The Law Book of Gratian. Also known as the 'Decretum Gratiani', 1140 AD

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The Law Book of Gratian

Also known as the ‘Decretum Gratiani’, 1140 AD

Historical notes

Gratian taught Church Law at the University of Bologna around the middle of the 12th century. He compiled Church laws (‘canons’) from all available sources and called the collection Concordia Discordantium Canonum (the harmonizing of discordant canons). The collection became known as the Decretum Gratiani.

Although not it was not an official collection, it was, for a time and for all practical purposes, accepted as the fundamental text of Church law.

Later additions were made by St. Raymond of Pennafort and promulgated by Pope Gregory IX in 1234 as the Liber Extravagantium (so called because it was outside the Decretum). Other collections were issued by Boniface VIII in 1298 and John XXII in 1317. In 1500, canonist John Chapuis edited the previous collections and added to them subsequent papal decretals. These works together are what came to be called the Corpus Iuris Canonici, or Body of Canon Law.

Selections from Gratian's Law Book:

Translation from the latin by John Wijngaards

‘Woman’ signifies ‘weakness of mind’

[|Regarding a saying of Ambrose (=Ambrosiaster) who seemed to allow men to remarry after a divorce from an unfaithful wife, see text]
“Some, however, wanting to defend Ambrose's opinion, contend that his statement should not be understood as applying to any kind of fornication for which the husband would be allowed to dismiss his wife and marry another during the life time of the first . . .but that it should be understood as applying to incestuous fornication” (=with a relative which makes the first marriage invalid).
“However, since no authority permits a husband to marry another wife while the first one is still alive, something else must be understood regarding the fornication mentioned by Ambrose, namely, not that a husband can take another wife while the first one is still alive, but that after the death of the unfaithful man or woman . . . the other partner, whether the husband or the wife, who has not been unfaithful, can have another relationship; the unfaithful partner, on the other hand, even if he or she outlives his/her partner may not remarry.”
“But if someone were to object that in that case no more is allowed to a husband than to a wife if the husband is unfaithful [such unequal rights were claimed in Ambrosiaster, see text], he must know that Ambrose does not call him ‘man’ (Latin vir) on account of his male sex, but by the strength (Latin virtus) of the soul; and he should realise that ‘woman’ (Latin mulier) is not called so because of the sex of her body but because the weakness (Latin mollicies) of her mind.”

Decretum Gratiani Causa 32, question 7, chapter 18. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1145.

In everything a wife is subject to her husband because of her state of servitude

“In conjugal debt the woman has equal rights to the man and the man to the woman so that neither a wife may make a vow of (sexual) abstinence without the consent of her husband, nor the husband without the consent of his wife.”
“But in everything else the husband is the head of his wife, and the wife is the body of her husband, so that a wife may make a vow of abstinence if her husband allows her to, but which she may not fulfil if her husband forbids her to.”
“And this is, as I have said before, because of her state of servitude through which she has to be subject to her husband in everything.”
[Gratian then quotes 10 Fathers to support this, and continues:]
“Thus it appears completely obvious that a husband is so much the head of his wife that without his permission she may take no vow of abstinence or religious way of living before God. Even if such a promise is made with the approval of her husband, she may not fulfill it, if he revokes his permission. ”

Decretum Gratiani Causa 33, question 5, chapter 11. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1254-1256.

Woman is not created in the image of God

“Women are in servile submission, on account of which they must be subject to men in everything.” (chapter 11)
As Augustine (=Pseudo-Augustine) says: ‘This is the likeness of God in man [the male], that he is created as the only being, from whom the others have come, and that he possesses, as it were, the dominion of God as his representative, since he bears in himself the image of the one God. So woman is not created in the image of God; that is what [scripture] says: ‘And God created man [the male], according to the image of God he created him’; and therefore the Apostle also says: ‘Man certainly must not cover his head, because he is image and reflection of God, but woman must cover her head because she is neither the reflection nor the image of God’.” (chapter 13).
“And Jerome says: ‘Since the man is the head of the woman, while the head of the man is Christ, any wife who does not subordinate herself to her husband as her head is as guilty as a man who does not subordinate himself to Christ.’ (chapter 15)
“.... And Ambrose (=Ambrosiaster) says: ‘A woman must cover her head because she is not the likeness of God; in order that she may appear submissive ... she must wear this sign.... ’ (chapter 19).

