What Is Acceptance?

Acceptance, in canon law, the act by which one receives a thing with approbation or satisfaction. The collation of a benefice is not complete till it has been accepted by him on whom it has been conferred. Acceptance is the link between the benefice and the benefited. It is therefore necessary to accept the benefice, to have jus in re; till the acceptance, there is at most a jus ad rem. Acceptance is needed for the validity of an election. If the person chosen be absent, a specified time may be given for acceptance, and a further time may be allowed to obtain the confirmation of the election to an office.

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Acceptance is of the essence of a gift, which, in law, means a gratuitous transfer of property. Delivery of personal property with words of gift suffices; if delivery is not made, a deed or writing under seal should be executed and delivered. For the transfer of real property, a deed is generally necessary. In all cases acceptance is necessary to make the transfer binding in law. Acceptance of a law is not necessary to impose the obligation of submission. Even in a democracy, where the organized people may, or should, take part in the preparation and making of the laws it may not refuse to accept and to obey the laws when made and promulgated. Otherwise the legislative authority would be a mockery, and all governmental power would vanish. We are not now posing the question whether an unjust law is binding; nor are we discussing how far either custom or desuetude may take away the binding force of a law; both may imply the assent of the lawmaking power. Acceptance by the faithful is not required for the binding force of ecclesiastical laws. The Apostles received from Christ the power of binding and loosing, and the hierarchy (i.e. the Pope, bishops and other prelates) have inherited this power, as has always been recognized in the Church. In the Catholic Church the lawmaking power established by Christ will ever have the authority to make laws previous to, and independent of, the acceptance of the faithful. If bishops or other prelates should enact a law contrary to the canons, there is the remedy or an appeal to the highest authority of the Church for its annulment. Wyclif attacked this authority when he proclaimed, in the fifteenth thesis condemned by the Council of Constance and Martin V, that “no one was a temporal prince, or prelate, or bishop, who was in mortal sin.” Huss (ibid., Prop. 30) declared that “ecclesiastical obedience was an invention of the priests of the Church, and outside the authority of Scripture.” Luther, in the proposition condemned (1521) by the University of Paris, taught that neither pope nor bishop nor any one among men has the right to impose on a Christian a single syllable without his full acceptance; anything otherwise done is in the spirit of tyranny. The Jansenists favoured the theory that the authority of the bishops and Pope was representative of the will of the whole body of the Church; hence Clement XI, in 1713, condemned the 90th proposition of Quesnel: “The Church has the power to excommunicate, to be used by the chief pastor, with the (at least presumed) consent of the whole body.” Against a natural or divine law, no custom or desuetude can avail for the cessation of obligation. From a merely ecclesiastical law either custom or desuetude may withdraw the obligation, wherever they may properly imply the assent of the lawmaking power in the Church.

By Richard Burtsell

This article is borrowed from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01094b.htm.


D’AVINO, Enc. dell’ Ecclesiastico (Turin, 1878); ANDRE-WAGNER, Dict. de droit can. (3d ed., Paris, 1901); DIDIOT in Dict. de theol. cath. (Paris, 1903), s.v.

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APA citation. Burtsell, R. (1907). Acceptance. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 17, 2022 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01094b.htm

MLA citation. Burtsell, Richard. “Acceptance.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 17 Feb. 2022 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01094b.htm>.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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