Canon law served the church just as civil law supported a secular government. It defined the rights, duties and powers of all people and priests within the church. It was the law administered in all ecclesiastical courts, from those of the bishop up to that of the pope.
Sometime around 1140 Gratian, a monk of the monastery of St. Felix at Bologna, published a Harmony of Discordant Canons which tried to coordinate all previous collections of church law. Since he arranged his quotations of authorities subject by subject, his Harmony soon emerged as the sole manual for teachers and for judges in the church. But it also directed man’s most intimate relationships. By virtue of its concern with baptism it established standards for all births — and all that led to births. The first inviting smile between man and woman brought the couple under its watchful shadow. It directed penance for fornication and adultery; it laid down the conditions in which a marriage could exist.
Canon law, in short, reached not only to every priest, but to every layman, plowman or prince. And it professed to declare, not only the necessary path to salvation, but the very nature of the most intimate organs of men and women.
Canon law gave to the papacy a rational legal basis, something the medieval state did not yet possess. As a result the papacy rose to preeminent power in the public life of Europe and achieved an international prestige that far outweighed that of any feudal kingdom.
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