Marsilius of Padua and “Defensor pacis”

How is it that I never heard of Marsilius of Padua until now? Yes, I know, ignorance, but even the illustrious Dr. Johnson was guilty of that occasionally. (In case you haven’t heard the anecdote, he erroneously defined a pastern as “the knee of a horse,” in his famous dictionary when it ought to be “that part of the leg of a horse between the joint next the foot and the hoof.” When he was asked, at a large dinner, how he managed to get this one so wrong, he was unevasive: “Ignorance, Madam, ignorance.”)
defensor-pacis
.
But I digress. Marsilius was one of the outstanding thinkers of the middle ages, and made a profound impression in his own time, and for centuries thereafter. More to the point, in his book, “Defensor pacis,” which I heartily recommend to the gentle reader, he makes some powerful and brilliant arguments in favor of the separation of church and state, drawing heavily on scripture. In a word, he was the Roger Williams of his day. Perhaps the reason that he is virtually unknown outside of academia today is that fact that his teaching must certainly have been uncomfortable to those who cherish the good things of this world that can be acquired by gulling others into a belief in the world to come. I suspect that the same may be said of Jean Meslier, and many another brilliant but unconventional thinker.
.
It has been a great boon to mankind that one of the world’s greatest religions could produce thinkers like Marsilius and Williams from among the ranks of its own clerics. Drawing their arguments from scripture itself, they provided a strong philosophical basis for the separation of church and state and freedom of religion. It is regrettable that Islam never produced similar thinkers. One can only hope that, some day, it will.

.

Jean Meslier
Jean Meslier

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

Leave a Reply