Defensor pacis

Defensor pacis

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The tract Defensor pacis (The Defender of Peace) laid the foundations of modern doctrines of sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

. It was written by Marsilius of Padua
Marsilius of Padua
Marsilius of Padua Marsilius of Padua Marsilius of Padua (Italian Marsilio or Marsiglio da Padova; (circa 1275 – circa 1342) was an Italian scholar, trained in medicine who practiced a variety of professions. He was also an important 14th century political figure...

 (Italian: Marsiglio da Padova), an Italian medieval scholar. It appeared in 1324 and provoked a storm of controversy
Controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of opinion. The word was coined from the Latin controversia, as a composite of controversus – "turned in an opposite direction," from contra – "against" – and vertere – to turn, or versus , hence, "to turn...

 that lasted through the century. The context of the work lies in the political struggle between Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor
Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor
Louis IV , called the Bavarian, of the house of Wittelsbach, was the King of Germany from 1314, the King of Italy from 1327 and the Holy Roman Emperor from 1328....

 and Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII , born Jacques Duèze , was pope from 1316 to 1334. He was the second Pope of the Avignon Papacy , elected by a conclave in Lyon assembled by Philip V of France...

. The treatise is a vehemently anticlerical product of the secular and classicist thought that characterize Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

. Marsilius' work was censured by Pope Benedict XII
Pope Benedict XII
Pope Benedict XII , born Jacques Fournier, the third of the Avignon Popes, was Pope from 1334 to 1342.-Early life:...

 and Pope Clement VI
Pope Clement VI
Pope Clement VI , bornPierre Roger, the fourth of the Avignon Popes, was pope from May 1342 until his death in December of 1352...


Defensor pacis extends the tradition of Dante
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

's De Monarchia
De Monarchia
De Monarchia is a treatise on secular and religious power by Dante Alighieri. With this Latin text, the poet intervened in one of the most controversial subjects of his period: the relationship between secular authority and religious authority...

separating the secular State
Sovereign state
A sovereign state, or simply, state, is a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood to be a state which is neither...

 from religious authority. On its face it affirmed the sovereignty of the people and civil law
Civil law (common law)
Civil law, as opposed to criminal law, is the branch of law dealing with disputes between individuals or organizations, in which compensation may be awarded to the victim...

 and sought to greatly limit the power of the Papacy, which he viewed as the "cause of the trouble which prevails among men" and which he characterized as a "fictitious" power. He proposed the seizure of church property by civil authority and the elimination of tithe
A tithe is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to a religious organization or compulsory tax to government. Today, tithes are normally voluntary and paid in cash, cheques, or stocks, whereas historically tithes were required and paid in kind, such as agricultural products...

s. In his view, the Papacy would retain only an honorary pre-eminence without any authority to interpret the scriptures
Biblical canon
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community. The term itself was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources. The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example...

 or define dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...


As its name implies, it describes the State as the defender of the public peace, which is the most indispensable benefit of human society. The author of the law expresses will of the people, not of the whole populace, but of the most important part (valentior) of the citizens; these 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, 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
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

, any coercive
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

 jurisdiction or any right to pronounce in temporal matters. He also denies episcopal authority of excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

s and interdict
Interdict (Roman Catholic Church)
In Roman Catholic canon law, an interdict is an ecclesiastical censure that excludes from certain rites of the Church individuals or groups, who nonetheless do not cease to be members of the Church.-Distinctions in canon law:...

s, or other imposed interpretations of divine law. He is not opposed to penalties against heretics
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

, but he would have them pronounced only by civil tribunals. Desiring to see the clergy practice 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
Ecumenical council
An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice....

 summoned by the emperor.

The pope, no longer possessing any more power than other bishops (though Marsilius recognizes that the supremacy of the See 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
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

, 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.

In 1535, Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, , was an English statesman who served as chief minister of King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540....

 paid William Marshall to translate Defensor into English in order to give intellectual support towards the implementation of Royal Supremacy
Acts of Supremacy
The first Act of Supremacy was a piece of legislation that granted King Henry VIII of England Royal Supremacy, which means that he was declared the supreme head of the Church of England. It is still the legal authority of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom...


See also

  • Separation of church and state (medieval)
    Separation of church and state (medieval)
    The relationship between the Church and the feudal states during the medieval period went through a number of developments, roughly from the end of the Roman Empire through to the beginning of the Reformation...

  • A Dispute Between a Priest and a Knight
    A Dispute Between a Priest and a Knight
    Disputatio inter clericum et militem is a dialogue, written in France between 1296 and 1303. Although anonymous, it could have been John of Paris, master of the University of Paris...

  • Tractatus Eboracenses
  • Defensor minor
    Defensor minor
    The Defensor minor is a work by Marsilius of Padua written around 1342. The Defensor minor is a restatement and defense of Marsilius's best known work, the Defensor pacis....