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CHAPTER XVI: The authority of the Empire derives from God directly.

1. Although by the method of reduction to absurdity it has been shown in the foregoing chapter that the authority of Empire has not its source in the Chief Pontiff, yet it has not been fully proved, save by an inference, that its immediate source is God, seeing that if the authority does not depend on the Vicar of God, we conclude that it depends on God Himself. For a perfect demonstration of the proposition we must prove directly that the Emperor, or Monarch, of the world has immediate relationship to the Prince of the universe, who is God. [1]

2. In order to realize this, it must be understood that man alone of all beings holds the middle place between corruptibility and incorruptibility, and is therefore rightly compared by philosophers to the horizon which lies between the two hemispheres. [2] Man may be considered with regard to either of his essential parts, body or soul. [3] If considered in regard to the body alone, he is perishable; if in regard to the soul alone, he is imperishable. So the Philosopher spoke well of its incorruptibility when he said in the second book on the Soul, "And this only can be separated as a thing eternal from that which perishes." [4]

3. If man holds a middle place between the perishable and imperishable, then, inasmuch as every mean shares the nature of the extremes, man must share both natures. [5] And inasmuch as every nature is ordained for a certain ultimate end, it follows that there exists for man a twofold end, in order that as he alone of all beings partakes of the perishable and the imperishable, so he alone of all beings should be ordained for two ultimate ends. One end is for that in him which is perishable, the other for that which is imperishable.

4. Ineffable Providence has thus designed two ends to be contemplated of man: first, the happiness of this life, which consists in the activity of his natural powers, [6] and is prefigured by the terrestrial Paradise; [7] and then the blessedness of life everlasting, which consists in the enjoyment of the countenance of God, to which man's natural powers may not attain unless aided by divine light, and which may be symbolized by the celestial Paradise. [8]

5. To these states of blessedness, just as to diverse conclusions, man must come by diverse means. To the former we come by the teachings of philosophy, obeying them by acting in conformity with the moral and intellectual virtues; [9] to the latter through spiritual teachings which transcend human reason, and which we obey by acting in conformity with the theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity. [10] Now the former end and means are made known to us by human reason, which the philosophers have wholly explained to us; and the latter by the Holy Spirit, which has revealed to us supernatural but essential truth through the Prophets and Sacred Writers, through Jesus Christ, the coeternal Son of God, and through His disciples. [11] Nevertheless, human passion would cast all these behind, were not men, like horses astray in their brutishness, held to the road by bit and rein. [12]

6. Wherefore a twofold directive agent was necessary to man, in accordance with the twofold end; the Supreme Pontiff to lead the human race to life eternal by means of revelation, [13] and the Emperor to guide it to temporal felicity by means of philosophic instruction. [14] And since none or few -- and these with exceeding difficulty -- could attain this port, were not the waves of seductive desire calmed, and mankind made free to rest in the tranquillity of peace, therefore this is the goal which he whom we call the guardian of the earth and Roman Prince should most urgently seek; then would it be possible for life on this mortal threshing-floor [15] to pass in freedom and peace. The order of the world follows the order inherent in the revolution of the heavens. To attain this order it is necessary that instruction productive of liberality and peace should be applied by the guardian of the realm, in due place and time, as dispensed by Him who is the ever present Watcher of the whole order of the heavens. And He alone foreordained this order, that by it in His providence He might link together all things, each in its own place. [16]

7. If this is so, and there is none higher than He, only God elects and only God confirms. Whence we may further conclude that neither those who are now, nor those who in any way whatsoever have been, called Electors [17] have the right to be so called; rather should they be entitled heralds of divine providence. Whence it is that those in whom is vested the dignity of proclamation suffer dissension among themselves at times, when, all or part of them being shadowed by the clouds of passion, they discern not the face of God's dispensation.

8. It is established, then, that the authority of temporal Monarchy descends without mediation from the fountain of universal authority. And this fountain, one in its purity of source, flows into multifarious channels out of the abundance of its excellence.

