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Marsilius of Padua on Papal Power - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 344
Papal power/fullness of power/Marsilius/Kilcullen: An explicit attack on this doctrine [of papal fullness of power] occupies (Marsilius of Padua 1980(1): Il.xxiii—xxvi, after the ground has been well prepared. All coercive power
Gaus I 345
comes from the people (the 'legislator') and is entrusted to a ruler who rules in accordance with the law established by the people or by a subordinate legislator authorized by the people (1980(1): 44-9, 61-3).
1) No community can have more than one supreme ruler, who must be the source of all coercive power in the community - otherwise strife will break out (1980(1): This is the first of the four main points of Marsilius's argument against papal fullness of power: unless the pope is the supreme ruler,' pope and clergy can have coercive power only if they derive it from the supreme ruler.
2) The second point is theological: that Christ excluded the clergy from the exercise of coercive rulership (1980(1): 113-40). This rules out the possibility that the pope or any cleric might be the supreme ruler.
3) The third main point is also theological, a rejection of the view of Isidore and most churchmen, that the ruler must punish sin. According to Marsilius God wills that divine law should be enforced by sanctions only in the next world to give every opportunity for repentance (1980: 164; the contrast between 'this world' and 'the next world' was later the basis of Locke's main argument in his Letter of Toleration).
Toleration/Marsilius: Marsilius does not advocate toleration: for secular ends the secular ruler may enforce religious uniformity, that is, he may enforce the divine law, but not the divine law as such (1980(1): 136, 175—9). So there is only one supreme ruler, not a member of the clergy, who does not enforce divine law as such and therefore does not coerce in any sense on behalf of the clergy.
4) Fourth, Christ gave Peter no special authority among the apostles, and Peter never was in Rome (1980: The Roman bishop therefore has no special Christappointed role in shepherding the whole Church.
From these four points it follows that the doctrine of papal fullness of power is false in all its senses; in particular, the claim that the pope has supreme coercive jurisdiction over all secular rulers is false, for the pope and the clergy have no coercive jurisdiction at all, direct or indirect.
Property: As for ownership of property, Marsilius sides with the Franciscans against Pope John XXII's thesis that no one can use consumable property without ownership, and argues that, in accordance with Christ's will, the pope and the clergy should all live in poverty like the Franciscans (1980: 183-4, 196-215; see Tierney, 1997(2): 108-18).
Secular power: In the management of the externals of Church life, Marsilius argues that the only source of coercive authority is the secular ruler (if he is a Christian), who decides how many churches and clergy there will be, distributes Church jurisdictions, makes or approves appointments, and enforces canon law (1980(1): 65—6, 254-67), and only he can authorize excommunication (1980: 147-52).
Spiritual power: The only sources of doctrinal authority in the Church are the Bible and general councils: he argues that general councils are infallible (1980(1):274-9).
OckhamVsMarsilius: (William of Ockham, 1995(3):207-19, opposed Marsilius on this point, and argued that no part of the Church is infallible; see also Kilcullen, 1991(4).) >Papal power/Ockham.
Marsilius/Kilcullen: Marsilius does not deny the truth of Christianity, does not deny that Christ gave spiritual powers to the clergy (their 'essential' or 'inseparable' powers, in contrast to the 'non-essential'; 1980: 235-6, 239-40), and does not deny that the clergy are the expert judges and teachers of Christian doctrine. What he denies is that Christ gave the clergy any coercive power and that Christ gave the pope any special power not possessed by other priests.


1. Marsilius of Padua (1980) Defensor Pacis, trans. Alan Gewirth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
2. Tierney, Brian (1997) The Idea of Natural Rights: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law and Chumh Law 1150-1625. Atlanta: Scholars.
3- William of Ockham (1995) A Letter to the Friars Minor and Other Writings, ed. Arthur Stephen McGrade, ed. and trans. John Kilcullen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Kilcullen, John (1991) 'Ockham and infallibility'. The Journal ofRe1igious History, 16: 387-409.

Kilcullen, John 2004. „Medieval Politial Theory“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Marsilius of Padua
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-20
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