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Remigius Dei Girolami, A Medieval Mediator for Modern Times

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Civil War?


n August of 2017, Jesse Walker wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times entitled: Are we Headed for a Second Civil War?[1] This article discusses warnings by conservatives and liberals alike that such an event could occur, some even giving a new civil war a thirty percent likelihood. Other columnists and pundits, such as Kurt Schlichter, look at the same scenario.[2] Fortunately, the Los Angeles Times article reaches the conclusion that such doom and gloom predictions are overblown, and Kurt Schlichter’s columns are more of a theoretical mental exercise and call for cooler heads to prevail than warnings of incipient conflict.[3]

While the American civil war ended more than one hundred and fifty years ago, nevertheless the horror of this war is still very present in our society. A cursory internet search reveals just how pervasive civil war imagery is. Hundreds of Civil War monuments, preserved battlefields, reenactments, stamps, computer games, literature, films, from Gone with the Wind to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, all these serve to keep this war firmly in the social consciousness of the United States. What makes this war into such an ever present aspect of American popular culture, more so than other wars of the same time period in Europe are? The British involvement in the Crimean war, fought between the Russian Empire and a confederation of the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and the French Empire from 1853-1856, is felt most in the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade and various interpretations thereof,[4] the First Schleswig War, fought between Denmark and states in northern Germany from 1848-1851,[5] has even less modern impact. Two factors seem to contribute to the important place of the Civil War: 1. the abolition of slavery and 2. the especial horror of this war.

One of the great injustices in American history is the institution of slavery, it was through the Civil War that this institution was finally abolished in 1865. The question of slavery is intimately associated with this war from its very beginning, as is attested by the fifth verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, published in 1862:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Die they did, and that by the thousands. No other war the United States has been involved in comes close to the destruction seen in the Civil War. The first “industrial war,” the Civil War bore an immense cost in human suffering with more than a million casualties (dead and wounded), more than even in the Second World War. Individual battles, such as Gettysburg, cost tens of thousands of lives, and campaigns, such as Sherman’s march, caused untold human suffering.

With such a vivid cultural memory of the cost of such a war, what could bring the specter of a second such conflict, or even discussion of such a possibility by commentators and journalists who are taken seriously by their respective audiences? One of the reasons given in the Los Angeles Times article that war is unlikely also gives some insight into the angst in our current political situation: “while the country is filled with reliable Republican and Democratic voters, much of that reliability reflects what political scientists call ‘negative partisanship.’ Put simply, that means their votes are driven less by love for one party than by fear and hatred of the other one.”[6] How great must our hatred for the other side be, that we vote not based on our conscience, but on our hate? Ours has been described as a “time of hyperpartisan anger and resentment, when everyone seems to be mad at somebody”[7] It is this hatred, this anger which creates an “atmosphere that produces negative partisanship can fuel a paranoid loathing of the other party’s members. In its most concentrated form, it can drive people to aggressive violence.”[8] While these visions of mutual hatred are, perhaps, hyperbolic, if only slightly, there is no question that our society is highly polarized between political ideologies and, at least in the public sphere, there is little to no cooperation, or even civility.

The Investiture Controversy

Picture a society dominated by two ideologically polarized parties. While certain regions and cities tend to support one side over the other, each city, even each family, is divided against itself. These groups are so divided that there is even violence on the streets between adherents of the opposing factions. While this scenario sounds eerily similar to the situation in our own culture, the same situation played out in northern Italy in the fourteenth century. The conflict, between factions known as the Guelfs and the Ghibbelines,[9] was a complicated mix of the vying of cities over territory; the interference of powers, such as the kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire, in the affairs of the Italian cities; class struggle, pitting the nobles against the rising merchant class; family conflicts etc… The root of the Guelf and Ghibelline conflict can, however, be traced back to one specific issue, the Investiture controversy.

Although lasting the longest there, the Investiture controversy did not have its origin in rivalries of the states of northern Italy. The controversy began with the election of Pope Gregory VIII in 1072, a staunch proponent of reform in the church. In 1075 Pope Gregory VIII outlined the powers he claimed for the papacy, including that of investing bishops with both their temporal and spiritual power.[10] This text, called the Dictatus Papae, was not well received, especially by Emperor Henry IV (1056-1106) of the Holy Roman Empire. Their disagreement flared into open conflict in 1076 when Pope Gregory VIII excommunicated Henry IV, igniting a civil war in the Holy Roman Empire that lasted for fifty years. This finally came to an end in 1122, when the two sides came together at the Diet of Worms, at which Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixus II decided that the temporal authority comes from the king and spiritual authority from the pope.[11] Despite periodic flare-ups of this conflict between the pope and various temporal, the Diet of Worms effectively ended the Investiture controversy, except in Italy.

