Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Azpilcueta, Martín de

Born: 13, December, 1492, Barasoain (Spain)
Died: 21, June, 1586, Rome (Italy).
  • A. Martínez SobrinoEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_111-1


Martin de Azpilcueta Jaureguizar is one of the most relevant members of the School of Salamanca together with Francisco de Vitoria and Domingo de Soto. Also known as Doctor Navarrus or just Navarrus, he was a leading figure in Canon Law and Moral Theology of the sixteenth Century. Nowadays, he is better known as an original and pioneer economic thinker; he was indeed the first to make the clear and definite statement of the quantity theory of money. He is also the discoverer of the Purchasing Power Standards of the foreign-exchange. On Social politics, he held in a speech addressed to the Emperor Charles V the democratic origin of the power and the indirect power of the Church on terrestrial issues.

Alternate Names


Born in a noble family in the small villa of Barasoain (Navarre, Spain), Martin de Azpilcueta studied Latin, Rethorics, and Dialectics. In 1508, accepted as one of the first 24 students of the newly founded Colegio San Ildefonso, he moved into the University of Alcala de Henares, where he got the bachelor in Theology. In 1516, he enrolled in the University of Toulouse and, seven years later, he got the PhD in Canon and Civil Laws. He lectured in both in the University of Cahors (1522) and in the University of Toulouse. In 1524, having refused the offer of becoming councilor of the Parliament in Paris, he moved to the monastery of Roncesvalles to profess as a regular canon of Saint Augustin – he was ordained in 1515 – but shortly after, he departed to the University of Salamanca to be a lecturer in Canon and Civil law. At that time, the Spanish universities would not accept PhDs obtained abroad, so he earned for a second time (1531) the PhD in Canon and Civil Laws. In Salamanca, he became a very renowned lecturer; his lectiones on the Commentaria in septem distinctiones de poenitentia, which followed the Edictum Gratiani, were attended up to 1000 students, something unheard of. Among the attendants of his lectures stand out Diego de Covarrubias (1512–1577), Arias Pinelo, Francisco Sarmiento, and Pedro Deza (1526–1600). In 1528, the Emperor Charles V listened to the lectio addressed by the Navarrus on the first property of the kingdom. The Emperor offered him both a position in the Royal Council of Navarre and a canonry in the Cathedral of Pamplona, but Azpilcueta refused them. In 1537, he got the Prima Cathedra of Canons, and shortly after, in 1538, the Emperor asked him to move into the University of Coimbra to occupy the same Professorship held in Salamanca. In Portugal, he gained the appreciation of the king Juan III who, in 1539, appointed him Chancellor of the University and guaranteed to him a permanent monthly salary of 1000 ducats. In 1555, his relationship with the University of Coimbra concluded, and the following year, willing to resume his very much appreciated writings and studies, Navarrus returned to Spain, where Philip II offered him both a position in the Council of Castilla and a second one in the Inquisition. Azpilcueta refused both, together with a bishopric Juan III would bid him in a posterior visit to Portugal. Back in Navarre, Philip II requested the Doctor Navarrus to defend from the charge of Erasmism presented by the Inquisition Fray Bartolomé de Carranza Miranda, the Archbishop of Toledo, and Cardenal Primate of Spain. The case would be the high point of Azpilcueta’s juridical career. The process began in Valladolid, where the Archbishop stayed imprisoned, in 1561. Six years later, Doctor Navarrus, due to the unreasonable delays and the political intrigues, demanded the case to be transferred to the Vatican incurring so the enmity of the King, main guarantor of the honor of the Inquisition. In Rome, Azpilcueta combined his defense of the Archbishop with the positions appointed by both the Pope Pius V and Charles Cardinal Borromeo, first of advisor in the Supreme Penitentiary Tribunal and then of Major Penitentiary. His fame was such that Pius V did try twice – in 1570 and 1572 – to designate him Cardinal, but the Philip’s II antipathy impeded it. Nevertheless, Doctor Navarrus enjoyed the friendship of the Popes Pius V, Gregory XIII, and Sixtus V, to whom also counseled. In 1586, at the age of 93, Azpilcueta died in Rome where he was buried in the national Church of San Antonio de’ Portoghesi.

Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition

Doctor Navarrus exemplifies better than many of his contemporaries the spirit of the universities in the epoch. In a time where many questions on the limits of the Church and the Civil Power raised, he, together with his colleagues of the School of Salamanca, strained on updating the accustomed medieval canons and customs in order to address the Church and Civil powers to their fair exercise. Azpilcueta coped successfully with many arising issues, which were to induce a theological renaissance. Among the factors which provoked it, there were theological factors, such as the Protestant reforms, and nontheological ones, such as the new idea of man and society, the European demographic expansion, the surge of modern national states, the discovery of the New World, the massive affluence of precious metals, the new markets in the Indies, the development of banking activities, the new forms of payment, etc.

