For On Kingship, as for most of Thomas's works, there is little internal evidence about the date or the circumstances of composition. By combining citational and doctrinal evidence, Eschmann argued that On Kingship had to be written between 1260 and 1267.68 The Leonine edition corrects Eschmann on one detail, but concurs with the main conclusion: the text was written while Thomas was in Italy during the 1260s.69
The date is suggestive for a study of the pattern of authorities in the
68 I. T. Eschmann, "Introduction," in Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship to the King of Cyprus, tr. G. B. Phelan (Toronto: PIMS, 1949), pp. xxvi-xxx.
69 Leonine Opera omnia 42:424—425. In what follows, I will cite De regno according to the textual divisions and line numbers of this edition.
unfinished work. During his Italian sojourn, Thomas was experimenting with new ways of using authorities. Indeed, we possess three products of his experimentation: Against the Gentiles, Against the Errors of the Greeks, and the Golden Chain. The proximity of these experiments should prompt a reader to look more carefully at the selection, arrangement, and manipulation of authoritative texts in On Kingship — the more so, since On Kingship quotes the Book of the Faith of the Trinity that occasioned Against the Errors of the Greeks.70
On Kingship explicitly addresses a king.71 All of the early catalogs and some of the manuscript titles assert that he was the king of Cyprus.72 For a medieval reader, then, the text would take its place immediately in the genre of mirrors for princes. It does not stand out in that genre. On Kingship treats traditional topics briefly and with few embellishments. Although Thomas promises in its prologue to treat the origin of kingship and the kingly office "according to the authority of divine Scripture, the teachings of philosophers, and the examples of famous princes," he is in fact sparing of both authorities and examples. The treatise offers nothing like the profusion of classical admonitions or episodes to be found in its more famous antecedents or its contemporary rivals. Among the older works, John of Salisbury's Poli-craticus displays much more Roman erudition and explicit reflection on the relation of philosophy to statesmanship. Among Thomas's Dominican contemporaries, Vincent of Beauvais is by far the more ambitious compiler. The several sections of Vincent's Doctrinal Mirror on political topics bristle with classical and Scriptural quotations.73 Vincent's incomplete Universal Work on the Princely Office invokes dozens more authorities than Thomas's On Kingship.74 Comparison with works by Thomas's students will deliver the same lesson. Even for the abbreviated opening chapters of On Royal and Papal Power, John of Paris feels compelled to supplement the source apparatus of On Kingship when he draws from it.75
70 De regno 2.3 (114—116), recalling the passage from Contra err. Graec. 2.35.
72 See the editorial remarks in Leonine Opera omnia 42:424.
73 See especially Speculum doctrinale 5.1—7, on the character of rulers and subjects, and 7.1—33, on regimes and rulers.
74 The completed portions of the Opus universale were written in two periods, 1247—1249 (Book 4) and 1261—1263 (Book 1). De morali principis institutione 1 is thus almost exactly contemporary with De regno. Since it is also a work of Dominican learning, Opus universale 1 offers a precise comparison with De regno. For the dating, see Serge Lusignan, Préface au Speculum maius de Vincent de Beauvais: Réfraction et diffraction, Cahiers d'Études Médievales 5 (Montreal: Bellarmin, and Paris: Vrin, 1979), 52—53.
75 See, for example, John of Paris, De potestate papali et regale 5, with two pagan authorities from De regno augmented by three Christian authorities.
The slightness of Thomas's address to the king is confirmed by noticing how many powerful authorities do not appear in the portions he chose to complete. The absence of the Pseudo-Plutarchian Instruction of Trajan, which informs so much of the Policraticus, may be due to Thomas's ignorance of it or to suspicions about its authenticity. Still Gregory the Great's Pastoral Rule, well known and indubitable, is mentioned by Thomas only once and then for its admonition that a king should cultivate calm.76 Thomas does not so much as gesture towards Pastoral Rule 2, which served some of his contemporaries as a cornerstone for teaching about political virtue. Two other absences among the authorities are more startling still. On Kingship nowhere adverts to Bernard of Clairvaux's On Consideration or to Seneca. Bernard had already become indispensable to other authors on many questions of just rule. Seneca had been in the twelfth century, and was still for some of Thomas's contemporaries such as Roger Bacon, a precious guide to civic virtues and vices.77
The range of authorities in On Kingship is narrow, and the authorities that do appear most likely derive from previous treatises or anthologies. So, for example, many of Thomas's important allusions figure in Vincent of Beauvais's Doctrinal Mirror or Universal Work.78 Others can be found in published medieval anthologies or florilegia.79 Others still probably come from unstudied florilegia or from the informal lists of authorities circulated among mendicant scholars. Again, some passages appropriated by Thomas had long genealogies in Latin traditions. Deuteronomy 17 is the object of detailed commentary in Policraticus 4.4-12. John of Salisbury's exegesis passes through
76 De regno 1.9 (72-78), where Gregory is cited and paraphrased.
77 Bacon was so delighted by the belated discovery of the rarer works of Seneca that he copied long extracts from them into the moral section of the Opus majus. See Opus majus 18.104.22.168. prol. 4 and 7.4.1. prol. 1, in Rogeri Baconis Moralis Philosophia, ed. F. Delorme and E.Massa (Turin: Thesaurus Mundi, 1953), 133.1-8 and 187.1-4.
