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Marsilius of Padua (Italian Marsilio or Marsiglio da Padova; c. 1275 – c. 1342) was an Italian scholar who was deeply involved in the politics of his time. In fact his political treatise Defensor pacis is seen by some as the most revolutionary political treatise written in the later Middle Ages.

Born at Padua, Marsilius began studying medicine in Italy. He practiced various professions including that of a soldier, and went to the University of Paris in 1311. The reputation which he had gained in the physical sciences soon caused him to be raised to the position of rector of the university (for the first term of the year 1313).

While still practicing medicine he composed the text Defensor pacis (1324), one of the most important political and religious works of fourteenth-century Europe. A violent struggle had just broken out between Pope John XXII and Louis of Bavaria (or Ludwig of Bavaria), the candidate for Holy Roman Emperor at that time. Louis, on being excommunicated and called upon to give up the empire, replied to the pope’s threats with fresh provocations.

Marsilius and John of Jandun, though they had both reason to be grateful for the benefits of John XXII, chose this moment to depart France for the German court.

Marsilius - writing alone, not with John, as once thought - set out to demonstrate, by arguments from reason (in Dictio I of the text) and from authority (in Dictio II) the independence of the Empire from the Papacy, and the emptiness of the prerogatives alleged to have been usurped by the sovereign pontiffs. This demonstration could have been regarded as heretical.

Louis IV admitted Marsilius and John to his circle and loaded them with favours, while John XXII excommunicated Louis IV on 3 April 1327. Having become one of the chief inspirers of the imperial policy, Marsilius accompanied Louis IV to Italy, where he preached or circulated written attacks against the pope, especially at Milan, and where he came within the sight of the realization of his wildest dreams.

He got to see a "King of the Romans" crowned Emperor at Rome, not by the pope, but by those who claimed to be the delegates of the people (17 January 1328), to see John XXII deposed by the head of the Empire (18 April), and a mendicant friar, Pietro de Corbara, raised by an imperial decree to the papacy (as Antipope Nicholas V) after a "popular" election (12 May); all this seemed an application of principles laid down in the Defensor pacis.

Marsilius, appointed imperial vicar, persecuted the clergy who had remained faithful to John XXII. In recompense for his services, he seems to have been appointed archbishop of Milan (although still a layman[1]), while John of Jandun obtained from Louis IV the bishopric of Ferrara.

Marsilius also composed a treatise De translatione [Romani] imperii , which is merely a rearrangement of a work by Landolfo Colonna, De jurisdictione imperatoris in causa matrimoniali, intended to prove the exclusive jurisdiction of the emperor in matrimonial affairs, or rather, to justify the intervention of Louis of Bavaria, who, in the interests of his policy, had just annulled the marriage of the son of the King of Bohemia and the Countess of Tyrol.

But, above all in the Defensor minor, Marsilius completed and elaborated on different points in the doctrine laid down in the Defensor pacis. He dealt here with problems concerning ecclesiastical jurisdiction, penances, indulgences, crusades and pilgrimages, vows, excommunication, the general church council, marriage and divorce, and unity with the Greek Orthodox Church. In this work he even more clearly leads up to a proclamation of imperial supremacy over the Church.

References

2. Lee, Hwa-Yong, Political Representation in the Later Middle Ages: Marsilius in Context (New York etc., Lang, 2008), XII, 218 pp.

Further reading

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MARSILIUS OF PADUA [MARSIGLIO MAINARDINO] (1270-1342), Italian medieval scholar, was born at Padua, and at first studied medicine in his own country. After practising various professions, among others that of a soldier, he went to Paris about 1311. The reputation which he had gained in the physical sciences soon caused him to be raised to the position of rector of the university (for the first term of the year 1313). While still practising medicine he entered into relations with another master of Paris, the philosopher John of Jandun, who collaborated with him in the composition of the famous Defensor pacis (1324), one of the most extraordinary political and religious works which appeared during the 14th century. A violent struggle had just broken out between pope John XXII. and Louis of Bavaria, king of the Romans, and the latter, on being excommunicated and called upon to give up the empire, only replied to the pope's threats with fresh provocations. Marsilius of Padua and John of Jandun, though they had both reason to be grateful for the benefits of John XXII., chose this moment to demonstrate, by plausible arguments, the supremacy of the Empire, its independence of the Holy See, and the emptiness of the prerogatives "usurped" by the sovereign pontiffs - a demonstration naturally calculated to give them a claim on the gratitude of the German sovereign.

