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From A Literary Source-book of the Italian Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 1-7.



Born at Florence, 1265. Took part in the political struggles of the time, and fought at the battle of Campaldino, 1289. Held office of prior in 1300, and as a result of factional strife was banished from Florence two years later. Some portion of the period of his exile, he passed at the court of the lords of Verona. In 1310 attached himself to the cause of the Emperor, Henry VII. Died at Ravenna in 1321. The principal works of Dante are the Vita Nuova, the Convito, De Monarchia, a treatise De Vulgari Eloquio, and the Divina Commedia.


Dante refutes arguments which strive to prove that the Imperial power is subject to the Papal power. Book III., Sec. iv .

Those men to whom all our subsequent reasoning is addressed, when they assert that the authority of the Empire depends on the authority of the Church, as the inferior workman depends upon the architect, are moved to take this view by many arguments, some of which they draw from Holy Scripture, and some also from the acts of the Supreme Pontiff and of the Emperor himself. Moreover, they strive to have some proof of reason.

In the first place they say that God, according to the book of Genesis, made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; this they understand to be an allegory, for that the lights are the two powers, the spiritual and the temporal. And then they maintain that as the moon, which is the lesser light, only has light so far as she receives it from the sun, so the temporal power only has authority as it receives authority from the spiritual power.

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Having thus first noted these things, I will proceed, as I said above, to destroy the argument of those who say that the two great lights are typical of the two great powers on earth; for on this type rests the whole strength of their argument. It can be show in two ways that this interpretation cannot be upheld. First, seeing that these two kinds 2 of power are, in a sense, accidents of men, God would thus appear to have used a perverted order, by producing the accidents before the essence to which they belong existed; and it is ridiculous to say this of God. For the two lights were created on the fourth day, while man was not created till the sixth day, as is evident in the text of Scripture.

Secondly, seeing that these two kinds of rule are to guide men to certain ends, as we shall see, it follows that if man had remained in the state of innocence in which God created him, he would not have needed such means of guidance. These kinds of rule, then, are remedies against the weakness of sin. Since, then, man was not a sinner on the fourth day, for he did not then even exist, it would have been idle to make remedies for his sin, and this would be contrary to the goodness of God. For he would be a sorry physician who would make a plaster for an abscess which was to be, before the man was born. It cannot, therefore, be said that God made these two kinds of rule on the fourth day, and therefore the meaning of Moses cannot have been what these men pretend.

We may also be more tolerant, and overthrow this falsehood by drawing a distinction. This way of distinction is a gentler way of treating an adversary, for so his arguments are not made to appear consciously false, as is the case when we utterly overthrow him. I say then that, although the moon has not light of its own abundantly, unless it receives it from the sun, yet it does not therefore follow that the moon is from the sun. Therefore be it known that the being, and the power, and the working of the moon are all different things. For its being, the moon in no way depends on the sun, nor for its power, nor for its working, considered in itself. Its motion comes from its proper mover, its influence is from its own rays. For it has a certain light of its own, which is manifest at the time of an eclipse; though for its better and more powerful working it receives from the sun an abundant light, which enables it to work more powerfully.

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X. Certain persons say further that the Emperor Constantine, having been cleansed for leprosy by the intercession of Sylvester, then the Supreme Pontiff, gave unto the church the seat of Empire, which was Rome, together with many other dignities belonging to the Empire. Hence they argue that no man can take unto himself these dignities unless he receive them from the Church, whose they are said to be. From this it would rightly follow that one authority depended on the other, as they maintain.

The arguments, which seem to have their roots in the Divine words, have been stated and disproved. It remains to state and disprove those which are grounded on Roman history and in the reason of mankind. The first of these is the one which we have mentioned, in which the Syllogism runs as follows: No one has a right to those things which belong to the Church, unless he has them from the Church; and this we grant. The government of Rome belongs to the Church; therefore, no one has a right to it, unless it be given him by the Church. The minor premiss is proved by the facts concerning Constantine, which we have touched upon.

