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

III. TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

THE papal domination of the European monarchs was a logical extension of the theory of sovereignty which was built up round the vicarius Christi idea. This fact was fully appreciated at the time, and it was clearly understood by the anti-hierocratic writers that there was to be no freedom for the king or emperor until this plenitudo potestatis was either destroyed or effectively limited. The weapon with which this was to be achieved was provided, incongruously enough, by that group of publicists who set to work to elaborate the general principles propounded by Thomas Aquinas into a complete and comprehensive political system. And they, since they seek to satisfy all, ruled as well as ruler, have no taste for sovereignty. For them law, by which they mean divine-natural law, is to be regarded as the only true expression of sovereignty, and every legislator by his very nature as lex animata is held to be subject to it. It is by subjecting the pope to a law greater than himself that these writers see a means of carrying out the enormous task which they have assumed: namely, the complete amalgamation of the papalhierocratic theory with the idea of the natural and popular institution of lay government resting upon Aristotelian and Roman law doctrines. For them the lay ruler is essentially a creature of the people, and the attempt to combine relative lay and papal autonomy is part of the greater aim of assimilating the papal monarchy into a community in which the individual members are seen as the ultimate source of political authority. The limitation of the plenitudo potestatis in temporalibus follows naturally from their ideal of limited government, and in those areas to which the papal power does not run there may be found room for the lay ruler to exist and act of his own accord and in his own right.

The great debating point amongst the political theorists of the fourteenth century therefore comes to be directly concerned with the nature of the plenitudo potestatis, and so fiercely does the contest rage that a later writer, reviewing the progress of the controversy,

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