Marsilius of Padua Not a Conciliarist (?)

Roman Catholic controversialists of the kind who are immoderately attached to a monistic understanding of papal authority have long maintained that the conciliarism of the 15th century had some of its most significant roots in the radical “secularist” politics of Marsilius of Padua (d. 1343). Here’s an interesting recent observation about this point from one of the foremost Catholic conciliarist scholars, Francis Oakley:

As we have become better acquainted with the conciliarism both of the classical (fourteenth-fifteenth centuries) and silver (sixteenth-century) ages, it has become increasingly clear that the views of Marsiglio of Padua stand out as so uncharacteristically radical that it would be a salutory clarification if, by general agreement, we could agree henceforth to withhold from him the conciliarist designation. Certainly, though Dietrich of Niem (d. 1418) and Nicholas of Cusa (d. 1464) do appear to have garnered some material from the Defensor pacis, Marsiglian ideas recommended themselves neither to the great conciliar theorists of the Council of Constance – Pierre d’Ailly (d. 1420), Jean Gerson (d. 1429), and Francesco Zabarella (d. 1418) – nor to the leading sixteenth-century proponents of conciliarist ideas – John Mair (or Major, d. 1550) and Jacques Almain (d. 1515). The last-named, indeed, was explicit in his rejection of such ideas.:”(Oakley, “Conciliarism in England: St. German, Starkey, and the Marsiglian Myth,” in Reform and Renewal in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Studies in Honor of Louis Pascoe, S.J., eds. Thomas M. Izbicki and Christopher M. Bellitto [Leiden: Brill, 2000], pp. 224-225.)”:

What Oakley is pointing out here is that first-hand research into the actual sources of conciliarist thought is increasingly demonstrating that the true nature of conciliarist thought is a very different animal from the polemical slurs of it created by men in the grip of a priori dogmas which they take to be the unchallengeably true theological interpretation of the historical truth. For Catholics of a certain stripe – the rigid, high papalist stripe, which holds that the pope is accountable to no one on earth – there appears to be an ever-widening gap between what their theology seems to require them to believe about historical phenomena and what the actual historical phenomena can be reasonably made to say without doing violence to the evidence we possess.

This is precisely the sort of issue that highlights the divisive nature of high papalist monistic theories about authority in the Church, and it is precisely the sort of issue that justifies continuing Protestant resistance to such excessive theories of authority. At some point Roman Catholicism will have to realize that it can have its pope without the distortions of monistic high papalism, which only distort historical and biblical interpretation and continue to underwrite a program of shamelessly ripping apart the seamless robe of Christ and then blaming everyone else for it. Thanks to over seven decades of serious research, much of it done by Catholic scholars themselves, conciliarism cannot any longer be intelligibly relegated by polemicists and apologists to the sphere of radicalism and revolution. Catholics who continue to do so merely make their own cause -and, because of their trumped-up rhetoric, the Catholic Church as a whole – look foolish, anachronistic, and sinfully divisive.


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