The great question we who are faithful Christians today must ask is whether Christendom, embodied in our consciousness of the philosophical and theological experience of the West from ancient Israel to the Christian Gospels, continues to shape the nations and culture of the West today. And, if not, does that loss of consciousness contribute to the fragility and very survival of civilization in the West and democracy in America?
How deep is the decline of this “Post-Christian” era in which we live?
Where, then, do we begin?
The new Christian civilization that developed from the fall of Rome in 5th century AD to the 10th Century is called “First Europe.” In order to understand the humble, barren, violent and desperate lives of men and women who lived in Europe during that period, we need only comprehend what historians tell us. What we learn is that we ourselves would not want to have lived in those times.
Sixth century Italian culture writes the American medieval historian Norman Cantor, “was marked by the decline of cities and literary, the progressive ruralization of the economy, and the advance of ignorance and superstition.”
In the year 800 AD, during the reign of Charlemagne, half of Europe was covered by dense forests. Society was based around castles, churches and monasteries, but a castle was a mere wooden stockade, and churches were erected in stone that were low, squat and reminiscent of Roman bathhouses.
Scholars coming to this study today, however, will find men and women with whom we can identify. Norman Cantor, writes, “The vitality and boldness of the intellectual leaders of the twelfth century could scarcely be surpassed.”
Who were these Medieval men and women? What struggles did they confront? What did they attempt to achieve and what became of their achievement?
This listing of 11th and 12th century “Greats” is instructive:
●Pope Gregory VII (1015-1085) who initiated the Investiture Controversy
●Hugh the Great (1024-1109), Abbot at Cluny
●St. Anselm (1033-1109), Archbishop of Canterbury
●Pope Paschal II (c. 1050-1118), last of four Gregorian “reformers”
●Henry IV (1050-1106), excommunicated three times by Pope Gregory VII
●Peter Abelard (1079-1142) and the love of his life,
●St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
●John of Salisbury (1120-1180)
●Frederick I of Germany (1122-1190)
●Richard the Lion-heart (1157-1199)
●Philip II Augustus of France (1165-1223).
These men, and their predecessors, established a political order in which it was possible for St. Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Siger de Brabant, Marsilius of Padua, William of Ockham, and others in the 13th century, to engage in philosophic and theological discourses that interpreted civilization and culture of the West. During that time, national monarchies came into dominance that shaped a contest, enduring to this day, between the practicality of maintaining civil order and the claims of conscience.
It took five centuries, from the invastion of Rome in 410 AD by Visigoths led by Alaric (c. 470-410 AD), to shape the intellectual basis of a new civilization in which faith, reason and political power were conjoined. The culture of that civilization became what we call “Christendom,” and the history of that period shaped what is called “First Europe.” Once order had been stabilized, a new, vibrant, civilization developed that shaped the West during what we call the “Middle Ages.”
Even by the 13th century, as life became better, the lives of our predecessors were much less comfortable than our own. City life was characterized by bad housing, bad sanitation, overcrowding, destructive fires and drunken violence. Over twenty years, in the 14th century, plague in the form of the “Black Death,” killed one third of the population in Europe.
This then-new and vibrant civilization is visible in a cacophony of royal dynasties, the institution of new modes of spiritual life in “monasticism,” the assertion of dominion of the Roman Church and its Papacy and the many saints, philosophers, Crusades, major battles, heresies and millennial movements that we associate with Christian civilization during the Middle Ages.
