[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]


[Click on the footnote number and you will jump down to the note. Click again on that number and you will jump back up to where you were in the text.]


From A Source Book of Mediæval History by Frederic Austin Ogg; American Book Company, New York; pp. 445-462.


79. Dante’s Defense of Italian as a Literary Language

DANTE ALIGHIERI was born at Florence in 1265. Of his early life little is known. His family seems to have been too obscure to have much part 446 in the civil struggles with which Florence, and all Italy, in that day were vexed. The love affair with Beatrice, whose story Boccaccio relates with so much zest, is the one sharply-defined feature of Dante’s youth and early manhood. It is known that at the age of eighteen the young Florentine was a poet and was winning wide recognition for his sonnets. Much time was devoted by him to study of literature and the arts, but the details of his employments, intellectual and otherwise, are impossible to make out. In 1290 occurred the death of Beatrice, which event marked an epoch in the poetical lover’s life. In his sorrow he took refuge in the study of such books as Boëthius’s Consolations of Philosophy and Cicero’s Friendship, and became deeply interested in literary, and especially philosophical, problems. In 1295 he entered political life, taking from the outset a prominent part in the deliberations of the Florentine General Council and the Council of Consuls of the Arts. He assumed a firm attitude against all forms of lawlessness and in resistance to any external interference in Florentine affairs. Owing to conditions which he could not influence, however, his career in this direction was soon cut short and most of the remainder of his life was spent as a political exile, at Lucca, Verona, Ravenna, and other Italian cities, with a possible visit to Paris. He died at Ravenna, September 14, 1321, in his fifty-seventh year.

Dante has well been called “the Janus-faced,” because he stood at the threshold of the new era and looked both forward and backward. His Divine Comedy admirably sums up the mediæval spirit, and yet it contains many suggestions of the coming age. His method was essentially that of the scholastics, but he knew many of the classics and had a genuine respect for them as literature. He was a mediævalist in his attachment to the Holy Roman Empire, yet he cherished the purely modern ambition of a united Italy. It is deeply significant that he chose to write his great poem — one of the most splendid in the world’s literature — in the Italian tongue rather than the Latin. Aside from the fact that this, more than anything else, caused the Tuscan dialect, rather than the rival Venetian and Neapolitan dialects, to become the modern Italian, it evidenced the new desire for the popularization of literature which was a marked characteristic of the dawning era. Not content with putting his greatest effort in the vernacular, Dante undertook formally to defend the use of the popular tongue for literary 447 purposes. This he did in Il Convito (“The Banquet”), a work whose date is quite uncertain, but which was undoubtedly produced at some time while its author was in exile. It is essentially a prose commentary upon three canzoni written for the honor and glory of the “noble, beautiful, and most compassionate lady, Philosophy.” In it Dante sought to set philosophy free from the schools and from the heavy disputations of the scholars and to render her beauty visible even to the unlearned. It was the first important work on philosophy written in the Italian tongue, an innovation which the author rightly regarded as calling for some explanation and defense. The passage quoted from it below comprises this defense. Similar views on the nobility of the vulgar tongue, as compared with the Latin, were later set forth in fuller form in the treatise De Vulgari Eloquentia.

Source — Dante Alighieri, Il Convito [“TheBanquet”]. Bk. I., Chaps 5-13 passim. Translated by Katharine Hillard (London, 1899), pp. 17-47 passim.

V. 1. This bread being cleansed of its accidental impurities,1 we have now but to free it from one [inherent] in its substance, that is, its being in the vulgar tongue, and not in Latin; so that we might metaphorically call it made of oats instead of wheat. Reasons
for using
the Italian
And this [fault] may be briefly excused by three reasons, which moved me to prefer the former rather than the latter [language]. The first arises from care to avoid an unfit order of things; the second, from a consummate liberality; the third, from a natural love of one’s own tongue. And I intend here in this manner to discuss, in due 448 order, these things and their causes, that I may free myself from the reproach above named.

