Marsilio of Padua and William of Occam

Marsilio of Padua and William of Occam. Hostility to the theory of papal sovereignty, already evidenced by the criticism of John of Paris, was enhanced by the failure of Boniface’s grandiose claims in France and more particularly by the seventy-five years residence of the popes at Avignon under the influence of the French monarchy.

For if secular rulers had little wish to be subjects of the Church of Rome, they were still less willing to be subjects of what William of Occam derisively called the Church of Avignon. The “Babylonish Captivity” gave great offense to those who were not of French nationality.

Even in the Divine Comedy, Dante paid his respects to the French popes, ravening wolves in the garb of shepherds, and Petrarch, with his invective, blackened their characters much beyond their deserts. Quite apart from its implication of clerical interference in secular affairs, the Petrine theory of the papacy was deeply repugnant to many loyal Catholics because it violated their convictions about spiritual freedom within the church.

Finally, the question of the ecclesiastical property involved the pope, early in the fourteenth century, in a violent controversy with an influential part of the Franciscan Order on the subject of clerical poverty. Therefore, all these facts conspired to make the nature of spiritual power, and specialty the relation of papal absolutism to it, the chief subject of political theory.

The immediate occasion of the next controversy between the pope and a secular ruler was the attempt of John XXII to intervene from Avignon in a disputed imperial election. The quarrel, which thus began in 1323, continued through John XXII and Clement VI’s pontificates and was not settled until after the death of Lewis the Bavarian in 1347.

Did it produce another large body of occasional literature? And two figures of lasting importance in the history of political philosophy, Marsilio of Padua and William of Occam. The outcome was another repudiation of the papacy’s effort to set itself up as an international arbitrarily power.

In 1338 the Imperial Electors, acting for the first time as a corporation in a capacity not purely electoral, asserted in the Declaration of Rense that an election required no papal confirmation, thus embodying in constitutional law the independence emperors since Henry IV had claimed. The Golden Bull, Which in 1356 enacted a procedure for imperial elections, omitted all reference to confirmation by the pope, and innocent VI had no altered, native but to concede the point. The powers which Innocent III had claimed in his Bull Venerability were thus finally lost.

The political forces that brought about this result were substantially similar to those that defeated Boniface in his quarrel with France’s king. The rudimentary sentiment of German nationality prevented the pope from finding support among disaffected vassals of the emperor. In Germany, the pope’s dependence upon the king of France wag bitter even to his defenders, and the desire for reforms in the church was by no means confined to the imperial party.

However, the national aspects of the quarrel were less obvious than in the earlier French quarrel. While systematic writing about German constitutional law is sometimes dated from this period, the most generally interesting point did not arise because the legal standing, not subject to the empire, was not involved. Of the two most important writers in the emperor’s cause, one was by birth an Italian and the other an Englishman, men who owed their training respectively to Padua and Oxford’s Universities. Neither of whom had any real concern for Germany or the tradition of the empire.

For these writers, the overt issue-settled establishing the independence of the Imperial Electors-was almost identical. Their argument on the principles of political authority had no special application to Germany whatever. Its application was far more to the church’s government and the Petrine theory of papal power. Already an issue in John of Paris’s work, this problem of papal government and ecclesiastical reform became the chief question a half-century later.

The controversy between John XXII and Lewis the Bavarian permanently changed the center of political discussion. in its course, the independence of the temporal from the spiritual authority was settled, except as this question might arise as an incident of national politics connection with other issues. The question of absolute monarchy as against representative or constitutional monarchy was definitely raised.

The problem was shifted to the relation between a sovereign and the corporate body which he ruled. Indeed, this issue concerned as yet only the pope and the subjects of a sovereign power claimed as a special attribute of spiritual authority. It is also true that as a practical movement, the attempt to institutionalize the church failed. But so far as the theory of political authority is concerned, this was not so important that the center of disuse was changed.

Moreover, the failure to reform the church by constitutional means was historically connected with the revolutionary in the sixteenth century. Because the debate results were of this sort, the writings of the papal party may be neglected. They dealt largely with the pope’s right to confirm or annul imperial elections and therefore fought a battle already lost.

In defense of the pope’s absolute power in the church, there was not much to say writers had not already said that like Egidius Colonna. Therefore, this chapter may be confined to the two great writers who took up the case on behalf of Lewis, Marsilio of Padua, and William of Occam. Marsilio’s theory is one of the most remarkable creations of medieval political thought and showed for the first time the subversive consequences to which a completely naturalistic interpretation of Aristotle might logically lead.

The theory reaches a high level of logical consistency. It includes many elements that attained their full importance only much later, but in respect to the state of affairs that existed in 1324, it is often doctrinaire. The theories of William of Occam were less systematic, probably because political questions were for him, after all, aside i. Still, they were, on the whole, much more closely in touch with contemporary fact than Marsilio’s. For this reason, they were probably more influential in directing the course which political theory followed in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Marsilio Averroist Aristotelianism:-

Marsilio’s book, the Defensor pacis, was addressed to Lewis the Bavarian. After its publication, Marsilio obtained protection in Germany, where he lived during the greater part of his later life. Still, neither Germany nor the empire is in any distinctive way related to the book’s theory. Indeed, it may well have been begun before the quarrel started between Lewis and the pope, and it might have been nearly the same if that quarrel had never occurred.

