What Is The Source Of The Roman Empire? Opinion 3: The Roman Empire Is From The Pope Chapter 21 ~ William Of Ockham

What is the source of the Roman Empire?  

Opinion 3: The Roman Empire is from the pope  

Chapter 21

Student Let us discuss now other arguments for the aforesaid opinion.

Master [4] It is argued in another way for that opinion as follows. The emperor has the Roman empire from him by whom, after he is elected, he is examined, confirmed, anointed, consecrated and crowned and to whom he takes an oath. But after he is elected the Roman emperor is examined, confirmed, anointed, consecrated and crowned by the pope and to him he swears an oath (Extra, De electione, c. Venerabilem [c.34, col.79] and dist. 63, Tibi domino [c.33, col.246].

Student That argument seems to include many parts. Tell me, therefore, whether, according to any opinion, by the fact that one elected as emperor is examined by the pope it can be shown that the emperor has received the empire from the pope.

Master Some people say `no'. For the letters of a legate should be examined by those to whom he is sent (dist. 97, Nobilissimus [c.3, col.348], where the gloss says, "Legates are not accepted without danger. So a greater examination is made of them.") And yet the office of a legation is not from them (?the examiners). It can not be proved by an examination, therefore, that the one examined has his office from the one examining. It is even permitted to examine papal letters (Extra, De crimine falsi, c. Ad falsariorum [c.7, col.820]), and yet examiners of this kind do not have any power over the letters examined. By the fact, therefore, that one elected as emperor is examined by the pope it can not be inferred that the emperor has the empire from the pope. One elected as emperor, therefore, is examined by the pope not so that the pope may confer the empire on him but so that the pope, and others, do not have as emperor him who was not elected legitimately and consequently him who is not the true emperor, just as those wanting to accept papal letters examine them so that they do not receive true letters for false ones.

Student I see why it is said that it can not be proved that the empire is from the pope because of examination. Now tell me what is said about confirmation.

Master It is said that we do not find in any authentic ancient writing that the emperor was confirmed by the pope. So in the decretal [Extra, De electione] Venerabilem, which trumpets it forth that the empire is from the pope, there is no word about confirmation. So they say that in former times the emperor was not confirmed by the pope. If, however, later on any [emperor] was confirmed by the pope this resulted from the emperor's simplicity and humility, yet he could not impose this law on his successor.

Student Can it be shown that the empire is from the pope because of anointing, consecration and coronation?

Master They say `no', because other kings are anointed, consecrated and crowned by archbishops and bishops of their kingdoms and yet they do not have their kingdoms from them.

Student Can it be shown that the empire is from the pope because of the oath?

Master They say `no', because it can not be proved that any emperor offered a different oath to a pope than that which the emperor Otto made to John. But Otto's oath was not the oath of fidelity and subjection which a vassal offers to his lord for the fief which he receives from him. To prove this we bring forward both the said Otto's oath and the oath that a vassal offers his lord. Otto's oath, as we find in dist. 63, c. Tibi domino [c.33, col.246], was as follows, "I, King Otto, do promise and swear to you my lord, Pope John, through the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, through this piece of wood from the vivifying cross and through these relics of saints, that if the Lord allows it and I come to Rome, I will magnify the holy Roman church and you its ruler in accord with my power, and by my will or counsel or agreement or encouragement you will never lose your life or limbs or that honour which you have. And in the city of Rome I will not, without your advice, make any decree or agreement [[technical words?]] about anything that pertains to you or to the Romans. And whatever comes into our power from the land on St. Peter I will return to you. And I will make the one, whoever it is, on whom I bestow the Italian kingdom swear that he is your helper in defending the land of St. Peter in accord with his power." However, the form by which a vassal swears to his lord is, according to Hostiensis, as follows, "I swear by the holy gospels of God that from this very moment [[a modo in antea -- antea means the past]] I will be faithful to this person, as a vassal should be to his lord, and what he has bestowed on me in the name of fidelity I will not, to his detriment, knowingly open for anyone else." The same Hostiensis describes another recent form which is as follows: "I Titius swear on the holy gospels of God that from this very moment until the last day of my life I will be faithful against all men to you, Gaius, my lord." It is clear to some people from these forms of swearing that the oath of emperor Otto was not an oath of fidelity. This is (i) because there is no mention of fidelity in that oath and (ii) because even if some fidelity should be understood by some of the words of his oath, yet by none of the words in it is that fidelity understood which a vassal owes to his lord. For not every fidelity is the fidelity which a vassal owes to his lord. For sometimes someone should maintain fidelity with his enemy, because faith should be maintained with an enemy, (23, q. 1, c. Noli [c.3, col.892]. And yet that fidelity which a vassal owes his lord should not be maintained with an enemy.