3. For, in the first place, had it [the commentary] been in Latin, it would have been sovereign rather than subject, by its nobility, its virtue, and its beauty. By its nobility, because Latin is enduring and incorruptible, and the vulgar tongue is unstable and corruptible. For we see that the ancient books of Latin tragedy and comedy cannot be changed from the form we have to-day, The Latin fixed,
the Italian
which is not the case with the vulgar tongue, as that can be changed at will. For we see in the cities of Italy, if we take notice of the past fifty years, how many words have been lost, or invented, or altered; therefore, if a short time can work such changes, how much more can a longer period effect! So that I think, should they who departed this life a thousand years ago return to their cities, they would believe them to be occupied by a foreign people, so different would the language be from theirs. Of this I shall speak somewhere else more fully, in a book which I intend to write, God willing, on Vulgar Eloquence.2

VII. 4. . . . . The Latin could only have explained them [the canzoni] to scholars; for the rest would have not understood it. Therefore, as among those who desire to understand them there are many more illiterate than learned, it follows that the Latin would not have fulfilled this behest as well as the vulgar tongue, which is understood both by the learned and the unlearned. Also the Latin would have explained them to people of other nations, such as Germans, English, and others; in doing which it would have exceeded their order.3 For it would have 449 been against their will I say, speaking generally, to have explained their meaning where their beauty could not go with it. Translations
cannot pre-
serve the lit-
erary splendor
of the originals
And, moreover, let all observe that nothing harmonized by the laws of the Muses4 can be changed from its own tongue to another one without destroying all its sweetness and harmony. And this is the reason why Homer is not turned from Greek into Latin like the other writings we have of theirs [the Greeks];5 and this is why the verses of the Psalter6 lack musical sweetness and harmony; for they have been translated from Hebrew to Greek, and from Greek to Latin, and in the first translation all this sweetness perished.

IX. 1. . . . The Latin would not have served many; because, if we recall to mind what has already been said, scholars in other languages than the Italian could not have availed themselves of its service.7 And of those of this speech (if we should care to observe who they are) we shall find that only to one in a thousand could it really have been of use; because they would not have received it, so prone are they to base desires, and thus deprived of that nobility of soul which above all desires this food. And to their shame I say that they are not worthy to be called scholars, because they do not pursue learning for its own sake, but for the money or the honors that they gain thereby; just as we should not call him a lute-player who kept a lute in the house to hire out, and not to play upon.

X. 5. Again, I am impelled to defend it [the vulgar tongue] from many of its accusers, who disparage it and commend others, above all the language of Oco,8 saying that the latter is better and 450 more beautiful than the former, wherein they depart from the truth. Wherefore by this commentary shall be seen the great The Italian of
more solid ex-
cellence than
other tongues
excellence of the vulgar tongue of Si,9 because (although the highest and most novel conceptions can be almost as fittingly, adequately, and beautifully expressed in it as in the Latin) its excellence in rhymed pieces, on account of the accidental ornaments connected with them, such as rhyme and rhythm, or ordered numbers, cannot be perfectly shown; as it is with the beauty of a woman, when the splendor of her jewels and her garments draw more admiration than her person.10 Wherefore he who would judge a woman truly looks at her when, unaccompanied by any accidental adornment, her natural beauty alone remains to her; so shall it be with this commentary, wherein shall be seen the facility of its language, the propriety of its diction, and the sweet discourse it shall hold; which he who considers well shall see to be full of the sweetest and most exquisite beauty. But because it is most virtuous in its design to show the futility and malice of its accuser, I shall tell, for the confounding of those who attack the Italian language, the purpose which moves them to do this; and upon this I shall now write a special chapter, that their infamy may be the more notorious.

XI. 1. To the perpetual shame and abasement of those wicked men of Italy who praise the language of others and disparage Why people of
Italy affect to
despise their
native tongue
their own, I would say that their motive springs from five abominable causes. The first is intellectual blindness; the second, vicious excuses; the third, greed of vain-glory; the fourth, an argument based on envy; the fifth and last, littleness of soul, that is, pusillanimity. And each of these vices has so large a following, that few are they who are free of them. . . .


3. The second kind work against our language by vicious excuses. These are they who would rather be considered masters than be such; and, to avoid the reverse (that is, not to be considered masters), they always lay the blame upon the materials prepared for their art, or upon their tools; as the bad The unskilful
attribute their
faults to the
smith blames the iron given him, and the bad lute-player blames the lute, thinking thus to lay the fault of the bad knife or the bad playing upon the iron or the lute, and to excuse themselves. Such are they (and they are not few) who wish to be considered orators; and in order to excuse themselves for not speaking, or for speaking badly, blame and accuse their material, that is, their own language, and praise that of others in which they are not required to work. And whoever wishes to see wherein this tool [the vulgar language] deserves blame, let him look at the work that good workmen have done with it, and he will recognize the viciousness of those who, laying the blame upon it, think they excuse themselves. Against such does Tullius exclaim, in the beginning of one of his books called De Finibus,11 because in his time they blamed the Latin language and commended the Greek, for the same reasons that these people consider the Italian vile and the Provençal precious.

