What Is The Source Of The Roman Empire? Arguments Against Opinion 3: The Roman Empire Is From The Pope Chapter 25 ~ William Of Ockham

What is the source of the Roman Empire? 

Arguments Against Opinion 3:  The Roman Empire is from the pope

Chapter 25

Student By arguing and replying we have somewhat copiously considered the third opinion recorded in chapter 18 above. However, now I want to know how it is rejected.

Master That opinion says two things. The first is that the empire is from the pope. The second is that no empire can be a true one unless it is from the pope. Some people say that the first is false. The second, however, they say is heretical.

Student Let us treat the second [point] first. Tell me why some people say that it is heretical.

Master Some people try to show that this is heretical as follows. What is contrary to divine scripture should be regarded as heretical. But that there can not be a true empire except from the pope is contrary to divine scripture. For it is certain from divine scripture, as they clearly say, that many pagans were true emperors. For the evangelist attests this of Octavian when he says in Luke 2:1, "A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled." We gather from these words that Octavian, to whom those words refer, was a true emperor.

Again, in Matthew 22:21 Christ said to the Jews, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." We are given to understand by these words that he was a true Caesar, and yet he did not have his empire from the pope; indeed he was an infidel and a pagan. Therefore true empire, true temporal lordship, true temporal jurisdiction and true power of the material sword existed and can exist among unbelievers and outside the catholic church, although unbelievers sometimes, and perhaps usually, abuse such legitimate power. But it can not be inferred from the abuse of the one using it that his dignity or power is less true, as Augustine attest when he says, as we find in 14, q. 5, c. Neque enim [c.9, col.740], "The perversity of a tyrannical faction will not be praiseworthy if the tyrant treats his subjects with royal clemency nor is the order of royal power censured if the king rages with tyrannical cruelty. For it is one thing to want to use unjust power justly and it is another to want to use unjust power justly." By these words we are given to understand that anyone can abuse true power and true lordship, and so it can not be proved from its abuse by unbelievers that there are not among them true lordship and true power of the material sword.

Student I think that I understand why its attackers might regard the aforesaid opinion as heretical. Would you bring forward, therefore, only the texts by which they try to prove that there was true temporal lordship and true power of the material sword among unbelievers?

Master To do this they bring forward both texts from the Old and New Testament and texts from the saints, the fathers and our ancestors. For, as we read in Genesis 23:8-16, Abraham refused to accept for nothing a double cave in which to bury his wife but bought it from the infidel Ephron. He would not have done this if Ephron had not had a true right to it. Faithful Jacob too recognised that the infidel Laban had true lordship of some temporal things when he said to him, as we read in Genesis 31:32,37,38, "Take whatever you find that I have that is yours. ... What have you found of all your household goods? ... Your ewes and your she-goats have not miscarried and I have not eaten the rams of your flock."

Again, it is written in Genesis 39:5, "And the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake and multiplied all that he had in house and field." Therefore that infidel had true lordship of things.

Again, speaking in [Genesis] 41:35 of pharaoh's legitimate power Joseph says, "Let all the grain be laid up under the authority of pharaoh." And it is written in [Genesis] 47:20-1, 23, "So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt; for all the Egyptians sold their fields because the famine was severe upon them. And he subjected the land and all the people to pharaoh. ... Behold, as you see, pharaoh possesses both you and your land."

Again, we read in Deuteronomy 2:4-6, 9, 17-9 that God gave true lordship of lands to certain of the unbelievers. It is written as follows there, "You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren, the sons of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So take good heed; do not contend with them; for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall purchase food from them for money that you may eat; and you shall also buy water of them that you may drink. ... And the Lord said to me, `Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.' ... The Lord said to me, `This day you are to pass over the boundary of Moab at Ar; and when you approach the frontier of the sons of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon because I have given it to the sons of Lot as a possession.'"

