A Comparison Between Classical and Medieval Body Politic

Classical and Medieval Christian Bodies

The body politic is an ancient metaphor that conceptualizes a state, society, or church and its institutions as a biological body (usually human). Hence, the body politic is a metaphor for the structure of society. Like a human body, society has many parts whereby each institution or class is a part of the body with unique functions and values. Like the human body, the political body has various conditions of health and illness, strengths and weaknesses, which is why active effort to maintain the ideal situation is essential. Understanding the body from the Classical and Medieval perspectives is an important basis for understanding the evolutions of political bodies. This paper compares the Classical and Medieval body politic with consideration of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas perspectives and ideologies.

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The Classical Body Politic

            The Classical body politic is best defined by the works of Plato and Aristotle. During the Greek era, citizenship was characterized by being narrow and politics was seen purely as a public matter. During this period, the political view was that citizens could only exist in self-governing city-states. As per Plato, the Republic stood out as the perfect city and a philosophical king was best suited to rule the city (Ryan, 2012). Plato elucidated that the republic qualifies as the head of the Classic body politic ruled by a philosopher-king as the ultimate ruling class. In such a city, there would be no politics. This is because Plato’s view is anti-political, which is paradoxical since he described a political body (Harvey, 2021).

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Aristotle agrees with Plato’s perspective. He elucidates that the military constitutes the hands of the body. The commoners including farmers and merchants are the feet of the body. Religious institutions constitute the heart of the body. It is worth noting that classical philosophers did not pay attention to the heart as part of the political body. Notably, there are both healthy and ill aspects to the classical body politic. For instance, whereas the king is the head, hence the controller of the body, without the hands or the feet, the body is ineffective (Kenny, 2012).

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The Medieval Body Politic

The medieval body politic succeeded the classical body politic. According to Ryan (2012), the medieval body politic stemmed from the Roman emperor Constantine and the Jewish political worldview. It began with Augustine, an early Christian thinker. Augustine separated two different places in his book The City of God. The two cities are the earthly world and the heavenly world. Augustine elucidated that the love of self informs the earthly world while the love of God informs the heavenly world (Kenny, 2012). Aquinas helped further the medieval body politic by elucidating the different parts of the body. The head of the body was the king, nobles comprised the arms, priests represented the soul, and the peasants form the legs (Mooney, 2011). When all the parts work together, the body is healthy. However, corruption and abandoning Christian teachings can sicken the body. For instance, if the King is corrupt or the priests do not uphold Christian teachings, then the body falls ill (Arnhart, 2015).

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Comparison and Conclusion

Classical and Medieval politics share similarities and differences as demonstrated by this essay. Regarding similarities, both have the king or the monarch as the head of the body. The military/nobles are the arms. Moreover, both have the commoners as the legs. Concerning differences between the two perspectives, whereas the Classical body gave little attention to religion, the medieval body focused heavily on religion to inform its view. Both seem flawed as they do not have God as the head of the body. The bible in 1 Corinthians 11:3 states “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

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