CIVIL LAW, a phrase which, with its Latin equivalent jus civile, has been used in a great variety of meanings. Jus civile was sometimes used to distinguish that portion of the Roman law which was the proper or ancient law of the city or state of Rome from the jus gentium, or the law common to all the nations comprising the Roman world, which was incorporated with the former through the agency of the praetorian edicts. This historical distinction remained as a permanent principle of division in the body of the Roman law. One of the first propositions of the Institutes of Justinian is the following: - "Jus autem civile vel gentium ita dividitur. Omnes populi qui legibus et moribus reguntur partim suo proprio, partim communi omnium hominum jure utuntur; nam quod quisque populus ipsi sibi jus constituit, id ipsius civitatis proprium est, vocaturque jus civile quasi jus proprium ipsius civitatis. Quod vero naturalis ratio inter omnes homines constituit, id apud omnes peraeque custoditur, vocaturque jus gentium quasi quo jure omnes gentes utuntur." The jus gentium of this passage is elsewhere identified with jus naturale, so that the distinction comes to be one between civil law and natural or divine law. The municipal or private law of a state is sometimes described as civil law in distinction to public or international law. Again, the municipal law of a state may be divided into civil law and criminal law. The phrase, however, is applied par excellence to the system of law created by the genius of the Roman people, and handed down by them to the nations of the modern world (see Roman Law). The civil law in this sense would be distinguished from the local or national law of modern states. The civil law in this sense is further to be distinguished from that adaptation of its principles to ecclesiastical purposes which is known as the canon law (q.v.).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)