Even the defeat of the Ghibbelines by the Guelfs in 1298 could not bring the conflict to an end. A feud within the powerful Cerchi family caused a split within the Guelf faction, the two sides, calling themselves the Black Guelfs and White Guelfs, and continued their feud, supporting the papacy and emperor respectively.[12]

It is in this context, the infighting of the Black and White Guelfs and the continued overshadowing of local politics by the Investiture Controversy in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, that the political philosopher and theologian Remigius dei Girolami wrote his political treatises as the lector of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence.[13] Unlike many of his contemporaries who used their works to polemicize, Remigius instead encourages the people of Florence to strive for the common good, [14] peace.

Remigius Promoting Peace

What kind of pleasantness can the Florentine citizen have, seeing the sad state of his city, filled with greatest sorrow? For the plazas are deplazad, that is they are emptied; the house is destroyed, the families are battered; the kinfolk are estranged; the comforts are discomfited; the games seem to have been played, that is lost; the dignities seem resented, that is by the statesmen and captains who have left the city; the offices seem bewitched, that is under a spell, the priory, the embassies and suchlike; the farms are laid waste, since the trees are torn out, the vines are cut down, the palaces are destroyed and it is not possible, that is one cannot live in them any more or go to them without fear and trembling.[15]

The treatise De Bono Communi argues that the private citizen must love the community and the good of the community more than himself or his own private good. By interspersing discussions of the horrifying state Florence is reduced to because of the constant infighting between factions, Remigius dei Girolami is able to keep the focus of his readers on the effect on the city of the conflict, rather than on defeating the other side. It is by adding such brief interjections too, that Remigius dei Girolami makes his argument, which can at times seem overly theoretical, more immediate for his readers. Remigius’ argument rests on the adoption of the Aristotelian principle of the part and the whole, and the application of it in the relationship of the private citizen to the community. This relationship is analogous to that between the hand and the rest of the body,[16] the private citizen being the hand and the community being the body. It is only within the context of being part of the body that the hand is able to perform its function as a hand, beyond that context, if it is cut off, it is lifeless. In the same way, a citizen has no true life beyond the community, because it is only within the community that he is able to fulfill his function as a merchant, soldier, artist etc…[17] A citizen of Florence, since the city is destroyed and he cannot take part in public life, is not even a true human: “and if he is not a citizen he is not a human, since a human is naturally a political animal.”[18] What does this lack of existence mean practically, however? The Florentines did not cease existing, despite the problems in their city, so Remigius gives a practical example of what this means for the Florentines:

And so well, that is badly, “Florence” is changed to “Firenze.” Once, because of the scent of its fame, strangers from far off places deposited their money for temporal uses and for profit, now, however, because of the stench of infamy, even the Florentines themselves attempt to carry away from there those things which they deposit and – what is more awful – they cannot regain what is theirs.[19]

Even a Florentine caught up on one side of the conflict or the other, who would perhaps not be impressed by the philosophical implications of the destruction of the city, may have rethought the conflict if the practical implications of such a disaster are made clear. Does victory really matter if it destroys that which is being fought over?

The Reestablishment of Peace: De Bono Pacis

It has been asked whether, for the good of peace and for the concord between cities and castles and other communities, wrongs and injuries that have been done to us can be forgiven and if we can receive the same from other communities, for the sake of unity among them all. It has also been asked whether this can be done without the assent of each individual person of these cities or communities, or even more against the will of any of those persons who have suffered wrongs and injuries, even those affiliated with the church.[20]

The lament for the destruction of Florence and the call to love the common good, is laid out in the De Bono Communi. In the De Bono Pacis, however, Remigius dei Girolami establishes what this common good is, it is peace: “the good of the world consists of peace, that is in the tranquility of its parts toward one another…”[21] How, though, to bring about this tranquility? No matter the danger, it is always difficult to convince polarized factions to put aside grievances and mutual distrust and embrace peace. In the De Bono Pacis, the possibility that the Black and White Guelfs would decide to continue feuding despite the danger to the state comes up, and Remigius goes so far as to say that peace can be forced on the unwilling.[22]

Remigius spends much of the De Bono Pacis establishing the right of the rulership of the city to force peace on the citizenry. Remigius identifies one of the main obstacles in the restoration of peace as the hatred for those who have taken advantage and looted property from their enemies. This is done, if necessary, through the intervention of the ruler, who is tasked with confiscating this property and returning it to the rightful owners:

He who may lawfully require temporal goods for a small good and sentence a fine for a small ill may do so much more lawfully for a great good and a great ill. He who rules, be it a king or some other lord, may require temporal goods lawfully from his subjects for a smaller good than peace, for example for a journey, for a bridge, for a militia, for the marriage of a daughter etc… Therefore he is much more able to do this for peace.[23]

Our own conflict has thankfully not developed as far as that between the White and Black Guelfs or between the Guelfs and Ghibbelines. What seems to be our own impediment to peace is not looted property, but the derision with which each side views the other. One must only glance at the comments section of a news article and one sees enough vitriol and invective to last a lifetime. The intelligentsia of either side makes themselves known by slinging insults calling the opposing side, calling each other communists, fascists and worse. Some of this may be the result of the anonymity granted by an online platform, but much of it comes from a genuine sense that those who believe differently must be less intelligent, or have some nefarious purpose. It is this sense of superiority that we must put aside, to remember that those who do not share our political beliefs are not abstractions, but fellow human beings. It is possible to let go of animosity without compromising one’s ethics, and even while disagreeing work to regain that “tranquility” which is peace and the highest good of the community.

Bibliography and Further Reading

  1. Barnes, J. Aristotle and Political Liberty. In Patzig, G. (ed.) Aristotles’ ‘Politik’: Akten des XI. Symposium Aristotelium, Friedrichshafen/Bodensee, 25 August – 3 September 1987 (Göttingen: Van den Hoeck und Ruprecth, 1990).
  2. Blumenthal, Uta-Renate. The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988).
  3. Browning, Oscar, Guelphs and Ghibbelines: A Short History of Medieval Italy 1250-1409 (London: Methuen and Co. 1894).
  4. Cowdrey, H.E.J. Popes and Church Reform in the 11th Century (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2000).
  5. ——————- Pope Gregory VII, 1073-1085 (Oxford University Press, 1998).
  6. —————— The Register of Pope Gregory VII, 1073-1085: an English Translation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  7. Davis, Charles T., Remigio de Girolami and Dante: A Comparison of their Conception of Peace, in Studi Danteschi 36 (1959).
  8. ———————, An Early Florentine Political Theorist: Fra Remigio de’ Girolami, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 104.6 (American Philosophical Society, 1960), pp. 662-676.
  9. ——————–, Education in Dante’s Florence, in Speculum 40.3 (Medieval Academy of America, 1965), pp. 415-435.
  10. ——————–, Ptolemy of Lucca and the Roman Republic, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 118.1 (American Philosophical Society, 1974), pp. 30-50.
  11. ——————–, Dante’s Italy and other Essays (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1984).
  12. Egenter, Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz: Die soziale Leitidee im Tractatus De Bono Communi des Fr. Remigius von Florenz, in Scholastik 9 (1934), pp. 79-92.
  13. Emerton, Ephraim. The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VI. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932).
  14. Fields, S., A Little Learning Shines a Light on a Painful History. In The Washington Times (2018).
  15. Henderson, Ernest F. (trans.), Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London: George Bell and Sons, 1910).
  16. Hofmann, K. (ed.), Der Dictatus papae Gregors VII. Eine rechtsgeschichtliche Erklärung von Dr. Theol. Karl Hofmann (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1933).
  17. Kempshall, The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  18. Keys, Mary M., Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  19. Mayhew, Robert, Part and Whole in Aristotle’s Political Philosophy. In The Journal of Ethics Vol. 1 No. 4 (1977), pp. 325-340.
  20. Minio-Paluello, Lorenzo, Remigio Girolami’s De Bono Communi: Florence at the Time of Dante’s Banishment and the Philosopher’s Answer to the Crisis, in Italian Studies 11 (1956), pp. 56-71.
  21. Morrison, Karl F. The Investiture Controversy: Issues,Ideals and Results (New York: Winston Inc, 2005).
  22. Ottman, H., Geschichte des politischen Denkens: Das Mittelalter (Stuttgart: Verlag J.B. Metzler, 2004).
  23. Panella, E., Per lo studio di Fra. Remigio dei Girolami (†1319): “contra falsos ecclesie professores’ c.c. 5-37, (Memorie Dominicane, 1979).
  24. ————, Remigiana: Note biografiche e filologiche, in Libro e imagine (Memorie Dominicane, 1982), pp. 366-421.
  25. ———–, I quodlibeti di Remigio dei Girolami (Memorie Domincane, 1983), pp. 1-149.
  26. ————, Nuova cronologia Remigiana, in Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 60 (1990), pp. 145-311.
  27. ———- (ed. and trans.), Remigio dei Girolami, Dal bene commune al bene del commune: I trattati politici di Remigio dei Girolami (†1319) nella Firenze dei bianchi-neri De bono communi – De bono pacis – Sermones de pace, in Biblioteca di Memorie Dominicane 9 (Firenze: Edizioni Nerbini, 2014).
  28. Price, A., Schleswig-Holstein. In Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions (2005).
  29. Schlichter, K., Why Democrats Would Lose the Second Civil War, Too. On (Townhall Media, 2018).
  30. Lord Tennyson, A., The Charge of the Light Brigade. In The Examiner (1854).
  31. Walker, J., Are we Headed for a Second Civil War? In the Los Angeles Times (2017).