We can begin to see what this entailed in this brief, but complex, schema:
Monastic Orders: Eremites, Benedictine, Cluniac, Dominican, Franciscan, Cistercian, Carthusian
Popes: Gregory I, Gregory II, Leo III, Sylvester II, Leo IX, Paschal II, Gregory VII, Urban II, Calixtus VII, Adrian IV
Nicea (325 AD), adopted the Nicene Creed
Second Council of Nicea (787), repudiated Iconoclasm
First Lateran Council (1123}, investiture of Bishops
Second Lateran Council (117), addressed clerical discipline
Third Lateran Council (1179}, restricted election of Popes to Cardinals
Fourth Lateran Council (1214), established seven Sacraments
Saints: Boniface, Benedict, Denis, Anselm, Bernard, Thomas, Francis,
Philosophers: Thomas Aquinas, Averroes, Siger de Brabant, Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, Duns Scotus, Maimonides, Avicenna
Heresies: Joachite, Albigensian, Donatist, Gnostic
Millennial Movements: The Pasteraux, Drummer of Niklashausen, Joachim of Flora.
Crusades: First (1095), Second (1144), Third (1190), Fourth (1204),
Major Battles: Civitate (1053), Hastings (1066), Manzikert (1071), Legnano (1174), Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), Muret (1213), Bouvines (1214)
Dynasties: Merovingian, Capetian, Angevin, Carolingian
Monarchs: Philip I, William the Conqueror, Henry IV, Philip II, Frederick I Barbarossa, Richard the Lion Heart
There is much to digest in this schema, but these last two entries, the succession of monarchs and dynasties are central to any examination that explores the contest between Western man’s consciousness of what is just and the necessities of political rule. By the actions of monarchs of this era we can track the development of the order of nations, their politics and the royal and noble persons who contested with the papacy and shaped a new political culture.
Study of this “Medieval” history reveals persons and personalities who are exciting to us because they offer a point of reference similar to our own, though we were born more than one thousand years later. The world of nation-states that we have inherited from them was shaped by contests with these monarchs:
Philip I became monarch in 1060 on the death of Henry I and occupied the throne for the next forty-eight years. Philip I was a descendent of Hugh Capet who in 987 was preferred by the Archbishop of Rouen over Duke Charles of Lorraine to succeed Louis V who had no legitimate offspring. The Capetian monarchy ruled France until 1328. Philip II Augustus of France’s (1165-1223) victory at the Battle of Bouvines in Flanders in 1214 shaped the order of Europe literally to the present time.
William the Conqueror (1028-1087) whose conquest of England established the great English monarchy. The “Normans” who carried out the “Norman Conquest” were Bretons from Normandy in northwest France who were descendants of Norse “Vikings” from Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
Henry IV (1050-1106) and Frederick I Barbarossa of Germany (1122-1190) who challenged the assertions of the Papacy.
These early monarchies became centers of political order in the cities that constituted civilization in the West.
Their Names and Dates are significant, but only as references to events, important actions of men and women and their motives that were harbored behind city walls. Their acts, their spirit and motives are most important. Clearly, the greatest motivation that shaped the West after the fall of the Roman Empire was Christian faith.
That faith took form, and had its greatest influence, in Christian monasticism.
Celtic (5th century AD)
Celtic Christians exhibited forms of monasticism at Iona, Lindisfarne and Kildare. St. Columban (543-615) advocated a monastic rule that included confession of sins and penitential acts.
Benedictine (5th century AD)
St. Benedict of Nursia (480-c. 547), formulated the “Rule of St. Benedict” used by Benedictines for fifteen centuries, and is considered the founder of Western Christian monasticism. Originally a hermit, St. Benedict came to understand the limits and dangers of hermeticism and fashioned a standard of community living, the “Rule of St. Benedict,” that prescribed how to live a life in community with other monks committed to poverty, celibacy and work that supported the community. Gregory I, Pope in 590, employed the Benedictine monks, led by Augustine of Canterbury, as missionaries to England.
St. Boniface (675-754), engaged in the conversion of German tribes to Christianity, imposed the rule of St. Benedict and built monasteries that became vital centers of German monastic life.
