Towards a naturalistic account of man, society, and politics
By Keir Martland
For much of the Middle Ages – ordered anarchy though it was, owing to the situation on the ground of overlapping jurisdictions and law codes – the path to a fully-developed political or legal philosophy of any kind was blocked. There were, to be sure, a number of obstacles for the political philosopher, and no single factor can be held entirely responsible. Among these factors was the very idea of Christendom itself, since men in the Middle Ages did not separate ‘Church’, ‘State’, ‘Empire’, ‘kingdom’, ‘Europe’ etc. If ever Hilaire Belloc’s line that “Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe” was factually correct, it was during the early to high Middle Ages. Naturally, this lack of clear thinking was one significant impediment to the development of serious political thought. At the same time, this Christendom required, so many thought, a single dominus. Whether pope or Western Emperor, for as long as the secular realm was thought of in the same terms as the spiritual realm, where one Lord and one Faith were both sufficient and necessary, for as long as the mission of the temporal powers was the same as the mission of the spiritual powers, one man on earth surely ought to be lord of the world. As a result, for much of the Middle Ages, while the battle for the position of dominus mundi raged between pope and emperor or pope and king or emperor and king, the ‘political thought’ produced was necessarily to a certain extent propaganda which took for granted the unity of Christendom under one divinely-appointed head.
From the late Middle Ages onwards, however, both the breakdown of the unity of Christendom into nations, the recognition of which became unavoidable during the Western Schism and the fifteenth century Councils, and the reintroduction of Aristotle into the West, served to separate the temporal and the spiritual and pave the way for a naturalistic account of man, society, and politics. This was a process. The process of serious, rigorous naturalistic thought about man, society, and politics was begun by St Thomas Aquinas, continued by the Second Scholastics, and developed still further by later Thomists. But the early stages of the separation of the temporal and the spiritual were far from smooth, and one of the principal tasks of the early naturalistic political writers was to refute the hierocratic doctrine and to counter the malign influence of the kind of Christian Neoplatonism which survived in the political writings of St Augustine of Hippo and later ‘Political Augustinians.’
Aquinas, it has been remarked, understood Aristotle more thoroughly than anyone before or since the thirteenth century. His preference for Aristotle over Augustine is no doubt due to the intellectual rigour of Aristotle and the ambiguity of Augustine, and for all the attempts by recent scholars to emphasise the continuities between Augustine and Aquinas, the latter was admirably original. However, the reintroduction of Aristotle into the West required a reconciliation of him with Christian orthodoxy, as Walter Ullmann put it Aristotle was “received into the Church.” Since Augustine was one of the great creators and upholders of that orthodoxy, it may have been hoped that Augustine would baptise and confirm Aristotle. At the same time it may have been hoped that Aristotle would serve to rephrase and refine Augustinian ideas. When it came to political ideas, the attempted synthesis had its successes and its failures.
In the political writings of Aquinas there are a number of identifiably Aristotelean political ideas. For one, man is a political animal with a nature. Man is a social and political animal, and this is because man, unlike animals in some respects, must come together with other men to realise his needs and goals, and because man has the ability to discover right from wrong. Crucial to the presentation by Aquinas of the idea of man as social and political animal, living in a community, ‘in multitudine vivens’, is the natural light of reason. Man has a nature, and above all a nature which is not entirely corrupt, defective, or impaired, and here Aquinas is following in the footsteps of William of Auxerre, who maintained that “[Adam]… was not made bereft of all his gifts.” For Aquinas, man has reason, unlike in the work of Augustine, and law ‘exists’ in reason. In other words, the natural law can be discovered and reasoned to, and it is objective, and real in the sense that ‘it’ was, as Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologiae, “inserted into the minds of men by God.” We can argue in order to discover the law. Law is not arbitrary, even when it is given by a sovereign prince. For what pleases the prince has the force of law is true only, then, if, as Aquinas says in the Summa, what pleases him is “in accord with some rule of reason.” Thus in the sense of the nature of man and the natural law, Aquinas is Aristotelean.