78 I give samples of the shared texts, listing for each the authority first, next its appearance in Thomas, then its appearance(s) in Vincent. Job 34:30: De regno 1.6 and 1.10; Vincent, Opus universale 1.5, to which compare Augustine, De civitate Dei 5.19.48. Gregory, Regula pastoralis 1.9: De regno 1.1; Vincent, Opus universale 1.9. Isidore, Etymologiae 9.3.19: De regno 1.1; Vincent, Speculum doctrinale 7.8. Eusebius, Chronicles 2 and Jerome, De viris illustribus 9 on Archelaus: De regno 1.6; Vincent, Speculum historiale 7.103-104. Sallust, Bellum Catilinae 7.2: De regno 1.3;Vincent, Speculum doctrinale 5.4.
79 Some versions of both the Florilegium Gallicum and the Florilegium Angelicum, for example, contain excerpts of classical authors used by Thomas. For brief descriptions of the contents of these versions, see Anders Gagner, Florilegium Gallicum: Untersuchungen und Texte zur Geschichte der mittellateinischen Florilegienliteraur (Lund: H. Ohlssons, 1936), 121-123, with other florilegia at pp. 30-31; M. A. and R. H. Rouse, "The Florilegium Angelicum: Its Origin, Content, and Influence," rptd. in their Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 101-152, at p. 135.
Helinand to Vincent's Doctrinal Mirror.80 Two verses of the passage are invoked in Innocent III's Per venerabilem in support of the jurisdictional claims of the Apostolic See and the bishops.81 Little or none of this complexity registers when Thomas mentions the passage.82
Why would Thomas want to contribute so laconic a survey of such well-mapped territory? The main motive could have been circumstantial: the Dominicans may have needed a strategically impressive gift for the Cypriot king. Such a motive cannot be proved from the available evidence. It is also problematic as a guide to Thomas's text. Thomas elsewhere reinvents commissions as he fulfills them. Two of the clearest examples are found among those reference works Thomas composed just before On Kingship. Against the Errors of the Greeks was commissioned as an expert opinion on a little book of supposedly patristic citations. In fact, as we have seen, Thomas used the occasion to delineate general tasks of responsible theological exegesis in the face of historical change. More famously, as we will see below, Against the Gentiles is supposed to have been written in response to a request for a missionary manual by Raymond of Penafort. If such a request was made, Against the Gentiles is hardly a missionary manual by Dominican standards of the thirteenth century. It seems rather a fundamental classification of the grounds for rational persuasion towards Christianity. Suppose then that Thomas was commissioned to write a learned gift for a strategically important ruler: he need not have delivered what was expected.
A reader must imagine better compositional motives for taking up well-worn topics and their familiar authorities. If we continue to follow the authorities deployed in On Kingship as a guide to that treatise's motivation, two further motives appear. Thomas's motive could be to supplement the largely Latin erudition of the mirrors for princes with the newly available teaching of Aristotle's Politics. Alternately he might want to balance political prudence drawn from pagan authors with the narratives of the Christian Scriptures, especially the Old Testament. There is some truth in each of these motives, but neither explains enough.
Aristotle does figure prominently in On Kingship. The critical edition counts some 18 passages recollected by Thomas from the Aristotelian corpus. If you sum implicit allusions, explicit references, and quotations, On
80 Helinand, Chronicon (Migne PL 212:735—739); Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum doctrinale 7.16, as in Speculum quadruplex (Douai: Baltazaris Belleri, 1624; rptd. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1965), cols. 568—570.
81 Decretales 13.19.4, as in Corpus iuris canonici, ed. E. L. Richter and E. Friedberg (2nd Leipzig edn., rptd. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1955), 2:714.
