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Corpus Juris Canonici

Page from Corpus Juris CanoniciIn 1582, the same year that Pope Gregory XIII introduced his revised calendar to the world, the pontiff saw the culmination of another of his scholarly projects, a revised edition of the Corpus Juris Canonici, the “Body of Canon Law.” The three large volumes contained not only the medieval collections laws—notably, Gratian’s Decretum, Gregory IX’s Liber Extra, and Boniface VIII’s Liber Sextus—but also the elaborate Ordinary Glosses and further commentaries on the laws that took up the vast inner margins, with further up-to-date annotations on outer margins. These glosses, which are absolutely essential to historians of law, have not been reprinted since the seventeenth century, and copies are scarce and invariably stowed away in Special Collections, making steady and hands-on usage very difficult.

That's where UCLA comes in. UCLA ’s Charles E. Young Research Library is fortunate to have a complete set of the 1582 Corpus, and the Library, with the support of CMRS, has undertaken to digitize the whole set and make it available online on the internet. The work was begun under the enthusiastic direction of Howard Batchelor, UCLA Digital Library Coordinator, with the guidance of UCLA’s resident canonist, Professor Andy Kelly (English), former Director of CMRS and current Editor of CMRS’s journal, Viator. The work is being carried on by Stephen Davison, Head of the UCLA Digital Library Program. A generous grant for the project has been secured from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation through the intercession of Gary Strong, UCLA Librarian. The CMRS has also provided funding for the project.

So far the complete text of all three volumes of the Corpus Juris Canonici is now online at the UCLA Library Digital Collections site at http://digital.library.ucla.edu/canonlaw. This means scholars who are already experts in canon law will be able to access these texts from the comfort of their own offices.

But what about those scholars who do not know their way around in the laws of the Church? How are they to find out what laws are pertinent to a particular subject that they are research? The Ordinary Glosses have an elaborate system of cross-references, once you get to where you want to go. But how to get there in the first place? One way is to use the elaborate subject indexes at the front and back of each volume.

These indexes can be used without further ado, just as they exist in the volumes (though there are many errors in column numbers cited). But to make things even easier, our project crew, consisting of graduate students in medieval and Renaissance fields, is transcribing and editing the volume’s indexes and rendering them searchable.

Professor Kelly decided that it would be advisable to start work on the indexes of the Liber Extra, which, from the point of view of official law, is the most important of three volumes. Gratian's vast compilation, which he entitled The Concordance of Discordant Canons, was actually a university textbook, not an official body of laws, thought it was often treated as such (and, of course, it contained a lot of official laws, which the user could evaluate on his own, guided by Gratian's commentary and the glosses). It is very important, of course, and we will eventually get to it.

Students working on the project were Tom O’Donnell, Jennifer Tran, and Alison Walker, all of the English Department, and Maria Kritikou and Sherrylyn Branshaw of the Indo-European Studies Program.


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