Aquinas is Aristotelean also, in his notion of a telos for man and for society. He is Aristotelean on the purpose of human society, since for him, men come together not only out of convenience, that they might ‘live well’, in the sense alluded to above, i.e. that man’s nature is different from that of animals and his needs cannot be satisfied by living in isolation and without society, but that they might live well in another, different sense. For men, Aquinas writes in De Regno, Book I, associate to live the good life, to live “according to virtue” and therefore “the end of human association is a virtuous life.” The ultimate end of men is to achieve blessedness. Furthermore, not only human society, but government itself, as in Aristotelean political philosophy, should lead men to fulfil their end. Indeed, on politics Aquinas is positive and a far-cry from the essentially anti-political, fatalism of Augustine, for in his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Aquinas writes of political virtue as “in itself good” and says “if it is informed by grace, it will be meritorious.” The role of government, Aquinas tells us in chapter xvi of Book I, is to create the conditions in which men can flourish, and indeed to guide them to the realisation of their purpose, “to secure the good life for the community in such a way as to ensure that it is led to the blessedness of heaven” – though the end of the blessedness of heaven is hardly Aristotelean – and this is to be achieved by “commanding those things which conduce to the blessedness of heaven and forbidding…those which are contrary to it.”
As Aquinas takes after Aristotle on purpose or telos, he does too on the question of the related notion of the common good. Law must be aimed at the common good. For the law should not be directed towards the blessedness of an individual, as the argument goes in the Summa, “since every part of something is ordered in relation to the whole as imperfect to perfect” and therefore, man being part of the community, part of a perfect whole, the law must seek to “secure the common happiness.” Two further Aristotelean concepts jump out here: first, law; second, the perfect community. The following definition of law is advanced: “a certain ordinance of reason for the common good, made and promulgated by him who has care of the community.” Likewise, when Aquinas talks of the ‘perfect community’, this is not Augustine’s heavenly city. Instead, Aquinas talks of the perfect community in the Aristotelean sense of the State. All must be directed to the common good in this State, and there is no room for individual, private ends. Law and the State are both presented as organic, originating from the bottom up; there is a sense in which Aquinas’ politics may be understood as one of Ullmann’s ‘ascending theories of government’, i.e. with power and authority flowing from the bottom up. Likewise, for Aquinas in De Regno, as for Aristotle, there is a lengthy description of the various kinds of government, such as polity, aristocracy, and monarchy, and democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny, with the key Aristotelean distinction between defective rule and effective rule maintained, that of the ruler or rulers either ruling in the interests of the community or themselves. There are, then, clearly a number of Aristotelean political ideas in Aquinas’ political writings.
However, Augustinian political ideas in the political writings of Aquinas also feature. For instance, there is something clearly Augustinian in the surviving neo-Platonic elements of Aquinas. Aquinas is clear that the soul rules the body, and by implication the distinction made between soul and body is still there. Aquinas is also essentially Augustinian – though this might be Cicero via Augustine – on the importance of peace in society, and he defines peace in De Regno as “the good and wellbeing of a community united in fellowship.” This peace was to be maintained through the creation and preservation of unity and it is thus that the consideration of the different kinds of government in De Regno can actually be read in an Augustinian light, since there is a discussion of how well these orders will preserve peace through unity. The conclusion of this discussion is that rule by a king is the best form of government, for there is not only the most likelihood that he will fulfil his Aristotelean role of providing for the common good, but he will be unlikely to produce civil war, for societies with non-monarchical governments “toil under dissensions and are tossed about without peace.” Moreover, the risk of the king becoming a tyrant is worth taking, since polities and aristocracies are likely to degenerate into civil strife in any case.