The early monastic orders identified with the Burgundian monastery of Cluny, founded in 910 AD. Cluny was the largest, best endowed, and most prestigious, devoted to the perpetuation of the Benedictine form of discipline. The monastery at Cluny flourished because it was immune from lay and episcopal interference and supported the principle of theocratic kingship. The monastery was led by Abbot Hugh of Cluny (d. 1109) whose good judgment may be seen in the fact that he detested the aggressive puritanism of Pope Gregory VII (1015-1085).
Founded by St. Bruno who introduced a Rule, called the Statutes, that prescribed how a Carthusian hermit life, based in solitude, was to be lived.
An order of ascetics founded by the Englishman, Stephen Harding (1060-1134), in Citeaux in eastern France. St. Bernard of Clairvaux joined the monastery in 1112 and the order expanded throughout Western Europe in the 12th century. The Cistercians sought a return to the literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict.
Eremetic Monasticism (11th century AD)
By the middle of the 11th century, lay piety became socially important and desire for personal religious experience took the form of eremetic monasticism. Peter Damian
(c. 1007-c. 1072), Cardinal and Benedictine monk, was an eremetic who, engaged in reform of clergy in northern Italy and introduced more severe monastic disciplines including flagellation. Damiani denounced corruption of the secular clergy, and sought to purify the clergy in anticipation of the Second Coming that he believed was imminent.
Founded by St. Francis Assisi (1181-1226), son of a wealthy merchant, St. Francis devoted himself to a life of poverty. He composed the Regula primitiva or “Primitive Rule” submitted to Pope Innocent III in 1209. The Primitive Rule called followers “to live in obedience, in chastity and without anything of their own and to follow the teaching and the footprints of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Founded by Dominic of Caleruega in France, and approved by Pope Honorius III in 1216, to preach the Gospel and to oppose heresy. Known as the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans came to dominate the cathedral school in Paris and is identified by the most important philosopher of the Church, the Dominican saint, Thomas Aquinas.
And in addition to these monatic orders that attracted the “best and brightest” there were the Popes.
The first great monarchies of the Medieval era were supported by a doctrine of theocratic kingship and the Petrine doctrine of primacy of St. Peter through whom Christ established his Church. A succession of Bishops of Rome, as head of the Church, shaped Christian doctrine and struggled to assert the power of the Papacy over Christian monarchs.
Gelasius I, was the author of Tractatus IV and Epistula XII (492 and 496) that developed the principle of separation of spiritual and temporal powers, distinguishing between auctoritas sacrata pontificum, the authority of the papacy and regalis potestas, the royal power.
Gregory I (540-604), known as St. Gregory the Great, commissioned a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons of England,
Gregory II (669-731) commissioned Boniface to preach to the Germans.
Gregory III (d.741) requested from Charles Martel protection of “the church of St. Peter” and gave formal expression to the reality of a secular power.
Leo III (d. 816) crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor. Eric Voegelin writes, “With the coronation of Charlemagne the idea of the empire had been created that was to dominate the centuries of medieval political history.”
Sylvester II (946-1003), Gerbert of Aurillac, a renowned scholar and counselor to Otto III.
Leo IX (1002-1054), appointed Pope by Emperor Henry III, but sought election in Rome.
Paschal II (1050-1118), a monk of the Cluniac order. Contested claims of King Henry V of Germany (1081-1125) and ceded to the King’s investiture as Emperor.
Pope Gregory VII (1015-1085), led an attempt to carry his ascetic interests to the whole church and create a unified Christian world, what Gregory VII called a Christianitas. He became Pope in 1073, and precipitated the “Investiture Controversy” that attempted to deny the right of kings and great lords to invest bishops and abbots with the symbols of their office.
In asserting that principle, he demanded that Henry IV, Emperor of the Germans, give up his claim to lay investiture. When Henry refused, Gregory VII excommunicated the emperor and deposed him. That act shook the foundations of feudal society and compelled King Henry to seek forgiveness. In an historic meeting, King Henry IV and Gregory VII met in 1077 at the castle of Canossa, in northern Italy where Gregory was required by tradition and law to grant absolution to a penitent and confessed sinner. Abbot Hugh of Cluny (who detested Pope Gregory) appeared in person to intercede on Henry’s behalf.