This minor premiss then will I destroy; and as for their proof, I say that it proves nothing. For the dignity of the Empire was what Constantine could not alienate, nor the Church receive. And, when they insist, I prove my words as follows. No man, on the strength of the office which is committed to him, may do aught that is contrary to that office; for so one and the same man, viewed as one man, would be contrary to himself, which is impossible. But to divide the Empire is contrary to the office committed to the Emperor; for his office is to hold mankind in all things subject to one will; as may be easily seen from the first book of this treatise. Therefore, it is not permitted to the Emperor to divide the Empire. If, therefore, as they say, any dignities had been alienated by Constantine, and had passed to the Church, the “coat without seam,” which, even they, who pierced Christ, the true God, with a spear, dared not rend, would have been rent.



For all and for each of the kings of Italy, for the senators of the fair city, and also for the dukes, marquises and counts, and for the peoples, the humble Italian Dante Alighieri, a Florentine, and undeservedly in exile, prays for peace.

1. Behold, now is the acceptable time, in which the signs of consolation and peace arise. For a new day grows bright, revealing a dawn that already lessens the gloom of long calamity. Already the eastern breezes grow stronger; the lips of heaven grow ruddy and strengthen the auguries of the people with caressing tranquillity. And even we, who for so long have passed our nights in the desert, shall behold the gladness for which we have longed, for Titan shall arise pacific, and justice, which had languished without sunshine at the end of the winter’s solstice, shall grow green once more, when first he darts forth his splendor. All who hunger and thirst will be satisfied in the light of his rays, and they who delight in iniquity shall be put to confusion at the sight of his radiance. For the strong Lion of the Tribe of Judah has hearkened with compassionate ears, and pitying the lament of universal captivity, has raised up another Moses, who will liberate his people from the oppression of the Egyptians, and will lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey.

2. Henceforth let thy heart be joyful, O Italy! who deserveth to be pitied even by the Saracens, but who straightway shalt be looked on with envy throughout the world, because thy bridegroom, the solace of the earth and the glory of thy people, the most clement Henry, Divine, Augustus and Caesar, hastens to thy nuptials. Dry thy tears and blot out the traces of sorrow, O most beauteous, for he is at hand who will free thee from the bonds of the impious; who, smiting the wicked, will destroy them at the edge of the sword, and will hire his vineyard to other husbandmen, who, at the time of harvest, will yield the fruit of justice.


3. But will he not be merciful to any? Yea; as he is Caesar, and his majesty flows from the font of pity, he will spare all imploring mercy. His judgments abominate all severity, and always in punishing set a bound on this side of moderation, and in rewarding on the other side. Will he, therefore, applaud the desperate deeds of evil men, and drink to the undertakings of the presumptuous? Nay; because he is Augustus. And if Augustus, will he not avenge the wickedness of backsliders, and pursue them even into Thessaly, — the Thessaly, I say, of the last destruction.

4. Lay aside, O Lombard race, thy accumulated barbarity; and if any vestige of the seed of the Trojans and Latins still exists, give it place, lest when the sublime eagle, descending like a thunderbolt, falls from on high, he may see his eaglets cast out, and the nest of his own young occupied by ravens. Up, O race of Scandinavia! See that thou mayest desire, as eagerly as in thee lies, the presence of him whose coming thou justly dreadest. Let not cupidity, deceiving thee after the manner of the Sirens, seduce thee, deadening the vigilance of reason by I know not what sweetness. “Come before his presence with a confession of submission, and rejoice on the psaltery with a song of repentance,” considering that he who resists authority, resists the ordinance of God, and he who withstands the divine ordinance, opposes a will co-equal with omnipotence; and it is hard to kick against the pricks.

