From the Greek words νόμος (law) and κανών (a rule). The word nomocanon was first used in the 11th century to indicate canonical collections that were composed of both ecclesiastical and civil laws dealing with ecclesiastical matters. The word was used later to indicate a book containing "cases of conscience," that was employed by the monks of Mt. Athos. The most popular use of the word, however, was in regard to canonical collections containing both secular and ecclesiastical laws. This type of canonical collection was proper to the Oriental Churches from the early Middle Ages and played an important role in the history of Oriental Canon Law.
From the fourth century on, an important place was accorded to ecclesiastical matters in imperial law, such as in the Theodosian Code, the Justinian collections, and the Novellae and Bascilicae. From the time of Constantine, civil rulers had taken on the role of protectors of the Church. As a result civil rulers became involved in matters exclusively, or at least partially, ecclesiastical; and they began to order these matters with civil laws. Collections of these imperial laws dealing with ecclesiastical matters were made and at first added to strictly canonical collections as appendices. They were later included in the main body of canonical collections, alongside strictly ecclesiastical materials, thus giving rise to a new species of canonical collection that became known as a collection of nomocanons. A "rubric" (a brief sentence indicating the subject matter) was followed by several texts that were intended to demonstrate and support the particular norm in question. These texts were drawn from both civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Frequently only a summation of the text was given, with an indication where it could be found in its entirety.
Collections of nomocanons have been among the principal sources of Oriental Canon Law since the early Middle Ages. The earliest one is the Nomocanon L titulorum, compiled toward the end of the sixth century. It has been falsely ascribed to Joannes Scholasticus. It underwent several revisions and was in use until the 12th century. The most important of all collections of nomocanons is the Nomocanon XIV titulorum. It was compiled during the reign of Emperor Heraclius, about the year 629. It is most likely the work of Enantiophanes, although it has been falsely ascribed to Photius. It consists of decrees of councils, texts of letters of the Fathers, and imperial constitutions. It underwent several revisions: a second revision in 883, which definitively placed the imperial constitutions on a par with the ecclesiastical canons; a third revision in 1198 by the celebrated canonist Theodore balsamon. In 928 it had been accepted by a council held at Constantinople, under the Patriarch Nicholas the Mystic, as the universal law of the Oriental Church.
Bibliography: r. naz Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. r. naz (Paris 1935–65) 6:1014. c. de clercq, ibid. 2: 1171–74. a. m. stickler, Historia iuris canonici latini: v. 1, Historia fontium (Turin 1950) 71–72, 407. a. van hove Commentarium Lovaniense in Codicem iuris canonici 1 (Mechlin 1928–) 1:168–171.
[j. m. buckley]