Mr. Previte-Orton has pointed out that Marsilio’s theory of secular government was based directly upon the Italian city-states’ practice and conceptions. His discussions of practical questions usually refer to the problems of that form of government.

As a patriotic Italian, his enmity for the papacy needed no more German stimulus than Dante’s. As a Padua citizen, he needs to feel no more friendship for the empire than his city’s interests dictated. His bitterness toward the papacy as a cause of disunion in Italy suggests that of Machiavelli two centuries later.

He wrote not to defend the empire but to destroy the whole system of papal imperialism that had developed in the practice of Innocent II and the theory of the canon law. His object was to define and limit most drastically the pretensions of the spiritual authority to control, either directly or indirectly, secular governments’ action. To this end, he went farther they any other medieval writer in placing the church under the state’s powers. Marsillo might not be Inaptly described as the first Erastian.

The philosophical basis for the theory was derived from Aristotle Marsilio in his introduction evidently thought of his work as sup, placement to that part of the Politics which discussed the causes oy revolution and civil discord. For there was one cause necessarily unknown to Aristotle, he said, namely, the pope’s claims to supreme power over rulers, especially those of recent popes, which have filled all Europe, and more particularly Italy, with strife. It is the remedy for this cause of disorder that Marsilio proposes to seek.

The Aristotelian principle he followed most closely was that of the self-sufficing community capable of supplying both its physical and moral needs. But he brought this to a conclusion fundamentally different from that reached by any other medieval Aristotelian. It seems probable that this was connected with the influence of Latin Averroism. However, it is not yet known whether any of the earlier Averroists had anticipated the Defensor pacis’ conclusions.

The essential characteristics of Latin Averroism were its thoroughgoing naturalism and rationalism. It admitted, indeed, the absolute truth of Christian revelation. Still, it divorced this entirely from philosophy, and unlike St. Thomas, the rational conclusions of the latter might be quite contrary to the truths of faith.

It was responsible, therefore, for the doctrine of a twofold truth. With this tendency, the separation in defense of reason and revelation, which we believe by pure faith without reason, is quite an in accord. On the side of ethics also the Averroists leaned toward secularism quite at variance with the ecclesiastical tradition, holding-again like the Defensor pacis-that not all the philosophers in the world could prove immortality by demonstration, that theology contributes nothing to rational knowledge, that happiness is attained in this life without the aid of God, and that moral living according to Aristotle’s Ethics suffices for salvation. From the point of view of reason, then, and Marsilio is careful to say that this is all that concerns him; human societies are self-sufficient in the fullest sense.

Religion has social consequences apart from its truth and may be regulated by society; whatever effects it has on a life to come may be left to the future. From the point of view of Marsilio’s naturalistic Aristotelian-ism, spiritual interests are identical with other-worldly interests, and they are logically irrelevant. On the other hand, moral or religious concerns that do affect es the present life, all without exception, fall within the human community’s control.

The State:-

The Defensor pacis are divided into two main parts. The first is Aristotelian principles, though hardly a complete and systematic discussion of all phases of political philosophy. Its purpose is to supply the foundation for the second part. Marsilio draws his conclusions regarding the church, the functions of priests, their relation to civil authority, and the evils that arise from a misunderstanding of these matters. There is also a short third part: stated forty-two theses or conclusions drawn from the theories developed in the first two parts.

Following Aristotle, Marsilio defines the state as a kind of living being composed of parts that perform the functions necessary to its life. Its health, or peace, consists in the orderly working of each of its parts, and strife arises when one part does its work badly or interferes with another part. He also follows the derivation of the city from the family, the city being a perfect community or one able to supply all that is needed for a good life. But the expression, a good life, has a double meaning: it means good in this life and in the life to come.

The first is the proper study of philosophy through reason; knowledge of the second depends on revelation. Comes only from faith. Reason shows the need for civil government as a means of peace and order, but there is a need for religion, which has its-ides in this life and is the means of salvation in the life to come. Still following Aristotle, Marsilio then enumerates the classes or parts which cooperate to form a society.

Some farmers and artisans supply material goods and the revenue needed for government, and there are soldiers, officials, and priests who make up the state in a stricter sense. The last class, the clergy, causes special difficulty. Its place in society has been especially subject to differences of opinion because of the twofold purpose of religion and because its otherworldly purpose cannot be comprehended by reason.

Nevertheless, all men, Christian and heathen alike, have agreed that there must be a special class devoted to worship. The difference between the Christian clergy and the other priesthoods is that, as a matter of faith, Christianity is true while the other religions are not, but from the point of view of philosophy, this extra-rational truth hardly affects the matte. Thus Marsilio reaches a definition of the function of the Christian clergy.

