IS IT FOR CANONISTS, OR FOR THEOLOGIANS, TO DECIDE WHAT IS HERESY? - WILLIAM OF OCKHAM Dial. 1 CHP. II
Master: OTHERS, HOWEVER, hold without doubt that it pertains to theologians chiefly to decide, not by way of an authoritative decision but by way of teaching, which assertion should be considered as catholic and which heretical, and that it does not pertain to canonists, except in so far as their science is known to borrow some things pertaining to faith from theology. They try to confirm this assertion of theirs with arguments.
The first of them is this. To decide by way of teaching which assertion should be regarded as catholic, which heretical, pertains chiefly to the experts on that science on account of which alone any assertion is said to be catholic or heretical. But it is on account of theology alone that any assertion whatsoever should be called catholic or heretical. For only an assertion which is consonant with theology is truly catholic , and only one which is known to be opposed to theology is known to be heretical. For if some assertion were found to be opposed to decrees of the highest pontiffs, or also of general councils or also to laws of the emperors, neverthelss, if it were not in conflict with theology, even if it could be considered false, erroneous or unjust, it should not be counted as a heresy. Therefore it pertains chiefly to those who treat of theology to decide by way of teaching which assertion should be considered as catholic, which heretical.
The second argument is this. To define by way of teaching which assertion is to be regarded as catholic, which as heretical, pertains chiefly to those who treat of the science in which the rule of orthodox faith is explicitly and completely handed down . Such is the science of theology, however, not the science of the canonists. For many things pertaining to our faith which are not mentioned in the science of the canonists are found explicitly in theology, but nothing pertaining to the rule of faith can be found in their science except what they receive from theology. Therefore such a decision is known to pertain chiefly to theologians; it does not pertain to canonists, however, except in so far as they are known to borrow some theological matters from theologians.
The third argument is this. The superior science has the power more chiefly to make a judgement about assertions which both a superior and an inferior science are known to investigate. But theology, which is the superior, and the science of the canonists, which is the inferior, both investigate in some way certain catholic and heretical assertions. It pertains more chiefly to theology, therefore, to make a judgement about catholic and heretical assertions, and consequently it pertains more chiefly to theologians to decide by way of teaching what assertion should be considered as catholic, what as heretical.
The fourth argument is this. To judge which assertion should be considered catholic, which heretical, pertains more chiefly to the experts in the science found to treat the larger number of catholic assertions explicitly under their own form, not to one in which few catholic truths are explicitly approved. Such is theology, not the science of the canonists, because few catholic truths are investigated under their own form in the science of the canonists. Therefore such a decision is known to pertain chiefly to theologians.
The fifth argument is this. To decide which assertion should be considered catholic, which heretical, pertains most chiefly to the experts on that science by which, before there was a science of canonists, true and faithful Catholics approved, preached, and in private and public taught catholic truths and refuted, rejected and condemned heretical teachings and their authors. Such, however, is theology, for before the canons were produced the apostles and other disciples of Christ, as being true catholics , approved, preached, and in private and public taught catholic truths and refuted, rejected and condemned heretical teachings and their authors. And so, as we read in Titus 3[:10], blessed Paul taught that a heretic should be avoided after a first and second admonition. He also asserts openly in 1 Tim. 4[:3] that the teaching of those "forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful" clearly belongs to the spirit of error and the teaching of demons and, consequently, to heretical wickedness. Therefore such a decision pertains chiefly to theology and, consequently, to theologians.
The sixth argument is this. To decide by way of teaching what assertion should be considered as catholic and what as heretical pertains chiefly to the experts on that science to which every other science yields in respect of matters of faith. Such is the science of divine scripture, which is called theology, as is clearly gathered from the whole of Decretals dist. 9, and particularly c. Noli [col.17], c. Negare [col. 17], c. Ego solis [col. 17], c. Quis nesciat [col.17], c. Noli [col.18] and c. Neque [col.18]. Therefore it is to theologians that such a decision chiefly pertains.
The seventh argument is this. The aforesaid way of defining pertains chiefly to the experts on that science the direct author of which is God, from whom comes all our faith. Such, however, is theology, because the writers of divine scripture wrote absolutely nothing out of their human wit but out of divine inspiration only, as blessed Peter attests when he says in 2 Peter 1[:21], "The holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost". That is why, as is clear in the same place [2 Peter 1:20-1], blessed Peter teaches that the prophecy of divine scripture, by which he means the whole of sacred scripture, should not be interpreted by human wit. He says, "Scripture prophecy is not made by private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man." Therefore that oft-mentioned way of deciding pertains chiefly to theologians.
The eighth argument is this. That oft-mentioned way of deciding pertains chiefly to the experts on that science to which one is not permitted to add and from which one is not permitted to remove anything. Such is theology, since Moses, speaking in the person of God, says in Deuteronomy 4[:2], "You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it." Solomon agrees with this in Proverbs 30[:6]. Speaking about the word of God he says, "Add not anything to his words, lest thou be reproved and found a liar." Hence the Holy Spirit through blessed John the evangelist makes a terrible threat against those who add anything to or take anything from divine scripture when he says in the last chapter of Revelations [22:18-9], "If any man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him the plagues which are in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city, and from these things that are written in this book." We clearly gather from all these that nothing should be added to sacred scripture nor anything removed from it. To decide by way of teaching, therefore, which assertion should be considered catholic, which heretical, chiefly pertains to theologians, the experts on divine scripture.
You see that I have set out opposing assertions in response to your question and I have touched on quite strong arguments in support of each position. Therefore consider now which seems the more probable to you.