Civil Law begins with the revival of law teaching in medieval Italy in the first half of the eleventh century. This was greatly stimulated by the rediscovery of a superb sixth-century manuscript of the Digest, a manuscript which must have been written shortly after Justinian’s death or perhaps even before it.
The revival of law-teaching in Italy was part of a movement which is frequently called the “Christian Renaissance” and which under the guidance of the Papacy gave a new cultural impulse to Western Europe.
So far as the law was concerned, the revival of an interest in Civil Law had been preceeded by a new reorganization of the canon law by the monk Gratian of Bologna.
The struggle of the “Holy Roman Empire” with the Church probably contributed to the new interest in the Roman law, since the legislation of Justinian seemed to emphasize the secular against the clerical authority as supreme power in the state.
It was issued by an emperor, and lex imperatoria, “the imperial law,” was one of the common ways of describing it.
The Church at first showed marked hostility to the rediscovered Roman Law, and in some of the centers of learning that were being established, centers soon to be known as “universities,” the study was forbidden.
But this situation soon changed and “legists” (students of Civil Law) and “decretists” (students of canon law) were found in co-operation as well as rivaly.
For a more powerful feudal lords, the new law had many attractions, of which the most important was the support it gave their own pretentions to be “emperors” within their own domains.
The vast superiority of this impressive legislation to the crude local customs which constituted the law as it had previously been known facilitated the process which is known as the “reception.”
This term describes the displacing of local laws by Civil Law, a process that went on at varying rate and to a varying extent in Italy, Spain, France, and later in the political chaos which made up the Germany of the Middle Ages.
The reception made only slight headway in England, and in Switzerland met strong resistance which was not overcome till the nineteenth century codifications. The reception was much furthered by the re-establishment of a legal profession, Latin in speech and trained primarily in the Romal law, as it was expounded at the Universities.
These trained lawyers were the men whom kings and princes found most serviceable as administrators.
The centers of study, universities, were first established in Italy, and shortly afterward in southern France. Later they sprang up in all parts of Western Europe. The legislation of Justinian was studied in five great books: the Digestum vetus, the Infortiatum, and the Digestum novum, all three of which made up the Digest proper; the Code (Books I-IX); and the Volumen, in which were Latin translations of the Novels (Authenticae), the last of the Code (Books X-XII) (Tres libri), a small fragment of the Digest omitted in the first three volumes (Tres partes), the Lombard Feudal law (Libri feudorum), and some constitutions of later emperors, one as late as the early thirteenth century.