5. Ye likewise, who mourn oppressed, lift up your hearts, for your salvation is at hand. Take up the harrow of a good humility, and level the clods of parched animosity, lest perchance the heavenly rain, coming before the sowing of your seed, fall from on high in vain; or lest the grace of God shrink from you as the dew does daily from the stone. But do ye conceive like a fertile valley and put forth green — the green, I say, fruitful of true peace; and, in very truth, in this verdure, making spring in your land, will the new husbandman of the Romans yoke the oxen of his counsel more kindly and confidently to his plough. Pardon, pardon, now and henceforth, O best beloved! who have suffered injustice 6 along with me, that the Hectorian shepherd may recognize you as the sheep of his fold: who, although he holds the rod of temporal correction in his hand by divine concession, nevertheless, that he may be redolent of the goodness of Him from whom as from one point the power of Peter and of Caesar divides, gladly corrects his family, but more willingly, in very truth, has compassion on it.

6. Therefore, if the old transgression, which many a time like the serpent is coiled and turned on itself, is not hindrance, henceforth can ye all perceive that peace is prepared for one and all, and already can ye taste the first fruits of the hoped-for gladness. Then be ye all vigilant, and rise up to meet your king, O inhabitants of Italy! reserving yourselves not only for his empire but, as free people, for his guidance.

7. I exhort you not only to rise up to meet him, but also to do reverence to presence. Ye who drink of his streams and navigate his seas; ye who tread the sands of the shores and the summits of the alps that are his; ye who rejoice in any public thing whatsoever, and possess private goods not otherwise than by the bonds of his law: do not, as if ignorant deceive yourselves as though ye dreamt in your hearts and said: “We have no lord.” For his garden and lake is whatever the heavens encompass round about, since “The sea is God’s and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” Wherefore that God predestined the Roman Prince shines forth in wonderful effects; and that he afterwards confirmed him by the word of His Word, the Church proclaims

8. Surely, if through those things which have been created by God the human creature sees the invisible things with the eyes of the intellect, and if from the things better known those less known are evident to us, in like manner it concerns human apprehension that from the motion of the heavens we should know the Motor and His will; and this predestination will be seen readily even by those who look superficially. For if from the first spark of this fire we turn back to things passed, from what time, I say, hospitality was denied the Argives by the Phrygians; and if there is time to 7 survey the affairs of the world even to the triumphs of Octavian, we shall see that some of them have completely transcended the heights of human valor, and that God has worked through men, just as through the medium of the new heavens. For we do not always act; nay, rather are we sometimes the instruments of God, and the human will, in which liberty is innate, acts sometimes free even from earthly passions, and, subservient to the Eternal Will, often serves it without knowing it.

9. And if these things which are first principles, as it were, for proving that which is sought, are not sufficient, who, proceeding from the conclusion inferred through facts will not be compelled to think as I do, perceiving that peace has embraced the world completely for twelve years — a peace which revealed in its accomplishment the face of its syllogizer, the son of God. And while He, made man, preached the Gospel on earth for the revelation of the Holy Ghost, as if he were dividing two kingdoms, distributing all things to himself and Caesar, He commanded to “Render unto each the things that are his.”

10. But if the obstinate mind demands further, not yet assenting to the truth, let him examine the words of Christ, even when in chains, for He who is our light, when Pilate opposed His power, asserted that the office which he, as lieutenant of Caesar, was vaunting of, came from on high. Therefore walk ye not even as the Gentiles, involved in darkness by the vanity of the senses; but open the eyes of your mind, and see, for the Lord of heaven and earth has ordained a king for us. This is he whom Peter, the vicar of God, admonished 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.


*  Translated by F. C. Church, in Dante, an Essay, by R. W. Church, M. A., D. C. L., London, 1878.

  A Translation of Dante’s Eleven Letter by Charles Sterrett Latham. Riverside Press, 1892.

[Other Dante materials on this site:

For more of Dante’s’s life and other prose, see the complete text in translation of his Vita Nuova, The New Life by Dante Alighieri, translated by Charles Eliot Norton,

For some more extracts from On Monarchy (De Monarchia) and The Banquet (Convito), go Here,

For some of his minor poetry onsite in Italian and English, translated by Lorna De’ Lucchi, go HERE,

And for an extract from The Divine Comedy, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

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