Marsilius of Padua (III): On the Origin and Purpose of the Civil Order

In Discourse I, Chapter III of his Defender of the Peace,:”(Trans., Alan Gewirth, pp. 448-450.)”: Marsilius of Padua closely follows Aristotle’s account of the origin of the civil order (or, in Aristotelian terms, “the city”).:”(Aristotle, Politics I.i-ii.)”: Since “from the less to the more perfect is always the path of nature and of its imitator, art,”:”(Ibid., 448, citing Aristotle’s Physics ii.8)”: the Aristotelian account of the origin of the city begins with the most basic of all human relationships, that of male to female for the sake of reproduction.:”(Aristotle’s Politics I.ii.)”: This relationship establishes the household for the sake of providing for daily needs, and the joining together of households for the sake of providing for non-daily needs establishes the village.:”(Ibid.)”: Households and villages are ruled for the most part in the same way, namely, by the elder male, who acts as a king. Beyond this, the joining together of several villages for the sake of self-sufficiency and living well establishes the city:”(Ibid.)”: The formation of the city brings out the fact that man, the only creature capable of speech, is a “political animal,” and in this light also emerges the fact that man is the only creature capable of perceiving the difference between right and wrong, and thus, of seeking justice.:”(Ibid.)”: Indeed, the political life is itself a partnership of free and equal people who deliberate amongst themselves about what is just and unjust.:”(Ibid., and III.ix.13-14.)”:

In Discourse I, Chapter IV, Marsilius proceeds to discuss the purpose, or the Aristotelian “final cause,” of the city. Coming into existence “for the sake of living” but existing “for the sake of living well,”:”(Aristotle’s Politics I.i.)”: the city naturally desires to avoid and flee whatever is harmful to this end. Here Marsilius invokes the authority of Cicero: “It is an original endowment which nature has bestowed upon every genus of living things, that it preserves itself, its body, and its life, that it avoids those things which seem harmful, and that it seeks and obtains all those things which are necessary for living.”:”(Defender of the Peace, pg. 449, citing Cicero’s On Duties i.4.11.)”:

At this point Marsilius the Christian intrudes a necessary distinction into the discourse of Marsilius the Aristotelian:

But the living and living well which are appropriate to men fall into two kinds, of which one is temporal or earthly, while the other is usually called eternal or heavenly. However, this latter kind of living, the eternal, the whole body of philosophers were unable to prove by demonstration, nor was it self-evident, and therefore they did not concern themselves with the means thereto. But as to the first kind of living and living well or good life, that is, the earthly, and its necessary means, this the glorious philosophers comprehended almost completely through demonstration.:”(Defender of the Peace, ibid.)”:

Marsilius the Aristotelian then goes on to describe the necessity for governing apparatus in the city so that justice could be guarded, injustice resisted, and provision made for various needs. These were things discussed by the “glorious philosophers” who so well thought out man’s earthly life. But again, Marsilius the Christian steps in to recognize that

beside the things which we have so far mentioned, which relieve only the necessities of the present life, there is something else which men associated in a civil community need for the status of the future world promised to the human race through God’s supernatural revelation, and which is useful also for the status of the present life. This is the worship and honoring of God, and the giving of thanks both for benefits received in this world and for those to be received in the future one. :”(Ibid., pp. 449-450.)”:

It is this recognition of man’s dual existence, both natural and supernatural, that will lead Marsilius to (I think) implicitly follow the Augustinian trajectory of outlining the intertwining of the two spheres. He will exposit Augustine, however, with Aristotelian tools, and this will eventually lead him to his drastic, but nevertheless illuminating (and highly influential on subsequent centuries), attack on the papalist system of his day.


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