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Dante was not the last medieval thinker to dream of unity as the most splendid of political ideals; but he was the last to whom that dream might reasonably have presented itself as instinct with hope. After his time circumstances compelled the onset of plurality, and if men repeated the old dogmas, it was without conviction and as a tradition already in defeat. For the existence of separate and right-claiming nationalities had become (or was becoming) an inescapable fact. Praemunire and Provisors in England, the Pragmatic Sanction in France, were the index to a modernity which had escaped the swaddling clothes of medieval thought. Once the Pope had been at Avignon, even more, once he had left it, the world as a single Christian society could hardly be preached as reality; and if there remain men like Augustinus Triumphus, the federalism of Nicholas of Cusa shows that even the splendour of unity had come to have a new connotation. Our task is to analyse the decay of the idea of the Respublica Christiana as a system of ideas, and to discover the outlines of the new system by which men sought to replace it. The decay, of course, was not a matter of one moment or of one thinker. It took at least until the French Revolution for the self-sufficiency of the secular State to be recognised as practically beyond repeal; and, even then, the Du Pape of de Maistre and the Syllabus of 1864 stand as protests against its advent. But the indestructible pluralism of the facts was already, even in Dante’s time, becoming finally evident. Once there had been the captivity of Avignon, the Great Schism, and the Councils, pluralism in government was only a matter of time. The Reformation only set the seal upon ideas that an earlier generation had made inevitable.

The later Middle Ages are occupied, for the most part, with three great problems. There is the problem of the position of the Papacy in the Church. Can a power, it is asked, be absolute and irresponsible that is used for ends either dubiously good or certainly bad? Men, thereby, are driven back to search into the foundations of authority, and from such an enquiry no institution has ever emerged unscathed. What, secondly, is the relation of the Church to secular society? That question is asked from two angles. It is asked by men like the supporters of Lewis of Bavaria, and by the simple Parliamentarians at Westminster who do not like good English money to fill the pockets of Italian churchmen. It is asked, also, by men like the Spiritual Franciscans, who are convinced that the true Christian life is one of humble poverty, and are distressed at the spectacle of a Church devoted to worldly ideals. And, thirdly, what are the internal relations of secular society? How measure themeaning of imperial lordship when an English king, as with Richard II, can claim to be entier empereur dans son roialme, and lawyers like Bartolus are driven,  almost despite themselves, to recognise that civitas and regnum have all the marks of the original world-State, the Empire itself?

These are the problems, and, at long last, they shatter the medieval unified commonwealth into the fragments we today call sovereign States. They do not do so, let it be insisted, upon general principle. Until at least Machiavelli, there is no thinker who does not somehow feel that Christendom is a single people in which there may be different kingdoms but in which, at least ultimately, there must be a single imperium. For some, that power is papal; for others, it belongs to the Emperor; for others, again, it is built upon the Gelasian model of a harmony that is one in its duality. And the modern conception of the sovereign State could not, in this time, come into full birth because all medieval thinking was penetrated by the idea of a legal order which reflected the principle of nature and controlled thereby the legality of particular laws. “Right” in the medieval time is a blend so cunningly compounded of ethics and theology that the notion of something justifiable merely because it was ordered would have struck most minds with horror. Whatever contradicted natural law contradicted that which reflects the declared will of God; it cannot, therefore, possess validity. With such an idea suffusing the whole of medieval life, it is only with difficulty that we pass to a power in the prince to interpret natural law, and thence to a law which is binding upon all because it is his will. Yet, even then, not only does the older doctrine persist, as with Marsilio and Gregory of Heimburg, but the modern idea of the ruler’s sovereignty has to struggle also with the idea of law as the mandate of the people. The lawyers may argue that there has been translatio of power from people to prince, and that in perpetuity. But populus maior principe is a rule that dies hard; and even in the triumph of its mighty opposite it is not forgotten. For with the religious nonconformity of the sixteenth century it arises, phoenix-like, from what were deemed its ashes. The natural law of the Middle Ages is the parent of the natural rights of the eighteenth century.

The pontificate of Boniface VIII marks a real epoch in the history of the Papacy. Logically, doubtless, he made no claims that were not already implicit in the proud challenge of the Hildebrandine Papacy; and his dogmas had already been enunciated, if with very different emphasis, by men so different as John of Salisbury and Thomas Aquinas. But the theses of Boniface were announced in a very different atmosphere. The Empire was ceasing to count as a pivotal force in European affairs. The Papacy itself, confronted by the new nationalism of England and France, was less administratively than doctrinally paramount. The struggle with Philip the Fair on the one hand, and with Lewis of Bavaria on the other, only brought into the more striking prominence at once its physical impotence and its moral degeneration. Yet at no time in its history were its claims so splendidly displayed. Merely to suggest duality of power, says Boniface, is heresy; his opponents, who posit that principle, put themselves out of court. Therefore to the Papacy belongs the lordship of the world; and the contrast is striking between the power substantially achieved and the claims it is thought legitimate to advance.

In the period before the Conciliar Movement, no one stated the papal case with either the power or the insight of Thomas Aquinas. The arguments have little of novelty either in substance or in statement. The point of departure is the historic one of the need for a unified world, reinforced by every argument that scriptural text and imaginative metaphor can suggest. Thence it is inferred that unity needs a visible embodiment on earth, and it is a short step therefrom to argue that the Pope has utrumque gladium. The temporal power may be administratively in the hands of secular princes, but, as of right, it is an ultimately papal prerogative. For since it originates in sin, it is necessarily inferior in spiritual authority. “Princely power,” says Alvaro Pelayo, “is ordained by the spiritual power?”. Ultimately, at least, all States are ecclesiastical institutions, for they have merely the care of those antecedent ends which are the threshold of that greater eternal end of which the Church is the appointed guardian. Metaphor emphasises the relationship of subordination. The Church is heaven to the earth of the secular power; it is the sun to the moon, it is gold to lead, or soul to body. Temporal rulers are the mere executors of papal will; their offices, argues the clerk in that best of medieval dialogues, the Somnium Vlridarii, are gradus in ecclesia. And temporal exercise of authority is a trust subject at every point to papal interpretation of its fitness. A theory which, as late as Innocent III, had distinguished between the Pope’s spiritual power to correct the misdeeds of princes and his extraordinary intervention as a temporal sovereign, already, by the middle of the fourteenth century, is unable to see effective difference between them. History, or what passes for history, is invoked in papal support. The Donation of Constantine becomes a restoration to the Pope of an authority originally his own. The electors to the Empire are, accordingly, his agents; and the imperial title is dependent upon his confirmation. So, if the throne be vacant, the Pope is its natural guardian. And as he confirms, so may he nominate and depose; the fealty of subjects is a function of his pleasure. We have moved far from the earlier Gelasian view of Church and State as coordinate powers. The duplex directivum of Dante ceases to have a place in a world where the majesty of Rome is alone paramount and legitimate.

It is a tremendous doctrine, the more noteworthy in its amplitude when it is remembered that he in whose name it was made was either the virtual partisan of France at Avignon or struggling with difficulty, after 1378, to win back his hold of Rome itself. The greater, indeed, the decline of papal power, the more far-reaching are the claims of its partisans; the trappings of royalty are more eagerly displayed that the shrunken body may be the better concealed. All civil legislation may, as the priest argues in the Somnium Viridarii, be at bottom Canon Law; but there is no ecclesiastical text which sanctions the Statute of Praemunire. The medieval Pope is a true Austinian sovereign, but, like most species of that genus, he cannot get his will enforced. The claim is there, but it is an index to conflict rather than a lever of action.

