De Monarchia By Dante Alighieri Book III Chapter XVI: The Authority of the Empire Derives From God Directly.

GIOTTO di Bondone 
No. 17 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 1. Nativity: Birth of Christ (detail) 

And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Lk.ii.


The authority of the Empire derives from God directly.

1. Although by the method of reduction to absurdity it has been shown in the foregoing chapter that the authority of Empire has not its source in the Chief Pontiff, yet it has not been fully proved, save by an inference, that its immediate source is God, seeing that if the authority does not depend on the Vicar of God, we conclude that it depends on God Himself. For a perfect demonstration of the proposition we must prove directly that the Emperor, or Monarch, of the world has immediate relationship to the Prince of the universe, who is God.1

2. In order to realize this, it must be understood that man alone of all beings holds the middle place between corruptibility and incorruptibility, and is therefore rightly compared by philosophers to the horizon which lies between the two hemispheres.2 Man may be considered with regard to either of his essential parts, body or soul.3 If considered in regard to the body alone, he is perishable; if in regard to the soul alone, he is imperishable. So the Philosopher spoke well of its incorruptibility when he said in the second book on the Soul, “And this only can be separated as a thing eternal from that which perishes.”4

3. If man holds a middle place between the perishable and imperishable, then, inasmuch as every mean shares the nature of the extremes, man must share both natures.5 And inasmuch as every nature is ordained for a certain ultimate end, it follows that there exists for man a two-fold end, in order that as he alone of all beings partakes of the perishable and the imperishable, so he alone of all beings should be ordained for two ultimate ends. One end is for that in him which is perishable, the other for that which is imperishable.

4. Ineffable Providence has thus designed two ends to be contemplated of man: first, the happiness of this life, which consists in the activity of his natural powers,6 and is prefigured by the terrestrial Paradise;7 and then the blessedness of life everlasting, which consists in the enjoyment of the countenance of God, to which man’s natural powers may not attain unless aided by divine light, and which may be symbolized by the celestial Paradise.8

5. To these states of blessedness, just as to diverse conclusions, man must come by diverse means. To the former we come by the teachings of philosophy, obeying them by acting in conformity with the moral and intellectual virtues;9 to the latter through spiritual teachings which transcend human reason, and which we obey by acting in conformity with the theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity.10 Now the former end and means are made known to us by human reason, which the philosophers have wholly explained to us; and the latter by the Holy Spirit, which has revealed to us supernatural but essential truth through the Prophets and Sacred Writers, through Jesus Christ, the coeternal Son of God, and through His disciples.11 Nevertheless, human passion would cast all these behind, were not men, like horses astray in their brutishness, held to the road by bit and rein.12

6. Wherefore a twofold directive agent was necessary to man, in accordance with the twofold end; the Supreme Pontiff to lead the human race to life eternal by means of revelation,13 and the Emperor to guide it to temporal felicity by means of philosophic instruction.14 And since none or few—and these with exceeding difficulty—could attain this port, were not the waves of seductive desire calmed, and mankind made free to rest in the tranquillity of peace, therefore this is the goal which he whom we call the guardian of the earth and Roman Prince should most urgently seek; then would it be possible for life on this mortal threshing-floor15 to pass in freedom and peace. The order of the world follows the order inherent in the revolution of the heavens. To attain this order it is necessary that instruction productive of liberality and peace should be applied by the guardian of the realm, in due place and time, as dispensed by Him who is the ever present Watcher of the whole order of the heavens. And He alone foreordained this order, that by it in His providence He might link together all things, each in its own place.16

7. If this is so, and there is none higher than He, only God elects and only God confirms. Whence we may further conclude that neither those who are now, nor those who in any way whatsoever have been, called Electors,17 have the right to be so called; rather should they be entitled heralds of divine providence. Whence it is that those in whom is vested the dignity of proclamation suffer dissension among themselves at times, when, all or part of them being shadowed by the clouds of passion, they discern not the face of God’s dispensation.

8. It is established, then, that the authority of temporal Monarchy descends without mediation from the fountain of universal authority. And this fountain, one in its purity of source, flows into multifarious channels out of the abundance of its excellence.

9. Methinks I have now approached close enough to the goal I had set myself, for I have taken the kernels of truth from the husks of falsehood, in that question which asked whether the office of Monarchy was essential to the welfare of the world, and in the next which made inquiry whether the Roman people rightfully appropriated the Empire, and in the last which sought whether the authority of the Monarch derived from God immediately, or from some other. But the truth of this final question must not be restricted to mean that the Roman Prince shall not be subject in some degree to the Roman Pontiff, for felicity that is mortal is ordered in a measure after felicity that is immortal. Wherefore let Caesar honor Peter as a first-born son should honor his father, so that, refulgent with the light of paternal grace, he may illumine with greater radiance the earthly sphere over which he has been set by Him who alone is Ruler of all things spiritual and temporal.18

[1. ]De Mon. 1. 7. 1. Purg. 32. 100: “Here thou shalt be a little time a woodman, and with me shalt thou be without end, a citizen of that Rome whereof Christ is a Roman.”

