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John of Paris

Page references below are to the translation by J.A. Watt (BX1810.J413). Quotations are also from that translation. Extracts in Readings

John of Paris (also known as Johannes Quidort) was a French Dominican who taught in the university of Paris in the late 13th century (d. 1306). He may have been a student of Thomas Aquinas. He wrote De potestate regia et papali (On Royal and Papal Power), date uncertain (perhaps about 1302), in connection with the conflict between pope Boniface VIII and king Philip IV of France. He presents himself as taking the middle ground between two mistaken schools of thought:

  • those who say that the pope and bishops have no power in temporal affairs, and that it is unlawful for the clergy to have any temporal property, and
  • those who say that the pope has power over the properties of laymen and jurisdiction over them, and say that the pope 'has primary authority, derived directly from God, whereas the prince has his power mediately from God through the pope' (p. 71).

Kings and Priests

Chapter 1, on kings, and chapter 2, on priests, follow Thomas Aquinas's On Kingship closely. 'A society in which everyone seeks only his own advantage will collapse and disintegrate unless it is ordered to the good of all by some one ruler who has charge of the common good' (p. 77); hence government by the king. But priests are also needed. Mankind are ordered not to a merely natural end, to live virtuously in this life, but to a supernatural end, which is eternal life; they need to be directed also to this higher end. 'Man however cannot secure eternal life through purely human virtue... This leadership to that end belongs to a divine not a human king... that is Jesus Christ' (p. 80). When Christ returned to heaven he left human priests to administer his sacraments.

Chapter 3 argues that there is one supreme priest, but not one supreme world-wide king. (John of Paris is a Frenchman, and rejects the authority of the 'Roman Emperor' elected by the German princes.) The unity of the Church requires unity of belief and there must therefore be an authority of settle disagreements.

But there is no reason why there should be one supreme temporal monarch; indeed there are reasons why there should not.

Secular power is more diverse, because of the diversity of climates and... physical constitutions... Secondly, because one man alone cannot rule the world in temporal affairs as can one alone in spiritual affairs. Spiritual power can easily extend its sanction to everyone, near and far, since it is verbal. Secular power, however, cannot so easily extend its sword very far, since it is wielded by hand. It is far easier to extend verbal than physical authority ['verbal' means exercised by words - it is not a term of disparagement]. Third, because the temporalities of laymen are not communal...; each is master of his own property as acquired through his own industry [cf. p. 103]. There is no need therefore for one to administer temporalities in common since each is his own administrator to do with his own what he wishes. On the other hand, ecclesiastical property was given to the [Christian] community as a whole... (pp. 85-6).
For support in his opposition to the idea of one world empire John refers to Augustine (cf. City of God, IV.15). There is more argument to the same effect on pp. 224-8.

Chapter 4 argues that there were kings before there was any true priest. Chapter 5 argues that the priesthood is superior in dignity to the kingship.

Yet... it does not follow that it is superior in every respect... Both take their origin immediately from one supreme power, namely God. Hence the inferior [the king] is not subject to the superior [the priest] in all things but only in those matters in which the supreme power [God] has subordinated the inferior to the superior. What man would argue that because a teacher of letters or moral tutor guides a household to a nobler end, knowledge of truth, than its doctor whose concern is with the lesser end of physical health, the physician should be subject to the teacher in the preparation of his medicines? (p. 93).
The examples of teacher and tutor are used by Thomas Aquinas, who does argue that one who has care of a lower end should be subject to one who has care of a higher end, and that the king should therefore be subordinate to the pope; see On Kingship, p. 59, and appendix, p. 107. John of Paris seems to be disagreeing with Thomas Aquinas at this point, although otherwise he has followed him closely. (Compare John, p. 77 with Thomas On Kingship pp. 5-6, p. 80 with p. 61, pp. 93-5 with pp. 59-63). Whether a hierarchy of ends establishes a hierarchy of powers is discussed again later in the book (see below).

What power does the Pope have over property?

(A point of terminology: John uses the word dominium, 'lordship', for what we might call ownership. However, the lord might not have immediate control over the thing, as a modern owner usually does (the feudal overlord is lord, though we might hesitate to say owner). John uses bona, 'goods', for what we would call property: goods include houses and other 'immovables', not just small objects.)