The function of the clergy is to know and teach those things Which, according to Scripture, it is necessary to believe, to do, o to avoid, in order to obtain eternal salvation and escape woe.

It can hardly be denied that Marsilio follows Aristotle pretty closely, but he concluded widely different from any other medieval Aristotelian. So far as Aristotle is concerned, he availed himself of Greek philosophy’s implicit naturalism and supple. Mented the Politics, as he intended, by bringing into the picture a religion which claimed a supernatural sanction.

As compared with any other medieval Aristotelian, he has walled off Christianity as, in its essence, supernatural and beyond rational discussion. The contrast with St. Thomas’s tendency to harmonize reason and faith is as sharp as possible. Marsilio has gone far beyond the tendency in John of Paris to limit spiritual powers and duties. The practical importance of Marsilio’s conclusion can hardly be exaggerated. Whatever reverence faith may deserve as a means of eternal salvation, it has become simply irrelevant from a secular point of view. Being irrational, it cannot be considered rational means and ends, which is the same thing: secular questions have to be decided on their own rational merits without reference to faith.

For political purposes, the essential point of Marsilio’s conclusion is that, in all secular relations, the clergy is merely one class in society along with all other classes. From a rational point of view, he obviously considers the Christian clergy precisely like any other priesthood. The truth of what it teaches is beyond reason and applies only to a future life. It follows that in all temporal concerns, the control of the clergy by the state is in principle exactly like the control of agriculture or trade. As stated in modern terminology, religion is a social phenomenon; it uses material agencies and produces social consequences.

In these respects, it is subject to social regulation at need like other human interests. As for its truth, in the sense in which it claims truth, that is a matter about which reasonable men cannot dispute. Such a separation of reason and faith is the direct ancestor of religious skepticism, and in its consequences, amounts to secularism, which is both anti-Christian and anti-religious.

There is, to be sure, no frontal attack on the spiritual interests which the church professes to serve and which Christians believe to be the ultimate interests of humanity. One may say if he wishes that such things are too sacred for a reason to touch, But practically there is little difference between too sacred and too trivial. The church is a part of the secular state in every respect in which it affects temporal matters.

Law and the Legislator:-

Marsilio next proceeds to carry forward the radical distinction of spirituals and temporal into his definition of law. In the Defensor pacis, he distinguishes four kinds of law, though the important point is rather a twofold distinction between divine law and human law. In the Defensor minor, written later, he presented the argument more pointedly, though to the same effect. Law is of two sorts, either divine or human:

Divine law is a command of God directly, without human deliberation, about voluntary acts of human beings to be done or avoided in this world but for the sake of attaining the best end, or some condition desirable for man, in the world to come.

Human law is a command of the whole body of citizens, or it is prevailing part, arising directly from the deliberation of those empowered to make law, about voluntary acts of human beings to be done or avoided in this world, for the sake of attaining the best end, or some condition desirable for man, in this world means a command the transgression of which is enforced in this world by a penalty or punishment imposed on the transgressor.

In these definitions, the two kinds of law are distinguished by the kind of penalties entailed. Divine law is sanctioned by the rewards or punishments which will be meted out by God in future life. It follows that there is no earthly penalty for its violation but only a penalty beyond the grave.

Human law, therefore, is not derived from the divine law but is contrasted with it. Any rule that involves an earthly penalty belongs facto to human law and has its authority from human enactment. This is a point of vital importance for the later argument because it concludes that the spiritual teaching of priests is not properly a power or authority since it lacks coercive force in this life, unless, of course, a human legislator delegates such power to priests.

Marsilio’s definitions of law are extraordinary because of the weight they give to the elements of command and sanction, the will of the legislator, and his power to impose his will. He notes, indeed, that the word law is used to mean a rule of reason or intrinsic justice. Still, he clearly regards law, at least in its juristic sense, as characterized by its emanating from authority and carrying a penalty for its violation.

Marsilio’s treatment of law is in the sharpest contrast with that of Thomas, which presented divine and human law as all of a piece and stressed the rational derivation of human law from the law of nature.

Law then implies a legislator, and Marsilio next inquires who the human legislator is. The answer brings him to the heart of his political theory:

The legislator, or first and proper efficient cause of law, is the people or whole body of citizens, or a prevailing part of it, commanding and deciding by its own choice or will in a genera} assembly and set terms that something among the civil acts of human beings be done or omitted, on pain of a penalty or temporal punishment.

Human law arises by the corporate action of a people setting up rules to govern its members’ acts, or conversely, a state is the body of men who owe obedience to a given body of law. The result is the same whether the law is used to define the state or the state to define law since either implies a corporate body competent to control its members’ behavior.

The source of legal authority is always the people or its prevailing part, even though it acts in a particular case through a commission (or, in the case of the empire, through the emperor) to which it has delegated its authority. There can be little doubt that Marsilio was thinking primarily of government in a City-State, though apparently, he saw no difficulty in applying his definition to any state,

In the definition just given, two expressions call for explanation. The word legislator has a deceptively modern suggestion which it could hardly have had for Marsilio. He presumably means that the whole people make its law in the sense that all authority is to be conceived as the act of the people and is to be exercised in their name. Thus he expressly provides for the case in which a commission acts with derivative authority.