Kingship recollects a total of eight passages from Politics 3, 5, and 7.83 The distribution and detail of the allusions show that Thomas had a full text of Moerbeke's Latin translation of the Politics when he wrote On Kingship. It is easy to imagine, then, that On Kingship was written to apply Aristotle's Politics to the traditional topics of the mirrors for princes. If so, the application was not wholly successful. The Politics appears neither as a frequent nor as a central interlocutor in On Kingship. For example, the critical edition first cites the Politics in support of a maxim: "in all things that are ordered to one, something is found to rule another."84 The principle and its consequences are commonplaces of the Latin political handbooks. Thomas uses the maxim just to introduce an analogy between a political regime and the human body. This analogy is developed at length by John of Salisbury with references to Pseudo-Plutarch. Moreover, the principle is not exactly abstruse. Thomas did not need Aristotle's Politics to learn it. The same can be said about three other of the apparent recollections of the Politics.85 Even when the Politics is used as a source for more technical material, its contribution is difficult to assess. Sometimes its lessons are not peculiarly Aristotelian. Thus when Thomas describes the repressive policies of the tyrant, he paraphrases much that is in Aristotle.86 But he could have learned the same in Augustine's City of God 19 or John's Policraticus 8.16—20. From them too he could have learned the brevity of a tyrant's rule.87
The only important borrowing from Aristotle's Politics in On Kingship would appear to be the classification of six types of regime, three unjust (tyranny, oligarchy, democracy) and three just (polity, aristocracy, monarchy).88 The classification pertains directly to the matter of On Kingship. How surprising to notice, then, that Thomas uses the division only on the way to defining a king or monarch. He does not draw subsequent arguments for the superiority of monarchy from the Politics. When Thomas
83 References to the Politics are as follows: Politics 3.5 anonymously in De regno 1.1 (100-114), 3.6 anonymously in 1.1 (121-153), 3.9 by paraphrase in 2.3 (58-73), 5.3 (or perhaps 7.6) explicitly in 2.7 (41-46), 5.11 anonymously in 1.3 (89-106), 5.12 explicitly in 1.10 (125-131), 7.2 anonymously in 2.3 (45), and 7.7 by quotation in 2.5 (57-59). As Weisheipl notes, the passages from Aristotle's books 5 and 7 were not subsequently commented on by Thomas. See Weisheipl, Friar Thomas, 381.
85 The remarks in De regno 1.1 (100-114) on just and unjust regimes are perfectly general and bear no linguistic relations to Moerbeke's Latin version of Politics 3.5 (1279a17-20), for which see Thomas, Sent. Politic. 3.5. So for the recollections in De regno 2.3 of Politics 7.2 and 3.9.
87 De regno 1.10 (125-128), with the explicit mention of Aristotle.
88 De regno 1.1 (121-153), with apparent reference to Politics 3.6 (1279a22-b10).
actually quotes the Politics, he does so not in support of some grand principle of political philosophy, but in order to establish a relation between climate and aptitude for civil life.89 On Kingship cannot be considered a thorough or revolutionary appropriation of the newly recovered text of Aristotle's Politics. One could as easily claim that the fragmentary booklet records Thomas's full appropriation of Augustine's City of God, just as other works of the Italian years do.90
Consider then the second motive, which reverses the first. Perhaps Thomas undertook to write On Kingship because the existing mirrors for princes were too attached to pagan sources instead of Scriptural ones. Vincent of Beauvais quotes Augustine's teaching that pagan and Christian political doctrine must differ, but the stuff of his political teaching in the Doctrinal Mirror is almost wholly pagan.91 The only Scriptural citations occur in Vincent's quotations from Augustine and Helinand. By contrast, the Scriptural quotations in Thomas's On Kingship outnumber non-Scriptural quotations more than three to one. Thomas quotes from 30 books of the Christian Bible, 23 of them in the Old Testament.
Here again qualification is required. If On Kingship is a Scriptural text, its use of Scripture is neither uniform nor self-explanatory. The most frequently cited books are Proverbs (12 times), Ezekiel (7), Sirach (6), Isaiah (5), and Psalms (4). In sum, Thomas quotes principally from moralizing passages of the wisdom and prophetic books, not from narratives about the kings of Israel. He employs Scripture here, as he often uses Aristotle, more for its moral maxims than for its concrete political illustrations or dispositions. Perhaps this should not surprise us. Thomas learned from previous generations of homilists the usefulness of the wisdom books for the preacher of morals. He shows his fondness for those books in many parts of his corpus. If the prevalence of Scriptural citations in On Kingship is notable, it cannot be considered distinctive of Thomas's political thought.
Again, Thomas makes no particular distinction between non-Scriptural and Scriptural examples or cases. He freely intermingles Greek or Roman tales with episodes from Old and New Testaments.92 He does not segregate
90 Congar has written that the De civitate Dei figures in Thomas's political thought for its eschatological teaching on the church, not for what it teaches about the earthly city. Still Thomas does learn from Augustine about the breadth of ancient reflection on politics, as about the details of ancient philosophic teaching. Compare Yves Congar, "Orientations de Bonaventure et surtout de Thomas d'Aquin dans leur vision de l'Église et celle de l'état," in 1274 — Année charnière: Mutations et continuités (Paris: CNRS, 1974), p. 697.
91 Vincent, Speculum doctrinale 7.3 (cols. 557-558), from Augustine, De civitate Dei 19.
92 So Dionysius, Eglon, the Theban Legion, and Joash in De regno 1.6.
them as John of Salisbury does in some of the chronologically-arranged sections of the Policraticus. Nor does Thomas place any particular emphasis on what Scripture teaches in opposition to paganism, though he sometimes distinguishes the apparent sense of the Old Testament from the apostolic doctrine of the New.93 Thomas depends more and more on his pagan sources when he treats statecraft. So, for example, On Kingship 2.5 and 2.6 discuss the kind of site to be chosen for a new city. The percentage of quotation is higher here than for any other chapters; the quoted authorities are Vegetius, Aristotle, and Vitruvius.
The two compositional motives derived from On Kingship's actual use of authorities are suggestive, not conclusive. We need to look elsewhere in the text for its motives.
Was this article helpful?