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The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought c.350–c.1450
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    Sistrunk, Timothy G. 1991. The emperor is married to the res publica: A legal analogy of Cino da Pistoia. Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 17, Issue. 2, p. 115.

    Davis, Scott 2001. Doing What Comes Naturally: Recent Work on Thomas Aquinas and the New Natural Law Theory. Religion, Vol. 31, Issue. 4, p. 407.

    Warner, David A. 2013. Ottonian Germany.

    Prior, Charles W. A. 2013. Religion, Political Thought and the English Civil War. History Compass, Vol. 11, Issue. 1, p. 24.

    Fowler, Elizabeth 1995. The Failure of Moral Philosophy in the Work of Edmund Spenser. Representations, Issue. 51, p. 47.

    Zielonka, Jan 2011. America and Europe: two contrasting or parallel empires?. Journal of Political Power, Vol. 4, Issue. 3, p. 337.

    Skinner, Alexander 2015. Violence at Constantinople in A.D. 341–2 and Themistius, Oration 1. Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 105, p. 234.

    Zielonka, Jan 2013. The International System in Europe: Westphalian Anarchy or Medieval Chaos?. Journal of European Integration, Vol. 35, Issue. 1, p. 1.

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Book description

This volume, first published in 1988, offers a comprehensive and authoritative account of the history of a complex and varied body of ideas over a period of more than a thousand years. A work of both synthesis and assessment, The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought presents the results of several decades of critical scholarship in the field, and reflects in its breadth of enquiry precisely that diversity of focus which characterised the medieval sense of the 'political', preoccupied with universality at some levels, and with almost minute particularity at others. Thus among the vital questions explored by the distinguished team of contributors are the nature of authority, of justice, of property; the problem of legitimacy, of allegiance, of resistance to the powers that be; the character and function of law, and the role of custom in sustaining a social structure. While the predominant emphasis of the volume is necessarily upon those ideas that developed within Latin Christendom, full weight is also given to the impact of Byzantine, Jewish, and Islamic thought, and the whole comprises a unique distillation of knowledge upon a multi-faceted screen.


