Part two

The Late Medieval Attack on Analogical Thought:
Undoing Substantial Connection


[p. 44]

These forces, meeting no contrary resistance, are never destroyed or weakened.. . . It is not necessary to assume the existence of intelligences which move the celestial bodies. . . . Moreover it is not necessary that God move them continually, except through that general influence by which we say that he operates in all that is.11

Following Buridan's theory, Oresme notes in his own vernacular commentary on Aristotle's De Caelo that

excepting violent interference, it is similar to what happens when a man has made a watch and allows it to work and be moved by itself. In this way God allows the heavens to be moved continually according to the relation of motive force to resistance, and according to the established order.12

The image is startling, anticipating as it does the mechanistic world-view of later centuries; with it we have moved from analogy to simile. Oresme also anticipated Renaissance astronomers in arguing that the earth moves about the sun, rather than the reverse.13 In addition, he denied Aristotle's proposition that the universe is a being with an innate principle of movement, or soul. As corollary, he adds that the absolute universal left, right, up and down posited by Aristotle are only relational concepts existing "par similitude" (sec. 86D)--clearly, for Oresme, an unsatisfactory basis for scientific hypothesis.

Another consequence of analogical speculation was the scholastic concept of natural place which, as Chaucer's Eagle remarks,

ys knowen kouth
Of every philosophres mouth,
As Aristotle and daun Platon,
And other clerkys many oon.
(House of Fame, Il. 757-760)

Plato's theory of natural place derives from the analogy between this and the supraterrestrial order: physical processes imitate the prototypical movement of like to like by which the four elements--earth, air, fire, water--divided themselves into four main masses (Timaeus, 53 A-B). Vision (45 B-C), digestion (81D) and the weight of all natural objects (62C-63E) are also explained by "the travelling of each kind towards its kindred" (63E).

Aristotle's theory of weight does not, of course, rely on the existence of a world of archetypal Forms. It does retain some aspects of analogy in assuming, first, the existence of elemental spheres which surround the earth and, second, the analogical principle of like to like. To its proper sphere each

11The excerpt, from Buridan's Questiones on Aristotle's Physics, is translated from the French version given in Pierre Duhem, Etudes sur Leonardo de Vinci (Paris, 1906), vol. III, p. 52. See also Marshall Clagett, ed., The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (Madison, 1959), pp. 536. 561.

12Le Livre du Ciel et du Monde, ed. Albert D. Menut and Alexander J. Denomy (Toronto, 1943), 7lE.

13Oresme refused to commit himself to this position, though, concluding his demonstration with an assertion of faith in the doctrinal teaching that "Deus enim firmavit orbem terrae, qui non commovetur," ibid., 144B.

[p. 45]

thing will naturally, by virtue of its innate principle of motion, attempt to go: "For a single clod moves to the same place as the whole mass of earth, and a spark to the same place as the whole mass of fire" (De Caelo, 276A). Weight and lightness, then, were intrinsic qualities or, rather, intrinsic relations between physical objects and their primal mass. This notion was attacked by Buridan, among others, on the grounds of observation.14 He argued that if place is the cause of upward or downward motion, then the attractive force must be greater when the object is nearer its natural place; this, however, is contradicted by experience, for if two stones are dropped from different heights, the one that was higher has a greater velocity than the other when both are a foot from the ground. Moreover, one can lift a stone near the earth as easily as a stone in a tower, which disproves the theory that heaviness Increases with closeness to "natural place." Buridan's pupil Albert of Saxony (13 16-1390), rector of the University of Vienna and Bishop of Halberstadt, rejected the Aristotelian hypothesis for similar reasons.

