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Notoriety, Notorious

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(Latin Notorietas, notorium, from notus, known).

Notoriety is the quality or the state of things that are notorious; whatever is so fully or officially proved, that it may and ought to be held as certain without further investigation, is notorious. It is difficult to express exactly what is meant by notoriety, and, as the Gloss says (in can. Manifesta, 15, C. ii, q. 1), "we are constantly using the word notorious and are ignorant of its meaning". Ordinarily it is equivalent to public, manifest, evident, known; all these terms have something in common, they signify that a thing, far from being secret, may be easily known by many. Notoriety, in addition to this common idea, involves the idea of indisputable proof, so that what is notorious is held as proved and serves as a basis for the conclusions and acts of those in authority, especially judges. To be as precise as is possible, "public" means what any one may easily prove or ascertain, what is done openly; what many persons know and hold as certain, is "manifest"; what a greater or less number of persons have learnt, no matter how, is "known"; what is to be held as certain and may no longer be called in question is "notorious".

Authorities distinguish between notoriety of fact, notoriety of law, and presumptive notoriety, though the last is often considered a subdivision of the second. Whatever is easily shown and is known by a sufficient number of persons to be free from reasonable doubt is notorious in fact. This kind of notoriety may refer either to a transitory fact, e.g., Caius was assassinated; or permanent facts, e.g., Titius is parish priest of this parish; or recurring facts, e.g. Sempronius engages in usurious transactions. Whatever has been judicially ascertained, viz., judicial admissions, an affair fully proved, and the judgment rendered in a lawsuit, is notorious in law; the judge accepts the fact as certain without investigation; nor will he allow, except in certain well-specified cases, the matter to be called in question. "Notorious" is then used as more or less synonymous with "official". Such also are facts recorded in official documents, as civil or ecclesiastical registries of births, deaths, or marriages, notarial records. Lastly, whatever arises from a rule of law based on a "violent" presumption, for instance, paternity and filiation in case of a legitimate marriage, is presumptively notorious.

When a fact is admitted as notorious by the judge, and in general by a competent authority, no proof of it is required, but it is often necessary to show that it is notorious, as the judge is not expected to know every notorious fact. The notoriety has to be proved, like any other fact alleged in a trial, by witnesses or "instruments", that is, written documents. The witnesses swear that the fact in question is publicly known and admitted beyond dispute in their locality or circle. The documents consist especially in extracts from the official registries, in the copies of authentic judicial papers, for instance, a judgment, or of notarial papers, known as "notarial acts", drawn up by public notaries on the conscientious declarations of well-informed witnesses.

Canonists have variously classified the legal effects of notoriety, especially in matters of procedure; but, ultimately, they may all be reduced to one: the judge, and in general the person in authority, holding what is notorious to be certain and proved, requires no further information, and therefore, both may and ought to refrain from any judicial inquiry, proof, or formalities, which would otherwise be necessary. For these inquiries and formalities having as their object to enlighten the judge, are useless when the fact is notorious. Such is the true meaning of the axiom that in notorious matters the judge need not follow the judicial procedure (cf. can. 14 and 16, C. ii, q. 1; cap.7 and 10, "De cohab. cleric", lib. III, tit. ii; cap.3, "De testib. cogend.", lib. II, tit. xxi). None of the essential solemnities of the procedure should ever be omitted. The most interesting application of the effect of notoriety in criminal matters is in connexion with the pagrans delictus, when the accused is caught in the criminal act, in which case the judge is dispensed from the necessity of any inquiry.


FAGNAN, Comment. in cap. Vestra, 7, lib. III Decret., tit. ii; FERRARIS, Prompta biblioth., s.v. Notorium; SMITH, The elements of Ecclesiastical Law (NEW YORK, 1877-1889); TAUNTON, The Law of the Church (LONDON, 1906), 452.

About this page

APA citation. Boudinhon, A. (1911). Notoriety, Notorious. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Boudinhon, Auguste. "Notoriety, Notorious." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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