Opinion 2: The Roman Emperor Is Not Now Lord Of All Nations Chapter 8 ~ William Of Ockham

Brussels Hours 
c. 1400


Are all parts of the world subject to the Emperor in temporals?

Opinion 2: The Roman Emperor is not now lord of all nations


Student It seems that a clear reply has been given to the argument brought forward in chapter 7. To those [arguments] brought forward in chapter 6 I have reported some replies. If there are other replies to them besides those I would like to hear them.

Master To the first of them, which consists in this, that what the pope approves we should approve, the reply is that this is true when the pope approves something by using his papal authority in defining and determining it in a just and catholic way. If the pope approves something, however, neither by defining nor by determining it or even by defining and determining it in a way neither just nor catholic, we are for this reason not bound to approve it. So it was that although he was pope, Innocent IV did not want his opinions regarded as authentic. Similarly we are not bound to approve in any way the opinions of Innocent V either, even those which he approved after he was pope. Now we do not find, however, that any pope in a definition and determination approved that all the provinces of the world or the kingdom of France should be subject to the Roman empire. Therefore we are not bound to approve this. Even if some pope had in a definition and determination approved this, yet because he would not have approved this justly, we are not bound to approve the same thing.

Student Two [points] occur to me against that reply.

The first is that according to that reply we are not more bound to approve what the pope approves than what any bishop or any expert in the sacred scriptures is known to approve, because whatever a bishop or expert in sacred letters approves in a just and catholic way, we too are bound to approve because we ought to approve all justice and everything which is catholic.

The second [point] that occurs to me is that if we are not bound to approve what the pope approves, even in a determination and definition, it would follow that we could condemn it. This seems counter to a certain papal constitution [Redemptor noster], which a pope is said to have made in connection with the order of Friars Minor, by which (they say) it is provided that after any question of faith has been brought before the apostolic see, no brother thereafter should dare to approve, choose or affirm one side of it or the other before it has been determined by the church: for if after some question of faith has begun to be considered in the curia no one ought to approve any one side or other, and consequently ought not condemn either side, so much more is it the case that no one ought to condemn in any way what the pope approves.

Master The reply to the first of those is that we ought to approve what a pope approves more than what someone else who is inferior approves, because when a pope approves something we ought not, unless we are sure that he is in error, in any way publicly or before others deny it, either assertively or opinionatively or doubtfully, although if we are sure that he is in error against faith or justice we can and should in that case publicly and secretively condemn it in every way. That which a bishop or someone else inferior to a pope approves, however, we can, even if we are not sure that he is in error, deny doubtfully or opinionatively even publicly before others and can contradict his assertion, although we should not assert the opposite pertinaciously if he is not in error, because we ought not assert anything false pertinaciously.

In reply to the second it is said that if the pope errs against the faith or good morals or against justice, even if this is in a definition and determination, and this is certain to us, we can and ought to condemn him openly, so that even if some question of faith begins to be discussed in the curia anyone who is certain about its truth from the sacred scriptures or the catholic determinations of the church can and ought to choose, approve and assert the true side and reject and condemn the false side. For this reason too some people think that the constitution made by the pope in connection with the Friars Minor is, as they say, heretical, savouring of the worst heresy that has ever been devised by any heretic, so that a worse heresy could not be found.

Student You are offering something marvellous to my ears. Therefore I want to confer here briefly with you about this, although we have been able to find much in other works of certain [authors], because this little work will perhaps come into the hands of some people who will not see the other works. Tell me briefly, therefore, what is, according to those holding that opinion, that worst heresy which that constitution smacks of and why it is the worst and what absurdities, according to them, follow from it.

Master They say that the worst heresy, which according to them that constitution smacks of, is that the pope dominates christian faith in such a way that the whole of christian faith which christians are bound to believe so depends on the approval, definition and determination of any pope at all that no christian should firmly believe anything pertaining to faith before he is certain that the pope at the time holds and approves it. They say moreover that this is the worst heresy because according to it the pope could change the whole faith and all the articles of faith and could make articles opposed even to the articles contained in the Apostles' Creed. And so nothing would be certain and unchangeable in the whole of christian faith and all of it would depend on the will of the pope. And he could destroy the gospel and the whole of divine scripture and could create a new opposed scripture to which all christians would have to adhere, as long as the pope wished it, all of which afterwards his successor could change. And so any pope could give christians a new faith which they would be bound to accept and approve during his time and until it was revoked by his successor. Nothing worse than this could be said against the christian faith. They conclude from the scriptures, moreover, that additional absurdities follow from that constitution. They say that many are inferred from deeds of our own time, one of which is that no Friar Minor, however learned and skilled, should henceforth assert or assent [to the proposition] that the world has not existed since eternity, nor even that it has existed since eternity. Another is that no friar minor should henceforth assent [to the proposition] that there is any distinction among the persons within the divine. Another is that none of them should approve [the proposition] that a man, however just, is not changed into the divine essence, as in the sacrament of the altar bread is changed into the body of Christ. Another is that none of them should assert henceforth that neither blessed Peter nor any other man who is not Christ, true God and true man, did not create the stars and that without such a man God would not know how to make anything. Another is that none of them should henceforth assert that the creatures of God are not pure nothingness. That all these absurdities and very many similar ones follow from that constitution they prove from the fact that a certain master in theology of the order of preaching brothers, Aycardus by name [Eckhart], of the German nation, believed all the above and many other most absurd things. He was first accused of or denounced for these [beliefs] by the archbishop of Cologne, in whose court a hearing was given to Aycardus and the above beliefs and other similar ones aired. When he subsequently came to Avignon and assessors were appointed for him he did not deny that he had taught and preached the above things. He was not condemned for them nor were his assertions, those above and others, immediately condemned, but they were entrusted to cardinals to determine whether they should be reckoned as heresies. Certain masters of theology were also instructed jointly to consider the matter. And so it is notorious that all the above assertions of Aycardus and very many others like them were discussed in the curia and that no pope subsequently determined those questions. No friar minor, therefore, should choose, approve or affirm one side or another of any [of those questions]. And similarly, if it were discussed at the curia whether Christ was born of a virgin or whether the Blessed Mary was a virgin after giving birth or whether there would be a future resurrection of bodies or anything similar, a friar minor would not be permitted to assert one side or the other.

William of Ockham, Dialogus,
part 3, tract 2, book 2.

Text and translation by John Scott.
Copyright (c) 1999, The British Academy


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