« Prev The Papal Office Assailed Next »

§ 8. The Papal Office Assailed.

To the pontificate of John XXII. belongs a second group of literary assailants of the papacy. Going beyond Dante and John of Paris, they attacked the pope’s spiritual functions. Their assaults were called forth by the conflict with Lewis the Bavarian and the controversy with the Franciscan Spirituals. Lewis’ court became a veritable nest of antipapal agitation and the headquarters of pamphleteering. Marsiglius of Padua was the cleverest and boldest of these writers, Ockam—a Schoolman rather than a practical thinker—the most copious. Michael of Cesena134134   Riezler, p. 247 sq. Three of these writings are in Goldast’s Monarchia II., 1236 sqq. Riezler’s work, Die literarischen Widersacher der Päpste is the best treatment of the subject of this chapter. and Bonagratia also made contributions to this literature.

Ockam sets forth his views in two works, The Dialogue and the Eight Questions. The former is ponderous in thought and a monster in size.135135    The Dialogue, which is printed in Goldast, is called by Riezler an almost unreadable monster, ein kaum übersehbares Monstrum It is difficult, if at times possible, to detect the author’s views in the mass of cumbersome disputation. These views seem to be as follows: The papacy is not an institution which is essential to the being of the Church. Conditions arise to make it necessary to establish national churches.136136    Quod non est necesse, ut sub Christo sit unus rector totius ecclesiae sed sufficit quod sint plures diversas regentes provincias. Quoted by Haller, p. 80. The pope is not infallible. Even a legitimate pope may hold to heresy. So it was with Peter, who was judaizing, and had to be rebuked by Paul, Liberius, who was an Arian, and Leo, who was arraigned for false doctrine by Hilary of Poictiers. Sylvester II. made a compact with the devil. One or the other, Nicolas III. or John XXII., was a heretic, for the one contradicted the other. A general council may err just as popes have erred. So did the second Council of Lyons and the Council of Vienne, which condemned the true Minorites. The pope may be pronounced a heretic by a council or, if a council fails in its duty, the cardinals may pronounce the decision. In case the cardinals fail, the right to do so belongs to the temporal prince. Christ did not commit the faith to the pope and the hierarchy, but to the Church, and somewhere within the Church the truth is always held and preserved. Temporal power did not originally belong to the pope. This is proved by Constantine’s donation, for what Constantine gave, he gave for the first time. Supreme power in temporal and spiritual things is not in a single hand. The emperor has full power by virtue of his election, and does not depend for it upon unction or coronation by the pope or any earthly confirmation of any kind.

More distinct and advanced were the utterances of Marsiglius of Padua. His writings abound in incisive thrusts against the prevailing ecclesiastical system, and lay down the principles of a new order. In the preparation of his chief work, the Defence of the Faith,—Defensor pacis,—he had the help of John of Jandun.137137    Müller, I. 368, upon the basis of a note in a MS. copy in Vienna, places its composition before June 24, 1324; Riezler between 1324-1326. John of Jandun’s name is associated with the composition of the book in the papal bulls. However, the first person singular, ego, is used throughout. According to Innocent VI., Marsiglius was much influenced by Ockam, then the leading teacher in France. This is inherently probable from their personal association in Paris and at the emperor’s court and the community of many of their views. See Haller, p. 78. John of Jandun died probably 1328. See Riezler, p. 56. Both writers were clerics, but neither of them monks. Born about 1270 in Padua, Marsiglius devoted himself to the study of medicine, and in 1312 was rector of the University of Paris. In 1325 or 1326 he betook himself to the court of Lewis the Bavarian. The reasons are left to surmisal. He acted as the emperor’s physician. In 1328 he accompanied the emperor to Rome, and showed full sympathy with the measures taken to establish the emperor’s authority. He joined in the ceremonies of the emperor’s coronation, the deposition of John XXII. and the elevation of the anti-pope, Peter of Corbara. The pope had already denounced Marsiglius and John of Jandun138138    See the bull of Oct. 23, 1327, Mirbt, Quellen, p. 152. as "sons of perdition, the sons of Belial, those pestiferous individuals, beasts from the abyss," and summoned the Romans to make them prisoners. Marsiglius was made vicar of Rome by the emperor, and remained true to the principles stated in his tract, even when the emperor became a suppliant to the Avignon court. Lewis even went so far as to express to John XXII. his readiness to withdraw his protection from Marsiglius and the leaders of the Spirituals. Later, when his position was more hopeful, he changed his attitude and gave them his protection at Munich. But again, in his letter submitting himself to Clement VI., 1343, the emperor denied holding the errors charged against Marsiglius and John, and declared his object in retaining them at his court had been to lead them back to the Church. The Paduan died before 1343.139139    In that year Clement spoke of Marsiglius as dead, Riezler, p. 122. With Ockam, Marsiglius defended the marriage of Lewis’ son to Margaret of Maultasch, in spite of the parties being within the bounds of consanguinity forbidden by the Church. His defence is found in Goldast, II. 1383-1391. For Ockam’s tract, see Riezler, p. 254.

The personal fortunes of Marsiglius are of small historical concern compared with his book, which he dedicated to the emperor. The volume, which was written in two months,140140    Riezler, p. 36. It contains 150 folio pages in Goldast. Riezler, 193 sq., gives a list of MS. copies. Several French translations appeared. Gregory XI. in 1376 complained of one of them. An Italian translation of 1363 is found in a MS. at Florence, Engl. Hist. Rev., 1905, p. 302. The work was translated into English under the title The Defence of Peace translated out of Latin into English by Wyllyam Marshall, London, R. Wyer, 1535. was as audacious as any of the earlier writings of Luther. For originality and boldness of statement the Middle Ages has nothing superior to offer. To it may be compared in modern times Janus’ attack on the doctrine of papal infallibility at the time of the Vatican Council.141141    Hergenröther-Kirsch, II. 755, says: Unerhört in der christlichen Welt waren die kühnen Behauptungen die sie zu Gunsten ihres Beschützers aufstellten. Pastor, I. 85, says that Marsiglius’ theory of the omnipotence of the state cut at the root of all individual and Church liberty and surpassed in boldness, novelty, and keenness all the attacks which the position claimed by the Church in the world had been called upon to resist up to that time. Its Scriptural radicalism was in itself a literary sensation.

In condemning the work, John XXII., 1327, pronounced as contrary "to apostolic truth and all law" its statements that Christ paid the stater to the Roman government as a matter of obligation, that Christ did not appoint a vicar, that an emperor has the right to depose a pope, and that the orders of the hierarchy are not of primitive origin. Marsiglius had not spared epithets in dealing with John, whom he called "the great dragon, the old serpent." Clement VI. found no less than 240 heretical clauses in the book, and declared that he had never read a worse heretic than Marsiglius. The papal condemnations were reproduced by the University of Paris, which singled out for reprobation the statements that Peter is not the head of the Church, that the pope may be deposed, and that he has no right to inflict punishments without the emperor’s consent.142142    Chartul. Univ. Paris., II. 301.

The Defensor pacis was a manifesto against the spiritual as well as the temporal assumptions of the papacy and against the whole hierarchical organization of the Church. Its title is shrewdly chosen in view of the strifes between cities and states going on at the time the book was written, and due, as it claimed, to papal ambition and interference. The peace of the Christian world would never be established so long as the pope’s false claims were accepted. The main positions are the following:143143    Mirbt: Quellen, pp. 150-152, presents a convenient summary of Part III. of the Defensor. In this part a resumé is given by the author of the preceding portion of the work. Marsiglius quotes Aristotle and other classic writers, Augustine and other Fathers, Hugo of St. Victor and other Schoolmen, but he ignores Thomas Aquinas, and never even mentions his name.

The state, which was developed out of the family, exists that men may live well and peaceably. The people themselves are the source of authority, and confer the right to exercise it upon the ruler whom they select. The functions of the priesthood are spiritual and educational. Clerics are called upon to teach and to warn. In all matters of civil misdemeanor they are responsible to the civil officer as other men are. They should follow their Master by self-denial. As St. Bernard said, the pope needs no wealth or outward display to be a true successor of Peter.

The function of binding and loosing is a declarative, not a judicial, function. To God alone belongs the power to forgive sins and to punish. No bishop or priest has a right to excommunicate or interdict individual freedom without the consent of the people or its representative, the civil legislator. The power to inflict punishments inheres in the congregation "of the faithful"—fidelium. Christ said, "if thy brother offend against thee, tell it to the Church." He did not say, tell it to the priest. Heresy may be detected as heresy by the priest, but punishment for heresy belongs to the civil official and is determined upon the basis of the injury likely to be done by the offence to society. According to the teaching of the Scriptures, no one can be compelled by temporal punishment and death to observe the precepts of the divine law.144144    Ad observanda praecepta divinae legis poena vel supplicio temporali nemo evangelica scriptura compelli praecipitur, Part III. 3.

General councils are the supreme representatives of the Christian body, but even councils may err. In them laymen should sit as well as clerics. Councils alone have the right to canonize saints.

