History of the Faculty of Canon Law (1495-2010)
For more then 575 years the University of Louvain has managed its own Faculty of Canon Law. Through the history of canon law in general, the ups and downs of this Faculty are brought to light, but in particular the most important professor-canon lawyers who perpetuated her existence.
- From 1425 until 1550 - the first century
- ca. 1550 to 1750 - the full blossom
- ca. 1750 up to the first decades of the nineteenth century
- The 19th century from 1834 onwards
- The full blossom of the 20th century
- Epilogue: an all-time low and a new sound
The papal bull Sapientie immarcessibilis of Martin V, dated on December 9, 1425, stated that in Louvain "generale in facultate qualibet, preterquam in theologia, sit studium". The Faculty of Theology of Louvain would only be erected in 1432, and consequently in the beginning the Faculty of Canon Law took the first place in the eldest University of the Low Countries. The first professors of the University were drawn from Cologne. The inaugural speech in St. Peter's Church on September 7, 1426 was given by NICOLAUS VON PRÜM or from Winringen, primarius canonum.
From the erection of the University of Louvain in 1425 onwards there existed a facultas decretorum for instruction in canon law and a facultas legum for instruction in civil law, that is Roman Law. Conscious of each other's congeniality and the necessity of closer cooperation, both Faculties united in 1432, to form one Collegium utriusque iuris studii lovaniensis. This college was a co-ordinating structure with two independent and distinct unities, each with its own dean and faculty board. This structure was still in existence at the close by the French occupier of the Old University in 1797. Almost all students graduated with licentiates or doctorates in both laws, in utroque iure.
From the beginning the staff of the Faculty of Canon Law included three ordinary (ordinarie legentes) and two extraordinary (extra ordinem legentes) professors. In 1557 a professor regius in the Decretum Gratiani was added, a regal chair which was erected that year by Philip II, King of Spain and Sovereign of the Low Countries.
From this blossom we mention in particular the following names for the Faculty of Canon Law in Louvain: Jean Wamèse, André del Vaulx and the very well-known Zeger-Bernard Van Espen.
- JEAN WAMÈSE (°1524-†1590) graduated from Louvain in 1553 as a doctor in law, became in 1555 ordinarius legum of the Civil Law Faculty and in 1570 till his death was primarius canonum. He is the author of hundreds of advice notices (responsa or consilia), in the field of ecclesiastical as well as civil law. He was consulted at home and abroad. All his works were published after his death and were reprinted very often.
- ANDRÉ DEL VAULX (°1569-†1636) studied philosophy and law in Douai (France) and taught canon law in Louvain from the academic year 1607/1608. In 1610 he graduated as doctor in law. He was rector of the Collegium Winckelianum (boarding-school for law students) from 1623 till his death. He was chosen four times as rector magnificus of the University.
- ZEGER-BERNARD VAN ESPEN (°1646-†1728) graduated in Louvain in 1675 as doctor in both laws and was appointed to professor of the Faculty of Canon Law. Among the Louvain canon lawyers of the Old University he was the most learned and famous. His influence was enormous, even abroad and to the end of the 18th century. His writings were moreover reprinted again and again, all this despite the vehement ultramontane critique, his expulsion from the Louvain University and his ecclesiastical condemnation. He was a convinced advocate of the jansenistic party and died in the old-catholic seminary of Amersfoort (Netherlands). His scripta omnia caused a lot of commotion and were put on the Index of Books. From his canonical works we list:
- Jus Ecclesiasticum Universum (1700/1702): a systematic overview of canon law. In 1704 this work was condemned by a decree of the Holy Office. Because of his jansenistic and gallican disposition it had a great influence in a large part of Europe, especially for the formation of the Church of Utrecht or the Old-Catholic Cleresy.
- Concordia immunitatis ecclesiasticae et juris regii (1700): defense of the competence of civil courts in questions of ecclesiastical immunity.
- Tractatus historico-canonicus de censuris ecclesiasticis (1709): written referring to the censures which threatened the Jansenists of Utrecht.
- Tractatus de promulgatione legum ecclesiasticarum, Brussels (1712): defense of the placet-right of civil governments in ecclesiastical ordinances.
- Tractatus de recursu ad principem, Louvain (1725): defense especially of the validity of the ordination of Cornelius Steenhoven as Old-Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht.
The second half of the 18th century was a time of great decay: the University fought against the emperor's government and defended her immunities and privileges. The Austrian Emperor Joseph II made a state institute of the University in 1788. The two Law Faculties were reformed into one facultas juridica, in which canon law was not so important any more. But one canon lawyer can not be forgotten.
