William & Mary Law School

Canon law (from Greek kanon, a ‘straight measuring rod, ruler’) is a set of ordinances and regulations made by ecclesiastical authority , for the government of a Christian organisation or church and its members. It is the interior ecclesiastical law governing the Catholic Church , the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox church buildings, and the individual national churches inside the Anglican Communion. The way that such church law is legislated, interpreted and at instances adjudicated varies extensively amongst these three bodies of churches. In all three traditions, a canon was originally a rule adopted by a church council; these canons shaped the inspiration of canon law. Examples include the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia—both of which translate because the “path to follow”—while Christian canon law also survives in some church communities.

Around 1900 Max Weber outlined his “scientific” strategy to law, identifying the “legal rational type” as a type of …