Nothing, perhaps, illustrates so well the ambit and the environment of papal theory as the treatise On the Power of the Pope by Augustinus Triumphus. Written, almost certainly, before 1325, it was dedicated to John XXII and intended as a weapon in the great struggle against Lewis of Bavaria. With a single exception, it sees no limit to the power of the Pope. He is the vicegerent of God with plenipotentiary authority. He is to be worshipped as a saint, and so vast is his prerogative that, even if he be a sinner, yet his power is of God. Neither the Emperor nor the laity can interfere in his choice, nor can he be deposed. If, indeed, he be a heretic, a general council has the right of deposition; but in that event it is the heresy, and not the will of the council, by which his authority is terminated. That apart, he is entitled to absolute obedience. His will is the will of God, and from his decision neither prince nor peasant may appeal; nay, to venture to do so is to rebel against God, since papal authority is of divine institution.

Nor is this all. Since the Pope has a power which clearly transcends all earthly rivalry, the superiority of the Papacy to the Empire is manifest. Indeed, granted the nature of his office, the Empire, in the view of Augustinus, shrinks to a pale figment of reality. For the Pope may depose the Emperor. He may set aside an election. He may transfer the power to choose from the constituted electors. He may alter the actual constitution of the Empire. And these rights apply similarly to all other secular governments since the Pope acts on earth as the vicegerent of God. Temporal authority, Augustinus argues, has no validity save as it conforms to the will of the priesthood. The Donation of Constantine means the restoration to the Pope of direct sovereignty over all earthly kingdoms. It means that the forms of government exist by his permission; that the property of princes is his property; that neither royal nor imperial law is valid save jus he consents to it. And this, be it noted, is not a theory set above the battle which had been joined. It is the necessary weapon of a Papacy which had abandoned the pursuit of spiritual right and sought to control the world by immersion in the world. It is the voice of imperialism using for its purpose weapons it had neither the moral right nor the physical power to wield.

Inevitably it met with challenge, and it is with the outline of the case against its claims that the faint shadow of modern political doctrine appears on the horizon. For, as Frederick II pointed out to his fellow princes, the papal theory was not only an attack upon the Empire; it laid the axe at the root of all secular independence. Nor did it fit the facts of European life. If the Empire was a declining power, the new nationalism of England and France was an index of growth. And such claims could only have made their way if they had been supported by a moral vigour which made men eager to respect the Papacy. That was not the case. The popular literature of the fourteenth century is nothing so much as a contemptuous account of the ethical degradation of the Church. Chaucer has no good word for any ecclesiastic save the poor parson; Langland strikes the same note with even greater emphasis; Gascoigne's sombre picture is later attuned to the same key. The dislike of Rome is evident on every hand. It is shown, for instance, in the refusal to allow Henry Beaufort, the Cardinal-Bishop of Winchester, to take part in the business of the Privy Council once he had been elevated to the purple. It is shown in Archbishop Chichele’s response to Martin V when ordered to set aside the Statute of Pro visors: only he himself, wrote the archbishop, in all England would venture to raise the question; and it was hard to be blamed for what he could not avoid. What, indeed, Rome and its partisans failed to understand was that the rise of national States was even more fatal to their claims than the existence of the imperial power; and when, as with Wyclif in England and Hus in Bohemia, the condition of Rome made possible the synthesis of national feeling and the demand for religious reform, the maintenance of those claims had become impossible.

Not the least interesting evidence of their unreality may be found in a treatise, written in 1300, which was almost certainly the work of one Pierre du Bois, a royal advocate in Normandy, and an eager partisan of Philip IV in his struggle against Boniface VIII. The treatise is a curious mingling of medieval and modern ideas. It is medieval in its insistence on the need for unity of world-direction, in its confident appeal to astrology, in its admission as historic of the Donation of Constantine. But it is modem in its pride in the national power of France, and in the somewhat naive realism with which it analyses the real facts of the papal position. The purpose of his book, says du Bois, is to enable the King of France to avoid making war; and the method he proposes is the domination of the world by his sovereign. His reasons are two-fold. First, there is the inherent superiority of the French character: the French have a wiser judgment than other nations, they do not move without thought, they act as right reason would dictate. This emphasis upon national superiority is a new note in political literature. Nor is there less of novelty in his advice to the Pope. The latter, he admits, has the right to all the lands granted to him by Constantine. But he is usually old and weak, and he cannot—du Bois did not foresee John XXIII—be a soldier. Not only, therefore, can the Pope not enforce his rights, but, also, his very weakness stirs up the ambition of sinful men. This leads to war, which, in its turn, leads to the condemnation by the Pope of innumerable persons whom it is his real function to safeguard against danger. Let him then surrender his temporal power, and an effective source of conflict would be removed. The rights thus relinquished could be transferred to the King of France in return for a pension; and the latter, partly by conquest and partly by treaty, could soon bring Europe to submission.

The scheme is not the less important because it is impractical. It shews how far men’s minds had already gone in rejecting both the suzerainty of Pope and Emperor. The Ghibelline view of Dante was at least reconcilable with a great historic past; it was the ruins of old Rome he sought to restore. But du Bois has no hesitation in breaking with that past; and he has an emphatic sense of the papal claims as no more nor less than a source of mischief. Not less noteworthy is the clear view, emphasised throughout his treatise, of the right of the civil ruler to unexcepted allegiance; if Lombardy, he says, will not give obedience to the King of France after the arrangement with the Pope has been made, every method may lawfully be used to force it into subjection. Not less interesting is his argument, in a treatise upon the power of the Papacy, that while the Emperor must acknowledge, as the right of confirmation and coronation makes manifest, the overlordship of the Pope, no such acknowledgment is necessary from the King of France. This emphasis upon national independence is clear proof of a new temper; and it lends, both to English and French political speculation before the Conciliar Movement, a freedom in opinion which was much more difficult to the partisans of the Empire. That is evident, for example, in the examination by John of Paris of the question whether the clergy are entitled to worldly goods. He does not accept the view of the more radical party that they explain the moral degradation of Rome; but, with equal vigour, he denies that they are the inherent right of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. He takes his stand upon the simple fact that princes in particular, and the laity in general, have been eager to purchase their salvation at the expense of their property; and clerical possessions result from grants in the same way as any other. This rationalisation of vaster claims is, of course, a basic attack on papal pretension; and it is accompanied, both with du Bois and John of Paris, by the insistence that the phrases of Scripture have no significance outside their historic context. The denial of the mystical interpretation of Scripture already points the way to the scepticism of the Renaissance.

Yet, significant as these protests are, they are not less unreal than Dante’s epitaph upon the Empire. For they do not answer the papal claims in their own terms: and the unity they seek to substitute therefore is built upon expediency. The plea is an inadequate one. The papal doctrine, whatever its weakness in fact, is a doctrine of universal right, and it could be shattered only by the overthrow of its own postulates. Men like du Bois arrest us rather by the temper they reveal than the theory they represent; and the central challenge to the Papacy was still to be the work of imperialist partisans. The radicalism of a pamphlet like du Bois’ De Recuperation Sanctae Terrae with its suggestions of monastic disendowment and international arbitration, of women’s enfranchisement and a French Emperor at Constantinople, is not less fanciful than the conservatism of Augustinus Triumphus. The real attack came from men who were driven to rejection of the papalist assumptions, to acceptance, therefore, of secular independence, not by the desire to erect kindred assumptions in its place which would merely have served an alternate despotism, but by the observation of the difference between the ideal end the Church sought to serve, and the ends in practice achieved. They judged the Church not by what it claimed to be as a vision but by what its actual life shewed that it was. On that ground only could a reasonable alternative have been erected.

