This article provides a short bio of John of Salisbury who was one of the medieval thinkers.
The presentation of the supremacy of the church is to be found in the writing of John of Salisbury who is considered by many as the most typical Medieval writer. His famous political book is Policraticus.
John had gathered wide experience about politics and in this respect he can be compared with Locke, Burke and John Stuart Mill. He came in close contact with politics and government which enabled him to acquire first-hand knowledge about the affairs of the state.
In fact, this became his intellectual asset. Being a church-man he earned the reputation of a political writer. But it is to be noted here that John was not the innovator or originator of any political doctrine. His political ideas are mixture of politics and religion and this is due to the fact that he could not keep himself above the influence of the church and religion.
He viewed and analysed everything in the background of religious outlook. Again, he did not make any relaxation about the supremacy of the church and in this respect we do not find any difference between St. Bernard and John of Salisbury.
John was the champion of the supremacy of the ecclesiastical authority. The struggle between the church and the state started in the ninth century and in the 12th century, when John started his writing, it had not ceased. In order to find out a solution to this he suggested the supremacy of the church over the secular power.
He wanted to destroy the equal status of the state and the church. He was the supporter of the doctrine of two swords but he said that both the swords belonged to the church. The prince would take the sword of flesh from the church and use it under the guidance of the church.
He denied any autonomy to the emperor. Let us put the matter in John’s own words – This sword the prince receives from the hand of the church, although she herself has no sword of blood.
Nevertheless she has this sword, but she uses it by the hands of the prince, upon whom she confers the power of bodily coercion, retaining to herself authority over spiritual things in the person of the pontiffs.
Since the church was the original and real owner of sword, it had the full authority to dismiss the king if he were found violating the law of God.
In Policraticus we find a repetition of the organic theory of the state. Here he has compared the state with the human body. According to John the farmers and the workers of the state are like the feet of the human body. Because, as without feet human beings cannot move at all, so, without farmers and workers, a state cannot exist.
The financial officers of the state correspond to the stomach and intestine. The officials and soldiers are like the hands.
The senate can be compared with the heart. The prince can duly be compared with the head. Finally, the church of the state is the soul of the body. As the soul is the most vital organ of the body so also the church is the most important part of the state.
John’s another contribution to political thought consists in drawing a difference between a tyrant and a prince.
A tyrant is one who oppresses the people by ruler ship based upon force. When a man rules the nation in accordance with law, he deserves to be called a prince. Law is the gift of God, the model of equity, a standard of justice, a likeness of the divine will, the guardian of wellbeing, a bond of union and solidarity among people.
The prince defines the duties and creates hindrances on the spread of violence and wrong-doings. The prince fights for the liberty and laws of the people. A tyrant is exactly opposite to the prince.
John further observes that tyranny originates from inequity and poisonous root. It is a tree which grows and sprouts into a baleful pestilent growth and to which axe must by all means be laid. John’s estimate of tyranny is highly provocative. In this respect he is indebted to Aristotle. His analysis of tyranny holds good even today.
John has ruthlessly attacked the vices and abuses of the ecclesiastical authority and, because of this; it is being underestimated by the public. It is not befitting on the part of the church to be engaged in the struggle for power.
The prestige of the church is much higher. But it has deliberately degraded its own position and prestige. His criticism of the church influenced contemporary thought.