[2. ]De Causis, Lect. 2: “Generated intelligence comprehends both nature and the horizon of nature, that is to say the soul, for it is above nature.”

[3. ] The nature and origin of the human soul is discussed Conv. 4. 21. In Purg. 25 Statius discourses on generation and the soul, and its attributes find due place there. Other references are:—

Conv. 4. 21. 2: “We must know that man is composed of soul and body; but of the soul is that nobility . . . which is as the seed of the Divine virtue.”

Par. 7. 139: “The soul of every brute and of the plants, being endued by complexion with potency, draws in the ray and the movement of the holy lights. But your life the highest Goodness inspires.”

So Thomas Aquinas, S. T. 1. 76. 4. 4: “The soul is the substantial form of man;” so also l. c. 1-2. 94. 3: “The proper form of man is his rational soul.”

[4. ]De Anima 2. 2. 21.

[5. ]De Part. Anim. 3. 1.

[6. ]Conv. 3. 15. 5: “Felicity . . . is action according to virtue, in the perfect life.” So Aristotle says in Eth. 1. 13. 1: “Happiness is a certain energy of the soul according to perfect goodness.” Dante uses this definition again Conv. 4. 17. 14.

[7. ]Purg. 28-33 describes the terrestrial Paradise and its place in the order of the universe.

[8. ] The whole of the Paradiso develops the gradual revelation of God’s self to man. For Dante’s valuation of the active and speculative life, see De Mon. 1. 3. 3, and note 14; 1. 4, and note 1. See Conv. 2. 5, many parts of Conv. 3, and Conv. 4. 21, 22, 23.

Conv. 4. 22. 5: “The use of the mind is double, that is, practical and speculative. . . . Its practical use is to act through us virtuously, that is, righteously, by temperance, fortitude, and justice; the speculative is not to operate actively in us, but to consider the works of God and nature; and the one and the other use make up our beatitude.”

Conv. 4. 22. 9: “In our contemplation God is always in advance of us; nor can we ever attain to Him here, who is our supreme beatitude.”

Conv. 4. 22. 10: “Our beatitude . . . we may first find imperfectly in the active life, that is, in the exercise of the moral virtues, and then almost perfectly in the contemplative life, that is, in the exercise of the intellectual virtues.”

S. T. 1. 2. 3. 8: “The last and perfect happiness of man cannot be other than in the vision of the Divine Essence.”

[9. ]Conv. 4. 17 treats of the twelve moral virtues, which include the cardinal,—fortitude, temperance, liberality, munificence, magnanimity, love of honor, meekness, affability, truth, discretion, justice, and prudence.

Canz. 3. 5: “All virtues take their rise from one sole root—that primal virtue, which makes mankind blest in acting it—which is the elective habit.”

The cardinal virtues were the active virtues, as the theological were the contemplative. So Purg. 31. 107: “Before that Beatrice descended to the world were we ordained to her for handmaids.” And in Purg. 29. 130 the cardinal virtues are on the left of the symbolic car.

[10. ] The theological virtues are called in Purg. 7. 34, “the three holy virtues.” Purg. 31. 111: “The three beyond who look more deeply.” They are on the right of the car in Purg. 29. 121: “Three ladies, whirling on the right wheel’s side, came dancing, the one so red that hardly would she have been marked with fire; the second was as if her flesh and bones had been made out of emerald; the third appeared snow but lately driven.”

Thomas Aquinas discusses the cardinal virtues S. T. 1-2. 61; the theological virtues S. T. 1-2. 62.

Conv. 3. 14. 5: “We believe that every miracle may be reasonable to a higher intellect, and therefore possible. Whence our precious faith has its origin, from which comes the hope of things desired, but not seen; and from this are born the works of charity. By which three virtues we ascend to philosophize in that celestial Athens, where Stoics, and Peripatetics, and Epicureans, by the art of Eternal Truth, harmoniously concur in one desire.”

[11. ]De Mon. 2. 8, and note 1; De Mon. 3. 16. 6.

[12. ] This figure, which compares man to a horse needing bit and spur to keep him in his road and under control of his rider, is almost as much a favorite with Dante as that of the wax and seal. He must have found it originally in Ps. 32. 9: “Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” The most important uses of this metaphor are as follows:—

Conv. 4. 9. 3: “The Emperor . . . is the rider of human will, and it is very evident how wildly this horse goes over the field without a rider.”

Conv. 4. 26. 4: “This appetite . . . should obey the reason, which guides it with curb and spur.”

Purg. 6. 88: “What boots it that Justinian should have put thy bit in order again, if the saddle is empty?”

Purg. 13. 40: “This circle scourges the sin of envy, and therefore are the lashes of the scourge wielded by love. The rein will have to be of the contrary sound.”

Purg. 14. 143: “That was the hard bit which ought to hold the man within his bound.”

Purg. 16. 94: “It behoved to lay down laws for a bit; it behoved to have a king who should discern of the true city at least the tower.”