9. Methinks I have now approached close enough to the goal I had set myself, for I have taken the kernels of truth from the husks of falsehood, in that question which asked whether the office of Monarchy was essential to the welfare of the world, and in the next which made inquiry whether the Roman people rightfully appropriated the Empire, and in the last which sought whether the authority of the Monarch derived from God immediately, or from some other. But the truth of this final question must not be restricted to mean that the Roman Prince shall not be subject in some degree to the Roman Pontiff, for felicity that is mortal is ordered in a measure after felicity that is immortal. Wherefore let Caesar honor Peter as a first-born son should honor his father, so that, refulgent with the light of paternal grace, he may illumine with greater radiance the earthly sphere over which he has been set by Him who alone is Ruler of all things spiritual and temporal. [18]



1. De Mon. 1.7. 1. Purg. 32. 100: "Here thou shalt be a little time a woodman, and with me shalt thou be without end, a citizen of that Rome whereof Christ is a Roman."

2. De Causis, Lect. 2: "Generated intelligence comprehends both nature and the horizon of nature, that is to say the soul, for it is above nature."

3. The nature and origin of the human soul is discussed Conv. 4. 21. In Purg. 25 Statius discourses on generation and the soul, and its attributes find due place there. Other references are: --

Conv. 4. 21. 2: "We must know that man is composed of soul and body; but of the soul is that nobility ... which is as the seed of the Divine virtue."

Par. 7. 139: "The soul of every brute and of the plants, being endued by complexion with potency, draws in the ray and the movement of the holy lights. But your life the highest Goodness inspires."

So Thomas Aquinas, S.T. 1. 76. 4. 4: "The soul is the substantial form of man;" so also l.c. 1-2. 94. 3: "The proper form of man is his rational soul."

4. De Anima 2. 2. 21.

5. De Part. Anim. 3. 1.

6. Conv. 3. 15. 5: "Felicity ... is action according to virtue, in the perfect life." So Aristotle says in Eth. 1. 13. 1: "Happiness is a certain energy of the soul according to perfect goodness." Dante uses this definition again Conv. 4. 17. 14.

7. Purg. 28-33 describes the terrestrial Paradise and its place in the order of the universe.

8. The whole of the Paradiso develops the gradual revelation of God's self to man. For Dante's valuation of the active and speculative life, see De Mon. 1. 3. 3, and note 14; 1. 4, and note 1. See Conv. 2. 5, many parts of Conv. 3, and Conv. 4. 21, 22, 23.

Conv. 4. 22. 5: "The use of the mind is double, that is, practical and speculative. ... Its practical use is to act through us virtuously, that is, righteously, by temperance, fortitude, and justice; the speculative is not to operate actively in us, but to consider the works of God and nature; and the one and the other use make up our beatitude."

Conv. 4. 22. 9: "In our contemplation God is always in advance of us; nor can we ever attain to Him here, who is our supreme beatitude."

Conv. 4. 22. 10: "Our beatitude ... we may first find imperfectly in the active life, that is, in the exercise of the moral virtues, and then almost perfectly in the contemplative life, that is, in the exercise of the intellectual virtues."

S.T. 1. 2. 3. 8: "The last and perfect happiness of man cannot be other than in the vision of the Divine Essence."

9. Conv. 4. 17 treats of the twelve moral virtues, which include the cardinal, -- fortitude, temperance, liberality, munificence, magnanimity, love of honor, meekness, affability, truth, discretion, justice, and prudence.

Canz. 3. 5: "All virtues take their rise from one sole root -- that primal virtue, which makes mankind blest in acting it -- which is the elective habit."

The cardinal virtues were the active virtues, as the theological were the contemplative. So Purg. 31. 107: "Before that Beatrice descended to the world were we ordained to her for handmaids." And in Purg. 29. 130 the cardinal virtues are on the left of the symbolic car.

10. The theological virtues are called in Purg. 7. 34, "the three holy virtues." Purg. 31. 111: "The three beyond who look more deeply." They are on the right of the car in Purg. 29. 121: "Three ladies, whirling on the right wheel's side, came dancing, the one so red that hardly would she have been marked with fire; the second was as if her flesh and bones had been made out of emerald; the third appeared snow but lately driven."

Thomas Aquinas discusses the cardinal virtues S.T. 1-2. 61; the theological virtues S.T. 1- 2. 62.

Conv. 3. 14. 5: "We believe that every miracle may be reasonable to a higher intellect, and therefore possible. Whence our precious faith has its origin, from which comes the hope of things desired, but not seen; and from this are born the works of charity. By which three virtues we ascend to philosophize in that celestial Athens, where Stoics, and Peripatetics, and Epicureans, by the art of Eternal Truth, harmoniously concur in one desire."