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  • 1 - Christian doctrine
    pp 9-20
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    The early Christians understood the Church to which they adhered to consist of a community called out to serve God as his people and focused on Jesus of Nazareth as model for the disciples' filial relation to God. Reconciliation and peace are words occurring frequently in early Christian texts. The Pauline tradition freely employed military metaphors for the Christian struggle against evil. By the third century Latin-speaking Christians had come to describe the unbaptised as 'pagani', the soldiers' slang for civilians, uninvolved in the conflict with evil powers. The conversion of Constantine was an event of catalytic significance for the conversion of Europe. Augustine has the utmost reserve before the application o f the Biblical eschatology to legitimate the imperial Christian monarchy. The early Christians influenced subsequent political theories, into the twentieth century, by holding a religious position which entailed a relativism about the use of power in this world.
  • 2 - Greek and Roman political theory
    pp 21-36
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    European political philosophy had its first home in Greece, in a society made up of numerous small city-states, each with its own laws, customs and constitution. Plato's interests in political theory were continued, from a more empirical standpoint, by his erstwhile pupil Aristotle. Aristotle saw politics as a prime concern for the moral philosopher, since he believed that only in a political community can a fully human life be realised. Under the Roman Empire, philosophy became increasingly theological. The dominant school was a revived Platonism, enriched with Aristotelian and Stoic teachings. After Alexander, Greek political history is one of kingdoms; and Greek political theory came to concentrate on questions to do with kingship. In Eusebius' laudation, the Hellenistic monarch reappears in aggressively Christian guise; notably absent, since quite unnecessary, is any attempt to disguise Constantine's absolute monarchy with the 'forms of a commonwealth'. The irony of Julian's progress towards 'Caesaropapism' reflected a broader irony.
  • 3 - Roman law
    pp 37-48
    • By P.G. Stein, Regius Professor of Civil Law, University of Cambridge
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    Knowledge of Roman law was transmitted to later ages through two main bodies of material, first the so-called barbarian codes, and secondly, the Corpus luris of the Emperor Justinian, enacted in the 530s. From the third century BC, there was a class of legal experts, the jurists, who, although they had no formal role to play in the legal drama, provided any advice that was required, so replacing the pontiffs as guardians of the law. The most ambitious part of Justinian's codification is the Digest, an anthology of extracts from the writings o f thirty-nine classical jurists but over one third of them taken from the works of Ulpian and one sixth from those of Paul. Roman law was further divided, following a Greek model, into ius scriptum, written law, and ius non scriptum, unwritten law. Like the Bible, Justinian's Corpus luris was a vast quarry from which principles and maxims of different kinds could be extracted.
  • 4 - Byzantine political thought
    pp 49-80
    • By D.M. Nicol, King's College, University of London
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    The Byzantine Empire, or the Byzantinisation of the Roman Empire, began with the conversion to Christianity of Constantine and his foundation of Constantinople on the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium. At once the main elements of Byzantine political thought are gathered together in one sentence. Eusebius praised Constantine for imitating the divine philanthropy and reflecting as in a mirror the radiance of God's virtues. Byzantine society after the fourth century produced little in the way of political theorising. The most realistic of all pieces of advice and the most illustrative of the facts of Byzantine political thought is surely the De Administrando Imperio compiled by Constantine Porphyrogenitus. A different undercurrent of thought can sometimes be glimpsed in what might be called the literature of Byzantine protest, or satire. The City of Constantinople, the New Rome, the Queen of Cities, remained to the end one of the anchors of Byzantine political thought.
  • 5 - Introduction: the West
    pp 81-91
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    The revolution in the Christian Church's mode of existence was only one facet of the varied and complex changes brought by the first 'wave', the transformation of the Roman world in the third and fourth centuries into its characteristically 'late Roman' shape. In helping to bring about a redirection of Christian political thought it was, however, unquestionably the major factor at work in the minds of the Christian writers of the fourth and fifth, and indeed subsequent, centuries, perceptible in Christian thinking about society even in modern times. The second wave of change, the invasions and settlement of Germanic barbarians in Roman provinces, affected the conditions for political thinking no less profoundly, though less directly, and over a more drawn-out period. In the Greco-Roman political tradition the barbarian was the outsider. Education in the Roman world had been based on the Hellenistic legacy.
  • 6 - The Latin fathers
    pp 92-122
