De Monarchia By Dante Alighieri Book II: Chapter II: What God Wills In Human Society Is to Be Held As Right.

Bronze doors (detail) 

And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Lk


What God wills in human society is to be held as right.

1. Now that the truth of the first question has been investigated as adequately as the subject-matter permitted, the second question urges us to investigate its truth as to whether the Roman people appropriated the dignity of empire by Right. The starting-point of this investigation is that verity to which the arguments of the present inquiry may be referred as to their own first principle.1

2. It must be understood, therefore, that as art exists in a threefold degree, in the mind of the artist, in the instrument, and in the matter informed by the art,2 so may Nature be looked upon as threefold. For Nature exists in the mind of the Primal Motor, who is God,3 and then in heaven, as in the instrument through whose mediation the likeness of eternal goodness is unfolded on fluid matter.4 When the artist is perfect, and his instrument without fault, any flaw that may appear in the form of the art can then be imputed to the matter only. Thus, since God is ultimate perfection, and since heaven, his instrument, suffers no defect in its required perfectness (as a philosophic study of heaven makes clear),5 it is evident that whatever flaw mars lesser things is a flaw in the subjected material,6 and outside the intention of God working through Nature,7 and of heaven; and that whatever good is in lesser things cannot come from the material itself, which exists only potentially, but must come first from the artist, God, and secondly from the instrument of divine art, heaven, which men generally call Nature.8

3. From these things it is plain that inasmuch as Right is good, it dwells primarily in the mind of God; and as according to the words, “What was made was in Him life,”9 everything in the mind of God is God, and as God especially wills what is characteristic of Himself, it follows that God wills Right according as it is in Him. And since with God the will and the thing willed are the same, it follows further that the divine will is Right itself. And the further consequence of this is, that Right is nothing other than likeness to the divine will. Hence whatever is not consonant with divine will is not right, and whatever is consonant with divine will is right.10 So to ask whether something is done with Right, although the words differ, is the same as to ask whether it is done according to the will of God. Let this therefore base our argument, that whatever God wills in human society must be accepted as right, true, and pure.

4. Moreover, that should be remembered which the Philosopher teaches in the first book to Nicomachus, “Like certainty is not to be sought in every matter, but according as the nature of the subject admits it.”11 Wherefore our arguments will advance adequately under the principle established, if we investigate the Right of this great people through visible signs and the authority of the wise. The will of God is in itself an invisible attribute, but by means of things which are made the invisible attributes of God become perceptible to the intellect.12 For, though a seal be hidden, the wax impressed therewith bears manifest evidence of the unseen signet;13 nor is it remarkable that the divine will must be sought in signs, for the human will, except to him who wills, is discerned no way else than in signs.14

[1. ]De Mon. 1. 2. 2; 3. 2. 1.

[2. ]Gen. Anim. 5. 8. Conv. 3. 6. 2: “Motive Powers . . . cause . . . all general forms.”

[3. ]Letter 5. 8: “From the motion of the heavens we should know the Motor and His will.”

Par. 2. 131: “The heaven which so many lights make fair, from the deep mind of Him who revolves it takes the image.” L. c. 30. 107; 33. 145: “The Love which moves the sun and all the stars.”

Cf. De Mon. all of chapter 1. 8, and note 1.

[4. ] “In fluitantem materiam.”

Par. 29. 22: “Form and matter in conjunction and in purity came forth to an existence which had no erring, as from a three-stringed bow three arrows.” Cf. De Mon. 1. 3. 2, and note 10.

S. T. 1. 46. 2: “The angels are pure form; form conjoined with matter appears in the visible creation; pure matter is not perceivable by the senses, but must be held to exist, and to have been created.” Also S. T. 1. 105. 4.

[5. ]Inf. 11. 97: “Philosophy . . . notes . . . how nature takes her course from the understanding of God, and from His workmanship.”

[6. ]Conv. 3. 6. 2: “And if this perfect form, copied and individualized, be not perfect, it is from no defect in the example, but in the matter of which the individual is made.”

Par. 1. 127: “Form many times accords not with the intention of the art, because the matter is deaf to respond.”

Par. 13. 67: “The wax of these and that which moulds it stands not in one manner, and therefore under the seal of the Idea more and less thereafter shines through.”

[7. ] “Praeter intentionem Dei naturantis et caeli.”

[8. ] For the mediaeval account of creation and the part of the heavens therein see S. T. 1. 66. 1-3; 1. 110. 2; 1. 115. 3-6. Cf. Bacon, Nov. Org. 1. 66.

Conv. 4. 9. 1: “Universal Nature . . . has jurisdiction as far as the whole world extends.”

James 1. 17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”

[9. ]John 1. 3, 4: “Omnia per ipsum facta sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est. In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum.” Moore says that Augustine twice quotes from these verses as Dante does here; “Quod factum est, in ipso vita erat.”

[10. ]Par. 32. 61: “The King through whom this realm rests in so great love and in so great delight that no will dares aught beyond, creating all the minds in the joy of His countenance, as His own pleasure endows with grace diversely.”

Par. 19. 86: “The primary Will, which is of itself good, never has moved from itself, that is the highest Good.”

[11. ]Eth. 1. 7. 18. Used again in Conv. 4. 13. 3: “And in the first of the Ethics he says that ‘the educated man demands certainty of knowledge about things, in so far as their nature admits of certainty.’ ”

[12. ]Rom. 1. 20: “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”

Conv. 3. 12. 3: “It is convenient to treat of things not perceptible by the senses by means of things perceptible.” See also Conv. 4. 10. 3; 4. 16. 7; 4. 22. 6: “The intellect . . . cannot have its perfect use (which is to behold God, who is Supreme Intelligence) except in so far as the Intellect considers Him, and beholds Him in His effects.” L. c. 3. 8. 8: “All things which so overcome our intellect that we cannot see what they are, it is most fitting to treat by their effects.”

Letter 5. 8: “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 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.”

[13. ] The following are the more important of the many examples of Dante’s use of the figure regarding the wax and seal. Conv. 1. 8. 7: “Utility stamps upon the memory the image of the gift, which is the nutriment of friendship, and the better the gift the stronger this impression is.”

Conv. 2. 10. 5: “If wax had the sentiment of fear, it would be more afraid to come under the rays of the sun than stone would; because its nature makes it susceptible of a more powerful impression therefrom.”

Inf. 11. 49: “The smallest circle stamps with its seal Sodom and Cahors.”

Purg. 10. 45: “And she upon her action this speech imprinted—Ecce ancilla Dei! as aptly as a figure is made on wax by a seal.”

Purg. 18. 39: “Not every seal is good, even though good be the wax.”

Purg. 25. 95: “Here the neighboring air puts itself in that form which the soul that has remained by its virtue stamps upon it.”

Purg. 33. 79: “As wax by a seal, which changes not the figure impressed, so is my brain now stamped by you.”

Par. 1. 41: The sun “to its own fashion moulds and seals the wax of the world.”

Par. 2. 130: “And the heaven which so many lights make fair, from the mind of Him who revolves it takes the image, and makes thereof a seal.”

Par. 7. 69: “That which from It immediately distils has no end thereafter, because when It seals, Its impress is unmoved.”

Par. 8. 128: “The nature of the spheres . . . is seal to the mortal wax.”

Par. 13. 67 ff. See note 6 of this chapter.

[14. ]Conv. 4. 5. 1: “It is no wonder if Divine Providence, which transcends all human and angelic perception, often proceeds in a way mysterious to us; since it often happens that human actions have for men themselves a hidden meaning.”


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