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Amazing Grace: Fortune, God, and Free Will in Machiavelli's Thought Author(s): Cary J.

Nederman Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Oct., 1999), pp. 617-638 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3654111 Accessed: 01/03/2009 09:11
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Free Will

Grace: in

and God, Machiavelli's Thought


CaryJ. Nederman
Machiavelli andReligion theorist aboutwhomscholarly Surelythereis no political opinionis more divided than andcontinuous examiNiccoloMachiavelli. of intense Thesubject nationalmostfromthetimeof his death,Machiavelli hasbecomeif anything moreenigmatic withthepassage of interpretations. of timeandtheproliferation one and the that this fact reflects Although mightargue highlyunsystematic consistencies context-bound nature of his thought, in thenowwell-established his linguistic inform his and certain narrative that usage principles stylesuggest acrossgenreandcircumstance.' writings Oneof themostcontentious hasbeenhis writing aspectsof Machiavelli's attitude towards To be sure,Machiavelli religion,in particular, Christianity.2
I wish to thank Professors Marcia Colish, Deborah Mathieu, Phil Chapman,William J. Connell, and Sebastian de Grazia, and Dr. Russell Price, and Ms. Jennifer Hunter, for their valued comments on draftsof the paper. See Russell Price, "The Senses of VHrtzu in Machiavelli,"European Studies Review, 3 RenaissanceQuarterly,30 (1977), (1973), 315-45; Price,"TheThemeof Gloria in Machiavelli," 588-631; Price, "Self-love, 'Egoism' and Ambizione in Machiavelli's Thought,"History of Political Thought,9 (1988), 237-61; and Price's critical apparatus to Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, ed. Quentin Skinnerand Russell Price (Cambridge, 1988), xxxii-xxxv, 100-113. 2 See Delio Cantimori,"Machiavellie la religione,"Belfagor, 21 (1966), 629-38; Bruno Di Porto, "IIproblemareligioso in Machiavelli,"in Le religione in Machiavelli, Guiccardinie Pascoli (Rome, 1968); MarioTenenti, "La religione di Machiavelli,"Studi storici, 10 (1969), 709-48; Giuseppe Prezzolini, "The ChristianRoots of Machiavelli's Moral Pessimism," Review of National Literatures,1 (1970), 26-37; Prezzolini, Cristoe/o Machiavelli (Milan, 1971); Clifford Orwin, "Machiavelli'sUnchristianCharity," American Political Science Review, 72 (1978), 1217-28; J. Samuel Preus, "Machiavelli's FunctionalAnalysis of Religion: Context and Object,"JHI, 40 (1979), 171-90; Sebastiande Grazia,"Machiavelli'sBiblical Accuracy," Renaissance and Reformation,17 (1981), 141-45; Paul Norton, "Machiavelli'sRoad to Paradise," History of Political Thought,4 (1983), 31-42; Timothy J. Lukes, "To Bamboozle with Goodness: The Political Advantages of Christianityin the Thought of Machiavelli,"Renaissance and Reformation,8 (1984), 266-77; Vickie B. Sullivan, "NeitherChristianNor Pagan:

Inc. 1999byJournal of Ideas, of theHistory Copyright


CaryJ. Nederman

wasno friend of the institutionalized as he knewit. TheDisChurch Christian coursesmakesclearthatconventional beingsthe Christianity sapsfromhuman diswithequalparts foractivecivil life.3AndthePrincespeaks vigorrequired dainandadmiration andits of the Church aboutthe contemporary condition was thatMachiavelli havetaken suchevidence to indicate Pope.4 Manyscholars ancient himself of civil the anti-Christian, religions profoundly preferring pagan societiessuchas Rome,whichhe regarded for a city ento be moresuitable dowedwithvirtui. as a manof convenAt bestMachiavelli hasbeendescribed of worship to bow to the externalities tional,if unenthusiastic, piety,prepared faith.6 butnotdeeplydevoted Christian of in eithersoulormindto thetenets In recenttimes,the only dissenting de voice of note has been Sebastian in Machiavelli Hell, whosePulitzer intellectual Grazia, biography, Prize-winning viewhimas deeply to who rescue Machiavelli's those from attempts reputation themes biblical hostileto Christianity.7 De Grazia thatnotonlydocentral argues runthroughout Machiavelli's butthattheseworksreveala coherent writings forces of a divinely-centered andordered cosmosinwhichother ("the conception will and a divine and the are under subsumed heavens," "fortune," plan. like) corMachiavelli theMachiavellian in Hellpointsto evidencefromthroughout in an idea divine of of ordination events,especially the pus supporting earthly case of the accomplishments For de Grazia's of extraordinary individuals. of the Machiavelli affairs successin human upon friendship depends primarily God. De Grazia's of Machiavelli's religiousfaithhas,of course, interpretation his casein a fairly notleastbecause he introduces controversial, unsysproven be andspeculative tematic But while Grazia's de may someway.8 presentation thatought merits whathaphazard, thegeneral he defends hasimportant reading
Machiavelli'sTreatment of Religion in the Discourses,"Polity, 26 (1993), 259-80; and Sullivan, Machiavelli Three Romes: Religion, Human Liberty and Politics Reformed (DeKalb, Ill., 1996). 3 Niccolo Machiavelli, The Chief Worksand Others, ed. Allan Gilbert (Durham,N.C., 1965), 228-29, 330-31. I have occasionally alteredGilbert'stranslation,based on Machiavelli, Tuttele opere, ed. Mario Martelli (Florence, 1971). 4 Machiavelli, Chief Works,29, 44-46, 65, 91-92. 5 Leo Strauss, Thoughtson Machiavelli (Glencoe, Ill., 1958), 196-232; Mark Hulliung, Citizen Machiavelli (Princeton, 1983), 203-18, 238-54; Anthony Parel, The Machiavellian Cosmos (New Haven, 1992), 46-59. 6 Dante Germino, "Second Thoughts on Strauss's Machiavelli,"Journal of Politics, 28 Political Theory,3 (1975), 385-401. (1966), 372-84; J. G. A. Pocock, "Prophetand Inquisitor," 7 Sebastiande Grazia,Machiavelli in Hell (Princeton, 1989), 30-87, 376-84. 8 See Parel, The Machiavellian Cosmos, 61-62; Nicolai Rubinstein,"New, Radical-and Moral,"TimesLiterarySupplement,No. 4529 (1990), 70; Susan Behuniak-Long,"TheElusive Machiavelli,"Review of Politics, 52 (1990), 318-19; Antonio Santosuosso,"Moralityand Politics in Machiavelli:Two Recent Intepretations," CanadianJournal of History, 25 (1990), 8588; and MaurizioViroli, untitled review of Machiavelli in Hell, Political Theory, 19 (1991), 292-95.