Decretum Gratiani Causa 33, question 5, chapters 11, 13,15 & 19. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1254-1256.

Wives are subject to their husbands by nature

“As Augustine states: ‘It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater’.” (chapter 12)
“And Jerome states: ‘God's word is blasphemed by either despising God's original sentence and reducing it to nothing, or by defaming the Gospel of Christ, when a woman, against the law and fidelity of nature, in spite of being a Christian and made subject by God's law, desires to dominate her husband, since even pagan wives serve their husbands by the common law of nature’.” (chapter 13)

Decretum Gratiani Causa 33, question 5, chapters 11, 13,15 & 19. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1254-1256.

Women are subject in punishment for their share in original sin

“ Ambrosius (=Ambrosiaster) says: ‘Women must cover their heads because they are not the image of God. They must do this as a sign of their subjection to authority and because sin came into the world through them. Their heads must be covered in church in order to honor the bishop. In like manner they have no authority to speak because the bishop is the embodiment of Christ. They must thus act before the bishop as before Christ, the judge, since the bishop is the representative of the Lord. Because of original sin they must show themselves submissive.

Decretum Gratiani Causa 33, question 5, chapter 19. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1255-1256.

Women may not be given a liturgical office in the church

“What kind of female priest we should accept, the Council of Laodicea shows when it says: ‘Those women who are called presbyterae by the Greeks (=presbytides) but by us are called widows, senior women, univirae and matricuriae, may not be installed in the church as ordained persons’. ”

Decretum Gratiani Distinction 2 de cons., Chapter 29. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1323-1324.

No woman to be consecrated deaconess before 40 years of age

“Those who take the vow of celibacy may not marry”
Hence we read in the Chalcedon: ‘No woman shall be consecrated as deaconess before she is 40 years old, and then only after careful examination. But if, after receiving this consecration and fulfilling her office for a period of time, she should marry, thus disdaining the grace of God, let her be anathema along with him who entered marriage with her’. ”

Decretum Gratiani Causa 27, chapter 23, question 1. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1055.

Women cannot become priests or deacons

“May a woman lay an accusation against a priest?
It seems not because as Pope Fabian says, neither complaint nor testimony may be raised against the priests of the Lord by those who do not have, and cannot have, the same status with them.”
“Women cannot, however, be promoted to the priesthood or even the diaconate and for this reason they may not raise a complaint or give testimony against priests in court.”
“This is shown both in the sacred canons (=Church regulations) and the laws (=Roman & civil laws).”
But then it would seem that whoever can be a judge may not be prevented from being a plaintiff and women became judges in the Old Testament as is clearly shown in the book of Judges. So those cannot be excluded from the role of plaintiff who have often fulfilled the role of judge and who are not forbidden by any word of Scripture to act as plaintiff . . . .”
“However, in the Old Testament much was permitted which today [i. e., in the New Testament] is abolished, through the perfection of grace. So if [in the Old Testament] women were permitted to judge the people, today because of sin, which woman brought into the world, women are admonished by the Apostle to be careful to practice a modest restraint, to be subject to men and to veil themselves as a sign of subjugation.

Decretum Gratiani Causa 2, question 7, princ. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 750-751.

Women may not distribute communion

“It has come to our notice that certain priests despise the Divine Mysteries to such an extent that they hand over the sacred Body of the Lord to a lay person or a woman, in order for them to take them to the sick. The most Blessed Sacrament is therefore entrusted to those people whom it is forbidden to enter the sanctuary or to approach the altar! All people who fear God will understand that this is a terrible and despisable practice. Therefore the Synod prohibits this in the most strong terms, in order that such irresponsible and repulsive behaviour will not happen again. In every single case the priest should himself bring holy communion to the sick. If anyone acts in contrary fashion, he incurs the risk to be demoted”.