The conception was common in city-states, as when an Athenian jury was addressed simply as Athenians. It was carried over to explain the legislative power of the Roman emperor. It was also not very different from medieval fiction by which the whole realm was supposed to be consulted in a parliament. Presumably, Marsilio thought of a people’s legislation as including custom, which he elsewhere names as a part of the law. The ether expression which might be misleading is the prevailing part by which the legislator decides. This is emphatically not a numerical majority, as some commentators have imagined.

For Marsilio to enlarge his definition with the words, I say the prevailing part, both their number and quality in the community are taken into account. He meant literally the part which carries the greatest weight, with not the least thought that everybody should count for one. The magnates would naturally carry greater weight than the commonalty, though numbers properly count for something. The idea is essentially Aristotelian as well as medieval.

The executive and judicial part of government Marsilio regard is set up or elected by citizens’ bodies (legislators). The manner of election follows the custom of each state, but in all cases, the executive’s authority is derived from the legislative act of the whole body. Hence, it is essential that this authority is exercised according to the law and that its duties and powers should be such as the people determine. It is the executive’s duty to see that every part of the state performs its proper function for the good of the whole, and if it fails, it may be removed by the same power that elected it, namely, the people.

Marsilio’s preference for an elective compared with a hereditary monarchy is explicit. Still, even here, he is thinking of city-states rather than the empire, of which he speaks rather slantingly. But above all, however it may be organized, the executive must be unified and supreme so that its power may exceed that of any faction, but particularly so that it may proceed as a unit in administering the law. Such unity is necessary to the state as an organized body, and without it, strife and disorder are sure to result.

This part of Marsilio’s theory references the lack of unity prevalent in medieval government and probably especially to the difficulties arising from the twofold jurisdiction of secular and ecclesiastical courts. The state’s unity is a necessary premise for his own treatment of spiritual authority in the second part of his book.

This completes Marsilio’s outline of the natural or self-sufficing political community. It is an organic whole composed of classes, including everything within itself, both physical and ethical, needed for its continued existence and the good life, in a secular sense, of its citizens. Its power of legislation is the inevitable right of such a corporation to regulate its own parts for the whole’s well-being. Its executive power is the corporation’s agent to put into effect whatever the unity of the state requires: and because of this unity, there is no room for differences of jurisdiction or dispersion of power.

From a secular point of view, the community is absolutely self-sufficient and absolutely omnipotent. It is the guardian of its own life and its own civilization, in every sense in which civilization has any meaning or consequences on earth. If its citizens have spiritual well-being, this belongs in another world and another life, beyond the state’s life, indeed, but also powerless to touch that life with this conception of human society and its government.

Marsilio turns to his book’s real purpose to consider the spiritual life as he believed it to be misconceived by the church. He proposes tacking the incursions of the spiritual authority into the concerns of the self-sufficient community and laying bare the greatest of all the causes of civic strife and disorder, which had been unknown to the master philosopher.

The Church and the Clergy:-

Since every official of the corporate community possesses his authority only by the mandate, mediate or immediate, of the people, it follows that the clergy, as such, have no coercive power whatever. If they are permitted to exercise such power-and when Marsilio wrote, many important relationships were regulated by ecclesiastical law-they are acting as delegates of the civil power.

Being themselves merely a class set apart to perform religious service, the clergy are subject to regulation like any other class. Like laypeople, they are amenable to the civil courts for violations of humanitarian law. Within the meaning of human law, there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a spiritual offense.

God judges such offenses only in a future life, and the penalties are incurred beyond the grave. If spiritual offenses incur an earthly penalty, and of course, they may do so by human legislation, they become facto offenses against human law. Therefore, heresy, if it is punished in this world, is a civil offense; its spiritual penalty is damnation, but this is beyond the power of the clergy or any human judge. Similarly, Marsilio argues that ex-communication belongs wholly to civil power.

In short, his theory makes a clean sweep of the canon law as a distinct jurisdiction. In so far as it is really a divine law, its penalties are other-worldly; in so far as it assesses earthly penalties, it is a part of human law and so within the power of the secular community. The duty which the clergy has to perform Marsilio compares to the advice of a physician.

Apart from the celebration of religious rites, the clergy can merely advise and instruct; they can admonish the wicked and point out the future consequences of sin, but they cannot compel men to do penance. No other writer in the Middle Ages went so far as Marsilio in, thus setting apart the spiritual and religious from the legal.

Marsilio is equally sweeping in his destruction of the church’s temporal establishment. The church can hardly be said to own property at all. Ecclesiastical property is of the nature of a grant or subsidy made by the community to support public worship.

Thus, Pierre Dubois’s project to be accomplished by agreement between the pope and the king of France is deduced by Marsilio from his theory of the self-sufficing community. Obviously, of course, from Marsilio’s point-of-view, the clergy have no right to tithes or any right of exemption from taxation, except as the community grants it.

