Marsilius of Padua

Last updated
Miniature on the first page of a luxury manuscript of the Defensor pacis (15th century). Marsilius is shown presenting a copy to the Emperor Marsilius, Defensor pacis, Paris, Lat. 14620.jpg
Miniature on the first page of a luxury manuscript of the Defensor pacis (15th century). Marsilius is shown presenting a copy to the Emperor

Marsilius of Padua (Italian: Marsilio or Marsiglio da Padova; born Marsilio dei Mainardini or Marsilio Mainardini; c. 1275 c. 1342) was an Italian scholar, trained in medicine, who practiced a variety of professions. He was also an important 14th-century political figure. His political treatise Defensor pacis (The Defender of Peace), an attempt to refute papalist claims to a "plenitude of power" in affairs of both church and state, is seen by some authorities as the most revolutionary political treatise written in the later Middle Ages. It is one of the first examples of a trenchant critique of caesaropapism in Western Europe. [1]


Early years

Marsilius was born in Padua, an important Italian city, circa 1275-1280. He probably studied medicine at the University of Padua [2] and later went to the University of Paris, where he became a devoted admirer of Aristotle, whom he called 'the divine philosopher". [3] He served as rector of the University of Paris in 1313.

Political theory and later years

Marsilius wrote Defensor pacis in 1324. [4] This treatise was written in the context of a power struggle between Pope John XXII and Louis of Bavaria (or Ludwig of Bavaria), the elected candidate for Holy Roman Emperor. Louis' policies in the Italian peninsula, where the Empire had important territories, threatened papal territorial sovereignty. In 1323 Louis had sent an army to Italy to protect Milan against the powerful Kingdom of Naples. Naples, along with France, was a strong ally of John XXII. John excommunicated Louis and demanded that he relinquish his claim to the imperial crown. Louis responded to John XXII with fresh provocations.

In Defensor pacis, Marsilius sought to demonstrate, by arguments from reason (in Dictio I of the text) and by argument from authority (in Dictio II) the independence of the Holy Roman Empire from the Papacy and the emptiness of the prerogatives alleged to have been usurped by the Roman pontiffs. A number of Marsilius's views were declared to be heretical by Pope John XXII in 1327. [4]

Most of Defensor pacis is devoted to theology. Relying heavily on Scripture, Marsilius seeks to show that Jesus did not claim to possess any temporal power and that he did not intend his church to exercise any. [5] On the contrary, Scripture teaches that the church should be thoroughly subordinate to the state in both secular and spiritual matters. All authority in the church lies with the whole body of the faithful, the secular ruler who acts as the people's representative, and general councils called by the secular ruler. [6] Some of Marsilius's arguments on these themes had a marked influence during the Reformation. [7]

Today, Marsilius's Defensor pacis is best remembered not for its theology but for its political philosophy and legal theory. Marsilius agrees with Aristotle that the purpose of government is the rational fulfillment of humans' natural desire for a "sufficient life". [8] However, he goes beyond Aristotle in embracing a form of republicanism that views the people as the only legitimate source of political authority. Sovereignty lies with the people, and the people should elect, correct, and, if necessary, depose its political leaders. [7] Democracy, Marsilius argues, is the best form of government because it tends to produce the wisest laws, protects the common benefit, promotes "sufficiency of life", and produces laws that are most likely to be obeyed. [9]

Marsilius and John of Jandun, who has sometimes been credited as a co-author of Defensor pacis, left France for Louis' court in Bavaria. Louis admitted Marsilius and John to his circle. Others were also under his protection, including Michael of Cesena and the philosopher William of Ockham, an advocate of an early form of church and state separation. In 1326, Marsilius accompanied Louis to Italy, where he preached or circulated written attacks against the pope. The Lord of Milan Galeazzo I Visconti, suspected of conspiring with John XXII, was deposed and Louis was crowned King of Italy in Milan in 1327.

In January 1328 Louis entered Rome and had himself crowned emperor by the aged senator Sciarra Colonna, called captain of the Roman people. Three months later, Louis published a decree declaring "Jacque de Cahors"Pope John XXIIdeposed on grounds of heresy. He then installed the Franciscan Pietro Rainalducci as Nicholas V. Nicholas was deposed upon Louis's departure from Rome in 1329.

