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 UNIVERSAL CARETAKER

By the beginning of the fourteenth century a clear choice was emerging between two quite different conceptions of the universal order, between a world community under papal and imperial direction and ' Europe', a collection of sovereign kingdoms whose rulers recognised no superior. The former was fully ustifiable and desirable in theory: in practice the latter conception was already gaining the upper hand. However, as we have seen, the formulation of distinctions between theory and practice had become the breath of life to the followers of Aquinas. They appreciated that to all intents and purposes there was little difference between a pagan and a Christian state which denied papal supremacy, and they had no hesitation in applying the same principles to this problem as to that of the status of non-Christian societies. The de facto independence of the national kingdoms could, in their view, be perfectly well combined with the de iure universality of papal-imperial government. And since the separatist tendencies of the local kingdoms had become so pronounced that they could no longer be ignored, practically every writer of the period who adhered to the idea of a universal society was forced to make use of this device. Even Augustinus Triumphus, the champion par excellence of the communitas totius orbis, is constrained to admit the de facto independence of the national monarchies.

The origins of this distinction have been traced to the legal commentaries of the canonists and civilians of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, and it has been shown that they were sufficiently familiar with the 'rex in regno suo est imperator' and 'rex non recognoscit superiorem' ideas.1 The precise interpretation of these

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1
For a discussion of the relevant literature see B. Tierney, "'Some Recent Works on the Political Theories of the Medieval Canonists"', Traditio, x ( 1954), pp. 594-625 at pp. 612-19; and also Gaines Post, "Two Notes on Nationalism in the Middle Ages", Traditio, ix ( 1953), pp. 281-320; "Blessed Lady Spain"', Speculum, xxix ( 1954), pp. 198-209; W. Ullmann, "The Development of theMedieval Idea of Sovereignty"'

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