Late Antique and Medieval Political Theology

PhD Mandatory Elective
Course Description: 

Late Antique political ideas largely belong to a realm which we would call today "constitutional theory." Where are the laws (the polities) coming from? Are they of divine or human origin? Which is the best form of government and why? Towards the end of the Roman Republic the dominant idea for best government became that of the monarchy in the context of the world empire, taken over from Hellenistic philosophers. But why was monarchy considered better than democracy? Why did the universal empire become such an important idea? Again, against the Hellenistic background Judaism proposed a radically new form of governement, theocracy, simultaneously rejecting the idea of the empire. Christianity, then, the birth of which coincided with the emergence of the Principate was both an heir to Judaism in terms of the theocratic foundation of government, but also felt empowered with a universal mission. With a unique idea about the role of the secular within the divinely guided realm Christianity brought about a very complex matrix of possible ideas about government. The course will look at develpments in the ideas of the legitimacy for forms of government from the Hellenistic period to the end of the Middle Ages, both in the Latin and Byzantine realm, and offer context and explanations for the fundamental ideas and debates. Methodologically the course will rely on the debate between Carls Schmitt (who re-introduced the term of "political theology" in 1922), and Erik Peterson, who attempted to refute the theory of Schmitt in Christian context (1935). The debate continues today (J. Taubes, J. Assmann, G. Agamben, M. Rizzi) and offers interesting insight into the use of historical arguments.