In Bavaria, as imperial vicar, Marsilius persecuted the clergy who had remained faithful to John XXII. In recompense for his services, he was appointed archbishop of Milan, [10] and John of Jandun obtained from Louis IV the bishopric of Ferrara.

Marsilius also composed a treatise De translatione [Romani] imperii, which some authorities consider is a rearrangement of a similar work by Landolfo Colonna called De jurisdictione imperatoris in causa matrimoniali. This work, and Marsilius's variation, sought to justify the exclusive jurisdiction of the emperor in matrimonial affairs: Louis of Bavaria had recently annulled the marriage of the son of the King of Bohemia.


Marsilius died in Munich around 1342, still unreconciled to the Church.


Some authorities consider Defensor pacis one of the most important political and religious works of fourteenth-century Europe. In the Defensor minor , Marsilius completed and elaborated on different points in the doctrine laid down in the Defensor pacis. He dealt here with problems concerning ecclesiastical jurisdiction, penance, indulgences, crusades and pilgrimages, vows, excommunication, the general church council, marriage and divorce, and unity with the Greek Orthodox Church. In this work he even more clearly articulates imperial supremacy over the Church. [11]

Related Research Articles

The 1320s was a decade of the Julian Calendar which began on January 1, 1320, and ended on December 31, 1329.

Pope John XXII pope from 1316 to his death in 1334

Pope John XXII, born Jacques Duèze, was head of the Catholic Church from 7 August 1316 to his death.

Avignon Papacy period during which the pope decided to live in Avignon, France rather than in Rome

The Avignon Papacy, also known as the Babylonian Captivity, was the period from 1309 to 1376 during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon rather than in Rome. The situation arose from the conflict between the papacy and the French crown, culminating in the death of Pope Boniface VIII after his arrest and maltreatment by Philip IV of France. Following the further death of Pope Benedict XI, Philip forced a deadlocked conclave to elect the French Clement V as pope in 1305. Clement refused to move to Rome, and in 1309 he moved his court to the papal enclave at Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years. This absence from Rome is sometimes referred to as the "Babylonian captivity of the Papacy".

Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor 14th century Holy Roman Emperor of the house of Wittelsbach

Louis IV, called the Bavarian, of the house of Wittelsbach, was King of the Romans from 1314, King of Italy from 1327, and Holy Roman Emperor from 1328.

Year 1342 (MCCCXLII) was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar.

Guelphs and Ghibellines Rival political factions in Medieval Italy

The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in the Italian city-states of central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, rivalry between these two parties formed a particularly important aspect of the internal politics of medieval Italy. The struggle for power between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire arose with the Investiture Controversy, which began in 1075, and ended with the Concordat of Worms in 1122. The division between the Guelphs and Ghibellines in Italy, fuelled by the imperial Great Interregnum, persisted until the 15th century.

Gallicanism is the belief that popular civil authority—often represented by the monarch's or the state's authority—over the Catholic Church is comparable to that of the Pope. Gallicanism is a rejection of ultramontanism; it has something in common with Anglicanism, but is nuanced, in that it plays down the authority of the Pope in church without denying that there are some authoritative elements to the office associated with being primus inter pares. Other terms for the same or similar doctrines include Erastianism, Febronianism, and Josephinism.

Conciliarism was a reform movement in the 14th-, 15th- and 16th-century Catholic Church which held that supreme authority in the Church resided with an Ecumenical council, apart from, or even against, the pope. The movement emerged in response to the Western Schism between rival popes in Rome and Avignon. The schism inspired the summoning of the Council of Pisa (1409), which failed to end the schism, and the Council of Constance (1414–1418), which succeeded and proclaimed its own superiority over the Pope. Conciliarism reached its apex with the Council of Basel (1431–1449), which ultimately fell apart. The eventual victor in the conflict was the institution of the Papacy, confirmed by the condemnation of conciliarism at the Fifth Lateran Council, 1512–17. The final gesture however, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, was not promulgated until the First Vatican Council of 1870.