Much the most brilliant exponent of the true case against Rome was Marsilio of Padua. He was born at Padua about 1270 of middle-class parents, and little of his early life is known; but his appearance, in 1312, as Rector of the University of Paris is evidence that he had already attained no small intellectual distinction. At Paris, it is possible that he came into contact with the great English schoolman, William of Ockham, whose defence of nominalism had made him the outstanding thinker of the time; and if, as is not unlikely, he listened also to the teaching of the French radical John of Paris, his own intellectual powers would have been strengthened by contact with the two great sources of fourteenth-century innovation. After 1312, a silence again enshrouds his career; and its next stage is marked by his appearance with a colleague, John of Jandun, in the camp of Lewis of Bavaria. This was in 1327. Three years before, by midsummer of 1324, he had already written, with John’s help, his great work, the Defensor Pacis, and, with such ideas already in his head, his resort to Lewis is natural enough. The latter’s sudden access of glory in Italy resulted in Marsilio’s appointment as Papal Vicar in Rome. But the triumph of Lewis was short-lived. His adherents were denounced as heretics, and he himself was compelled to offer submission to the Pope. Marsilio, however, remained recalcitrant; and he died, perhaps early in 1343, professing the opinions in which he had lived.

For Marsilio, the historic struggle between Empire and Papacy was probably but an aspect of a wider conflict. The true mainspring of his ideas is the antagonism between Rome and the Spiritual Franciscans, to whose supporters he, with Ockham and John of Jandun, belonged. It was the insistence of his party upon the literal significance of the poverty preached by their founder which brought them into conflict with Rome. A doctrine of rigorous apostolic simplicity was not likely to be acceptable in the luxurious ease of Avignon; for it would have deprived the Papacy of every material weapon at its command. It was condemned by John XXII, and the condemnation enforced amid circumstances of great brutality. The defeated party did not acquiesce in silence. They denounced John as a heretic, and appealed against him to a general council. Their general, Michael of Cesena, in a treatise against theerrors of the Pope, made criticisms of far-reaching import. A Pope, he argued, can err both in faith and morals; infallibility  belongs only to the Universal Church. The final announcement of faith is, therefore, the prerogative of the latter. The Pope is no more than the minister who executes its will.

It is easy to see that there was a real relation between these ideas and the doctrine embodied in the Ghibelline view. Lewis was struggling to free the Empire from the Papacy; the Spiritual Franciscans were seeking to free the Church from the sordid absolutism of which the Pope had become the representative. It was not difficult to assume that an imperial victory would set the Emperor free to effect a reformation of Rome; and the Spiritual Franciscans who devoted themselves to that cause never lost sight of the larger and nobler aim. Their effort naturally drove them back to the foundations of authority. They confronted a Church which had given itself the organs of a State, and was seeking to make of secular authority no more than an instrument for its own material advancement. They had to show that this whole conception rested neither upon legitimate history nor ethical foundations. More, they had to discover an alternative view which would not only recall the Church to what they conceived its original and nobler purpose, but would also safeguard the secular authority, whose power they would thus advance from the poison inherent in the nature of that power.

It was a gigantic task; yet the Defensor Pacis is not unworthy of its underlying aim. To understand it, we must remember that it is written by a man whose grasp of the Politics of Aristotle—which Aquinas had made an essential part of the medieval tradition—was invigorated by contact with the eager life of the Italian cities. Civil Society, it argues, is a community aiming at a common life. It is composed of classes each of which has some specific function; that, for example, of the priesthood is “to teach and discipline men in those things which, as the Gospel lays down, must be believed or done or refrained from, to attain eternal salvation”. The ruling power of the community belongs to the judicial class who enforce the law. Law is defined as “knowledge of the just or useful to compel observance of which a command with a sanction attached has been issued”. The sole legislator of a community is the people as a whole, or a majority of them. They only, in their general assembly, can say what men, under sanction of general punishment, must do or refrain from doing. It is from the people as legislator that the prince, or other ruler, derives his power. His task is himself to observe the laws, and to sec that others observe them. But he is the servant, and not the master of the laws; if he sets himself above them, he must be controlled by the legislative power of which he is no more than minister. And it is important that the power of the community should belong to all its citizens. If it is in the hands of a few, there is no safeguard against error and selfishness. Only the whole people can know its wants; and that it may be protected against an ambitious prince, Marsilio insists that monarchy must be elective and not hereditary. While he himself believes that monarchy is the best form of government, he admits the argument for other views; nor does he urge, like Dante and the orthodox Ghibellines, that a universal monarchy is necessary. For him the essence of kingly rule is the popular right of deposition. He is concerned at every point, especially, for example, in his discussion of the place of the army in the State, to see to it that the will of the majority is the effective power in the State. And the axiom upon which the whole argument rests is that the State is itself a societas perfecta having within it all the means of sufficient and independent life.

The first book of the Defensor Pacis reads not unlike an eighteenth century treatise the author of which has learned from Locke the importance of majority rule. By majority, indeed, Marsilio did not mean a mere counting of heads; he has rather in mind that “maior et sanior pars,” the men of worth and substance, who appear so often in medieval thought. Numbers are to count; but they are not to outweigh quality in the making of decisions1. Particularly striking is Marsilio’s insistence that the priesthood is not essential to the existence of the State. At the outset of his treatise he is thus able to free himself from what, until Machiavelli, was the outstanding feature of political science. With rare detachment, he is able, that is to say, to conceive of the Church as an institution made by men for purposes defined by them. But the Church has departed from the path laid down for it. So far from devoting itself to the eternal welfare of men, it has usurped other functions with which it has no true concern. It asserts its power over all manner of secular persons, especially the Roman Emperor; and in this assertion of its temporal authority Marsilio finds the real cause of medieval disturbance. It is, therefore, essential to discuss the true character of the priesthood and its relation to the secular community. Here Marsilio is as radical as he is original. He anticipates not only the views of Wyclif and of Hus, but the essential claims of the Reformation itself. For to him the only possible definition of the Church is that it is the whole body of believers. Layman and ecclesiastic alike are churchmen; and the prerogative of the Church cannot, therefore, be restricted to a single class of its members. No priest, for example, has the right to excommunicate; that power belongs either to the congregation to which the sinner belongs, or, on appeal, to the Church as a whole. The spiritual functions of the clergy do not comprise whatever actions ecclesiastics may do; whenever they step outside the narrow limits of ecclesiastical duty, as in holding property, they are as much laymen as the ordinary citizen. When they commit crimes, they have no right to a special jurisdiction. They are merely ordinary members of Society entitled to no peculiar rights. The prince, indeed, would be wise to limit the number of ecclesiastics in any State, if they appear likely, through their growth, to threaten the peace of the kingdom.

This is already a thoroughgoing defiance of the orthodox papal doctrine. It assumes that the clergy have power only in spiritual matters; and Marsilio assumes that they can effect their purpose only by spiritual means. To temporal penalties they have no right whatever. These are unconnected with the Gospel which is not, in the legal sense, a law at all, but a code of conduct. Men are not compelled to obey it by a temporal sanction and its injunctions are, therefore, purely ethical in character. For Marsilio, therefore, the priest is like the King of England today—he may advise and encourage and warn, but he cannot himself act. Even over heresy he has no jurisdiction. The sole judge herein is Christ, and His sentence is awarded in the life to come. If the heretic offends the civil law, he may be tried by the civil law for disobedience to it; but the Church, as such, can have no part in his trial. Error of opinion in religious matters is outside the competence of spiritual organisation. And it follows, from these views, that Marsilio must reject altogether the contemporary view of papal power. For the clerical hierarchy he can find no scriptural warrant; and the Papacy itself is no more than a convenient centre of unity, of which the historical growth is proof that it has no origin in the plan of Christ. He denies that Peter had any primacy over his fellow-apostles, or, if he had, that there is any reason to suppose that the Pope of Rome inherited it. Peter never was Bishop of Rome, so far as we can certainly say, and the pre-eminence of the papal office is an accidental function of Roman prestige. From this Marsilio concludes that the governing organ of the Church is the Church itself, acting through a general council composed of clergy and laity. Only the civil State can convoke it, since only the civil State has authority to judge and to legislate. So convoked, the general council has not only power over the Pope himself; it may decide all spiritual questions even so far as to excommunicate princes and issue interdicts. For the general council speaks in the name of the Universal Church and is thus the voice of the whole Christian Commonwealth. The Pope is thus no more to Emperor or prince than an adviser in spiritual matters; he no more rules them than the Archbishop of Rheims rules the King of France. Nor has he, or any other of the clergy, the power of forgiveness. His keys may open the door, but forgiveness itself depends upon the will of God who acts by his knowledge of the sinner’s penitence. If this is absent, no priest has the power to absolve.

