Opus insigne cui titulum fecit autor Defensorem pacis: quod quaestionem illam iam olim controversam, de potestate Papae et imperatoris excussissime tractet, profuturu[m] theologis, iureconsultis, in summa optimaru[m] literarum cultoribus omnibus scriptum quidem ante annos ducentos, ad Ludovicum Caesarem ex illustrissima Bavariae ducum familia progenitum, at nunc in lucem primum aeditum, per quam castigate & diligenter. Quid vero contineat, index ostendit qui praefationem sequitur

Autore: MARSILIUS PADUANUS (Marsilio Mainardi or Mainardini, c. 1275/80-1342/43)

Tipografo: [Valentin Curio]

Dati tipografici: [Basel], 1522



Folio (320x210 mm). [200] leaves. Collation: A6 [rum]-[rum-rum]6 b-z6 A-G6 H8. Colophon on l. H8r. Title within three-quarters ornamental border attributed to Franz Gerster (1498-1535) and used by Curio in the same year also for his edition of Luther's De abroganda missa privata sententia; below the title is a large woodcut (attributed to Hans Holbein) of Emperor Ludwig IV with his and Bavaria's coats-of-arms surrounded by kingths and advisors (including probably Marsilius himself), facing a view of the city of Rome from his throne. First page of the Praefatio (l. A2r) within a woodcut ornamental border attributed to Heinrich Wechtelin and used again by Curio for his 1523 Strabo. Woodcut ornamental head-pieces and initials. Sideglosses. Contemporary blind-stamped calf, spine with five raised bands (traces of ties, slightly stained, top spine edge repaired). Engraved armorial bookplate on the front pastedown with manuscript shelf mark (“E I 24 N° 2595”). Two long notes in Latin and Greek on the front and back endleaves in a contemporary hand about the bad influence of passional love with quotes from Anacreon, Homer and others. On the back pastedown contemporary ownership's inscription “bertrand dalboy guiddoy” (?). Small hole repaired to l. h4 not affecting the text, some marginal staining at the beginning and at the end of the volume. A very good good, genuine copy with wide margins.


First edition of the Defensor pacis, one of the most influential political treatises of the late Middle Ages. “Perhaps of more significance in ascertaining the importance of Marsilius' thought is the tremendous bibliography his work has engendered. Besides the varius editions and translations of his wiritings, there are dozens upon dozens of scholarly treatments of his political doctines, ecclesiology, legal theory, and sources and influences. If one relied solely on this as evidence of his importance, one could draw a safe conclusion that Marsilius was one of the most important thinkers of the late Middle Ages” (G. Moreno-Riaño, Introduction, in: “The world of Marsilius of Padua”, G. Moreno-Riaño, ed., Turnhout, 2006, p. 2).

The 1522 editio princeps is believed to be based on a mid-15th-century manuscript, probably Alsatian, preserved today at the Weimar Library. On the title-page verso are three couplets signed by a certain Philalethes, followed by long preface signed under the pseudonym Licentius Evangelius. At the end of the preface there is an anonymous praise of historical science in hexameters. While there is no doubt that the edition was printed by Valentin Curio in Basel, the identification of the other personalities involved in the editing remains more controversial. While it is possible that Konrad Pellikan (1478-1556) was responsible for the index, the two main editors are believed to be Hermann von dem Busche (1468-1534), the inspirer of the whole initiative and perhaps the author of the Encomium historiae, and Beatus Renanus (1485-1547) who behind the pseudonym Licentius Evangelius could be the author of the preface; this, however, has also been attributed by others to Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and Valentin Curio (supposed to have been both printer and editor). The 1522 edition was reprinted in Frankfurt by Franciscus Gomarus (1563-1641) in 1592, then in Heidelberg in 1599 and again in Frankfurt in 1612 and 1613 (cf. E. Staehelin Ernst, L'édition de 1522 du “Defensor Pacis” de Marsile de Padoue, in: “Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses”, 34e année no. 3, 1954, pp. 209-222).

The work openly challenges ecclesiastical authority and denies that it can exercise any jurisdiction outside or above imperial power. It also opposes the hierarchy of the church, arguing for the substantial equality of all priests, at the summit of which it places only the general council. Marsilius also develops the idea that law and public authority, if they are approved by a majority of citizens, have a political relevance superior to the law of nature and religious precepts.