Ecclesiastical office, like ecclesiastical property, is within the gift of civil officers. He also holds that the clergy can be legally compelled to perform religion’s offices so long as they receive their benefits. Every ecclesiastical officer, from the pope down, can be deposed by civil action.

It was not without reason that the ill-judged and ill-starred attack of Lewis on the church during his Roman expedition in 1327-30, including his effort to secure the election of an anti-pope with the suffrage of a Roman mob, was attributed to Marsilio’s advice and regarded as a doctrinaire attempt to put the Defensor pacis into practice.

The notion that Marsilio’s political philosophy was a defense of religious liberty is wholly fallacious. The national despots of the Reformation period, lawless as they were, rarely went to the lengths that his theory would warrant. Its upshot would be to subject religion to a thorough-going regimentation by the civil power.

It is not quite true to say, however, that Marsilio proposed to treat the church merely as a branch of the state, for this would imply as many churches as there are states. In 1324 a national church would have seemed a strange anomaly even to a skeptic like Marsilio, to say nothing of a church for every independent city.

His theory is a root-and-branch attack upon the ecclesiastical hierarchy and especially upon a papal plenitude potestatis. Still, he recognized that, even for spiritual purposes and to resolve spiritual questions, and the church requires some organization distinct from the civil community.

The problem causes some difficulties, both practical and theoretical, because the universal church consorts ill with a congeries of self-sufficing communities, typically city-states, such as Marsilio envisaged. It is hard to see how the church is organized without an independent hierarchy and with its spiritual judgments wholly dependent upon distinct civil powers for their effect.

Like many Protestants after him, Marsilio was really in a position where he ought to have remitted all religious questions to private judgment and regarded the church as a purely voluntary organization. Still, it is hardly surprising that he did not conclude in the fourteenth century that Protestants refused to draw in the sixteenth. He lived in a day when only the dissented were looking even as far as a General Counsel of the church are the evils they attributed to the hierarchy.

From Marsilio’s point of view, the ecclesiastical hierarchy is obviously of human origin and has its authority from human law. As an arrangement of earthly ranks and powers, it is drawn completely within the sphere of civil control. Hence the hierarchy, or even the priesthood, is not the church. The church is composed of the whole body of Christian believers, both lay and clerical. Thus Marsilio continued in some sense the Christian tradition of two organizations of the same society, though he stripped the church of its coercive power.

Even the laity, Marsilio says, are churchmen, an expression that suggests Martin Luther’s phrase, the Christian man’s priesthood. But since all distinctions of rank among the clergy arise by the human institution, all priests are equal in respect to their strictly spiritual character. Neither a bishop nor a pope has any spiritual quality that a simple priest does not have.

The priestly character which authorizes them to celebrate the rites of religion is a purely mystical stigma, proceeding directly from God or Christ, having no earthly origin, and carrying with it no earthly power or ecclesiastical rank. Marsilio thus generalized an argument that John of Paris had already used to reduce the pope to spiritual equality with other bishops. By so doing, he eliminated from the spiritual all reference to ecclesiastical rank.

A fortiori he eliminated papal sovereignty from the organization of the church. He denied absolutely that the pope has any authority as Peter’s successor or that Peter had any preeminence over the other Apostles. In a rather remarkable bit of historical analysis, he denied any reliable evidence that Peter ever was in Rome and still less that he was bishop. The preeminence of the church at Rome he attributes to its situation in the capital of the empire.

With this complete rejection of the spiritual powers of the hierarchy and the people, there also went, very naturally, a low estimate of the sacerdotal aspect of religion and a tendency to treat it as if the inner experience itself were sufficient.

However, it is hard to tell whether this corresponds to a strong conviction on Marsilio’s part or whether it represents merely the tendency of a rationalist to confine religion as narrowly as possible. In treating the confessional, penance, indulgence, absolution, and ex-communication, he stressed the view that repentance for sin and forgiveness by God are the only essentials. Without these, the ceremony is powerless, and if a sinner has made his peace with God, absolution is complete without the ceremony.

Similarly, he showed somewhat the same enmity for the canon law as his two contemporaries, Dante and William of Occam, and as Luther after him. The Bible, or perhaps more narrowly the New Testament, he regarded as the only source of revelation and hence as the only fact of divine law; papal decretals would either not be law at all or, if given the sanction of the community, would be a part of human law. Accordingly, only beliefs contained in Scripture, or clearly implied by it, are necessary to salvation. So suggestive of later protestant belief, these opinions show how fully the Reformation was prepared in the two preceding centuries of the Middle Ages.

The General Council:-

There is then, for Marsilio still, a core of Christian belief upon which the church must be able to speak authoritatively and for which his theory must provide a human institution. For this purpose, like others of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries who were convinced of the shortcomings of the hierarchy, he chose a General Council, which he regarded as the church’s organ for deciding such disputes.