Buridan's critique of analogical cosmology extended to the rhetorical consequences of that cosmology, and he objected strongly to Aristotle's use of anthropomorphic metaphor. In writing, for example, of celestial movement, Aristotle had used such terms as "fatigue" and "labor." Buridan writes:

It must be remarked briefly that these words fatigue, perturbation, labor and difficulty are only synonyms. It is necessary to see whether they are appropriately given, and why they are given. It seems to me that fatigue and labor are not appropriately attributed to purely passive virtues. ... Moreover it seems to me that these words cannot adequately describe inanimate things. It would be inaccurate to call a stone tired or perturbed because you had dragged it along for some time. And likewise if we say that the earth is disturbed when it is not as fertile as usual, this is Inaccurate; it is only a figurative locution, that is, it assumes a similarity to us, who do become perturbed when we cannot function as well as usual."

For the most advanced late-medieval scientists, then, analogy was no longer an accurate reflection of reality. It could no longer serve as the basis for logical argument, or as a stylistic feature of scientific discourse.

III. Analogy and Political Theory.

Like all myth, the analogical world-view is profoundly a social phenomenon. Its social application--or, more accurately, its social genesis--makes the myth of another world useful to societies as different as the pre-literate tribes described by Mircea Eliade, imperialist Athens of the fifth century B.C., and urbanized late-medieval Europe. It is a perennially useful myth, for its primary function is social cohesion.

In a classless society such as the tribe, myth is political theory, for "political" life is not separated from the general life of the group: every activity is

14Buridan's arguments are stated in his Questions. . . on the Heavens and the World, book II, 9. 12. The relevant excerpt appears in Clagett, pp. 557-62.

15From Johannis Buridani Quaestiones super libris quattuor de Caelo et Mundo, ed. Ernest A. Moody (Cambridge, Mass., 1942), lib. II, q. 1.

[p. 46]

"political" in conducing to the survival and well-being of the tribe. To plant, cultivate and harvest, to hunt, to raise children, make tools and wage war are necessary to the tribe as a whole (even though these activities are performed by one or another segment of the tribe). But these activities are not, after all, instinctive, as they are with animals; were individuals left to their instincts the social group could disintegrate. Even in a classless and so-called "primitive" society, then, some form of social control is required. It appears as a body of myth which provides the rationale for all socially necessary activities, so that such activities become rituals modelled on a divine archetype.

In a class-structured society, myth also serves as a means of social control. But since the interests of a ruling class nearly always oppose those of the ruled, myth can no longer represent the needs of society as a whole. It can represent only the needs of a particular class.

An especially versatile myth, hence an especially durable one, is that of the "body politic": the image of society as an organic creature with a precise and necessary formal structure. The treatment of this analogy in late-medieval political theory constitutes an important aspect of the general critique of analogical thought.

The versatility of the organic analogy is demonstrated in its use by Plato to prove the necessary dominance of an aristocracy, by Aristotle to support the claims of the upper middle class, and by St. Paul to impose unity upon the scattered communities of the early Christian Church.16 The image, along with several other analogies, came into its own again with the revival of political theory that attended the papal controversies of the late-eleventh through thirteenth centuries. It made effective propaganda for the proponents of papal power in their struggle against the Holy Roman Emperor and other kings.17 By far the most detailed statement of the organic analogy is found in the Policraticus (1155) of John of Salisbury. Supporting the superiority of ecclesiastical power (sacerdotium) over state power (regnum), John compares each member of the body politic to a physical counterpart. The prince is head, the senate heart, judges and provincial governors eyes, ears and tongue, financial officers digestive organs, soldiers hands, and peasants feet "which always cleave to the soil." As for the Church:

Those things which establish and implant in us the practise of religion, and transmit to us the worship of God ... fill the place of the soul in the body of the commonwealth. And therefore those who preside over the practise of religion should be looked up to and venerated as the soul of the body.18

16Plato, Republic, 427C-445B; Aristotle, Politics, 1, 5 and elsewhere; Roman, 12:5, I Cor. 12:12 and elsewhere. In all three cases the function of the image remains constant--to promote a particular social order--although its content changes. See also J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, "The Via Regia of the Carolingian Age," in Trends in Medieval Political Thought, ed. Beryl Smalley (Oxford, 1965).