No summary can do justice to the brilliance with which these gigantic theses are laid down. The conceptions they involve foreshadow almost every point of modem political philosophy. The substitution of the people for the ruler as the true source of power; the insistence upon religious toleration; the reduction of the clergy from a hierarchy dominating the lives of men to a ministry serving them; these, laid down in detailed precision, are a prophecy as daring as anything in the history of human speculation. Of their influence, both immediate and prospective, there can now be no question. Marsilio, doubtless, was far in advance of what his own age would attempt. But the horror he inspired in the papal camp, the constant references to him in the literature, the recollection of him in the Reformation as the greatest of its precursors, are all testimony to the fact that he stated boldly and in detail what was already implicit in the minds of thousands dissatisfied with the moral conditions of the Church. He does not suffer from the narrow scholasticism which, with Ockham and Wyclif, makes his contemporaries seem remote from ourselves. He was unhampered by tradition either in method or in conclusion. To his friends, his radicalism may have seemed as Utopian as it seemed iniquitous to his enemies; yet it is difficult, in the long range of medieval philosophy, to find any thinker with a deeper insight into the conditions of human association.

It is, of course, probable that Marsilio’s very originality made him less influential to his contemporaries than a thinker like Ockham who was content to travel the wonted path. However much the foundations of Marsilio’s thinking were affected by the general philosophy of the English scholar, it is difficult not to believe that the latter’s political thought was, in the main, derived from the Italian innovator. Marsilio had written the Defensor Pacis before he left Paris; his association with Lewis of Bavaria was its consequence and not its explanation. But Ockham did not write on behalf of the anti-papal view until he had been some years with Lewis; and it is, accordingly, natural to assume not only that his treatises are an apology for his actions, but also that they were written in the background which Marsilio had already drawn. Yet Ockham has qualities that are all his own, and a real independence of view; and his treatises are thrown into a form which, repugnant as they are to ourselves, probably contributed to the influence they exerted upon his generation. He rarely writes as one who has attained certainty. His business, whether in the Dialogus or the Quaestiones, is to throw out difficulties in the environment of a general scepticism. The very massiveness of his work probably explains no little part of his authority, for it enables him to explore the whole field in the terms of those subtle distinctions and counter-distinctions so dear to the medieval mind. In two ways, moreover, he was more attuned to the thought of his own age than was his great contemporary. He was, throughout his work, primarily engaged as a theologian doing battle for his own party; he has nothing of that air of aloofness which often makes Marsilio seem apart from the actual conflict. And he is much more aware than Marsilio of the complexity of the problems with which he has to deal. Marsilio, by a superlative effort of detachment, is able to outline a political philosophy almost in the terms of modern speculation; Ockham is more conscious of the long road men have to travel before that result may be attained.

Yet the general direction of the two thinkers is identical; where they differ is in the emphasis they offer. Ockham, not less than Marsilio, is hostile to papal sovereignty; but he has no desire to transfer that sovereignty elsewhere. Like Marsilio, he agrees that the Pope can err, but he does not suggest that even a general council is infallible. He is as sure as any man that the truth of the Christian faith is eternal; but he is uncertain how, in an imperfect world, its survival may be safeguarded. He denies that either the Decretals or the Roman accretions to Scriptural doctrine have a character particularly sacred; but when he searches for the limits of Revelation, his speculations wear an air of doubt and even bewilderment. He is not even convinced of the need for unity; for he suggests that there are conditions under which both ecclesiastical and temporal sovereignty might well be pluralistic. And even while, as an adherent of the Empire, he is prepared to concede to it a certain shadowy supremacy, he hints that institutions made by men are constantly subject to change; so that even the imperial power is, as it were, merely a moment in time. The one thing of which he seems to be confident is the self-sufficiency of the temporal power. That enables him to assert its complete independence of papal authority, and to insist that the power of the latter, as also its functions, are purely spiritual in character. And for him, of course, as for Marsilio, while the Pope may be the active, representative organ of the Church, he speaks always subject to its decision through a general council. With Ockham, indeed, the latter is even more universal than it is in the pages of Marsilio, since he argues, with much cogency, that women are equally entitled with men to represent the laity upon it.

No one can read far into medieval political philosophy without being greatly impressed by its abstract character. There is little therein of that obvious pragmatic urgency which is the typical feature of modern speculation. No one would imagine that John of Salisbury’s Policraticus is a weapon in the conflict over investitures; no one would say, at first blush, that the Defensor Pacis is in essence a plea for the Spiritual Franciscans. There seems a deliberate effort on the part of writers to make the actual conflict in which they are engaged an incident in the eternal. It is this, perhaps, which explains the vastness of the claims on either side. Boniface VIII can never have hoped to give the substance of reality to the principles set out in the bull Unam Sanctam; the partisans of Lewis of Bavaria cannot have supposed that the scheme of the Defensor Pacis was an immediate ideal. But the willingness to write in terms of an ideal remote from immediacy gives to medieval speculation some of its essential characteristics. It enables them, after the period of Thomas Aquinas, to write as though Aristotle were a contemporary, and the features of the Greek city-State the natural situation of the medieval community. It permits the use, or rather the distortion, of scriptural texts as arguments to which there is no answer save through the medium of counter-quotation. It allows them, even when they write in England with a legal system incapable of reference to classical models, to discuss the meaning of law as though the jurisprudence of Rome were the only system to which attention maybe paid. The basic feature of the Middle Ages is feudalism; yet the classic political philosophy of the time hardly bikes account of feudal assumptions in its scope. That is the more curious since many of the ideals for which the medieval publicists were striving, above all, their notion that impersonal law is superior to personal desire, would have been profoundly helped by the aid that inference from feudal theory might have given. Not, of course, that there is absent a great feudal jurisprudence; but it cannot be said to influence seriously the main stream of political thought, and so far as its impact on Canon Law is concerned it need hardly have existed. The result, of course, is to give all medieval doctrine an air of unreality. It does not seem attuned to its chronological perspective. It moves, but it moves circuitously rather than directly, with its epoch. There is nothing like that immediate impact of events on doctrine which marks the religious wars of the sixteenth century in France, the Great Rebellion in England, or the synchronisation of socialism with the Industrial Revolution.

Yet when a theory of society in feudal terms comes to be written, it is even more remote from the facts about it than the classical ideas. That Wyclif s theories exercised a profound influence is obvious, especially in the domain of theology. That they represented, in their general outline, the ideal for which men like Marsilio and Ockham were striving is not less clear. They were hardly less nationalist in ultimate temper than the writings of du Bois, different as may be their method of giving expression to nationalism. But they are as repulsive in form as they are remote from the real. They are, on the one hand, an interesting effort to reconcile Catholicism with national feeling, a reverence for Rome with a realisation, common to all Englishmen of his time, that reform was urgent; and, on the other, a highly idealised theory of communism as difficult to apprehend as it was impossible to realise in practice1.

