Authority in the Latin Middle Ages. A Cultural Pattern

When we use the word “authority”, in most of the cases, political power is what we refer to. For an educated medieval, the meaning of auctoritas was not restricted to political field nor was considered the equivalent of the concept of power (potestas). Originally, the word was used in the political field, almost similarly to the way we do it today, and I will call this the “juridical” meaning. Cicero is the best source to study the origin of this first meaning. In a second way, auctoritas was used to designate any writing that has “authority” – the “cultural” meaning, in a broad sense. Thirdly, auctoritas referred to a source of knowledge, in opposition with reason (this opposition has been emphasized by the modern thinkers such as Descartes, Hobbes et alii). Our tendency is to study these three meanings separately, in their particular contexts, but my intention is to offer a bigger picture, where all come toghether and make auctoritas one of the central elements of the medieval world. In other words, I will try to show that the three meanings were not separated from one another and, most important, that auctoritas played a significant role in the medieval world due to this connection between its meanings. And this connection can be seen only by passing from Cicero’s use of auctoritas to the 12th century canonists, from the presence of auctores in the Roman education system to the medieval lists of auctores and florilegia, from how libri sententiarum developed from florilegia, and summae from libri sententiarum (the scriptor, compilator, commentator hierarchy), and from the tension between reason and faith (auctoritas was commonly used to designate the auctoritas fidei) as related to the development of florilegia into liber sententiarum, and liber sententiarum into summae (the movement from the Sacra Scriptura to the rational inquiry), and from this tension to the 13th century conflicts between auctoritas papae and auctoritas principae.


• Ducu, Cristian (2016), ‘Auctoritas’ şi cunoaşterea umană potrivit lui Thoma de Aquino [Auctoritas and Human Knowledge in Thomas Aquinas]; in Cristian Ducu & Cătălina Gîrbea & Dana Florean (eds.)(20146), Problema cunoaşterii în Evul Mediu (sec. XII-XIV) [The Problem of Knowledge in the High Middle Ages]; Bucureşti, forthcoming 2016.


• Ducu, Cristian (2016), ‘Auctoritas’ in Peter Abelard’s Writings. Reconciling Authorities.


• Ducu, Cristian (2003), ‘Auctoritas’ and Human Knowledge according to Thomas Aquinas; “Studia Mediaevalia Colloquium, II-a: «The Problem of Knowledge in the High Middle Ages»”, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Philosophy, Bucharest, December 13-14, 2003.

• Ducu, Cristian (2003), Some Remarks on the Problem of Authority (Auctoritas) in Medieval Latin Texts; at the “Studia Mediaevalia Colloquium, I-a: «Miscellanea Mediaevalia»”, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Philosophy, Bucharest, April 11, 2003.