Universitas Hominum. As scholarly performances the controversial tracts described in the preceding article were quickly outmoded in the extraordinary intellectual rebirth that began in the latter years of the twelfth century and which made the thirteenth one of the most brilliant in the history of Europe. This new scholarly activity, in so far as it depended on institutions, was due chiefly to the new universities, especially Paris and Oxford, and to the two great Mendicant Orders in the church, the Dominicans and the Franciscans.
The universities rapidly became centers of an astonishingly active intellectual life. They attracted great numbers of students and counted among their teachers the most active intelligence of the age, who set themselves to study systematically the sciences and especially philosophy and theology. With the universities should be mentioned also the great Law Schools in which an accurate knowledge of Roman law was recovered in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The Mendicant Orders almost from the beginning played a large part in the development of the universities, setting up courses of study for the training of their members and providing an important part of the faculties. In the thirteenth century a large proportion of the most original scholars were included in their membership-Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas among the Dominicans, Duns Scotus and Roger Bacon among the Franciscans.
The universitas and the Orders were the agencies through which the new enlightenment spread, but its content was supplied in the first instance by the recovery of ancient works of science, especially the works of Aristotle, together with a large body of commentary upon them by Arabic and Jewish scholars. In the earlier Middle Ages nothing had been known of Aristotle beyond his works on logic.
Early in the thirteenth century his scientific works began to be known, at first in parts and often in Latin translations of Arabic versions, but finally in complete translations direct from the Greek-original. Besides Italy, the main channel for these books was Spain; the Bishop of Toledo fostered great collective enterprises in translating, because contact with the Moors made Arabic texts available. In the history of political thought the translation of the Politics from the Greek text by William of Moerbeke about 1260 was of great importance. This translation formed part of a general effort, under the auspices of Thomas, to secure a reliable report of Aristotle’s philosophy.
The ultimate effect of this revival of Aristotle upon the intellectual development of western Europe would be impossible to exaggerate. Not only was a great fund of information made available, such as the earlier Middle Ages could scarcely imagine, but this was already ordered and arranged in sciences, such as physics, zoology, psychology, ethics, and politics, and these sciences were co-ordinates as parts of a systematic conception of nature, whose first principles were drawn out in the form of metaphysics.
Most important of all, Aristotle brought to the Middle Ages a new vision of the intellectual life of Greece and the belief that reason is the key which must, unlock the door to a knowledge of the natural world. From the thirteenth century to the present, this stimulus has never been wholly lost. At the start is produced an intense intellectual effort to master Aristotle, to adapt and harmonize him with the system of Christian belief, and to construct an all-embracing system of natural and theological knowledge.
While it would be impossible to overstate the importance in the long run cf the recovery of Aristotle, its immediate effects upon political philosophy can easily be exaggerated. What the study of the Politics produced at once was an improvement in the technique of presenting the subject, such as a standard list of subjects to be treated, a body of technical terms and conceptions, and a plan for the arrangement of material.
Until the sixteenth century it was scarcely possible to write a treatise on politics which in these respects did not owe a debt to the Politics. Clearly, however, the adoption of Aristotelian arguments need not imply a change in fundamental political convictions or in the nature of the concrete problems that political philosophers were thinking about. In any case conceptions framed by Aristotle relative to the city state could have no literal application to medieval society but required a considerable revision for the purposes in hand.
Moreover, Thomas at least had no desire to depart from the great body of political and social tradition that had descended to the thirteenth century from the Fathers of the church so far as this inheritance was concerned, as in the case of the whole body of Christian belief, he valued Aristotelian ism less as a means of making innovations than as a better philosophical support for well founded beliefs. In the thirteenth century, also, the chief attention of the new scholarship was given rather to theology and metaphysics than to political theory. In the fourteenth, the writing of political treatises was much more frequent.
john of Salisbury:-
This conclusion, that the recovery of Aristotle did not at once change the main lines of political philosophy, is supported by a consideration of the Policraticus, written by John of Salisbury in 1159. This book has the great interest of being at once the first attempt in the Middle Ages at an extended and systematic treatment of political philosophy and the only such book written before the recovery of Aristotle.