He is unwilling that the pope and the hierarchy, being merely human agents, should pass on disputed articles of faith. To the church itself as a corporate body, or more narrowly to a General Council, he is willing to concede-a little naively, and it must be admitted, if this part of his theory is to be taken seriously-a my-statistical infallibility, the one point of contact between reason and faith which the prevailing rationalism of his system permitted.

In a General Council, he chose to assume, inspiration would join hands with reason to supply an authoritative version of the divine law contained in Scripture and a satisfactory answer to the reasonable differences of opinion that might arise about such matters. On this point, William of Occam was more acute than Marsilio, for William perceived that in matters of faith, a council, being itself a human institution, could no more be counted infallible than the pope.

Marsilio’s theory of the church is, therefore, a bit of patchwork in his system. He transfers to the church an element of his political theory, assuming that Christian believers, like the whole body of citizens in a state, are corporations (Universitas). The General Council, as the political executive, is its delegate.

The difficulty is that this transference requires citizens to figure as the members of two corporations, their respective states, and the universal church. There is really nothing in his theory of society to account for this kind of dual citizenship.

It is a concession that Marsilio’s theory was more purely secular than the prevailing conception of the society to which he had to apply it. Regarding the organization, the important difference he makes between the church and the state is that the council is a representative body.

He proposes that all the main territorial divisions (provincial) of Christendom shal) choose representatives, as their rulers shall direct, and in Proportion to the numbers and quality of their Christian population. This rep will include both churchmen and laypeople and shall be men of approved life and learned in the divine law.

They are to meg in a convenient place, as their rulers shall direct, and shall decide in the light of Scripture any dubious matters of belief or religious practice likely to cause strife among Christians. Their decisions shall be binding on all, and more particularly on priests. But Marsilio General Council, perhaps as he himself intended, is really dependent; upon secular governments. Their cooperation and decisions call it, if they need to be enforced, depend upon coercion supplied by the states.

The authority of a General Council is as nebulous as the corporation of all Christian believers of which it was the organ. The truth is that Marsilio’s conception of European society provided no real basis for an international organization like the church.

In this respect, in providing a theory for a General Council, he also explained why, when the theory was tried, it proved to be merely a paper constitution, impractical because of the national jealousies and particular-ism which it lacked the force to unite. Effective as a destructive attack on the hierarchy’s spiritual authority, it was ineffective in restoring the unity of the Christian commonwealth of the Middle Ages.

Few theorists in any age, and none in the Middle Ages, cared to go as far as Marsilio in whittling down the spiritual freedom which formed the permanently important claim fostered by Christianity. Not until the Erastian theories of the seventeenth century, such as Hobbes, was there. An equally consistent attempt to reduce religion to an ineffectual private faith, with overt action wholly in the secular government’s control. His political philosophy was a recrudescence of the theory of a city-state, competent to regulate every branch of its civilization.

In this respect, it represented the purest form of a naturalistic Aristotelian-ism that medieval philosophy produced. It suggested the revived paganism of the Italian renaissance, which appeared full-grown in Machiavelli two centuries later. His theory as a whole is indeed something of a compromise. His citizens still appear as members of two corporations, the state, and the church. However, the latter has wholly lost its authority, though the idea is still preserved that a common belief and a universal ecclesiastical discipline can be maintained.

Therefore, Marsilio’s state is not quite a separate secular institution, obliged to keep its hand off religious faith, as his church is certainly not a purely voluntary association with no need for coercive power. His self-sufficing human community is in the dangerous position of acting as an agent of a supernatural church.

That this was an impossible position experience was to reveal. Papal absolutism might be disposed of as a fictitious spiritual claim, but only on the condition that secular governments would grant their subjects a much larger measure of religious freedom than Marsilio ever contemplated.

William: The Freedom of the Church:-

The nature of the struggle against the papal plenitudo potestatis in the fourteenth century is more apparent in the works of Marsilio’s great contemporary, William of Occam, than in the Defensor pacis. William’s theory is less complete and less consistently worked out than Marsilio’s, and it is more difficult to get at, spread as it is through controversial works of enormous size. Political philosophy was never a primary object with William since he was a dialectician and a theologian. But perhaps because he did not try to make a systematic theory of the state, his views were less doctrinaire than Marsilio’s sometimes are.

He probably represented more typically than Marsilio the reaction of a large body of Christian opinion to the papal imperialism which, as he conceived, had ended so disastrously for the church and Europe. Specifically, William spoke for the part of the Franciscan Order, the so-called Spirituals, who defended clerical poverty and who had been excommunicated by John XXII.

Therefore, he was the spokesman of a type that figured largely in the published writing of later centuries: a minority persecuted, as they believed, for conscience’s sake and appealing in the name of liberty to enlightened public opinion against constituted authority. Therefore, his question was essentially the rights of subjects against their rulers, the limitation of sovereign papal authority in matters of faith, and the right of a minority to resist coercion.