XII. 3. That thing is nearest to a person which is, of all things of its kind, the most closely related to himself; thus of all men the son is nearest to the father, and of all arts medicine is nearest to the doctor, and music to the musician, because these are more closely related to them than any others; of all countries, People should
use their own
language, as
being most nat-
ural to them
the one a man lives in is nearest to him, because it is most closely related to him. And thus a man’s own language is nearest to him, because most closely related, being that one which comes alone and before all others in his mind, and not only of itself is it thus 452 related, but by accident, inasmuch as it is connected with those nearest to him, such as his kinsmen, and his fellow-citizens, and his own people. And this is his own language, which is not only near, but the very nearest, to every one. Because if proximity be the seed of friendship, as has been stated above, it is plain that it has been one of the causes of the love I bear my own language, which is nearer to me than the others. The above-named reason (that is, that we are most nearly related to that which is first in our mind) gave rise to that custom of the people which makes the firstborn inherit everything, as the nearest of kin; and, because eh nearest, therefore the most beloved.

4. And again, its goodness makes me its friend. And here we must know that every good quality properly belonging to a thing is lovable in that thing; as men should have a fine beard, and women should have the whole face quite free from hair; as the foxhound should have a keen scent, and the greyhound great speed. And the more peculiar this good quality, the more loveable it is, whence, although all virtue is lovable in man, that is most so which is most peculiarly human. . . . And we The Italian
fulfils the high-
est require-
ment of a lan-
see that, of all things pertaining to language, the power of adequately expressing thought is the most loved and commended; therefore this is its peculiar virtue. And as this belongs to our own language, as has been proved above in another chapter, it is plain that this was one of the causes of my love for it; since, as we have said, goodness is one of the causes that engender love.


1  Dante represents the commentaries composing the Convito as in the nature of a banquet, the “meats” of which were to be set forth in fourteen courses, corresponding to the fourteen canzoni, or lyric poems, which were to be commented upon. As a matter of fact, for some unknown reason, the “banquet” was broken off at the end of the third course. “At the beginning of every well-ordered banquet“ observes the author in an earlier passage (Bk. II., Chap. 1) “the servants are wont to take the bread given out for it, and cleanse it from every speck.” Dante has just cleansed his viands from the faults of egotism and obscurity, — the “accidental impurities”; he now proceeds to clear them of a less superficial difficulty, i.e., the fact that in serving them use is made of the Italian rather than the Latin language.

2  The date of the composition of the De Vulgari Eloquentia is unknown, but there are reasons for assigning the work to the same period in the author‘s life as the Convito. Like the Convito, it was left incomplete; four books were planned, but only the first and a portion of the second were written. In it an effort was made to establish the dominance of a perfect and imperial Italian language over all the dialects. The work itself was written in Latin, probably to command the attention of scholars whom Dante hoped to convert to the use of the vernacular.

3   The author conceives of the canzoni as masters and the commentaries as servants.

4  That is, any poetical composition.

5  Some students of Dante hold that this phrase about Homer should be rendered “does not admit of being turned”; but others take it in the absolute sense and base on it an argument against Dante’s knowledge of Greek literature.

6  The Book of Psalms.

7  The canzoni were in Italian and a Latin commentary would have been useless to scholars of other nations, because they could not have understood the canzoni to which it referred.

8  The Provençal language — the peculiar speech of southeastern France, whence comes the name Languedoc. Oc is the affirmative particle “yes.”

9  Si is the Italian affirmative particle. In the Inferno Dante refers to Italy as “that lovely country where the si is sounded” (XXX., 80).

10  That is, prose shows the true beauty of a language more effectively than poetry, in which the attention is distracted by the ornaments of verse.

