- The World of Marsilius of Padua
Marsilius of Padua was a radical critic of the fourteenth-century papacy and an early defender of the idea of popular sovereignty. I first wrote on his work in an article published in this Review in 1951; since then a very extensive literature has grown up, presenting many different interpretations of the Paduan's thought. The present volume, a collection of papers from a Marsilius of Padua World Congress held in 2003, provides a good overview of current lines of research.
Readers will perhaps find most useful the contribution of Cary Nederman, who presents a far-ranging survey of recent Marsilian scholarship. In Nederman's discussion of Marsilius's secular political theory, Conal Condren stands out as a lone dissenter who finds no coherent political philosophy in the Defensor pacis, the principal work of Marsilius, but only a polemical treatise that included any and every available argument that could be used to attack the contemporary papacy. Other scholars discussed by Nederman see the Defensor pacis as a major work of political thought but differ as to whether its argument was derived principally from city-state republicanism or medieval corporatism or Aristotelian ideas of a mixed constitution. It seems to me that all these themes can be found in Marsilius's work but that the discourse that includes them would not have seemed incoherent to a learned fourteenth-century audience. Medieval scholars were able to hold together in their structures of thought various elements that modern ones tend to put in separate compartments.
In considering Marsilius's ecclesiology, the part of his work that most interested (and provoked) his contemporaries, Nederman calls attention to recent scholarly interest in the chapters of the Defensor pacis dealing with Franciscan themes. These chapters were once dismissed by a former editor of the work as "an excrescence," but they are now seen to be an important and influential part of Marsilius's whole argument.
I can indicate only briefly the themes of the other papers presented here. Frank Godhardt presents a somewhat revisionist account of the relations between Marsilius and Ludwig of Bavaria. Thomas Turley, discussing papalist responses to Marsilius, places the dispute in a wider context of argument about papal power that was going on in the early fourteenth century. Gabrielle Gonzales considers the Franciscan poverty disputes as an influence on Marsilius. Annabel Brett, who has recently published a new translation of the Defensor pacis, interestingly discusses various problems that confront a translator. Floriano Jonas Cesar finds evidence of Marsilius's medical training in his treatment of truth and certainty. The paper of Alexander Aichele also discusses Marsilus's medical background. Holly Hamilton-Bleakley points out that, although Marsilius did not present a theory of natural law, he did, in the manner of Aquinas, start out from a self-evident first principle and derive conclusions [End Page 341] from it. Michael Sweeney examines Marsilius's "law of grace" and shows how Marsilius resisted any "politicization" of this concept. Bettina Koch illustrates some continuities between medieval and early modern thought by comparing Marsilius's treatment of papal power with that of Hobbes. Joseph Canning argues that power and coercion rather than popular sovereignty and consent were at the core of Marsilus's doctrine. Vasileios Syros emphasizes popular sovereignty again, comparing Marsilus's views with those of various medieval commentators on Aristotle's Politics. Finally, Gerson Moreno-Riaño, the editor of the volume, suggests sensibly that the work of Marsilius includes several different themes, that they are not incompatible with one another, and that Marsilius did not privilege one over the other. [End Page 342]