Student It seems that Otto's oath was an oath of fidelity from the fact that he swore to him that by his (Otto's) will, advice or encouragement he (the pope) would never lose his life or limbs or honour. This, however, pertains to an oath of fidelity, 22, q. 5, c. De forma [c.18, col.887], where we read the following, "He who swears fidelity to his lord should always have these six things in his memory: unharmed, safe, honest, useful, easy, possible; unharmed in the sense that he should not harm his lord's body." It seems that we can gather from these words that he who swears to someone that he will not harm his life or limbs swears fidelity to him. This, however, is contained in Otto's oath above. Therefore he swore fidelity to the pope.

Master The reply is that not everyone who swears to someone not to harm his body swears the fidelity to him that a vassal owes his lord. For, as we read in 1 Kings 30, David swore an oath to the Egyptian boy who was going to lead him to the Amelakites who had attacked Sichelet that he would not kill him and would not deliver him into the hands of his lord, and yet David did not swear to that boy the fidelity that a vassal owes his lord. And consequently the fact that Otto swore to the pope that he would not lose his life or his limbs by his (Otto's) will or advice did not reveal an oath of fidelity to him; indeed although he had sworn to him that he would never do any wrong to him it could not be concluded that he had sworn the fidelity to him that a vassal owes to his lord. For Isaac swore in this way to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, yet he was not his vassal and he did not swear to him the fidelity which a vassal owes his lord, although he did swear to him that he would do him no harm and Abimelech made a similar oath. For this is what we read in Genesis 26:26-29 & 31, "When Abimelech went to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his friend and Phicol the commander of his army, Isaac said to them, `Why have you come to me seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?' They replied, `We have seen that the Lord is with you; so we say, let there be an oath between us and let us make a covenant so that you will do us no harm.' ... In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths." We gather from these words that Isaac and another man, neither of whom was the other's vassal, swore an oath that they would not harm each other. And consequently, although Otto swore to the pope that he would not harm his body and would not secretly harm his fortifications, his justice, his possessions or anything at all pertaining to him, it could not be concluded from this that he had sworn to him the fidelity a vassal owes his lord, because the oath does not say that he will be faithful to him against every man until the last day of his life, as a vassal does to his lord.

Student It seems that emperor Otto could have sworn fidelity and subjection to the pope without swearing to him the fidelity that a vassal owes his lord. For as we find in Extra, De iureiurandso, c. Ego episcopus c.4, col.360], bishops swear an oath of fidelity to the lord pope, and yet they do not swear to him that fidelity that a vassal owes his lord, because bishops are not vassals of the pope, just as the pope is not the lord of the bishops, as blessed Peter says [1 Peter 5:3], "Do not lord it over those in your charge.

Master The reply is that the discourse is about the oath which it is said should be made by the emperor by reason of the Roman empire, which is said to be from the pope because it is said that no one is a true Roman emperor unless he receives the Roman empire from the pope. We conclude from this that the emperor should be enfeoffed by the pope, and consequently the emperor is the vassal of the pope. It follows from this that if he ought to make an oath to the pope for the Roman empire he should swear to him the fidelity that a vassal owes to his lord.

Student It seems that Otto swore to Pope John that fidelity which a vassal owes his lord, because he calls him his lord when he says, "... to you my lord Pope John" etc.

Master The reply is that just as Otto calls the pope `lord' in that place, so also the pope calls the emperor `his lord', (11, q. 1, c. Sacerdotibus [c.41, col.638]). Just as it can not be concluded from that way of speaking, therefore, that the pope is the vassal of the emperor, so it can not be shown from Otto's way of speaking that the emperor is the vassal of the pope. It is said, therefore, that Otto calls the pope `lord' not because the pope is his temporal lord but on account of the prerogative of office and dignity, just as secular lords often call even mendicants religious lords on account of the prerogative of sanctity and religion, not because they regard themselves as their vassals. We often find this way of speaking in the divine scriptures too.

Student Was Otto bound, especially if asked, to swear to Pope John?

Master The reply is that Otto swore to Pope John of his own free will, and could not, nevertheless, have been forced to an oath of that kind. This is proved by the following argument. By Christ's ordination the emperor is no more bound to the pope for the Roman empire than the king of France and any other [kings] are for their kingdoms. But the king of France and many other kings are not bound to swear to the pope unless they want to. Neither, therefore, is the emperor. And from this we can conclude that the emperor does not have the empire from the pope and is not his vassal, because a vassal is bound to swear to his lord, above all if it is demanded of him.

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

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