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

II. PRINCELY LIBERTY AND THE 'VOX POPULI'

ONE great feature of the papal-hierocratic thesis was that it left its adherent in no doubt as to the immediate divine origin of political authority: the words of St. Matthew were in their eyes incontrovertible evidence on that point. But their opponents were unhappily torn between two ideals. They proclaimed that the king was the real repository of God's power on earth, and their assertions in this respect were daily reaching more frenzied heights. At the same time they were desperately eager to counteract the papal argument that if the lay ruler received power from God, then he could only have done so through the agency of God's vicegerent. And it was slowly borne in upon them that the only sure way of denying the papal claims was to stipulate the existence of an alternative source of power in the community at large. Consequently, whereas the papalist could afford to ignore the more republican aspects of Roman law teaching, the lay writers tended to give them greater attention. A case in point was Institutes, I. ii. 6. This indeed announced that the will of the prince had the force of law, but it added that this was possible only because the people had transferred their authority to him. Provided that this initial grant could be seen as an historical event with no further political importance, the idea of it seemed to offer the lay ruler a means of escape from papal control. The crucial point therefore was the question of whether the grant had in fact been irrevocable, or whether the Roman people or their 'representatives' still possessed the right to make law and, if necessary, retract the ruler's commission to govern. And although the emperors in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries gave official recognition to an emasculated version of the lex regia theory, they did so with this vital matter still finally undecided. At first the debate had seemed to be a purely academic one. The right of the Romani to depose their ruler was acknowledged by

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