Purg. 20. 55: “I found so fast within my hands the rein of government of the kingdom, and such power of new acquirement, and so full of friends, that to the widowed crown was the head of my son promoted.” The words are Hugh Capet’s. L. c. 22. 19; 25. 119: “Through this place needs one to keep the rein tight on the eyes, because for a little cause one might go astray.” L. c. 28. 71: “The Hellespont, . . . a bridle still to pride of men.”

Purg. 33. 141: “The bridle of my art lets me go no further.”

Par. 7. 26: “For not enduring to the faculty that wills any curb, for its own advantage, that man who was never born, in damning himself, damned all his progeny.”

[13. ]Par. 5. 76: “Ye have the old and new Testament, and the Pastor of the Church who guides you; let this suffice you to your salvation.” See De Mon. 3. 16. 5, and note 9.

[14. ] From the philosophic nature of the Convito and the Comedy it is impossible to indicate here even the most important sections devoted to philosophy, classical or mediaeval. Conv. 3. 11. 2 defines philosophy as “No other than a friendship for knowledge; wherefore any one might be called a philosopher, according to that natural love which inspires all men with a desire for knowledge.” L. c. 3. 11. 3: “Philosophy has for subject the understanding, and for form an almost divine love for the intelligible.” L. c. 3. 12. 4: “Philosophy is a loving use of Wisdom; which exists above all in God, because in Him is supreme Wisdom, and supreme Love, and supreme Power, which cannot exist elsewhere, except as it proceeds from Him.”

In Conv. 4. 6. 9 relations are established between philosophic and imperial authority. “When joined together they are most useful and most full of power. . . . Unite the philosophical and the imperial authority to rule well and perfectly.”

Philosophy is, Purg. 6. 45, “A light betwixt the truth and understanding.”

Purg. 18. 46: “All that reason has seen I can tell thee.”

[15. ] “In ainola ista mortalium.” The same word is used in the Italian form, “aiuola,” in Par. 22. 151 and 27. 86.

[16. ]De Consol. Phil. 3. 9: “All things Thou dost produce after the Divine Exemplar, Thou the most beautiful, carrying in thy mind the beautiful world.”

This idea of God’s foresight and the foreordination of all things in the universe is found repeatedly in all Dante’s writings. See quotations in notes to De Mon. 1. 6.

Inf. 7. 72: “He, whose knowledge transcends all, made the heavens, and gave them their guide.”

Par. 18. 118: “The Mind wherein thy motion and thy virtue have their origin.”

[17. ] “In the Holy Roman Empire the college of lay and ecclesiastical princes in whom the right of choosing the King of the Romans was vested. With the extinction of the Carolingian line, after the breaking up of the Empire of Charles the Great, the kingship in Germany became elective, the right of election residing in certain of the great feudatories, though just in whom or on what grounds is not clear from the early mediaeval accounts. An electoral body is vaguely mentioned in chronicles of 1152, 1198, and 1230, but there is no clear indication as to who composed the body. . . . The electoral college was first clearly defined in 1356 in the Golden Bull, a constitution for the Holy Roman Empire, issued by Emperor Charles IV. This document prescribed the exact form and manner of election of the ‘King of the Romans and future Emperor.’ Seven electors are there named, each holding some hereditary office in the Imperial court. (1) Archbishop of Mainz, as Archchancellor of the Holy Roman Empire for Germany; (2) Archbishop of Cologne, as Archchancellor for Italy; (3) Archbishop of Treves, as Archchancellor for the Gallic Provinces and Arles; (4) King of Bohemia, Arch-Cupbearer; (5) Count Palatine of the Rhine, Arch-Steward; (6) Duke of Saxony, Arch-Marshal; (7) Margrave of Brandenburg, Arch-Chamberlain. It seems that the electors had no legal powers beyond that of election, and though the German princes held that an election by the German electors held for the Holy Roman Empire, the popes contended that they alone as Vicars of God could bestow the Imperial dignity.”—New International Encyc. See also Bryce, Holy Roman Empire, c. 14; Hallam, Middle Ages, chap. 8, part 2; Turner, Germanic Constitution (New York, 1888); the Golden Bull is translated in Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London, 1892).

[18. ] This harmonious rule of two powers by the acknowledgment of filial relationship between Pope and Emperor, by recognition of the differing character of their functions, is prayed for by Dante in many parts of the Convito and Comedy, and is stated most briefly and forcibly in Purg. 16. 107: “Rome, that made the good world, was wont to have two suns, that showed the one and the other road, both of the world and of God.”

The close of the Letter to the Princes and Peoples of Italy is strangely like the close of the De Monarchia. Proclaiming Henry VII as the rightful Emperor, Dante writes: “This is he whom Peter, the Vicar of God, admonishes us to honor; whom Clement, now the successor of Peter, illuminates with the light of the apostolic benediction, in order that where the spiritual ray does not suffice, the splendor of the lesser light may illumine.’ ”

The dual organization of Church and Empire is also set forth in symbolic fashion in Inf. 14. 102 ff., and in Dante’s vision Purg. 32.