Marsilius of Padua (IV): The Dual Ends of Man

In his Politics Book VII, Chapter 9, Aristotle delineated six parts, or offices, of the city: (1) the agricultural, (2) the artisans, (3) the military, (4) the financial, (5) the priestly, and (6) the judicial or deliberative. As Aristotle has it, the priestly, the military, and the judicial are the most honorable parts of the city because they do not involve the menial distractions of vulgar labor. The other three parts (the agricultural, the artisans, and the financiers) are vulgar laborers – they are needed for the attainment of the city’s “self-sufficiency,” but their sort of life is, in Aristotle’s words, “ignoble and contrary to virtue.”:”(Politics VII.9, trans. Carnes Lord, pg. 210.)”: Marsilius goes over this territory as a prelude to his discussion of man’s dual ends.:”(Defender of the Peace, Discourse I, Chapter V, trans. Alan Gewirth, pp. 450-451. Marsilius mistakenly attributes Aristotle’s discussion to Politics Book VII, Chapter 7, but it should be Politics Book VII, Chapter 9.)”:

Marsilius reminds his reader that he has already demonstrated “that the city is a community established for the sake of the living and living well of the men in it,” and that he has also distinguished two kinds of living, “one, the life or living of this world, that is earthly; the other, the life or living of the other or future world.”:”(Ibid., 451.)”: He spends the next several pages reviewing the teachings of those whom he earlier called “the glorious philosophers” regarding the best way to live the earthly life:”(Ibid., 451-453.)”: and then enters upon the subject of the priestly aspect of the city. The aforementioned “glorious philosophers” found this is a much more difficult subject than the ones about the earthly life, for “this part could not be comprehended through demonstration, nor was it self-evident.”:”(Ibid., 454.)”: Marsilius runs through various pagan examples of priesthood, and, at the end of his survey notes that

correct views concerning God were not held by the gentile laws or religions and by all the other religions which are or were outside the catholic Christian faith or outside the Mosaic law which preceded it or the beliefs of the holy fathers which in turn preceded this – and, in general, by all those doctrines which are outside the tradition of what is contained in the sacred canon called the Bible. For they followed the human mind or false prophets or teachers of errors. Hence too they did not have a correct view about the future life and its happiness or misery, nor about the true priesthood established for its sake.:”(Ibid., 455.)”:

The point of reciting these examples, Marsilius says, is to demonstrate the differences between pagan priesthood in a properly ordered city and Christian priesthood in such a city. Moving into Chapter VI of Discourse I, he defines the purpose of the Christian priesthood this way: “to moderate human acts both immanent and transitive controlled by knowledge and desire, according as the human race is ordered by such acts toward the best life of the future world.”:”(Ibid., 455-456. “Immanent” human acts are just thoughts and desires within a man; “transitive” human acts occur when the thoughts and desires pass into physical action by means of the man’s body.)”: In other words, as the Aristotelian city aims at guiding man’s life on earth, the Christian priesthood aims at preparing men for life in heaven.

Marsilius then runs through the biblical history of redemption, showing how God has healed man’s sin “in a very orderly manner from the easier to the more difficult steps.”:”(Ibid., 456.)”: Old Testament religion was concerned with the “easier steps,” using commands and rites “to test human penitence and obedience.”:”(Ibid.)”: But this was not enough for God. Being merciful, He at last arranged for man’s restoration to the eternal happiness he would have originally merited had Adam not sinned, and to this end He “handed down the evangelical law, containing commands and counsels of what must be believed, done, and avoided…[so that men will be] preserved from sensory punishment, as they had been by observance of the prior commands, but also through God’s gracious ordainment they merit, by a certain congruity, eternal happiness.”:”(Ibid., 457.)”:

In this context we meet the Christian priests and Marsilius’ explanation of their duties: “The end of the priesthood, therefore, is to teach and educate men in those things which, according to the evangelical law, it is necessary to believe, do, and omit in order to attain eternal salvation and avoid [eternal] misery.”:”(Ibid., 458.)”: Thus stands Marsilius’ account of man’s dual ends, as provided for by the Aristotelian account of the city as itself modified by the concerns of biblical religion.


This entry was posted in 13th Century, 14th Century. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.