Canon Law

27 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2007

Date Written: April 23, 2007


This article is to appear in the DICTIONARY OF CANON LAW (Liturgical Press 2007, J. Conn & J. Provost, eds.). The dictionary article of approximately 8,000 words offers a general description and introductory overview of canon law. Consistent with the secular systems of law, canon law aims to set a societal order that harmonizes the interests of individuals and communities, secures peace, guarantees freedom, and establishes justice. At the same time, canon law reflects a claim about the spiritual end of the human person and religious nature of community. As a human institution that embraces certain theological truths, the Catholic Church depends on canon law for the regulation of its structure and organization and as well as for the continuity of its religious mission. Taking the form of an encyclopedia entry, the article discusses the sources of canon law, the levels and types of canon law, who is bound by canon law, the relationship between canon law and theology, the concepts of equity, epikeia, and oikonomia, as well as dispensations, exceptions, and privileges. The article also considers the relationship between canon law, natural law, and legal positivism. It concludes with a discussion of canon law and theological anthropology.

Suggested Citation

Coughlin, John J., Canon Law (April 23, 2007). Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 07-27. Available at SSRN: or

John J. Coughlin (Contact Author)

New York University ( email )

PO Box 129188
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

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