Pope Gregory’s assertion of papal power was a high water mark in the contest between monarchies that would come to dominate Western Europe and ultimately the waning earthly powers of the papacy. Henry IV retaliated eight years later in 1085 by invading Italy and driving Gregory VII from Rome.
The philosophers of this era, are also important.
They shaped the intellectual culture of the West and even the self-understanding of monarchs and popes. But man does not live by ideas alone and mundane life lived in nation-states prevailed over the philosophers and the Papacy, thus establishing a contest between conscience and political power.
In the works of early and late Medieval philosophers, we can see the consequences of political ideas, from St. Augustine, through Gelasius, St. John of Salisbury and St. Thomas, men who were not merely “thinkers” but men who evoked our consciousness of order and participation in divine reality with their whole personalities.
When they engaged in those actions (for to think is to “act”), the times in which they lived, were given new importance.
Americans who lived through more than 60 years of ” World Wars” in the 20th century will appreciate that from 1214-1290, the 13th century benefited from seventy-six years of peace. During that time, Europe experienced an outburst of artistic, cultural and philosophic accomplishment. That was made possible by the work four intellectuals who lived from 1033 to 1180: St. Anselm, Roscelin, Peter Abelard and John of Salisbury.
St. Anselm (1033-1109),
A Benedictine and Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm was exiled by William II (the
Conqueror) and Henry I for defending the Papacy during Gregory VII’s dispute over
the power of Investiture. His Proslogium attempts to prove the existence of God,
though that appears to be not in response to anyone who denied God’s existence. In
other words, St. Anselm valued thinking in itself and by giving a “proof” of God’s
existence was affirming his love of God. The problem with that is that God is not a “thing” the existence of which can be proven. Chapter XIV of the Proslogium touches on the motivation for his inquiry.
“… if you have found him, why is it that you do not feel you have found him? Why, O Lord, our God, does not my soul feel you, if it has found you?”
Here Anselm asks a question more important than whether God exists. “Why do I
doubt?” In other words, my own lack of faith is a problem. How can I resolve that?
Finally, in Chapter XXV, Anselm answers his question:
“Why, then, do you wander abroad, slight man, in your search for the goods of your soul and your body? Love the one good in which are all goods, and it suffices.”
Roscelin of Compiègne (1050-1125)
We know little of Roscelin. He was a “Nominalist” and held that what we know are words, not the things themselves.
Peter Abelard (1070-1142)
Beginning as a student of Roscelinus, Abelard entered the Cathedral School at Paris
where he attracted the enmity of his teacher. Abelard, like modern scholars, was not
one to remain silent, a condition that he endured for scholarly and personal reasons.
His affair with Heloise, the birth of their illegitimate son, a violent and abusive attack on
his physical person and his career as a wandering lecturer inform our appreciation of
the hardships and attractions of life in the 12th century.
Peter Abelard’s “Sic et Non” is a list of propositions and counter propositions that left
unanswered which was truth and which was falsehood. These questions that have
occupied faithful Christians for centuries, opened Abelard tocriticism, though he
seemed to delight in controversy.
1. Must human faith be completed by reason, or not?
2. Does faith deal only with unseen things, or not?
3. Is there any knowledge of things unseen, or not?
4. May one believe only in God alone, or not?
5. Is God a single unitary being, or not?
6. Is God divided into three parts, or not?
10. Is God to be seen as a part of everything, as present in everything, or not?
20. Does the first Psalm speak about the Messiah, or not?
27. Does God’s foreknowledge determine outcomes, or not?
28. Does anything happen by accident or coincidence, or not?
30. Can even sins please God, or not?
31. Is God the cause and initiator of evil, or not?
32. Can God do anything and everything, or not?
33. Is it possible to resist God, or not?
34. Does God have free will, or not?
36. Does God do whatever He wants, or not?
37. Does anything happen contrary to God’s will, or not?
38. Does God know everything, or not?
John of Salisbury (1120-1180)
Secretary to the English Pope Adrian IV, John of Salisbury returned to England in 1153 and became secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald of Bec (1090-1161). He was a close associate of Thomas Beckett (b. 1119), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170 at the hands of supporters of English king, Henry II. His murder reveals the intensity of the conflict between conscience and power.