Aquinas is essentially Augustinian on passive obedience to tyrants at times. The reason for the recommendation of passive obedience is twofold. Firstly, since the civil strife produced by rebellion against a tyrant may be imprudent since it might disturb the peace and produce civil war, or in any case produce a worse tyrant! Secondly, and here another Augustinian notion which seems not to sit well with the earlier Aristotelean view of man’s nature presented, tyrannical rulers are also defended as a punishment for sin. The basis for this is mainly scriptural, with chapter and verse from Hosea and Job, both supporting the concept of an unjust ruler inflicted on a people as the wrath of God. Aquinas agrees this can be the case, though he tempers it with the suggestion that unjust rulers given to subjects in the wrath of God are resented and do not last long. Still, the Augustinian notion of coercive power as punishment for sin is there, and is at least implicitly applied to all rule and not just defective rule, since the objection that political authority is unnecessary and contrary to man’s nature is rejected by Aquinas.
One may also see the Augustinian body-soul dualism in the Summa, when Aquinas explains that Christians must indeed submit to secular powers. Aquinas argues that secular power only pertains to the body and not to the soul “which remains free.” Since grace redeems our souls and not our bodies, we may serve the divine law in our minds while not doing so with our bodies. Again on the question of whether man is bound to serve the secular powers even though he is baptised, this is the case for Aquinas since man is redeemed only from the “spiritual servitude of sin” and not from “the corporeal servitude by which they are bound to serve temporal masters.” These temporal masters must be motivated by the right things, and these motivations are not honour, power, riches or glory, which are fleeting and which in any case are not achieved well by seeing them. Rather, again in Augustinian fashion, the temporal master may be motivated by two other things – aside from political virtue, that is. First, the temporal master may be motivated by the heavenly reward he will get by performing his duty, though this is not specifically Augustinian. Second, the temporal master may be motivated by friendship, communion, love of neighbour, i.e. the Christian caritas by which Augustine argues men who participate in the State should be motivated. Conversely, the unjust ruler “usually [has] little love for the people over whom they rule.”
Not only can one find Augustinian and Aristotelean political ideas in Aquinas, but there can at times be seen a mixture of the two in the same breath, and the result is sometimes a successful synthesis of political ideas. Ultimately, the politics of Aquinas stem from his view that man’s nature is not entirely defective. Society is, therefore, not entirely defective. Therefore, there is some good in man and society and political orders, good which can be understood apart from Christian truth. However, there is a need for grace to perfect nature, and the need for the divine society to perfect the natural society, and the need for natural ends to be subject to the ultimate divine end.
In the attempted synthesis of Augustine and Aristotle, we see Aquinas using the one to support the other. For instance, Augustine is quoted in order to support the notion of an eternal law: Augustine is quoted by Aquinas as saying, “‘That law which is called the Supreme Reason cannot be understood by anyone as other than immutable and eternal”. Furthermore, an essentially Christian notion, which was certainly articulated by Augustine, is used to support the idea of an eternal law, i.e. “Those things which have not yet come into being in themselves already exist in God in as much as they are foreknown and foreordained by Him.” Augustine’s metaphysics allows for only development of what has already been made by God simultaneously from the beginning of time, not for any genuine new creation or evolution. This idea is utilised by Aquinas to support – to Christianise – his essentially classical sense of the eternal law. By extension support is given to the idea of the natural law, also, for “participation of the rational creature in the eternal law is called the natural law.” However, a better example of a mixture of Aquinas and Aristotle on the same issue cannot be cited than the discussion of the naturalness of political authority, for here Aquinas misreads Augustine entirely in order to conscript him to support Aristotle. By misreading or casuistry, Aquinas somehow takes Augustine’s statement in the City of God in Book XIX that rational creatures were not intended to lord it over their fellows, “not man over man, but man over beast” and his comments on the just man, ruling in Christian charity as a pater familias in the here and now of the saeculum in order to support the Aristotelean notion of political authority – exercised for the common good – as necessary for social life! Aquinas forgets or neglects to mention that Augustine was not talking of the state of innocence, in which he is emphatic that there is no dominium.
