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Against the Backdrop of Sovereignty and Absolutism. The Theology of God’s Power and Its Bearing on the Western Legal Tradition, 1100–1600

Massimiliano Traversino Di Cristo

TRAVERSINO DI CRISTO Massimiliano, Against the Backdrop of Sovereignty and Absolutism. The Theology of God’s Power and Its Bearing on the Western Legal Tradition, 1100–1600, Leyde, Brill, 2022.

ISBN : 978-90-04-50370-0

This book attempts to determine the degree to which the modern fate of the Western legal tradition depends on one of the most long-standing debates of the Middle Ages, the distinction between potentia Dei absoluta and ordinata (God’s absolute and ordered power). The mediaeval investigation into God’s attributes was originally concerned with the problem of divine almightiness. It underwent a slow but steady displacement from the territory of theology to the freshly emerging proceedings of legal analysis. Here, based on the distinction, late-mediaeval lawyers worked out a new terminology to define the extent of the power-holder’s authority. This effort would give rise, during the early modern era, to the gradual establishment of the legal-political framework represented by the concepts of the prince and sovereignty.

Foreword by Diego Quaglioni




1 A Normative History of Power The Distinction between potentia Dei absoluta and ordinata

2 The Theology of God’s Power as an Archaeology of the Modern Notion of Power
 1 The Role of the Roman Church in the Middle Ages and the Canon Lawyers

 2 The Theology of God’s Power(s) and Its Juridification

 3 Natural Logocentrism and Divine Voluntarism

 4 William of Ockham and the Early-Modern Tendencies towards Religious Reform and Natural Philosophy

 5 The Question of God’s Power Applied to the Construction of Papal Authority

 6 The Fourteenth-Century Civil Lawyers and Their Analysis of the Prince’s Power

 7 One Step Backward, One Step Forward : The Divide between Reason and Will and the Christian Tendencies towards Religious Reform

3 The Classic Age of the Distinction The Pontificate of John xxii (1316–34)
 1 The Church and the Question of Poverty in the 1320–30s

 2 The Debate over Poverty as a Juristic Confrontation on Papal Power

 3 The Distinction potentia Dei absoluta/ordinata in Scotus, Ockham, and John xxii

 4 God as Unity and Simplicity in Eckhart and Ockham—and Eckhart’s Rejection of the Distinction potentia Dei absoluta/ordinata

 5 Eckhart’s Way to the Modern Era

 6 God’s Powers, a True or an Alleged Distinction ?

 7 John xxii’s Pontificate and the Cases of Eckhart and Ockham : Conservative and Innovative Tendencies

4 The Distinction in the Early-Modern Era Bruno, Gentili, and the Sixteenth-Century Debate on Native Americans
 1 The Question of the Condition of Native Americans

 2 Religion and Humanism in the Debate over the European Right of Conquest

 3 Initial Conclusions

 4 Bruno’s Notions of the Infinite and potentia Dei absoluta

 5 Civil and Ethical Spin-Offs : The ‘American Proof’ of Bruno’s Cosmological Infinite

 6 Gentili’s Criticism of War in General

 7 Gentili’s View on Colonization : His Concepts of Natural Equality and Historical Inequality

 8 The Question of whether Trade Is a Factor of Civilization and Indicative of Social Progress

 9 Final Conclusions

5 Gentili’s Religion and the Secularization of the Theology of God’s Power



List of Works Cited

Index of Names