Canon law?

Since Jesus didn’t want us to be burdened by man-made laws both in Matt, 23:4 and in Luke 11:46, I think that Canon law should be done away with. Any thoughts?

So basically anyone can do anything at any time and it’s OK with you.

OK. As of this moment I’m considering myself authorized to celebrate Mass. I’ll be using Coke and Ritz Crackers for the Eucharist. That’s OK, right? Because we don’t need any rules. And my Mass is just as good as one celebrated according to the current rules in canon law.

Thoughts: Such would not be the understanding to take from Jesus’s words.

Yes every society needs laws.

Jesus was not against man made laws.

He did not want laws that would say seek to in effect set aside the Law of God…

Like man-made laws that let one say kill the elderly etc.

Um are you sure that’s what Jesus meant?

Those passages say nothing about man made laws. Christ is talking about hypocrisy. He condemns not the laws, but that those who make the laws do not follow those laws themselves. The only way those would relate to canon law is if clergy made the laws, but only condemned the laity while giving a wink to clergy that ignored the law. At least that’s how I understand those passages when read in context.

Canon Law is about the administrative structure of the Church and sacraments, as stated by Fr. Grodin in today’s Ask an Apologist section. Without Canon Law, it would be an impossibility to administer the Church in an orderly fashion, and everybody would be doing their own thing.

Jesus was objecting to the Pharisees adding things to the Mosaic Law so that keeping the Law became an impossible burden. Jesus did not do away with the Mosaic Las–He fulfilled it. Also, he noted the hypocrisy of some people in requiring others to do what they did not.


It has already been pointed out that the Lord didn’t quite say that. I wonder… What do you think law canon law is? Is there one particular law in canon law that you can suggest be done away with?


There is no one law that I don’t follow explicitly. Perhaps if I were in the Mediterranean I would feel more at ease with it. I have read a couple of places - I don’t remember where except that it wasn’t the press or a blog - that the Mediterranean people think that canon law is merely a guideline and it is those in the northern parts of Europe and the US that are very strict about ‘crossing their ts and dotting their is’. I know it is supposedly there to help in governance of the church, however I can’t help but think it is a power thing, therefore a tradition that is not what Jesus had in mind. When He said that He was not dropping the law but fulfilling it, I take that to mean that He was showing what was behind the laws, the parts of them that were important.

So, let’s get this straight. You think canon law needs to be done away with but when asked to point out a law that needs to be done away with and why, you can’t name any?

I may have not been clear on what I was saying. I think the whole idea of canon law may need to be done away with, not an individual law.

Maybe it would help to think of a few analogies…

Do you think road rules are a man-made burdened that should be done away with?

Or do you think it’s good that people drive on one side of the road, stick to (or should) a certain speed limit, use indicators when turning, stop at red lights, etc?

If you do away with road rules - you kill lots of people.

Or say you join the Scouts or Girl Guides - again you find find that they have certain rules about how one joins, how meetings are run, who may or may not act as a leader, etc.

If you do away with rules for Scouts and Guides - you sacrifice the safety of innocent children and expose them to risks in terms of personal safety, pedophilia, etc.

Or say you play a sport - any sport I know of has rules that govern how it is played - and umpires/referees to administer those rules. Some rules might change over time, and others remain. If you want to play that sport, you follow the given rules at the given time.

If you do away with rules of any given sport - well, actually, then the sport ceases to exist. You probably just end up with people fighting (they may or may not be fighting over a ball, with or without sticks/bats, etc).

If you do away with the rules of the Church - you will have chaos. If you think of Canon Law as more along the lines of being the rules of a club we all belong to, perhaps you will have less trouble with it.

I do note that you have no particular reason other than speculation that Jesus might not have wanted it…

Brigid - here’s an exercise for your - skim through the Canon Law and see if you can find just one Canon that makes a lot of sense and ought not to be eliminated. Perhaps it’s one that:

  • directs what is to happen in the interim administration of a Diocese when a its Bishop dies suddenly;
  • identifies the requirements for one to be free to marry;
  • speaks of the basis upon which a marriage might be found null…

If you find a single Canon that we are better having than not, then perhaps that will persuade you that, in principle, some rules are needed. Then, the debate shifts to whether all the specific rules are needed.

We’ve had rules to guide the church like this since the time of the Apostles, and we have proof. Below is a link to the Didache, which is the oldest Christian document in existence outside of the Bible itself proven to be authentic.

It dates to somewhere between 50-120 AD, which means that it was probably written at the same time as the later books of the New Testament and was contemporary to at least some of the Apostles. It is basically an instruction manual of rules of how to rule the churches of a region, and was both mentioned frequently and held in high regard by the early church. In fact, some early versions of the Biblical canon included the Didache, but it was eventually dropped not because there was anything wrong with it, but because there was nothing inspired or necessary for salvation contained within. It was simply a procedural document on how to run the church. That said, it is exactly the same type of document as Canon Law, though in a far primitive form. You literally cannot go back to a time when such rules and regulations did not exist in Christianity. They were there from the very earliest moments of the church.

But you can’t seem to articulate why.


Thanks for the response. Among canon lawyers, I don’t think there is a big difference between North Americans and Southern Europeans. That’s a distinction I also see people trying to make but…I don’t see it.

Anyway, canon law does not “supposedly” help in the governance of the Church. That is what it does, along with providing guidelines on how we all interact within the Church.

Certainly, there is an element of “power” involved since the Lord gave authority to the Apostles and their successors (bishops) so that they could exercise this divinely given power for the benefit of all believers. Canon law isn’t just “we the Bishops order you laity to do this.” It is also written for the sake of the laity, their rights and obligations, so that those in power do not “lord it over” them or overstep the limits of their authority. For example:

Canon 219: “All Christ’s faithful have the right to immunity from any kind of coercion in choosing a state in life.”

Canon 797: “Parents must have a real freedom in their choice of schools. …”

Canon 912: “Any baptized person who is not forbidden by law may and must be admitted to Holy Communion.”

I could go on.

It is impossible to “do away with” canon law or do away with “the idea of it.” As St. John Paul II said, the Code of canon law is “extremely necessary for the Church” (in the document called Sacrae disciplinae leges).


Law is needed for every society…be it a secular country or the Church.

Jesus is not against the Church having Canon Law. In fact Jesus gave the Church even greater authority - to bind and loose.


Thank you for your answers. I forget that canon law is for the church’s government. I know it, but forget it.

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