Publication Year 2000
Whoever visits the cathedral of Saint Denis in Paris would be struck by the tombs of four royal couples, including Louis XII and François I with their wives; at the foot of their deathbeds lie, twisted by the pain of their final moments, the figures of the nude bodies of the king and the queen; above the tester one sees the royal couple, splendidly attired and equipped with sceptre and crown. This is one of the many representations of the medieval idea of the dual nature of the king's body - one natural and mortal like that of his subjects; the other political, supernatural and beyond time. This idea, which lies at the heart of the notion of sovereignty, is one of the three ideas the history of which is recounted by the author. Another concerns the development of the concept of intention as an evaluation criterion for human morality. Though an examination of the story and the correspondence of Abelard and HZ¹loise the reader is made familiar with the emergence of an ethics of intention, the separation of actions from thoughts, the locating of responsibility in the sphere of will. The third story is dedicated to the specific idea of "voluntary" poverty, which emerged after the year 1000 and was embraced by many extraordinary men (the Humiliati, the Poor of Lyons, and so on), promoted by Saint Francis and defended to the extreme by William of Ockham.
The volume is built around these three ideas, each of which is the topic of a chapter. The author skilfully places them in an historic atmosphere and adopts an agreeable narrative style. In this way, Thomas Becket's murder in cathedral introduces the themes of sovereignty and the king's double body; the story of Abelard and HZ¹loise initiates us to the ethics of intention; the succumbing of William of Ockham to the plague illustrates the idea of Franciscan poverty.
teaches History of Medieval Philosophy at the University of Milan.