John Adams on the Roman Canon Law


Last Fryday I borrowed of Mr. Gridley, the second Volume of the Corpus Iuris Canonici Notis illustratum. Gregorii 13 Iussi editum. complectens Decretum Gratiani. Decretales Gregorii Papae 9. Sextum Deeretalium Bonifacii Papx 8. Clementinas, Extravagantes Ioannis Papae XII. Extravagantes communes.

Accesserunt Constitutiones Novx summorum Pontificum, nunquam antea editae, quae 7. Decretalium Loco esse possint:-Annotationes Ant. Naldi, cum Addit. novis. -- Et qux in Plerisque Editionibus desiderabantur, Petri Lancelotti, Institutiones Iuris Canonici; Regulae Cancellariee Apostolicae : cum Indicibus &c. Mr. Gridley about 15 months since, advised me to read an Institute of the Cannon Law-and that Advice lay broiling in my Head, till last Week, when I borrowed the Book.

I am very glad, that he gave, and I took, the Advice, for it will explain many Things in Ecclesiastical History, and open that system of fraud, Bigotry, Nonsense, Impudence, and Superstition, on which the Papal Usurpations are founded, besides increasing my skill in the Latin tongue, and my Acquaintance with civil

Law, for [illegible] in many Respects the Cannon Law is grafted on the civil.

FRIDAY 6, FEBY. 1761.

I have now almost finished the first book of Peter Lancelotts Institute, which first Book is taken up De jure Personarum, and is well analized in the 29th Title De Clericis non Residentibus, in these Words vizt.

"Personarum quidam Laid sunt, quidam Clerici. Rursus Clericorum, quidam sunt in Sacerdotio constituti, quidam in sacris, licet non in sacerdotio, quidam nee in sacris, nec in sacerdotio. Eorum rursus, qui in sacerdotio constituti sunt, quidam sunt in celsiore gradu, ut Episcopi: quidam in inferiore, ut Presbyteri. In sacris vero dicuntur constituti Diaconi et subdiaconi qui vero nec in sacerdotio, nec in sacris reperiuntur, ii sunt, qui Bunt in Minoribus ordinibus constituti. Caeterum, quoniam adhuc quidam in Ecclesia sunt, qui non minus in Laicatu, quam in Clericatu constituti Domino Deserviunt, ut sunt Regulares ac Monachi, restat, ut et de his Pauca subiiciamus."


This morning, as I lay abed, I recollected my last Weeks Work. I find I was extreamly diligent, constantly in my Chamber, Spent no Evenings abroad, not more than one at the Drs. Have taken no Walks, [illegible] never been on Horseback the whole Week, excepting once, which was on Tuesday, when I went to Boston. Yet how has this Retirement, and solitude been spent? In too much Rambling and Straggling from one Book to another, from the Corpus Juris Canonici, to Bolingbroke, from him to Pope, from him to Addison, from him to Yoricks sermons, &c. In fine, the whole Week, and all my Diligence has been lost, for want of observing De Wits Maxim, "one Thing at once." This Reflection raised a Determination to re-assume the Corpus Juris, or Rather Lancelots Institutes, and read nothing else, and think of nothing else -- till sometime.

With the Week then, I begin the second Book Institutionum Juris Canonici. -- De Rerum Divisione, atque illorum Administratione. Titulus primus. Res Ecclesiasticae sunt, aut spirituales, aut temporales. Res Spirituales sunt aut incorporales, aut corporales: et corporales dividuntur in sacramenta, in res sacras, sanctas et religiosas.

This Institute is a curious Monument of Priestly Ambition, Avarice and subtlety. Tis a system of Sacerdotal Guile.


I have been interrupted from Reading this Institute ever since Feby. Amidst the Dissipations of Business, Pleasure, Conversation, Intrigue, Party &c. what mortal can give Attention to an old Latin Institute of the Cannon Law? But it is certainly worth while to proceed and finish it, as I have already been 2/3 thro it.

From: John Adams' Diary 4, October 1759 - 20 November 1761, 21 November 1772
Butterfield, L.H., ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. Vol. 1.Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1961.

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