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Marsiglio of Padua Among the Orthodox: The Secret History of the Defensor Pacis
Padua in the Later Middle Ages

Within three years of his completion of the Defensor Pacis in 1324, Marsiglio of Padua had been declared a heretic and excommunicated and his book was condemned by Rome for its views about the nature of spiritual and ecclesiastical power. Although there is no evidence that Marsiglio sought reconciliation with the church in his later years, his world-be protector German King Ludwig of Bavaria demonstrated that he was willing to sell the Paduan and other exiled heretics at his court to the papacy if the price (imperial investiture) was right. In future times, Marsiglio's reputation as a heretic notorious for his political views continued to circulate, as did, apparently, manuscripts of the Defensor Pacis. The fact that authors were still raging against Marsiglio and his doctrines in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is sufficient evidence of the continued dissemination of his work. The present paper will examine the use made of Marsiglian ideas by two important later medieval thinkers who bear no taint of the accusation of heresy that rested upon Marsiglio's head: Nicholas Oresme at the end of the fourteenth century and Nicholas of Cusa during the fifteenth century. Both were orthodox and respected figures-Cusa, of course, was a cardinal who quite nearly became pope-yet both were clearly drawn to concepts derived from a text that they both knew to be heretical (in Cusa's case, he admitted as much and reviled Marsiglio's name even as he repeated the Paduan's teachings). I am interested in two related problems: first, the ways in which they used (and did not use) Marsiglian themes and doctrines; and second, how (if at all) they might have justified the appropriation of the views of a notorious heretic while remaining true to their faith and to the discipline of the institutional church. For it is surely the case that they were responsible for airing and promoting (if only in secret and selectively) the ideas of an author declared to be an enemy of doctrinal unity and Christian truth. Was this an act of disobedience? Why did Oresme and Cusa risk the charge of promulgating heresy?

Biographical Sketch

Cary J. Nederman is professor and director of graduate studies in the department of political science at Texas A&M University , College Station . Nederman holds a Bachelor's degree from Columbia University (1974) and a Master's (1979) and Doctorate (1983) from York University in Toronto . He previously taught at York University (1983-1984) and the University of Alberta in Canada (1984-1986) and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand (1986-1990), as well as at Siena College (1991-1992) and the University of Arizona (1992-2000) in the United States. Nederman is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. Among his recent and forthcoming volumes are: Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Religious Toleration, c.1100-c.1550 (Penn State); John of Salisbury (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies); Rhetoric and Renewal in the Latin West 1100-1540 (Brepols); Beyond the Persecuting Society (University of Pennsylvania); English Political Thought in Early Fourteenth-Century England (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies); and Three Tracts on Empire (Thoemmes). He has also published over 80 articles and book chapters, including contributions to the American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, Journal of the History of Ideas, History of Political Thought, Speculum, Journal of Medieval History, Political Theory, and many other leading journals in political science, history, philosophy, and medieval studies. At present, Nederman serves on the Editorial Boards of five prominent international journals and is a coeditor of the book series Disputatio published by the Belgian publisher Brepols. He co-founded Politicas: Society for the Study of Medieval Political Ideas, as well as the Cactus League ( Arizona ) and Lone Star ( Texas ) Chapters of the Conference for the Study of Political Thought. He has been a research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies of the International Institute at the University of Michigan and a teaching fellow at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, .

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