The Wyclif who sought the means of papal reform does not go much beyond the typical Ghibelline argument against the Roman claims. It is significant, in this connexion, that the nineteen conclusions from his works condemned by Gregory XI, in May 1377, are all political in character; and most of them might have come directly, so far, at least, as their substance is concerned, from Marsilio or Ockham. The original thought of Wyclif is to be found in the two treatises on Divine and on Civil Dominion, which seem to have been published about twelve years before their author’s death. Their main thought is the notion of dominion and service. They are the terms of an eternal order which links up the lowliest being of creation to its maker. God, so to say, is the supreme possessor  of all things, and the process of subinfeudation is continuous throughout the chain of creation in terms of reciprocal rights and duties. It is the performance of these which legitimises power; without them a man may have possession, but he cannot have dominion, which is possession justified by right. But the relation of God to his creatures is not precisely that of an overlord in the feudal scale. All hold of him directly and owe supreme allegiance to him; there is, so to say, an Oath of Salisbury, which makes the eternal feudalism built upon the English and not upon the Continental model. And since the individual is thus directly dependent upon God, it follows that the position of the Church is one of convenience and not of prerogative. Its mediation is not necessary to salvation, since every man may treat directly with his Maker. All men are, therefore, priests, and the rights of the ecclesiastical hierarchy are demolished at a stroke. Already, that is to say, we have reached the fundamental starting-point of the Reformation. The Church becomes, not a necessary, but a voluntary, organisation of men, and the way lies open to the dogma of territorial sovereignty.

No more radical blow at ecclesiastical privilege was struck in the Middle Ages. The remainder of Wyclif’s political philosophy is special to himself and interesting less for its influence than for the ability with which it is argued. The righteous man, he urges, has all the riches of God, both in fact and in right; the unrighteous, the man not in grace, has no title to any of his possessions. For, as the Book of Proverbs says, “the faithful man hath the whole world of riches, but the unfaithful hath not a farthing.” There can be no right without grace, since that is proof of God’s favour; and possession by the wicked cannot be just, since it cannot be supposed that God would permit those who do not enjoy His favour to own by a just title. If the unrighteous have in fact the possession of power, they may, therefore, be legitimately deprived of it, since they have failed to perform that service to their overlord by which alone true dominion may be acquired. It may then be asked why it is that the evil man has in fact earthly possessions. Wyclif’s answer is that the Church may be regarded either as the bride of Christ, or as a human community, in which bad and good are alike compounded. It is to that ideal Church, the bride of Christ, that God’s grant of property is made; the possession of it by evil men is the accident which results from their seeming membership of the Church. But their possession is, in truth, unreal since it is not founded upon grace. Their title is temporary only, since they are wicked, and cannot, therefore, have dominion; and we know from Scripture that “whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.”

There is a certain scholastic abstractness about this doctrine; but it is grim reality itself compared to the consequences Wyclif draws from it. Since, he argues, the righteous man truly possesses the whole universe, all things work together for his good; and since there are many righteous and each, must, therefore, possess the whole universe, only a communistic scheme of property is justifiable, “Charity,” said St Paul, “seeketh not to be a proprietor but to have all things in common,” and Wyclif, equating charity with grace, assumes that this is, therefore, the only scheme of things with divine sanction. All other rules of life are made by man, and are, therefore, so Ockham noted, transitory and indifferent in character. To discuss whether one form of government is better than another, whether one form of inheritance is better than another, exercises such as these are purely idle; for we are given the divine plan and our business is to seek its realisation. In an imperfect world, the governance of society by judges, as in ancient Israel, is perhaps best; though, so sinful is mankind that monarchy may be preferred, since its unity gives strength to restrain evil. That monarchy, moreover, should rather be hereditary than elective, since an electing body is bound to be infected with sin. In any case, no earthly title is adequate; only the favour of God as proved by grace can confer legitimacy. Rulers, indeed, are responsible to God; “By love serve ye one another,” said the Apostle, and the title of the Pope, servus servorum, shows that they are stewards of the divine will. And their stewardship again implies communism, since all righteous men are at once lords of the world and servants of their fellows.

From this would seem to follow a doctrine of revolution which would aim at the establishment of the ideal commonwealth. That, indeed, was the conclusion drawn, not entirely without relation to Wyclif’s teaching, by such men as John Ball in the revolt of 1381. But it must be emphasised that it was a conclusion to which Wyclif’s own teaching lent no countenance of any kind. Whatever is, is for him of God; therefore the use of violence is incompatible with His laws. To resist is, thus, to disobey His will, which is sinful. Possession by the righteous does not mean temporary possession on earth, but ultimate possession in the Kingdom of God. The ideal scheme is for the world of the spirit; men must not seek by force to assure themselves its enjoyment. And the whole plan is applied by Wyclif to the ecclesiastical sphere. The Church lives in the realm of the ideal; if it concerns itself with temporal things, it abandons the law of its being and may be controlled by the temporal power. Wyclif, indeed, is even prepared to suggest that the Church may one day dispense with the Papacy itself. But in this realm, save in the form involved by his philosophy, Wyclif has little to add to the views already adumbrated by his continental predecessors.

Taken as a whole, the significance of Wyclif is, of course, theological rather than political. In the latter sphere, the system of which he was the advocate was too remote from the life about him to be important. He had none of Aquinas’ insight into the naturalness of human institutions, nor of Marsilio’s power to predict the polity of the future. Yet his doctrine is important if only because it shews so clearly how the ideas of the Middle Ages were being directed into new channels. With him, as with Ockham and his compeers, the separation of ecclesiastical affairs from the State not only implies that the life temporal destroys the spirit; it is also evidence of the dawning sense that the secular world must be left unhindered to manage its own concerns. In his over subtle fashion, as befitted a doctor of the schools, he outlines with lavish detail his philosophic Utopia, and, in the discovery of its boundaries, he is already, by unconscious implication, outlining the frontiers of the modern world.

Yet we must not fail to notice that Wyclif’s radicalism is deceptive unless we remember that it is steeped in a conservative temper. Wyclif is by nature an evangelical; for him reality is that inner light by which a man is led to intimate contact with his Maker. The knowledge of that contact, the prospect it offers in the life to come, are, for him, far more important than the grim facts of the existing world. There is, therefore, a conflict between the ultimate goal at which his philosophy aimed, and the methods by which he desired to reach that goal. The first may have given comfort to men like John Ball, the Abbé Meslier of his generation; the second was an assurance to the statesman that Wyclif was on the side of the established order. For, like Wesley and Wilberforce in a later age, he was so sure that the godly man had all the means of a rich life as to be undisturbed by the spectacle of a world in which the earth seems the inheritance of the sinner. To him, the glory of the life to come is too real to make the temporary evil of the present order seem worth assessment. It must be endured because it is the will of an Omnipotent God, a part, however difficult, of His mysterious plan. What must be looked at is less the actual situation than the purpose which informs it. We have assurance that the purpose is splendid. We derive from that assurance the duty of acquiescence in the status quo. Here, clearly, Wyclif lays down the elementary principles of philosophic conservatism. His tactic links him with those who, however radical in ultimate aim, have refused to admit the legitimacy of methods which seek directly for its realisation.

The anti-papalists of the fourteenth century are in much the same position as those who protested against the ancien régime prior to 1789. In both cases, there is a clear sense of the impossible results of unlimited autocracy. In both cases, there is the realisation that administrative corruption lies at the heart of the evils it is desired to cure. Marsilio, Ockham, and Wyclif can produce their ideal schemes of constitutional reorganisation in much the same way as Rousseau, D’Argenson, and the Abbé St Pierre. But, in each case, the opposition to the system has the fatal weakness that the system, degenerate though it is, represents too great a tradition to be overthrown by merely intellectual protest. It cannot be said that the fourteenth-century Papacy was popular any more than it can be said that, after 1754, there was enthusiasm for the ancien régime. Yet in neither case was it possible, until a final crisis arose, to find a lever of action whereby definitive change became possible. In the case of France, that lever was provided by the bankruptcy precipitated by the American war; in the case of the Papacy, it was the Great Schism which made inevitable a reconsideration of the Pope’s authority. In each case, a revolution was attempted; and in each case, as is the historic nature of revolutions, the result was to recreate in what seemed a more powerful, because purified, form the centralised autocracy against which the revolution had been a protest. For the outcome of 1789 was Napoleon, as the outcome of the Conciliar Movement was Eugenius IV. The failure to realise the larger purpose of change meant, inevitably, a further disruption. Just as 1789 was a link in a chain of which 1830 and 1848 are other links, so the Conciliar Movement is the necessary prelude of Luther and of Calvin. And just as the principles of 1789 draw new life from each effort at their restatement in novel terms, so do the principles of the Conciliar Movement lie at the root of all subsequent effort at ecclesiastical reorganisation.