11  The author refers to Cicero’s philosophical treatise De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum.


79. Dante’s Conception of the Imperial Power

THE best known prose work of Dante, the De Monarchia, is perhaps the most purely idealistic political treatise ever written. Its quality of idealism is so pronounced, in fact, that there is not even sufficient mention of contemporary men or events to assist in solving the wholly unsettled problem of the date of its composition. The De Monarchia is composed of three books, each of which is devoted to a fundamental 453 question in relation to the balance of temporal and spiritual authority. The first question is whether the temporal monarchy is necessary for the well-being of the world. The answer is that it is necessary for the preservation of justice, freedom, and unity and effectiveness of human effort. The second question is whether the Roman people took to itself this dignity of monarchy, or empire, by right. By a survey of Roman history from the days of Æneas to those of Cæsar it is made to appear that it was God’s will that the Romans should rule the world. The third question is the most vital of all and its answer constitutes the pith of the treatise. In brief it is, does the authority of the Roman monarch, or emperor, who is thus by right the monarch of the world, depend immediately upon God, or upon some vicar of God, the successor of Peter? This question Dante answers first negatively by clearing away the familiar defenses of spiritual supremacy, and afterwards positively, by bringing forward specific arguments for the temporal superiority. The selection given below comprises the most suggestive portions of Dante’s treatment of this aspect of his subject. The method, it will be observed, is quite thoroughly scholastic. Whenever the De Monarchia was composed, it remained all but unknown until after the author’s death (1321); but with the renewal of conflict between papacy and imperial power the imperialists were not slow to make use of the treatise, and by the middle of the fourteenth century it had become known throughout Europe, being admired by one party as much as it was abhorred by the other. At various times copies of it were burned as heretical and in the sixteenth century it was placed by the Roman authorities upon the Index of Prohibited Books. Few literary productions of the later Middle Ages exercised greater influence upon contemporary thought and politics.

Source — Dante Alighieri, De Monarchia [“Concerning Monarchy”]. Bk. III., Chaps 1-16 passim. Translated by Aurelia Henry (Boston, 1904), pp. 137-206 passim.

I.  2.  The question pending investigation, then, concerns two great luminaries, the Roman Pontiff [Pope] and the Roman Prince [Emperor]; and the point at issue is whether the authority The problem to
be considered
of the Roman monarch, who, as proved in the second book, is rightful monarch of the world, is derived from God directly, or from some vicar or minister of 454 God, by whom I mean the successor of Peter, indisputable keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

IV.  1.  Those men to whom the entire subsequent discussion is directed assert that the authority of the Empire depends on the authority of the Church, just as the inferior artisan depends on the architect. They are drawn to this by divers opposing arguments, some of which they take from Holy Scripture, and some from certain acts performed by the chief pontiff, and by the Emperor himself; and they endeavor to make their conviction reasonable.

2.  For, first, they maintain that, according to Genesis, God made two mighty luminaries, a greater and lesser, the former to hold supremacy by day and the latter by night [Gen., i. 15, 16]. These they interpret allegorically to be the two rulers — spiritual The analogy
of the sun
and moon
and temporal.1 Whence they argue that as the lesser luminary, they moon, has no light but that gained from the sun, so the temporal ruler has no authority but that gained from the spiritual ruler.

8.  I proceed to refute the above assumption that the two luminaries of the world typify its two ruling powers. The whole force of their argument lies in the interpretation; but this we can prove indefensible in two ways. First, since these ruling powers are, as it were, accidents necessitated by man himself, God would seem to have used a distorted order in creating first accidents, and then the subject necessitating them. It is absurd to speak thus of God, but it is evident from the Word that the two lights were created on the fourth day, and man on the sixth.

9.  Secondly, the two ruling powers exist as the directors of men toward certain ends, as will be shown further on. But had man remained in the state of innocence in which God made him, he would have required no such direction. These ruling powers 455 are therefore remedies against the infirmity of sin. Since on the fourth day man was not only not a sinner, but was not even An abstruse
bit of mediæval
existent, the creation of a remedy would have been purposeless, which is contrary to divine goodness. Foolish indeed would be the physician who should make ready a plaster for the abscess of a man not yet born. Therefore it cannot be asserted that God made the two ruling powers on the fourth day; and consequently the meaning of Moses cannot have been what it is supposed to be.

10.  Also, in order to be tolerant, we may refute this fallacy by distinction. Refutation by distinction deals more gently with an adversary, for it shows him to be not absolutely wrong, as does refutation by destruction. I say, then, that although the moon may have abundant light only as she receives it from the sun, it does not follow on that account that the moon herself owes her existence to the sun. It must be recognized that the essence of the moon, her strength, and her function, are not one and the same thing. Neither in her essence, her strength, nor her function taken absolutely, does the moon owe her existence to the sun, for her movement is impelled by her own force and her influence by her own rays. Besides, she has a certain light of her own, as is shown in eclipse. It is in order to fulfill her function better and more potently that she borrows from the sun abundance of light, and works thereby more effectively.