It is a compendium of the ancient tradition which had descended to the twelfth century from Cicero and Seneca through the Fathers of the church and the Roman lawyers. In most respects it tried to set forth with a fair degree of order what everyone believed and, so far as was known in the twelfth century, had always believed.
Those who have studied the book most carefully have agreed that there is surprisingly tittle in it that depends consciously on the feudal organization of society which actually prevailed when John wrote. His ideal was rather that of the commonwealth, the res public, conceived after the manner of Cicero as a society “united by a common agreement about law and rights
In spite of the centrifugal influences of feudalism the essential idea in John’s political thought was still that of a people ruled by a public authority which acts for the general good and is morally justified by the fact that it is lawful.
The law in John’s conception forms an omnipresent tie running through all human relationships including that between the ruler and the ruled. Consequently it is binding mutually on king and subject. So true is this that the distinction between a true king and a tyrant was major importance for John. His book had the doubtful honor of presenting the first explicit defense of tyrannicide in medieval political literature. He who usurps the sword is worthy to die by the sword.
Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that the latter obeys the law and rules the people by its dictates, accounting himself as but their servant. It is by virtue of the law that he makes good his claim to the foremost and chief place in the management of the affairs of the commonwealth.
Now there are certain precepts of the law which have a perpetual necessity, having the force of law among all nations, and which absolutely cannot be broken with impunity. Let the white-washers of rulers trumpet abroad that the prince is not subject to the law, and that whatsoever is his will and pleasure, not merely in establishing law according to the model of equity, but absolutely and free from all restrictions, has the force of law. Still I will maintain that kings are bound by this law.
Except the defense of tyrannicide, there was nothing in John’s conception of law and its universal validity which Thomas did not share. John expressed the idea in terms drawn largely from Cicero while Thomas elaborated it by adopting Aristotle’s technical terms. In both men the universality of law was a fundamental conceptions.
St. Thomas: Nature and Society:-
Coming first to Christian Europe through Jewish and Arabic sources, the works of Aristotle bore the stigma of infidelity. The earliest inclination of the church was to ban them, and their use at the University of Paris was forbidden in 1210 and later, though the prohibition seems never to have been very effective.
The church wisely relied less on prohibition than on reconstruction, and there is no better evidence of the intellectual virility of medieval Christianity than the rapidity with which Aristotle was not merely received but made the corner stone of Roman Catholic philosophy.
In less than a century what had been feared as a source of anti-Christian innovation was turned into a new and, it was hoped, a permanent system of Christianized philosophy, This work was accomplished by the teachers of the Mendicant Orders, especially by the two Dominicans, Albert the Great and his still greater pupil, Thomas Aquinas.
It is true that the completeness and the permanence of the victory were overestimated. Beside the Christianized Aristotle of Thomas there was, from the thirteenth century on, the anti Christian Aristotle of the Roisterer tradition. And even within the limits of orthodox scholasticism Franciscan thinkers, such as Duns Scotus and William of Occam, had always a doubt about the close synthesis of faith and reason that Thomas attempted. In the fourteenth century these divergences of thought appeared in political theory no less than in general philosophy.
It was of the essence of Thomas’s philosophy that it essayed a universal synthesis, an all-embracing system, the keynote of which was harmony and consistence. God and nature are large enough and opulent enough to afford a niche for all the endless diversity that makes up finite existence. The whole of human knowledge forms a single piece.
Broadest in extent but least highly generalized are the particular sciences each with its special subject-matter; above these is philosophy, a rational discipline which seeks to formulate the universal principles of all the sciences; above reason and depending upon divine revelation is Christian theology, the consummation of the whole system. But though revelation is above reason, it is in no way contrary to reason; theology completes the system of which science and philosophy form the beginning, but never destroys its continuity. Faith is the fulfillment ct season. together they build the temple of knowledge but nowhere they conflict or work at cross purposes.