Again, as we read in 3 Kings 9:11, Solomon freely gave to Hiram king of Tyre, who is not one of the children of Israel, twenty cities in the land of Galilee. He would not have freely given them to him, however, if [Hiram] had not been capable of true lordship of any temporal possessions at all.

Again, in 3 Kings 19:15 the Lord ordered Elijah to anoint Hazael, who yet was an infidel, to be king over Syria. It is certain, however, that a kingdom given by God is a true kingdom. Therefore an infidel was fit for a true kingdom, true lordship and true temporal power.

Again, in 2 Chronicles 36:22-3 and 1 Ezra 1:2 we read as follows, "The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: `Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord the God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem.'" The following is also said of him in Isaiah 45:1, "Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and turn the backs of kings."

Again, we read in Tobit 2:20-1 [[or a bit differently in NRSV 2:12-3]] that when Tobit's wife Anna "receiving a young kid had brought it home, her husband said to her when he heard it bleating, `Be careful lest perhaps this goat is stolen; return it to the owners for we are not permitted to eat or touch anything stolen.'" We gather from these words that the unbelievers among whom Tobit was living had true lordship of things.

Again, in Daniel 2:37-8 Daniel said to the infidel king Nebuchadnezzar, "You, O king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the empire and the glory, into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all."

Again, we read as follows in [Daniel] 5:18, "The most high God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty." We gather from these words that Nebuchadnezzar had a true kingdom and empire. For God does not give a false empire and kingdom but a true one.

Again, Herod was an infidel and yet was a true king of Judea. Whence it is said about him in Matthew 2:1, "In the time of King Herod after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea ...." And we read as follows in Luke 1:5, "In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah", etc.

Again, we read in Matthew 17:25 that Christ questioned Peter, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from foreigners? When Peter said, `From foreigners,' Jesus said to him, `Then the children are free.'" We gather from these words that foreigners are not free from tribute, but children are. And consequently foreigners owe tribute at law. It follows from this that even infidel kings are true kings because it was of them that Christ was speaking.

Again, we read as follows in Luke 3:12-3, "Even tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him," that is John the Baptist, "`Teacher, what should we do?' He said to them, `Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.'" Therefore tax collectors licitly received what was prescribed for them, although it had been prescribed by unbelievers.

There follows in the same place (Matthew 3:14), "Soldiers also asked him, `And we, what should we do?' He said to them, `Do not strike or make a false allegation against anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.'" If, however, they were to be content with the wages which they received from pagan princes, those infidel princes had true lordship of what they were giving the soldiers, because it would not be permissible for soldiers to receive wages from those who have nothing but only tyrannically appropriate the goods of others.

Again, at John 19:11 Jesus said to Pilate, "You would have no power over me unless it were given you from above." Power given from above, however, is legitimate and not usurped. Therefore Pilate had legitimate power, although he was not using it legitimately.

Again, the apostle says at Romans 13:1, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God." The apostle seems to be speaking here about infidel authorities, about those, that is, to whom the Romans offered taxes. The apostle says [Romans 13:6,7], "For the same reason you pay taxes ... Pay to all what is due them, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due." The Romans, however, used to pay taxes only to Caesar and his successors, who were unbelievers. Therefore unbelievers there had power instituted by God, and so had true temporal power.

Again, at 1 Corinthians 7:20-1 the apostle says, "Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it." Someone is a slave, therefore, before his call to the faith, and, as a consequence, someone else is his true lord.

Again, the apostle says at 1 Timothy 6:1-2, "Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are brethren but rather must serve them all the more as believers." Here the apostle seems to distinguish between slaves having unbelieving masters and slaves having believing masters, and he orders unbelieving masters to be honoured. He would not do this unless some unbelieving masters were true masters.

Again, blessed Paul asserts that he is a Roman citizen, as is clear in Acts 16:37 and 22:25-7. But he was not a Roman citizen except by the authority and grant of the Romans, since also he was not then at Rome. Therefore the Romans had true power by which they could grant Roman citizenship to others.

