Medieval Western Political Thought

Western civilization came into existence in the late Roman Empire, with the first synthesis of classical civilization and Christianity. When that empire disintegrated, the ancient world ended, and Western civilization nearly ended with it. As Roman power unraveled, learning and culture declined, with reading and writing sometimes confined to the monasteries. However, as the medieval period continued, the monasteries sent their members out into the rest of Europe, evangelizing and teaching. These efforts resulted in the founding of the first university systems and the Scholastic school of thought. The Scholastics included the highly influential work of St. Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized Aristotle's philosophy with Christian theology. Among the topics considered in the Scholastic movement was politics: the nature of government, the types of government, and how to achieve better government. Advances in political and economic thought were made, discussed, and debated.

Practical developments in government and law also occurred. Italian city-states rediscovered republican forms of government, feudalism was developed, the multi-level government of the Holy Roman Empire came into existence, and England began to develop the common law.

As the Church was the only major institution to survive the fall of the Roman Empire, it provided important continuity and had tremendous influence. Consequently, much of political thought concerned the relationship of Church and government. Since a unified Christianity was the organizing principle of the society, some scholars viewed the church, and thus the Pope, as the ultimate authority on all matters. The emperors and kings, in contrast, wanted to use the church to further their own power, and demanded the right to appoint bishops, abbots, and priests. These disputes eventually led to theories of separate roles for religious and secular institutions.

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A collection of quotes on Medieval Western Political Thought.

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This article provides a brief overview of his work. Gratian's work provided a model for later studies in law and other subjects.

G.K. Chesterton refutes in an article the idea that the Middle Ages were without any political or social change.

Hincmar of Rheims was a bishop and author who lived about 806-882. He was part of the Carolingian renewal of learning and was involved in the beginnings of the disputes between popes and rulers.

A brief biography of Hugh of Saint Victor and his contributions to schooling and free trade.

An article giving a brief biography about St. Bernardino of Siena and his development of medieval economic thought.

An article giving a brief biography of St. Thomas Aquinas and the foundation he laid for medieval thinkers in law, government, and economics.

Analysis Report White Paper

John Kilcullen's description of medieval political philosophy. His encyclopedic entry tracks medieval political philosophy's growth and progression from the Bible through Francisco Suárez.

John Kilcullen's examination into the political philosophers between the Greeks and the early moderns. He labels this "Medieval Political Philosophy."

Murray N. Rothbard provides an examination into the roots of modern economic thought. Instead of starting in the 18th Century, he delves into the Medieval Scholastics.

Leonard Liggio discusses the history of Spanish scholasticism and its influence on economics, human rights, and international law.

James Schall examines the Medieval Political Philosophy and contrasts it to Modern Political Philosophy.


Murray Rothbard's book discusses the development of economic thought before Adam Smith.

David Gordon's "The History of Political Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard" discusses the great influences to political philosophy.

Primary Document

This agreement between the Pope and the Emperor settled one of the early political controversies of the Middle Ages: did kings have the right to appoint church officials within their realms?

In this document, the Pope at the time identifies the specific statements of Marsilius of Padua, which he denied. Specifically, the Pope denied the royalist claim that Christ paying taxes while on earth meant the Emperor could claim any church lands or possessions as his own, and denied that the Emperor had authority to remove a Pope.

Marsilius of Padua wrote Defensor Pacis as the royal side of the same argument John of Paris and Giles of Rome addressed - the constant question of the relation of church and state.

John of Paris wrote On Royal and Papal Power during the controversies between the Pope and the Emperor on the relationship of their roles.

Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. Although unfinished, it provided a foundation for many religious and secular institutions and proved very influential throughout the Middle Ages.

This portion of the Summa Theologica contains the "Treatise on Prudence and Justice."

These statutes were issued by the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England prior to the Norman Conquest. As they indicate, many of the laws were by local customs at this point, but the king would fix certain penalties or issue certain regulations for his entire realm.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV issued this declaration to settle the method of selecting the next "King of the Romans" (who would then be crowned Emperor upon papal confirmation).

This law stated the imperial claim to absolute power. It provided an early version of the claim of the Divine Right of Kings.

Henry of Bracton (also spelled Bratton) provides a comprehensive view of the law, and explains the evolution of English law in terms of the combination of Roman and canon law.




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