I could not resist doing a dumb theological play on “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” While the Code is surely not the sole way of keeping the Devil out, it can help because knowledge of the Church is knowledge of Christ since the Church is His bride. No matter how dry this stuff can get.
Another thing, canon law (for me at least), is like a bag of Better Made White Cheddar Popcorn (that stuff is crack) … no matter how much one may say “Just one or two pieces” … pah! I’ll have more than that. If I am not careful, I will eat the whole bag.
The only difference is that eating lots of Better Made makes you increase your caloric intake and the luxury of your waistline. Reading lots of canon law makes you: a.) a Church geek (not a bad thing) and, b.) more understanding of how the Church manages her internal business which can be fun! Really! Imagine when new assignments are announced and people are scratching their head about the difference between a pastor and an administrator (parochial administrator). In that situation, you can be all savvy-looking and give the difference (hint: look at c.539-540) and maybe even cite canons! Imagine the friend/s you’ll make!
So, all of that banter was basically saying, “I am going to probably look at more than one canon a day/post because the Code has 1,752 canons. That’s just under 5 years worth of daily canonical fun!” Also, what I read I may not necessarily write about because some of the stuff is really really dry. Other stuff is really interesting.
If all else fails, consider it a penance. That’s how I look at it! Free some souls from Purgatory and humor yours truly into thinking that this is actually spell-binding! To break it up, I might even write about the three other books I am reading (“The Organic Development of the Liturgy” by Alcuin Reid, OSB; “The Feast of Faith” by one Joseph Ratzinger (aka B16), and “God is Near Us:The Eucharist, the Heart of Life” by the same author). See a theme? I think I might do that just so I don’t *totally* lose you all. Not that I have not now. But let a girl dream.
With all of that said, I am going to begin at the end. That is, the first post I shall write for this series is about the last canon (c. 1752), which reads “…and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.” Or for you Latinists: “…et præ oculis habita salute animarum, quæ in Ecclesia superna semper lex esse debet.”
When I first began my love affair with canonical jurisprudence (before I had really begun to learn about it), my Jedi Master canonist asked me: “Ms. Allie, what is the most important canon in the Code and where is it?”
Of course I got it wrong. But now I shall never forget this canon and its meaning in the life of the Church and her legal system.
The salvation of souls is the highest law of the Church. What more need be said? All the actions of the Church is to be done for the salvation of souls.
As one will notice as one reads more and more about canon law, it derives much from the ancient Roman legal system. This canon is no exception. The roots of this maxim can be traced to the Twelve Tables of Roman Law to which Cicero refers when he says that “the salvation (safety/welfare) of the people shall be the supreme law.” (Commentary 1847)
Though the specific canon refers to cases of transfer (maybe we’ll get into that later), it seems that the part about the salvation of souls being the supreme law of the Church encompasses all the areas of canonical jurisprudence (1847). However, as with most things like this, one cannot read too much into it. It’s kinda like the saying that “the Devil can quote Scripture for his own purposes,” which is true because he did (look at the temptation in the desert). The maxim is so broad that it can “be cited for conflicting sides of the same argument” (1847). The writer of this part of my commentary, Thomas Paprocki (now Bishop of Springfield, IL), uses the example of the two sides of a transfer decision: a bishop may think it would be for the good of souls that the pastor be transferred while the priest himself may sincerely believe that just the opposite would occur and the parish would falter.
With all of that said, specificity is key when it comes to content and implications when applying this phrase from the canon. In an effort to do so, Bishop Paprocki says, “is only one reason why [the Code] contains 1,752 canons instead of just one supreme law!” (1847) Having a maxim such as “the salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church” helps make the Code and the canons contained therein more “approachable” (1847). However, the law must be protected from losing its efficacy by “becoming too easily invoked in any and every situation” (1847). Therefore, it must be formed to fit specific circumstances and situations.
Okay. Have I lost you yet? Probably. I lost myself for a moment and we only looked at one! Oh, the future looks bright! Bright indeed.
I kinda figured it would be good to stick with this one for the first post. Besides, it is the most important canon. All other canons should be viewed through the eyes of this canon and mindful of the implications that Bishop Paprocki wrote about.
But seriously, people, tell me what you think. Do you like this or would you prefer me to do something like this with one of my Ratzinger books? I really think those could very interesting as well.
Have a blessed Easter Monday!
Canon Law Society of America. New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.
Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Code of Canon Law Latin-English Edition. Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998.