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    Ambrose's crowning work on Christian Morality is the professional hand book addressed to clergy, De officiis ministrorum. Several o f the subjects to which Augustine devoted serious thought are directly related to problems of political life. Most important among these for the purpose are his views on the Roman Empire, its place in the divine plan of salvation and its relationship to Christianity; human nature and relationships in society, and the effect of the fall up on them; the Church and secular world; religious coercion; and the just war. There are two important sources for Gregory's ideas about society. The first was his wide reading of the works of previous Christian writers, the Latin fathers, especially Augustine, and Greek writers. The second was his acquaintance with various traditions of monastic life, his admiration for one of its towering figures, St Benedict, and his own attachment to monastic ideals.
  • 7 - The barbarian kingdoms
    pp 123-154
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    The Germanism, Romanitas and Christianity worked as shaping influences upon all the barbarian kingdoms. The concepts of empire and emperor current c. 400 reveal the interpenetration of Roman and Christian thinking particularly clearly. The empire was traditionally conceived of as the political and cultural expression of the single community which was all mankind worth'y of the name. To the emperors, the barbarians controlling the west at best held by precarious tenure, at worst were squatters. Christian themes dominate ideas of rulership and government in the later Merovingian kingdom, as they do those in contemporary England. Isidore's thought, reflecting secular Roman as well as biblical and patristic, especially Augustinian and Gregorian, ideas, was immensely influential within the Visi gothic kingdom, both in his own day and after. In denying political universalism Isidore may appear to have been expressing the common viewpoint of the post-Justinianean barbarian west, where no writer testifies to the currency of the old ideology.
  • 8 - Introduction: the formation of political thought in the west
    pp 155-173
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    Western Europe during the four centuries that precede the establishment of the Carolingian monarchy in 751 saw the conversion to Catholic Christianity of the barbarian successor kingdoms within the limits o f the western empire and their progressive withdrawal from Byzantium's sphere of influence. So many changes took place in western society during these four centuries that no single term such as feudalism or feudal government suffices to characterise the bonds of society or the nature of rulership. The origins and attributes of the medieval nobility in the Carolingian period and after are still much debated, largely because of the difficulty of constructing genealogies and thereby defining the noble class. Kingship rested on the consent of a king's subjects. The Carolingian empire constituted an example of a state in which Catholic Christianity was a compulsory religion. Throughout this period political philosophy was recognised as one of the disciplines of study.
  • 9 - Government, law and society
    pp 174-210
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    This chapter unravels the main lines of development in the monarchy built by the Carolingians in the eighth and ninth centuries. It deals with manorialism and feudalism. After the downward spiral had reached bottom in the eleventh century, the opposite movement, towards strengthening the monarchy and the role of central government, got under way all over Europe. The chapter discusses what feudalism exactly meant and what role it really played in European society from the days of Charlemagne to those of Barbarossa, Henry II and Philip Augustus. One can find in Anglo-Saxon England a society without feudalism but with widespread manorialism, and in Germany a Grundherrschaft existed on allodial land which its lord did not hold from anyone. The glossators gave their early attention to feudal institutions and made interesting attempts to reduce the oddities to the universal standards of Roman law.
  • 10 - Kingship and empire
    pp 211-251
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    For ideas of kingship, the period c. 750 to c. 1150 was no longer one of beginnings but of consolidation. In the eighth century the Frankish kings Pippin and Charlemagne successfully mobilised two elites, the higher clergy of the Frankish Church and the Frankish aristocracy. In tracing the development of ideas about kingship, 750 is a more defensible starting-point than most periodisations of history. The Roman Empire contained many dependent regna: this was enough of a commonplace to be included in Isidore's Etymologies. The rapid weakening of West Frankish kingship towards the close of the ninth century led to a reinforcing of the theocratic central prop of Carolingian political thought. In political ideas, as in institutions and royal ritual, English developments were influenced by Carolingian models, yet retained some traits of their own. In the Anglo-Norman realm as in France, the Investiture Contest evoked from pro-royal polemicists a successful reassertion of royal theocracy.
  • 11 - Church and papacy
    pp 252-305
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    The Catholic Church is body, in which one desires through good works to be made members. The image of the Church as the single indivisible corpus Christi appears frequently in Carolingian public documents, especially in the appeals for unity in the reign of Louis the Pious, when the empire was threatened by civil war. The most influential version of the image to emerge from the struggles of the reform papacy was that the Roman church was the head of the corpus Christi. Canon law studies had been initiated in the mid-eighth century by the papacy, the educator of Western Christendom in all things Roman. The political theology of the Middle Ages was dominated by a single sententia, the passage of the letter of Pope Gelasius I to the Emperor Anastasius I of 494. Gelasius' definition of the relations of imperium and sacerdotium reflects the situation of the patristic age.
