The Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages: The Papal Monarchy with Augustinus Triumphus and the Publicists

By Michael Wilks | Go to book overview

IV. VIA MEDIA

THE potential danger to the papal system of vovernment in the new Aristotelianism was quickly recognised by the papacy itself. Consequently the initial reception accorded to the new learning in leading ecclesiastical circles was coldly hostile. Even at the very end of the thirteenth century the English Franciscan, Roger Marston, is to be found describing the pagan philosophers as 'those infernal men', and urging a return to the wisdom of the saints. But at the same time it was appreciated that much of what Aristotle had to say could be exceedingly useful, and in any case was not to be denied. Some Aristotelian principles, such as the tetleological approach to government, had already in fact played a vital part in the building up of the hierocratic system. It was generally felt that Aristotle could not be ignored, but that in some way or other his teachings should be modified and harmonised with orthodox doctrine. This attitude seems to emerge from Gregory IX's prohibition on the use of Aristotle's books on nature in 1231. He acknowledges that these works contain 'both useful and useless matter', and commands the Dominicans at Paris that, 'examining these books in a way that is convenient, subtle and prudent, you entirely exclude anything which you may find there to be erroneous or likely to give scandal or offence to their readers, so that what is suspect being removed, the rest may be studied without delay or offence'.1 In this way the duty of acting as official censors was largely entrusted to the Dominicans, and although the process of 'baptising' Aristotle went on for the rest of the Middle Ages, it was widely held by the early fourteenth century that most of this had been achieved. More than anyone else the man responsible was Thomas Aquinas. In spite of the fact that he was regarded during his lifetime with considerable disfavour for his constant use of Aristotle, one of the most important features of fourteenth-century political thought is

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1
Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis (ed. Denifle-Chatelain, Paris, 1889), i. 143-4.

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