De Monarchia By Dante Alighieri Book III Chapter VII: Argument From the Oblation of the Magi.

AERTSEN, Pieter 
Triptych with the Adoration of the Magi (central panel) 
c. 1560

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


Argument from the oblation of the Magi.

1. From the book of Matthew they also cite the oblation of the Magi, claiming that Christ accepted both frankincense and gold, in order to signify that He was Lord and Governor of the spiritual and temporal domains.1 They draw as inference from this that the Vicar of Christ is lord and governor of these realms, and consequently has authority over both.

2. In answering this I grant the text of Matthew and their interpretation, but the inference they try to draw from it is false through deficiency in the terms. Their syllogism is this: God is Lord of the spiritual and temporal domains; the Pope is the Vicar of God; therefore he is lord of the spiritual and temporal domains. While each proposition is true, the middle term is changed to admit four terms to the argument, thereby impairing the syllogistic form. This is plain from the writings on Syllogizing considered simply.2 For one term is “God,” the subject of the major premise, and the other term is “Vicar of God,” the predicate of the minor.

3. And if any one insists on the equivalence of God and Vicar, his insistence is useless, for no vicar, divine or human, can be coördinate with His authority, as is easily seen. And we know that the successor of Peter is not coequal with divine power, at least not in the operation of nature. He could not by virtue of the office committed to him make earth rise up, or fire fall.3 It is impossible that God should have intrusted all things to him, for God was in no way able to delegate the power of creation or of baptism, as is plainly proved despite the contrary statement of the Master4 in his fourth book.

4. We know, too, that a man’s deputy, in so far as he is a deputy, is not of coördinate power with him, because no one can bestow what does not belong to him. Princely authority belongs to a prince only for his employment, since no prince can authorize himself; he has power to receive and to reject it, but no power to create it in another, seeing that the creation of a prince is not effected by a prince. If this is true, it is evident that no prince can substitute for himself a regent equal in all things to himself. Wherefore the protest is of no avail.

[1. ]Matt. 2. 11.

[2. ]Anal. Pr. 1. 25.

[3. ]Eth. 2. 1. 2. This thought is used by Dante, De Mon. 1. 15. 2, and the words from Aristotle are given in note 6 to that paragraph.

[4. ] Peter Lombard (1100-1164), whom Dante places among the great doctors in the Heaven of the Sun Par. 10. 107. This reference is to his Libri Sententiarum 4. 5. 2, 3: “Christ gave to his servants the administering of baptism, but the power he retained for himself, which had he so wished he could have given them; . . . but he did not wish to, lest a servant should put his hope in a servant.” As Wicksteed remarks, Dante does not believe in the deputing of ministry without power.


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