The Papacy suffered much in prestige by its seventy years’ captivity at Avignon; but no one thought that its removal from Rome would serve as the occasion for a break in the unity of the Church. Yet the death of Gregory XI in 1378, after he had brought the Papacy back to Rome, was followed by a schism not healed for nearly forty years. The French cardinals realised that residence at Rome implied the destruction of their influence, they hated Urban VI, and they elected an anti-Pope. Thenceforward Europe was scandalised by the existence of two and even three Popes. The schism, naturally enough, emphasised to the full the need of general reform. It was clear that the prestige of the Church would be destroyed unless men bent themselves seriously to the task of reorganisation. Already, in Bohemia, the Hussite movement had shewn the implications of anarchy; and the failure of the Council of Pisa in 1410 to do more than accentuate differences involved a European effort In 1414, at the instigation of the Emperor Sigismund, the Council of Constance met; and its attempt to grapple with the issues confronting it raised problems so large both in magnitude and consequence, that we are entitled to regard it as the real watershed between medieval and modem politics.

The Council of Constance was summoned to deal with three urgent problems. It sought to end the schism in the Church; it attempted to arrest the Hussite movement in Bohemia; and it desired to reform the Church in head and members. In the third of these, little or nothing was effected. Minor concessions were made by the Papacy in such matters as annates and provisions, and the decree Frequent laid it down that a new council should be summoned every ten years; yet, broadly speaking, the only permanent result on this side was the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438), which may be said to have given the Gallicanism of Gerson and the University of Paris a quasi-legal foundation. The Hussite movement was broken in pieces, but only after a long and bloody struggle in which the defeated party made plain how strong was the new nationalism of which the fourteenth century had seen the beginnings. The Council achieved the papal unity Europe so ardently desired; and though the Council of Basle seemed to threaten a new schism by its election of Amadeus of Savoy as anti-Pope, the rapid abdication of the latter consolidated the position of the Papacy in a final way. Since that time, there has been no anti-Pope in Europe; and though the notion of conciliar action lingered on until the early years of the sixteenth century, it is practically true to say there has been no possibility of effective challenge to papal supremacy within the confines of the Church. Those who have sought to combat Rome have been ultimately driven to do so from without its boundaries.

The literature of the Conciliar Movement is immense, for its impetus is European in character. Nor can it be divided into categories upon any simple plan. There are the treatises of the reforming party who seek for radical changes in ecclesiastical organisations. Of these, the most important are the French, and, in particular, Gerson, the Chancellor of the University of Paris, and Pierre d’Ailly, the Bishop of Cambrai. Their interest in reform is, broadly speaking, mainly structural in character; and their sense of ecclesiastical nationalism is everywhere emphatic. But hardly less notable are the Germans, among whom Nicholas of Cusa, Gregory of Heimburg, Henry of Langenstein, and Dietrich of Niem, are the outstanding figures. The chief characteristic of the Germans is their profound zeal for moral improvement. It is not untrue, for instance, to say of Nicholas of Cusa that he sees in institutions the main road to a recovery of religious well-being. For him, they are always a means, and never an end. In the Conciliar Movement proper, the only writer of real importance on the papal side is Aeneas Sylvius, who became, in 1458, Pope Pius II. But he had already written with equal ability for the conciliar schemes; and his writings are interesting less for their insight into the problems they confront than for the skill with which they are written, and their complete absence of religious enthusiasm. They are the work of a brilliant journalist adapting himself to the changing currents of popular opinion rather than of a man who felt deeply the meaning of events. A little later, however, the Papacy secured an advocate of great ability and profound conviction in Turrecremata, whose Summa de Ecclesia and De Potestate Papae expressed with great power the case for papal centralisation. Middle ground is occupied by the Italian cardinal Zabarella, whose De Schismate is an able attempt at compromise. Zabarella sees all the weakness of the papal cause; but he is not less capable of grasping the administrative difficulties presented by conciliar schemes. So, too, with the German, Dietrich of Niem, in his De modis uniendi ac reformandi ecclesiam. Dietrich has no doubt that reform must come; but he realises that reform must make its bargain with tradition.

It is important, however, to realise that no single thinker, or group of thinkers, represents at all adequately either the sweep or the impetus of the movement. Its theories, both in their strength and weakness, are seen most vividly in the acts and debates of the Councils, in chronicles like that of the learned Spanish canonist, John of Segovia, or in schemes of practical reform like the sixteen points drawn up by the Oxford theologian, Richard Ullerston, for discussion at the Council of Pisa. The real centre of conciliar discussion is the nature of sovereignty in the Church. Popes have to be deposed if unity is to be achieved; it is, therefore, essential to regard the Church as itself a sovereign and perfect society with the means and right within itself to correct what deficiencies may be discovered. And the experience of papal supremacy involved the search for means whereby it could be kept permanently in leading strings. The conciliar thinkers were thus led back directly to the foundation of authority. They were compelled to argue that power is a trust and that only its proper use can justify its exercise. But “proper use” means that which benefits the Church as a whole; and only the Church as a whole can decide what is for its benefit. At the very outset, in fact, the thinkers of the movement are driven to discuss the Church as though it were a State, and to settle the primary relations between its government and its subjects. What, accordingly, they construct is not merely a theory of ecclesiastical organisation, but a whole armoury of civil principle. The road from Constance to 1688 is a direct one. Nicholas of Cusa, Gerson, and Zabarella are the ancestors, through pamphlets like the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, of Sidney and Locke.

For they are concerned with the ultimate principles of obedience in a State. What, they ask, is a valid law? Is it simply a command issued by a competent lawgiver which must, by the mere fact of being issued, be obeyed? It would not have been difficult to take that attitude when the lawgiver was the Pope. For centuries of tradition seemed to authorise his primacy, and therein men could discern that centre of unity so necessary to the medieval mind. It was, moreover, impossible to deny certain legal rights to the Pope; he was the recognised depository of an authority it had long seemed not only traditional, but also right, to obey. Yet the movement is able to rise above these difficulties. At the base of its doctrine lies the all-powerful concept of natural law. Positive law is legal only when it reflects the substance of natural law; the human lawgiver must be obeyed, then, only when his commands are consonant with that substance. It follows at once that the Pope is not a sovereign but a minister. He has power upon conditions. He is the executive authority of the Church. But as he is made by it, so the Church has the power, also the right, to unmake him. Otherwise, clearly, the Church would be his slave, and since orbis maior urbe, the Church must have the means within itself of asserting its supremacy. Power wrongfully used may be destructive of the very purpose of the society, and, when so used, that supreme law which popular well-being demands must come into play. All government is thus ultimately built upon consent, and it cannot, without consent, be a righteous government.

These general principles are explosive in their results. They destroy, for practically every writer in the period, the notion of right built upon prescription. The only ultimate source of right is the need of the Church; and the only authority capable, or even justified, in interpreting the need of the Church is a council representative of its members. The Pope has therefore no plenitude of power. He is never legibus solutus. His primacy is built only upon consent; and, since, so Nicholas of Cusa argued, the Donation of Constantine is a forgery, it could be transferred to whatever centre the Church might select. A council alone can define and enforce ultimate rights. It may meet whether the Pope summons it or no. It may, after papal summons, continue even when the Pope has ordered it to terminate, if a majority of its members so ordains. If the Pope will not summon it, it may meet under imperial authority. It is this profound sense that the nature of the Church demands representative institutions which led to the famous decree Frequens of the Council of Constance. Implied in that decree is a complete ecclesiastical constitution. It regards the Pope as a prime minister, whose delegation is from the supreme assembly of the Church. Therefrom are derived the principles within which his powers are laid down. He is flanked by a privy council of cardinals by whose advice and consent he should act. They represent the guardians of the Church in the period when its council is not in being. Their business is to curb the exercise of papal authority, since the wrongful use of power may be fatal to the life-principle of the Church. The cardinals, moreover, should represent the constituent nations of the Church, for its ultimate unity is expressed through a diversity which requires expression. No one doubts that unity, but it is, so to say, essentially feudal in its character. In this way an end may be made of autocratic power, and the will which receives effectiveness can be built upon the consent of the ecclesiastical organism as a whole.

