What Is The Source Of The Roman Empire? Opinion 1: The Roman Empire Was Established By God, Not Men Chapter 26 ~ William Of Ockham

What is the source of the Roman Empire? 

Opinion 1: The Roman Empire was established by God, not men

Chapter 26

Student Although that opinion which considers that the empire is from the pope should be more fully discussed, and especially in so far as it considers that the empire now is from the pope, yet because there will be in the future an opportunity of speaking about this and other matters which are included in that opinion when we deal with other opinions, let us therefore briefly reflect upon that opinion which considers that the Roman empire was established by God and not by men. Would you try to argue for that.

Master A text of Pope John is brought forward for this opinion. As we find in dist. 96, c. Si imperator [c.11, c.341] he says, "He," that is the emperor, "has the privileges of his power which he acquired from heaven for the administration of public laws." The gloss on the words from heaven [col.469] here says, "Not therefore from the pope. For the empire is from God alone, as in 23, q. 4, Quaesitum [c.45, col.924]. For he has the power of the sword 'from the heavenly majesty', C, de veteri iure enucleando, l. 1, at the beginning [Justinian, Codex, I.17.1, ed. Kreuger, p. 69], which I concede of a true emperor".

Again, speaking about the emperor in the same chapter, Pope John says [c.11, col.341], "... lest he strive to burst against him," that is God, "by whom everything has been established, and lest he be seen to fight against the benefits of that one from whom he acquired his own power."

Again, blessed Cyprian, as we find in dist. 10, c. Quoniam idem [c.8, col.21], and Pope Nicholas, as we read in dist. 96, c. Cum ad verum [c.6, col.339], assert the same opinion in the same words, saying, "Jesus Christ, at the same time a mediator with God and a man among men, separated the duties of each power by its own acts and distinct dignities." At this point the gloss says [col.466], "Rather the opposite seems to be the case, because he did not separate but confuse when he who was one and the same undertook both offices. But say that he undertook both offices himself to show that they came from the same source. For the law says that the highest gifts, that is the priesthood and the empire, have been granted to us by God, (in the beginning of coll. 1 of Auth., `How it behoves bishops')." [[check]]

Again, as we read in 23, q. 4, c. Quaesitum [c.45, col.924], Pope Innocent, speaking about secular powers says, "They," that is our ancestors, "remembered that these powers were granted by God and that the sword was permitted to punish the guilty and given to the minister of God for this sort of punishment. How, therefore, will we find fault with an arrangement which is seen to have been granted by God's authorship?" We gather from these words that the secular powers are from God. Most of all, therefore, is the imperial power from God. All these things are confirmed by the apostle when he says at Romans 13:1, "There is no power except from God."

Student Tell me briefly how that argument is rejected.

Master It is rejected by virtue of the fact that because we do not read that God himself established the emperor and did not do so through another, that opinion can as a result be disdained with the same ease as it is proved.

Student Tell me how reply is made to the arguments for that opinion.

Master The reply, in a single word, is that it is granted that the imperial power and all licit and legitimate power generally are from God, yet not from God alone. But some [power] is from God through men, and the imperial power is of this kind, from God but through men.

William of Ockham, Dialogus
part 3, tract 2, book 1, chapters 18-31

Text and translation by John Scott.
Copyright (c) 1999, The British Academy