- A Companion to Marsilius of Padua by Gerson Moreno-Riaño and Cary J. Nederman, eds
Marsilius of Padua remains a central figure to historians of political thought and to political theorists interested in the Middle Ages. And yet, in many ways, both the man and his ideas remain an enigma. Was Marsilius a dedicated – yet hapless – republican swept up in the maelstrom unleashed when the would-be emperor Ludwig of Bavaria clashed with Pope John XXII? Was he, instead, an ardent imperialist who wrote first and foremost in support of Ludwig’s cause? Or was he something else altogether? Gerson Moreno-Riaño and Cary J. Nederman’s Companion to Marsilius of Padua offers answers to old problems and raises new and fascinating questions. The aim of the volume is to offer ‘a comprehensive characterization of Marsilius’ by exploring his life and works from a variety of different angles (p. 3). [End Page 258]
As the general introduction explains, the nine essays that comprise this volume are divided, loosely, into four sections. The first of these includes essays by Frank Godhardt and William J. Courtenay. It explores Marsilius’s biography, and the way in which his life experience shaped his thought. The second, consisting of Takashi Shogimen’s essay, focuses on Marsilius’s intellectual sources, while the third considers his political, theological, and ecclesiastical doctrines as they emerged, primarily, in the Defensor pacis, the great work written in the mid-1320s for which the Paduan is best known today. Following four contributions on this topic – a joint piece by the editors and essays by Bettina Koch, Michael J. Sweeney, and Roberto Lambertini – and the final section, two articles by Gianluca Briguglia and Thomas M. Izbicki examine, respectively, the works written by Marsilius after the Defensor pacis and his reception in the later Middle Ages and early modern period. According to the Introduction, ‘The ultimate goal of each section is to offer plausible interpretative contexts that assist students and scholars of medieval political thought to understand why Marsilius behaved as he did’ (p. 4). Marsilius, as the volume’s Conclusion highlights, is examined as a scholar, a politician, a theologian, and as a political thinker. Although the structure is a little uneven, the essays themselves are extremely rewarding. It is particularly notable that each contribution provides not only new reflections but carefully situates the topic examined within wider historiographical debates.
In some ways, this volume is a companion to more than simply Marsilius himself; it is a bookend to the 2006 publication The World of Marsilius of Padua (Brepols) edited by Moreno-Riaño. That volume sought to draw together scholarship on Marsilius and offer fresh perspectives. The Companion does not so much supersede its predecessor, as supplement it by offering a deeper assessment of Marsilius and certain aspects of his thought. Sweeney, for example, builds on his 2006 contribution, breaking new ground in his consideration of Marsilius’s view of the Church. Here the old idea that Marsilius was simply interested in subordinating the Church to the secular authorities is criticized robustly. Sweeney demonstrates that the Paduan developed a clear, if ultimately inconsistent, view of the Church and its sacraments based on the literal interpretation of the New Testament. Notable avenues of enquiry raised in the 2006 volume but explored in much greater depth here by different authors include Shogimen’s fascinating exploration of the medical context for Marsilius’s thought and Lambertini’s re-examination of the chapters relating to poverty in the second discourse of the Defensor pacis. Both essays offer innovative and valuable insights.
As is to be expected in a volume of this nature, there is a reasonable amount of disagreement between the authors. The most notable instance is [End Page 259 ] Godhardt’s and Courtenay’s differing views over the significance of Marsilius’s rectorship at Paris, and the way in which the expectation of a benefice that the Paduan obtained from John...