No book in the period of the Councils so well expresses the temper of this thought as the De Concordantia Catholica of Nicholas of Cusa. It is a passionate plea for unity, but a unity which expresses itself in the manifestation of difference. It emphasises the need of a power built upon a wide basis of consent. It sees the need everywhere for a rigorous limitation of authority. It makes large concessions to that ecclesiastical nationalism which the discussions of Constance and the Bohemian wars had shown to be inescapable. It is hostile to clericalism in the same way that Marsilio and Wyclif were hostile, without their ruthless refusal of all attempt at compromise. It sees not less clearly the need for civil reform, the necessity of equitable taxation, the creation of a representative parliament for the Empire, the limitation of imperial power by some form of council. Nicholas, moreover, may be said to have learned something from the martyrdom of Hus, for he is clear that persecution is rarely effective and he pleads for religious toleration in matters of minor importance. Throughout, the book is a protest against the narrow legalism of temper which used prescription as a weapon against necessary change. Nicholas wrote with a sweetness of temper, an eager desire to conciliate hostile opinion, an anxiety, at all points, to attain largeness of view, which give his book something of the breadth and insight of Hooker. But whereas Hooker was the prophet of a reform to be achieved, Nicholas of Cusa, like Dante a century before, was writing a credo quia impossibile. The facts had already destroyed his solution when he propounded it, and the end he sought had to seek realisation along very different paths.

The Conciliar Movement was the one universal expression to which medieval constitutionalism attained. The men who guided it were seeking to give institutional form to experiments, like those of the English Parliament or the general assembly of the Dominicans, which were the effort to make the will of a group the embodiment of the full purpose implied in its existence. They sought to make law the expression of consent and not merely the vehicle of power. They tried to limit authority by mechanisms which would compel it to labour within an area of competence previously defined and rigorously controlled. If the atmosphere in which they worked was consistently medieval, the temper they brought to their effort was definitely modem. The aims are precisely similar to those who sought the correction of a despotism like that of Charles I or Louis XIV. Pym and Prynne, Saint-Simon and Fenelon, these and thinkers like these we can parallel without difficulty from the earlier time. Just as the doctrinaires of the Civil Wars in England based their claims on a fundamental law to which power was necessarily subject, so the medieval doctrinaire built his attack on papal autocracy on the supremacy of natural law. The Parliamentarians were aided by the bankruptcy of the Crown; the conciliar thinkers were assisted by the Great Schism. In each case, probably, the nature of the crisis led men to theories far more drastic than they would have dared to formulate at its outset; opposition in a revolutionary epoch is the obvious nurse of radicalism. And in each case, the movement, broadly speaking, failed because the administrative mechanisms necessary to give these theories reality were lacking to those who announced them.

For the Conciliar Movement was a gigantic failure. There was never behind its leaders a public opinion wide enough or informed enough to make possible the success of its scheme's. The grounds of its failure are obvious enough. Once it had reunited Christendom, it lacked all singleness of aim. It dispersed its effort in a multiplicity of plans, many of which—as the Council of Basle made dear- would simply have recreated the schism it was its purpose to terminate. The princes who blessed Constance had no interest in its continuance once reunion had been effected, and they only could have provided a vigorous opposition to the concentrated power of Borne. The movement produced only one great leader in Cesarini; and he was driven to abandon it by the recalcitrance of men without importance in the Church. It produced only one thinker of the first importance in Nicholas of Cusa; and his schemes were fruitless because they were already too late when he devised them. No conflict can be waged by a committee when its opponent is a single will that needs merely to wait to be victorious. The movement illustrated brilliantly the essential truth that in social life men will only obey when their allegiance is grounded in an ability to revere, which is also a basis of self-respect. But it shewed also the danger of thinking out the purposes of a revolution when its occasion had passed.

Another cause of its failure must not be omitted. The constitutionalism which the Conciliar Movement sought to make real was the application to the Christian Commonwealth as a whole of views already in part applied to the secular society founded on feudal principles. But, as the effort was being made, those principles were becoming obsolete in feudal society itself. The reverence for natural law, the right to choose a ruler, the sense that what touches all must be approved by all, the insistence upon the right to depose a bad ruler—these ideas, which are the foundation upon which the conciliar thesis was built, were already decaying in the secular world when men sought to transfer them to the ecclesiastical. The history of the Middle Ages is so much a conflict between Church and State that it is difficult to escape the tendency to make the theologian its typical political thinker. There is a sense, of course, in which that is true; but there is a sense in which it is important to remember that the typical thinker is a secular lawyer concerned preeminently with the secular commonwealth. We may emphasise the significance of Marsilio and Ockham, of Wyclif and Nicholas of Cusa. But we must not thereby obscure the importance of Baldus and Bartolus and Sir John Fortescue.

It is, of course, true that no medieval lawyer ever lost the sense of natural law as a system of eternal principles by which all positive decrees were to be tested. It is the will of conscience, the motivating principle of right, the will of God Himself. Jurisprudence is for him essentially, if ultimately, a branch of ethics, and might has always to run in the leading strings of moral principles. The idea never dies that at the back of phenomena may be discovered eternal right to which all political conduct must conform; and few would have dared to deny the illegitimacy of action which ran contrary thereto. But the work of the lawyers, in their effort to revive the art of jurisprudence, is an attempt to discover what precisely natural law is. It needs to be interpreted. Its meaning is not always obvious in the particular occasions where it must be applied. Gradually, particularly as the fourteenth century develops, there comes a vigorous insistence upon the idea of positive law as something made by the State and deriving the weight of its authority merely from its source. The prince is legibus solidus; his will has the force of law. These great texts seem to enshrine the notion of law as embodied in the person of a ruler. There grows up a strong division between ius publicum and ius privatum. The one takes precedence of the other. The rights, for example, of positive law are regarded as at the disposal of the sovereign. Bartolus clearly feels that the incidents of the imperial office are inalienable; the knight in the Somnium Viridarii develops the notion of a raison d'état which places legislation at the royal mercy. The prince is lex animate; he gives to positive enactment the principle of its being. The influence of classical jurisprudence naturally strengthened this view. It drives even the philosophers to recover the need for a unity in the State which involves a supreme organ for the expression of its will. Phrases creep into the books which begin to foreshadow Bodin and Hobbes and Rousseau. Imperium, says Gregory of Heimburg, is indivisibile et inalienabile; and Bartolus argues that things like the right to tax can never be given to a private person even if the profits therefrom are surrendered to him.