Decretum Gratiani Distinction 2 de cons., Chapter 29. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1323-1324.

Women may not teach in church

“Even if a woman is educated and saintly, she still should not presume to instruct men in a [congregational] assembly. A [male] layperson, however, should not presume to instruct in the presence of the clergy, unless he is asked by them to do so. ”

Decretum Gratiani Distinction 23, Chapter 29. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 86.

Women may not teach or baptize

“Even if a woman is learned and saintly, she still must not presume to baptize or to instruct men in a [congregational] assembly. ”
As found in the Council of Carthage. “About baptizing by women we want you to know that those who presume to baptize bring themselves into no small danger. So we do not advise it, for it is dangerous, yes, even forbidden and godless. That is to say, if man is the head of woman and he is promoted to the priesthood, it militates against divine justice to disturb the arrangement of the Creator by degrading man from the preeminence granted to him to the lowest place. For woman is the body of man, has come from his rib and is placed in subjection to him, for which reason also she has been chosen to bear children. The Lord says, ‘He will rule over her.’ Man has lordship over the woman, since he is also her head. But if we have already forbidden women to preach, how would anyone want to permit them to enter the priesthood? It would be unnatural. For women to be priests is an error of heathen godlessness but not of Christ’s way. But if women are permitted to baptize, then Christ would surely have been baptized by his mother and not by John and he would have sent women with us to baptize also, when he sent us out to baptize. But now the Lord never made any such arrangements nor left us with any such scriptural admonition, since he as creator of nature and founder of its order knew the gradations of nature and what is proper.”

Note: This is wrongly attributed to the Council of Carthage. The real source was the Statuta Ecclesia Antiqua compiled in the South of France, which became known through the Spanish collection of Isidore. The origin has now been established to come from a priest called Gennadius of Marseille.

Decretum Gratiani Distinction 32, Chapter 19. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 122.

Women may not touch sacred objects

“Consecrated women are forbidden to touch the sacred vessels and altar cloths and to carry incense round the altar”.
Wherefore (Pope) Soter [=a forged letter in the ‘False Decretals’] wrote to the bishops of Italy: “It has come to the notice of the apostolic See that consecrated women or nuns among you touch sacred vessels or palls and carry incense round the alter. No one in his senses doubts that this behaviour deserves condemnation and correction. Therefore we command you on the basis on the authority of this Holy See, that you put an end to this behaviour thoroughly and as soon as possible. And in order that this kind of plague will not proliferate further in other provinces, we order that the practice be discontinued as soon as possible”.

Decretum Gratiani Distinction 23, Chapter 25. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 85.

“Sacred Vessels may only be handled by consecrated men.”
“The Holy See decrees that the consecrated vessels may be handled only by holy men (males) ordained to the Lord’s service and by no others, in order that the Lord in his anger may not punish his people with calamity, in which those who have not sinned [against this commandment] may be also destroyed, since it often happens that the righteous suffer for the ungodly.”
<For it is highly unbecoming that any sacred vessels of the Lord would serve human needs or would be touched by others than by men (males) who stand in the Lord’s service and have been consecrated to him.> (=addition in the official Editio Romana declared the authentic edition by Pope Gregory XIII in 1580 AD).

Decretum Gratiani Section III, Distinction 1 de cons., Chapter 41. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1304-1305.

Women may not touch or wear sacred vestments

“Sacred Vestments may only be worn by consecrated men.”
“The vestments (used in Church . . . ) may not be touched or offered except by consecrated men (males).”

Decretum Gratiani Section III, Distinction 1 de cons., Chapter 42. Corpus Juris Canonici, edited by A.Friedberg, Leipzig 1879-1881; reprint Graz 1955; vol. 1, col. 1305.

Overall Source: Ida Raming, The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood, Scarecrow Press, Metuchen 1976, pp. 7-44.


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