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secular concerns: there were no clear distinctions between the sacred and the secular. In the introduction to his source book, The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, Brian Tierney explains in plain terms why lay rulers throughout history in general and in Medieval Europe in particular needed to possess some sort of sacred authority: "To maintain order and unity in groups larger and less homogeneous than extended family systems is a complex and difficult task. Mere force is seldom sufficient in the long run."1 In order to retain the loyalty of their subjects and discourage their rivals, princes in the Middle Ages needed to possess a measure of sanctity, usually in the form of the blessing of a prelate and/or a say in the ecclesiastical affairs of their realms. They needed the cooperation of priests and monks, and they often needed these holy men to cede to them a certain measure of religious authority.

The overarching political theory of the Middle Ages stated that Christ was the only true ruler, and that He delegated the authority to govern the world to clergymen and secular princes, who acted as His agents. Of these two, the clergy was traditionally considered to have the greater authority, since everyone, including secular rulers, had to look to priests for the means of their salvation. Gelasius I, who was Pope from 492 until 496, articulated this belief in a letter he sent to the Emperor Anastasius in 494: "Two there are, august emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, the sacred authority [auctoritas] of the priesthood and the royal power [potestas]. Of these the responsibility of the priests is more weighty in so far as they will answer for the kings of men themselves at the divine judgment."2 Since this was the case, no prince coul


1. Brian Tierney, The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 1.
2. Letter to the emperor Anastasius (494), ed. E Schwartz, Publizistische Sammlungen zum Acacianischen Schisma ("Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Abteilung," Neue Folge X; Munich, 1934), 20-21. Trans. in Tierney 13.

 

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