The synthesis can also be seen in the discussion of the need for the divine law over and above the natural and human law. For, though Aquinas concedes virtue to the political, he cannot give the political a blank cheque. He recognises the difference between the internal, concerning the mind and the soul, and the external actions of man. The political, therefore, is restricted in some sense by its being concerned with externals – though this is very odd, for how can living according to the political virtues be reduced to external factors? – and so “man cannot judge inward acts, which are concealed, but only outward ones, which are apparent.” However, this leaves Aquinas with the need for some mechanism, some way of directing man towards his final end, some way of guiding the ship through the perils of the sea to the safe harbour. Inward acts, are not off-limits; they can be guided and controlled, and it is here that the divine law “should supervene.” From this one can see roughly equal proportions of Augustine and Aristotle. On the one hand, there is the Augustinian anti-Donatist insistence on the inability of men to make windows into the souls of other men, although Aquinas does not take this as far as Augustine that all questions of ‘virtue’ may only be resolved on the Last Day. For, on the other hand, there is also the clear expounding of a virtue ethic, both in the sense of human and natural law – outward acts of virtue – and in the sense of the divine law – inward acts of virtue.
Synthesis may also be seen in response to the idea that baptism, which cleanses man from sin, frees man from the duty to obey the secular powers, when Aquinas replies that baptism does not erase all the consequent damage done to man’s nature consequent upon the sin of Adam, and here he gives the examples of “the necessity of death, and blindness”, but that baptism allows man to hope of “that life in which all these things are to be taken away.” It is for this reason, Aquinas argues, that the ‘servile condition’ remains and is not washed away by baptism “even though this condition is a penalty of sin.” Here Aquinas emphasises that our nature is not perfect; men are not angels. While men are also not daemons, our nature is still impaired by the transmission of mortality and other punishments consequent upon the Fall. It must surely be interesting – even telling – to note that Aquinas mentions mortality and blindness rather than anything moral or intellectual! Is man to be thought perfectly moral or perfectly rational? Obviously not, but for Aquinas the role of the intellect is very great indeed, in a way which would have been unthinkable for Augustine, for the natural law itself is discerned through the practical intellect. Now, leaving aside the theological questions, these two mentioned things – mortality and blindness – are physical things. Again, Aquinas is surely making some allusion to the body-soul dualism, though here probably in a way that Augustine would not endorse. Government – as a punishment for sin – touches only the body, and not the soul. However, there is a problem here, for in the Thomist system, how can government per se be a punishment for sin? If this were the case then how could it have existed before sin?
Furthermore, in De Regno, leaving aside the possibility that he was writing to please the king for whom it was written, Aquinas argues monarchy, rule by a king, is to the best form of government, rather than polity or aristocracy. Here, Aquinas’ essentially classical understanding of the different forms of government is tempered by a clear departure from Aristotle, i.e. that mentioned above, the emphasis on peace and unity. This departure, however, is fortunate in that it does not present any glaring contradictions or other difficulties.
However, in the attempted synthesis of Aristotelean and Augustinian political ideas, there are a number of idiosyncrasies or even contradictions. A key area of difficulty of reconciliation is over the question of tyrants. For example, Aquinas writes in De Regno,
“But if men are to deserve…[deliverance from tyrants] they must cease from sin, because it is as a punishment for their sin that ungodly men are given power over them.”
As we have considered, Aquinas agrees with the Augustinian view of coercion as punishment for sin. But how does this fit with political power, albeit of the virtuous, common-good kind, being natural and existing before the Fall, which Aquinas expounds, along with the naturalness of inequality, earlier in De Regno? If there is a natural law why must subjects commit themselves to passive obedience to tyrants? For surely to posit the existence of a natural law is to say that some human law is in accordance with it and some is not, and therefore that legislation incompatible with the natural law is “not a law but a perversion of law”, as Aquinas does indeed say in the Summa? Just, then, as unjust human laws which contradict the natural law should not be obeyed, why ought rulers which contradict the natural law standard of a what constitutes a ruler to be obeyed? It is one thing to argue, as Aquinas does earlier, that to remove a tyrant risks worse tyranny, and quite another to maintain that tyranny is deserved as a punishment for sin! Thus there is a difficulty of synthesis here, and indeed Aquinas was not entirely consistent on the relationship between natural law and human law, arguing elsewhere that the latter was essential in defining and providing temporal sanctions in order to realise the former.