Innovative and Original Aspects

Navarrus, unlike the canonical doctrine of the time, endeavored both to promote a reform of customs and to form the conscience of a society needful of amendment in the ecclesiastic discipline. Aware that neither the Ius Decretalium nor the Canons inherited from the Medieval Age could give, in their customary form, the correct answers to the ethical problems arising up, Azpilcueta sought in the tradition, specially, in the Edictum Gratiani, perennial criteria upon which base the canonical principia. Convinced that the foundation of a moral opinion should not be supported by speculative arguments, but by the texts or auctoritates endorsing it, and conscious that the regular medieval inert repetition of the formulae was not useful anymore, he struggled successfully to clarify different canonical areas on specific living problems which demanded enormous erudition and very good criteria. So by safeguarding his own conventions on different matters, by pointing out some lacks of the authors and, occasionally, by confronting contemporary ones, Doctor Navarrus gathered everything right and valid from the theologians and canonists from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries to reach the convergence of the different doctrines. Thus, by offering the possibility of the inclusion of many normative, doctrinal, and historical erudition and by keeping the scholastic exposition of the jurist, that is, by making continue references to the authors instead of stating new rules, he changed forever the status of the Moral Theology from a prescientific ars to an independent scientific discipline.

Azpilcueta, troubled as he was by the realms of the salvation of souls, bothered himself with many branches of knowledge and showed a great concern in writing morally profitable dissertations.

Impact and Legacy

It is almost impossible to list all of the editions of Doctor Navarrus’s production for, besides being a very prolific writer, he was very keen on the accuracy of his texts, to the point that he would attend his publications making corrections, additions, etc. Still, his writings can be classified under four major groups: (1) Canon Law, on which he treated many living problems under the form of commentaries to the Edictum Gratiani. (2) Moral Theology, on which the most important writing is the Manual de confesores y penitentes (1556) later known as Enchiridion sive manuale confessarium et poenitentiarium (1573). (3) Ascetic and spiritual writings: Enchiridium sive manuale de oratione, et horis canonicis, Roma, 1577–1578 (Lyon, 1580; Roma, 1586), Commentarius de paupertate (1575). (4) Apologetic works: Carta apologética a Don Gabriel de la Cueva (Duque de Alburquerque) (1571).

Azpilcueta’s most important doctrinal contributions were in the two leading fields of the time, Canon Law and Moral Theology. Fields on which Lawrence Beyerlinck granted him to be the greatest jurist among the theologians and the greatest theologian among the jurists.

His lectures, both in Salamanca and in Coimbra, on the Edictum Gratiani, addressed in order to raise its authority, were collected in the Commentaria in septem distinctiones de poenitentia (1581). In them, Azpilcueta deals with the most difficult titles of the Decretals together with the comments to the Decree. Navarrus maintains the order of the text set by Gracian but distributes the seven distinctions of the penance in three basic groups: (A) The relation of the penance with the justification and the implantation of the virtues. (B) The fundamental doctrine of the penance: the relations between the contrition, the sacrament of penance, and the reparation; the need of confession for the remission and the obligation of the confession of the sins; the contrition and the will to confess; the inner penance and the sacrament of penance. (C) The authoritative principles of the administration of penance that stand out for their pastoral dimension according to which the ecclesiastical nature confers a customary power of absolving which can only be exercised over a faithful subject liable to a particular priest. Ideas he later completed in works such as the Commentarius de anno iobeleo et indulgentiis omnibus (Milán 1573; Roma 1575, 1585), the Commentarius de silentio in divinis officiis prasertim in choro servando (1580, 1584), Miscellanea centum de oratione, praesertim de psalterio et Rosario Virginis matris Mariae (1586), the Commentarius de oratione, horis canonicis atque aliis divinis officiis (1590).

In the Tratado de las Rentas de los beneficios esclesiástios (1566) or Tractatus de reditibus beneficiorum ecclesiaticorum (1568), Azpilcueta defends the doctrine on benefits of the revenues, that is, on the right that assists the beneficiaries regarding the reimbursements of ecclesiastical profits. For him, the beneficiary’s right over the revenues of the benefit does not convert them in the owner of the profits neither does it allow them to dispose of them by the inter vivos act or by testament. On this subject, he also asserts that beneficed clergymen are free to expend the fruits of their benefices only for their own necessary support and that of the poor. In addition, he also declares that the use of money in exchanges is natural, and that money is on the same level as any other merchandise, and so the morality of exchanges does not depend on money as their object, but on an equitable exchange.