  • 12 - The twelfth-century renaissance
    pp 306-338
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    C. H. Haskins in his classic study, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, emphasised the influence of Rome, the ancient Rome of rulers and lawyers as well as of philosophers and writers. In the Bible, in the works of the Church Fathers and in the classical writings of the pagans, there was a wealth of reflection on the goal of human life and on the government of society. This legacy of thought was vigorously disseminated to a wider and more literate audience. By mid-century, however, Biblical scholarship was again being applied to subjects of political thought. One of the most learned men to use classical sources to provide examples of virtue and vice was John of Salisbury, especially in his longest work, the Policraticus or Statesman's Book. The arrival in the thirteenth century of Latin translations of Greek texts of Aristotle's Ethics and Politics occurred after new ideas about natural philosophy had begun to be current in the West.
  • 13 - Introduction: politics, institutions and ideas
    pp 339-366
    • By J.P. Canning, University College of North Wales, Bangor
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    The main preoccupation of political thought in the high Middle Ages was clearly the relationship between the church and secular rulers, and in particular that between the papacy and the empire. From the mid-twelfth century the papacy was characterised above all by its development as a legal and governmental institution. A great political development occurred in the later Middle Ages: the growth of representative institutions. In the period after the mid-twelfth century the sheer volume of writings which may be considered to have contributed to political thought increased markedly. The chief innovation of late medieval political thought was the development of the idea of the secular state as a product of man's political nature. The adoption of the ultimately Aristotelian idea of a natural political dimension facilitated a clear distinction between church and state. From the late twelfth century onwards canonists and civilians developed ideas of territorial sovereignty, thus reflecting trends in contemporary government.
  • 14 - Spiritual and temporal powers
    pp 367-423
    • By J.A. Watt, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
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    The spiritual power has both to establish the temporal power and to judge it if it fails to do good. This chapter seeks to identify three main areas within which debate focused on the significance of dualism. It begins with the papal position since this was the earliest to be systematically articulated, was the one urged, with all the weight of the Church's magisterium, on the politicians and intellectuals of Christendom, and gave substance and direction to the policies adopted in that hurly-burly of international politics in which the papacy was such an enthusiastic participant. The most important single stimulus to the development of hierocratic theory was the papacy's special relationship with the Holy Roman Empire. Imperialists provided an alternative view of that relationship. Other challenges to the papacy's own concept of its political authority came from national kings. Those mounted by the kings of France and England are considered representative of the attitudes of medieval Christian kingship generally.
  • I - Law, legislative authority, and theories of government, 1150–1300
    pp 424-453
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    The passages in Roman law touching upon the emperor's right to legislate were open to contradictory interpretations. Roman law provided the jurists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with many definitions of sovereignty, but the classical Roman jurisconsults had never analysed legislative authority, jurisdiction, or delegated power in any systematic way. The classical Roman lawyers defined the emperor's authority to legislate, command, and judge as imperium or potestas. The canon lawyers of the twelfth century constructed a complex doctrine of papal sovereignty. The hierarchical state of the church was also a limitation on papal sovereignty. Much of medieval corporate theory was based on Roman terminology and definitions. The jurists expanded the scope and importance of Roman law corporate theory remarkably quickly. Canonistic corporate theory described an intricate relationship between the head of a universitas and its members. There is a large literature discussing ecclesiastical elections in which the canonists thoroughly examined the nature of governmental office and jurisdiction.
  • II - Law, sovereignty and corporation theory, 1300–1450
    pp 454-476
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    Jurists made crucial advances in corporation theory producing thereby a specifically juristic contribution to the emergence of the idea of the state. In all juristic works divine law, natural law, and the ius gentium provided necessary criteria according to which human positive law could be judged. Feudal custom appeared as a fundamental ethical norm, and one which severely limited the sovereignty of the princeps. Jurists first developed a theory of territorial sovereignty to accommodate emerging territorial monarchies. Juristic theory of the sovereignty of city-republics was relatively late in emerging. It was the achievement of Bartolus to produce it, and his thesis, together with Baldus' creative treatment of this theme, constituted a major contribution to late medieval theories of popular sovereignty. Fourteenth-century jurists, however, went beyond theories of territorial sovereignty: through their application of corporation theory to independent cities and kingdoms they made major and quite distinctive contributions to the development of the concept of the territorial state itself.
