Chris Jones

title.none: Moreno-Riano, ed., World of Marsilius of Padua (Chris Jones)

identifier.other: baj9928.0801.014 08.01.14

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Chris Jones, University of Canterbury,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Moreno-Riano, Gerson, ed. The World of Marsilius of Padua. Disputatio, vol. 5. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006. Pp. xi, 279. $75.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 2-503-51515-0, ISBN-13: 978-2-503-51515-1 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.01.14

Moreno-Riano, Gerson, ed. The World of Marsilius of Padua. Disputatio, vol. 5. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006. Pp. xi, 279. $75.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 2-503-51515-0, ISBN-13: 978-2-503-51515-1 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Chris Jones
University of Canterbury

Marsilius of Padua remains one of the more enigmatic figures of the fourteenth century. His career embraced the University of Paris, the courts of several Italian despots and the ill-fated Romzug of the would-be emperor Ludwig of Bavaria. Labelled a son of the devil by Pope John XXII, he would eventually end his days at Ludwig's court in Munich. In the course of his travels, the Paduan embraced the role of Aristotelian commentator, rector of the University of Paris, physician, publicist, and Ludwig's representative in Rome. Marsilius's eventful life has, however, always been somewhat overshadowed by his written legacy and, in particular, by one specific work, the Defensor pacis, his lengthy refutation of the right of the papacy and the Church more generally to exercise secular power. Recent years have seen the publication of a major new translation of this latter into English by Annabel Brett (Marsilius of Padua: The Defender of the Peace [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005]). Given the appearance of Brett's work and the relative neglect of Marsilius's life in favour of his ideas, it is more than appropriate that a volume exploring the current state of scholarship connected with both should have been produced at this time.

The World of Marsilius of Padua is largely the fruit of the 2003 Marsilius of Padua World Congress. It has, as Gerson Moreno- Riano, the editor of this volume, explains (2), been nearly a quarter of a century since any similar attempt was made to draw together the "latest research and new interpretations" relating to the Italian polymath. This new collection, which contains thirteen essays in addition to the editor's introduction, is divided loosely into four sections, although, as Moreno-Riano notes, there is a considerable degree of overlap between them (4).

The first section,"State of Scholarship," consists of a single essay, Cary J. Nederman's overview of recent trends in Marsilian scholarship and the potential directions future research might take. Nederman subdivides this survey into four parts. In the first of these, "Historical Context," he makes several noteworthy points, including the fact that there remain questions surrounding the events of Marsilius's life, that a number of the Paduan's less famous treatises remain unedited and that his access to the work of Arab philosophers has almost certainly been underestimated. In "Secular Doctrines," Nederman examines the debate that still rages concerning Marsilius's intentions in composing Discourse I of the Defensor pacis, while highlighting in his third subdivision, Ecclesiopolitical Theories, that little progress has been made in the last quarter of a century in exploring the most substantial part of Marsilius's magnum opus, the second discourse. The final part of this essay, "Historical Significance," makes clear that recent years have continued to witness Marsilius's ideas explored in relation to the political thought of others, both his contemporaries and later theorists. In addition to underlining the relative neglect of Discourses II and III of the Defensor pacis, Nederman's conclusion makes the important point that if Marsilius's intellectual development is to be understood more clearly and the full range of his sources properly appreciated, there is a need to understand the Paduan's education as both a physician and as a master of the University of Paris. Taken as a whole, the essays in this volume suggest that, to date, the former has aroused the curiosity of historians and political theorists rather more than the latter, and both undoubtedly remain underexplored topics.

The second section of this volume, "Historical Background," contains three essays of varied quality exploring aspects of a much neglected subject: Marsilius's historical context. The section opens with Frank Godthardt's study of the Paduan's participation in Ludwig of Bavaria's Romzug. This is an interesting piece which convincingly disproves the oft-stated claim that Marsilius acted as the Bavarian's "spiritual" vicar in Rome. Godthardt also provides a plausible explanation for one particular chronicler's apparently anomalous description of the Paduan physician as the archbishop of Milan. The most notable aspect of this article, however, is Godthardt's decision to challenge the long-standing assumption that Marsilius was forced to flee Paris upon completion of the Defensor pacis. Less satisfying is Godthardt's decision to follow a traditional tendency to dismiss the third continuator of the French chronicler Guillaume de Nangis as simply "confused" because he provides two accounts of the departure from Paris of Marsilius and his companion, John of Jandun (36). Although it is not the primary focus of this article, it is worth noting that the decade of Marsilius's life before his departure from Paris has tended to have been largely ignored and it is, perhaps, worth reconsidering where Marsilius was and what he was doing in the period between his election as rector of the University of Paris in the last years of the French king Philippe IV's reign and his departure for Ludwig of Bavaria's court in the mid-1320s. Letters to Marsilius from Albertino Mussato, not mentioned by Godthardt, in combination with papal evidence from 1319, suggest that Guillaume de Nangis's third continuator may not have been wholly mistaken in suggesting Marsilius departed Paris more than once. While there is still considerable room for further exploration, Godthardt is undoubtedly correct in his assertion that "Marsilius's life is a significant topic in its own right" (30) and succeeds in raising important questions about the received "facts" of the Paduan's career.

