpreting the code and making any necessary modifications as later legislation was issued. New laws would be appended to existing canons in new paragraphs or inserted between canons, repeating the number of the previous canon and adding bis, ter, etc.[12] (e.g. "canon 1567bis" in the style of the civil law) so as not to subvert the ordering of the code, or the existing text of a canon would be completely supplanted. The numbering of the canons was not to be altered.[13]

The Roman Congregations were forbidden to issue new general decrees, unless it was necessary, and then only after consulting the Pontifical Commission charged with amending the code. The congregations were instead to issue Instructions on the canons of the code, and to make it clear that they were elucidating particular canons of the code.[14] This was done so as not to make the code obsolete soon after it was promulgated. The 1917 Code was very rarely amended, and then only slightly.[15]

It was in force until Canon 6 §1 1° of the 1983 Code of Canon Law[16] took legal effect and abrogated it[1] on 27 November 1983.[2]


The Code presents canon law in five groupings:[17]

  1. The general principles of law
  2. the law of persons (clergy, religious, and laity)
  3. de rebus (including such things as the sacraments, holy places and times, divine worship, the magisterium, benefices, and temporal goods)
  4. procedures
  5. crimes and punishment

Scholarship and Criticism[edit]

During the 65 years of its enforcement, a complete translation of the 1917 Code from its original Latin was never published. Translations were forbidden, partly to ensure that interpretive disputes among scholars and canonists concerning such a new type of code would be resolved in Latin itself and not in one of the many languages used in scholarship.[18]

More English-language research material exists relating to the 1917 Code than in any other language except Latin.[19]

The book "De rebus" (English: On things) was subject to much criticism due to its inclusion of such miraculous and supernatural subjects as sacraments and divine worship under the category "things"[20] and due to its amalgamation of disparate subject matter.[21] It was argued by some that this was a legalistic reduction of sacramental mystery.[20] René Metz defended the codifiers's decision on the layout and scope of De rebus as being the "least bad solution" to structural problems which the codifiers themselves fully understood.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d Dr. Edward Peters, CanonLaw.info, accessed June-9-2013
  2. ^ a b NYTimes.com, "New Canon Law Code in Effect for Catholics", 27-Nov-1983, accessed June-25-2013
  3. ^ Edward N. Peters, 1917 Code, xxx
  4. ^ For example, the usage of sacramentals, or the display of relics in conjunction with other saintly relics, as much more vague or interpreted as lenient in the 1983 edition compared to the 1917 specific instructions .
  5. ^ Pietro Cardinal Gasparri, preface to the CIC 1917
  6. ^ Manual of Canon Law, pg. 47
  7. ^ Manual of Canon Law, pg. 49
  8. ^ Ap Const. Providentissima Mater Ecclesia Benedict XV, 27 May 1917
  9. ^ canon 1, 1917 Code of Canon Law
  10. ^ Dr. Edward N. Peters, CanonLaw.info "A Simple Overview of Canon Law", accessed June-11-2013
  11. ^ Pope Benedict XV, motu proprio Cum Iuris Canonici of 15 September 1917, (Edward N. Peters, 1917 Code, pg. 25)
  12. ^ Pope Benedict XV, motu proprio Cum Iuris Canonici of 15 September 1917, §III (Edward N. Peters, 1917 Code, pg. 26)
  13. ^ Metz, What is Canon Law? pgs. 62-63
  14. ^ Pope Benedict XV, motu proprio Cum Iuris Canonici of 15 September 1917, §§II-III (Edward N. Peters, 1917 Code, pg. 26)
  15. ^ Metz, What is Canon Law? pg. 64
  16. ^ 1983 Code of Canon Law Annotated, Canon 6 (pg. 34)
  17. ^ Metz, What is Canon Law? pg. 71
  18. ^ Edward N. Peters, 1917 Code, xxiv.
  19. ^ Edward N. Peters, 1917 Code, xxxi
  20. ^ a b Concilium: "The Future of Canon Law"
  21. ^ a b Metz, What is Canon Law? pg. 60


  1. Manual of Canon Law Fernando della Rocca (translated by Rev. Anselm Thatcher, O.S.B.), "Manual of Canon Law" (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1959)
  2. What is Canon Law? René Metz (translated from the French by Michael Derrick), "What is Canon Law?" (New York: Hawthorn Books/Publishers, 1960)
  3. The Future of Canon Law Concilium vol. 48 (Paulist, 1st Edition, 1969)
  4. 1917 (Pio-Benedictine) Code of Canon Law (CIC) Translated by Edward Peters, "The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: in English Translation with Extensive Scholarly Apparatus" (Ignatius Press, 2001)
  5. 1983 Code of Canon Law Annotated "Gratianus Series", Ernest Caparros, et al., 2nd edition (Woodridge: Midwest Theological Forum, 2004)

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1917_Code_of_Canon_Law — Please support Wikipedia.
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56 news items

Catholic Herald Online (blog)

Catholic Herald Online (blog)
Tue, 17 Nov 2015 06:31:07 -0800

While failure to get permission for a mixed marriage no longer invalidates the exchange of consent, as it did in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the matter is still treated at length. Canons 1124-1129 lay out the conditions for the granting of permission ...

Crux: Covering all things Catholic

Crux: Covering all things Catholic
Fri, 13 Nov 2015 06:12:34 -0800

Checking, I see that defrocking and reduction to the lay state are in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, but the 1983 code just speaks of loss of the clerical state. Dismissal from the clerical state can be at the cleric's own request or can be a penalty. The ...

Irish Times

Irish Times
Thu, 12 Nov 2015 10:22:30 -0800

She also said that the church “has never been a champion of women”, ranging from a 19th-century ban on women singing in church choirs, to the description of women as “objects of suspicion” in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, to a current Vatican rule which ...


Tue, 29 Sep 2015 00:02:21 -0700

As for the veiling, what you say about the 1917 Code of Canon Law is a bit misleading. Catholic women all over the world veiled for Mass until in the 1970s, when they just sort of stopped. And it wasn't mentioned in the 1983 code, as you say. The point ...

Huffington Post

Huffington Post
Mon, 21 Sep 2015 14:11:15 -0700

The 1917 Code of Canon Law increased the minimum age for marriage to 16 for males and 14 for female, and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which remains in effect, continues those age restrictions. As recognized by Catholic Online and other Catholic voices ...

National Catholic Reporter

National Catholic Reporter
Tue, 09 Jun 2015 10:42:53 -0700

Procedures for appointing bishops, disputed for centuries by ecclesiastical and secular authorities, were codified by the Catholic church's 1917 Code of Canon Law, which stipulated that nominations rested solely with the pope. However, the right to ...

Patheos (blog)

Patheos (blog)
Wed, 10 Jun 2015 00:52:30 -0700

“[Archbishop William Borders] was ordained bishop in 1968 and made the first Bishop of Orlando, Florida. The new diocese encompassed central Florida and included Cape Canaveral, from where, the following year, Apollo 11 launched, bound for the moon.

Catholic World Report

Catholic World Report
Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:15:12 -0700

... why is it not good enough for Roman Catholics? (For those who don't know the history, the papal monopoly on episcopal appointments is a wholly modern invention, placed into the 1917 code of canon law and having no theological warrant whatsoever.).

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