Furthermore, in Scripta super libros sententiarum, Aquinas further complicates the question of the unjust ruler by writing of the manner of acquisition of rule. He writes that a man who seizes power by violence “does not become a ruler or lord truly; and so anyone can reject such authority when the opportunity arises…” This does not resolve the matter, but creates further difficulties, such as: Where does this notion of the ‘true’ ruler or ruling ‘truly’ come from if political power is merely a punishment for sin – which in Aquinas’ system at least it isn’t – the acceptance of which is demanded by God? The idea of the non-ruler against whom it is permissible for anyone to rebel is surely leaning more towards the idea of an independent standard by which one may judge a ruler to be a bad ruler or not a ruler at all. Yet this does not fit easily into the conception of power as merely a punishment for sin.
A fine line is trod by Aquinas on the same issue when he discusses when a ruler oversteps the mark. One is not bound to obey a ruler, and indeed is bound to resist him, when the ruler contradicts his very purpose. For example, “if some sinful act is commanded.” The example is then given of martyrs suffering death “rather than obey the ungodly commands of tyrants.” Here there is the concept of the ruler having a purpose, the purpose being the creation and preservation of a society in which virtue may flourish. He is a bad ruler if he orders his subjects to sin. The subject is not bound to accept his commands and do his will. Notice, however, that here Aquinas does not suggest any mechanism for the removal of this bad ruler. Martyrdom is presented as an act of defiance and tyrannicide or the like are not mentioned. Thus we have an idiosyncratic blend of Augustinian passive obedience to coercive power as punishment for sin with Aristotelean notions of the purpose of secular power as the fulfilment of man’s telos through the State. Tyrannicide is justified in a curious case, however, which is hardly elucidated, and this is ““…where someone had seized dominion for himself by violence… and where they had no recourse to a superior by whom judgment might be passed on the invader”. It is difficult to see, however, how no recourse to a superior, and how acquiring power against the wishes of the people makes any difference to the legitimacy of slaying a bad ruler, for surely the method matters not, but the mere fact that the ruler is acting not as befits a ruler. In other words, we seem to have a tug of war at work in Aquinas’ political thought. One the one hand there is an ascending theory of government, with individuals, communities, and the State as an organic whole working from the bottom up, finding the good, and being guided to the ultimate good through the natural law to the divine. On the other hand, all power comes from God, partly as a punishment for sin, and certainly there are areas in which the Church must have power over secular society. In De Regno, intermediate ends are subject to the ultimate end of blessedness therefore: “In the law of Christ, kings must be subject to priests.” Therefore one might be forgiven for seeing the natural law disappear entirely and be subject entirely to divine law.
Indeed, while politics itself is positively good, and while even the legitimacy of infidel government is upheld in the Summa, there is a further tug of war in Aquinas’ thought, this time between Aristotelean natural law on the one hand, and a neo-Platonic, body-soul dualism on the other. For ultimately, there is the body and the soul, the natural law and the divine, and without Augustine’s essentially anti-political theology of saeculum, what we see is the neo-Platonic dualism, with its hierarchy, intervening in politics and not just theology. The effect is that Aquinas justifies the superiority of the spiritual power on earth over the secular power, for the predictable analogy is made between Church and secular power and soul and body, “…and therefore there is no usurpation of judgement if a spiritual superior intervenes in temporal matters.”
The attempted synthesis of Aristotelean and Augustinian political ideas in the political writings of Aquinas is ultimately not, then, entirely successful. While Aquinas manages to enlist Augustine to support some classical notions, or at least to use Augustine’s metaphysics to explain their nature, there are a number of contradictions and general idiosyncrasies. This is seen in Aquinas’ fudging the issue of the unjust ruler and what is to be done about him, an issue on which at times he is commendably original and at times dispiritingly unclear. Ultimately in this case, at times Aquinas seems to write as if all authority comes from the people, in the sense of Aristotle’s organic State, while at times authority seems to come from God. There are also problems with the retention of much of Augustine’s body-soul dualism while also trying to rehabilitate secular power as somehow good, independent of God, a la Aristotle. Further, Aquinas in the Summa is much more systematic and Aristotelean, whereas De Regno is a less satisfying work, with much more neo-Platonism.