Again, as we read in Acts 24:10, blessed Paul said to the pagan Lisias [actually Felix], "I cheerfully make my defence, knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation." Here Paul recognised that a pagan was a true judge.

Again, as we find at Acts 25:10-1, Paul regarded Caesar as a true judge, since he appealed to him in these words, "I am appealing to the emperor's tribunal; this is where I should be tried. ... I appeal to the emperor."

Again, in [verses 13-14 of] the second chapter of his first letter blessed Peter says, "For God's sake accept the authority of every human being, whether of a king, as supreme, or of dukes, as sent by him." At that time, however, no christians were kings or dukes. Therefore blessed Peter wanted christians to accept the authority of unbelieving kings and dukes. Unbelievers had true lordship therefore.

Again, blessed Peter adds below in the same place [1 Peter 2:18], "Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but those who are harsh." He implies by these words that even the harsh can be true masters and should be obeyed.

It is clear to some people that this could also be shown by very many testimonies of saints, but I will bring forward [only] a few. As we find in 11, q. 3, c. Iulianus [c.94, col.669], therefore, Ambrose says, "Although the emperor Julian was an apostate he nevertheless had under him christian soldiers who obeyed him when he said, `Advance the battle front for the defence of the republic.'" And in the same causa and quaestio c. Ita corporis [98, col.670] Augustine says about the same man. "Julian was an unbelieving emperor. Did he remain an apostate and wicked idolater? When it came to the cause of Christ they [his soldiers] knew only he who was in heaven. When he wanted them to worship idols and offer incense they set God above him. However, when he said, `Advance the battle front, move against those people', they obeyed at once and distinguished the eternal Lord from their temporal lord." Although Julian was apostate, therefore, he was a true lord and a true emperor.

Student That seems too absurd, namely that an apostate and heretic was a true emperor and true lord of temporal goods, since in law heretics possess no temporal goods, as we gather plainly from the sacred canons, dist. 8, c. Quo iure [c.1, col.12], Extra, De hereticis, c. Excommunicamus [c.13, col.787], and the whole of 23, q. 7. Therefore Julian was not a true emperor nor a true lord of temporal goods. The gloss on the chapter of Ambrose cited above, Iulianus [col.954], seems to imply this when it says, "Until now Julian was tolerated by the church so that he would not stir up hatred against christians." Although Julian was tolerated by the church, therefore, he was not a true emperor.

Master The reply is that it is not by divine law that heretics have no property and no secular dignity, but by human law, and therefore before heretics were deprived by human laws of their lordship of temporal goods they had true lordship of temporal goods. And because, therefore, in the time of Julian apostates and heretics were not deprived of temporal goods, Julian was a true emperor and lord of temporal goods. Afterwards, however, heretics were deprived of lordship of temporal goods by the human laws of emperors and the pope. And from that time, therefore, they have not been true lords of goods of this kind. And it is about this [later] time that the sacred canons speak, not however about the time when Julian lived.

Now it is replied in two ways to the gloss adduced: in one way that Julian was tolerated by the church as a true emperor and not as one having only a usurped empire. It is said otherwise that at that point the glossator had no memory of things done in the time of Julian, because, as we read in various authentic writings, Julian stirred up what hatred he could against the christians, and the church, therefore, did not tolerate him so that he would not stir up hatred against christians. But it tolerated him because it could not in fact deprive him of the empire. And if by its judgement it had deprived him, that deprivation would have harmed the church, not profited it.

Student Would you bring forward some other sayings of our forefathers for the same assertion.

Master We gather this from the legend of St. Mauritius and his companions, in which we read that they said the following: "We are your soldiers, O emperor, but yet we are slaves because we freely confess God. We owe you military service, but we owe him our innocence." And yet that emperor, that is Maximianus, was an unbeliever.

Again, as we read in their Legend, Paul and John said to Julian the Apostate, "We do not do this injury to you in order to put any person at all, that is a secular lord, before you, but we put him who made heaven and earth before you." Therefore those saints regarded Julian the Apostate as a true emperor.

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