The picture which Thomas drew of nature conformed exactly to his plan of knowledge. The universe forms a hierarchy reaching from God at its summit down to the lowest being. Every being acts under the internal urge of its own nature, seeking the good or form of perfection natural to its kind, and finding its place in the ascending order according to its degree of perfection.
The higher in all cases rules over and makes use of the lower, as God rules over the world or the soul over the body. No matter how lowly it may be, no being is wholly lacking in value, for it has its station, its duties and its rights, through which it contributes to the perfection of the whole.
The essence of the scheme is purpose, subordination to an end. In such a structure human nature has a unique place among created beings, since man possesses not only a bodily nature but also a rational and spiritual soul by virtue of which re is akin to God. He alone of all beings is at once body and soul, and this fundamental fact rest the institutions and the laws by which his life is directed.
Thomas’s conception of social and political life falls directly into this larger plan of nature as a whole, and the most important passages in which he treated the subject were a part of his great systematic work on philosophy and theology. Like all nature society is a system of ends and purposes in which the lower serves the higher and the higher directs and guides the lower.
Following Aristotle, Thomas described society as a mutual exchange of services for the sake of a good life to which many callings contribute, the farmer and artisan by supplying material goods, the priest by prayer and religious observance, and each class by doing its own proper work.
The common good requires that such a system shall have a ruling part, just as the soul rules the body or any higher nature rules the lower. Thomas compares the founding and ruling of states, the planning of cities, the building of castles, the establishment of markets, and the fostering of education to the providence whereby God creates and rules the world.
Hence ruler ship is an office or a trust for the whole community. Like his lowest subject, the ruler is justified in all that he does solely because he contributes to the common good. His power, because it is derived from God for the happy ordering of human life, is a ministry or service owed to the community of which he is the head. He cannot rightfully exercise power or take property by taxation beyond what is needed.
The moral purpose of government is therefore paramount. Broadly speaking, it is the duty of the ruler so to direct the action of every class in the state that men may live a happy and virtuous life, which is the true end of man in society. Ultimately, of course, this must lead to a good beyond earthly society, to a heavenly life, but this is beyond human power and is in the keeping of priests rather than of rulers.
But it is characteristic of Thomas that he should regard an Orderly political life as a contributing cause even to this ultimate end, More specifically it is the function of the earthly ruler to lay the foundations of human happiness by maintaining peace and order, to preserve it by seeing that all the needful services of public administration, of judicature, and of defense are performed, and to improve it by correcting abuses wherever they occur and by removing all possible hindrances to the good life.
The moral purpose for which political rule exists implies that authority ought to be limited and that it ought to be exercised only in accordance with law. Thomas’s dislike of tyranny was as great as that displayed by John of Salisbury, though he explicitly disavowed the latter’s defense of tyrannicide. Justifiable resistance is a public act of a whole people, and the right is safeguarded by the moral condition that those who resist are responsible for seeing that their action is less injurious to the general good than the abuse which they are trying to remove.
Sedition he regarded as a deadly sin, but justifiable resistance to tyranny he denied to be sedition. In respect to tyranny the harmonizing of the older medieval tradition with Aristotle presented no difficulties, for both were versions of the same Greek detestation of unlawful force and both proceeded from the principle that power is justified only in so far as it serves the common good. It cannot be said that Thomas derived anything important from Aristotle to add to existing opinion on this subject.
His interest was essentially in the moral limitations laid upon rulers, and the legal or constitutional phases of the subject seem not to have concerned him. Thus he has little to say about forms of government beyond what he got from Aristotle, and his defense of monarchy, which he regarded as the best form, followed the rather academic lines pursued in the Politics.
He was explicit on the point that a king’s power should be limited (temperature), though he nowhere explained exactly what this meant. It is probably safe to assume that he had in mind a sharing of power between the king and the magnates of the realm, who are his natural advisers and electors.