As for the pope, he is the head of the Church, not by divine appointment, but only as he is recognized by the state. The claim he makes to fulness of power, plenitudo potestatis, contradicts the true nature of the Church. To Peter was committed no greater authority than was committed to the other Apostles.145145    Nullam potestatem eoque minus coactivam jurisdictionem habuit Petrus a Deo immediate super apostolos reliquos, II. 15. This is repeated again and again. Peter can be called the Prince of the Apostles only on the ground that he was older than the rest or more steadfast than they. He was the bishop of Antioch, not the founder of the Roman bishopric. Nor is his presence in Rome susceptible of proof. The pre-eminence of the bishop of Rome depends upon the location of his see at the capital of the empire. As for sacerdotal power, the pope has no more of it than any other cleric, as Peter-had no more of it than the other Apostles.146146    Non plus sacerdotalis auctoritatis essentialis habet Rom. episcopus, quam alter sacerdos quilibet sicut neque beatus Petrus amplius ex hac habuit ceteris apostolis, II. 14.

The grades of the hierarchy are of human origin. Bishops and priests were originally equal. Bishops derive their authority immediately from Christ.

False is the pope’s claim to jurisdiction over princes and nations, a claim which was the fruitful source of national strifes and wars, especially in Italy. If necessary, the emperor may depose a pope. This is proved by the judgment passed by Pilate upon Christ. The state may, for proper reasons, limit the number of clerics. The validity of Constantine’s donation Marsiglius rejected, as Dante and John of Paris had done before, but he did not surmise that the Isidorean decretals were an unblushing forgery, a discovery left for Laurentius Valla to make a hundred years later.

As for the Scriptures, Marsiglius declares them to be the ultimate source of authority. They do not derive that authority from the Church. The Church gets its authority from them. In cases of disputed interpretation, it is for a general council to settle what the true meaning of Scripture is.147147    Interpretatio ex communi concilio fidelium facta, etc., Part III. 1. Obedience to papal decretals is not a condition of salvation. If that were so, how is it that Clement V. could make the bull Unam sanctam inoperative for France and its king? Did not that bull declare that submission to the pope is for every creature a condition of salvation! Can a pope set aside a condition of salvation? The case of Liberius proves that popes may be heretics. As for the qualifications of bishops, archbishops, and patriarchs, not one in ten of them is a doctor of theology. Many of the lower clergy are not even acquainted with grammar. Cardinals and popes are chosen not from the ranks of theologians, but lawyers, causidici. Youngsters are made cardinals who love pleasure and are ignorant in studies.

Marsiglius quotes repeatedly such passages as "My kingdom is not of this world," John 18:36, and "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things which are God’s," Matt. 22:21. These passages and others, such as John 6:15, 19:11, Luke 12:14, Matt. 17:27, Rom. 13, he opposes to texts which were falsely interpreted to the advantage of the hierarchy, such as Matt. 16:19, Luke 22:38, John 21:15–17.

If we overlook his doctrine of the supremacy of the state over the Church, the Paduan’s views correspond closely with those held in Protestant Christendom to-day. Christ, he said, excluded his Apostles, disciples, and bishops or presbyters from all earthly dominion, both by his example and his words.148148    Exclusit se ipsum et app. ac discipulos etiam suos ipsorumque successores, consequenter episcopos seu presbyteros, ab omni principatu seu mundano regimine exemplo et sermone, II. 4. The abiding principles of the Defensor are the final authority of the Scriptures, the parity of the priesthood and its obligation to civil law, the human origin of the papacy, the exclusively spiritual nature of priestly functions, and the body of Christian people in the state or Church as the ultimate source of authority on earth.

Marsiglius has been called by Catholic historians the forerunner of Luther and Calvin.149149    Döllinger: Kirchengesch. II. 259, 2d ed., 1843, says, "In the Defensor the Calvinistic system was in respect to Church power and constitution, already marked out." Pastor, 1. 85, says, "If Calvin depended upon any of his predecessors for his principles of Church government, it was upon the keen writer of the fourteenth century." He has also been called by one of them the "exciting genius of modern revolution."150150    Pastor, I. 84, shifts this notoriety from Huss to Marsiglius. Riezler, p. 232, and Haller, p. 77, compare Marsiglius’ keenness of intellect with the Reformers’, but deny to him their religious warmth. Both of these statements are not without truth. His programme was not a scheme of reform. It was a proclamation of complete change such as the sixteenth century witnessed. A note in a Turin manuscript represents Gerson as saying that the book is wonderfully well grounded and that the author was most expert in Aristotle and also in theology, and went to the roots of things.151151    Est liber mirabiliter bene fundatus. Et fuit homo multum peritus in doctrina Aristoteleia, etc., Enyl. Hist. Rev. p. 298. The Turin MS. dates from 1416, that is, contemporary with Gerson. In this MS, John of Paris’ De potestate is bound up with the Defensor.