[1] Walker (2017).

[2] Schlichter (2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] In Russia, however, this war is still very present in the cultural eye, for many of the same reasons that the American Civil War still has such an impact.

[5] Price (2005).

[6] Walker (2017).

[7] Fields (2018).

[8] Walker (2017).

[9] Browning (1894), 192; Najemy (2006), 68-71.

[10] This text was one of a number of texts which frame the problem of the Investiture controversy. Texts such as the Dictatus Papae (1075), the Register of Pope Gregory (1078) and the papal bull Libertas Ecclesiae (1079) as well as letters by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (1056-1106).

[11] See Henderson (1910) 408-409 for translations of the Concordat.

[12] Browning (1894), 49 ff. Dante, for example, belonged to the White Guelf faction, and was exiled from Florence because of it. This led him to put many of the leaders of the Black Guelf faction into the Inferno (cf. Dante Inferno VI. 58-72).

[13] Remigius dei Girolami did not by any means write only political works. Other works of his include theological treatises as well as works on science and music. Davis (1960), 664.

[14] A topic that is of great interest in Medieval philosophy, Kempshall (1999) and Keys (2006).

[15] Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Communi XIII. “Qualem enim delectationem poterit habere civis florentinus videns statum civitatis sue tristabilem et summo plenum merore? Nam platee sunt explatiate idest evacuate, domus exdomificate, casata sunt cassata, parentele sunt exparentate, solatia sunt insollita, ludi videntur lusi idest perditi, dignitates videntur indignate idest potestarie et capitanerie que egrediebantur de civitate, officia videntur affacturata idest fascinata, scilicet prioratus, ambascerie et huiusmodi, poderia videntur expoderata quia arbores evulse, vinee precise, palatia destructa, et non est iam podere, idest posse, ut in eis habitetur vel eatur ad ea, nisi cum timore et tremore.”

[16] Aristotle Politics 1253a 18-29. Cf. Barnes (1990), 263 and Mayhew (1997), 325-340.

[17] Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Communi IX: puta miles in militaribus, mercator in mercationibus, artifex in artificialibus artis sue, officialis in officialibus, pater familias in familiaribus, et universaliter liber in operibus liberis, puta ire ad podere suum, facere ambasciatas, habere dominia aliarum civitatum. “the soldier in military matters, the merchant in selling, the artist in the carrying out of his art, the official in his office, the head of the family in family affairs and the universally free man in his freedom that is in going to visit his holdings, in making embassies, in having dominion over foreign cities and suchlike.”

[18] Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Communi IX: Et si non est civis non est homo, quia homo est naturaliter animal civile.

[19] Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Communi XIV: Et sic bene, immo male, “Florentia” mutata est in “Firençe” quia ubi ex odore fame extranei etiam de longinquis partibus suas pecunias propter utilitates temporales et lucra pecuniaria propria deponebant, nunc ex fetore infamie etiam cives inde auferre que posuerunt conantur et  –  quod miserabilius est  –  rehabere sua non possunt.

[20] Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Pacis I: Queritur utrum pro bono pacis et concordie inter civitates et castra et alias comunitates possit fieri remissio iniuriarum et dampnorum illatorum et receptorum per ipsas comunitates ad invicem componentes sine assensu omnium personarum particularium illius civitatis seu comunitatis, immo contra voluntatem aliquarum personarum passarum iniurias et dampna, etiam ecclesiasticarum.

[21] Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Pacis III: Bonum enim mundi consistit in pace idest in ordinata tranquillitate partium ad invicem.

[22] Cf. Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Pacis I and III and VII.

[23] Remigius dei Girolami De Bono Pacis VII: Sed ille qui presidet, puta rex vel alius dominus, potest exigere licite bona temporalia a subditis suis pro minori bono quam sit pax, puta pro itinere, pro ponte, pro militia, pro nuptiis filie etc. Ergo multo magis potest hoc exigere pro pace.

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