Thomas was explicit also on the point that true government, as distinguished from tyranny, is lawful, but he was curiously unconscious of the need to define precisely what lawful authority means in this connection. Though he was acquainted with the Roman law. he was evidently unaware of any tendency in this study to exalt the power of a sovereign ruler over the law itself. He must have known also the great controversial literature dealing with the papal and the imperial authorities, but this failed to stimulate him to a precise examination of the principles upon which political authority is based. In connection with his treatment of tyranny he referred to two remedies which are available against tyrants.
There are, he assumed, governments in which the ruler’s power is derived from the people, and in this case it is lawful for the people to enforce the conditions upon which authority hes been granted. The other remedy mentioned is in the case of a ruler who has political superior, end here the redress of grievances w by an appeal to that superior. But he celerity regarded these as two distinct types of government, which seems to show that he had no general theory of the derivation of political authority.
The Nature of Law:-
The reason why Thomas could thus pass over what seems an essential point in political philosophy probably lay in the fact that he was so deeply immersed in the medieval tradition of the sanctity of law. His reverence for law was such that he assumed its authority to be inherent and not dependent upon any human origin. His constant attempt was to relate human law as closely as possible to divine law. To this he was led not only by hes own inclination to harmonize but also by the assumption that law is something much broader in its scope than a means of regulating human relationships. Human law was for him part and parcel of the whole system of divine government whereby everything both in heaven and earth is ruled.
Such a system Thomas regarded as quite literally an emanation from the reason of God, regulating the relationships between all creatures, animate and inanimate, animal and human, Law in the narrower human sense was therefore merely one aspect, important indeed but still an aspect, of a cosmic fact. This was the point which seemed to him important and accordingly he developed his general theory of law more carefully than any part of his political theory.
His classification of law was therefore one of the most characteristic parts of his philosophy. But it had the effect of reducing a specifically legal or institutional definition of lawful authority to the status of a subordinate question. An unlawful ruler was not primarily a violator of human rights and institutions, though he was that, but a rebel against the whole divine system by which God rules the world.
in Thomas’s fourfold classification of law only one of the four is human. It was significant of his point of view that he was thus able to find a conception of law which he conceived to be applicable to a range of phenomena so wide and ta modern thought so diverse. The was not, as aught be imagined, because he thought of nature as audaciously governed by the will of God, but for an almost contrary reason.
It was because he thought of human society and its institution as a typical level of the cosmic order, in which the same principles obtain that manifest themselves in-different forms on the other levels, Arbitrary will had very little to do with the matter, either in nature or society. Both are governed by reasons or ends, more than by forces; certainly Thomas had no conception of a will, divine or human, that made law by fiat, either for nature or for society.
His four kinds of law are four forms of reason, manifesting themselves at four levels of cosmic reality, but remaining one reason throughout. The names which he gave to them were the Eternal Law, the Natural Law, the Divine Law, and Hunan Law.
The first of these, the Eternal Law, is practically identical with the reason of God. It is the eternal plan of divine wisdom by which the whole creation is ordered. In itself this law is above the physical nature of man and in its entirety beyond human comprehension, though it not for this reason foreign or contrary to human reason. So far as his finite nature permits, man really participates in the wisdom and goodness of God; these are reflected in him, though his nature reproduces only a distorted image of divine perfection.
The second, Natural Law, may perhaps be described as a reflection of divine reason in created things. It is manifest in the inclination which nature implants in all beings to seek good and avoid evil, to preserve themselves, and to live as perfectly as possible the kind of life suitable to their natural endowments.
In the case of mankind this means, as Aristotle had taught, the desire for a life in which the rational nature may be realized. Thomas mentioned as examples of this the inherent inclination in men to live in society, to preserve their lives, to beget and educate children, to seek the truth and develop intelligence. Natural Law enjoins all that is implied to give these human inclinations their widest scope.