- JUDOCUS (JOSSE) LEPLAT, born in Mechlin in 1732, died in Koblenz (Germany) on August 6, 1810. He became doctor of law in 1766 in Louvain. The Magistrate of Louvain appointed him in 1767 in the Civil Law faculty, and in 1775 ad Decretales or in canon law. The government changed the teaching of the Decretals to the study of the Decretum Gratiani.
Suspected of jansenism ? the last Belgian jansenist ? and febronianism he was forced to leave his chair of the Seminary-General, erected by Joseph II, and escaped to Maastricht from June till December 1787. He began to teach again in Louvain in January 1788 but had to retire because of the many hostile demonstrations. He moved the same year to Amersfoort (Netherlands) and in 1789 to Koblenz (Germany). There in 1805 Leplat was appointed by the French Emperor Napoleon as professor in Roman Law at the law school. Without any doubt this restless man is noted as the most active and best known professor of law from the second half of the 18th century.
By decision of the Department of the Dyle the Old University was closed by the French occupier in 1797. A royal decision of William I, King of the Netherlands, of 1816, commanded the erection of three universities: Ghent, Louvain and Liège. A Faculty of Canon Law during all those years was out of the question.
On the basis of the freedom of education, written into the Belgian Constitution of 1831, the University was reestablished in 1834 in Mechlin in the capacity of a studium generale, by the Belgian episcopate with the permission of the Holy See. From 1835, namely, after the abolition of the Louvain State University, the new University settled again in Louvain at the invitation of the municipality.
In the new University there was once again a place for canon law. But the study of law from a theological base, like canon law, had to become a unit of the ecclesiastical sciences. From 1834 onwards the Faculty of Theology obtained in this way a Section of Canon Law. Titulars of the chair of jus canonicum were: Pierre-Xavier de Ram in 1834, his assistant Marianus Verhoeven (°1808-†1850) in 1835, Henri Feye in 1850, Henri Vanden Berghe in 1885 and Jules de Becker in 1889. Titulars of the course jus civile ecclesiasticum were Ferdinand Moulart and Amédée Bondroit (°1870-†1940).
- PIERRE-XAVIER DE RAM (°1804-†1865) was the first titular of canon law in the new Faculty of Theology. He was the first rector magnificus of the reestablished University, initially in Mechlin in 1834, and later in Louvain from 1835 onwards, and he kept this position till his death in 1865. In 1835 he appointed allthough an adjunct for his courses. He did not write any canonical contributions, but quite a few writings befitting a rector are preserved of him.
- HENRI JEAN FEYE (°1820-†1894) obtained the doctorate in theology in Rome and in canon law in Louvain, respectively in 1844 and 1847. In 1850 he was appointed professor of canon law at the Faculty of Theology in Louvain as the successor of Marianus Verhoeven. Pius IX appointed him in 1867 to represent Belgium and the University of Louvain on the preparatory commission of the Vatican Council. In 1868 followed his appointment as secretary of the commission De disciplina. The occupation of Rome in 1870 brought him back to Louvain. At the moment of his retirement, after 35 years in the professorship, he appointed Henri Van den Berghe as his successor.
- HENRI VAN DEN BERGHE (°1848-†1932) was was appointed in Louvain in October 1885. In 1889, however, the Bishop of Bruges, appointed him as rector of the Seminary of that place.Although his professorship in Louvain was of short duration -- he could not complete the cycle of four years ? it was, nevertheless, very fruitful.
- JULES DE BECKER (°1857-†1936) was allotted the chair of canon law in the Faculty of Theology. In 1898 he became rector of the American College, and that lasted 33 years. In this capacity he traveled five times to the United States and was very sympathetic towards the situation of that local Church. He was also a contributor to the Commission for the Preparation of the Code. Because of his great scientific merits the Pope nominated him protonotarius apostolicus.
- FERDINAND MOULART (°1832-†1904) graduated in canon law in Louvain in 1862. His most famous work is L'Église et l'État ou les deux puissances, leur origine, leurs relations, leurs droits et leurs limites. This treatise was very succesful.
The promulgation of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 brought a new élan for the study and teaching of canon law. In all European countries commentaries were published. Moreover in 1933 in Louvain the Section of Canon Law of the Faculty of Theology developed again into a full autonomous Faculty on account of the execution of the apostolic constitution Deus scientiarum Dominus (1931) by Pius XI, which gave a new stimulus to higher ecclesiastical studies.