17A discussion of the theoretical basis of papalist analogies, and an exhaustive list of references, are found in the text and notes of Otto Gierke, Political Theories of the Middle Ages, trans. F. W. Maitland (Cambridge, 1900, 1958).

18The Statesman's Book of John of Salisbury . . ., trans. John Dickinson (New York, 1927, 1963), book V, chapter 2.

[p. 47]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) makes constant use of organic analogy whether discussing the structure of the Church itself, or its relation to the state: "In the Church the Pope holds the place of the head and the major prelates hold the place of the principal limbs"; "Mankind is considered like one body, which is called the mystic body, whose head is Christ both as to soul and as to body." In relation to the state, however, the Pope becomes not head but soul, so that

Secular power is subject to the spiritual power as the body is subject to the soul, and therefore it is not a usurpation of authority if the spiritual prelate interferes in temporal things. . . .19

Elsewhere Aquinas constructs multiple analogies between macrocosm and microcosm, between cosmic, social, physical and psychological orders: as God is to the universe, so the ruler is to society, the soul is to the body, and reason is to the soul.20

Indeed, analogy was the conceptual stock-in-trade of the supporters of papal power, and their repertoire, though limited, was varied. Besides the organic analogy, they used the allegory of the sun and moon, according to which papal and royal power correspond to the greater and lesser luminaries, the former conferring power upon the latter. There were the Biblical examples of Samuel and Saul. Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, all of them hierarchal pairs demonstrating the superiority of priestly to royal power. The allegory of the two swords, a particular favorite, was taken from Luke 22:38, where Jesus declares the two swords to be "enough, not too much," in the hands of his disciples. In 1302 it appeared in the famous bull "Unam Sanctam" of Boniface VIII, which proclaimed the necessity to salvation for every creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff. The bull is a high point, as it were, in the history of papal ambition, and is virtually a compendium in brief of analogical arguments for papal power. Expounding the two swords, it concludes:

Both swords, spiritual and material, therefore, are in the power of the Church; the one, indeed, to be wielded for the church, the other by the church: the one by the hand of the priest, the other by the hand of kings and knights, hut at the will and sufferance of the priest. One sword, moreover, ought to be under the other, and the temporal authority to be subjected to the spiritual.21

The medieval conflict between church and state was one between two ruling classes; a conflict, as Ernest Barker called it, between "two governments of a single society."22 Each aristocracy, the lay and the ecclesiastical, had its

19The three quotations are from Aquinas' commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Roman, (12:2) and the Summa Theologica (Ill, 8, 1 and II, 60, 6). All are cited in The Political ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. Dino Bigongiari (New York, 1953, 1965), pp. xxxiv-xxxv.

20"De Regimine Principium, i, i and i, ii, trans. J.G. Dawson, in Aquinas: Selected Political Writings, ed. A. P. D'Entrèves (Oxford, 1959).

21"The Bull Unam Sanctam,' " in Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages, trans. and ed. Ernest J. Henderson (London, 1910), pp. 435-37.

22Ernest Barker, in Social and Political Ideas of the Middle Ages, ed. F. J. C. Hearnshaw (London, 1923, 1967), p. 15.

[p. 48]

king, owned land, levied taxes, raised armies and waged war, made and executed laws and held trials in its own courts of law. We should not expect, therefore, to find among the opponents of papal power a thorough rejection of the epistemological bases of analogical thought, for the propagandists of royal authority could scarcely afford to dispense with every abstract justification of power. Their aim was not to destroy the metaphysical basis of authority, but simply to transfer it from pope to king. Moreover, the imperialists were not as homogeneous a group as their opponents: their positions ranged from the simple limitation of papal power, or the exclusion of ecclesiastics from temporal power, to the complete subjection of church to state. Rather than systematic destruction of the basic principles, then, what we find is an eclectic process of rejection and readjustment. Many of the papalists' key arguments are demolished on logical grounds; some are set aside as inconsistent with experience or observation; still others are only re-interpreted. For their own arguments, the secular theorists usually avoided analogy as a logical premise, though they might refer to it for purposes of illustrative comparison. Analogy would survive, of course, in political theory, and the myth of the body politic would maintain some relevance to the problem of social control: the tradition continues in the work of the fifteenth-century jurist Sir John Fortescue, in Tudor homilies, in Hobbes's Leviathan, and even in some political writing of our own time.23 But analogy would survive in a very diminished way, unable in the long run to withstand the impact of bourgeois pragmatism whose first efforts can be discerned in the work of the political theorists cited below.