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


to a monotheistic divinnotto be overlooked. doesmakereference Machiavelli more often in rather as as well to central elements of ity, theology, Christianity thepashis corpus thanmostscholarship mightleadoneto believe.Moreover, in most and which the these occur are often references important sages among in sectionsof his work.De Grazia wouldseem,then,to be correct troubling role divine that and the in we must of God Machiavelli's idea asserting grasp of Machiavellian the basic principles earthlyaffairsif we are to understand political theory. If deGrazia's basicobservation is indeed whyhaveMachiavelli's persuasive, scholideasbeenso widelyoverlooked dismissed) (orindeed byrecent religious Toexplain ownexaggerated ars? thiswe haveto takeintoaccount Machiavelli's menstatements theoriginality of histeachings, as well as his already regarding But tioned Church. towards the of Roman and officials the institutions antipathy in conjuncmoreimportant hasbeenthereluctance to readMachiavelli perhaps in tionwithmanycentral of histime,especially cultural andintellectual features terms of persisting Latin Oneof the of medieval andtraditions patterns thought. inrecent moststriking in of intellectual the Western history developments study between theideasof the of important continuities yearshasbeentherecognition latemedieval andtheearlymoder periods. havecometo realizethat Scholars and of the Renaissance, the Reformation, innovations manyof the supposed eventheearly in Middle the had clear roots or antecedents Ages.9 Enlightenment At the sametime it turnsout thatnumerous moder features of early alleged lessinevidence andreligious thought-suchas secularization skepticism-were to theheyday of Renaissance humanism thanwe havebeenencouraged during believe.Inparticular, influence exert a decisive Christian doctrines continued to onphilosophical andliterary the fifteenth andsixteenth century, pursuits during andthegreat and mindsof thattimepersisted in addressing thesamedilemmas that vexed had Christian schoolmen of centuries.'1 questions prior In spiteof theeffortsof a few scholars to bringthisgeneral insightto bear on Machiavelli," thereremains a pronounced to tendency ignorethemedieval to his ideas.Rather, are still ordinarily Machiavelli's doctrines backdrop apfrom via the the and the the between via of debate proached perspective antiqua
9 See J. H. Burs (ed.), The CambridgeHistory of Political Thought, 1450-1700 (Cambridge, 1991), 1-3. 10Charles Trinkaus,In Our Image and Likeness: Humanityand Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought(2 vols.; Chicago, 1970). " Such as Allan Gilbert,Machiavellii "Prince" and Its Forerunners(Durham,NC, 1938); Quentin Skinner,"Machiavelli'sDiscorsi and the Pre-humanistOrigins of RepublicanIdeas," in Gisela Bok, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli (eds.), Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge,1990); MaurizioViroli, From Politics to Reason of State (Cambridge,1992); and Janet Coleman, "Machiavelli'svia moderna:Medieval and RenaissanceAttitudesto History," in MartinCoyle (ed.), Niccol6 Machiavellis ThePrince:New Interdisciplinary Essays (Manchester, 1995).


CaryJ. Nederman

Middle of theLatin orasconstituting a radical break withtheteachings moderna, Prezzolini seemimplicitly to acceptthe view thatGiuseppe Ages.'2Scholars themostcomHerepresents oncebluntly stated: "Machiavelli is anti-medieval. with the in extensive medieval the most Yet,without world, way.""3 pleterupture an appreciation andextended of how Machiavelli embraced majortenetsof seem will of work medieval Christian his elements inevitably thought, important confused orinconsistent. to Mawith specificreference My generalpointheremay be illustrated inorder to analyze chiavelli's reliance Christian politiuponmedieval theology is a There free will. cal life:his appeal in the and to (particularly Prince) grace contradiction within Machiavelli's betweenfortuna thought widely-recognized the cirthe who controls and Goddess, (fortune), unpredictable ungovernable andvirtti that andof nations, cumstances thelivesof individual regulate persons mento would allow which the set of skill,foresight, (talent, flexibility), qualities temthanmerely themachinations rather overcome of fortune on a permanent, a embraces basis. At he timesMachiavelli soundsas though position porary, human to which Neal Woodhastermed the"humanism of action," according exercise the fortune andto shape theirdestiny through beingsareableto combat doubts about of virtu.'4 Yetontheother hand Machiavelli alsoevincesprofound the devices all his own thepsychological of anyperson by plausibility acquiring Whenfacedwithinforthepossessionof complete virttu. qualities necessary menwhoappear those scrutable Machiavelli to teachthateven fortune, appears fora while, to havethetraits andwhosucceed forcontrolling events, appropriate will failin theend. Scholars havestruggled andconsistently failed,to offeranintermightily, as the"optimischaracterized of reconciling whathavebeen capable pretation I arguethatthis tic"andthe "pessimistic" strains of Machiavelli's thought.5 torealize theresult of a failure in Machiavelli's tension is onlyapparent, thought thathis apparent by a third juxtaposition offortunaandvirtuis reallymediated forsucthegrace(grazia)of Godwhichaffords factor, namely, opportunities
12 See Isaiah Berlin, "The Originalityof Machiavelli,"in Henry Hardy (ed.), Against the Current (New York, 1980); Nathan Tarcov, "Quentin Skinner's Method and Machiavelli's Prince," Ethics, 92 (1982), 692-709; Donald McIntosh, "The Modernityof Machiavelli,"Political Theory, 12 (1984), 184-203; W. R. Newell, "How OriginalIs Machiavelli?A Consideration of Skinner's Interpretation of Virtue and Fortune,"Political Theory, 15 (1987), 612-34; ReviewofPolitics, 52 (1990), and Peterman, Larry "Gravity Piety:Machiavelli'sModer Turn," Review ofPolitics, 53 189-214; Anthony J. Parel, "The Question of Machiavelli's Modernity," (1991), 320-39; Roger D. Masters,Machiavelli, Leonardo, and the Science of Power (Notre Dame, 1996), 161-205. 13 Giuseppe Prezzolini, Machiavelli Anticristo (Rome, 1954), 86-87. 14 Neal Wood, "Machiavelli'sHumanismof Action," in Anthony J. Parel(ed.), ThePolitical Calculus: Essays on Machiavelli'sPhilosophy (Toronto, 1972). 15J. H. Whitfield, Machiavelli (Oxford, 1947), 16-17.

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


cessfulactionon earth thatarenotavailable to thosewho lackdivineappointment.Machiavelli's thatsupposedly tract, irreligious writings-mostespecially will is thePrince-embracethemedieval thatthehuman doctrine theological ableto defeatexternal overadversity whenit acandto triumph circumstance withGod's to success, Theonlysure Machiavelli ceptsandcooperates path grace. to is a ordained. such No one earn admission teaches, divinely path through may one'sdeedsalone.Goddecideswhois to do Hisbidding andperpetual political successis a signof thedivinegift.Moses,notCesare II, BorgiaorPopeJulius is the archetype of the successfulMachiavellian andMosessucceeded ruler; he waschosenby Godbutsimultaneously usedhisownabilibecause precisely tiesto advance andfulfillGod'splanforhimandhispeople.Machiavelli proves to beneither a fatalist a recognizably nora voluntarist, Chrisinstead advocating tianharmonization of determination butwe us grace, andwill:Godfreelygrants must realize itby theaction andperfect of ourownfreewills.Where Machiavelli the"salbe said in to from is his view that the medieval framework may depart vation" is political as well as otherworldly. sought by theruler TheMachiavellian Predicament In a 1506 letterto GiovanBattistaSoderini, to be Machiavelli purports of action: "I the perplexed by apparently unpredictable consequences political do notknowwhy it shouldhappen thatdifferent waysof actingaresometimes bothsuccessful andsometimes liketo butI wouldcertainly bothunsuccessful, know."'16 It is preciselythis dilemma in the muchof his inquiry thatanimates Prince.He comments in Chapter a ruler "I that one sees would observe 25, at all in withouthis havingchanged flourishing todayandruinedtomorrow, nature or quality."" How are we to explainthe variations in the successor failure of rulers? Inhiswritings, thatlargely, to three Machiavelli factors contributing points if not entirely, accountfor the tumultuous eventsof human (and government other and best human The presumably every enterprise). first, certainly known, is fortune.'8 his work,Machiavelli forceof refersto theirresistible Throughout fortune or"theheavens" or other"occult" in human relation to action. powers As Machiavelli in theDiscourses, remarks

