QUALIFIED OPPONENTS OF A HERETIC POPE MUST POSSESS SOUND KNOWLEDGE OF SCRIPTURES - WILLIAM OF OCKHAM Dial. 7 CHP. LXXIII
Student: I am tremendously astonished by this last statement, and shall diligently inquire about its motives in the treatise On the deeds of those disputing about orthodox faith. Now, however, since you have touched on many prerogatives which, according to the opinion of some, it is proper for qualified opponents of a heretic pope to possess in the highest degree, prerogatives all of which appear to me to be common to those who oppose a heretic pope physically and spiritually, proceed to list certain particular prerogatives which should be present in the highest degree in those who oppose the pope specifically by relying on the witnesses of Scriptures, if this heretic pope should definitively have attempted to impart to Christian peoples errors both flagrant and hidden.
Master: One responds that it is proper for such qualified opponents of a heretic pope to possess sound knowledge of Scriptures, namely, so that they not only remember their words, but also grasp the meaning of their truth. Because, witness Jerome (as we read in 1 q. 1 c. Marcion): "nor should we believe the Gospel to be found in the mere words of the Scriptures, but in their meaning; not on the surface, but in the marrow; not on the written pages, but in the rational foundation". [col 381] For there are many individuals who, although endowed with sufficient memory to retain many of Scripture's words, and able to instantly recite and argue these at will, nevertheless lack proper judgement and intellectual penetration as to these words' true meaning, and do not know how to arrive at this by their own power, unless they manage it occasionally and by accident. And it is of such interpreters that may be verified the following comment of the Apostle in 2 Timothy 3: "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth". [2 Timothy 3:7] Such persons are indeed not fitted to oppose errors both flagrant and hidden. There are others, however, endowed with rational discernment, although they seem to lack memory, and it is they who are qualified to oppose the secret, hidden, and flagrant errors of a heretic pope, even if it sometimes takes them much time and effort to perform the task. Indeed, although they frequently are unskilled in qualities of speech, and lack eloquence and verbal flourish, they do not lack knowledge, for they know how to deduce much from little, and it is they who clearly see which claims are contrary to the truth and which are in harmony with it, which statements are to be considered the premises of an argument, which the conclusions, and which are altogether irrelevant. These individuals are not easily misled by sophistical reasons and misunderstood authorities. You will, by the way, be able to discover in Book Nine [?] of The best method of learning [cf. Introduction to 1 Dial. 6. 16-35] by which rational science judgement is most potently assisted in these contexts. It is those who posses both superior memory and superior judgement (some consider this confluence to occur but rarely), and who are learned in the Sacred Letters, who would be the best qualified opponents of the errors of a pope infected by heretical wickedness. It is also proper that the qualified opponents of a heretic pope be supremely careful not to attempt to forcibly convert his ambiguous assertions into interpretations which run counter to his intention, or, equally, to strain these assertions into perverse meanings which go beyond his intention. And much more significantly, they must not pervert those assertions of his which are true in every sense. For if they did any of the aforementioned, especially if they did this knowingly, or on the basis of grossly passive ignorance, they will not only be judged as mortal sinners before God, but will also appear to be malicious, or envious, or unjust in the eyes of intelligent observers. Therefore let them initially analyze the heretic pope's ambiguous assertion on the foundation of all his statements. But if his assertion is not ambiguous, and can only have a sense which is false, it is not necessary to refer to his other statements. If, however, it were clear and obvious that the papal assertion was erroneous, let the opponents proceed to reject it and to lay most solid foundations for the contrary truth: not in quibbling fashion, not by sophistry, not by misunderstood authorities, not by doubtful assertions concerning which debate is permissible, not by fantastic, unintelligible, and involved allegations, not by the statements of those thinkers one is permitted to reject, but by authentic Scriptures, well and solidly understood, and by reasons which are clear, evident, and irrefutable. And let them do all this from love of truth and from hatred of falsehood, so that they be in no way motivated by anger, resentment, or hatred towards the person of the heretic pope.
Student: When I urged you to begin this work, I thought that we would compose a brief little treatise On heretics. The actual product has expanded, beyond my expectation, into a rather long treatise. If I were to submit to you for discussion all the problems which now occur to me concerning a heretic pope and his accomplices, the treatise would swell into immensity. But since long works are not viewed with favour by many of our contemporaries, let this present discourse of ours On heretics be herewith concluded. I am indeed grateful for your kindness. Assuming the persona of a reciter, you took care to acquiesce to my wishes, sometimes abbreviating the material being discussed, sometimes reciting false opinions and arguing firmly in support of them, sometimes responding to strong and probable reasons, sometimes leaving sophistical arguments unsolved, sometimes simply declaring truths without proving them; and your generosity applied to all the other issues which I raised. I have certainly found this approach to be useful, because, as a result, the love or hatred of your person will not influence anybody either to support or to reject argumentatively any of the issues we have written about. This approach will rather give all readers food for thought. Indeed, I do believe that when these materials will be published, learned and intelligent men who possess zeal for truth and for the common good will respond both to their originality and their usefulness, by attempting to confirm the truths contained herein through manifest arguments and open witnesses of the Scriptures, and by studiously rejecting all the peripheral falsehoods. I further reckon that when you begin to reveal your own opinion on these issues, you will write splendid and magnificent works, presenting the unambiguous truth, for the utility of all the faithful, and for the honour of Omnipotent God. May glory, praise, and dominion be His for ever. Amen.