Master of Theology at the University of Paris and a prominent controversialist on behalf of Philippe le Bel, Jean Quidort (also known as Jean de Paris, 1241-1306) presents a very thorough case against papalist analogical theories. The bulk of his tract De Potestate Regia et Papali24 demonstrates the different and mutually exclusive natures of regnum and sacerdotium. This amounts to a long series of very careful distinctions between the two with respect to origin, purpose and actual function. The concept of unity, on which the papalists depended so heavily, is thus attacked, as it would be again and again during this period by the partisans of royal power. Toward the end of his work, Jean adduces and refutes forty-two specific papalist positions, including the old allegorical favorites drawn from Scripture. Among them is the allegory of sun and moon, and Jean begins by stating his own principles of allegorical exegesis of Scripture:

The [papal] position is mystical ("mystica"). But mystical theology, according to Dionysius, cannot be argued unless it can be proved from another part of Scripture, because mystical theology is no valid argument.
(Cap. XIV)

23"History, after all, is the memory of a nation. Just as memory enables the individual to learn, ... so history is the means by which a nation establishes its sense of identity and purpose." John Kennedy, "On History," foreword to The American Heritage... History of the United States (New York, 1963).

24Edited by Jean Leclerq, Jean de Paris et l'Ecclésiologie du XIIIe Siecle (Paris, 1942).

[p. 49]

Jean then proceeds to demonstrate the arbitrariness of allegorical exegesis by mentioning several other interpretations, from the patristic tradition, of the same parable. He points out further that the moon has its powers ultimately from God, and concludes that what the prince receives from the Pope is information about faith, while his power he receives immediately from God. Jean refutes with Aristotle's help the papalist analogical position that corporalia are ruled by spiritualia. If, as Aristotle claims, the function of the state is to help its members live a virtuous and happy life, then the state has a moral and spiritual function as well as a physical one; it cannot be relegated to mere corporalia (Cap. XVII). The analogy of head and body is adjusted but not rejected out of hand: Christ is true head of the mystical body of the Church, the Roman church is head of all other instituted churches, and the king is head of his kingdom. As for the two swords, Jean repeats his strictures on allegorical exegesis. The papal argument is merely an allegorical interpretation ("quaedam adaptatio allegorica"), and even Augustine does not accept allegory ("allegoria") without some other manifest authority (Cap. XVIII).

Dante Alighieri argues in his short treatise De Monarchia25 (c. 1310) for a single universal and temporal government--a world-empire. It is not for Dante to reject analogical argument out of hand; his thesis that mankind should be ruled by a single authority resorts to analogy with the household and the cosmos (I, 5 and 9). Nonetheless, Dante does not hesitate systematic;tllv to refute the analogical arguments with which the papacy had supported its claims to temporal power. This is done in Book III of the treatise, which examines the question whether the temporal ruler holds power directly from God, or indirectly through the Pope's mediation.

The analogy of sun and moon is rejected on both logical and theological grounds, for it contaitis both logical fallacies and mistaken appeals to "mystic interpretation." First, if the two luminaries represent types of government, God could not have created government--an accidental property of human existence and the remedy to sin--before he had created human life itself. Further, "this falsehood can also be destroyed by using the gentler method of exposing a material fallacy, and instead of calling the opponent an out-and-out liar, we can make a distinction which he overlooked." That distinction is between the being of the moon, and its power, and its functioning; for the moon in its being in no way depends on the sun. The final and most trenchant criticism is this:

Lastly, there is a formal fallacy in their argument, for the predicate of the conclusion is not identical with that of the major premise, as it should be. . . . In the major premise it is light that the moon receives, and in the conclusion it is authority, which are two quite different things, both as to their substance and their meaning, as I have explained.

