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However, the method of studying and teaching gradually developed: if the early decretalists made use of the elementary plan of the gloss and literal commentary, their successors in composing their treatises were more independent of the text; they commented on the titles, not on the chapters or the words; often they followed the titles or chapters only nominally and artificially.
In the sixteenth century they tried to apply, not to the official collections, but in their lectures on canon law the method and division of the "Institutes" of Justinian: persons, things, actions or procedure, crimes, and penalties (Institutes, I, ii, 12).
In the first place, the legislative authority makes laws only when circumstances require them and in accordance with a definite plan.
For centuries, nothing more was done than to collect successively the canons of councils, ancient and recent, the letters of popes, and episcopal statutes; guidance was sought for in these, when analogous cases occurred, but no one thought of extracting general principles from them or of systematizing all the laws then in force.
He therefore adopted the plan of inserting the texts in the body of his general treatise; from the disordered mass of canons collected from the earliest days, he selected not only the law actually in force (eliminating the regulations which had fallen into desuetude, or which were revoked, or not of general application) but also the principles; he elaborated a system of law which, however incomplete, was nevertheless methodical. the methodical and coordinated knowledge of ecclesiastical law, was at length established.We have to distinguish between the law of the Western or Latin Church, and the law of the Eastern Churches, and of each of them.Likewise, between the law of the Catholic Church and those of the non-Catholic Christian Churches or confessions, the Anglican Church and the various Eastern Orthodox Churches.Considered from the point of view of its expression, canon law may be divided into several branches, so closely allied, that the terms used to designate them are often employed almost indifferently: common law and special law; universal law and particular law; general law and singular law ().It is easy to point out the difference between them: the idea is that of a wider or a more limited scope; to be more precise, common law refers to things, universal law to territories, general law to persons; so regulations affecting only certain things, certain territories, certain classes of persons, being a restriction or an addition, constitute special, particular, or singular law, and even local or individual law.