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This book has confirmed, through its findings, that a most fruitful way of studying fifteenth-century justifications of power has indeed been to approach both through the issues raised by conciliarism and its papalist opponents, and through the ideas of the humanists, bearing in mind the context of juristic ideas. The sheer variety and complication of the arguments produced has been striking. The fifteenth century can appear as less productive in terms of political thought than the fourteenth but such an impression would be misleading in the areas covered here. There was a genuine intellectual creativity building on previously developed ideas. It has, indeed, become clear in the course of this book that the writers, whom I have considered, shared the fundamental assumption that power needed to be justified. The notable exception was of course Machiavelli. The arguments validating power could be drawn upon by rulers and regimes to justify their actions, since it is difficult to think of any form of government which in practice did not want to present itself as justified in what it did. Self-justification appeared fundamental to the practice of politics then as now.
This chapter discusses Italian humanism for the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries from the point of view of ideas justifying power. It shows that these humanists were expressly concerned with the justification of power. The method they used was fundamentally different from the scholastic one employed by the conciliarists and their opponents: the humanists used rhetoric based on their knowledge of Latin and Greek works. The chapter considers republican thought at Florence (Bruni and Plamieri). Humanists also justified both republican and signorial or princely regimes: Patizi and Platina argued both ways. Arguments in favour of mixed constitutions are discussed, notably in the case of Venice with the works of Vergerio and Quirini. Many authors wrote in defence of signorial or princely regimes, notably those of Milan and Naples. Particular attention is given to the argument that, whatever the origins of the ruler's power might be, his rule is justified if he acts with virtue. Machiavelli was unusual in that he did not believe that power had to be justified. His treatment of how a prince might maintain his state and also his defence of republican liberty are discussed.
This chapter sets forth conciliarist ideas in the church and those of its papalist opponents, from the time of the Council of Constance to that of the Council of Basel. Its focus is on three writers: Jean Gerson, Panormitanus and Nicholas of Cusa. The work of Jean Gerson summed up the early stage of conciliarism up to Constance. Panormitanus, the leading canonist of his day, and Nicholas of Cusa, theologian and polymath, exemplified the fluidity of approaches in the fifteenth century because they both exhibited changes of mind as regards conciliarism and papalism
This chapter considers Roman and canon law, the English common law tradition and French juristic thought. Roman and canon law jurisprudence of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are taken together because fifteenth-century jurists tended to reiterate the works of fourteenth-century ones. The chapter considers whether jurists contributed to the early development of international law. The impact of humanism on law is also discussed – notably in the case of Lorenzo Valla's destruction of the authenticity of the Donation of Constantine. The English common law tradition is considered through the writings of Sir John Fortescue: notably his justifications of English kingship. The French juristic tradition is considered through its two most important theorists: Jean de Terrevermeille and Claude de Seyssel. Terrevermeille made the most detailed contributions to the notions of the mystical body of the kingdom ever put forward in the Middle Ages. Seyssel, through elaborating the three bridles on royal power (religion, justice and the police) justified an absolute monarchy limited by higher norms, a solution fundamental for centuries throughout the ancien régime
This book pursues the research question of how power was justified in fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Europe. It addresses the arguments that people at the time found convincing. The main focus is on the period from the beginning of the fifteenth century until the eve of the Reformation, although these edges are of necessity fuzzy, especially because material from an earlier period often has to be included. It takes the story of power on from my last book and seeks to develop a more nuanced treatment of ideas of legitimate power and authority.1
The chapter addresses the works of the major defender of the conciliarism of the Council of Basel: John of Segovia. John was notable for the profundity of his thought: he addressed fundamental concepts, including the nature of authority, the role of trust and the idea that ultimately only the truth has authority. In contrast there are considered the works of John of Turrecremata who provided the most important defence of he papalist position – the greatest work of ecclesiology of the late Middle Ages. This chapter also considers the works of Antonio de' Roselli – these showed clearly the difficulties involved in applying modern notions of conciliarism and papalism in attempting to understand the thought of this period. The chapter ends with an evaluation of conciliarism. This shows that it was overwhelmingly a scholastic and clerical movement; that it was not as radical as it might appear.
How was power justified in late medieval Europe? What justifications did people find convincing, and why? Based around the two key intellectual movements of the fifteenth century, conciliarism in the church and humanism, this study explores the justifications for the distribution of power and authority in fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Europe. By examining the arguments that convinced people in this period, Joseph Canning demonstrates that it was almost universally assumed that power had to be justified but that there were fundamentally different kinds of justification employed. Against the background of juristic thought, Canning presents a new interpretative approach to the justifications of power through the lenses of conciliarism, humanism and law, throwing fresh light on our understanding of both conciliarists' ideas and the contribution of Italian Renaissance humanists.
The friars’ disputes at the court of Pope John XXII at Avignon are well known, as is the impact of a series of papal rulings concerning the theological basis and character of evangelical poverty. The writings of William of Ockham and some lesser-known friars are frequently invoked in connection with these disputes. While John XXII undermined traditional Franciscan teaching about the use of material possessions, the friars were required to respond from a firm canonical basis. Dr Canning brings his knowledge of the world of canon law to this dispute, and turns the spotlight on the arsenal of texts pertaining to this discipline. The result is a fresh perspective on how the friars assembled and deployed canonical materials. The friars appealed to a pre-lapsarian world which predated the existence of private property. One of the leading figures in the friars’ ranks was Bonagratia of Bergamo, whose canonical writings are evaluated within these polemical exchanges.
Keywords: Avignon, Bonagratia of Bergamo, canon law, John XXII, William of Ockham
The disputes over poverty within the Franciscan order in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries and the ensuing conflicts with Popes John XXII and Benedict XII on this issue were some of the most well-known episodes in Franciscan history, and have stimulated a vast scholarly literature. John Moorman himself in his A History of the Franciscan Order from its Origins to the Year 1517 of necessity had to give an outline treatment of these disputes. The question of poverty and property was an enduring problem for Christianity given the deep suspicion of riches exhibited by the New Testament: in the medieval Church there was tension between the demands of the poverty ethos and ecclesiastical possessions. The memory of the community of possessions referred to in the Acts of the Apostles could create a bad conscience in the face of the Church's compromise with the world through its integration into society's structures of property and power.
The defence of Franciscan positions on poverty lay in the fundamental distinction between use and ownership. In the conflicts with the papacy, Franciscans of various kinds used the authority of previous papal bulls and decretals which they maintained favoured their interpretations.