Roman Law in a Jesuit College Library

This week, Erik Berner posts the first in his series of studies of the books in the Secular Legislation section of the c.1878 St. Ignatius College Library catalog. Here he explores two works that long predate the late nineteenth-century school.  

Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis  2 vol. (Geneva: Jacob Stoer, 1624) 

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Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (Altenburg/Liepzig: J.L. Richterum & H. Lanckisianos, 1721)

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Title page of the first volume of the 1624 edition still held by Loyola.

Title page of the first volume of the 1624 edition still in the collections of Loyola’s libraries.

The ancient Corpus Juris Civilis or “Body of Civil Law” of Justinian (483-565) is a fine starting point for a collection of legal works at a Jesuit college. Two editions of Justinian’s Civil Law are listed in the c.1878 St. Ignatius College library catalog: one from 1624 and another from 1721. Both still exist and are held in University Special Collections in Cudahy Library. The 1624 edition, printed in Geneva, is a reprinting of a 1583 edition recognized by scholars as one of the most influential. The 1583 edition was first printed by the French jurist and law professor at University of Geneva, Dionysus Godefroy, after the text’s rediscovery. Like most Latin learning, Justinian’s Code had been to lost to European thinkers since it’s 6th century compilation, but was reintroduced through translations during the Renaissance Period (despite Europe’s concurrent Dark Age, the period from the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of European Empires is considered a Golden Age of Islamic culture and learning, during which Muslim scholars studied and circulated Ancient Western texts and ideas, translated into Arabic).

Initially taught at the University in Bologna and circulated among Italian merchants, Godefroy’s Geneva edition is recognized as the first proper Western European edition, and was, in fact, the first to print these laws under the title Corpus Juris Civilis. Reading the Preface, written by Godefroy himself (or at least claiming to be), was a true challenge of my very intermediate French skills from high school, but I was able to glean the scholarly intent of the edition. It was intended “pour cours de droit civil” (for classes in civil law), presumably, and not surprisingly, at the University in Geneva where Godefroy taught. The title page left me with a few questions about publication and previous ownership, claiming to be “ex typographia Iacobi Stoer”. Searches on Google, World Cat, and Open Library turn up publications under Stoer’s name, all from the 17th century, such as a French dictionary and a “General Inventory of the History of France”, but no peripheral information.

Jesuits in at least two different provinces - one in Europe, the other in North America - have owned the 1624 Corpus.

Jesuits in at least two different provinces – one in Europe, the other in North America – have owned the 1624 Corpus.

Title page of the 1721 Corpus still in the collections of Loyola's libraries today.

Title page of the 1721 Corpus also in the collections of Loyola’s libraries today.

The second copy was printed in 1721 in Altenburg, a town in Saxony (now Germany) by “Joh. Ludov. Richterum et Heredes Lanckisianos” (about whom, the only links a google search turned up were about this very edition of the Corpus Juris Civilis). They were not the original printers of this edition. Instead, they were reprinting one that originated a year earlier in Liepzig. This edition is specifically intended for scholarly use; it’s full title is Corpus Juris Civilis Academicum: in suas partes distributum, usuique moderno ita accommodatum, ut nunc studiosorum quivis, etiam tyro, uno quasi intuitu, omnes leges digestorum et codicis, omnesque titulos institutionum invenire possit. From the Latin, this roughly means that it is adapted for modern usage so that all students may learn from it. This would have been used in an inns of court type legal education. The “inns of court” refers to the practice, prevalent before the development of formal law schools, of prospective barristers sitting in on actual court proceedings to learn in an unstructured manner about the law. It is annotated for these purposes, though the Latin and Old French are hard to understand for me. In this particular copy is the handwritten name “Christophorro Henrico,” a google search of which turns up nothing. It is likely the name of a previous owner.

On a scale from poor to expert, my Latin skills could be labeled…nonexistent.   Therefore my only knowledge of the contents of these books comes from internet research; the Corpus Juris Civilis was Justinian’s attempt to compile all the previous law he found useful, by previous emperors and himself, and any further laws that he wished to enact, covering in minutiae every detail of Roman life, into one place and make it the one and only law book that anybody in the Empire would ever need to reference for anything; in fact, referral to any other was forbidden by imperial decree. It is obvious why this set of laws, then, would have such a lasting impact, perhaps being the most influential set of laws until the Napoleonic Code, a body of laws also found on the library’s shelves which I will discuss in a few weeks.

Some great marginalia in Loyola's copy of the 1721 Corpus.

Some great marginalia in Loyola’s copy of the 1721 Corpus.


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