John of Salisbury’s Policraticus was written before the introduction of the works of Aristotle, yet it is a treatise on politics that deals realistically with the issue of power. Like St. Augustine, John of Salisbury distinguishes between persons who love themselves (amor sui) and those who love God (amor Dei), but John of Salisbury uses those concepts not as aspects of a history of salvation but as empirical descriptions of men in the world. He is especially descriptive of the amor sui of personalities that are normal within what he calls vita politicorum or the political state. Constrained by the concepts at hand, he describes political reality, without the spirit of a St. Augustine, as tending toward evil.
In light of that perception, John of Salisbury informs our appreciation of the contest between conscience and power when he writes that he accepts the power of kings, but not if they resist and oppose the divine commandments.
“…not only do I submit to his power patiently, but with pleasure
so long as it is exercised in subjection to God and follows His
ordinances. But on the other hand if (power) resists and opposes
the divine commandments, and wishes to make me share in its war
against God; then with unrestrained voice I answer back that God
must be preferred before any man on earth.”
In order to fully appreciate the following century’s abundance of intellect and a developing secular order that defines our age, consider the following:
Roger Bacon (1219-1292)
Bacon’s Compendium Studii Philosophiae is a rigorous diatribe against the condition of intellectual culture in the 13th century. Revealing is his criticism of “…the prelates; how they run after money, neglect the cure of souls, promote their nephews, and other carnal friends, and crafty lawyers who ruin all by their counsels; for they despise students in philosophy and theology.”
“The whole clergy is intent upon pride, lechery, and avarice; and wherever clerks are gathered together, as at Paris and Oxford, they scandalize the whole laity with their wars and quarrels and other vices.”
Of “Doctors of Divinity” he complains ” there has never been so great ignorance.”
Against university lecturers he argues that they “have never learned anything of any account.” And, he complains, though they become Masters of Theology, they have not learned Greek or Hebrew.
Siger de Brabant (1240-1284}
A contemporary of St. Thomas, Siger was a prolific writer. Among his works were dissertations including Impossibilia, Quaestiones logicales, Sophismata and commentaries on Aristotle’s De Anima, Physics and Metaphysics and Treatises, De Necessitate et contingentia causarum, De aeternitate mundi, and De anima intellectiva.
Because Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics were seen as incompatible with Christian doctrine, they were prohibited at the school in Paris in 1210. That prohibition was renewed in 1215 and again in 1263, but Aristotle was reintroduced by Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas and William of Moerbeke after 1240.
Siger may be credited for introducing Aristotle through the Commentaries of Averroes. Averroes (1126–1198), ibn Rashd, was an Islamic philosopher born in Cordoba (Spain) who dealt with the problem of the conflict between reason and faith. In On the Harmony of Religion with Philosophy, he held that some things were true by reason, others by religion. Unlike Christianity in which reason and faith were reconciled, in Islam, philosophy became a mode of contemplation for an intellectual elite for whom “belief” in the literal word of the Koran was not fulfilling. Commentaries on Aristotle became “books” evoking an esoteric religion.