The tractarian of Padua and Thomas Aquinas were only 50 years apart. But the difference between the searching epigrams of the one and the slow, orderly argument of the other is as wide as the East is from the West, the directness of modern thought from the cumbersome method of mediaeval scholasticism. It never occurred to Thomas Aquinas to think out beyond the narrow enclosure of Scripture interpretation built up by other Schoolmen and mediaeval popes. He buttressed up the regime he found realized before him. He used the old misinterpretations of Scripture and produced no new idea on government. Marsiglius, independent of the despotism of ecclesiastical dogma, went back to the free and elastic principles of the Apostolic Church government. He broke the moulds in which the ecclesiastical thinking of centuries had been cast, and departed from Augustine in claiming for heretics a rational and humane treatment. The time may yet come when the Italian people will follow him as the herald of a still better order than that which they have, and set aside the sacerdotal theory of the Christian ministry as an invention of man.152152    Compared with Wyclif, a pamphleteer as keen as he, Marsiglius did not enter into the merits of distinctly theological doctrine nor see the deep connection between the dogma of transubstantiation and sacramental penance and papal tyranny as the English reformer did. But so far as questions of government are concerned, he went as far as Wyclif or farther. See the comparison, as elaborated by Poole, p. 275.

Germany furnished a strong advocate of the independent rights of the emperor, in Lupold of Bebenburg, who died in 1363. He remained dean of Würzburg until he was made bishop of Bamberg in 1353. But he did not attack the spiritual jurisdiction of the Apostolic See. Lupold’s chief work was The Rights of the Kingdom and Empire—de juribus regni et imperii,—written after the declarations of Rense. It has been called the oldest attempt at a theory of the rights of the German state.153153    Der älteste Versuch einer Theorie des deutschen Staatsrechts, Riezler, p. 180. Two other works by Lupold have come down to us. See Riezler, pp. 180-192. Lupold appeals to the events of history.

In defining the rights of the empire, this author asserts that an election is consummated by the majority of the electors and that the emperor does not stand in need of confirmation by the pope. He holds his authority independently from God. Charlemagne exercised imperial functions before he was anointed and crowned by Leo. The oath the emperor takes to the pope is not the oath of fealty such as a vassal renders, but a promise to protect him and the Church. The pope has no authority to depose the emperor. His only prerogative is to announce that he is worthy of deposition. The right to depose belongs to the electors. As for Constantine’s donation, it is plain Constantine did not confer the rule of the West upon the bishop of Rome, for Constantine divided both the West and the East among his sons. Later, Theodosius and other emperors exercised dominion in Rome. The notice of Constantine’s alleged gift to Sylvester has come through the records of Sylvester and has the appearance of being apocryphal.

The papal assailants did not have the field all to themselves. The papacy also had vigorous literary champions. Chief among them were Augustinus Triumphus and Alvarus Pelagius.154154    For the papal tracts by Petrus de Palude and Konrad of Megenberg, d. 1374, see Riezler, p. 287 sqq. The works are still unpublished. Konrad’s Planctus ecclesiae is addressed to Benedict in these lines, which make the pope out to be the summit of the earth, the wonder of the world, the doorkeeper of heaven, a treasury of delights, the only sun for the world.
   "Flos et apex mundi, qui totius esse rotundi

   Nectare dulcorum conditus aromate morum

   Orbis papa stupor, clausor coeli et reserator,

   Tu sidus clarum, thesaurus deliciarum

   Sedes sancta polus, tu mundo sol modo solus."
The first dedicated his leading work to John XXII., and the second wrote at the pope’s command. The modern reader will find in these tracts the crassest exposition of the extreme claims of the papacy, satisfying to the most enthusiastic ultramontane, but calling for apology from sober Catholic historians.155155    Pastor, I. 85. Hergenröther-Kirsch, II. 757, complains that these two authors push matters beyond the limits of truth, "making the pope a semi-god, the absolute ruler of the world." See Haller, p. 82 sq. Haller says it is a common thing among the common people in Italy for a devout man to call the pope a god upon earth, un Dio in terra. One of the smaller tracts already referred to is printed by Finke in Aus den Tagen, etc., LXIX-XCIX, and three others by Scholz, Publizistik, pp. 486-516. See Scholz’s criticism, pp. 172-189. Finke, p. 250, is in doubt about the authorship.