Nor is this all. The invention and the triumph of the concession theory of corporations inevitably meant the victory of princely power. The group is put in fetters; it is, because a superior will has permitted it to be. Civitas may mean a city as well as a kingdom, but Bartolus is clear that a true State is a body which does not recognise a superior. Anyone who studies the history of gild or burghal franchises in England will realise the influence of this notion. In public law the group is derived from the State, and it has no will save that permitted to it by lawyers who are seizing every occasion to exalt State-power. They dare not resist. There is no appeal, says Aeneas Sylvius in his Germanic days, from the fiat of the Emperor; even to think of such a thing is lése majesté. Petrus de Andlo says roundly that all power is derived from the State. Albericus de Rosciate refines away the difference between natural and positive law until, for practical purposes, it is non-existent. Baldus preaches with eloquence the duty of passive obedience. The joint result of legal and philosophic effort is two-fold. It makes the State identical with the community, and, thereby, transfers to the State the power which the medieval need for unity implies. And since the State is recognised as the supreme corporation, it follows that its representative organ, whether prince or assembly, is entitled to speak absolutely in its name. That absoluteness is marked in striking fashion. It means, for example, that, a priori, contracts which diminish the power of the State are void. It means that a right of expropriation in the ruler is recognised which, even if accompanied by remarks on the wisdom of justice, is broadly unlimited in extent; indeed there is hardly a thinker on the radical side in the ecclesiastical controversy who does not say forthright that public wellbeing permits, and may even demand, the confiscation of Church property.

It is, indeed, true, and it is important, that for the great glossators in an absolute sense, the only true State is the Empire as a whole. Their recognition of a quasi-independence to regno, and civitates is a grudging one; there is something private about them, and to accord them such status is at bottom incorrect. But the concession is in fact made and it has in fact to be made. For the actual events of the fourteenth century made any other attitude impossible. It is the inference from all the English anti-papal statutes of the fourteenth century, as from the attitude to Henry Beaufort in the fifteenth, that England is an independent State with all the means within itself of a sufficient life. If the test of Statehood is superiorem non recognoscere, as it is for Baldus, the English lawyer would have asked no more. So, too, with France. The first chapter of John of Paris assumes without discussion that the realm of France is the abstract State of metaphysics. The Somnium Viridarii argues definitely that the need for unity is satisfied by its existence within a definite realm. Marsilio is, similarly, prepared for secular plurality. There are, it need hardly be said, not less emphatic views on the other side; and men as keenly nationalist as Gerson were dubious in this regard. But it is in general emphasised that the State is no longer the Empire, and that separation adds to the sense of a State which makes the law for the community of which it is the ultimate legal embodiment.

It is worthwhile to emphasise some of the results of this evolution. Broadly, it means that the way is being laid open for the emergence of the Reformation State. The Respublica Christiana of the Middle Ages is giving way before the exclusiveness of nationalism. And nationalism is coming to involve the idea of a centralised State which, in its turn, claims to represent and embody the total social interest of the community in all its varied aspects. That tendency is strengthened by the failure of feudalism to find a place in either juristic or philosophic politics; had it done so, its underlying notion of bilateral contract might have made the history of sovereignty very different. Had office, for example, remained a subject of proprietary right it would not have been very easy for the prince to treat his officials as merely the creatures of his will. So, also, with the rights of corporations. There was a period when it did not seem unlikely that jurisprudence would recognise them as at once original and real. What, instead, occurs is the emergence of an attitude which sets State against individual as the only true subjects of law. The corporation, or fellowship—and medieval life is nothing so much as a complex of fellowships—becomes, accordingly, a mere grantee of the State in public law and in private law that persona ficta the consequences of whose artificiality we are to-day but slowly removing from the Common Law. Generally speaking, it may be said that by the end of the fifteenth century everything is ready for the modern theory of the State except that crisis the needs of which will make it explicit. The Emperor, says Petrus de Audio, can give to any fellowship what powers he will, and revoke them as he pleases in defiance of their tradition. It only required  the demands Luther was driven to make upon the secular authority to transform such a creed into a philosophy of power by which Europe has been governed to our own time. The thinkers of the fifteenth century make a direct high-road to Luther; and, perhaps only half consciously, it is from the wants he fashioned into dogmas that men like Hobbes and Hegel took their weapons.

Nor have these ideas merely the insubstantiality of theory. The famous attempt of Richard II to found a despotism upon the basis of a lex regia which becomes, in his hands, the notion of indefeasible prerogative is proof that they had reality. When the Bishop of Exeter preached to the Parliament of 1397, his text (Ezek. xxxvii. 22) is the need for the incarnation of power in the prince lest anarchy supervene. In the end, of course, Richard failed. But the grounds upon which he stood, and, as the Articles of Deposition shew, the grounds upon which he was overthrown, were in England three centuries in the examination before they were finally rejected. For, after all, the Revolution of 1688 is only a repetition, upon surer territory of conflict, of the Revolution of 1399; and more than a century longer was needed before the continent of Europe was won to the general acceptance of the victorious philosophy.

If we enquire into the causes which explain the downfall of the typical notions of the Middle Ages, we shall have to find them in all the varied characteristics of the period. In part, they are to be found in the decline of the Papacy; that which claimed divine power was proved unworthy to apply it. In part, also, the unity of which the Empire was an attempt at secular embodiment never achieved administrative success; and the emergence of nationality was fatal to its claims. Within the new nation-state, a predominant cause is doubtless an economic one. The absence of enforceable unity in social organisation meant a multitude of petty tyrannies; and, as in France in the fifteenth century, the merchants were glad to make common cause with the Crown that, in its exaltation, they might escape from their thraldom. Beneath the high-sounding dicta of lawyers and theologians, in short, it is not difficult to discover the will of ordinary men to live under a common rule which may permit of enforcement equally upon all. The unified and sovereign State triumphed, in the first place, because it was an obvious convenience in general administration. It made certain what was before uncertain. It built order where, before, there was chaos. Later, of course, it may receive justification in terms of the divine right of its ruler, and passive obedience may become, as with Tyndale under Henry VIII, so much the customary view that men will receive with horror the theories of the Monarchomachic writers. Yet, in its origin, the unified State simply appears as an avenue to peace; and it is intelligible enough that an age weary of internal strife should have received its coming, as in Tudor England, with gratitude.

But it is important to remember that the true medieval doctrine never dies. Not merely to the end of the Middle Ages does the notion persist that the State is built upon the idea of law. How strong it was can be seen from the fact that a secular judge like Fortescue is prepared, amongst other reasons, to admit the supremacy of the Pope over a secular ruler in order that the latter may be compelled to do justice to his subjects. Natural law, for the Middle Ages, has the primary force of modern enacted legislation; and no State would, in its view, have been entitled to obedience which did not assume its power to take rise therefrom. Even the thinkers who, on classical precedent, oppose positive law to natural law, have a sense of discomfort in making the opposition; for positive law is clearly the creature of expediency and its sanctions are hardly felt to be sufficient. Medieval politics, in fact, are a philosophy of universal right; and that, in its turn, is a theory of ethics, which is a part of theology. Men, accordingly, may not transgress it, since they dare not transgress the will of God. It is thus the ultimate criterion by which all human action must be judged.

The idea is a vital one; for it is at once the cause and the demonstration of the continuity of political thought in the Western world. The contribution of Greek Stoicism to Roman Law and to Christianity, that twofold sanction gives it new vigour and authority for over a thousand years. In the sixteenth century it encountered the antithetic notion of raison d'état; and the form given to it in the Hobbesian philosophy started a counter-tradition from which it has never fully recovered. Yet, even in the age of its decline, its roots are deep in human experience. International law traces its origin to its influence; men like Alberico Gentili, Grotius, and the great Jesuits wrote confessedly in its terms. “Ubi in re morum consentiunt,” says Grotius of the schoolmen, “vix est ut errant”. It is one of the factors by which the Common Law is moulded, as in the hands of Mansfield, to new needs. Freed from its ecclesiastical environment, it becomes, in the doctrine of the Rights of Man, one of the creative forces in modern time. And even when Benthamite dogmatism on the one hand, and Hegelian subtlety on the other, had made the rights of man an unacceptable conception, the thesis of a State to be judged by the purposes it achieves bore testimony to the power it embodies. There is a sense, in fact, in which the basic idea of natural law is a necessary part of any political philosophy which seeks to be more than a doctrine of immediate expediency. It was the glory of the medieval thinkers not only to have grasped that truth, but so to have stated it as to make it an integral part of the heritage of mankind.