Machiavelli, Chief Works,896. Ibid., 90. 18The literatureon Machiavelli's concept of fortuna includes Mario Santoro, Fortuna, ragione e prudenzia nella civittd literaria de Cinquecento(Naples, 1967); Thomas Flanagan, "The Concept of Fortuna in Machiavelli," in Parel (ed.), The Political Calculus; HannahF. Pitkin,Fortune is a Woman:Gender and Politics in the Thoughtof Niccolo Machiavelli (Berkeley, 1984);andOdedBalaban,"TheHumanOriginsofFortuna,"HistoryofPolitical Thought, 11 (1990), 21-36.


CaryJ. Nederman

If we observecarefully how human affairsgo on, manytimeswe see do thatthingscomeupandeventstakeplaceagainst whichtheHeavens but notwishanyprovision to bemade.... Menareableto assistFortune, them.19 notto thwart her. cannot can but weave her They destroy designs The samefatalism "Toachievesomeis echoedelsewhere in theDiscourses: unlessFortune, thinggoodis difficult aidingyou, withherpowerovercomes" the obstaclesset for human remarks. The beings.20 Princeis rifewith similar From thededicatory is citedas thecauseof"greatness" fortune epistleonwards theoften-cited or"malice" whichpeopleexperience.21 concludes Machiavelli with 25 the when "men successful declaration that are theyarein close Chapter withFortune, andwhentheyareoutof harmony, theyareunsuccessharmony ful."22 Humanbeingsare victimsof fortune, and fortune itself is manifestly himor who baseshis to support capricious. Any rulerwho countson fortune be disapdecisions andpoliciesontheprevious of eventswill inevitably course andeventually II,death pointed (unless,as in thecaseof PopeJulius destroyed beforecircumstances intervenes canchange). common Thesecondfactor actions is thenature of human therange limiting naof human a view to all people.WhileMachiavelli not does certainly adopt of propositions tureas bleakas thatoftenattributed to him,therearea number his about thegeneral, inborn of thespeciesthatreverberate inclinations through As a grouphumansare clearly ambitiousand self-seekingfor writings.23 wantsareinsatiable, As he remarks Machiavelli. in the Discourses,"Human In a since manhas fromNaturethe powerandwish to desireeverything."24 to be veinMachiavelli similar offershis famous advicethatprinces wary ought menin general: of thoseoverwhomtheyrule:"For thiscanbe saidabout they in areungrateful, simulators and dissimulators, runaways danger, changeable, aremore that"men Thisis perhaps summarized eagerforgain."25 by thedictum self-seekthan evil nature To to to the that renders extent prone good."26 people has made as "Nature frustration follows, inasmuch ing creatures, invariably human Hence mento desireeverything butunable to attain beings everything."27 with remain in a stateof"perpetual mindsandweariness in [their] discontent conwhatis attained."28 Inaninconstant and circumstantial is, ostensively (that
'9 Machiavelli, Chief Works, 406, 408. Ibid.,512. 21 Ibid., 11.
20 22 23

Ibid.,92. Ibid.,62.
Ibid., 218.

Coleman, "Machiavelli'svia moderna,"50-53. 24Machiavelli, Chief Works,323.

25 26 27 28

Ibid.,272. Ibid.,323.

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


andthe universe tiedto theirfundamental nature, tingent) peoplewill remain of the actions inclinations from their human impliesa consistency stemming lackof control overtheirconditions. forMachiavelli, attributes share a general setof natural Finally, justaspeople so theyalsopossessingrained a further thatconstitute characteristics individual constraint on action.29 He positsthathumanbeings follow fixed patterns of in the letterto As he remarks of circumstance. conduct,regardless personal GiovanBattista with manacts in accordance thebentof his Soderini, "Every mindandtemperament."30 to his character Whenan individual's corresponds howhewill succeed conditions inhisendeavors. Should circumstances, change, no ever,he is boundto fall fromhis positionpreciselybecausehis character in "Tercets on Fortune" observes (dedilongersuitsthetimes.As Machiavelli catedto Giovan Battista charac"And cannot since your Soderini), change you ternorgiveupthedisposition thatHeaven endows youwith,inthemidstof your to forabandons areentirely Individuals journeyshe [Fortune] subject you."31 tuneto theextentthattheypossessinvariant of character: traits andpermanent the basicinflexibility of of human human character renders beingsincapable to changes in fortune. responding effectively Whenfortune, nature andindividual there areconsidered character together, seemsto be littlereason to expectthatrulers thesuccessof will be ableto assure their governments. to go against whatnature inclinesus to. Second, First,it is impossible wellbyadopting it is impossible a certain lineof conduct, having gotten to persuade It thus menthattheycanget on well by actingotherwise. comesabout thata man'sfortune his circumforshechanges changes, stances buthe doesnotchange his ways.32 Nature andcharacter to new combine to render of responding peopleincapable conditions andchanges can of fortune. individuals of Regardless circumstance, be expected to followa consistent pathin theiractions.If theyarelucky,their nature andcharacter will suitthetimes,andtheywill succeed; their otherwise, failure is assured. On the otherhandMachiavelli to intimate thatfortune, at times appears andindividual nature character, alongwiththe fixityof human maybe overcomeby rulers. Inhis view if a mancoulddispense witha rigidset of personal he wouldbe ableto andcharacter, traits,if he coulddevelopa flexiblenature his fortune and to asserts own fate. Machiavelli live as master of his conquer

31 32

Coleman, "Machiavelli'svia moderna,"53-57. Machiavelli, Chief Works,896-97. Ibid., 747. Ibid., 453.