The Defensor pacis, as its name implies, is 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, &c. 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. Such is this famous work, full of obscurities, redundancies and contradictions, in which the thread of the argument is sometimes lost in a labyrinth of reasonings and citations, both sacred and profane, but which nevertheless expresses, both in religion and politics, such audacious and novel ideas that it has been possible to trace in it, as it were, a rough sketch of the doctrines developed during the periods of the Reformation and of the French Revolution. 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. To overthrow the ecclesiastical hierarchy, to deprive the clergy of all their privileges, to reduce the pope to the rank of a kind of president of a Christian republic, which governs itself, or rather submits to the government of Caesar - such is the dream formed in 1324 by two masters of the university of Paris.

When in 1326 Louis of Bavaria saw the arrival in Nuremberg of the two authors of the book dedicated to him, startled by the boldness of their political and religious theories, he was at first inclined to treat them as heretics. He soon changed his mind, however, and, admitting them to the circle of his intimates, loaded them with favours. Having become one of the chief inspirers of the imperial policy, Marsilius accompanied Louis of Bavaria to Italy, where he preached or circulated written attacks against the pope, especially at Milan, and where he came within the sight of the realization of his wildest utopias. To see a king of the Romans crowned emperor at Rome, not by the pope, but by those who claimed to be the delegates of the people (Jan. 17, 1328), to see John XXII. deposed by the head of the Empire (April 18), and a mendicant friar, Pietro de Corbara, raised by an imperial decree to the throne of St Peter (as Nicholas V.) after a sham of a popular election (May 12), all this was merely the application of principles laid down in the Defensor pacis. The two authors of this book played a most active part in the Roman Revolution. Marsilius, appointed imperial vicar, abused his power to persecute the clergy who had remained faithful to John XXII. In recompense for his services, he seems to have been appointed archbishop of Milan, while his collaborator, John of Jandun, obtained from Louis of Bavaria the bishopric of Ferrara.

Marsilius of Padua also composed a treatise De translations imperii romani, which is merely a rearrangement of a work of Landolfo Colonna, De jurisdictione imperatoris in causa matrimoniali, intended to prove the exclusive jurisdiction of the emperor in matrimonial affairs, or rather, to justify the intervention of Louis of Bavaria, who, in the interests of his policy, had just annulled the marriage of the son of the king of Bohemia and the countess of Tirol. But, above all, in an unpublished work preserved at Oxford, the Defensor minor, Marsilius completed and elaborated in a curious manner certain points in the doctrine laid down in the Defensor pacis. In it he deals with ecclesiastical jurisdiction, penances, indulgences, crusades and pilgrimages, vows, excommunication, the pope and the council, marriage and divorce. Here his democratic theory still more clearly leads up to a proclamation of the imperial omnipotence.

Marsilius of Padua does not seem to have lived long after 1342. But the scandal provoked by his Defensor pacis, condemned by the court of Avignon in 1326, lasted much longer. Benedict XII. and Clement VI. censured it in turn; Louis of Bavaria disowned it. Translated into French, then into Italian (14th century) and into English (r6th century), it was known by Wycliffe and Luther, and was not without an influence on the Reform movement.

See J. Sullivan, American Historical Review, vol. ii. (1896-1897), and English Historical Review for April 1905; Histoire litteraire de la France (1906), xxxiii. 528-623; Sigmund Riezler, Die literarischen Widersacher der Piipste zur Zeit Ludwig des Baiers (Leipzig, 1874).

There are numerous manuscripts of the Defensor pacis extant. We will here mention only one edition, that given by Goldast, in 1614, in vol. i. of his Monarchia sacri imperii; an unpublished last chapter was published by Karl Miller, in 1883, in the Giittingische gelehrte Anzeigen, pp. 923-925.

Count Litzow in The Life and Times of Master John Hus (London and New York, 1909), pp. 5-9, gives a good abstract of the Defensor pacis and the relations of Marsilius to other precursors of the Reformation. (N. V.)


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