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Opus insigne sui titulum fecit autor Defensorum Pacis,

quod questionem illamiam olim controversam, De potestate Papae et Imperatoris excussissime tractet, profuturu[m] Theologis, Iuresconsultis, in summa optimaru[m] literarum cultoribus omnibus. Scriptum quidem ante annos Ducentos, as Ludovicum Caesarem ex illustrissima Bauariae ducum familia progenitum, at nunc in lucem primum aeditum, per quam castigate & diligenter. Quid uero contineat, index ostendit qui praefationem sequitur.

Basel: [Valentinus Curio,] 1522 Stock Code: 141815
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A major work of political theory

First edition of the Defensor pacis, a major work of political theory, establishing the supremacy of the state over the Church, and thereby laying the foundations of modern popular sovereignty.

Marsilius of Padua became rector of the University of Paris in 1313, where he met one of the leading Averroists of the day, John of Jandun, with whom he collaborated on the present work. First appearing in manuscript in 1324, the Defensor pacis was immediately condemned by the papacy, with Marsilius and John of Jandun denounced as "sons of perdition and fruits of malediction" in a papal bull of 1327. The pair were forced to flee from Paris to Nuremberg, where they took refuge with Ludwig of Bavaria, whose woodcut portrait is featured on the title-page.

"Possessed by an ardent enthusiasm for the autonomous State, the idea of which he supported by frequent references to Aristotle, Marsilius set out to show that the papal claims and the ecclesiastical jurisdiction laid down in the Canon Law involve a perversion of the true idea of the State and that they have no foundation in the Scriptures. His examination of the natures of Church and State and of their mutual relations leads him to a theoretical reversal of the hierarchy of Powers: the State is completely autonomous and supreme" (Copleston, p. 171). In so doing, "The way was opened for a purely secular society under the control of a popularly elected government" (Edwards, p. 167). The work proposed the seizure of church property, the elimination of tithes, and the removal of the clergy from all civil matters. It moreover projected a vision of the government not as divinely ordained but instead as a secular defender of public peace, the rulers to be appointed by the leading citizens and accountable to them.

Although widely condemned, Copleston asserts that "it does not appear that the work was really studied by Marsilius' contemporaries, even by those who wrote against it... In 1378 Gregory XI renewed the condemnations of 1327; but the fact that the majority of the copies of the manuscripts were made at the beginning of the fifteenth century seems to confirm the supposition that the Defensor pacis was not widely circulated in the fourteenth century. Those who wrote against the work in the fourteenth century tended to see in it little more than an attack on the independence of the Holy See and the immunity of the clergy: they did not realize its historical importance" (Copleston). However in the 15th century the Great Schism gave an impetus to the diffusion of Marsilius' theories, and in the 16th century with the Reformation and new editions in print the treatise exerted considerable influence. In 1535, Thomas Cromwell paid William Marshall to translate the work into English, in order to give intellectual support to the implementation of Royal Supremacy.

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Folio (312 x 207 mm). Recently rebound to style using old sheep, smooth spine separated into compartments with gilt rules and floral rolls, compartments with gilt foliate and floral ornaments, covers panelled in gilt and blind with floral rolls enclosing central diamond centrepiece, panel spaces with blind foliate and floral ornaments, plain endpapers using early laid paper, red edges.


Title page within ornamental woodcut border depicting the German emperor Louis IV viewing the city of Rome; dedication page with architectural woodcut border with putti and woodcut initial by Lutzelburger after Holbein; woodcut initials and head- and tail


Early notation to title page and annotations to contents in the same hand, including pagination. Minor paper repairs at head of title, worming towards ends with paper repair to final few leaves affecting a few letters only, some light browning to contents. A very good copy.


Adams M675; Graesse IV, 418. Copleston, Late Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, 2003; Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. V, 1967, p. 167.


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