The Structure of On Kingship

What is original in Thomas is often an order, an arrangement, or a hierarchical subordination. He illuminates received materials by displaying their pedagogical sequence, causal connections, or cognitive dependencies. So too with On Kingship: its compositional motive may wait to be discovered in its structure. The discovery will not be easy. By all accounts, On Kingship is incomplete, and there is no agreement as to the order even of the extant parts.

Thomas indicates in a preliminary way the intended structure for On Kingship. It will treat, he promises, two topics: the origin of the kingdom and the things that pertain to the office of the king.94 The second topic is explicitly recalled and specified at the beginning of Book 2: "Next there should be considered the office of the king and how the king ought to be."95 The discussion of the royal office is begun in the following chapters, though most of the extant text is taken up with the royal founding of cities. What then of the first book? It is described retrospectively in 1.12 as "on the king . . . what he is and that it is useful for a multitude to have a king."96 The description covers 1.16. The remaining chapters, 1.7—11, treat of the reward of the good king and the sufferings of the tyrant. If the inquiry about the king can be considered a part at least of an inquiry on the origin

93 In De regno 1.6 (60), Thomas explicitly corrects the example of Ehud and Eglon by appeal to the "apostolic teaching"of 1 Peter 11.18—19.

of kingship, the discussion of the reward of the king cannot. Something is out of order.

Eschmann, finding this and a number of other "ruptures" in the present disposition of On Kingship, proposed to regard the text as "a collection of fragments."97 The conclusion is extreme. There are certainly lacunae in our text, but the largest displacement is not hard to remedy. The discussion of the rewards of a good king would fit quite nicely as the conclusion of a teaching on what kind of character the king should have. In other words, 1.7-11 can be seen as the end of the discussion promised in 2.1.98 Hence 1.7-11 must be moved from the end of the first book at least to the end of the second. With this transposition, the order of topics in On Kingship becomes: the origin of the kingdom explained (at least partly) through the natural grounds for kingship; the office of the king, beginning with his role as founder; the reward for the virtuous exercise of that office. The pattern can usefully be contrasted with three others.

The first alternate pattern figures in Hugh of St Victor's Didascalicon; it derives from Boethius and Isidore.99 According to Hugh, politics is the third of three practical sciences, which are variously called solitary, private, and public, or ethical, economic, and political, or private, economic, and managerial, or public, political, and civil. The third science of each triplet - the public, political, managerial, civil science - concerns itself with governors of states, and it ministers to the commonweal of cities. Hugh says nothing further about its parts.

A second pattern for comparison appears in Vincent's Doctrinal Mirror.100 As Vincent says, it derives from al-Farabi, who divides political science into three parts. The first part discriminates what is true and false in the actions and customs of cities and peoples. The second part studies the kinds of royal virtue and how they can be acquired, as well as the cultivation of corresponding citizen virtues. The last part of al-Farabi's science treats of the interpretation of legislation, especially in teaching the discernment of the legislator's intent.

A third comparison can be made with the order of topics that Thomas presents, a few years after writing On Kingship, while expounding Aristotle's Politics. Thomas interprets Aristotle's table of contents as follows: the house

97 Eschmann, "Introduction,"xiv-xxi.

98 Indeed, there are textual signs in 1.7 and 1.9 that Thomas intended just that placement. Both chapters refer back to a conclusion about the office of a king - they refer back, that is, to matters broached in 1.12 and 2.1. See especially De regno 1.7 (1-4), then compare 1.9 (1-4).

99 Hugh of St Victor, Didascalicon 2.19.

100 Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum doctrinale 7.5 (col. 559).

hold as comprising elements of the city (Book 1), the teaching of Aristotle's predecessors about the city itself (2), the division of kinds of regimes (3), the characteristics of each kind (4-6), and the best regime (7-8).101

The results of the comparison are surprising. The pattern of Thomas's On Kingship is closest, not to Aristotle's Politics, but to Vincent's tripartite political knowledge. There are, of course, correspondences between the structures of the opening of Thomas's Book 2 and the middle of Aristotle's Book 7. It is even possible to suppose that Thomas would have carried on the correspondences further if he had kept writing. Still the pattern for the whole of On Kingship would not be an Aristotelian one. It is the pattern of a more traditional science of kingly rule. The chapters on the reward of the good king suggest that Thomas appropriated not only the order, but also the rhetorical purposes and limits of traditional mirrors for princes. So that his own teaching will be most effective rhetorically, Thomas seals it with a tale of rewards. The teaching, even if it were complete rhetorically, cannot be complete doctrinally. The prince must be taught both his own virtue and how to foster virtue in others. He must be taught a whole doctrine of morality. The rhetoric of a mirror is only hortatory because it cannot enact by its words the long and personal teaching of morals that is required for just rule. This might suggest yet another reason for Thomas's abandoning On Kingship in favor of more adequate structures for ethical teaching.

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  • kisanet
    What is kingship structure ?
    1 year ago

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