The battle of ideas between hierocrat and naturalist continued, however. Giles of Rome in On Ecclesiastical Power and John of Paris in On Royal and Papal Power respectively are excellent representatives of the two approaches. Giles of Rome may be seen to represent the ‘hierocratic’ approach in which all authority of all kinds belongs to God and is held by men only intermediately through the successors of St Peter, and, though influenced by Aquinas, the Neoplatonic influence is also clear. John of Paris, however, is rather different; he is clearly influenced by Aristotle and Aquinas. For John of Paris, just as nature and grace are of God, so kings and priests are of God, and the two have their own rules and their own legitimate spheres of interest. The two – Giles and John – therefore differ enormously on questions of property and dominion, that is, lordship or sovereignty.
Giles and John differ on the goodness or otherwise of ‘temporal things’, i.e. riches and goods. Giles of Rome is a particularly extreme hierocrat in his line on property. The argument contains a number of parts and it is difficult to piece them together as a coherent whole. A right to property – to ‘worthy possession of things’ – was conceived of as a divine grace. Following Augustine, Giles argues that justice is the virtue which “distributes to each what is due to him”, and yet that true justice is absent where ‘Founder and Ruler’ of the commonwealth is not Christ. We ought to all be under Christ our Lord. We are, in fact, sinners – we exist in, indeed, in a state of sin. As Augustine would say, we live in the saeculum. Quoting chapter and verse from Ephesians 2, “We were by nature children of wrath” and heavily penitential Psalm 51 “Behold, I was conceived in iniquities”, Giles concludes simply “…we are not under our Lord.” However, here a departure is made from Augustine proper in that Giles then goes on to argue that since we sinners cannot possess property, all property is rightly owned by the Church. For, we are made regenerate through the Church and brought under Christ through the Church, and since without Christ – under whose lordship is true justice – “you can have nothing justly”, the Church is the source of all property ‘rights.’ Since the Church reconciles to sinners to God, and not our ‘carnal fathers’, it is from the Church that our just possession derives, and hence through the receipt of divine grace we become not heirs of mere carnally begotten men but “the sons and heirs of God”, even though the Church does not oversee each case of a transfer of property. Indeed, the Church is rather liberal in that it allows the faithful their temporal lordship, their dominion, which is only a “particular and inferior lordship” – dominium autem particulare et inferius fidelibus elargimur – all the while the Church has the true universal lordship. This particular and inferior lordship is to be made possible through the sacraments of the Church, specifically baptism and penance or confession, which are the remedies against Original Sin and actual sin, and through these two sacraments one may “be made a worthly lord and a worthy prince and possessor of things.” However, it may be seen that, there being the two kinds of sin, one Original and the other ‘actual’, there is still room for the Church to claw back the property of any man should he fall into sin, since all hinges on the concept of the “worthy possessor.” Therefore, if any man falls into sin – specifically the turning away from God that results from mortal sin – even after spiritual regeneration through baptism and penance, “it is right and just that [he] should be deprived of [his property].” Giles of Rome is also opposed to the notion of the goodness of property itself in any sense. For Giles, there hierarchy of ends rules out any real goodness in the natural, the natural being subject to the supra-natural, and for him “it is the habit of divinity to lead the lower through to the higher by way of the intermediate.” Temporal thing, goods and riches, should not be sought as ends in themselves, but rather should be used if “ordered towards spiritual ends” to attain the hope of blessedness. Ultimately, the Neoplatonist influence on Giles is important here; for the ultimate end concerns the soul, which is greater than the body, and the latter is subject to the former. The soul is within the remit of the Church, then, but so are temporal things, since the possession of temporal things, with their use in intermediate ends which may lead to the ultimate end, is ultimately a spiritual matter. Therefore, wrote, Giles, the Church must be involved in these matters, since they “bear upon the infirmity or health of souls.”