CaryJ. Nederman

thatforpolitical success to be assured,a new sortof humanbeing must emerge, one able "to vary his conduct as the winds of fortune and changing circumadvice stancesconstrain him."33 This flexibilityyields the core of the "practical" which Machiavellioffers to the rulerseeking to maintainhis state:exclude no course of action out of hand,but be readyalways to performwhateveracts are requiredby political circumstance,regardlessof their conformitywith moral to the "good"ruler.34 expectationsaboutthe virtuesappropriate YetMachiavelli'sevaluationof the chances for creatinga new,psychologiis extremelyguarded.He tendsto wordhis advocally flexible type of character it in of conditional form and in the subjunctivemood: "If it were possible cacy to changeone's natureto suitthe times andcircumstances, one wouldalways be successful."35 The doubtsimpliedby the grammar echo his moreexplicit pessimismin 1506: the times and circumAnyone who was shrewdenough to understand and was would stances, alwaysbe successcapableof adaptingto them, ful (or at least would be able to avoid failure),and it would then prove true that a wise man could control the stars and the fates. But such shrewdmen are not to be found: first, because men are short-sighted, and secondly because they cannotchangetheirown natures.36 Similarsentimentsare found in the "Tercetson Fortune": Therefore,if this [the workings of fortune]he understoodand fixed in his mind, a man who could leap fromwheel to wheel would always be happy and fortunate,but because to attainthis is denied to us by the occult force thatrules us, our conditionchanges with her course.37 Such observationsdirectlychallenge Machiavelli'sown advice thatprincesacdictates of forquire dispositions which vary accordingto the circumstantial in the sense thathe lays tune. His advice remains,in his own terms,"practical," out in greatdetail what sort of qualities a rulerwould requirein orderto resist circumstanceand masterfortune.But ultimatelythis flexibility seems beyond the competenceof any merelyhumanpsyche, with its constancyof attitudeand conduct,to achieve in a world subjectto the contingenciesof fortune.38
33 Ibid., 34 Ibid.,


57-59. 35Ibid., 92; italics mine. 36 Ibid., 897. 37 Ibid., 747. 38 See Principality,Republic, and Cary J. Nederman, "Machiavelliand Moral Character: the Psychology of Virttu," Political Thought(forthcoming2000). History of

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


Fortune andProvidence Machiavelli thepossibility that human thusevincesgrave about virtu doubts caneverultimately with if fortune. But in its Machiavelli victorious prove struggle indeed believed arises: this,thequestion whydidhe devoteso muchof naturally his own effortto advising othermenaboutthe qualities andskillstheywould in order was needto acquire to achieve success? That is, if Machiavelli political so fatalistic asto suppose theflexibility thatpeoplecannot achieve for requisite to writeworkssuchas thePrinceandDisvirti, why wouldhe havebothered which are andreformameant to havevaluein theinstruction courses, clearly tionof human beings? Machiavelli's onethanthat seemsto be a less exalted message, putsimply, have of Machiavelli whichhasconsistently beenascribed tohim.Interpretations arecatakenforgranted thatindividuals thehumanistic generally assumption of their own own Machiavelli their conduct. But choices and pable making guiding to believethattherealassurance of political success,andhence givesus reason theconquest of fortune, stemsfromdivinefavor. ThosewhoenjoyGod'sgrace arenot restrained andindihuman nature, by the limitsimposedby fortune, full vidualcharacter. control from misfortune and have Indeed, they immunity overthemselves. of Virtu forMachiavelli-socommonly viewedas a summary theskills,talents, andabilities for himself and ruler thatthesuccessful by gains himself-cannotbe realized be without a supernatural gift,whichitselfcannot earned andforwhichthereis no explanation wisotherthanGod'sinscrutable dom.The role of a politicaladvisorsuchas Machiavelli is thusat best only as he to himself in the Preface the second bookof theDisadmits preparatory, courses:"Itis the dutyof the goodmanto teachothers of valuethat anything the malice of the times to putinto of Fortune have been unable and through you effect,in orderthatsincemanywill knowof it, someof themmorelovedby Heaven is to putit intoeffect."39 Totheextentthattheindividual maybe ready thesourceof his ownsuccess,Machiavelli of one's thisis a function supposes, free(andhe wouldhopeattuned will cooperating withdivinely andeducated) ordained to thepredicament withwhichhe solution grace.Thus,Machiavelli's wasobsessed-the inability of human to fortune beings conquer permanentlydrewdirectly central of tenets Christian upon theology. to manyscholars, of fortune andother Machiavelli's According conception ata great Christian teachinfluences stands distance from impersonal controlling on the matter. From a Christian the eventsandcircumstances ing perspective thatbefallthe individual areunderthe controlof a higherorderprovidence. thefaithful whatever to accept conditions Hence, person ought present temporal sincetheyareultimately other In words ordained God's will. themselves, by
39Machiavelli, 324. ChiefWorks,


CaryJ. Nederman

fortuneis not really capriciousat all but is insteadan emanationof a conscious divine plan. By contrast,for Machiavelli,Parelremarks,"Fortunegoverns supreme.Insteadof being a ministraof God, she is the mistressof humandestiny, andthatdestiny ... is subjectto chance,not to reason.Briefly, in the Machiavellian cosmos, thereis no room for God's Providence."40 Likewise, Newell writes that Machiavelli"neverexamines fortuneunderits traditionalrubricof a subsidiarydimensionof the orderto causes,but rather equatesit with all conditions externalto the humanwill.... The worlddoes not supplymanwith his rationality and end."41 But to adopt this reading is to oversimplify the complexities of medieval Christianthought.Most importantly, Christianthinkerswere by no means uniform in theirconceptionsof fortune.As Patch long ago demonstrated, several Christian and medieval be in discerned late classical approaches tofortuna may the operationof fortunecomwritings. Some authors,assuredly,"annihilated" Patch identifies this view with St. pletely: Augustineand St. ThomasAquinas, But alternative amongothers.42 positionswere also available.One, which Patch termsthe "compromise" andascribesto BoethiusandAlbertusMagnus,retains Fortune"with a supremeGod above her-their relationsare not exactly definite, butobviously she mustbe in partfulfilling His will."43 A thirdview, attributed to Dante, conceives of a fully Christianized fortune,not in the sense of its strictequationwith providenceand consequentannihilation, but ratherbearing the connotationof a quasi-autonomous force workingin concertwith the divine not to on Machiavelli will.44 reducible God's Recentscholarship planyet simply has stubbornly of fortune,even though ignoredthe nuancedmedievaltreatment Renaissancehumanistdiscussionsof the Goddess(such as one finds in the work of Coluccio Salutati)continuedto acknowledgethe complex and often inscrutablerelationship betweenFortunaandprovidence.45 Consequently,significant strainsof Christianthoughtwere able, as C. N. Cochranesays, to admit an "elementof truth"in the idea of blind fortuneor chance, namely, "thatthe individualhistorical event is ipso facto unique and Forus as observersit is impossibleto recognize its relationships unpredictable. until afterit has occurredandthen only imperfectly.This, however,providesno valid reason for supposing that it marks the interventionof an arbitrary and
Parel, The Machiavellian Cosmos, 65. Newell, "How Originalis Machiavelli?"628; also see Pitkin,Fortune is a Woman,13940 and Miguel E. Vatter,"Fortunain the RepublicanTraditionof Politics," in MaurizioViroli (ed.), Lessico Repubblicano(forthcoming). 42 Howard R. Patch, The Traditionof the Goddess Fortuna in Medieval Philosophy and Literature, Smith College Studies in Modem Languages, 3:4 (Northampton,Mass., 1922), 181-82, 184-86. 43 Ibid., 203. 44 Ibid., 200-202. 45Trinkaus,In Our Likeness and Image, 87-102.


Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


erraticcosmic force."46 Even St. Augustine,an extremechampionof providential design, recognizedthatthe divine plan remainsobscureto the humanmind: "Whatwe call 'randomoccurrence' [casum] is nothing but that of which the reason and cause is hidden from our view."47 In a similarvein the twelfth-cenJohnof Salisbury,while denying the existence of Fortunaas a turychurchman force worthy of reverence,48 still allowed that "theremay be a form of unexJohndeducesthe categoryof chancefrom occurrences."49 pected(inopinatorum) the fact thatthe circumstancesin which humansfind themselvescannotalways be tracedto clear causes, such as theirnatures,offices, or moralqualities."Fortune"thereforedenotes the cause of what happensto people when no otherexplanationmay be adduced:"Fortune always consists in thatwhich emergesunforeseen."50 Withoutdenying a providentialplan or positing fortuneas an independentforce, Johnadmitsthataccidentalor chanceevents do indeedoccur,or at least must be judged so from the perspective of humanignorance.Fortune designatesthe class of occurrencesthatseem to humanbeings to be randomor arbitrary. As we have seen, a numberof scholars insist that Machiavellirejects the Christianstance in favor of a conception of fortune as an autonomous(and largelymalevolent,or at least indifferent)force in humanlife. But the evidence of Machiavelli's own writings rendersthis claim suspect. Machiavelliconsisstandingbehindthe tently implies thatthereis some plan (howeverinscrutable) course of humanevents. This is evident in his remarksthatfortuneor the heavens or some otheroccult power actively selects certainindividualsfor a special role in history.Speaking in the Discourses of the reformof a corruptcity, he states, for glory....Those Trulythe heavens cannotgive a greateropportunity to whom the Heavens give such an occasion should observe the two roadsputbefore them:one makestheirlives secureandafterdeathrendersthem famous;the othermakesthem live in continualanxietiesand afterdeathleaves them an ill reputethatnever ends.51 Fromthis it is evidentthatindividualsareselectedby a poweror forceoutsideof themselves for the task of rulership(although,as I shall discuss later,they still The active utilize their free choice in taking advantageof their opportunities). qualityof supernatural design is also emphasizedelsewherein the Discourses:

CharlesNorris Cochrane,Christianityand Classical Culture(Oxford, 1957), 479. Hippo, Retractations(Washington,DC, 1968), 1.1-2. 48 John of Salisbury,Policraticus, ed. C. C. J. Webb (2 vols.; Oxford, 1909), I, 292. 49 Ibid., 293. 50Ibid. 51Machiavelli, Chief Works,223; italics mine.
47 St. Augustine of


CaryJ. Nederman

Menwhocommonly deserve liveamidgreat successes troubles orgreat less praiseor blame,becausemostof the timewe see thattheyhave beenpushed intoa destructive action orelevated by somegreatadvanthat the Heavens have on bestowed them, tage givingthemtheopportuit awayfrom Forthem-to workeffectively. nity-or taking Skillfully tunedoesthis,sinceshechoosesa man,whensheplansto bringabout andso muchabilitythathe greatthings,who is of so muchperception the him.52 she before recognizes opportunities put in thePrincethecapacity theills in his state to "recognize of theruler Likewise,
when they springup ... is given to a very few."53

Thatsomeplanorwisdomstands anarticle of faithin forms fortune behind Machiavelli's thearbiEvenif thescheme cannot be discerned (hence, thought. this of fortune to mostmenatmosttimes),it is present. Indeed, trary appearance countsforMachiavelli neverto giveup as a reason foroptimism: people"ought as beaten, sincetheydo notknow[Fortune's] andsinceshe because, purpose, Tomakethe crooked and unknown can roads, goesthrough hope."54 they always observation thatfortune is purposive, is already to dispelas a evenprovidential, of are human circumstances that events and the notion by-product ignorance without orreason. rhyme God'sBounteous Gift Itmaystillbe objected of human to thecourse thattheforcegivingpurpose eventsis nota personal fate or occult Christian but the powers deity, impersonal of paganreligion-a view supported Yetone oughtnotperParel. byAnthony forMachiavelli's evidence accephapsto dismissoutof handtheconsiderable tanceof conventionally in workssuchas "An views,contained piousChristian Exhortation toPenitence" Intheformer and"Allocution Made toa Magistrate."55 workespecially, a clearlyChristian as a giverof gifts,andin Godis portrayed turnthegreatest to Him. sinhuman be to can commit is ungrateful beings Inorder to realize howmany ouringratitude, to consider it is necessary andof whatsortarethebenefits fromGod.Consider, we havereceived how all andcreatedfor the made are made and created things then, benefitof man....Consider the beautyof thethingswe see. Of these,

Ibid.,407; italicsmine.
54; italics mine.

53 Ibid., 54 Ibid.,

408. in Parel(ed.), The see Anthony 55 On the "Exhortation," J. Parel,"Machiavelli Minore," see Political Calculus, andNorton,"Machiavelli's on the "Allocution," Roadto Paradise"; J. Parel,"Machiavelli's 18 (1990),525-44. PoliticalTheory, Notionof Justice," Anthony

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


parthe has made for ouruse, partin orderthat,as we observethe glory and the marvelousworkmanship of these things, upon us may come a thirstand a longing to possess those otherthings that are hidden from us.... See, then, with how much ingratitudeman rises against such a he deserveswhen he pergreatbenefactor!And how muchpunishment verts the use of these things and turnsthem towardevil!56 Machiavelli's God is one who has bestowed upon humankindevery favorfrommaterialgoods andresourcesto speech andreason-and who therebydemands penitence from those who do not accept and appreciatethe great gifts they have been granted.Nor is penitenceunderstoodin termsof inwardcontrition alone; it must be manifestin actions consistentwith gratefulnessfor what God has given us.57The gracious natureof the Machiavelliandeity is thus directly correlatedto the functionof assigningpersonaldestinythatis allottedto fortuneandthe heavens elsewhere in his writings. Even if one declines to take seriously Machiavelli'sconventionalwritings on religiousandmoraltopics,however,otherevidencestill atteststo his belief in the Christiandeity as the providentialsource of the patternswhich "fortune" weaves. In this regardthe Prince, thatinfamouslysacrilegiouswork, provides the key evidence for Machiavelli'sChristianorientation. In it he repeatedlydefends the view thatthe only trulysafe means of acquiringa state is throughthe exercise of one's virtu,rather thanby meansof fortune,since rulerswho depend chance circumstance in to maintainthemselves are invariablyfrustrated upon achieving theirgoal. "He who dependsleast on Fortunesustainshimself longest," Machiavelliasserts,"Those who ... become princes simply throughFortunemaybecome so with little effort,butwith mucheffortsustainthemselves."58 At the same time, he realizes that fortuneis the source of all opportunities to govern; no one can achieve rulershipif he is opposed by fortune.But the examplesof princesheld in highest esteem by Machiavelliaredrawnfromamong those who "hadfromFortunenothingmore thanopportunity, which gave them matterinto which they could introducewhateverformthey chose; and without their strengthof will would have been wasted, and without such opportunity, the would have been useless."59 This, then, seems to form strength opportunity the essence of virttu: knowing when one is well-situatedto act and graspingthe opportunity. This observation raisesnew questions,however.How does the individualof virtu enter into this situationin the first place? And how does he avoid later threatsfrom fortunewhich seem unavoidable?In sum, what makes it possible
56 57


Machiavelli, Chief Works,172. Ibid., 173-74.

