John C. Moore

title.none: Dyson, ed. and trans., Giles of Rome's On Ecclesiastical Power (John C. Moore)

identifier.other: baj9928.0602.011 06.02.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John C. Moore, Emiritus, Hofstra University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Dyson, R.W., ed. and trans. Giles of Rome's On Ecclesiastical Power: A Medieval Theory of World Government: A Critical Edition and Translation. Series: The Records of Western Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Pp. xxxiv, 406. 72.50 0-231-12802-9. ISBN: 32.50 0-231-12803-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.02.11

Dyson, R.W., ed. and trans. Giles of Rome's On Ecclesiastical Power: A Medieval Theory of World Government: A Critical Edition and Translation. Series: The Records of Western Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Pp. xxxiv, 406. 72.50 0-231-12802-9. ISBN: 32.50 0-231-12803-7.

Reviewed by:

John C. Moore
Emiritus, Hofstra University

Around 1300, the conflict between the pope and the king of France produced a number of polemical works, among them Giles of Rome's De ecclesiastica potestate, the longest, the most thorough, and the most extreme tract ever written in defense of papal absolutism. According to Giles, all authority and even all private property are held at the pleasure of the pope, and there can be no legitimate authority or possession of property among non-believers.

Known also as Aegidius or Egidius, and surnamed Romanus or Colonna (though probably not of the famous Roman Colonna family), Giles lived from ca. 1247 to 1316. He was a professor at Paris and a high official of the Augustinian Order of Hermits, and he completed his career as archbishop of Bourges (from 1294). He was a highly learned and prolific writer who could write a treatise on the duties of princes (De regimine principum) without a single reference to ecclesiastical authority and then, twenty years later, write his defense of papal absolutism.

Like Giles, R. W. Dyson is a learned and prolific scholar. In recent years, he has published a remarkable number of studies and translations of works on political thought, from St. Augustine to Marsilius of Padua. The volume under review is his second presentation of De ecclesiastica potestate, having published an earlier translation in 1986. In this volume, he has revised the translation but also presented a critical edition of the Latin text, an unusual and welcome feature for Columbia's Records of Western Civilization series, of which it is a part.

In preparing the edition, Dyson has made use of five fourteenth- century manuscripts, which he suspects had a common parent. Not having access to the manuscripts, I cannot offer informed commentary on the edition, but Dyson's introductory commentary and his abundant footnotes offering variant readings all inspire confidence.

Otherwise, I have a few reservations about this very fine book. The bibliography and index are skimpy. The former omits many works cited in the footnotes and the latter is incomplete in its references, not doing justice to Giles' erudition. For example, Bede and John Chrysostom are omitted altogether, and there are references in the text to Peter Lombard (and others) that are not listed in the index. One of the best examples of Giles' use of Aristotelean physics to buttress his argument (335-7) is not indicated in the index.

The subtitle of the work may be a bit misleading. Although Giles claimed universal authority for the pope and declared all non- Christian rulers to be usurpers, he had little to say about how the world might actually be governed.

I have a few disagreements with the translation. Dyson translates the opening phrases of Nam archidiaconi, legati et electi, eciam antequam fiant sacerdotes, excommunicant vel excommunicare possunt, quia, etsi non habent claves sacerdotalis ordinis, habent claves iurisdiccionis as "For those who are appointed and elected as archdeacons excommunicate, or can excommunicate ..." (208-209). I think the correct translation would be "For archdeacons, legates, and elect [i.e., popes or bishops elect] excommunicate, or can excommunicate ..." On pp. 196 ff., he translates communicacio sometimes as "communion," sometimes as "communication," whereas I think that in the context the latter would nearly always be preferable. Throughout, he translates the dominium of the pope as "lordship." "Dominion" might have better conveyed Giles' meaning, his claim for the pope of unlimited authority and ownership of all property. "Lordship" can too easily call to mind the authority of a petty landlord.

