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. THE SUPREME GOVERNOR

THE idea of the pope as vicarius Christi was designed and initially used to refute the validity of the episcopal claims. However useful the conception was in furthering the papal claim to imperial power, the real value of the papal vicariate of Christ lay 'in its use against the bishops, and it is interesting to notice how frequently innocent III, the first pope to put particular emphasis upon it, had used the idea alongside arguments intended to rebuff the advances of episcopalism. Nevertheless the fact that it did not receive full expression until the time when the papal hegemony in Europe had reached its peak does not mean that the vicarius Christi theory was an unheard of novelty before the middle of the twelfth century.1 The conception of the papacy as a visible vicariate of Christ had been inherent in the hierocratic system ever since the congregatio fidelium came to be seen as a political entity. Its roots, as with most of the hierocratic ideology, lay deep in the Pauline doctrine of the one body of Christ and the Augustinian conception of the kingdom of God on earth. Its premise was the belief that the community of the faithful forms one being in Christ: the corporate body of Christians is the earthly counterpart of that celestial perfection in which Christ and the faithful are united as one. In essence there is no real distinction between Christ and his Church: the latter forms one body or person, and that person is Christ. He is, as St. Augustine had said, the una persona Ecclesiae: the Ecclesia is the unum corpus Christi. The important point to notice in this conception is that the personality of the community is non-terrestrial and non-material. Christ is the perfect pattern of human existence but, like Plato Republic, which also represented the ultimate 'good', is situated in heaven. The personality is spiritual, mystical, invisible, and cannot in itself be equated with any living member of the society any more than the juristic personality of a corporation is

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1
The general development of the theory is outlined by M. Maccarrone, Vicarius Christi ( Rome, 1952).

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