In 1324 Marsilius of Padua (c 1270-1342) published his most important work, Defensor Pacis, in which he questioned radically the papal claims, asserted in their most absolute form in the Bull Unam Sanctam by Boniface VIII in 1302. He based his thesis on what he described as a "self evident principle" drawn from Aristotle. "All men not deformed or otherwise impeded naturally desire a sufficient life, and flee and avoid what is harmful thereto; which has been admitted not only concerning man but concerning every genus of animals.)' Marsilius' originality consisted in his interpretation of human nature, not as had Aristotle and Aquinas in terms of man's full potential in nature, including spiritual elements, but as consisting only in his physical and material endowment. Hence "sufficient life naturally desired" related only to biological necessity.
This "sufficient life" can be achieved in a community that allows each to enjoy it, limited only by the simultaneous enjoyment of others. A form of government is therefore needed to judge between competing claims. The government will be carried out according to laws that are expressive of the wishes of all the people. The law is not related to justice or ethical considerations; these are irrelevant to "natural desire". The authority of this secular law is absolute: it needs no external validation. Since it is rooted in the will of the people who make it and elect the governors who rule by it, it will always realise their natural desire for "sufficient life".
Defensor Pacis has had a profound effect on subsequent political theory and in particular on the relationship of Church and State. Aspects of Marsilius' heritage include:

(a) the idea of the State as an end in itself, a necessary and powerful means of controlling conflicting desires and opinions among citizens  (Hobbes and the omnipotent state) 

(b) the State governed by the will of the people that replaces all transcendent authority  (the democratic theories of Rousseau and the French Revolution) 

(c) the necessary divorce between law and justice, politics and ethics  (Machiavelli) . This has special importance for economics as a discrete science  (Adam Smith and the "hidden hand" of laissez faire economics) 

(d) the subordination of religion and religious organisations to the State  (Hooker and the Elizabethan settlement, aspects of Luther's theology) 

(e) religion used by the State as a means of social control  (Marx on materialist interpretations of ideologies) 

(f) the relegation of religion to the private sphere  (Locke on religious toleration, Montesquieu on the separation of powers) 
Central to Jesus' teaching is a concept of reality not based on biological necessity but on the apprehension of and trust in a personal reality greater than man ie God. From this follows:

(a) his eschatological perspective. The kingdom of God is not realised on earth nor in this life by the efforts of man (or 'will of the people'), but only by the action and gift of God in fulfilment of His purpose

(b) the Law he fulfilled and preached is based on the justice and love of God. Ethical requirements are fundamental and are revealed in Scripture and tradition, rather than achieved by popular consensus

(c) Jesus is Emmanuel (God with us). The incarnation means that God is totally involved with His creation. Religion consequently cannot be a private option, but is a necessary and urgent public concern, affecting all aspects of life

(d) the human race is called to follow, to 'launch out', to go beyond the city walls. This demands a faith that risks everything on a testimony whose truth can only be proved at the end. The true nature of "sufficient life" exceeds all that we can presently conceive.
© Kennedy Thorn 1984

What's wrong with the sermon is section (c) regarding Jesus's teaching. Jesus never taught that he was God Emmanuel, or that he was the incarnation. This is something that goes forward to the Church that follows on from what is called Pentecost and part of proto-orthodoxy. And then the question is, 'So what?' If an eschatology proves to be false, then the true nature of sufficent life may well be as Marsilius of Padua considered: though whether that is to be democratic or fascist in realisation is open. Jesus never suggested that the social and economic order would or should change in this life, but he had a reverse ethic as to who would enter the coming radically different existence that motivated his healing and preaching actions.



Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful