Defending Legitimacy: Papacy and Empire in Late Medieval Political Thought

AHA Session 59
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 209 (Hynes Convention Center)
Paul H. Freedman, Yale University
Mary E. Sommar, Millersville University

Session Abstract

This session deals with the two universal powers of the middle ages, whose authority, legitimacy, and significance became increasingly questioned in the later middle ages. Often this was done by proponents of the other universal power, which was considered a natural competitor, and for its benefit. The responses to these attacks tried to re-establish the legitimacy of the institution they defended. And sometimes these theoretical or political responses turned to novel arguments or methods of arguments. These papers will discuss important examples for these.
Turley’s paper explores the challenges papalist theorists were facing when Marsilius of Padua launched his radical attack against papal authority. The respondents not only tried to fight Marsilius’s argument. They were, surprisingly, as much prepared to use it as Marsilius was himself. Godthardt, in his paper, turns to the political context to which Marsilius responded in his Defensor pacis. As Marsilius defended the legitimacy of the empire in theory, regardless of papal approval, Ludwig the Bavarian (Lewis of Bavaria), the Roman-German king, responded with political action to Pope John XXII’s powerful attempts to dominate the imperial office. The design of his imperial coronation was intended to defeat the papal claims and to demonstrate the autonomous nature of the empire. The dispute, however, over the nature of the empire and its relationship to the papacy was by no means finished. In the 15th century, arguments both against and for the legitimacy of the empire developed and became more fundamental. Izbicki discusses the debate of two Castilian prelates one fundamentally disputing the empire’s legitimacy and the other (Cardinal Juan de Torquemada) even intending to re-establish the concept of the empire’s supremacy. The empire’s effective rule over conquered people, Torquemada argued, earned legitimacy through consent. This, too, was intended as a substantial argument against any dependency of the empire upon papal authorization.

This session is for anyone interested in general political, ecclesiastical, and intellectual history.

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