In the second essay in this section Thomas Turley reflects upon a topic as neglected as Marsilius's life, his reception by papal apologists in the late 1320s. This is a fascinating study which overturns the long-standing assumption that William of Cremona's work was typical of responses to the Defensor pacis. Turley argues that while William, a one time pupil of Giles of Rome, was unwilling to engage Marsilius on his own terms, at least some pro-papal writers were. He suggests, convincingly, that writers such as Guido Terreni and Sibert of Beek had been prepared amply for Marsilius's approach to the use of sources by the recent controversies with the Franciscans. One of Turley's key conclusions, undoubtedly correct, is that "[t]he Defensor, and the papalist replies, can be seen as part of a larger discussion that extended through the first decades of the fourteenth century" (63). Much less rewarding is the article by Gabrielle Gonzales that closes this section of the book. The focus of this latter, for the most part, is the Franciscan debate over poverty. The great majority of what is included here is well-trodden ground and could have been summarised with a few short references to Malcolm Lambert's Franciscan Poverty. The Doctrine of the Absolute Poverty of Christ and the Apostles in the Franciscan Order 1210-1323, rev. ed. (St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute, 1998). The 1961 edition of Lambert's work is referred to but only once and then only in passing (83, n. 47). Gonzales' belief that Marsilius had a profound impact on the course of the Franciscan dispute with Pope John XXII (66) is an interesting idea but it is never explored in any depth. In particular, the author fails to produce any evidence for the reception of Marsilius's work by the Friars Minor. Gonzales' attempts to argue that Marsilius was heavily influenced by earlier Franciscans such as Peter Olivi, Ubertino da Casale and Angelo Clareno is thought- provoking, but poorly argued without reference to Peter, Ubertino or Angelo's works. Marsilius's relationship with the Franciscans is undoubtedly an interesting topic; sadly this article does not advance our understanding of it.

The second section of this volume, "Methods and Sources," contains five essays covering a diverse range of topics. It opens with Annabel Brett's reflections on the process of translating the Defensor pacis into English. This lively and interesting discussion indicates the problems inherent in both "literal" and "free" translations of a text. It also highlights the fact that the translator, however unwilling, is forced, particularly with a text like the Defensor pacis, in which the author's intentions are the subject of so much controversy, to adopt the role of interpreter. The second half of the paper focuses upon Marsilius's unique use of language. This is a stimulating study which underlines the pitfalls inherent in the process of translating medieval texts. It will, undoubtedly, be of particular use to advanced students contemplating the limits of translations and pondering the "right" way of reading the original.

Three of the four essays that follow Brett's focus on Marsilius's unique interpretation of certain concepts. The first of these, by Floriano Jonas Cesar, explores the Paduan's conception of truth, specifically, the way in which this enabled Marsilius to differentiate between texts that can be accepted as indisputably true and all the rest, where the potential exists for error. The key to this argument is the question of where Marsilius drew the line between divine inspiration and human reasoning. While there can be immediate certainty in texts inspired by the former, there can also, Marsilius suggests, be a gradual process of discovery that leads towards certainty, at least with regard to temporal matters. One of several interesting points in this essay is the author's view that Marsilius's unique exegesis reflected his medical training (116-19). In the following article Holly Hamilton-Bleakley turns to the question of Marsilius's understanding of natural law, a concept which in the past it has been suggested is absent from the Paduan's thought. Hamilton- Bleakley proposes that Marsilius does possess a conception akin to a theory of natural law subsumed within his understanding of positive law and raises wider questions about the medieval understanding of natural law. In the third essay, Michael J. Sweeney turns to Marsilius's conception of grace. Grace, as it was traditionally understood, Sweeney suggests, presented Marsilius with a serious problem: "Christianity is a singular threat to temporal peace because it introduces a notion of grace that establishes a law in addition to civil law" (156). This threatened to undermine the Paduan's argument in favour of sole power in this world being invested in human law. Sweeney suggests that Marsilius developed a conception of grace that effectively "depoliticised" it by confining its role to the expectation of reward after Judgement Day, rather than as something which impacted directly upon the contemporary world: "Political peace is impossible if grace is not, so to speak, 'futurized'" (156). Sweeney's interpretation is broadly convincing, although, as he himself makes clear, this presented Marsilius with a further problem when it came to the nature of the priesthood: the Paduan seems to have accepted that in the case of the process which transformed a layman into a priest grace did indeed have immediate consequences in this world.