Thomas’s treatment of Divine Law was interesting because here he reached the borders of what might be called natural reason, and the position which he took was very characteristic. By Divine Law he meant substantially revelation. An example would be the special code of laws which God gave to the Jews as the chosen people or the special rules of Christian morals or legislation, given through Scripture or the church. Divine Law is a gift of God’s grace rather than a discovery of natural reason.
Thomas was little likely to underestimate the importance of Christian revelation, but what must be noticed is the care that he took not to open too wide a cleft between this and reason. Revelation adds to reason but never destroys it. The structure of Thomas’s system is built of reason and faith but he never doubted that it was one structure. His applications even on the political level were interesting and important.
Natural Law, because it is produced by the unaided reason is common to all men, both Christian and pagan; hence morals and government do not in general depend upon Christianity. The obligation to civic obedience is not weakened, but rather strengthened, by it, and the Christian subjects of a pagan prince are not justified in refusing him obedience.
Heresy, indeed, he regarded as one of the worst of crimes, since it falsifies the truth on which salvation depends, and the church may rightly absolve the subjects of an apostate or heretic ruler. But,even the church ought not to depose a ruler merely because he is an infidel.
Thomas’s very moderate and reasonable position on this question perhaps reflects the influence of Aristotle’s natural Community upon him. It is diametrically opposed to that taken by extreme papalists of the following century, such as Egidius Colonna, upon whom the Aristotelian influence was less marked.
The Eternal, the Natural, and the Divine Laws all set standards of behavior, which, though sometimes applicable to human beings, are not exclusively applicable to them or specifically derived from human nature. The law especially designed for human beings Thomas called the Human Law, which he subdivided into ius gentium and iuscivile.
This law he regarded as in one sense specific, since it regulates the lives of a single kind of creature and so must be applicable especially to the distinguishing properties of that kind. In another sense Human Law might be said to introduce no new principles; it merely applies to human kind the greater principles of order that prevail throughout the world. Any law sets a standard according to which a being of some sort is moved to act or restrained from acting.
In the case of human beings, since man is distinguished from other beings by rationality, the standard is set by reason; and since reasonableness in man implies sociability, the law sets a standard for the general good, rather than for the advantage of an individual or a particular class. For this reason also the law has behind it a general authority rather than an individual will it is a product of the whole people acting for their joint good, either by legislation or by the less tangible means of creating custom, or it has the sanction of a public personage to whom the care of the community has been delegated. Finally, Thomas regarded promulgation as an essential quality of law. His completed definition therefore describes law as an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.
Thomas thus translated the ancient belief in true law, embedded from the beginning in the Christian tradition, back into the terminology of Aristotle and freed the latter from any specific reference to the city-state. The tradition was changed in no essential respect, but Aristotle provided a more Systematic mode of statement.
Though the definition just given has a special reference to Human Law, probably the weight of Thomas’s argument falls on the point that Human Law is derivative from Natural Law. The justification for human regulation, and for the coercion by which it is made effective, he conceived always to lie In the nature of human belongs; power merely gives to race to that which is inherently reasonable and right.
As,a whole, then, Human Law might be called a corollary of Natural Law, which merely needs to be made definite and effective in order to provide for the exigencies of human life or of special circumstances in human life, Thus, for example, murder is contrary to nature, since it is incompatible with peace and order, but Natural Law does not provide a precise definition of murder as distinct from other kinds of homicide, nor does it provide a specific penalty. In other words, the act is wrong because it violates a general principle of conduct in society; because it is wrong it must be prevented or punished; but the best way to prevent or punish it is partly a question of policy and may vary with time, place, and circumstance.
The principle is the same always and everywhere, since the fundamental inclinations of men remain the same; the precise way in which this underlying human nature develops can vary endlessly from nation to nation, and from time to time. Government is therefore a kaleidoscope of changing patterns, and yet there is one right, one law, and one justice behind all. Life has a single end but many means.
