Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

18. THE MEDIEVAL STATE AND THE THEORY OF GOVERNMENT

Extract from Marsilius of Padua, Defensor Pacis, 1324.

Now we declare according to the truth and on the authority of Aristotle that the law-making power or the first and real effective source of law is the people or the body of citizens or the prevailing part of the people according to its election or its will expressed in general convention by vote, commanding or deciding that something be done or omitted in regard to human civil acts under penalty or temporal punishment; by the prevailing part of the people I mean that part of the community by whom the law is made, whether the whole body of citizens or the main part do this or commit it to some person or persons to be done; these last are not nor can be the real law-making power, but can only act according to instructions as to subject-matter and time, and by the authority of the primal law-making power.

On the authority of Aristotle by a citizen I mean him who has a part in the civil community, either in the government, or the council, or the judiciary, according to his position. By this definition boys, slaves, foreigners, and women are excluded, though according to different limitations. Having thus defined citizen and the prevailing section of the citizens, let us return to the object proposed, namely to demonstrate that the human authority of making laws belongs only to the whole body of citizens as the prevailing part of it…

For the primal human authority of making laws belongs to that body by whom the best laws can be made. This, however, is the whole body of citizens or its better part which represents the whole. I now prove the second proposition, namely that the best law will result from the deliberation and decision of the whole body… That this can be done best by the citizens as a whole or the better part of them, I demonstrate thus, since the truth of anything will be judged more accurately, and its common advantage be studied more diligently, if the whole body of citizens discuss it with intelligence and feeling… So the reality of a general law will be best attended to by the whole people, because no one consciously injures himself.

On the other side we desire to adduce in witness the truths of the holy Scripture, teaching and counselling expressly, both in the literal sense and in the mystical according to the interpretation of the saints and the exposition of other authorized teachers of the Christian faith, that neither the Roman bishop, called the pope, nor any other bishop, presbyter, or deacon, ought to have the ruling or judgment or coercive jurisdiction of any priest, prince, community, society or single person of any rank whatsoever… For the present purposes, it suffices to show, and I will first show, that Christ Himself did not come into the world to rule men, or to judge them by civil judgment, nor to govern in a temporal sense, but rather to subject Himself to the state and condition of this world; that indeed from such judgment and rule He wished to exclude and did exclude Himself and His apostles and disciples, and that He excluded their successors, the bishops and presbyters, by His example, and word and counsel and command from all governing and worldly, that is, coercive rule. I will also show that the apostles were true imitators of Christ in this, and that they taught their successors to be so. I will further demonstrate that Christ and His apostles desired to be subject and were subject continually to the coercive jurisdiction of the princes of the world in reality and in person, and that they taught and commanded all others to whom they gave the law of truth by word or letter, to do the same thing, under penalty of eternal condemnation. Then I will give a section to considering the power or authority of the keys, given by Christ to the apostles and to their successors in offices, the bishops and presbyters, in order that we may see the real character of that power, both of the Roman bishop and of the others…

We wish, therefore, first to demonstrate that Christ wished to exclude and did exclude both Himself and His apostles from the office of ruler. This appears in John, 18. For when Christ was accused before Pontius Pilate, vicar of the Roman emperor in Judea, for saying that he was king of the Jews, and Pilate asked Him if He had said that, or if He had called Himself a king, He replied to the question of Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world”; that is, I am come not to reign by temporal rule and dominion, as the kings of the world reign. It remains to show that Christ not only refused the rule of this world and coercive jurisdiction on earth, whereby He gave an example for action to His apostles and disciples and their successors, but that He also taught by word and showed by example that all, whether priests or not, should be subject in reality and in person to the coercive judgment of the princes of this world. By His word and example Christ demonstrated this first in physical things, in the incident contained in Matthew 22, when to the Jews asking Him: “Tell us, therefore, what thinkest Thou; is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not?” looking at the penny and its superscription, he replied: “Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.”

Source:

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/marsiglio4.html

Taken from Oliver J. Thatcher (ed.), The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee, 1907), vol. 5, pp. 423-30.