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Collections of ancient canons contain collected bodies of canon law that originated in various documents, such as papal and synodal decisions, and that can be designated by the generic term of canons.

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Collections of ancient canons contain collected bodies of canon law that originated in various documents, such as papal and synodal decisions, and that can be designated by the generic term of canons.

Canon law was not a finished product from the beginning, but rather a gradual growth. This is especially true of the earlier Christian centuries. Such written laws as existed were not originally universal laws, but local or provincial statutes. Hence arose the necessity of collecting or codifying them. Earlier collections are brief and contain few laws that are chronologically certain. Only with the increase of legislation did a methodical classification become necessary.

These collections may be genuine (e. g. the Versio Hispanica), or apocryphal, i.e. made with the help of documents forged, interpolated, wrongly attributed or otherwise defective (e. g. the Pseudo-Isidore collection). They may be official and authentic (i.e. promulgated by competent authority) or private, the work of individuals. The forged collections of the middle of the ninth century are treated in the article on False Decretals.

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