It speaks volumes for the persistence and the pervasiveness of this moral conception of law and government that John Locke, writing four centuries later, could still find no argument more convincing with which to defend the fundamental right of a people to depose a tyrannous ruler.
The underlying moral relations between Natural and Human Law are still for Locke substantially what they were for Thomas. For both men the ruler is as definitely bound by reason and justice as his subjects, and his power over the positive law arises from the need of keeping it in-agreement with Natural Law.
Enactment is less an act of will than an adjustment to time and circumstance; the granting of dispensations or pardons is a way of meeting cases where the literal interpretation of Human Law would be inequitable, but the ruler’s power is only such as is implied by his guardianship of the common good. Thus, according to Thomas, he may not take private property beyond what public need requires, though strictly speaking property is an institution of Human rather than Natural Law.
Above all, the ruler ship of one man over another must not take away the free moral agency of the subject. No man is bound to obedience in all respects and even the soul of a slave is free (a doctrine which Aristotle would hardly have understood). It is for this reason that the resistance of tyranny is not only a right but a duty.
it is probable that Thomas’s Christian Aristotelian-ism explains the fact that he took so temperate a stand on the controversy between the spiritual and the secular authorities. His position may be described as that of a moderate papalist. He was convinced that there are circumstances In which it is lawful for the church to depose a ruler and absolve his subjects from their allegiance, and as a matter of course he regarded the sacerdotium as a higher kind of authority than the imperium.
But he still felt himself to be within the Gelasian tradition. The fact that the church represented to him the fullest embodiment of the unity of human kind was not thought to imply either-an abridgement of secular power in respect to secular or any serious obscurity in the distinction between the two authorities.
Thomas was little touched by the tendency already apparent in the canon lawyers to transform the church’s admitted spiritual superiority into legal supremacy and he was probably restrained by his Aristotelian-ism from developing the theological arguments used by extreme papalists who were less influenced by Aristotle.
On the other hand, he was of course quite untouched by the Averroist or naturalistic Aristotelian-ism which he was mainly instrumental in defeating and which drew a sharp line between reason and revelation.
This separation, best illustrated by Marsillo of Padua, played a decisive part in producing a purely secular theory of the state. The conception of a Christian society, as it had been transmitted in the Christian tradition, Thomas took to be eternal. Controversies might come and go but they could not make essential changes there.
His philosophy sought to find the reasons for it as it was believed to he, to construct a rational scheme of God, nature, and man within which society and civil authority find their due place. In this sense Thomas’s philosophy expresses most maturely the convictions, moral and religious, upon which medieval civilization was founded.
Dante, The idealized Empire:-
Thomas’s philosophy may be considered as an authoritative statement of the ideal of a Christianized Europe from the point of view of the church. Beside it may be placed for purposes of comparison, though with a slight violation of chronological order, the theory of the universal monarchy set forth by the poet Dante. Dante’s book was, to be sure, a defense of imperial independence against papal control and hence, on the controversial issue, on the opposite side to that taken by Thomas and john of Salisbury. Yet there is substantial agreement in respect to general principles, despite the controversial differences.
All three men conceived Europe as a unified Christian community governed by the two divinely appointed authorities, the sacerdotium and the imperium, which are vested in the two great medieval institutions, the church and the empire. All three look at political and social questions from the point of view of the religious and ethical tradition of the earlier Middle Ages, and Thomas and Dante are still under the control of this tradition, though they had adopted Aristotle as the best technical medium in which to express their ideas. Of the two Dante, though he wrote a half century later, is the more bound by the tradition, since the empire which he defends never existed outside the realms of imagination.
It is true that Dante’s political philosophy was related both to his exile from Florence as a result of factional political quarrels and to the endless dissension between the papal and imperial parties in Italy during his lifetime. In this situation he saw no hope for peace except in the unity of the empire and under the all-embracing authority of the emperor. Neither by birth nor breeding was Dante a partisan of the imperial cause.
