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Defensor pacis

The Defensor pacis, by Marsilius of Padua and John of Jandun[?] is, as its name implies, a work intended to restore peace, as the most indispensable benefit of human society. The author of the law is the people, I.e. the whole body, or at least the most important part (valentior) of the citizens; the people should themselves elect, or at least appoint, the head of the government, who, lest he should be tempted to put himself above the scope of the laws, should have at his disposal only a limited armed force. This chief is responsible to the people for his breaches of the law, and in serious cases they can condemn him to death. The real cause of the trouble which prevails among men is the papacy, a “fictitious” power, the development of which is the result of a series of usurpations.

Marsilius denies, not only to the pope, but to the bishops and clergy, any coercive jurisdiction or any right to pronounce on their own authority excommunications and interdicts[?], or in any way to impose the observation of the divine law. He is not opposed to penalties against heretics, but he would have them pronounced only by civil tribunals. Desiring to see the clergy practise a holy poverty, he proposes the suppression of tithes and the seizure by the secular power of the greater part of the property of the church. The clergy, thus deprived of its wealth, privileges and jurisdiction, is further to be deprived of independence, for the civil power is to have the right of appointing to benefices, etc.. The supreme authority in the church is to be the council, but a council summoned by the emperor.

The pope, no longer possessing any more power than other bishops (though Marsilius recognizes that the supremacy of the Church of Rome goes back to the earliest times of Christianity), is to content himself with a pre-eminence mainly of an honorary kind, without claiming to interpret the Holy Scriptures, define dogmas or distribute benefices; moreover, he is to be elected by the Christian people, or by the delegates of the people, i.e. the princes, or by the council, and these are also to have the power to punish, suspend or depose him. The theory was purely democratic, but was all ready to be transformed, by means of a series of fictions and implications, into an imperialist doctrine; and in like manner it contained a visionary plan of reformation which ended, not in the separation of the church from the state, but in the subjection of the church to the state.

The origins of the work lie in the politics of the early Fourteenth century, and in particular the struggle between Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Pope John XXII.

External links


  • Community and Consent: The Secular Political Theory of Marsiglio Padua's "Defensor Pacis" by Cary J. Nederman ISBN 0847679438

Text mostly from Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

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