11  In like manner, I say, the temporal power receives from the spiritual neither its existence, nor its strength, which is its authority, nor even its function, taken absolutely. But well Why the argu-
ment from the
sun and moon
for her does she receive therefrom, through the light of grace which the benediction of the chief pontiff sheds upon it in heaven and on earth, strength to fulfill her function more perfectly. So the argument was at fault in form, because the predicate of the conclusion is not a term of the major premise, as is evident. The syllogism runs thus: The moon receives light from the sun, which 456 is the spiritual power; the temporal ruling power is the moon; therefore the temporal receives authority from the spiritual. They introduce “light” as the term of the major, but “authority” as predicate of the conclusion, which two things we have seen to be diverse in subject and significance.

VIII.  1.  From the same gospel they quote the saying of Christ to Peter, “Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” [Matt., xvi. 19], and understand this saying to refer alike to all the Apostles, according to the text of Matthew and John [Matt., xviii. 18 and John, xx. 23]. They reason from Argument
from the pre-
rogative of the
keys commit-
ted to Peter
this that the successor of Peter has been granted of God power to bind and loose all things, and then infer that he has power to loose the laws and decrees of the Empire, and to bind the laws and decrees of the temporal kingdom. Were this true, their inference would be correct.

2.  But as we must reply to it by making a distinction against the major premise of the syllogism which they employ. Their syllogism is this: Peter had power to bind and loose all things; the successor of Peter has power with him; therefore the successor of Peter has like power to loose and bind all things. From this they infer that he has power to loose and bind the laws and decrees of the Empire.

3.  I concede the minor premise, but the major only with distinction. Wherefore I say that “all,” the symbol of the universal which is implied in “whatsoever,” is never distributed beyond the scope of the distributed term. When I say, “All animals run,” the distribution of “all” comprehends whatever comes under the genus “animal.” But when I say, “All men run,” the symbol of the universal refers only to whatever comes under the term “man.” And when I say, “All grammarians run,” the distribution is narrowed still further.

4.  Therefore we must always determine what it is over which the symbol of the universal is distributed; then, from the recognized 457 nature and scope of the distributed term, will be easily apparent the extent of the distribution. Now, were “whatsoever” to be understood absolutely when it is said, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind,” he would certainly have the power they claim; nay, he would have even greater power — he would be able to loose a wife from her husband, and, while the man still lived, bind her to another — a thing he can in nowise do. He would be able to absolve me, while impenitent — a thing which God Himself cannot do.

5.  So it is evident that the distribution of the term under discussion is to be taken, not absolutely, but relatively to something else. A consideration of the concession to which the distribution is subjoined will make manifest this related something. Dante’s inter-
pretation of
the Scripture
in question
Christ said to Peter, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven;” that is, I will make thee doorkeeper of the kingdom in heaven. The He adds, “and whatsoever,” that is, “everything which,” and He means thereby, “Everything which pertains to that office thou shalt have power to bind and loose.” And thus the symbol of the universal which is implied in “whatsoever” is limited in its distribution to the prerogative of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Understood thus, the proposition is true, but understood absolutely, it is obviously not. Therefore I conclude that, although the successor of Peter has authority to bind and loose in accordance with the requirements of the prerogative granted to Peter, it does not follow, as they claim, that he has authority to bind and loose the decrees or statutes of empire, unless they proved that this also belongs to the office of the keys. But further on we shall demonstrate that the contrary is true.

XIII.  1.  Now that we have stated and rejected the errors on which those chiefly rely who declare that the authority of the Roman Prince is dependent on the Roman pontiff,2 we must 458 return and demonstrate the truth of that question which we propounded for discussion in the beginning. The truth will be evident enough if it can be shown, under the principle of inquiry agreed upon, that imperial authority derives immediately from the summit of all being, which is God. And this will be shown, whether we prove that imperial authority does not derive from that of the Church (for the dispute concerns no other authority), or whether we prove simply that it derives immediately from God.

2.  That ecclesiastical authority is not the source of imperial authority is thus verified. A thing non-existent, or devoid of active force, cannot be the cause of active force in a thing possessing that quality in full measure. But before the Church existed, or while it lacked power to act, the Empire had active force in The Church
(or papacy) is
not the source
of imperial au-
full measure. Hence the Church is the source, neither of acting power nor of authority in the Empire, where power to act and authority are identical. Let A be the Church, B the Empire, and C the power or authority of the Empire. If, A being nonexistent, C is in B, the cause of C’s relation to B cannot be A, since it is impossible that an effect should exist prior to its cause. Moreover, if, A being inoperative, C is in B, the cause of C’s relation to B cannot be A, since it is indispensable for the production of effect that the cause should be in operation previously, especially the efficient cause which we are considering here.

