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Stephen of Tournai was the first significant French canonist and has been credited with establishing canon law in Northwestern Europe on a firm footing. He was learned in theology, having studied in Orléans, but after he arrived in Bologna to study law he heard lectures on Roman law by Bulgarus, a captivating and compelling teacher. Stephen mentioned his mentors in canon law only sparingly. After he left Bologna, he returned to northern France and became an abbot in monasteries in Orléans and Paris. In 1192, Stephen was elevated to the episcopal see of Tournai. His prolific outpouring of letters gives evidence of his importance in secular and ecclesiastical circles. He also wrote a large number of sermons in which he demonstrated his rhetorical skills and his theological training. In the prologue to his commentary on Gratian’s Decretum, Stephen vigorously examined how theology and law should be combined in Christian jurisprudence. Here Stephen revealed his debt to Bulgarus and justified his conviction that jurisprudence and theology were essential for understanding a Christian legal system. Theologians and jurists should share a meal together and discuss their mutual interests.
For more than five centuries, Christian communities lived without a comprehensive body of written law. Thus, in the early church, canon law as a system of norms that governed the church or a large number of Christian communities, was not present. Early Christian texts share several characteristics. Their authority derived from their apostolic origins, not from ecclesiastical institutions. Although church fathers, especially John Chrysostom, did justify conciliar assemblies on the basis of Acts 15, modern scholars have concluded that the assembly described in Acts 15 at Jerusalem cannot be described as a council or synod. During the course of the fourth century, two sources of authoritative norms emerged in the Christian church: the writings of the fathers of the church and the letters of bishops, particularly the bishops of Rome. John Scholasticus' Synagoge of 50 titles is the first important collection of canon law in the East. All later Greek canonical collections were based on it.