His imperialism was purely an idealization of universal peace. His opposition to the papacy was of the sort that, again and again, inspired Italian patriots. He saw that papal policy was a source of never-ending dissension, with France always ready to mediate at the invitation of one faction or the other.
But he was no nationalist in politics, though his writings did so much to create an Italian vernacular. At the very time when a nationalist note was making its appearance in France, in the controversy between the pope and Philip the Fair, Dante looked back to an already obsolete imperial policy which had ruined the Hohenstaufen.
The purpose of his treatise was identical with that of all defenders of the empire since the controversy with the church began in the days of Henry IV and Gregory VII, to show that the emperor’s power is derived directly from God and is therefore independent of the church. The spiritual power of the pope he fully admitted, but like the imperialists generally he clung to the Gelasian theory that the two powers are united only in God and consequently that the emperor has no human superior.
The main line of proof which Dante developed was perhaps first suggested by the renewed study of Roman law, the theory that the medieval empire, being continuous with the Roman Empire, was the heir to the universal authority which had rightfully belonged to Rome. But his way of presenting this argument was theological rather than legal. Like Thomas, he placed his theory of the universal community within a framework of principles derived from Aristotle,
In the first book of his treatise Dante discussed the question whether the temporal monarchy is necessary to the well-being of the world. The temporal monarchy he defined as the government of the whole body of temporal beings. Every association of human beings is formed for the sake of an end, and by a line of argument roughly analogous to that used by Aristotle to prove the superiority of the city state to the family and village, Dante assigned the highest place among communities to the universal empire.
Since the special character of man is reason, the end or function of the race is to realize a rational life, and this is possible only if there is universal peace, which is the best of things for human happiness and a necessary means to the ultimate end of man. Every co-operative enterprise requires direction, and hence every community must have a ruler. In this way Dante proved that the whole race forms one community under a single ruler.
The government of this ruler he compared to the government of God over nature. As the latter is perfect because of its unity, so the former to be perfect must embrace all men under a single authority. That which has the most reality has the greatest unity, and that which has the greatest unity is best.
Moreover, the existence of peace among men is impossible unless there is a highest judge altogether above greed and partiality, who can adjudicate quarrels between kings and princes. Similarly, freedom is impossible unless there is in the world a power raised altogether above tyranny and oppression. The argument combines curiously the traditional idealization of the empire with the new Aristotelian categories of explanation.
Dante approached his conclusion more closely in his second book, which answered the question whether the Roman people were justified in assuming the dignity of empire. The main contention was that God’s will is manifested in history, and that the history of Rome showed the marks of providential guidance in her rise to a position of supreme power. This Dante proved by pointing to the miraculous interventions of providence which protected the Roman state and also to the nobility of the Roman character. The Romans sought empire not from greed but for the sake of the common good of the conquered as well as the conquerors.
Putting aside all greed, which is always contrary to the public interest, and choosing universal peace with liberty, this holy people, pious and renowned, is seen to have neglected its own advantage to care for the public safety of the human race.
Finally, the will of God is manifested in contests and battles. The Roman Empire, in Dante’s conception, was the fifth of the historic attempts at world empire and it alone succeeded. By distancing all other contestants, as well as by actually conquering its rivals, Rome proved that it was destined in the providence of God to rule the world. Dante clinched the argument by deducing the same conclusion from the principles of Christianity itself. Unless the death of Christ were decreed by a lawful authority he would not truly have been punished for the sins of men and would not have redeemed the race, Hence the authority of Pilate, and equally that of Augustus, must have been lawful and right. In these arguments also there is a strange combination of the new and the old-enthusiasm for pagan antiquity defended by the arguments of Christian theology.
The last book was more controversial; it sought to show that imperial authority was derived immediately from God and to refute the arguments of the papalists, who held that it is derived mediately through the pope. Here Dante showed a strong animus against the canon lawyers and the tendency to make papal decretals into foundations of faith. Only the Scriptures, he held, have a supreme authority over the church; next in weight are acts of the principal councils, while the secretarial are merely traditions which it is within the power of the church to change.