First, Church property (chapter 6). Lordship over the goods of a diocese (e.g. the diocese of Chartres) pertains to that community, not to any individual (not to the bishop of Chartres). Church property comes by gift or grant, and the giver has given it to the community (or it is not Church property but the property of the individual it was given to). Individuals may have a right to maintenance, and the head of the community (the bishop) has the right of management; but the property is owned by the community. Similarly lordship over the goods of the Catholic Church as a whole belongs to the whole Catholic community, not to the pope. He has 'general stewardship'. He cannot alienate (sell or give away) Church goods at will. If he misuses Church property he betrays a trust and may be deposed. (The possibility of deposition is based on Gratian's Decretum, d. 40, Si papa, which says that a pope can be judged 'if detected in error of faith': the gloss comments, 'Should he be detected in any other fault and after being admonished does not amend and is giving scandal to the church, the same shall be done', i.e. he should be deposed; p. 101.)

In respect of the goods of laymen, the pope does not have lordship or even stewardship (chapter 7). Such goods do not come by gift or grant to a community, but are acquired by individual laymen 'through their own skill, labour and diligence' (p. 103; cf. p. 86).

Read pp. 103-4

'One who declares what the law is': who does not make the law, but points out an existing duty under natural or divine law.

'Neither prince nor pope': notice that the lay ruler does not have lordship over the goods of individual citizens.

'For the reason... common need and welfare (p. 104)': This means that the individual's right to property is not absolute. Some of it can be taken even without the individual's consent when the common good requires it. (Later Locke maintained that there should be no taxation without consent; here John says that, although the ruler cannot treat as his own the subject's property, when the common need justifies it he can levy compulsory contributions.)

'In any major necessity... common property': Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 2-2, q. 66, a. 7, and 2-2, q. 32, a. 7, ad 3.

Does the pope have jurisdiction in temporal matters?

Note the distinction between lordship over goods and juriurisdiction. The ruler has jurisdiction even over goods which are not his property, and over people. Has Christ give the pope supreme jurisdiction in temporal matters? John argues (1) that Christ as man did not himself have such jurisdiction, and (2) that even if he had, he did not pass it on to Peter or to Peter's successors.

(1) Christ did not have temporal jurisdiction. In chapter 8 this point is argued from various bible texts and passages from the fathers of the Church. 'My kingdom is not of this world' (Jn. 18:36); 'Man, who hath appointed me judge or divider over you?' (Lk. 12:13-5). Christ as God was king, but as man he was not. Chapter 9 answers various objections - bible texts which seem to show that Christ did claim temporal jurisdiction (e.g. Mt. 21, in which Christ drove traders out of the temple). 'All such arguments can be easily dismissed when one appreciates that something can be attributed to Christ as God which was not in his power as man' (p. 112).

(2) In chapter 10 John argues that even if Christ as man had supreme temporal jurisdiction that would not necessarily mean that he passed it on to Peter and his successors. That he did so would have to be proved from his express words. There is no presumption that whatever power Christ had Peter had. There are bible texts which show that temporal jurisdiction was not granted to the apostles. 'The princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, it shall not be so among you' (Mt. 20:25). Various texts of canon law show that the pope has no temporal jurisdiction. In chapter 11 he rejects an evasion of these arguments. Some say that the pope has supreme jurisdiction in authority, but not in execution or exercise - that he grants its exercise to the prince; the temporal sword is the pope's, but it is weilded for him by the lay ruler. But why would God grant the pope a power which he was forbidden to exercise?

So far, then, it has been argued that the pope does not have supreme lordship over goods - not even over the goods of the Church - and does not have supreme temporal jurisdiction. In Chapter 11 John puts 42 arguments to prove that the pope does have supreme temporal jurisdiction, and goes on in later chapters to answer them. (This is a typical medieval procedure: after presenting his own position the author raises 'doubts' against it and answers them.) We cannot read all 42 arguments and answers, but -

Read arguments 20 (p. 133) and 23 (p. 134), and John's answers (pp. 182-3, 184-6). Again (cf. pp. 93-4) John is arguing against Thomas Aquinas's principle that one who has care of a lower end should be subject to him who has care of the higher end.

Read pp. 156-7

This means that the pope can indirectly bring about the deposition of a king. Note that the pope can also be deposed.

There is much else of interest in this book, but we must move on. Noteworthy points:

  1. Church property belongs to the Christian community, the property of laymen belongs to the individuals; property-owners may be required to make contributions.
  2. A world-empire is not desirable.
  3. Secular government is not subordinate to the Church; the Church has from Christ no temporal power.

Further reading

J. A. Watt, 'Introduction';

Sabine, A History of Political Theory (JA81.S3), p. 280 ff;

McIlwain, The Growth of Political Thought in the West (JA81.M26), p. 263 ff;

Morrall, Political Thought in Medieval Times (JA82.M6), p. 90 ff.


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