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Canon / Regular Canon

Canon (kan'on), n. [A. Sax. canon, from L. I canon, Gr, kandn, a straight rod, a ruler, | also a rule or standard-from kani, a rarer form of kanna, kannf, a reed, a cane, whence also camion.] is a law or rule of doctrine or discipline, enacted by a council and confirmed by the sovereign; a decision of matters in religion, or a regulation of policy or discipline by a general or provincial council. Canonical life was the method or rule of living prescribed by the ancient clergy who lived in community; a course of living prescribed for clerks, less rigid than the monastic and stricter than the secular.

A Canon is a dignitary who possesses a prebend or revenue allotted for the performance of divine service in a cathedral or collegiate church. In the Roman Catholic Church in England and elsewhere canons were formerly divided into three classes - regular, secular, and honorary. The regular canon lived in monasteries, and added the profession of vows to their other duties. Secular or lay canons did not live in monasteries, but they kept the canonical hours. Honorary canons were not obliged to keep the hours. The name of foreign canons was given to such as did not officiate in their canonries: opposed to tnanaionary or residentiary canons. Canons of the English cathedrals must be in residence for three months esch year. Collectively, with the dean at their head, they formed the chapter. There were also canons of a lower grade, called minor canons, who assist in performing the daily choral service in the cathedral. Honorary canons may also be appointed, but receive no emolument.

In the 10th Century an innovation in the church, as it existed in England was by the introduction of a new order of clergy, called monks. The change had already been made in other countries. These monks secluded themselves entirely from the world, and lived in monasteries. They were bound by a vow to live according to a certain system or rule. By this they were required to remain unmarried, to be content witit coarse fare, and hard beds. They were also bound to yield implicit obedience, in all things, to the head of the monastery, who was called the Abbot, or the Superior.

The old clergy were called Seculars; and between the two bodies a furious contest at once arose, which agitated the whole kingdom, and finally produced a civil war. The secular clergy were very numerous and rich, and possessed of all the offices in the church. at their worst estate the monks, or regular clergy, were no worse than the secular clergy, or parish priests, in their ordinary lives, and were more intelligent, - at least more learned. The ignorance of the secular clergy was notorious and scandalous. They could not even write letters of common salutation; and what little knowledge they had was extolled and exaggerated. It was confined to the acquisition of the Psalter by heart, while a little grammar, writing, and accounts were regarded as extraordinary. He who could write a few homilies, drawn from the Fathers, was a wonder and a prodigy. There was a total absence of classical literature.

The canons, who since the eighth century formed an intermediate class between the monks and what are called the secular clergy, had become infected with the same dissoluteness of morals that pervaded the whole sacred order ; indeed there was even greater dissoluteness among them, in some countries of Europe. Therefore good men, who had some sense of religion, and also several of the pontiffs, as Nicolaus II. in the council at Rome A.D. 1059, and afterwards others, made efforts for reforming the associations of the canons. Nor were these efforts without effect; for a better system of discipline was introduced into nearly all those associations. Yet all the fraternities would not admit reform to the same extent. For some bodies of canons returned indeed into commons, or resided in the same house and ate at a common table, which was especially required by the pontiffs, and was extremely necessary in order to prevent marriages among this class of priests ; while they still retained males, though but few.

The name canons was doubtless used anterior to the 11th Century ; but its import was anciently very extensive. Hence nothing can be inferred from the name. But of regular and secular canons, there is no mention in any existing work older than this century : and it is certain, that those canons who had nothing in common but their dwelling and table, were called secular canrms; while those who had all things in common without any exception whatever, were called regular canons.-[" To Dr. lHoshcim's account of the canons, it may not be improper to add a few words concerning their introduction into England, and their progress and establishment among us. The order of regular canons of St. Augustine was brought into England by Adclicald, confessor to Henry I., who first erected a priory of his order at Kostel in Yorkshire, and had influence enough to have the church of Carlisle converted into an episcopal see, and given to regular canon, invested with the privilege of choosing their bishop. This order wns singularly favoured and protected by Henry I., who gave them in the year 1107, the priory of Dunstable, and by queen Maud, who erected for them the priory of the Holy Trinity in London, the prior of which was always one of the twenty-four aldermen. They increased so prodigiously, that besides the noble priory of Merton, which was founded for them in 1117, by Gilbert, an earl of Norman blood, they had under the reign of Edward I. fiftythree priories, as appears by the catalogue presented to that prince, when he obliged all the monasteries to receive his protection and to acknowledge his jurisdiction."

There is a rule enunciated by a synod of about the year 1083 that no abbot or monk shall recall any one from the profession of canon to that of monk as long as such canon can find a church of his own order. And Pope Urban II - mandavit et nuiversaliter interdixit - made a general prohibitory order against the conversion of a canon, unless under certain circumstances, into a monk. The origin and development of the system seems to have been pretty much as follows. Small and active groups of missionaries lived together in monastic simplicity, but without rule or vow. Such centres of spiritual energy naturally became bishoprics, and then the customs hardened into something like a rule, and the ' canonici'-distinguished thus, perhaps, from isolated parish priests-fell more and more into the position of appendages of the see ; while, at the same time, other like bodies were formed, which, in the absence of a bishop, became, in the ecclesiastical sense, collegiate rather than cathedral. There is no doubt that the words 'canon,' and 'regular,' and ' secular,' were almost from the first used with some degree of looseness.

Some consider the monastic orders as self-refuting failures, but it is certain that they served their purpose better, and showed more vitality, than the apparently rational system of secular canons. The attempted reform of Nicholas II. in the Council of 1059 indicates the decay of the canonical life. Official revenues, according to his plan, were to be held in common, while rights of private property were respected. At the Lateran Council, A.d. 1139, Pope Innocent II. ordained that all Regular Canons should submit to the rule of St. Austin. From this order afterwards proceeded both Peter Martyr and Martin Luther.

A 'Regular Canon' is, in reality, a mere tautology. He is a regular regular - a cleric bound by a rule milder, it is true, than even that of the unreformed Benedictine monks, but still strict enough for many, and for some even too exacting.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:09:10 ZULU