Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
TO THE READINGS

In the following excerpts we have attempted to present materials dealing with several aspects of different feudal systems. The article by Chroust analyzes the political symbolism and ideals that developed in medieval feudal Europe. The articles by Vernadsky and Asakawa analyze three non‐ European feudal systems and point out both the similarities and differences among them. Asakawa's article is of especial importance because it deals with the only feudal system beyond Europe which ultimately gave rise to a modern political system. The article by Cam brings us back to the processes of change and decline of the European feudal system.


29
The Corporate Idea and the Body Politics
in the Middle Ages

Anton-Hermann Chroust

To the mediaeval mind in general the destiny and preordained end of Christendom was always identical with that of mankind at large. 1 All of mankind, or to be more exact, the whole of Christendom is but a single universal community founded and directed by God Himself. Hence "we should desire to be subjected to Him," Origen exhorts us, "even as the Apostles are, and all the Saints who have followed Christ." 2 Thus freedom in its profoundest meaning was subjection to God and oneness with Him. Christendom, therefore, was primarily one single "corpus mysticum," a single indivisible and indissoluble universitas, a spiritual as well as temporal kingdom under the rule of God. This universitas found its most sublime and adequate expression in the idea of an ecclesia universalis3 governed by one law and guided by one government. 4 Thus, in fact, an ideal constitution was immediately derived from the concept of one single lex aeterna or ius divinum, a constitution, that is, which by virtue of the universal sovereignty of the spiritual oneness of all men applied to the whole of mankind.

These ideas which identified the whole of mankind with the ecclesia universalis and, at the same time, proclaimed that mankind itself and with it every form of society or association is a living organism, already became manifest in the theological teachings and religious life of early Christianity, and above all, in the Christian conception of one Ecumenical Church. As a matter of fact, they were first voiced by St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (12:4-27; 14-26; 10:16-17) as well as in his Epistle to the Ephesians (1:23, 3:6; 4:4; 4:14-16; 5:23; 5:30) and to the Romans (12:4-5). From such basic and authoritative pronouncements the social and political philosophers of the Middle Ages drew their main inspirations as to the true nature, function, and end of society and social institutions. Thus Remigio de Girolami, for instance, in complete dependence on St. Paul, insists that all Christians constitute a single body without blemish or defect, governed by a single head. 5 As a matter of fact, as early as the ninth century the terms "world," "empire," "mankind," "Church," and "Christendom" were often used as synonymous expressions. 6 By putting the whole before the part, mediaeval thought, on the one hand, plainly restated a classical principle of antiquity; while emphasizing the intrinsic value and, implicitly, the basic or original

____________________
From Anton-Hermann Chroust, "The Corporate Idea and the Body Politics in the Middle Ages," Review of Politics, IX (1947), 430-433, 445-452. Reprinted by permission of the author and publisher.

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