For William, papal sovereignty is, from the standpoint of Christianity, a heresy. From the standpoint of policy, a disastrous innovation that has filled ail Europe with strife has destroyed Christian freedom and has led to an invasion of secular rulers’ rights. The last point, however, is not the most important. His primary purpose was to assert the independence of Christian believers’ whole body against the pretensions of a heretical pope. The issue is between the universal and apostolic church and the “Church of Avignon.”

In this connection, William’s general philosophical position is not without importance. The breaking down of Thomas’s closely knit Structure of reason and faith, of science, philosophy, and theology was not in the first instance due to an effort to liberate reason but rather to liberate faith.

Even in Thomas’s lifetime, his ambitious plan of synthesis failed to win the assent of many Contemporaries, chief among them the great philosopher of the Franciscan Order, Duns Scotus. William continued in the tradition that Scotus began as compared with Thomas, and both men greatly sharpened the distinction between reason and faith. The contrast depended upon the fact that they thought of theology as having to do mainly with supernatural things, known only to faith through revelation and having mainly moral uses. At the same time, they confined philosophy more definitely to theoretical truths within the power of unaided natural reason.

The tendency was similar to that which reached a climax in Latin Averroes, already mentioned as having influenced the Aristotelian-ism of Marsilio. Still, the Occamists managed to remain somewhat precariously within the bounds of orthodoxy. Though they held that important dogmas like God and immortality were indemonstrable, they at least stopped short of the Averroist doctrine of a twofold truth. But the total effect was nonetheless destructive of Thomas’s system Reason gained its freedom by vindicating for faith the large but shadowy realm of the unknowable. Closely connected with this separation of reason and faith was a sharper distinction between reason and will, both in psychology and theology.

In man and God, William regarded the will as a force and spontaneous power of action not determined by whatever. In consequence, he referred the moral difference between good and evil to the will of God. The implications of this for legal theory were important since it seems to identify law with legislative fiat. Still, there is a question of how far William actually carried his metaphysics over into his law theory.

Despite the subversive tendency of William’s philosophy, his political theory was essentially conservative in intention. In his effort to vindicate Christian freedom against the pope, he moved within a circle of well-known ideas to his time. He argued against papal absolutism as an innovation and a heresy, and he marshaled against it views for which he claimed, not without truth, a common acceptance.

William’s argument stood upon the ancient distinction and independence of the spiritual and temporal authorities and assumed that independence was feasible while each power was. Granted a large and ill-defined discretion for correcting the faults of the other. Mutual support and comity between the two powers provided each acted within limits set by divine and natural law, still seemed to him possible.

The circumstances under which he wrote caused him to argue for a representative check upon what he regaled as papal power’s arbitrary exercise. Still, he had no real objection to a large discretionary power even in the pope, provided only it was averred by one he could admit to being a true pope. In other words, the legal definition of the two Jurisdictions seems not to have interested him greatly. The essential questions were for him theological rather than juristic.

A similar indefiniteness may be noticed in his treatment of the empire. He denied, of course, that the emperor’s power was in any sense derivative from the pope, that the ceremony of coronation added to his lawful authority, and that papal confirmation of an election was necessary. In other words, he derived the emperor’s power from the election itself, the College of Electors standing in the place of the people and speaking for them. In this general sense, he conceived of the imperial power-indeed any royal power-as arising from the consent of a corporate body of subjects, expressed through their magnates.

Because of his standing controversy with the pope, William attributed very great powers to the emperor to intervene for the sake of reforming the church. Still, he evidently regarded these as exceptional and used in an emergency, such as he believed the existing situation to be.

On the whole, he stood upon the traditional distinction of the two powers, leaving the question of definition very much where it had always been. Similarly, he had practically nothing definite to say about the relation between the emperor and the national kingdoms of France and England. He attributed vague precedence to the emperor over other kings, but he certainly had no sentiment for Germany as an Englishman.

His writing lacked the traces of national feeling apparent in much that had been written by Frenchmen in defense of Philip the Fair, and also the enthusiasm for the city-state, which may often be felt in Marsilio. In this respect, also William stood definitely in the older medieval tradition.

His political ideas were the rooted and almost universal medieval dislike of arbitrary power or of force exercised outside the framework of what was felt to be law. In this respect, his principles were substantially identical to those of St Thomas. The whole body of the law included, for William as for Thomas, both the revealed will of God and the principles of natural reason, the dictates of natural equity and the common practices of civilized nations and the special customs and positive law of particular peoples. Together, it all formed a single system, flexible in its details, allowing for time and circumstance changes but without felt violations of the underlying principles. A single person’s law falls within this great system; it can never justly establish a rule contrary to natural law, though it may provide in the spirit of reason and equity for new conditions as they arise.

The Jaw, therefore, provides potentially for every contingency, and all exercise of authority must be justified by the common Bog and by its consonance with natural justice and sound morals. Without this sanction, force is arbitrary, and the government becomes, to use St.Augustine’s telling phrase, highway robbery on a large scale. Then, as the conception, characteristic of all medieval political thought, underlies William’s opposition to the pope’s acts. John has exceeded his power; he has set up dogmas in defiance of Scripture and has invaded secular rulers and Christians’ eternal rights every, where. The pope, who styles himself the servant of the servants of God, has become a mere tyrant.

