AGE, CANONICAL: The age required by the canons of the Church for ordination or for the performance of any particular act. The requirement of a definite age for entering the priestly order is first found in the eleventh canon of the Synod of Neocaesarea (314 or 325): " No one is to be ordained priest before he is thirty years old for Jesus Christ when thirty years old was baptized and entered upon his ministry." The first canon of the second series of canons of the Synod of Hippo in 393 required the completion of the twenty-fifth year for the reception of deacon's orders. These decisions were frequently repeated, as by the Synods of Agde (506, canon xvi.), of Arles (524, canon i.), the Third Synod of Orleans (538, canon vi.), and the Fourth of Toledo (633, canon xx.), and the later repetitions were included in the canonical collections of the early Middle Ages, but in detail they were frequently changed. Urban II. at the Council of Melfi (1089, canon iv.) laid down the law that no one should be ordained subdeacon before his fourteenth year, or deacon before his twenty-fourth. For the priesthood, though the thirtieth year still remained the minimum in the written law, the practice grew of ordaining at twenty-five. The Synod of Ravenna (1314, canon ii.) fixed the sixteenth year for subdeacons, the twentieth for deacons, and the twenty-fourth for priests. Finally the Council of Trent (1563, session xxiii.) settled the minimum at twenty-two, twenty-three, and twenty-four years, respectively, for these offices. It is sufficient to have begun the year specified in the Council. For tonsure and minor orders the Council simply requires the reception of the sacrament of confirmation and a certain degree of learning. In the Protestant Churches the attainment by the candidate of his majority is usually considered sufficient, though here and there the twenty-fourth year is still required. In the Roman Catholic Church the canonical age is reckoned from the day of birth. Canonically the age of discretion is put at seven years, and then the sacraments of penance and extreme unction may be received because the child, being supposed to be capable of conscious choice, can commit a mortal sin; also the child is then subject to the regulations of the Church respecting abstinence and attendance on mass, and may also, as far as law is concerned, contract a marriage engagement. A marriage may not be contracted before puberty (except in ease of extraordinary development of mind and body), i.e., before fourteen for boys and twelve for girls; nor may confirmation and the Lord's Supper be received till the child has been properly instructed. From twenty-one to sixty is the period when fasting at certain seasons is obligatory. The lowest canonical age for a bishop is thirty years completed. The minimum age at which simple vows may be taken is sixteen years completed. Clerics may not profess solemn vows before they have entered on their twentieth year.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: KL, i. 632-638, E. Friedberg, Lehrbuch des katholischen und evangelischen Kirchenrechts, pp. 151, 330, Leipsic, 1903; W. E. Addis and T. Arnold, Catholic Dictionary, London, 1903.