Marsilius of Padua (II): On “Tranquillity”

In the previous post we saw that Marsilius of Padua identified himself as interested in the cause of peace, or tranquillity, in the Christian commonwealth. Following Aristotle,:”(Politics I.ii; V.iii)”: Marsilius uses a biological analogy to define “tranquillity”:

For just as an animal well disposed in accordance with nature is composed of certain proportioned parts ordered to one another and communicating their functions mutually and for the whole, so too the city is constituted of certain such parts when it is well disposed and established in accordance with reason. The relation, therefore, of the city or state and its parts to tranquillity will be seen to be similar to the relation of the animal and its parts to health.

…health is the best disposition of an animal in accordance with nature, and likewise that tranquillity is the best disposition of a city established in accordance with reason. Health, moreover, as the more experienced physicists describe it, is the good disposition of the animal whereby each of its parts can perfectly perform the operations belonging to its nature; according to which analogy tranquillity will be the good disposition of the city or state whereby each of its parts will be able to perfectly perform the operations belonging to it in accordance with reason and its establishment.:”(Defender of the Peace, trans. Alan Gewirth, pg. 446.)”:

Being a good Aristotelian, Marsilius cannot just describe one side of the coin. If tranquillity is as described above, it follows that intranquillity must be “the diseased disposition of the city or state, like the illness of an animal, whereby all or some of its parts are impeded from performing the operations belonging to them, either entirely or to the extent required for complete functioning.”:”(Ibid.)”:

These definitions will be very important for his subsequent argument (and, I note, for the arguments of later theologians who resisted the inequitable and disorder-producing claims of absolute papalism), and it is important again to take note that they are rooted in the Christianized Aristotelian program started by no less a Catholic than Thomas Aquinas. Of course, it is not true that anyone attempting to use Aristotle in the service of Christian truth will necessarily get it right. I am not suggesting anything so uncritical as that just because Marsilius was a Christian Aristotelian all his views should be given full faith and credit. What I am pointing out, however, is that in terms of the excessive claims of the papacy in the later Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas, good and loyal and orthodox Catholic, basically let the cat out of the bag. Papal extremism would not survive its (second-hand) encounter with The Philosopher, for in his firmly realistic and natural law-based political theory The Philosopher put forth principles which thoroughly destroy all tyrannies and set out eminently workable ways to establish justice, peace, and right social order.


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