Dyson's translation of sollicitudo and its variants as "anxiety" seems to me to be ill-advised (67 ff.). For example, one sentence reads, "just as the clergy must be anxious on behalf of the laity in those things which are of God, so must the laity be anxious on the clergy's behalf for earthly and temporal goods ..." (69). I think "solicitous" would have been better. Sollicitudo appears frequently in the Vulgate, sometimes as a translation for the Greek word merimna, which means "anxiety," but more frequently it appears as the translation of spoude, better translated (following the NRSV) as "earnest care" or "earnestness." The Douai- Rheims Bible commonly translated sollicitudo as "carefulness." Moreover sollicitudo appears frequently in the Liber Extra with the meaning of "care." Giles, a learned scholar writing on papal authority, was surely aware of that usage, and he surely knew that Innocent III frequently noted that although the popes had the plenitude of power, the bishops "were called to a share of the solicitude," in partem sollicitudinis. Innocent surely did not mean "share in the anxiety." ("Care" would have been an acceptable translation of sollicitudo, but it won't do because at least once Giles pairs the words: curam et sollicitudinem" [68]).

All this having been said, Dyson has produced an excellent translation. He makes Giles' treatise as readable as one could hope, sometimes inserting bracketed passages to clarify Giles' meaning, sometimes acknowledging that the Latin is too obscure to make any translation certain. It should also be said that Giles is usually quite clear, at least in the first two of the three parts of the treatise. His Latin and this edition can provide good practice for the beginning Latin student: the word order is more like that of modern Romance languages than classical Latin, the vocabulary is limited and repetitive, and for difficult passages, the translation is at hand on the facing page. Moreover the content, while belaboring the main thesis, is full of curious examples and analogies, touching on such topics as swimming lessons, the relationship between a blacksmith and his hammer, and the role of the sun in the generation of horses.

The volume's usefulness for students is further enhanced by Dyson's lucid and concise introduction. The conflict between Boniface VIII and Philip the Fair is clearly set forth. Dyson provides a succinct statement of Giles' basic thesis regarding the material sword's absolute subordination to the spiritual sword, as well as the argument's philosophical underpinnings: "Everything in the world is properly subject to something higher than itself ..." (21). He also explains the elaborate devices Giles uses to explain away papal decretals that seemed to affirm the autonomy of secular authority.

In the course of developing his thesis, Giles claims that he repeats arguments only "to infer a new conclusion or to explain a chain of reasoning more sufficiently," and that he thereby avoids "useless repetition of one and the same argument." But this assertion, made ad excusacionem nostram (191), is not convincing. In fact, the work does become painfully repetitious as it progresses. Still, Giles is very systematic in laying out his thesis. Each of the three parts of the work is preceded by a list of chapters stating the purpose of each chapter, thereby providing a more complete table of contents than that at the beginning of the book. The work is a good example of a systematic scholastic mind at work.

Throughout, Giles takes up possible objections to his theory of papal absolutism. For example, he goes on at great length about the question of why there are not three swords instead of two: the spiritual for the soul, material for the body, and a third for external objects. More to the point, he asks: if the church and therefore the pope has absolute authority over all persons and property, why is there a material sword, a secular authority, at all? If the priestly power is "general and extended," what need is there for a secular power that is "particular and limited" (215)? He responds that having to deal routinely with secular matters would be an inefficient use of sacerdotal authority and beneath its dignity. He also says that just as God "distributes their powers to all things and impedes none in its activity" (except in special circumstances requiring miraculous intervention), so also does the pope leave secular matters to secular authorities, except in special circumstances. Therefore the decretals of Alexander III and Innocent III that seem to limit papal authority merely affirm that the pope "should, unless some spiritual consideration be present, permit the earthly powers ... to pursue their own courses and to execute their own judgments" (297-9). The following pages are given largely to a lengthy and abstract discussion of when papal authority should intervene.

In the final four chapters, Giles sets out to define the papal "plenitude of power." The only theoretical limit he recognizes is that the pope does not have any power that God reserved for himself rather than granting it to the church. Giles also urges the pope not to interfere needlessly with the ordinary operation of common laws, just as God does not interfere needlessly with the ordinary operation of physical laws. It still remains, though, that "the Supreme Pontiff, because he has all the power which is in the Church, is [rightly] said to have received the whole of ecclesiastical power without measure" (397).

R. W. Dyson has provided a very valuable work for those interested in the political thought of the Middle Ages or in the intellectual equipment at the disposal of a well-educated scholar of the late thirteenth century. It gives a wide readership access to an important statement of papal absolutism, and to all appearances it provides a reliable Latin text for the scholar. It also makes for more engaging reading than one might expect. As Dyson says, "It is impossible not to be struck by the determination and ingenuity with which Giles carries well-worn arguments to the limits of their logical possibility" (p. xx).