For John of Paris, the case was very different. For John, the influence of Aristotle and Aquinas is much more apparent and there is much more emphasis on the natural. John sets out to rebut the argument that the Church is the true owner of all temporal things, and spends a number of chapters doing it. For one, a distinction is made between lay property and ecclesiastical property. The pope may have some lordship of ecclesiastical property, since this property is “granted to the community as a whole.” Lay property, on the other hand, is not and so we cannot argue by analogy from ecclesiastical to lay property. The property of laymen, rather, belongs within the human law – which is to follow the natural law – since man acquires property himself; property is acquired “by individual people through their own skill, labour and diligence, and individuals, as individuals, have right and power over it and valid lordship.” John uses Augustine to support him when he makes the point that “it is the human laws which make property common or belong to individuals.” Each man may therefore use his property as he sees fit except in cases of necessity where the common good is in peril, in which case it is the prince and not the pope who is to intervene, and the pope may simply grant indulgences to the faithful if they help during this time of necessity and, “no power beyond this has been given [to the pope].” Moreover, there seems for John no reason grounded in the Christian faith to abandon or supersede the natural law. The arguments as put forward he rebuts one by one. For instance, the arguments that Christ himself had jurisdiction over the property of laymen, such as the fact that Christ in Matthew 21 whipped the traders out of the temple in a manner that suggested he held authority over lay property, or that in Matthew 8 he sent daemons into pigs without asking who owned them. These arguments are “easily dismissed” since he was acting as God in such cases – we, of course, are not God. For John, important to stress is that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world and does not therefore concern “judicial power over temporalities.” Rather, during Christ’s teaching mission on earth, he gave examples of virtue. Therefore, John concludes, since Christ as man had no dominion over temporalities” it is the case that “no priest at all may claim to be Christ’s vicar in this.” Thus John dealt with the priesthood, Church, and pope’s claim to temporal lordship qua Vicar of Christ. But what of the pope as Vicar of St Peter? In this case too, even if Christ as man had had this power, “he did not hand it on to Peter.” Indeed, John is extraordinarily bold in downplaying the primacy of Peter among the Apostles when he points out not only that all the Apostles received the binding and loosing powers in Matthew 18, the Apostles received this power and honour from Christ, and shared in equal fellowship with Peter. Since no one claims that the remaining bishops of the Church aside from the bishop of Rome, insofar as they are the successors of the other Apostles, have the dominion claimed so frequently for the pope. Furthermore, John invokes and quotes Bernard of Clairvaux’s To Pope Eugenius when he writes, “This is the apostolic model: lordship is forbidden, service is commanded.” And so John concludes, “no one should claim that the pope has such powers on a universal scale.”
For John of Paris, to argue that the Church or the pope as head of the Church on earth has such dominion is to misunderstand what the Church is. The Church, for John, is a purely spiritual thing; its priests have been given the power by Christ to dispense sacraments to the faithful, and this is all. The Church’s mission and purpose is a universal one and can be carried out by the immaterial, spiritual sword. For Giles of Rome, things are radically different, “the Church can act against secular princes because the temporal sword is placed under the spiritual sword.” Giles and John, then disagree fundamentally on much more than lay property, but they have radically different ecclesiologies. Another question on which the two disagree is that of ‘who comes first’, kings or priests, both in terms of primacy or superiority, and chronologically. For Giles of Rome, the answer is clear: priests come first in primacy, and also in chronology – they instituted kings. Not only is it clear that the Church and the priesthood is higher in dignity on earth, but their power is greater and they came first, with Scriptural examples given such as that of Saul and Melchizedek. Kingdoms which do not owe their existence to priests, such as Babylon, are not kingdoms but – after Augustine – “bands of robbers.” Moreover, from a Neoplatonic argument that inferior bodies are under superior bodies, the analogy is made between secular power and spiritual power and the conclusion made that if the secular power wrongs “it will be judged by the spiritual power as its superior.” For John of Salisbury, however, kings come first chronologically, simply as a matter of historical fact, since there were human societies before Christ, but, “there is no comparison” and there is no hierarchy as with Giles. Priests and kings both exist, but in parallel. Priests are spiritual; kings are natural. Therefore, for John, Giles’ arguments about the ‘superiority’ of ‘precedence’ of priests over kings makes little sense. For, the two operate in different realms, so to speak. While John is willing to grant that the priestly role is perhaps more dignified than that of a king, this does not make priests superior to kings. Instead, the king is superior qua king, and the priest superior qua priest; the temporal power is more powerful, more dignified, etc. in temporal matters while the spiritual power is greater in spiritual matters.