Siger, representing that, was condemned in France in 1277 and was murdered in 1284 in Italy were he fled after being condemned. Even today a tendency to make political philosophy a substitute for religious faith is a temptation that seduces many.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Born in the village of Roccasecca, about five miles from the town of Aquino, Italy, the young Thomas was placed at an early age in the monastery of Monte Cassino. In 1239 at the age of 14, he was sent to the University of Naples where he decided to become a Dominican friar. In 1245 he went to Paris where he attended lectures by Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon. At the University of Paris he studied the works of Aristotle. Three years later in 1249 he went to Cologne with Albertus Magnus and in 1252 he returned to Paris where, in 1256, at the age of 31, he earned the Master of Theology. In 1259 he was a lecturer and counselor to the Papal Curia in Rome. From 1265-1267 he lectured in Rome and in 1268 he was sent to Paris.
At the time that St. Thomas came to maturity, nearly two hundred years after the Investiture Controversy created by Pope Gregory VII in 1075, the great nation states of the West were in the early stages of development and the authority of the Papacy was diminished. Eric Voegelin notes that St. Thomas’s Summa Theologiae does not address the institution of the Church nor of Canon law.
Voegelin writes, “Thomas stands between the ages: the medieval unit of imperial Christianity is dead, the world of the na¬tional states is not yet born.”
The works of Thomas Aquinas include Disputations, Philosophical commentaries, systematic works (the Summa Theologiae and Summa contra Gentiles}, commentaries on books of the Bible and Liturgical works, letters and Tractates. Dead at age 49, St. Thomas literally worked himself to death.
St. Thomas is important because he is the link itself between St. Thomas and the discoveries of the philosophy of Aristotle. That connection links the Gospels to the discoveries of ancient Greek philosophy and gives intellectual understanding to Revelation.
Though the West’s Christian origins have been negated by Enlightenment ideas and the consequences of totalitarian movements, a vibrant faith in Christ and our obligation to our fellow man shines through the destruction those “rational” ideas and “ideologies” caused.
Johan Huizenga in 1919 wrote about the ”waning” of the Middle Ages. The title of our study of conscience and power which motivates this study is more specific: the “waning” of Christianity in the 21st century. That question was asked by a contemporary, a novelist, the late Tom Wolfe (1930-2018), when he observed, on several public occasions, that loss of faith in Christianity has cultural consequences.
We 21st century Americans have enjoyed a life of great freedom and the benefits of a powerful country that, at its moment of victory in World War II, experienced the consequences of its decline. The many wars of the 20th century brought destruction of political regimes and the occlusion of experience of God’s presence in the life of participants in the culture of the West. That has made recovery of the philosophical and theological principles of Western civilization extremely difficult.
Our religions and their clergy have been corrupted. Our universities are dominated by ideologues and our legal classes have absorbed “Progressive” notions and have abandoned the philosophy of limited government of the Framers of the Constitution.
Moreover, we no longer ask the important questions.
Our desire to recover those important questions, and the light they shed on political order requires, Voegelin suggests, a fundamental reconstruction of regime analysis by means of the introduction of new concepts.
We begin to see the significance, therefore, of St. Thomas’ struggles against the monastic orders that disdained knowledge and intellectual inquiry. St. Thomas had to overcome powerful social forces that disdained the works of Aristotle and in doing so reconciled reason with Christian Revelation. Voegelin writes:
He had a monumentally ordering mind, and he could
apply this mind to a wealth of materials drawn into
its orbit by a personality equally distinguished by sensorial
receptivity, range of soul, intellectual energy, and
sublimeness of spirit.
In Contra Gentiles, written to provide intellectual support for Dominican missions in Muslim Spain, St. Thomas observes that in refutation of errors with Muslims and pagans, “We must … have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent.”
Reason leads to the judgment that “There must therefore be some being by whose
providence the world is governed.” And that “first author and mover of the universe is
The end of intellect is truth and thus all men may “easily be able to have a share in the knowledge of God, and this without uncertainty and error.” That was not an assumption made by Plato or Aristotle.
That link is not perfect.
The ancient Greek philosophers were men for whom humanity was not universal. Plato observes in the Republic, for example, that when at war with barbarians Greeks treat them differently than when at war with Greeks who are “by nature friends.”