Ibid., 27.

59Ibid., 25.


CaryJ. Nederman

for the very rarerulerto succeed where so many others have failed so miserably? To respondwe must consider what Machiavelli acknowledgesto be the one certainguarantee thatfortunemay be overcome:the gift of gracegranted by God. In ChapterSix of the Prince, he singles out a few men "whothroughtheir own ability and not throughFortunehave been transformed into princes[:] ... In view Moses Machiavelli's the like."60 Moses, Cyrus,Romulus,Theseus, and seems to be the greatestamong these. The obvious reason for this, as statedin theDiscourses, is that"amongall famousmen those aremost famouswho have beenheadsandorganizers of religion.Next afterthemarethosewho havefounded either republics or kingdoms."61 Moses thus stands atop Machiavelli's list of men: alone those illustrationswhich he offers, Moses was the glorious among founderof both a religion and a state.62 The awe in which Machiavelli holds Moses is evident in the Prince: "Although Moses should not be discussed, since he was a simple executorof the things orderedof him by God, neverthelesshe ought to be exalted, if only for that grace [grazia] that made him worthy to speak with God."63 Moses was God's chosen, His anointed.Machiavellinotes laterin the chapter-making a famous contrast with Savonarola64-that Moses was the ultimate "armed to employ forcein a righteouscauseagainstthosewho would prophet," prepared As Machiavelliobservesin the Discourses, "Hewho reads oppose God's will.65 the Bible intelligentlysees thatif Moses was to put his laws andregulationsinto effect, he was forced to kill countless men who, moved by nothing else than Machiavellifinds in God's gracean authorienvy, were opposedto his plan."66 zationto act as necessary for the sake of realizingthe divine plan. Havingbeen selectedto receive God's favordoes not constrainthe rangeof optionsavailable to the ruler.If anythingthe gracedprincemay act with greaterimpunity,knowassuranceof ing thathis cause is righteousandthathe enjoys an extraterrestrial a successful end to his endeavors.67



Ibid., 25. Ibid., 220.

See John T. Scott and Vickie B. Sullivan, "Patricideand the Plot of the Prince: Cesare Borgia and Machiavelli's Italy,"AmericanPolitical Science Review, 88 (1994), 897. 63 25. Machiavelli, Chief Works, 64See Donald Weinstein,"Machiavelliand Savonarola,"in MyronP. Gilmore(ed.), Studies on Machiavelli (Florence, 1972). 65 Machiavelli, Chief Works,26-27. 66 Ibid., 496. 67 An implicationdenied by, for instance, Parel, "MachiavelliMinore," 192, and J. G. A. Pocock, "Custom& Grace, Form & Matter:An Approachto Machiavelli'sConceptof Innovation," in MartinFleischer (ed.), Machiavelli and the Nature of Political Thought(New York, 1972), 171.

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal By the Graceof God


Yet mightnot we say thatMoses is uniquein this regard,as the only prince on Machiavelli'slist who actuallyconverseswith God (at least if one discounts "unarmedprophets"such as Savonarola)?While Machiavelli clearly singles Moses out for specialpraise,however,he does not meanto suggest thatthe case of the Old Testamentfigure is entirelyunique.Rather, he remarks,"Butlook at the and who others and founded Cyrus gained kingdoms.You will find themall amazing;andif you look at theiractionsandtheirindividualmethods,they seem While Moses no differentthan those of Moses, who had so greata teacher."68 certainly benefitted from direct divine guidance, the other founders whom Machiavellipraisesalso enjoyed some special favorfromGod, both in termsof the gift of an opportunity for actingpropitiouslyandthe divine encouragement to seize the chancethatthey hadbeen granted. The possession of divine inspiration is the most fundamentalsource of the similaritiesbetween Moses, Cyrus, Romulus,andTheseus, all of whom Machiavelliregardsto be-at least figuratively-profeti.69 The idea that secular rulers no less than theocraticones are agents of the divine will and serve at God's pleasureis not so contraryto conventionalrelithe worthinessof the greatestpagan gion as it may seem at first glance. Rather, rulersin the eyes of God was upheldby medievalthinkers.Witnessthe storyof the EmperorTrajan,widely recountedduringthe MiddleAges: so just was he of Hell afterthe interventhat,althougha pagan,he was saved fromthe tortures tion of Gregorythe Greatwith God.70 Machiavelliindeed knew this tale, for in he cites Trajan'sexample of justice, his "Allocation Made to a Magistrate," quotingin this connectionfromDante'sPurgatorioandconcluding,"Fromthis In a similarvein medieval we can see how muchGod loves JusticeandMercy."71 saw God's handat workin the successes of otherpaganrulers.As the Christians late thirteenth-century scholastic Ptolemy of Lucca declares in his influential continuationof Aquinas'sDe regno, With regardto those [pagans]exercising lordship,God seems to have grantedthe legitimacyof lordship....God makesa dispositionon behalf of the subjects to bring about a betterresult when a ruler,althougha sinner,strives to please God. Isaiah writes [in 4 Kings 15.1-7] about Cyrus,King of the Persians:"I,the Lord,say these thingsto my Christ, Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, so that I might subject the

68 69

Machiavelli, Chief Works,25. Ibid., 26. 70 See Parel, "Machiavelli'sNotion of Justice,"539-41. 71 Ibid., 526-27.


CaryJ. Nederman nationsto him and turnthe backs of kings. I will open the doorsbefore him andthe gates will not be closed...."God disposedthingsin this way becauseCyrusshowedhumilitytowardsHis faithfulJews....As a result of these good and virtuousworks in favor of the divine cult and the people of God, he obtainedthe monarchyof the entireEast.72

So Machiavelli'sallusionto Cyrusas an "armed on parwith Moses is prophet" neither singularnor sacrilegiousafter all. Rather,to claim that the success of rulersdependsupon a gift directlyfromGod, regardlessof whetherthey enjoy of Christian some immediaterelationship with the divine being, was a hallmark thoughtlong before the Prince. At best Machiavelliis simply adaptingthis tradition to explain how the greatestof princes have managed to overcome the limitationsimposedby fortuneas well as theirown naturesandcharacters: they benefittedfromGod's aid. In the finalchapterof thePrince Machiavellireturns to the themethatrulers are sure to succeed only when the hand of God assists them. His goal is to of implorethe Medici family to look upon themselves as the new "redeemers" In this regard,he comparesthe currentpredicamentof Italy with the Italy.73 situations encounteredby Moses among the Hebrews, Cyrus in Persia, and Theseus in Athens:in all cases the nationwas "withoutleadership,withoutorder,beaten,despoiled,lacerated, devastated,subjectto every sortof ruination," in sum, ready for a new founding.74 Justas God had once grantedthe opportuact to to His earlier "armed so it exists in Machiavelli's nity gloriously prophets," own day.Indeed,thePrince in this passageovertlyinvokesthe divinedimension of Italy's need for salvation, identifying God's hand both in the existence of andin the selection of a leader: propitiouscircumstances And though up to now variousgleams have appearedin some Italians fromwhich we mightjudge them ordainedby God for herredemption, neverthelesswe have seen that, in the highest course of their actions, they have been disapproved by Fortune... [Italy]is now prayingto God to send someone to redeemher from such barbarous crueltyand arroat in she can have more There is whom not, present,anyone gance.... hope than in your glorious family, which, throughits fortuneand its wisdom and strength,favoredby God andby the Church(of which it is now head), can make itself the leaderof this redemption.This will not be very hardif you bringbeforeyou the actionsandlives of thosenamed

72 Ptolemy of Lucca, De regimineprincipum, in St. Thomas Aquinas, Opuscula Omnia necnon Opera Minora, ed. J. Perrier(Paris, 1949), I, 3.7.4. 73Machiavelli, Chief Works, 96. 74 Ibid., 92-93.

