Dominium in Thirteenth and Fourteenth-Century Political Thought and its Seventeenth-Century Heirs: John of Paris and Locke

AuthorJanet Coleman
DOI10.1111/j.1467-9248.1985.tb01562.x
Publication Date01 Mar 1985
SubjectArticle
Political
Studies
(1985),
XXXIII,
73-100
Dominium
in Thirteenth and Fourteenth-
Century Political Thought and its
Seventeenth-Century Heirs: John
of
Paris
and Locke
JANET
COLEMAN*
University
of
Exeter
Dominium,
the notion
of
lordship, underwent important changes during the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. An examination of the
de potestate regia el
papali
genre, especially the tract by the Dominican John
of
Paris (1302). illustrates
not only a radical attitude to property rights, private ownership and the defence of
one’s own in theory, but reflects important evolutions in contemporary property law
and its consequences for secular sovereignty. John of Paris’s analysis
of
the origins of
property prior to government, based
on
natural law, is directly related to early
fourteenth-century justifications of the profit economy, reflecting the passage of
dominiurn
from being
a
relative, interdependent, feudal thing,
to
independent
property. Other theorists also justified the proliferation
of
active rights to property,
responding not only to theory but also to current economic and legal practices. Such
arguments were known and used by seventeenth-century writers, especially Locke,
whose library holdings and own tract
‘on
civil and ecclesiastical power’ as well as his
Second Treatise,
express a debt to the
de potestate regia et papali
genre of the late
scholastics.
The notion of lordship,
dominiurn,
in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
was discussed in
a
wide variety
of
texts that represented
a
spectrum
of
literary
genres. These texts attracted different audiences and readerships, defined in
part
by
the genre: some texts were distinctly literary in the modern sense, others
were legal, philosophical, theological.’
Dominium
is
a
theme that has had an
*
An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Oxford conference
on
Political Thought,
New College, January 1981 and then at the PSA conference, section: medieval political thought,
Hull, April 1981.
I
should like
to
thank Antony Black, James Burns, Alan Harding, Quentin
Skinner, Diana Perry, the Oxford University series of seminars
on
the History of Political Thought,
February 1982, the
Paris Colloque
held in honour
of
Professor Paul Vignaux, November 1981 and
the
Paris Colloque
at Crkteil, Paris
XII,
September 1982, directed by Jeannine Quillet,
for
comments on various aspects of this study. A shortened version was read at the
Congres Inter-
nationale pour I’etude de
la
Philosophie Medievale,
Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, August 1982.
I
See J. Coleman,
English
Literature in History,
1350-1400:
Medieval Readers and Writers
(London, Hutchinson, 1981) for a discussion of literacy and the audience for political verse and
prose, especially Chs
3,
4,
5.
A literate laity in the upper strata of society and the growth
of
vernacular cultures undermined the status of ‘clergy’, especially regarding property relations and
dominium.
0032-3217/85/01/0073-28/$03.00
0
1985
Politcal Studies
74
~ominium
in
13th
and
14th-Cenlury
Political
Thought
enormous significance for the history of political ideas, for the practice of and
transformation of legal theory, for the attitudes expressed by a varied public in
their daily transactions at a variety of levels with government and ecclesiastical
representatives. Furthermore, medieval
dominium
may be directly linked with
seventeenth-century discussions and
it
is particularly important for Locke’s
Second Treatise
of
Government. Dominium,
with its related notions of
proprietas, possessio
and
usus
is a complicated and shifting series of concepts
as
we shall see, and to affirm that the idea
of
dominium
has a history is not to say
it
necessarily has
a
fixed conceptual shape and is used in the same way by
subsequent generatiow2 Our set pieces are Latin tracts of the
depotestate regia
et papali
genre by John of Paris (Quiddort)-his
De Potestate Regia et Papali,
and the anonymous
Rex Paciji~us;~
to
a
lesser extent William of Ockham’s
Breviloquium
and the
Opus Nonaginta Dierum.
Each of these works was
written quickly, as
a
scholarly publicist argument in favour of one side, that of
the monarchy, in
a
battle that was
a
continuous part of the current political
scenario during the fourteenth century. We shall be brief about what we may
take to be methodological problems and possible solutions in studying
fourteenth-century political ideas in general, and thereby indicate ways in
which the ‘factual’ historian whom Skinner wants to enlist in the ‘theory’ cause
can be enticed into examining the lesser and greater political theory tracts to
gain further insight either into the actual political workings of the age in which
his author lived, or at least into the mentality that wrote theory, even when
practice was consciously distinct from the ‘ought’ implied in the theory text.4 It
will be suggested that a schism between historians of political ideas and
historians of ‘facts’ and events may be healed by following a
via media
between
the internalist and externalist approach to texts and what they were taken to
mean in their own time,
so
far as we can teL5 The method in this study is to
suggest that one’s approach
is
dependent first on recognizing the formal charac-
teristics of specific genres of political writing and thereafter to discover the roles
of certain genres in the period under consideration.
I
The attempt to organize fourteenth-century political theorizing by locating
literary genres is not an artificial organization of chaotic material although it
sounds as though it might be. Any student
of
the written text
in
the middle ages
is struck by the outstanding degree of imitation involved in putting
a
text
together: there were explicit
forma
for
writing kinds
of
tracts, ranging from
a
See Keith Tribe,
Land, Labour and
Economic
Discourse
(London, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1978), p.
22,
for
a
differing view on fixed terms
of
discourse having fixed ‘sound’ histories but no
‘meaning’ histories. See R. Schlatter,
Private Property
(London, Allen and Unwin, 1951) for the
general importance
of
the theme of
dominium
and possession, ownership and use.
Paul Saenger, ‘John
of
Paris, Principal Author
of
the
Quaestio de potestafe pupae (Rex
Pacificus)’, Speculum,
56 (1981), 41-55 has not to my mind proved this text to be by John of Paris
largely as a result
of
the
dominium/jurisdiciio
distinction in John
of
Paris’s
De Potestate regia et
papali
which is
not
distinct in the
Rex
Pacificus.
See below.
I
continue to refer to this text as
anonymous.
Quentin Skinner,
The Foundutions
of
Modern Political Thought,
Vol.
I
(Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 1978). Preface.
See my review
of
Skinner’s
The Foundations
of
Modern Political Thought
in
The Cambridge
Review,
1980-81, ‘Reasonings
of
State’.

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