Christianity shattered that limited view with an understanding of our humanity, shaped by the Gospels of the universality of mankind. That consciousness of our humanity compels all men to deal with all other men as human beings qua human. The consequences of this consciousness in Christendom of the universality of mankind for our appreciation of consciencious of justice cannot be overstated. Our “conscience” has been a part of Western culture ever since as it participated in the rise of the West from the ashes of the Roman Empire until today.
Eric Voegelin observes: “The common man is … not left without knowledge. What the philosopher knows through the activity of his intellect, the layman knows through the revelation of God in Christ. The supranatural manifestation of the Truth in Christ and its natural manifestation in the intellectual as the mature man stand side by side.”
Not only has St. Thomas understood that reason is a universal capacity of all men, he carves out a place in Western consciousness for both philosophy and Revelation. Here is how Voegelin frames St. Thomas’ achievement in terms of its compatibility of reason with revelation:
The authority of the intellect is preserved, but through its
transcendental orientation it is transformed from an
intramundane rival of the faith into a legitimate expression
of natural man.
Voegelin writes that St. Thomas’s spirituality “recognizes revelation and cannot conceive of a conflict between natural reason and spirit.”
This insight is carried over into St. Thomas concept of eternal law, lex aeterna, that is an endowment of man’s nature, the reality of which is visible in lex naturalis, natural law.
“The natural law is promulgated by the very fact that God instilled it into man’s mind so as to be known by him naturally.”
John Kilkullen, Professor of History at Macquarie University in Australia, writes that for St. Thomas
natural law is from the reasonable will of God (q.97 a.3);
God’s reason, will and law are identical with God himself
(q.93 a.4 ad 1). The ultimate end to which reason directs
action is the wellbeing of the whole community, the common
good; every law, therefore, is ordered to the common good
(q.90 a.2), and every law is ordered to friendship among
those who share this common good (q.99 a.1 ad 2; a.2);
the natural law fosters the friendship of all mankind with God.
Laws are made and promulgated by someone who has
charge of the community. The natural law is promulgated
by God’s inserting into the minds of human beings a natural
capacity to come to know the natural law (q.90 a.4ad 1).
For St. Thomas there are four aspects of law: eternal, natural, human, and divine. “the rule and measure of human acts is the reason (ratio), which is the first principle of human acts.”
Because St. Thomas was not interested in the polis of the Greek city-states, he literally “bent” Aristotle to conform to the Christian experience. That entailed a concept of the king as a ruler of free persons.
Aristotle’s concept of “slaves by nature “had no place in a Christian polity.” St. Thomas makes freedom or servitude the criterion of good or bad government. If the members of the com¬munity cooperate freely in the enterprise of common existence, the government is good, be it a monarchy, aristocracy, or polity.”
Man for Aristotle was zoon politikon, a political or social animal. But, for St. Thomas man was homo Christianus whose life is oriented not merely to the social order of this world, but toward a transcendent end, beyond the world, in life eternal.
Marsilius of Padua (1275-1342)
Marsilius of Padua is the author of Defensor pacis (1324} and served as Rector of the University of Paris in 1313. A full analysis by Ephraim Emerton of Defensor pacis may be accessed online.
Marsilius of Padua, like William of Ockham, engaged in a dispute with Pope John XXII who asserted the primacy of papal authority over Ludwig of Bavaria.
Among Marsilius’ provocative conclusions found in his Defensor pacis are:
2. The general council of Christians or its majority alone has the authority to define doubtful passages of the divine law, and to determine those that are to be regarded as articles of the Christian faith, belief in which is essential to salvation; and no partial council or single person of any position has the authority to decide these questions.
3. The gospels teach that no temporal punishment or penalty should be used to compel observance of divine commandments.
7. Decretals and decrees of the bishop of Rome, or of any other bishops or body of bishops, have no power to coerce anyone by secular penalties or punishments, except by the authorization of the human “legislator.”