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


above [viz., Moses, CyrusandTheseus].And althoughthese men were exceptionalandmarvelous,neverthelessthey were men;andevery one of them had a poorerchance thanthe presentone, because theirundertakingwas not morejust thanthis,noreasier,norwas God morefriendly to them thanto you.75 Machiavellithen goes on to list numerousomens andportentswhich, according to him, constitute"signsthatGod is directingyou."76These statements perhaps constitutethe most extremeillustration of Machiavelli'srelianceupon conventional Christiantheology. Human beings cannot overcome the obstacles to rulershipon theirown but mustbe selected by divine grace,andtherebyauthorizedby supernatural providence,in orderto assuresuccess. Is the intimationof the Medici'sdivineappointment merehyperboleor even sheerflatteryon Machiavelli'spart? Althoughscholarshave certainlysuspected as much,Machiavelli'stheologically-flavored forecastis entirelyconsistentwith his remarksabout grace elsewhere in his corpus. It is thereforeplausible to sustainGrazia'sconclusionthat"thereferencesto the divine in ThePrince comprise significant metaphysicaland theological statements,with political bearare not trivial."77 Not ings just as significant";hence, Machiavelli's "remarks only does Machiavelli develop an internallyconsistentposition with regardto the divine design regardingearthlypolitical affairs,but he does so in a manner thatperpetuates medievalChristian And his relianceuponGod's ordidoctrines. nationand grace has a very serious and important purpose:to act as a counterweight to the claim thatthe forces of fortune,humannatureandindividualcharacter necessarily constrainthe ability of people to succeed in the conduct of government. "Goddoes not wish to do everything" As sketchedthus far,a readingof Machiavelliattunedto the Christianfeaturesof his thoughtmay seem to deny to rulersthemselvesa handin the creation andperpetuation of theirregimes,therebydeprivingthemof a claimon the glory thatthey seek. Does Machiavellisupposethataspiringmen of politics are simply puppets of God's power? Does the fatalism of a divinely-endowedprovidence simply supplantthe fatalism of impersonalfortune?De Grazia, in his close interpretation of the phrase"God'sfriendship" used in thePrince, appears to acceptthis implication.He arguesthat,in contrastto medievalconceptionsof amicus Dei, which posited an active human role in earning divine amity,
Ibid., 93-94. Ibid., 94. 77 De Grazia,Machiavelli in Hell, 31.
75 76


CaryJ. Nederman

Machiavelli's position is wholly passive.78 God chooses His elect and human are unable to act beings efficaciously except as His instruments. Suchfatalisticresignation teachis not entirelyin keepingwith Machiavelli's to in however. order While stance a deterministic attracted to ings, certainly explainboththe failureandthe success of humaninitiativein overcomingevents, he does not utterlysurrender humanefficacy.This is suggested,for example,by the famous openingparagraph of the twenty-fifthchapterof the Prince: I am not unawarethatmanyhave thought,andstill think,thatthe affairs of the world are so ruledby fortuneandby God thathumanprudenceis incapableof controllingthem, as a result of which nothing that goes astrayhas a remedy;andthereforeit could be judged thatit is useless to worry too much about things, but let them be governed by happenstance.... When I think about this, I am sometimes inclined, to some extent, to share this opinion. Nevertheless, so as not to eliminate our free will (libero arbitrio), I judge it to be the case that fortuneis the arbiterof half our actions, but that it lets us control roughly the other half.79 The way in which Machiavellihas phrasedhis observationis revealing,in particularbecause of his use of the technicalLatintermfor freedomof the will in a ofliberum In Christian of the operation theologicalsense.80 thoughtthe intricacies arbitriumhad formeda topic of considerabledebatebeginningwith the Church Fathersandrunningthroughout the LatinMiddleAges. The issues surrounding free will continuedto provokethe humanistsof the Renaissance.In the century before Machiavelli'sbirth,Salutati,LorenzoValla,and many otherscomposed extensive examinations of human choice; and such luminaries as Pietro Pomponazziand Erasmusreturnedto the issue in the early sixteenthcentury.81 As customarily conceivedby medievaltheologianssuchas ThomasAquinas, the operationof the free will is integrallyrelatedto grace.82 ForAquinasandhis fellow scholasticsthe meritof voluntaryhumanactiondependsuponthe preexisting stateof grace,which no personmay earn.Graceis infusedas a divine gift andas such cannotbe countedas a humanachievement.The free will, in choosIbid., 50-52. Machiavelli, Chief Works,89-90. 80 See J. R. Korolec, "FreeWill and Free Choice,"in NormanKretzmann, AnthonyKenny, and Jan Pinborg (eds.), The CambridgeHistory of Later Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge, 1982). Also useful is MarciaL. Colish, "The Idea of Libertyin Machiavelli,"JHI, 32 (1971), 325-27. 81 See to Lorenzo In OurLikenessand Image, andMaristella Lorch,"Introduction" Trinkaus, Valla, On Pleasure, tr.A. Kent Hieatt and MaristellaLorch (New York, 1977). 82 See Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siecles (6 vols.; Gembloux, 1942) I.
78 79

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


ing morallycorrectaction,cooperateswith the gracealreadypresentin the soul. As Aquinasdeclares, of eternallife; but ... forthis is Man,by his will, does worksmeritorious it necessarythatthe will of manshouldbe prepared with graceby God.... The preparation of the humanwill for good ... cannottakeplace without the habitualgift of grace,which is the principleof meritorious works.83 In the medieval scholasticview, then, the attainment of salvationis a three-step of the first,the infusionof grace,followed by the cooperation process,requiring, will with the grace received, leading to the final recognitionof meritin eternal life.84No matterhow well one acts, one cannot earn the rewardof salvation, according to Aquinas, without the initial gift of grace: "Man, by his natural worksproportioned powers [i.e., unaidedfree will], cannotproducemeritorious to eternallife; but for this, a higherpower is needed, viz., the power of grace."85 Humanbeings, in sum, cannotachieve theirend by the operationof the freewill alone but only when the will is in accordwith grace. Althoughsome late medieval thinkers,such as the Ockhamists,soughtto challengethis positionby makthe scholasticunderstanding greaterroom for freedomuninformedby grace,86 ing remainedcurrentdown to the sixteenthcentury.87 Machiavelli's referencein Chapter25 of the Prince to liberumarbitrium containsunmistakable echoes of Christian theologicaldiscourse,albeitwith reference to secular political aspirationsratherthan eternal salvation.We might summarizeMachiavelli'sposition as follows. No one ought to think that he is capable,purely by dint of his own abilities and talents, of acquiringand mainof taininga state;extrinsiclimitationsof fortune,as well as intrinsicconstraints humannatureandcharacter, aretoo formidable.Instead,the only effective ruler is one who, for reasonsunknownandperhapsunknowable,has been chosen by God to govern and has been grantedprotection from the circumstancesthat troubleothers.Yet grace is not the end of the matter.The ordainedruler,who cannotearndivine approvaland authorization by his own will alone, must nevertheless employ his free choice in orderto cooperatewith and realize God's plan.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Introductionto St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. Anton C. Pegis (New York, 1948), 661, 662. 84 See Steven Ozment, TheAge of Reform, 1250-1550 (New Haven, 1980), 233. 85 Aquinas, Introductionto St. ThomasAquinas, 660. 86 Ozment, TheAge of Reform,233-34. 87 Antonio Poppi, "Fate,Fortune, Providenceand HumanFreedom,"in CharlesB. Schmitt and Quentin Skinner (eds.), The CambridgeHistory of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge, 1988), 661-67.



