contributor.author: Raymond Cormier

title.none: Nederman, ed., Marsiglio of Padua, Writings on the Empire

identifier.other: baj9928.9409.008 94.09.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Raymond Cormier, Wilson College, PA

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Nederman, Cary J., ed. Marsiglio of Padua: Writings on the Empire. Defensor minor and De translatione Imperii. Series: Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Pp. xxvii + 92. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-40277-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.09.08

Nederman, Cary J., ed. Marsiglio of Padua: Writings on the Empire. Defensor minor and De translatione Imperii. Series: Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Pp. xxvii + 92. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-40277-8.

Reviewed by:

Raymond Cormier
Wilson College, PA

Nederman recently gave us a new translation of John of Salisbury's Policraticus (1990). In the present work he turns to the early fourteenth century author of the Defensor pacis, a text of profound importance in the history of human freedom, however reviled by orthodox churchmen. Marsiglio's patron, Emperor Ludwig IV, spent his reign disputing with the pope about the right to exercise the powers of Holy Roman emperor. As advisor and sometime ambassador for Ludwig, Marsiglio, who once styled himself a "son of Antenor," became an apologist for the Roman Empire and especially for the Emperor's authority, a position he confirmed with the publication of the lengthy treatise Defensor pacis, completed in 1324. This fascinating work was summarized and restated in Defensor minor (1340), which is presented first in this edition, while the text that follows, De translatione Imperii, a historical survey of the origins and development of the Roman Empire, actually dates from an earlier period (mid 1320s).

Nederman provides the first English translation of these two brief political treatises, as well as a substantial introduction on Marsiglio of Padua's life, career, and thought. He describes the intellectual, political, and the personal circumstances surrounding the composition of writings about the Empire, and relates the Defensor minor and the De translatione Imperiiboth to the Defensor pacis and to Marsiglio's thought as a whole.

After a period of studying medicine in Padua, where it seems he fell under the influence of Spiritual Franciscan teachings, Marsiglio served as Rector of the Sorbonne, coming under the sway of leading Parisian Aristotelian scholastics and Averroists. When it became clear he had authored the antipapalist Defensor pacis(1324-26) he had to flee to the court of Ludwig of Bavaria, the controversial emperor who in time lent his protection to several prominent heretics and persecuted figures, and who himself had been recently excommunicated by John XXII (the pope in Avignon).

In Rome, Marsiglio was named spiritual vicar by his patron, and together with an entourage in the Eternal City, where Louis was supposed to be crowned emperor, they were rebuffed by the Romans who chased them out of the city.

As Louis' court physician and as a colleague and erstwhile rival of William of Ockham, Marsiglio went on to write the Defensor minor, a pro- imperial summary of his major opus.

With regard to his earlier De translatione Imperii, at issue is the famous document known as the "Donation of Constantine," a fourth century grant by Constantine I (the first Christian Emperor) of lordship over all imperial lands to the bishop of Rome. As Nederman demonstrates, Marsiglio's polemical position, not altogether original yet far-reaching in its wider implications, argued that a) the exercise of rulership in any secular society can derive only from the community itself, and b) no religious can "rightfully invoke his own authority to transfer political power" from one individual to another "or the seat of the Empire from one place to another" (p. xii). Thus, "the source of imperial authority is not the papacy but and earthly historical process outside of papal control" (p. xiii).

In his Defensor minor, Marsiglio "contends that the Roman Empire, just like any other earthly polity, has an independent foundation stemming from the consent of its corporate community (or 'human legislator')" (p. xix). Thus it is a general council or democratic assembly of priests and laymen, which becomes the authority, "original, supreme and final" (p. xxi) in all matters of scriptural interpretation, ex-communication, benefices (both bestowal and revocation), and appointment to officesmdash;including that of the election of popes. Papal coercion or interference must never override the "civic body," composed of citizens reasonable and rational enough themselves to determine "whether laws or rulers serve the common good" (p. xxii).

Among other surprisingly modern ideas put forth by Marsiglio are that simple contrition and true repentance of the commission supersedes auricular confession to a priest; indulgences granted for pilgrimages must not be sold (for such journeys may not always be meritorious!); and that "human laws do not contradict divine laws. For divine law commands obedience to human rulers and laws which are not contrary to divine law..." (p. 23). Marsiglio appeals to the authority of Luke and Paul's Gospels, to St. Bernard, to Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom, when he asserts that the Church has no "power to coerce anyone with regard to spiritual affairs, much less temporal affairs" (p. 49).

De translatione Imperiideals ostensibly with the transfer of the seat of imperial Rome, from Rome to Greece (sic, p. 66), thence to the Gauls or Franks, and from the Franks to the Germans. The argument illustrates in detail how emperors inherited and managed the Empire with little heed for the pope's authority.

Nederman's circumspect translation, with its succinct bibliography, will doubtless become the basic text in the field, given the length of the Defensor pacis (500 pages).

Some time ago, R.W. Southern when discussing St. Bernard and Chretien de Troyes, noted perceptively the short and significant distance between the two, Troyes and Clairvaux. A similar observation may be adduced for Padua and Bresciamdash;a mere eighty miles apart. The point of such a remark is that Marsiglio's spiritual and political forefather might be Arnold of Brescia.

During the 1140s in Rome, a populist and grandiose political coup declared a Roman republic, attempted to relieve the papacy of its secular arm (by barring the pope and cardinals from the city), and embraced a renewal of both the old Roman ideology (the senatus Romanirestored) and of primitive Christian, apostolic values. The rebels also maintained that only a narrow, intimate view of ancient artifacts could permit the close contact necessary to evoke the grandeur of Antiquity. Their views on the rejection of the Church's temporal power attracted Arnold, Abelard's celebrated and controversial student, who became their spokesman, though he was excommunicated in 1148. Expulsed from the city by Adrian IV in 1154, Arnold fled to Tuscany but was captured and returned to Rome. A year later, he was tried, condemned, hanged, and his body burned, with the ashes spread over the Tiber to prevent their veneration by the people of the city. Arnold's followers fell into heresy in that they preached both clerical poverty and unworldliness, as well denying the efficacy of sacraments administered by clerics holding worldly possessions.

Other anti-clerical heresies of the period include a claim that priests in a state of sin administer invalid sacraments, and that a church building is not necessary to worship the Lord. It seems to me that the whole thrust of this thinking leads to a heretical yet republican position, namely that the individual's right to life and liberty are inalienablemdash;whether it be the Church or the State which is trying to coerce us. Though he could not speak or write in this way, I have a hunch Marsiglio of Padua would have agreed nevertheless.