Gratian’s “Decretum” and the Foundations of Christian Legal Education


The Burke Library’s new exhibit, “Gratian’s Decretum and the Foundations of Christian Legal Education,” explores the history and development of one of the most important legal texts of all time: Gratian’s Concordia discordantium canonum (“Harmony from Discordant Canons”) – or, more simply, the Decretum – a twelfth-century legal textbook designed to reconcile aspects of ecclesiastical law that seemed to contradict one another.

Image of Gratian's Decretum, a large book held open in a glass exhibit case
Gratian’s “Decretum” on display at the Burke Library | Union Rare Folio UB45.1 1481

The work spread rapidly across Europe throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. It remained an official part of the Catholic Church’s canon law for nearly eight centuries. In fact, the Decretum still informs not only religious law in a variety of traditions, but also modern secular legal systems.

Curious readers may also explore the significance of the text via Anders Winroth’s The Making of Gratian’s Decretum (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000) available in print and ebook via CLIO. Winroth completed his groundbreaking dissertation that would become The Making of Gratian’s Decretum at Columbia and was later awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in acknowledgement of his work on this important text.

The copy of the Decretum on display, a beautiful large-format book produced in Basel by Michael Wenssler in 1481, is a testament to the enduring influence of this text in the fields of theology, law, and education. Visitors can find the exhibit on level L1 of the Burke Library (just inside the library entryway) and explore its interpretation and significance.



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