Cangrande I della Scala Italian noble

Cangrandedella Scala was an Italian nobleman, belonging to the della Scala family which ruled Verona from 1308 until 1387. Now perhaps best known as the leading patron of the poet Dante Alighieri, Cangrande was in his own day chiefly acclaimed as a successful warrior and autocrat. Between becoming sole ruler of Verona in 1311 and his death in 1329 he took control of several neighbouring cities, notably Vicenza, Padua and Treviso, and came to be regarded as the leader of the Ghibelline faction in northern Italy.

Louis V, called the Brandenburger, a member of the House of Wittelsbach, ruled as Margrave of Brandenburg from 1323 to 1351 and as Duke of Bavaria from 1347 until his death. From 1342 he also was co-ruling Count of Tyrol by his marriage with the Meinhardiner countess Margaret.

Adam Easton Catholic cardinal

Adam Easton was an English Cardinal, born at Easton in Norfolk.

John of Jandun or John of Jaudun was a French philosopher, theologian, and political writer. Jandun is best known for his outspoken defense of Aristotelianism and his influence in the early Latin Averroist movement.

Defensor may refer to:

John Henry, Margrave of Moravia Count of Tyrol

John Henry of Luxembourg, a member of the House of Luxembourg, was Count of Tyrol from 1335 to 1341 and Margrave of Moravia from 1349 until his death.

Alexander of San Elpidio Italian bishop

Alexander of San Elpidio (1269–1326) was an Italian Augustinian. He was known as prior general of the order of Hermits of St. Augustine, as a writer on theology and political matters, and as bishop of Melfi.

The Defensor minor is a work by Marsilius of Padua written around 1342. The Defensor minor is a restatement and defense of Marsilius's best known work, the Defensor pacis.

Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church from 17 December 1316 until his death, was a Roman nobleman, a nephew of Pope Nicholas III and a grandson of Matteo Rosso Orsini.

The tract Defensor pacis laid the foundations of modern doctrines of popular sovereignty. It was written by Marsilius of Padua, an Italian medieval scholar. It appeared in 1324 and provoked a storm of controversy that lasted through the century. The context of the work lies in the political struggle between Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Pope John XXII. The treatise is vehemently anticlerical. Marsilius' work was censured by Pope Benedict XII and Pope Clement VI.

Matteo I Visconti Lord of Milan

Matteo I Visconti (1250–1322) was the second of the Milanese Visconti family to govern Milan. Matteo was born to Teobaldo Visconti and Anastasia Pirovano.

Averroes theory of the unity of the intellect philosophical theory proposed by Averroes that all humans share the same intellect

The unity of the intellect is a philosophical theory proposed by the Muslim medieval Andalusian philosopher Averroes (1126–1198), which asserted that all humans share the same intellect. Averroes expounded his theory in his long commentary of On the Soul to explain how universal knowledge is possible within the Aristotelian theory of mind. Averroes' theory was influenced by related ideas by previous thinkers such as Aristotle, Plotinus, Al-Farabi, Avicenna and Avempace.


  1. Hahn, Scott & Wiker, Benjamin (2013). Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700. Chapter 2: "The First Cracks of Secularism: Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham": Herder & Herder. pp. 17–59 passim.CS1 maint: location (link)
  2. Alan Gewirth, "Marsilius of Padua," in Paul Edwards, ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 5. New York: Macmillan, 1967, p. 166.
  3. Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of Peace. Translated by Alan Gewirth. New York: Harper & Row, 1967, p. 38.
  4. 1 2 Lee, Hwa-Yong, Political Representation in the Later Middle Ages: Marsilius in Context (New York etc., Lang, 2008)
  5. Marsilius of Padua, DefensorPacis, pp. 113-126.
  6. Marsilius of Padua, Defender of Peace, Discourse II.
  7. 1 2 Gewirth, "Marsilius of Padua," p. 167.
  8. Marsilius of Padua, Defensor Pacis, p. 13.
  9. Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of Peace, pp. 46-47.
  10. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Marsilius of Padua"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  11. Lee, Hwa-Yong, Political Representation in the Later Middle Ages: Marsilius in Context (New York etc., Lang, 2008)

Further reading

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Marsilius of Padua". Encyclopædia Britannica . 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 775–776.