Triumphus, an Italian, born in Ancona, 1243, made archbishop of Nazareth and died at Naples, 1328, was a zealous advocate of Boniface VIII. His leading treatise, The Power of the Church,—Summa de potestate ecclesiastica,—vindicates John XXII. for his decision on the question of evangelical poverty and for his opposition to the emperor’s dominion in Italy.156156    For edd. of Triumphus’ tract, see Potthast, Bibl. Hist. under Triumphus. Riezler, p. 286, dates the tract 1324-1328, Haller, p. 83, 1322, Scholz, p. 172, 1320. See Poole, 252 sq. The pope has unrestricted power on the earth. It is so vast that even he himself cannot know fully what he is able to do.157157    Nec credo, quod papa possit scire totum quod potest facere per potentiam suam, 32. 3, quoted by Döllinger, Papstthum, p. 433. His judgment is the judgment of God. Their tribunals are one.158158    This famous passage runs sententia papae sententia Dei una sententia est, quia unum consistorium est ipsius papal et ipsius Dei ... cujus consistorii claviger et ostiarius est ipse papa. See Schwab, Gerson, p. 24. His power of granting indulgences is so great that, if he so wished, he could empty purgatory of its denizens provided that conditions were complied with.159159    Totum purgatorium evacuare potest, 3. 28. Döllinger, p. 451, says of Triumphus’ tract that on almost every page the Church is represented as a dwarf with the head of a giant, that is, the pope.

In spiritual matters he may err, because he remains a man, and when he holds to heresy, he ceases to be pope. Council cannot depose him nor any other human tribunal, for the pope is above all and can be judged by none. But, being a heretic, he ceases, ipso facto, to be pope, and the condition then is as it would be after one pope is dead and his successor not yet elected.

The pope himself may choose an emperor, if he so please, and may withdraw the right of election from the electors or depose them from office. As vicar of God, he is above all kings and princes.

The Spanish Franciscan, Alvarus Pelagius, was not always as extravagant as his Augustinian contemporary.160160    He incorporated into his work entire sections from James of Viterbo, De regimine christiano, Scholz, p. 151. He was professor of law at Perugia. He fled from Rome at the approach of Lewis the Bavarian, 1328, was then appointed papal penitentiary at Avignon, and later bishop of the Portuguese diocese of Silves. His Lament over the Church,—de planctu ecclesiae,161161    Döllinger, p. 433, places its composition in 1329, Riezler, 1331, Haller, between 1330-1332. Alvaras issued three editions, the third at Santiago, 1340. — while exalting the pope to the skies, bewails the low spiritual estate into which the clergy and the Church had fallen. Christendom, he argues, which is but one kingdom, can have but one head, the pope. Whoever does not accept him as the head does not accept Christ. And whosoever, with pure and believing eye, sees the pope, sees Christ himself.162162    Vere papa representat Christum in terris, ut qui videt cum oculo contemplativo et fideli videat et Christum, I. 13. Without communion with the pope there is no salvation. He wields both swords as Christ did, and in him the passage of Jer. 1:10 is fulfilled, "I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." Unbelievers, also, Alvarus asserts to be legally under the pope’s jurisdiction, though they may not be so in fact, and the pope may proceed against them as God did against the Sodomites. Idolaters, Jews, and Saracens are alike amenable to the pope’s authority and subject to his punishments. He rules, orders, disposes and judges all things as he pleases. His will is highest wisdom, and what he pleases to do has the force of law.163163    Apud eum est pro ratione roluntas, et quod ei placet legis habet viogorem, I. 45. Wherever the supreme pontiff is, there is the Roman Church, and he cannot be compelled to remain in Rome.164164    Unum est consistonum et tribunal Christi et papae, I. 29. Ubicunque est papa, ibi est Eccles. Rom .... Non cogitur stare Romae, I. 31. He is the source of all law and may decide what is the right. To doubt this means exclusion from life eternal.

As the vicar of Christ, the pope is supreme over the state. He confers the sword which the prince wields. As the body is subject to the soul, so princes are subject to the pope. Constantine’s donation made the pope, in fact, monarch over the Occident. He transferred the empire to Charlemagne in trust. The emperor’s oath is an oath of fealty and homage.

The views of Augustinus Triumphus and Alvarus followed the papal assertion and practice of centuries, and the assent or argument of the Schoolmen. Marsiglius had the sanction of Scripture rationally interpreted, and his views were confirmed by the experiences of history. After the lapse of nearly 500 years, opinion in Christendom remains divided, and the most extravagant language of Triumphus and Alvarus is applauded, and Marsiglius, the exponent of modern liberty and of the historical sense of Scripture, continues to be treated as a heretic.

« Prev The Papal Office Assailed Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection