Marsilius of Padua

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Marsilius of Padua

(märsĭl`ēəs, pă`dyo͞oə), d. c.1342, Italian political philosopher. He is satirically called Marsiglio. Little is known with certainty of his life except that he was rector of the Univ. of Paris c.1312. When Holy Roman Emperor Louis IVLouis IV
or Louis the Bavarian,
1287?–1347, Holy Roman emperor (1328–47) and German king (1314–47), duke of Upper Bavaria. After the death of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII the Luxemburg party among the electors set aside Henry's son, John of Luxemburg,
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 was seeking a theorist to assist him in his struggle with Pope John XXIIJohn XXII,
1244–1334, pope (1316–34), a Frenchman (b. Cahors) named Jacques Duèse; successor of Clement V. Formerly, he was often called John XXI. He reigned at Avignon. John was celebrated as a canon lawyer under Boniface VIII, whom he supported.
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, Marsilius composed a tract, Defensor pacis [the defender of peace], probably in collaboration with the Averroist John of Jandun. It was published in 1324 and proved to be one of the most revolutionary of medieval documents. The work held that all power is derived from the people and their ruler is only their delegate; there is no law but the popular will, as expressed in the ruler. The church too has no authority apart from the people, and the actual power of the Holy See is self-arrogated; the church should be under the ruler, its province should be purely that of worship, and it should be governed by periodic councils. The notion that princes derive their power from the people was current in scholasticism, but the antiecclesiastical argument of the work aroused great scandal. It was repeatedly condemned by the Holy See. Marsilius, however, continued under the emperor's protection and went in Louis's train to Rome for his coronation and attended him afterward. His lesser works include an argument that the emperor had final jurisdiction in matrimonial cases (1342). The Defensor pacis had a long life; John GersonGerson, John
(Jean Charlier de Gerson) , 1363–1429, French ecclesiastical statesman and writer. He studied (1377–94) under Pierre d'Ailly at the Univ. of Paris, where he took his doctorate in theology and succeeded Ailly as chancellor (1395).
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 recommended it, and in England, during Henry VIII's fight with the church, Thomas Cromwell patronized its translation into English (1535).


See the modern edition of A. Gewirth (1967); also A. Gewirth, Marsilius of Padua and Medieval Political Philosophy (1951).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Marsilius of Padua


Born betwen 1275 and 1280 in Padua; died circa 1343 in Munich. Italian political thinker; ideologist of the urban elite.

Marsilius studied medicine, philosophy, and theology at the universities of Padua and Paris. He wrote the treatise Defender of Peace (1324, published 1522), in which he was one of the first in the Middle Ages to propose the idea of the emergence of the state as the result of a social contract. Opposing the claims of the papacy to secular power, he held that secular power was higher than spiritual. He considered the best form of government to be a monarchy in which the soveriegn’s legislative authority would be separate from his executive authority. Further, the sovereign would be limited by a governmental body drawn from the nobility, although elected by the people and subject to their recall. For his bold criticism of the papacy and open support of Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria in his struggle against Pope John XXII he was excommunicated in 1327.


En’ko A. G. “‘Defensor pads’ Marsiliia Paduanskogo … .” Vestnik MGU: Istoriia, 1964, no. 2.
Segall, H. Der “Defensor pacis” des Marsilius von Padua. Wiesbaden [1959].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marsilius of Padua

Italian name Marsiglio dei Mainardini. ?1290--?1343, Italian political philosopher, best known as the author of the Defensor pacis (1324), which upheld the power of the temporal ruler over that of the church
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Marsilius of Padua's strong populism is surprising from a historical perspective, because the democratic perspective is more generally associated with Protestant thinkers living during and in the wake of the Reformation (though earlier this author noted that Marsilius' unique political and geographic context make the origins of his ideas easier to understand).
Republicanism and Absolutism in the thougth of Marsilius of Padua. Medioevo, v.
If there were a secularizing tendency, some of its thickest roots grew from theology and canon law, which Marsilius of Padua and others had shown could be used to defend secular royal power.
The World of Marsilius of Padua, edited by Gerson Moreno-Riano.
The World of Marsilius of Padua. Brussels: International Academic Publishers, 2007.
What Peters observes about "overlaps and repetitions" in the distribution of the Law across the entire Pentateuch applies to his two volumes even more than it does to Moses' five volumes: the notorious "satanic verses" of the Quran, now permanently associated with the name of Salman Rushdie, are explained twice, once in each volume; the distinctive tenets of the Pharisees and their view of the relation between Scripture and tradition appear over and over again; and the political theology of Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham receives an exposition at two places in the narrative.
To this end she devotes a chapter each to Augustine's City of God, Aquinas, Dante's De Monarchia, Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis, More's Utopia, and Bacon's New Atlantis.
The earliest form of conciliarism, advocated by Marsilius of Padua in the 14th century, taught that a general council represents the whole church, not merely an assembly of autonomous bishops.
They are the eagle's flight: Dante's Paradiso VI and the Monarchia; Marsilius of Padua and the question of legitimacy; individual freedom in William of Ockham's Breviloquium; Petrarch, Cola de Riezo, and the Battle of Rome; the prophetic widow: Birgitta of Sweden and the Revelaciones; and Catherine of Siena and the mystical body of the church.
Ward (JOW) in the History Department at Sydney, being told of my interests in Marsilius of Padua by the also recently arrived Pat Collinson (whom I'd met at dinner with Owen Harries), invited me to give a lecture.