Justinian, Novel 137,
Regulating Church Ritual
[Bernard and Hodges]
The concept of a free and independent Church was unacceptable
to Justinian. He regarded himself as head of the Church and insisted
on his right and duty not to regulate the smallest details of
discipline but also to dictate the theological opinions of the
Church. Samples of his ecclesiastical legislation follow.
If for the general welfare, We have taken measures to render the
civil laws more effective, with whose execution, God, through
His good will towards men, has entrusted Us, bow much more reason
is there not for Us to compel the observance of the sacred canons,
and Divine Laws, which have been promulgated for the safety of
Our souls? For those who observe the sacred canons become worthy
of the assistance of Our Lord God, while those who disobey them
render themselves liable to be punished by Him. Therefore, the
most holy bishops who are charged with the enforcement of these
laws are liable to severe penalties when they allow any breaches
of them to remain unpunished. And, indeed, as the sacred canons
have not been, up to this time, strictly observed, various complaints
have been made to Us of clerks, monks, and certain bishops, on
the ground that they do not live in accordance with the divine
canons; and indeed there are even some among them who are either
ignorant of, or do not perform the holy service of the mass, or
of the ceremony of baptism.
Therefore We, conceding the authority of the sacred canons, do
promulgate the present law, by which We decree that every time
it may be necessary to consecrate a bishop in any city, the clergy
and principal citizens of the said city shall assemble, and issue
proclamations by which they nominate three persons, and then make
oath on the Holy Gospels, in conformity with the Scriptures. This
oath, inserted in the proclamations, shall be worded as follows:
"That they did not select the three persons whom they have
nominated in consideration of any gifts or promises made to them;
nor through friendship, nor induced by any affection whatsoever,
but for the reason that they knew that the candidates whom they
have chosen are steadfast in the Catholic Faith, and of honorable
life; that they have passed the age of thirty years, and have
neither wives nor children; and that they have had neither concubines
nor natural children, nor have any at present; and if any of them
formerly had a wife, be had but one, and she was neither a widow,
nor separated from her husband, and that his marriage with her
was not prohibited, either by the sacred canons, or by secular
laws; that neither of the three candidates is charged with the
duties of any public office. . . .
As what is laid down in the canons relating to the episcopal synods,
which should be held in every province, is not observed, this
is the first thing that should be remedied. . . We order that
one synod shall assemble in each province in the month of June
or September. .. . We desire that ecclesiastical questions having
reference to the Faith, to canonical points, and such as relate
to the administration of church property; . . . and . . . to all
matters which have need of correction, shall be debated and examined
in each synod, and We desire that abuses shall be disposed of
in accordance with Our laws and the sacred canons.
We order all bishops and priests to repeat the divine service
and the prayer, when baptism is performed, not in an undertone,
but in a loud voice which can be beard by the faithful people,
in such a way that the minds of the listeners may be induced to
manifest greater devotion, and a higher appreciation of the praises
and blessings of God. . . . We notify all ecclesiastics that if
they should violate any of these provisions, they must render
an account of their conduct on the terrible judgment Day of Our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and that We, when informed of these
matters, shall not disregard them, and leave them unpunished.
We also order that if the Governors of provinces should ascertain
that any of the rules which We have promulgated are not observed,
they shall first compel the metropolitans and other bishops to
call the synods together, and do what We have just prescribed;
and when the bishops do not immediately obey, the Governors must
notify Us of the fact, in order to enable Us to promptly punish
those who refuse to convoke the synods; and We hereby warn the
Governors, as well as their courts, that if they do not see that
what We have decreed is executed, they shall be put to death.
From Justinian, Novella, CXXXVII, translated by S.P. Scott in The Civil Law (Cincinnati, Ohio: 1932), Vol. XVII, pp.
152-156. Reprinted in Leon Bernard and Theodore B. Hodges, eds. Readings in European History, (New York: Macmillan, 1958),
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© Paul Halsall June 1997