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

I. THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE

IF it remains true that during the central medieval period the lay ruler was almost constantly on the defensive against the encroachments of papal power, it must be remembered that the papal idea had itself originally been developed as a protection against the demands of the divine right monarch, and had only swung over to the offensive at the time of the Gregorian revolution. It succeeded in driving much of the theory of lay monarchy underground, but the hierocrats were never allowed to forget that a battle for absolute control of the Christian society was still in progress. As a rule the struggle was not conducted in the open, but under cover of subsidiary disputes such as the right of episcopal appointment, the competence of rival legal systems, or the right of the lay ruler to tax his clerical subjects. It was, so to speak, a subconscious conflict, the inbred hostility of opposing ideologies, punctuated by decrees of excommunication and deposition on the one side, and defiance on the other. It was only in the great controversies of the age, such as that between the Staufen and the papacy, or that between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII, that the issue was openly acknowledged to be what it had always been, namely, whether pope or prince was to function as the supreme governor of the European community.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the old imperial idea of the Roman emperor as the only caput Ecclesiae had been quietly laid aside in favour of a divided headship in which both pope and emperor were held to have their own clearly defined area of jurisdiction, and to respect the autonomy of the other within his own sphere. This dual vicariate of Christ remains the official lay doctrine throughout the fourteenth century. But the decline of the papacy which is now rapidly setting in inevitably tends to resurrect the whole tradition of lay supremacy. Whilst the papal writers of the period make their almost mechanical denunciations of the dualitas

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