Reformation and Political Authority

Part Two: Reformation and Political Authority

The following passage was written in the twelfth century by a Dominican Priest named John of Paris. Read this and consider what it tells us about the later dispute between the political power of Church versus State.

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. Third, because the temporalities of laymen are not communal…; each is master of his own property as acquired through his own industry. 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).

J.A. Watt. (n.d.). John of Paris
Retrieved from

The next passage was written by Marsilius of Padua in 1324. It is part of a longer list of “truths” about the nature of authority. Consider again what it tells us about disputes of power during the later Reformation.

There can be only one supreme ruling power in a state or kingdom.

The number and the qualifications of persons who hold state offices and all civil matters are to be determined solely by the Christian ruler according to the law or approved custom [of the state].

No prince, no partial council, nor single person of any position, has full authority and control over other persons, laymen or clergy, without the authorization of the legislator.

No bishop or priest has coercive authority or jurisdiction over any layman or clergyman, even if he is a heretic.

The prince who rules by the authority of the “legislator” has jurisdiction over the persons and possessions of every single mortal of every station, whether lay or clerical, and over every body of laymen or clergy.

No bishop or priest or body of bishops or priests has the authority to excommunicate anyone or to interdict the performance of divine services, without the authorization of the “legislator.”

Paul Halsall. (1996). Medieval Sourcebook: Marsiligio of Padua: Conclusions from Defensor Pacis, 1324
Retrieved from


Both of these works enjoyed a resurgence during the religious conflict of the sixteenth century. How would these arguments be used to support or challenge a break between the political king and the spiritual center in Rome? Be sure to mention which passage would support Catholic goals and which would support Protestant reforms. Write 200 – 250 words:

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