Canon law refers to the body of ecclesiastical law that developed within Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, governing the internal hierarchy and administration of the church. It also governs church ceremonies, the role of clergy, religious education, discipline within the church, and any litigation falling within ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Canon law originated as a body of norms drawn from scripture, the decisions of ecclesiastical councils, rulings by the Pope (in the form of letters known as papal decretals), as well as secular Roman law. The body of canon law started to be compiled by scholars in the Middle Ages and was later officially codified, most recently in the Roman Catholic Church’s 1983 Code of Canon Law.
[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]