The Defensor pacis was condemned by the pope in 1327. Thanks also to a vulgarized version of 1363, it had immense circulation and exerted great influence in the fifteenth-century debates over the authority of the council and the pope. The work, which for obvious reasons could not be printed in Italy, was rediscovered and first printed with propagandistic intent in Protestant circles just in the aftermath of the affixation of the Lutheran theses.

Written in support of the cause of Ludwig the Bavarian, who in the meantime had been hit by papal excommunication, the Defensor pacis turns out to have been finished on St. John the Baptist's Day (June 24) in 1324. The work first circulated anonymously, but when its authors were identified -aside from Marsilius, it was also attributed by contemporaries to the Averroist philosopher Jean de Jandun, a close colleague and a friend of Marsilius- the two magistri left Paris in 1326 and took refuge with Ludwig the Bavarian in Nuremberg, placing themselves in his service.

On October 23, 1327, from Avignon, Pope John XXII issued the bull of excommunication Licet iuxta doctrinam, which listed five heresies taken from the Defensor pacis: (1) the temporal goods of the Church are subject to the emperor; (2) the apostles had equal authority and Christ placed no one at the head of the Church (denial of the primacy of St. Peter); (3) it is up to the emperor to establish, dismiss and punish the pope; (4) priests, bishops and the pope enjoy equal authority (denial of the ecclesiastical hierarchy); and (5) the pope and clergy in general hold no coercive power unless granted to them by the emperor.

The Defensor pacis is divided into three dictiones (‘discourses'), of which the third is a very brief general recapitulation. Dictio 1 - which continually refers back to Aristotle's Politics - has a strictly philosophical focus, while Dictio 2 is based on the exegesis of a series of passages from the Bible and addresses some basic issues of late medieval Christianity, from “meritorious poverty” (which is extended to all members of the clergy) to the superiority of the council over the pontiff. The first two dictiones are closely interconnected, with the aim of providing the imperial cause with as comprehensive a collection of arguments against the theocratic doctrine as possible, such that they cover both the philosophical and the ecclesiological spheres.

Marsilius' main objective, already stated in the title, is to preserve peace, as the ruling power in the wrong hands leads to unrest, like the one experienced at the time by the Italian communes. Papacy's temporal power is the main cause of peace's disruption. Thus the generic separation between spiritual and temporal power already expressed in other doctrinal milieus of the time, becomes in Marsilius total submission of the Church to civil rulers with regard to all its external acts. The task of regulating the acts that in this earthly life (pro statu presentis seculi) may offend the members of a political community lies with the rulers. But no ruler, no matter how just and virtuous, can rule without laws. Following on from Aristotle, Marsilius proclaims that rulers are better off being regulated and limited by law rather than issuing civil judgments according to their own arbitrariness. Civil law is such insofar as it is linked to a coercive precept for a punishment or reward to be bestowed in this life. This is Marsilius's so-called ‘legal positivism', which is a novelty for his times and aimed at displacing the proponents of theocracy, who relied instead on natural law. Again referring to Aristotle, Marsilius proclaims that the legislator or the first and specific efficient cause of the law is the people, that is, the entire body of citizens (populum seu civium universitatem) or its prevailing part (aut eius valenciorem partem) in that political community for which a certain law has been enacted. Similarly, the actual power to establish the government or to elect it rests with the legislator i.e., the entire body of citizens; moreover, the legislator also has the right to correct the government and to depose it if it will be beneficial to the common good. The clergy (pars sacerdotalis) is only one of the classes that make up the city or kingdom, and its ‘ultimate cause' is exclusively spiritual. It follows that neither the bishop of Rome nor any other bishop or presbyter or cleric is endowed with any governing power (nullum coactivum principatum seu iurisdiccionem contenciosam) and can claim or attribute to himself supreme authority over all clerics and laity. The theocratic doctrine of plenitudo potestatis is thus completely incompatible with this theoretical structure, founded on philosophical grounds and confirmed by the Gospel dictate. Marsilius' goal is to subordinate to civil power every act of religious authority that has any social relevance (from granting teaching licenses to excommunicating heretics) and to assign to rulers the temporal goods of the church. This way, the state also controls religious life with the aim of maintaining peace, and priests end up becoming mere officials of the state.

