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  • Theology and Canon Law:The Epistemological Approach of T. Jiménez Urresti
  • Andrea Ponzone (bio)


The understanding of the relationship between theology and canon law has captured the attention of several canon lawyers because the two are clearly organically connected. To search for a definition of this connection between theology and canon law makes good sense on several counts: it can enlighten us about our past history; it can help us to understand our present situation; and it can provide us with guidance for the planning of future developments.

The literature seeking to explore the relationship between theology and canon law is abundant but it is not easy to handle. The thinkers and writers, moreover, do not come from the same background; they start from differing philosophical, theological, and jurisprudential assumptions, often hidden behind their articulated positions. When this happens, the reader is compelled to conjecture the principles that inspired or determined the meaning of their direct statements. Further, as various "schools of thought"1 developed, they tended to remain isolated within their own [End Page 576] boundaries (linguistic, national, or doctrinal). This is the case with the so-called "Navarra School" and "Munich School".2 As these two cases exemplify, all such theories can lead to interpretations that lack internal balance and harmony: some virtually identify the nature of canon law with that of civil law and fail to account sufficiently for the religious and ecclesial character of canon law (cf. the "Navarra School"); some see canon law too much as a theological enterprise and fall short of doing justice to its humanity and juridical nature (cf. the "Munich School").

An approach that offers the prospect of a way beyond the polarity between the Navarra and Munich schools might be referred to as the "epistemological".3 Teodoro Jiménez Urresti, a Spanish scholar, spent his entire academic life studying the epistemological approach to canon law and researching for an epistemological statute of the science of canon law.4 [End Page 578]

As to the constructive significance of Jiménez Urresti works, the argument of this essay is to present his thought accordingly and subject it to analysis.5

The essay is divided in four parts: the first is focused on the project of Concilium; the second on the difference between theology and the science of canon law; the third on the normative science; the last one is about the epistemological statute of the science of canon law.

1. The Project of Concilium

The name of Jiménez Urresti is generally associated with the "Concilium Project" which is considered the most important one among the minority "schools of thought". The name "Concilium Project" comes from the Preface of number 8 (the number dedicated to canon law) of the 1965 volume of the journal.6

The Preface was signed by the two co-directors of the canon law section: Teodoro Jiménez Urresti and Neophytos Edelby7, and the vice-director Peter Huizing.8 According to the spirit of the journal, it opened four new perspectives both for theologians and canonists: (1) the difference between [End Page 579] "theology of canon law" and "theology in canon law", (2) theology is not identified with canon law, (3) the accusation of canon law of being rigid and inefficacious, (4) the principle of canonical relativity and generic theological imperatives.9

So, Jiménez Urresti, in order to pursue his project, chose to articulate an epistemological reflection on the subject and did so using the categories and logic of the scholasticism and Thomism. He wrote many articles on the subject10 with his last work, De la Teología a la Canónistica11, representing the summa of his thought.

2. The Difference between Theology and the Science of Canon Law

St. Thomas Aquinas characterized theology as unitas scientiae at the beginning of his Summa theologiae, asking whether sacred doctrine is a science, one science. Aquinas borrowed from Aristotle and applied the Aristotelian ideal of philosophy as a science to theology. In such a conception the revealed datum is not properly the subject matter or object of study; rather, the revealed datum is the principle on the basis of which the study is pursued...


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