In the Relectio cap. “Novit,” (1548) Doctor Navarrus was the first to formulate the doctrine of the indirect power of the Church in terrestrial issues and the origin of the civil power. He considered that everything instituted in order to an end is ordered, instituted, and contracted according to what that end demands. Thus, he follows, it happens that God’s celestial power has been instituted both, to govern supernatural realities and to direct mortals to eternal life; and so, it extends to the temporary only insofar as it is required by the reason of the supernatural and not beyond. He also specifies that, as of the doctrine that knows the divine origin of power, the secular power is given immediately by God, who confers the authority to the community for their being the primary subject, the first depository of the secular power. Thus, the real power is by natural right of the community, who cannot renounce to it, and not of the king, who, save for few exceptions, is always the second cause.

Azpilcueta also applied himself to the administration of the Church and to the inquisitorial functions of the magistrates. Themes on which he disserted in writings such as In capt. “Si quanto,” “De rescriptis,” (1543) Relectio in cap “Cum contingat,” “De rescriptis,” (1575) y Commentarius de datis et promissis pro iustitia vel gratia obtinendis, (1575) Consilia et responsa (1601). Convinced that the trial-processes have more to do with the virtue of justice than with prudence, Doctor Navarrus in the Commentarius utilis in rubricam “De iudicis” (1548) provides the judge with solid moral criteria to strengthen his will for justice. He instructed the judge to acquit the convict if the accuser does not prove what he alleges; he also reminds that the judge sins gravely if, lacking sufficient evidence, he strains the convict to answer under torture or oath.

On Moral Theology, his Enchiridion o Manual de Confesores y penitentes (1556) or the Enchiridion sive manuale confessariorum et poenitentium (1573) is without any doubt, together with the Commentaria in septem distinctiones de poenitentia (1581, 1586), his most influential work. Dedicated to the sister of Philip II, the Princess Juana, Azpilcueta’s friend and patroness, it was originally written in Portuguese, and, due to its great success, it was reprinted 81 times between 1549 and 1625 – translated into Spanish, Italian and Latin – by himself in Rome in 1573. As in the De poenitentia, the brilliance of the text lies on Doctor Navarrus’s ability to structure systematically the moral precepts to the point of switching the Moral Theology to an independent scientific discipline.

The organization of the Manuale by Navarrus made needless the burden of having to read over and over the medieval Sumae to inform about an issue. Azpilcueta arranges the Enchiridion in 26 chapters which can be thematically grouped in two major sections of ten chapters and a third containing the remaining six. The ten first chapters expose the guiding criteria of the sacrament of penance and the acts of the penitent and the confessor; the next ten explain the moral duties arising from each of the commandments of the Decalogue. The remaining chapters explain the following commandments: the 21st, the five of the Church, the 22nd, those concerning the Sacraments, the 23rd those on Pride and Deadly Sins, the 24th those on the external senses and the Works of Mercy and Fraternal correction, the 25th the sins of the various states; and the last chapter, the 26th, the duties of the Church.

Nevertheless, the importance of the handbook lies fundamentally on Azpilcueta’s treatment of the ethical aspect of the commercial transactions. Meant to provide moral guidance for pastors and penitents, the Manuale surpasses the boundaries of the Catholic Catechism for its indirect analysis of sixteenth-century economic realities – explorations on exchange practices, supply and demand, and the nature of money, etc. – to become the main milestone for the transformation of the Moral Theology into an independent scientific discipline. The growing commercial transactions rose in Azpilcueta the interest for the treatment of money as a base for the moral regulation of economic dealings among citizens of the same country and of different nations. To them he devoted the five appendices of the Manuale in the edition of 1556: el Comentario resolutorio de cambios, Sobre la usura, Commentarius de usuris, in Cap. “Si feneraveris,” la Simonía, en la Defensa del prójimo y el hurto. Out of which the most relevant will be the Comentario resolutorio de cambios.

In these added commentaries to the Manuale, Doctor Navarrus explains that the value of the money is not determined by nominal and metallic factors but by its interrelationships with goods. Supporting the commonly held view that the value of money, like that of goods, varies according to supply and demand, Navarrus first defines the quantity theory of money. A theory whose foundations had been laid by medieval writers, but which Azpilcueta brought to life because he had witnessed in first-hand the rising of prices and wages in Spain as a result of the imports of American gold and silver.

Doctor Navarrus wrote on pure moral-science itself the three following contributions: De finibus humanorum actuum (1571), in which he solves how the ends alter the acts of virtue or the sins; the Commentarius in cap. “Inter verba” (1584, 1588) about how honor, praise, and good reputation should be based on the truth and the testimony of one’s conscience; the Commentarius in cap. “Humanae aures” (1583) on the difficult problem of the possible legality of an amphibological response for a just cause that can be presented to a confessor or to any other person sued and interrogated in court.



Primary Literature

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Secondary Literature

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Euskal Herriko UnibertsitateaUniversidad del País VascoLeioaSpain

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alejandro Coroleu
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Arts. Building B, Campus UAB, Department: Catalan LanguageUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Cerdanyola), BarcelonaSpain