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 NEW WORLD ORDER

ONE of the most interesting aspects of later medieval thought is the way in which contemporary views on society were influenced by the expansion of Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Although early medieval writers had been well aware of the existence of barbaric terrae incognitae beyond the horizon of contemporary geographical knowledge, it had still been possible to consider the world as a predominantly Christian and Roman entity. There was only one society, the congregatio fidelium or imperium Romanorum, and the lost tribes of Israel, waiting menacingly beyond Alexander's Gate, could be, and were, tacitly ignored. One of the effects of the crusading movement, however, was to bring this society into abrupt and violent contact with a vast non-Christian civilisation, beyond which, it was dimly perceived, other civilisations stretched away into the Abyss. In face of this the universal nature of the Christian society was immediately called into question, and became for many writers the occasion of a retreat into the Augustinian formula by which the Ecclesia was universal, not in that it covered the world, but was diffused throughout it.1 For popes and emperors on the other hand, accustomed through long usage to the title of dominus mundi, the steady rolling back of the ends of the earth simply permitted the forward movement of their own claims to universal domination. This was not without practical significance: the Crusades had already posed the problem of the status of pagan communities vis-à-vis the Christian society. Were they to be accepted as existing in their own right, or could they be seen as mere usurpations, the latrocinia of the De civitate Dei, fit only for

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1
'Catholica Ecclesia per totum orbem longe lateque diffusa': see Gratian, D. 11 c. 8, where it is incorrectly attributed to Augustine De christiana fide: it is actually De vera religione, 6 ( PL, xxxiv. 127); cf. Enarrationes in Psalmos, 1vi. 1 ( PL, xxxvi. 662). Augustine himself however probably intended the expression to cover all men: e.g. Sermo CCLXX, 6 ( PL, xxxviii. 1243), 'Congregatur enim unitas corporis Christi ex omnibus linguis, per onmes scilicet gentes toto terrarum orbe diffusas'; and see above p. 21 n. 4.

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