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Canon Law and Equity

A Tract Book


Anthony J. Fejfar

© Copyright 2006 by Anthony J. Fejfar

Ordinarily, Roman Catholics are bound by the Code of Canon Law. However,

there is at least one exception to this. The Code of Canon Law, following Divine

Law and Natural Law, has a provision which parallels Aristotle’s treatment of

Equity. This is done in the first instance by the Doctrine of Epikeia, and in the

second instance by Equity itself.

The Doctrine of Epikeia provides:

Epikeia is an interpretation exempting one from

the law contrary to the clear words of the law

and in accordance with the mind of the legislator.

Epikeia is used where: “(a) the strict interpretation of the law would

work a great hardship,

and (b) in view of the usual interpretation it may

be prudently conjectured that, in this

particular case, the legislator would not

wish the law to be strictly applied.

Let us take, then, this example. Suppose that a person was stranded on a

desert island with some food and drink, including a box of soda crackers and a

bottle of grape juice. While Canon Law would ordinarily prohibit the use of grape

juice for the eucharist, and while Canon Law ordinarily requires that Mass be said

by an ordained priest. In these exceptional circumstances the lay person would be

permitted to say Mass, as a priest, with the materials available. The lay person

would be entitled under Natural Law, Divine Law, and Canon Law, to make an

exception to the ordinary Canon Law rule so that the lay person would not be

denied the sacrament of the Mass and eucharist.

A second use of Equity is that Canon Law is to be applied equitably:

“Canonical equity may be defined as a certain human moderation with which

canon law is to be tempered, so that the text may be prudently, even benignly

applied to concrete cases.” This equitable interpretation of law means that every

Canon Law rule can be equitably interpreted so as to promote Divine Law and

Natural Law in the interests of justice. Thus, a priest could interpret canon law in

a particular situation to allow, the one hour fast before mass rule, to be relaxed for

a person who has just gotten of the night shift and needs to eat a snack before



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