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Theory of Two Swords: Principles, Supremacy of Church, Papal Powers | Political Science

Title: Theory of Two Swords


Pope Gelasius (Pope from 492 - 496)

Theory of Two Swords

There Are Two Powers August Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the weightier, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.

Principles Governing this Theory

The Principles were expressed in a form which was the common property of early medieval thinkers by Pope Gelasius I (492 - 496) . It was called the theory of two swords on the basis of an incident recorded in Luke 22: 38 when Jesus replied to the disciples who had two swords with them, “It is enough.”

Other Contexts

A medieval doctrine on the relation of Church and State, as explained by Pope Boniface VIII (reigned 1294 - 1303) : We are taught by the words of the Gospel that in this Church and under her control there are two swords, the spiritual and the temporal both of these, i.e.. , the spiritual and the temporal swords, are under the control of the Church.

Establishes the Supremacy of Church

  • The first is wielded by the Church; the second is wielded on behalf of the church. The first is wielded by the hands of the priest, the second by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the wish and by the permission of the priests.
  • Sword must be subordinate to sword, and it is only fitting that the temporal authority should be subject to the spiritual (Unam Sanctam, Denzinger 873) . This doctrine was not defined by the Pope but reflected the mentality of the age, when both “priests and kings” were members of the same Catholic Church in whose name Pope Boniface was speaking

Expansion of Papal Powers

  • The “two swords” doctrine came to mean that the pope possessed both swords, but had granted the temporal sword to rulers; therefore, the papacy had the right to depose kings and emperors.
  • The papacy came to be understood as a “corporation of corporations” which included the executive administration and ownership of otherwise semi-independent organizations (monasteries, hospitals, parishes, etc.) that held church property and assets.


1. The theory of two swords neglects the supremacy of state and the Church over each other?

2. The theory of two swords is in principle can be considered as the predecessor of secularism practiced by modern states?

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