11. De Mon. 2. 8, and note 1; De Mon. 3. 16. 6.

12. This figure, which compares man to a horse needing bit and spur to keep him in his road and under control of his rider, is almost as much a favorite with Dante as that of the wax and seal. He must have found it originally in Ps. 32. 9: "Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee." The most important uses of this metaphor are as follows: --

Conv. 4. 9. 3: "The Emperor ... is the rider of human will, and it is very evident how wildly this horse goes over the field without a rider."

Conv. 4. 26. 4: "This appetite ...should obey the reason, which guides it with curb and spur."

Purg. 6. 88: "What boots it that Justinian should have put thy bit in order again, if the saddle is empty?"

Purg. 13. 40: "This circle scourges the sin of envy, and therefore are the lashes of the scourge wielded by love. The rein will have to be of the contrary sound."

Purg. 14. 143: "That was the hard bit which ought to hold the man within his bound."

Purg. 16. 94: "It behoved to lay down laws for a bit; it behoved to have a king who should discern of the true city at least the tower."

Purg. 20. 55: "I found so fast within my hands the rein of government of the kingdom, and such power of new acquirement, and so full of friends, that to the widowed crown was the head of my son promoted." The words are Hugh Capet's. L.c. 22. 19; 25. 119: "Through this place needs one to keep the rein tight on the eyes, because for a little cause one might go astray." L.c. 28. 71: "The Hellespont, ... a bridle still to pride of men."

Purg. 33. 141: "The bridle of my art lets me go no further."

Par. 7. 26: "For not enduring to the faculty that wills any curb, for its own advantage, that man who was never born, in damning himself damned all his progeny."

13. Par. 5. 76 : "Ye have the old and new Testament, and the Pastor of the Church who guides you; let this suffice you to your salvation." See De Mon. 3. 16. 5, and note 9.

14. From the philosophic nature of the Convito and the Comedy it is impossible to indicate here even the most important sections devoted to philosophy, classical or mediaeval. Conv. 3. 11. 2 defines philosophy as "No other than a friendship for knowledge; wherefore anyone might be called a philosopher, according to that natural love which inspires all men with a desire for knowledge. " L.c. 3. 11. 3: "Philosophy has for subject the understanding, and for form an almost divine love for the intelligible." L.c. 3. 12. 4: "Philosophy is a loving use of Wisdom; which exists above all in God, because in Him is supreme Wisdom, and supreme Love, and supreme Power, which cannot exist elsewhere, except as it proceeds from Him."

In Conv. 4. 6. 9 relations are established between philosophic and imperial authority. "When joined together they are most useful and most full of power. ... Unite the philosophical and the imperial authority to rule well and perfectly."

Philosophy is, Purg. 6. 45, "A light betwixt the truth and understanding."

Purg. 18. 46: "All that reason has seen I can tell thee."

15. "In ainola ista mortalium." The same word is used in the Italian form, "aiuola," in Par. 22. 151 and 27. 86.

16. De Consol. Phil. 3. 9: "All things Thou dost produce after the Divine Exemplar, Thou the most beautiful, carrying in thy mind the beautiful world."

This idea of God's foresight and the foreordination of all things in the universe is found repeatedly in all Dante's writings. See quotations in notes to De Mon. 1. 6.

Inf. 7. 72,: "He, whose knowledge transcends all, made the heavens, and gave them their guide."

Par. 18. 118: "The Mind wherein thy motion and thy virtue have their origin."

