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Honored Faculty Speaker


Gregory Murry, Ph.D.

Divine Right or Divine Law? The Pope, King Henry VIII, and the Royal Divorce

Dr. Gregory Murry, honored faculty speaker

Tuesday, April 8 at 3:30 p.m.
Knott Auditorium

Nearly every Western Civilization textbook includes some discussion of the Divine Right of Kings, the widespread early modern belief that kings received their authority from God. Moreover, everyone knows that kings used divine right to argue for their own absolute authority over their realms. If power came from God, so goes the story as it is traditionally told, kings were responsible to no earthly authority. Thus, it is no surprise that appeals to divine right (or the ius divinum as it was called in Latin) were an essential part of one of the most interesting contests for political authority in the sixteenth century: the royal divorce of King Henry VIII of England from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

However, based on an extensive reading of early modern political thought, Dr. Murry suggests that we need to rethink the meaning of the so-called "Divine Right of Kings." He argues that historians have mistranslated the concept of ius divinum as a right or privilege granted exclusively to monarchs. Rather, we would do better to think of the jus divinum as something like 'Leadership by Divine Law.' This "Leadership by Divine Law" did indeed imply that political authority came from God, but it was no license for absolutism; rather, it was quite the opposite, in that it marked out precise limits of behavior that even kings, popes, and princes could not cross. Thus, as we read story of the royal divorce through the lens of one of its earliest historians (the Spanish Jesuit Pedro Ribadeneira), we find that clash was not so much a squabble over the two men's respective rights as king and pope, as it was a disagreement between two men who were both arguing that divine law would not allow them to do what the other was asking. In short, the royal divorce was not so much an argument about what King and Pope claimed they could do, as it was an argument about what they claimed they could not do.


About Gregory Murry, Ph.D.

Gregory Murry has been an assistant professor of History at Mount Saint Mary's University since 2010 and is the current holder of the Class of 1963 Monsignor Tinder Professorship. He teaches courses on the Italian Renaissance, the European Age of Discovery, Modern Mexico, and Historically Based Games. Dr. Murry is currently working on a book entitled Divine Right or Divine Law? Political Authority, the Mandate of God, and the Limits of Kingship in Sixteenth-Century European Thought, a transnational study of the relationship between religious law and limitations on monarchical power in early modern European thought.

His first book, The Medicean Succession: Monarchy and Sacral Politics in Duke Cosimo dei Medici's Florence, was published in March of 2014 by Harvard University Press. Dr. Murry's articles include, "Jesuits, Inquisitors, and Cardinals: Curial Patronage and Counter-Reformation in Cosimo I's Florence" Renaissance and Reformation/ Renaissance et Réforme Vol. 32 No. 1 (Winter 2009); "Tears of the Indians or Superficial Conversion? Jose Acosta, the Black Legend, and Spanish Evangelization in the New World," The Catholic Historical Review 99 no. 1 (Jan. 2013); "Anti-Machiavellianism and Roman Civil Religion in the Princely Literature of Sixteenth-Century Europe," forthcoming in Sixteenth Century Journal (June, 2014); and "The Best Possible Use of Christianity: The Rhetorical Stance of Machiavelli's Christian Passages," forthcoming in History of Political Thought.

Dr. Murry holds a B.A. in History and Catholic Studies from the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, MN and an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Pennsylvania State University. He lives in Hanover, PA with his wife Kathryn and their four children.


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