"Methods and Sources" closes with an essay by Alexander Aichele on the impact of Marsilius's training as a physician on his thought. As the author notes, Marsilius's work is not littered with references to medical authors and, therefore, the extent to which his medical training influenced his political theories must remain the subject of speculation. While Aichele might have chosen to explore Marsilius's use of a body-state analogy within a wider medieval context, rather than primarily in relation to Aristotle's usage, this is, nevertheless a stimulating article that opens the door to further research in this undoubtedly fruitful area.

The fourth and final section of this volume, "Theoretical Premises," contains four essays. Bettina Koch further develops the long tradition of examining Marsilius's ideas in relation to those of other thinkers by comparing the Paduan's understanding of ecclesiastical--and particularly papal--power with that of Thomas Hobbes. Koch convincingly argues that Marsilius's theories are rather more secular than those of Hobbes: where the latter tended to arrogate papal power to the king, the former denies the very existence of such power. This thought-provoking study supports the author's general conclusion that there is "at least a greater continuity between late medieval and early modern political discourses" (209) than is often accepted. This is followed by Joseph Canning's essay which expands and develops his argument that Marsilius's key concerns lay in "[t]he correct location of ruling power and its legitimate exercise" (211), rather than, as Nederman has argued, consent. Canning, in common with several authors in this volume, highlights the distinctive quality Marsilius's use of biological language lent to his thought.

The last essays in this collection are, perhaps, two of the most notable. Vasileios Syros is the only writer to touch upon Marsilius's relationship with the University of Paris by exploring his thought alongside that of several of the University's commentators on Aristotle, including Peter of Auvergne, Nicolas de Vaudemont and the Paduan's companion in exile, John of Jandun. Syros suggests that Marsilius's understanding of the sovereignty of the multitude differed significantly from that of his fellow commentators. This is an interesting article, although Syros might have explained why he settled on these particular commentators to make his comparisons: John is perhaps an obvious choice and Peter's commentaries on the Politics appear to have been influential in the Paris Arts Faculty in the early 1300s. The relevance of Nicolas's outlook, however, is never clearly explained. Although Syros is to be praised for his exploration of a much neglected area of Marsilius's thought, there is much more that might be said about the Paduan's relationship with the Arts Faculty of the university, in particular, and its impact on his ideas.

In the volume's concluding essay, the editor, Moreno-Riano, presents us with a new interpretation that seeks to establish a via media between the arguments of Canning and Nederman, that Marsilius's work is underpinned by key political doctrines such as power and consent, on the one hand, and those of Conal Condren, on the other, that the work is wholly pragmatic and deliberately ambiguous in order to enhance its appeal to a varied audience. Moreno-Riano's "decentralization" theory focuses on the primacy of Marsilius's efforts to destroy papal claims. He suggests that the Paduan regarded "all his themes as equally important and related but emphasizes them at different times, for different reasons, and in different ways" (250) creating a "multipronged defence" (251). In other words Marsilius has a polemical purpose, but it is grounded in a solid theoretical basis.

The World of Marsilius of Padua is a well-presented, generally well-chosen collection of essays. Its editor claims its content as "the opening salvo of future academic discussion and scholarship" (3). It certainly demonstrates that there is much left to say about one of Padua's most famous sons and his works. This volume opens a number of doors to potential future scholarship on the Paduan, most notably those connected with the influence of his medical background and his Parisian career. While some of these doors may turn out to open on to corridors that lead nowhere in particular it is to be hoped that the appearance of this volume will stimulate scholars to begin to explore further the possibilities Marsilius presents.