17. "In the Holy Roman Empire the college of lay and ecclesiastical princes in whom the right of choosing the King of the Romans was vested. With the extinction of the Carolingian line, after the breaking up of the Empire of Charles the Great, the kingship in Germany became elective, the right of election residing in certain of the great feudatories, though just in whom or on what grounds is not clear from the early mediaeval accounts. An electoral body is vaguely mentioned in chronicles of 1152, 1198, and 1230, but there is no clear indication as to who composed the body.... The electoral college was first clearly defined in 1356 in the Golden Bull, a constitution for the Holy Roman Empire, issued by Emperor Charles IV. This document prescribed the exact form and manner of election of the 'King of the Romans and future Emperor.' Seven electors are there named, each holding some hereditary office in the Imperial court. (1) Archbishop of Mainz, as Archchancellor of the Holy Roman Empire for Germany; (2) Archbishop of Cologne, as Arch-chancellor  for Italy; (3) Archbishop of Treves, as Arch-chancellor for the Gallic Provinces and Arles; (4) King of Bohemia, Arch-Cupbearer; (5) Count Palatine of the Rhine, Arch-Steward; (6) Duke of Saxony, Arch-Marshal; (7)  Margrave of Brandenburg, Arch-Chamberlain. It seems that the electors had no legal powers beyond that of election, and though the German princes held that an election by the German electors held for the Holy Roman Empire, the popes contended that they alone as Vicars of God could bestow the Imperial dignity." -- New International Encyc. See also Bryce, Holy Roman Empire, c. 14; Hallam, Middle Ages, chap. 8, part 2; Turner, Germanic Constitution (New York, 1888); the Golden Bull is translated in Henderson, Select  Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London, 1892).

18. This harmonious rule of two powers by the acknowledgment of filial relationship between Pope and Emperor, by recognition of the differing character of their functions, is prayed for by Dante in many parts of the Convito and Comedy, and is stated most briefly and forcibly in Purg. 16. 107: "Rome, that made the good world, was wont to have two suns, that showed the one and the other road, both of the world and of God."

The close of the Letter to the Princes and Peoples of Italy is strangely like the close of the De Monarchia.  Proclaiming Henry VII as the rightful Emperor, Dante writes: "This is he whom Peter, the Vicar of God, admonishes us to honor; whom Clement, now the successor of Peter, illuminates with the light of the apostolic benediction, in order that where the spiritual ray does not suffice, the splendor of the lesser light may illumine.'"

by Dante Aligieri

For all and for each of the kings of Italy, for the senators of the fair city, and also for the dukes, marquises and counts, and for the peoples, the humble Italian Dante Alighieri, a Florentine, and undeservedly in exile, prays for peace.

1. Behold, now is the acceptable time, in which the signs of consolation and peace arise. For a new day grows bright, revealing a dawn that already lessens the gloom of long calamity. Already the eastern breezes grow stronger; the lips of heaven grow ruddy and strengthen the auguries of the people with caressing tranquillity. And even we, who for so long have passed our nights in the desert, shall behold the gladness for which we have longed, for Titan shall arise pacific, and justice, which had languished without sunshine at the end of the winter’s solstice, shall grow green once more, when first he darts forth his splendor. All who hunger and thirst will be satisfied in the light of his rays, and they who delight in iniquity shall be put to confusion at the sight of his radiance. For the strong Lion of the Tribe of Judah has hearkened with compassionate ears, and pitying the lament of universal captivity, has raised up another Moses, who will liberate his people from the oppression of the Egyptians, and will lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey.

2. Henceforth let thy heart be joyful, O Italy! who deserveth to be pitied even by the Saracens, but who straightway shalt be looked on with envy throughout the world, because thy bridegroom, the solace of the earth and the glory of thy people, the most clement Henry, Divine, Augustus and Caesar, hastens to thy nuptials. Dry thy tears and blot out the traces of sorrow, O most beauteous, for he is at hand who will free thee from the bonds of the impious; who, smiting the wicked, will destroy them at the edge of the sword, and will hire his vineyard to other husbandmen, who, at the time of harvest, will yield the fruit of justice.

3. But will he not be merciful to any? Yea; as he is Caesar, and his majesty flows from the font of pity, he will spare all imploring mercy. His judgments abominate all severity, and always in punishing set a bound on this side of moderation, and in rewarding on the other side. Will he, therefore, applaud the desperate deeds of evil men, and drink to the undertakings of the presumptuous? Nay; because he is Augustus. And if Augustus, will he not avenge the wickedness of backsliders, and pursue them even into Thessaly, — the Thessaly, I say, of the last destruction.

4. Lay aside, O Lombard race, thy accumulated barbarity; and if any vestige of the seed of the Trojans and Latins still exists, give it place, lest when the sublime eagle, descending like a thunderbolt, falls from on high, he may see his eaglets cast out, and the nest of his own young occupied by ravens. Up, O race of Scandinavia! See that thou mayest desire, as eagerly as in thee lies, the presence of him whose coming thou justly dreadest. Let not cupidity, deceiving thee after the manner of the Sirens, seduce thee, deadening the vigilance of reason by I know not what sweetness. “Come before his presence with a confession of submission, and rejoice on the psaltery with a song of repentance,” considering that he who resists authority, resists the ordinance of God, and he who withstands the divine ordinance, opposes a will co-equal with omnipotence; and it is hard to kick against the pricks.

