FALKEID, Unn. the Avignon Papacy Contested: An Intellectual History from Dante to Catherine of Siena

By Dougherty, Jude P. | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2018 | Go to article overview

FALKEID, Unn. the Avignon Papacy Contested: An Intellectual History from Dante to Catherine of Siena


Dougherty, Jude P., The Review of Metaphysics


FALKEID, Unn. The Avignon Papacy Contested: An Intellectual History from Dante to Catherine of Siena. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2017. 269 pp. Cloth, $49.95--This is the story of the Avignon Papacy (1309-1377) and of the seven popes who governed the Church from Provence in southern France, but it is more than that. It is a chronicle of warfare, civic decay, and intellectual conflict in Europe as a whole in the period of war-torn Italy and of the Hundred Years' War between France and Germany.

Early in the volume, Unn Falkeid identifies the chief protagonists of her narrative as Dante Alighieri, William of Ockham, Marsilius of Padua, Francis Petrarch, Brigitta of Sweden, and Catherina of Siena, as she narrates a tale of conflict between lords spiritual and lords temporal. The principle of two realms, clerical and secular, may have been universally recognized since the time of St. Augustine, but that did not prevent one order from attempting to dominate the other. Boniface's Bull of 1302, Unum Sanctum, united Falkeid's protagonists in opposition to what they considered exaggerated claims of papal authority. It was during the Avignon period that the Church underwent an extraordinary process of centralization, a period of consolidation that may have prompted excessive claims of ecclesial power.

Falkeid devotes a chapter to each of her protagonists. Dante's Inferno VI and his Monorchia are discussed at length. Dante, we are told, may have favored a separation of terrestrial and ecclesiastical jurisdictions, but he also longed for a monarch capable of bringing peace, not only to a war-torn Italy but to the Continent. Universal peace requires a universal monarchy, he believed. Dante had a romantic attachment to the old Roman Empire where, in his judgment, universal harmony existed at least during the government of Emperor Augustus. "Divine Augustus," Dante calls him. The mark of a just ruler is humble service in the interest of people, something he found in Augustus.

A chapter on Marsilius of Padua follows that on Dante. Former rector of the University of Paris, physician, and confidant of Ludwig of Bavaria, Marcilius is known in academic circles primarily for Defensor pads (1324), a tract regarded as one of the most important political treatises produced in the Middle Ages. Like Dante, he was a strong opponent of the doctrine of plenitudo potestatis. Unn Falkeid then provides a comparative reading of Dante's Inferno VI and Marsilius's Defensor pads.

Marcilius's solution to conflict among the Italian city-states was not a call for a strong ruler or a prince of true virtue, something that Dante thought necessary. Marcilius belonged to the scholastic tradition, which held that instead of virtuous individuals, the common good is better served by strong institutions and the rule of law freely adopted. …

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