(III, 4)

It is, of course, precisely the purpose of allegory to bring together "two quite different things," and we may note that for his own great work, Dante

25All quotations are from On World-Government, trans. Herbert W. Schneider (New York. 2nd ed. rev. 1957).

[p. 50]

found a poetic mode which operates quite differently from ordinary allegory.26

Dante proceeds to treat, in similar terms, several other analogies, most of them drawn from the Bible: Levi and Judah, Samuel and Saul, the gold and incense offered to Christ, the power of binding and loosing. "I could simply," notes Dante, "deny their symbolism, and with equal reason" (III, 5). He does not, however, confine himself to simple denial but rejects these allegories on various grounds, pointing out formal fallacies and theological errors. The theory of two swords is treated as a mistaken reading which can only be corrected by close analysis of the literary context, which Dante provides at some length (III, 9); as with Jean, the principle of allegorical exegesis of Scripture is given rational limits but its validity is not finally denied.

Although De Monarchia was ordered burnt in 1329 and was placed on the Index in 1554, Dante's dream of a world-empire was still-born, a historical anomaly in its own time and destined to be without significant influence. Quite different was the role of the Defensor Pacis (1324) of Marsilius of Padua (Marsiglio dei Mainardini), the impact of which "reverberated during the following centuries both from hearsay descriptions of its conclusions and from actual reading of it."27 It seems at first that Marsilius can turn analogy to his own purpose when, imitating Aristotle, he compares the state to a living creature, (1, ii, 3 and I, xvii, 8). Yet such comparisons evidently make Marsilius uncomfortable, opportunistic as they are: "But let us omit these points," he remarks, "since they pertain rather to natural science" (I, xvii, 8).28 And shortly we find him refuting the very analogy of body politic which he has just used: for while the king may be compared to the human heart with respect to importance, he differs from it in other obvious ways which invalidate the analogy as a logical premise (I, xviii, 2-3).

Like Dante, Marsilius employs several kinds of argument against the traditional papalist analogies. He refutes, with remarkable amplitude, analogies (what he calls "quasi-political arguments") drawn from Scripture and from philosophy. With regard to the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, Marsilius clearly sets out his own critical assumptions and states the limits of the method:

Those authorities of the sacred Canon or Scripture which do not need a mystical exposition, we shall follow entirely in their manifest literal sense; but with regard to those which do need mystical exposition, we

26That mode is figural representation. Its development and its use in The Divine Comedy are studied by Erich Auerbach in "Figura," pp. 11-76, Scenes from the Drama of European Literature (New York. 1959). Figura is of course allegorical in the very widest sense, but Auerbach distinguishes it from allegory "by the historicity both of the sign and what it signifies." The characters in the Comedy are not personified abstractions, they do not simply represent "an attribute, virtue, capacity, power or historical institution"; they are actual historical figures who have "become the truth"--figures whose historical reality is itself representative.

27Alan Gewirth in his "Introduction" to Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of Peace (New York, 1956, 1967), vol. II, p. xix. A more detailed discussion of Marsilius' influence is found in vol. 1, chapter VIII. All quotations are from Gewirth's translation.

28Gewirth draws a very sharp distinction between the papalist organic analogy, and Marsilius' use of biological simile: vol. I, pp. 51-52, 89-90, 96-97.

[p. 51]

shall adhere to the more probable views of the saints. Those views which the saints have uttered by their own authority, apart from Scripture, and which are in harmony with the Scripture or canon, I shall accept; those which are not in harmony I shall respectfully reject, but only by the authority of Scripture, on which I shall always rely.

(II, xxviii, 1)

End of part two

Click here for part three

Click here for part one

Source: Chaos and Form: History and Literature; Ideas and Relationships; Essays selected and edited with an introd. by Kenneth McRobbie (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972); pp. 37-58.

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