3.  The major premise of this demonstration is intelligible from its terms; the minor is confirmed by Christ and the Church. Christ attests it, as we said before, in His birth and death. The Church attests it in Paul’s declaration to Festus in the Acts of 459 the Apostles: “I stand at Cæsar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged” [Acts, xxv. 10]; and in the admonition of God’s Early Chris-
tian recogni-
tion of the au-
thority of the
angel to Paul a little later: “Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Cæsar” [Acts, xxvii. 24]; and again, still later, in Paul’s words to the Jews dwelling in Italy: “And when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Cæsar; not that I had aught to accuse my nation of,” but “that I might deliver my soul from death” [Acts, xxviii. 19]. If Cæsar had not already possessed the right to judge temporal matters, Christ would not have implied that he did, the angel would not have uttered such words, nor would he who said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ” [Phil., i. 23], have appealed to an unqualified judge.

XIV.  1.  Besides, if the Church has power to confer authority on the Roman Prince, she would have it either from God, or from herself, or from some Emperor, or from the unanimous consent of mankind, or, at least, from the consent of the most influential. There is no other least crevice through which the power could have diffused itself into the Church. But from none of these has it come to her, and therefore the aforesaid power is not hers at all.

XVI.  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.

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 460 to the horizon which lies between the two hemispheres. Man may be considered with regard to either of his essential Positive argu-
ment that the
authority of
the emperor is
derived direct-
ly from God
parts, body or soul. If considered in regard to the body alone, he is perishable; if in regard to the soul alone, he is imperishable. So the Philosopher3 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.”

3.  If man holds a middle place between the perishable and the imperishable, then, inasmuch as ever man shares the nature of the extremes, man must share both natures. 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.  Omniscient Providence has thus designed two ends to be contemplated by man: first, the happiness of this life, which consists Double aspect
of human life
in the activity of his natural powers, and is prefigured by the terrestrial Paradise; 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 obtain unless aided by divine light, and which may be symbolized by the celestial Paradise.4

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; to the latter, through spiritual teachings which transcend human reason, and which we obey by acting in conformity with the theological virtues, 461 faith, hope, and charity. 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 coëternal Son of God, and through His disciples. Nevertheless, human passion would cast these behind, were not man, like horses astray in their brutishness, held to the road by bit and rein.

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, and the Emperor to guide it to temporal well-being by means of philosophic instruction. And since none or few — and these with exceeding The proper
functions of
Pope and Em-
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-floor 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 supplied 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.

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 electors5 have the right to be so 462 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.  I believe I have now approached sufficiently close 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 directly, or from some other. But the truth of this final question must not be restricted to mean that the Roman Prince shall not be The ideal re-
lation of the
two powers
subject in some degree to the Roman Pontiff, for well-being that is mortal is ordered in a measure after well-being that is immortal. Wherefore let Cæsar honor Peter as a first-born son should honor his father, so that, brillaint 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.6


1  For example, Pope Innocent IV. (1243-1254) declared: “Two lights, the sun and the moon, illumine the globe; two powers, the papal and the royal, govern it; but as the moon receives her light from the more brilliant star, so kings reign by the chief of the Church, who comes from God.

2  The arguments disposed of by the author, in addition to those treated in the passages here presented, are: the precedence of Levi over Judah (Gen., xxxix. 34, 35), the election and deposition of Saul by Samuel (1 Sam., x. 1; xv. 23; xv. 28), the oblation of the Magi (Matt., ii. 11), the two swords referred to by Peter (Luke, xxii. 38), the donation of Constantine, the summoning of Charlemagne by Pope Hadrian, and finally the argument from pure reason.

3  This was the common mediæval designation of Aristotle.

4  For Dante’s conception of the terrestrial and the celestial paradise see the Paradiso in the Divina Commedia.

5  These were the lay and ecclesiastical princes in whom was vested the right of choosing the Emperor. The electoral college was first clearly defined in the Golden Bull issued by Charles IV. in 1356 [see p. 409]. Its composition in Dante’s time is uncertain.

6  Dante’s ideal solution was the harmonious rule of the two powers by the acknowledgment of filial relationship between pope and emperor, on the basis of a recognition of the different and essentially irreconcilable character of their functions.


[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]
Valid CSS!