The African Origins of Western Canon Law

 An investigation into the Corpus canonum Africano-Romanum

In my current research project, I aim to prepare a comprehensive study of the most important African collection of canon law, the Late Antique Corpus canonum Africano-Romanum (CCAR), which is also the oldest known canonical collection of the Western Church. This collection is of fundamental importance, because

1) it had greatly impacted the development of occidental canon law on a textual level (e. g. the Hispana, Dionysio-Hadriana, the pseudo-Isidorian Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis and ultimately the Decretum Gratiani) and

2) it had a long-lasting impact on the perception of Africa in Medieval Western Europe, because its textual material was extremely widely disseminated and used across the continent.

Canon law texts are not only sources of legal history, but they can be evaluated as sources of historiography and social history as well; the CCAR is a prime example for how texts have been selected, reshaped and adapted by later generations. These observations also lead to several questions, e.g.: To what extent is the CCAR transmitted in mss. alongside texts of African church fathers? Which sources have been revised when copying the CCAR, which African texts have been omitted, rearranged, annotated? Has the legitimacy and authenticity of the African canons been contested or doubted in later periods? What role did Africa play in the “imagined landscape” of Western Christianity and Latin canon law? As ties between Western Europe and North Africa had become severed, did it follow that the now essentially decontextualized African material could be reinterpreted or even manipulated for one’s own purposes? In other words: in what ways does the textual shape of the CCAR derive from later scribes and compilers making liberal use of the past? On the basis of the CCAR, I will set out to to trace and evaluate the reception of selected North African canons both within the broader context of Western canon law and in the context of societal processes defined by it.


Till Stüber


Marie Skłodowska-Curie Project

Project duration:
1. 9. 2023 to 31. 8. 2025