  • 16 - Government
    pp 477-519
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    In order to discuss medieval theories of government one must first locate them. This chapter is divided into two categories: the speculations of university-trained intellectuals, and the documents produced as an offshoot of the political process. The first category comprises the vision of secular government conceived by theologians like John of Paris and William of Ockham in the course of their reflections on church-state conflict; quodlibetic discussions in the Paris theology faculty; Aquinas' political writings; commentaries on Aristotle's Ethics and Politics. This category also includes the means by which university-trained intellectuals often popularised at least a portion of their political ideas, the 'Mirrors of Princes' and the sermons. The second category is more heterogeneous, and is the work of customary and common lawyers, Beaumanoir, Glanvill, Bracton, Fleta and, on a more political plane, Fortescue, who strove to systematise, explain and defend the legal systems they knew, which could not be done without some political thinking.
  • I - Community, counsel and representation
    pp 520-572
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    The words community, council and representation reflect an organic vision of society, in which communication between men is unproblematic because the individual is not taken into account in the overall analysis. This is the explanation of the supreme importance of the idea of community which dominates all social and political organisations. By the end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth theorists had to deal with the political community from more or less fixed viewpoints, in particular that of the kingdom. One of the most important aspects of communal life in the middle ages is reflected in the widespread use of the terms counsel and council. Canon law's contribution to the development of the idea of representation is contained in the declaration Quod omnes tangit, and its concrete applications. It was only with the work of Marsilius of Padua in the fourteenth century that the idea of representation came to occupy a prominent place in political thought.
  • II - The conciliar movement
    pp 573-587
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    The conciliar movement of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries was an attempt to modify and limit papal control over the Church b y means of general councils. Conciliarism is divided into three phases: (i) 1378-83, when its advocates drew extensively on Marsiglio and, especially, Ockham; (ii) 1408-18, when a quasi-patristic doctrine of power-sharing between pope and bishops-in-council was dominant; (iii) 1432-50, when unlimited sovereignty was claimed for an internally democratic council. The most systematic available statement of community sovereignty was that of Marsilius, who had stated as general norms the legislative sovereignty of 'the corporation of citizens' and the final authority of 'the corporation of the faithful' in doctrinal and ecclesiastical matters. Nicholas of Cusa combined the canonist notion of consent with the Christian-Neoplatonic notion of cosmic 'harmonious concord'; on this basis he worked out both a theory of conciliar supremacy in the Church and a theory of just authority for all polities.
  • 18 - The individual and society
    pp 588-606
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    An economic and entrepreneurial individualism was inherent in the development of commerce and capitalism from the twelfth century onwards. Economic changes began to replace the feudal system and traditional communities with a money economy and social mobility. The scholastics and jurists occasionally discussed the relation between society and the individual explicitly, and in a surprisingly modern way. Medieval jurists maintained a clear working distinction, based on Roman law and dictated by the kinds of problem they were expected to resolve, between an association and its individual members. They distinguished between the powers, liabilities and possessions belonging to the whole, and those belonging to individuals. In the fifteenth century, social theory was frequently the handmaid of political ideology. The self-development of the individual was now elevated into a principal duty and goal in life. The Renaissance and the Reformation served to elevate both the individual and the nation-state.
  • 19 - Property and poverty
    pp 607-648
    • By Janet Coleman, London School of Economics and Political Science
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    Private property was justified for the convenience and utility of men. Poverty is a relative notion, determined by what is taken to be privation and the needs of men in different contexts. The tradition of Roman law was invoked, as was the newly translated corpus of Aristotle's writing, to elaborate on the naturalness of ownership and the necessity of private property as an instrument of the good life and the ordered society. Drawing on the mass of civil and canon law as well as on the newly translated Politics of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas developed a magisterial and synthetic theory of property in his Summa Theologiae. Augustine had spoken of the poor without resources who could scarcely procure what they needed to live on and who needed charitable aid to such a degree as no longer to possess any shame in begging. The rise of diverse religious orders and movements in the twelfth century is best described as a reformation.

Page 1 of 2

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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