A closely related question is that of the very purpose of government itself, and it is also one on which Giles and John differ, for the question of superiority or primacy is connected with that of the purposes of the secular and spiritual powers. For Giles, again there is the hierarchy of ends, with the ultimate end the end of blessedness. For this reason, all must be subject to the pope ultimately, since the task of secular princes is “to dispose and prepare material for the ruler of the church…” Therefore the secular powers, concerned with mere intermediate ends, must naturally be “subject to him to whom pertains the care of the ultimate end.” For John of Paris, there is both the natural and the supra-natural, there is nature and grace, the spiritual and the temporal. Dominion falls into the sphere of the natural and is to be judged in such terms. Therefore in Aristotelean or Thomistic fashion, John, who like Aquinas defines man as a social and political animal, puts forward a clear sense of the ability of the secular powers to create the conditions for human flourishing. The purpose of government is most certainly not a spiritual one. Instead, the purpose of the secular powers is “…the common good of the citizens; not any good indeterminately, but that good which is to live according to virtue.” Furthermore, this kind of moral virtue is not necessarily Christian virtue, for John is clear that this virtue may be regarded as “complete without theological virtues.” Thus it is that the purpose of the secular powers differs from that of the Church; one is natural and one is supra-natural. Any direction the pope may give to the king is in matters of faith, “but not in government.” Pope and king have different purposes and must work in different ways, since governments are relative and particular while the Church is universal. The precise workings of government therefore vary from place to place, since they concern the changing reality of the world, while the Church concerns the unchanging and eternal. The effect of this argument is to heavily circumscribe any lordship claimed by the pope.
Another point of divergence is on the question: where does authority come from? The two men naturally agree that all power comes from God. The divergence begins with from where the secular powers receive their authority. For Giles of Rome, all power is given by Christ to the successors of St Peter, not just the power of the keys, but all earthly dominion. The pope has plenitude of power, and this is true of each pope since he is the successor of St Peter, not of his immediate predecessor. For John of Salisbury, however, “[the spiritual and temporal powers are distinct] to the extent that one power is not reduced to dependence on the other, but just as the spiritual derives immediately from God, so does the temporal.” Again, John does not think in terms of hierarchies or precedence, nor does he ‘compare’ kings and priests, temporal and spiritual. Both temporal and spiritual derive their authority immediately from God. Thus kings are kings not through the mediation of the pope or the Church, but directly through the manner of their becoming kings, whether by election or through creation by the army. John applies his bottom-up approach to the papacy, too, since the pope is pope because of the consent of the Church or those representing it, and therefore he argues that the Church – through a General Council or the College of Cardinals – “might, conversely, unmake him.” (!) For John, then, far from Giles of Rome’s contention that the pope has plenitude of power and is the Church, popes have no special temporal power.
Ultimately, the two differ because one – Giles of Rome – is still influenced strongly by Neoplatonic ideas and the other – John of Paris – is much more of an advanced Thomist. In the former, there is still a hierarchy of ends along with the subordination of body to soul and in the latter the Church is, if more clearly defined as a spiritual, supra-natural body, clearly politically circumscribed – as is priesthood, which is defined as purely spiritual – by the increasingly large role played in Thomistic philosophy by nature. Furthermore, the foothold gained for nature also has vitally important consequences on political thought for the question of ‘whither authority?’ With the concession of the naturalness of politics made, an explanation for the origin of the authority of king’s must be sought at least partially in the kingdom, in nature, and this means ‘the people.’ Further separation of temporal and spiritual would come with the Second Scholastics, along with further development of the way in which authority came from ‘the people.’