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(Lat. minor), that which is less, or inferior in comparison with another, the term being employed as well of things as of persons. To glance rapidly at its application to things, we may mention causae minors, matters of lesser importance, as opposed to causae majores, those more important; minor benefices as opposed to the major benefices, which imply jurisdiction and are confirmed in papal consistory; minor churches or those of inferior rank; the minor excommunication (now out of use), as opposed to the major excommunication. In reference to persons, certain uses of the word minor may also be mentioned which depend upon usage rather than upon law: the younger of two persons of the same name is sometimes called minor (or "the less") as St. James the Less. Through humility St. Francis of Assisi gave his religious the name of "Friars Minor", that is, less than other friars.
But in its most frequent and most strictly judicial acceptation, the word designates a person who, having passed his infancy, has not yet reached the age required by law for the performance of certain acts of the exercise of certain rights; in practice the utmost limit is considered, and beyond it there exists no restriction; those are called minors who have not yet reached the age at which the law makes them capable of performing all civil acts whatever, especially the administration of their property. This age being fixed by most modern laws at twenty-one years, everyone is a minor until the age of majority. As the matter is primarily one of civil rights, the Church leaves distinctions to the civil law. In what concerns canon law and Christian acts, no uniform limit of minority has ever been established; for given acts and rights the canon law and ecclesiastical usage have established the necessary and sufficient age. In the first place children are not considered as minors; it is presumed that until the age of reason, legally fixed at seven years, a child possesses neither the intelligence nor the experience to commit sin or to exercise any rights whatsoever. When no longer a child a person becomes a minor. Minors are either under or over the age of puberty, which is fixed by the Roman law at fourteen full years for boys and twelve full years for girls; between the age of seven years and that of puberty they are said to be nearer, or les near to infancy or puberty, as the case may be. For those under puberty, there begins with the age of reason the obligation of observing the moral law and those precepts of the Church from which they are not exempt by their age, notably the obligation to receive the Sacraments; such minors therefore are capable of sinning although their responsibility is less in proportion as they are nearer childhood; for this reason they are not liable to the penalties of the forum externum, except where this is specially provided. It is presumed that with puberty the Christian begins to enjoy the plentitude of his intelligence and liberty in spiritual matters and purely personal rights: the minor of the age of puberty can contract marriage, he can receive minor orders and be nominated to and administrate a benefice (Conc. Trid., Sess. XXII, c. vi, "De ref."; c. iii, "De judic." in 6). There are, however, acts binding his future which he cannot perform until at a more advanced age; he cannot make a religious profession until the age of sixteen is completed (Conc. Trid., Sess. XXV. "De regular", c. xv)); he cannot receive the sub-diaconate before his twenty-first year (Sess. XXIII. c. vii). At the age of twenty-one, too, he begins to be subject to the law of fasting. (For more ample developments see Age, Canonical.)
A leading characteristic in all legislation on minors is the protection afforded them in regard to the administration of property and the obligations which they can assume in reference to third parties. As a general rule the liberty of minors is unrestrained as to contracts which are to their advantage, but they cannot make any contracts which are burdensome to themselves except under certain determined formalities, and with the required authorization. Still more, if they consider themselves as suffering by such contracts they may, by the terms of the Roman Law ("De minorib., xxv, ann." ff., IV, iv), for four years after their majority of twenty-five years, obtain the "restitutio in integrum", i.e. a judicial decree restored the condition of things which existed before the contract by which the minor suffered. These provisions have been more or less completely embodied in the modern laws of various countries, the discussion of which would be out of place here. It is enough to say that the canon law has accepted them (Decret., lib. I, tit. xli, "De in integrum restitutione"), and applied them to churches and other juridical entities which it was expedient to protect against maladministration. When it is said that churches are assimilated to minors (c. vii, 3, 8, "De in integrum restit.") the meaning is that, in respect to burdensome contracts, churches and other ecclesiastical establishments are subject to the same protective measures, and enjoy the same privileges, as minors.
D'annibale, Summula, I, n. 33; Ferraris, Prompta Bibliotheca, s.v. Aetas; the Canonists on lib. I, Decret, tit. lxi. See also bibliography to Age, Canonical.