The Conciliar Theory:-

In his belief in the law’s omnipotence, William represented a conviction almost universal in the fourteenth century. He was important mainly because of his determined opposition to what he held to be tyranny in the church, because of the latitude of Christian freedom which he was led to assert, and incidentally because of his desire to provide the church with a government that could less arbitrarily decide moot points of Christian belief and practice. Here too, he was more concerned with doctrinal questions than with forms of government.

Essentially his position was a defense of critical scholarship and the enlightened judgment of Christendom against the fiat of constituted authority. He was confronted by a dilemma: a pope who claimed to be infallible and widely held to be so but who was, in William’s judgment, a heretic. It followed that papal judgment is not always valid. Like most men in the fourteenth century who were dissatisfied with the church’s religion, he could see no expedient more practical than a General Council to check and, as it were, to institutionalize, the power of the hierarchy.

With the beginning of the Great Schism in 1378, this became a great issue in ecclesiastical politics. William’s theories, like those of John of Paris and Marsilio, prepared the way. But William was too acute to suppose that any practical expedient could solve a logical difficulty. He was no more ready to grant the infallibility of a council than of the pope, for even a council might, though in so far as it represented the wisdom of Christendom, it would be less likely to do so. William was really posing a larger question: How can human beings ever be sure that they have reached the absolute truth?

On this point, however, he had really no doubts. Like all scholastic philosophers, he had an implicit belief in reason and also an abiding trust that the Christian faith could establish its validity by its own inherent authority. The final judgment in a moot point of doctrine he conceived to lie in the church’s living body, continuous throughout its whole history and the recipient of a divine revelation.

The unique source from which this revelation can be learned in Scripture is the decretals of the popes, or even the decisions of councils have only secondary value. Like all the earlier Protestants, he assumed unquestioningly that sound scholarship and honest research would bring to light religious truth, which would commend itself to all men of goodwill. An inquiry is not only a right but a duty, and the decision belongs to the wisest, not to any constituted power.

There was, of course, for William no question of literal freedom of belief, for he assumed that with proper search, what must be believed would be apparent. But there must be freedom to search and, by implication, freedom to judge. Hence for him, the great political problem of the age was the curbing of papal absolutism.

Only if clergy and laypeople could unite to lay down just limits to papal power could peace be restored between the pope and Christendom. To this end, the best expedient that he could see was an institutionalized form of church government utilizing a General Council representing the sound body of Christian scholarship and belief.

The council William proposed to make broadly representative. He explicitly said that it must include laypeople and the clergy, and he has no objection even to including women. The basis of representation should be the great number of corporations, such as parishes or monasteries, or cathedral chapters, into which the membership of the church falls.

Certainly, William had no thought of representing Christians individually, as so many discrete units, or territoriality, as the inhabitants of such and such districts. A corporate body (communitas), he says, can act as a whole and also through its chosen representatives. Therefore, he proposed a rough plan of what might be called indirect representation the religious corporations of some convenient district, such as a diocese or kingdom, should choose representatives to a provincial synod, which in turn should choose representatives in a General Council.

Unorganized as the plan seems compared to modern electoral machinery, it might be feasible so long as the constituent corporations were sufficiently well marked and well unified. William was, in fact, drawing upon contemporary experience both in the church and in the state. Medieval parliaments represented essentially the Communes of the realm, such as boroughs and counties, not as territorial districts but as corporate bodies. But William’s plan for a General Council was probably based even more directly upon the two great Mendicant Orders’ government.

Provinces organized the houses of the Dominican Order. By the middle of the thirteenth century, there was already a well-developed electoral system for choosing representatives for various assemblies. The Franciscan Order, to which William himself belonged, adopted a similar plan. In the course of the thirteenth century, some such plan of representation was widely used by various Monastic orders. Therefore, the conciliar plan wa, a scheme for extending in the church generally a device already widely in use and one quite in accord with the prevailing idea that corporate bodies could act and speak as units. Unfortunately, special obstacles made it unsuccessful when applied to the whole church, though it was a Very natural device for ecclesiastical reformers to adopt.

William of Occam’s political philosophy was characteristic of the state of political thought in the mid-fourteenth century, both for what it saw and for what it failed to see. It still moved within the limits of the old discussion about the relation between imperium and sacerdotium, though anything approaching a general control by the papacy over the secular kingdoms was already a thing of the past. Yet it brought into the center of political discussion the relationship between a sovereign and his subjects and the latter’s right to resist on the grounds of conscience and in defense of what they held to be Christian truth. Like the case, this issue should first have been drawn within the church.

The theory of papal plenitudo potestatis was the first definite claim in the Middle Ages to a power that was absolute, indefeasible, and sovereign. It was repugnant both to medieval conviction and practice, and the controversy with the spiritual Franciscans marshaled against it the weight of ancient tradition and current belief. The Great Schism which followed produced the first great controversy between the claims of sovereignty and the principle of constitutional and representative government.

Leave a Comment