Having thus cleared the ground, Dante examined the principal passages of Scripture alleged as authorities for the power of the church over temporal rulers, and the two critical precedents from secular history, the Donation of Constantine and the translation of the empire to Charlemagne.
The former of these he regarded as unlawful, since the emperor had no legal power to alienate the empire, a common view among lawyers long before the historical authenticity of the document was attacked. This argument disposed also of the second alleged precedent, for if the pope could not legally have imperial power he could not bestow it on Charles. Finally, Dante concluded with a general argument to show that the possession of temporal power is in principle contrary to the nature of the church, whose kingdom is not of this world.
Though Thomas and Dante stood thus on opposite sides of the controversy between pope and emperor, they were wholly at one in their fundamental convictions. Nor has the acceptance of Aristotle by the two later thinkers made a profound difference between them and John of Salisbury, who preceded the Aristotelian revival.
For all three the race forms a single community whose existence implies a single head. All agree that the distinguishing mark of human nature is its combination of a spiritual and a physical principle each requiring an appropriate kind of authority.
The government of the world is therefore shared between a spiritual and a temporal power, each having its proper jurisdiction and marked off from the other by a line not too hard to trace. This single world-wide society may be called, with only a difference of emphasis, either a commonwealth or a church.
Whether in church or state, power is justified ultimately as a factor in the moral or religious government of the world, and yet as equally a factor in the life of a self-sufficing human community. Authority is derived at once from God and from the people. The king is at once the head of the legal system and subject to the law.
His power exceeds that of his subjects and yet is less than that of the whole society. His authority is the voice of reason and yet his coercive power is needed to give force to the rules which reason imposes. The controlling social conception is that of an organic community in which the various classes are functioning parts, and of which law forms the organizing principle.
The rightfully controlling force is the well-being of the community itself, which includes the eternal salvation of its members. In this vast system of cosmic morals all men, and indeed all beings, are included. From God at the summit down to the meanest of His creatures all act their part in the divine drama that leads to eternal life.
This supreme synthesis was the first reaction of the new Aristotelian-ism upon the long tradition of Christendom from the age of tie Fathers down to the thirteenth century. In Thomas and Dante the intellectual stimulus of Aristotle has resulted mainly in a firmer systematization of the tradition, which concealed its inherent difficulties rather than removed them.
Scarcely was Thomas’s system complete before the seams of his great structure began to open. The difficulty of applying Aristotle’s conception of a self-sufficing society to the empire was obviously insuperable; this was apparent in Dante and would have been so in Thomas, had the nature of the empire been a major concern with him.
Scarcely less was the difficulty of bringing the church, with its claim of supernatural origin and theocratic authority, into a system so profoundly naturalistic in its implications as Aristotle’s philosophy.
The root of political Aristotelian-ism is the belief that society grows from natural human impulses which, human nature being what it is, are unescapable and that the human community thus formed provides all that a perfected human nature requires.
The well-being of spirit as distinct from body, the destiny of the soul beyond an earthly life, an institution with an other-worldly claim of right, and a truth reverie from sources beyond reason were all out of harmony with the temper of Aristotle’s philosophy and out of place in his conception of society. For the essence of his political theory is the presumption that the state is an outgrowth of the natural evolution of society and is justified by the moral values it sustains, without any explicitly religious sanction.
In Thomas himself this phase of Aristotelian-ism accounted for the extreme moderation with which he treated the right of the church to intervene in secular affairs. The following century produced the works of William of Occam and Marsilio of Padua, not less Aristotelian than Thomas, but vastly farther from the Christian tradition which he tried to rationalize and from the synthesis of philosophy and revealed truth which he tried to frame.
There was as yet no thought of a frontal attack on the church or on revelation. The first sign of decadence was the sharper discrimination of reason and faith, of spiritual and secular, to be followed by a long process of limitation and restriction which ultimately would immure the spiritual power innocuously in the super sensible world and the inner life.