The professors of this blossoming are Alfons Van Hove, Arthur Monin (?1881-†1954), Richard Koerperich (?1888-†1957), Henri Wagnon, Willy Onclin and Gérard Fransen.
- ALFONS VAN HOVE (°1872-†1947) is undoubtedly the most erudite canon lawyer of this century, who also led the foundation of the historical method in the teaching and study of canon law. His first work Prolegomena ad Codicem Iuris Canonici is an introduction to canonical studies and dealt especially with the documentary foundations and the science of canon law. The Normae generales form in four volumes a commentary on the first book of the Code of 1917. According to the most authorative canon lawyers this is the most thorough and juridical commentary of the Normae generales. This was also the opinion of the highest ecclesiastical bodies and the jurists and historians of civil law. His Prolegomena and Normae generales are the five first and the only volumes of the series Commentarium Lovaniense in Codicem iuris canonici which was set up by him.
- HENRI WAGNON (°1906-†1983) graduated in 1933 in Louvain as doctor in canon law with the thesis La condition internationale de l'Église catholique et du Saint-Siège and in 1935 as magister with the thesis Concordats et droit international. Fondement, élaboration, valeur et cessation du droit concordataire. He published many articles on that topic and contributed also to the Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique. In 1941 he succeeded R. Koerperich as ordinary professor in the Faculty of Canon Law. At the time of the splitting of the Louvain University in 1968 he became the first dean of the Faculté internationale de droit canonique of Louvain-la-Neuve in 1969. Before and after Vatican Council II he was an expert on the papal commission De disciplina sacramentorum. He became home prelate of the Pope in 1962. The University of Toulouse (France) granted him a doctorate honoris causa.
- WILLY ONCLIN (°1905-†1989) graduated in both canon and civil law. In 1937 he was appointed as lecturer for General Theory of the Civil State in the Louvain School for Political and Social Sciences. In 1938 he graduated as magister in canon law and studied subsequently in Rome and in Munich. In 1938 he succeeded A. Van Hove as ordinary professor in the Faculty of Canon Law, taught in the Faculty of Civil Law and from 1959 till 1966 at the Catholic University of Nijmegen (Netherlands). In 1962 he was appointed peritus to Vatican Council II and in 1965 Pope Paul VI nominated him as assistant secretary of the Papal Commission of cardinals, which was responsible for the revision of the Code of Canon Law. Through this he acquired a great reputation throughout the world. In 1962 he became honorary prelate of the Pope, in 1967 doctor honoris causa of the University of Navarra in Pamplona (Spain), and in 1975 protonotarius apostolicus.
- GÉRARD FRANSEN (°1915-†1995) graduated as magister in canon law in 1946. During the year 1946-1947 he lived in the Belgian Historical Institute in Rome. In the academic year 1947-1948 he was professor at the Université Laval Québec and since October 1948 in Louvain in the Faculty of Canon Law. After the splitting of the Louvain University he taught at Louvain-la-Neuve. He was the last dean of the Faculté internationale de droit canonique, which ceased to exist and was incorporated in 1983 as a section of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Louvain-la-Neuve. His whole scholarly career was devoted to the study of the manuscripts of the medieval canon law which is situated between the pre-gratian canonical collections (Burchard of Worms, Ivo of Chartres and the 74 titulorum) and the early Decretalist period. In 1973 he graduated doctor honoris causa of the Civil law University of Sienna (Italy), later of the Universities of Strasbourg (France), Salamanca (Spain) and Montpellier (France).
After a remarkable blossom in the second half of our century (1935-1960) the Faculty fell on hard times. Postconciliar reactions against an exaggerated influence of law in the Church, a decline in the number of priests -- both seculars and regulars ? from which students in canon law had almost exclusively been recruited, the splitting of the University in 1968 even in her smallest Faculties (the Faculteit in Louvain and the Faculté in Louvain-la-Neuve) and a general lack of interest awaiting the publication of a new Code of Canon Law led to an all-time low in the seventies.
On October 1, 1978 the Dutch-speaking slumbering Faculty of Louvain started with a new bachelor's programme, especially for students and graduate students of the Faculties of Theology and Civil Law, with the intention of instructing lay people as well as clerics to become canon lawyers. Since October 1988 a complete English-speaking programme also exists. Almost overnight the Faculteit Kerkelijk Recht, Faculty of Canon Law, acquired an international dimension and reputation and survived her sister faculty of Louvain-la-Neuve. The usual teaching languages became Dutch and English, although in the past it had been Latin.