Far from contradicting each other, dictiones 1 and 2 thus come to constitute an organic discourse, rigorously grounded on the authority of Aristotle and his commentators, and corroborated by the exegesis of Scripture, which lends full legitimacy to Ludwig the Bavarian's political activity and his anti-Curial claims. For Marsilius, the pax is not entrusted to a figure sent by providence to restore the christiana respublica, as in Dante, but it is a pax solidly anchored in the mechanisms of power, the foundations of which are analyzed with a rigorously ‘scientific', that is, Aristotelian, method. What Marsilius holds dear is not, on closer inspection, the pax universalis, but the pax civilis as pax imperialis, which he hoped for the troubled cities of northern Italy as a premise for their civilis felicitas.

The Defensor pacis in William Marshall's English translation was printed in July 1535 a few days after the beheading of Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester. Marshall made several cuts and adjustments to the work in order to accomodate Henry VIII's policies. A few years later, in 1544, Count Palatine Ottheinrich of Pfalz-Neuburg, the future Elector, who had recently converted to the evangelical faith, commissioned Marx Müller of Westendorf to translate an extract from the Defensor Pacis into German. Müller fulfilled the assignment, and the translation appeared in 1545 in Nuremberg.

The Defensor pacis was also of considerable relevance in the theological and political controversy that erupted in the United Provinces between the followers of Jakobus Arminius and those of the orthodox Calvinist Francois Gomar. Arminius had appealed to civil authority, recognizing only the latter's jurisdiction to resolve doctrinal issues. In this controversy, which had European resonance and marked an important moment in the history of toleration, a leading role was played by Hugo Grotius, who in 1613 stepped into the debate with the work Ordinum Hollandiae ac Westfrisiae pietas, in which he claimed the civil power's right to intervene in religious matters, explicitly invoking the Defensor pacis. Grotius would later resort to the Defensor pacis again in another of his works, De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra, which appeared posthumously in Paris in 1647.

More recently, scholars have found striking similitarities between Marsilius and Thomas Hobbes for what the status of religion and the power of the church are concerned (B. Koch, Marsilius and Hobbes on Religion and Papal Power, in: “Op. cit.”, G. Moreno-Riaño, ed., Turnhout, 2006, pp. 189-209). Also, the image of Marsilio as a convinced promoter of popular sovereignty was revived in Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose (1980).

Marsilius Mainardini, born in Padua into a family of notaries, studied medicine, theology and philosophy at the University of Paris, of which he later became rector between 1312 and 1313. In Paris he became friends with the heterodox Aristotelian philosophers Peter of Abano (c. 1257-1316) and Jean de Jandun (1285-1328), who is also believed to have collaborated with Marsilius on the drafting of the Defensor pacis. Around 1318 he obtained a canonical title in Padua, where he probably met Dante Alighieri, who around that time was completing his De Monarchia. Returning to France, Marsilius completed the Defensor pacis in 1324 and as soon as his name was identified as the author of it he was excumminicated. Having fled to Munich to the court of Ludwig of Bavaria, he was part of the military expedition that the latter led to Italy and that ended in Rome in 1328 with his coronation as emperor. On that occasion Marsilius was among the architects of a ruling that caused a sensation throughout Europe, as on imperial orders Pope John XXII was deposed and Nicholas V was appointed as new pontiff. Forced to leave Rome by the pressure from the Angevin army, the imperial army resumed its march back to Germany in August 1328. As they stopped in Pisa, Marsilius had a chance to meet there the dissident Franciscans led by William of Ockham. Back to Bavaria, he composed another treatise on politics, known as the Defensor minor, as well as the treatises Tractatus de iurisdictione imperatoris in causis matrimonialibus and Tractatus de translatione imperii, all in support of imperial authority. He died in Munich in 1343.

Cf. J. Haller, Zur Lebensgeschichte der Marsilius von Padua, in: “Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte”, 48, 1929, p. 166; G. de Lagarde, La naissance de l'esprit laïque au déclin du Moyen âge, 3me vol., Le “Defensor pacis”, Louvain-Paris, 1970; C.J. Nederman, Community and consent. The secular political theory of Marsiglio of Padua's “Defensor pacis”, Lanham (Md.), 1995; G. Garnett, Marsilius of Padua and “the truth of history”, Oxford, 2006; The world of Marsilius of Padua, G. Moreno-Riaño, ed., Turnhout, 2006; G. Piaia, Marsilio da Padova, in: “Il Contributo italiano alla storia del Pensiero: Filosofia”, 2012, s.v.


VD16, M-1131; Adams, M-675; F. Hieronymus, Basler Buchillustration 1500 bis 1545, Basle, 1984, pp. 450-452, no. 417.