CaryJ. Nederman

ThatMachiavellihad somethingvery like thispositionin mindis confirmed a in Chapter 26, just following his accountof the heavenlyportentsof by remark Medici success: "Everythingpoints to your greatness. The rest you must do yourself. God does not wish to do everything,so as not to take fromus libero arbitrioandpartof the glory thatpertainsto us."88 Gracemustnot be an excuse forpassivity,as thoughachievementswill fall into one's lap withouteffort.God and the means for success, but the will of the chosen providesthe opportunity individualmust still be exercised, his virtu must be displayed.As Machiavelli asserts in TheAss, Tobelieve thatwithoutefforton yourpartGod fights foryou, while you areidle andon yourknees,hasruinedmanykingdomsandmanystates.... Thereshouldbe no one with so small a brainthathe will believe, if his house is falling,thatGod will save it withoutany otherprop,becausehe will die beneaththatruin.89 Machiavelli'slesson is clear:God's graceis a call to action,an awakeningof the will produce free will with the assurancethatthe course of conductundertaken the redemption in questionis not simplypersonal sought.Only the "redemption" salvation,but the attainmentof a public salvationof the citizens and subjects over whom the rulergoverns and the realizationof his own glory. Conclusion Machiavelli'sprince trulypossesses, in the words of Silvia Ruffo Fiore, a "sacralnature": of "As a leaderthe new princeembodies the biblical character the prophet-king who has received a special divine call, a covenantfromGod to But Machiavelli's guide the destiny of the nation towardan appointedgoal."90 sacral ruleris no mere "parody"of religious themes, as Fiore would have it. Machiavelliis, rather, deadlyseriousaboutthe need for a rulerwho activateshis free will in orderto realize the good stemming fromthe grace grantedby God, for no other means of success is possible, given the naturaland supernatural limits thatotherwiseburdenhumanbeings. The charge of an ironic or otherwise unserious stance on the part of MachiavellitowardGod and supernatural powers is a most troublesomeone. Among the morepopularimages of him is thatof a satirist,a purveyorof parody,

88 89

Machiavelli, Chief Works,94.

Ibid., 764.

Fiore, "'Upon Eagle's Wings': The Sacral Nature of Machiavelli's New Prince,"Rivista di Studi Italiani, 3 (1985), 2.

90 Silvia Ruffo

Machiavelli and Religion: A Reappraisal


none of whose statementsmay be taken at face value.91 This is the reason, for to Penitence"has been so readily rejected as instance, that the "Exhortation criticismsof de Grazia'sreadhypocriticalor worse. Indeed,one of the primary of Machiavelli is his of Florentine's referencesto God.As one the ing credulity critic has asserted,it "wouldmake more sense if de Graziatook his interpretation just one step furtherto question whether it was all a hoax. Perhapsthe assertionsregardingGod and the conclusion that special treatmentawaits the new prince are Niccolo's way of easing the good prince into committingevil acts."92 Anotherof de Grazia'sreviewerscomplainsthathe embraces"thesincerity premise that is conventionalto modem scholarship.For whateverreasons, Machiavelliis sincereandnevertriesto trickhis readers.... Nothingwould have amusedourNiccolo more."93 The presentpaperhas attemptedto demonstrate, on the basis of the human predicamentposited by Machiavelli himself, why he had to be perfectly and profoundlyserious in his referencesto the ChristianGod and to relatedsupernaturalforces, as well as to the power of free will. The cardsare stackedagainst the rulerwho supposesthathis talents,abilities,andstrength-apart fromsome divine ordination-are sufficientto earnhim stable dominionover a state:the vicissitudesof fortune,not to mentionthe limitationsimposedby humannature andpsychology, dictatethathis ventureswill end in failurein the shortrunor at best the medium term. Hence, the true, assured and everlasting glory of the princeis to be found solely in extraterrestrial appointment. Of course,just as no one can know whetheror not he is truly a bearerof divine grace,so Machiavelliadvises in a passageof theDiscourses alreadycited that no prospectivepolitical leaderought to give up his cause as entirelylost. The Lordmoves in mysteriousways, andanyman,no matterhow downtrodden, may properlyhope for the improvementof his presentcondition. In this way Machiavelliencouragesa sense of uncertaintyand an optimismfor futurebettermenton the partof humanbeings:God may call uponanyoneat some pivotal moment and thus may confer glory everlasting(temporalas well as spiritual) upon any person.The whole thrustof Machiavelli'spolitical theoryis the promotion of preparation for divine ordination-albeit such readinessis betteracthe thanof the Holy Book. Nonecomplishedby studyof secularhistoriesrather theless, the arbiterof political success and failure is God, not humanity.To ascribe some otherview to Machiavelliwould be to endow him with eitheran excessively positive or an inordinatelynegative view of the humancondition thata carefulexaminationof the full rangeof his writingswill not sustain.
or Political Satire?"The American Scholar, 27 see G. the Prince:Machiavelli and the Politics of De482-91; (1958), Mary Dietz, "Trapping ception,"AmericanPolitical Science Review, 80 (1986), 779-80. 92 Benhuniak-Long,"The Elusive Machiavelli,"319. 93 Harvey C. Mansfield, untitled review of Machiavelli in Hell, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 765.
91 GarrettMattingly, "Political Science


CaryJ. Nederman

It wouldbe absurd, of course,to suggestthatMachiavelli's demonstrable to reliance medieval manifest his Christian undercuts doctrines hostility upon an the historical andits teachings. Church But if, as one recentstudyargues, a "new of was to create element Machiavelli's important politicalenterprise thenhis Rome" thatwasnotthoroughly orevenanti-Christian,94 anti-religious of his reliance on medieval a facet as central be viewed ideasmay theological wouldhavebeenjustas Machiavelli's secular orientation project. Undoubtedly, of it John to or Thomas as seemedto manyof his shocking Salisbury Aquinas Thisdoesnotdiminevento somemodemreaders). (orindeed contemporaries in Christian thesignificance of thepresence of medieval ish,however, thought hiswritings. of Arizona. University

94Sullivan, Machiavellii ThreeRomes.