11. There can be only one supreme ruling power in a state or kingdom.
14. No bishop or priest has coercive authority or jurisdiction over any layman or clergyman, even if he is a heretic.
17. All bishops derive their authority in equal measure immediately from Christ, and it cannot be proved from the. divine law that one bishop should be over or under another, in temporal or spiritual matters.
22. The prince who rules by the authority of the laws of Christians, has the right to determine the number of churches and temples, and the number of priests, deacons, and other clergy who shall serve in them.
39. The people as a community and as individuals, according to their several means, are required by divine law support the bishops and other clergy authorized by the gospel, so that they may have food and clothing and the other necessaries of life; but the people are not required to pay tithes or other taxes beyond the amount necessary for such support.
John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)
John Scotus works include: Treatise on God as First Principle, On Immaculate Conception, the metaphysics and logic of Aristotle, Quaestiones super universalia Porphyrii and literally dozens of other disquisitions. His treatise “On God as First Principle” is an example of what we call “Scholasticism,” or the method of the “schools” of his day, in which analysis used dialectic, or propositional, reasoning. Here is a typical example.
“2.9 (Fourth conclusion) What is not ordered to an end is not an effect.
2.10 The first proof is this. There is no effect which does not stem from some proper efficient cause; if something is not ordered to an end, it does not originate with a proper efficient cause….”
His Oxford Lectures, Book III, dealt with a series of questions:
Whether Christ was predestined to be Son of God.
Whether the Blessed Virgin was conceived in Original Sin?
Whether the Blessed Virgin was truly Mother of God and Man?
Whether there are in Christ two real filiations?
Whether between the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph there was true matrimony.
William of Ockham (1287-1347)
William of Ockham was an English Franciscan born in Ockham, a village in Surrey about twenty-five miles from London. A listing of Ockham’s works and a brief, but comprehensive, review of his philosophy may be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
William of Ockham is known principally as a “nominalist” which is explained in the Stanford Encyclopedia as follows: “For Ockham, the only universal entities it makes sense to talk about are universal concepts, and derivative on them, universal terms in spoken and written language. Metaphysically, these ‘universal’ concepts are singular entities like all others; they are ‘universal’ only in the sense of being ‘predicable of many.’”
In short, we are not capable of knowing entities that are universal; what we know are merely names. That does not mean that what is universal does not exist. They are not things in the world of things and cannot be known by sense experience.
Ockham rejected the intrusions of Pope John XXII into the rules of the Franciscans and composed an argument to refute Pope John XXI in his Dialogus. The threat of conviction for heresy was real, and having opposed the Pope, Ockham sought protection from King Ludwig of Bavaria, whom Pope John XXII had deposed. Ockham lived in exile in Munich where he died in 1347.
There in Dialogus he presents the claims of canonists:
“They say that canonists have the power to examine not only with what penalty according to canon law it is proper to punish heretics, but also how judicial proceedings should be taken against them—that is, how writs of accusation and other writs should be composed, how witnesses should be produced, and other things that pertain to the order of legal proceedings.”
Ockham responds in his Dialogus by asserting the supremacy of theology over canon law.
“…which assertion is to be regarded as catholic, which as heretical, pertains chiefly to those who treat of the science in which the rule of orthodox faith is explicitly and completely handed down . Such is the science of theology, however, not the science of the canonists. For many things pertaining to our faith which are not mentioned in the science of the canonists are found explicitly in theology, but nothing pertaining to the rule of faith can be found in their science except what they receive from theology.”
Ockham makes clear that this is not a mere postulate, but something he, and others, affirm:
“…I am aware of some theologians who in their hearts very much look down on canonists of the modern time as being unintelligent, presumptuous, rash, misleading, deceitful, scoffers and ignorant, believing that they do not know the meaning of the sacred canons.”