5. Ye likewise, who mourn oppressed, lift up your hearts, for your salvation is at hand. Take up the harrow of a good humility, and level the clods of parched animosity, lest perchance the heavenly rain, coming before the sowing of your seed, fall from on high in vain; or lest the grace of God shrink from you as the dew does daily from the stone. But do ye conceive like a fertile valley and put forth green — the green, I say, fruitful of true peace; and, in very truth, in this verdure, making spring in your land, will the new husbandman of the Romans yoke the oxen of his counsel more kindly and confidently to his plough. Pardon, pardon, now and henceforth, O best beloved! who have suffered injustice along with me, that the Hectorian shepherd may recognize you as the sheep of his fold: who, although he holds the rod of temporal correction in his hand by divine concession, nevertheless, that he may be redolent of the goodness of Him from whom as from one point the power of Peter and of Caesar divides, gladly corrects his family, but more willingly, in very truth, has compassion on it.

6. Therefore, if the old transgression, which many a time like the serpent is coiled and turned on itself, is not hindrance, henceforth can ye all perceive that peace is prepared for one and all, and already can ye taste the first fruits of the hoped-for gladness. Then be ye all vigilant, and rise up to meet your king, O inhabitants of Italy! reserving yourselves not only for his empire but, as free people, for his guidance.

7. I exhort you not only to rise up to meet him, but also to do reverence to presence. Ye who drink of his streams and navigate his seas; ye who tread the sands of the shores and the summits of the alps that are his; ye who rejoice in any public thing whatsoever, and possess private goods not otherwise than by the bonds of his law: do not, as if ignorant deceive yourselves as though ye dreamt in your hearts and said: “We have no lord.” For his garden and lake is whatever the heavens encompass round about, since “The sea is God’s and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” Wherefore that God predestined the Roman Prince shines forth in wonderful effects; and that he afterwards confirmed him by the word of His Word, the Church proclaims.

8. Surely, if through those things which have been created by God the human creature sees the invisible things with the eyes of the intellect, and if from the things better known those less known are evident to us, in like manner it concerns human apprehension that from the motion of the heavens we should know the Motor and His will; and this predestination will be seen readily even by those who look superficially. For if from the first spark of this fire we turn back to things passed, from what time, I say, hospitality was denied the Argives by the Phrygians; and if there is time to survey the affairs of the world even to the triumphs of Octavian, we shall see that some of them have completely transcended the heights of human valor, and that God has worked through men, just as through the medium of the new heavens. For we do not always act; nay, rather are we sometimes the instruments of God, and the human will, in which liberty is innate, acts sometimes free even from earthly passions, and, subservient to the Eternal Will, often serves it without knowing it.

9. And if these things which are first principles, as it were, for proving that which is sought, are not sufficient, who, proceeding from the conclusion inferred through facts will not be compelled to think as I do, perceiving that peace has embraced the world completely for twelve years — a peace which revealed in its accomplishment the face of its syllogizer, the son of God. And while He, made man, preached the Gospel on earth for the revelation of the Holy Ghost, as if he were dividing two kingdoms, distributing all things to himself and Caesar, He commanded to “Render unto each the things that are his.”

10. But if the obstinate mind demands further, not yet assenting to the truth, let him examine the words of Christ, even when in chains, for He who is our light, when Pilate opposed His power, asserted that the office which he, as lieutenant of Caesar, was vaunting of, came from on high. Therefore walk ye not even as the Gentiles, involved in darkness by the vanity of the senses; but open the eyes of your mind, and see, for the Lord of heaven and earth has ordained a king for us. This is he whom Peter, the vicar of God, admonished us to honor; whom Clement, now the successor of Peter, illuminates with the light of the apostolic benediction, in order that where the spiritual ray does not suffice, the splendor of the lesser light may illumine.



1. A Translation of Dante’s Eleven Letter by Charles Sterrett Latham. Riverside Press, 1892.

The dual organization of Church and Empire is also set forth in symbolic fashion in Inf. 14. 102 ff., and in Dante's vision Purg. 32.

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