IS IT FOR CANONISTS, OR FOR THEOLOGIANS, TO DECIDE WHAT IS HERESY? - WILLIAM OF OCKHAM Dial. 1 CHP. III
Student: ALTHOUGH you have given me occasion to make many inquiries by the arguments you adduced for the second assertion, yet I confess that it seems to me to be consonant with the truth, though I do not know how to satisfy myself with respect to the arguments for the first assertion. I ask, therefore, that you reply to them.
Master: You seem to contradict yourself. For you asked at first that I not indicate what I thought about your questions; now, however, you ask me to reply to some arguments. From this it can be inferred that, to this extent, you want me to open what I hold in my heart.
Student: Whatever my request may imply by the force of my words, I was not in any way wanting you to make known what you have in your own mind but was intending to ask you to report the replies of others, or what can be thought by others, not expressing whether you think they should be considered reasonable or unreasonable.
Master: Because I understand your meaning I will do what you urge me to do. First of all, however, I want you to know that I am aware of some theologians who in their hearts very much look down on canonists of the modern time as being unintelligent, presumptuous, rash, misleading, deceitful, scoffers and ignorant, believing that they do not know the meaning of the sacred canons. They are moved to this view by the following argument. Those who wrote the sacred canons were men very learned in rational science, moral science and theology and they would not in any way have written canons of such sure and profound truth just naturally without the above-mentioned sciences. Since modern canonists are ignorant of those sciences, therefore, even if they can retain the memory of the sacred canons, they are nevertheless unable to arrive at the meaning of them.
Student: I do not regard the canonists of our time as deserving contempt, though perhaps it does pertain more to theologians than to canonists to know the meaning of the sacred canons, especially of those that are taken from theology or from natural reason and are not purely positive. But I ask you not to delay over this here, because perhaps I will have a question about this matter later. Would you therefore move on to the arguments you mentioned?
Master: Because I have promised in this work not to follow my own inclination but your wish, I will begin to investigate those arguments. Thus some theologians reply to the first by saying that it is to theology and not to the science of the canonists that it chiefly pertains to treat of the approval of catholic truths and the disapproval of condemned heresies. They argue for this by saying that the assertion of a truth is the approval of it. For he who asserts that some statement is true approves of the statement as true. The assertion of a truth, therefore, is the approval of it---for anyone who asserts that some statement is true approves that statement as true; the assertion of a truth, therefore, is the approval of a truth. But the approval of a truth is the disapproval of the opposing falsity, because he who approves some truth does, as a consequence, disapprove of the opposing falsity (just as he who commands one of [a pair of] contraries, as a consequence prohibits the other, as the gloss on para.1 [dist. 1, col.1] of the Decretum notes). By implication, therefore, the assertion of catholic truths is the disapproval of all opposing heresies. Since catholic truths are chiefly asserted by theology, it follows therefore that the approval of catholic truths and the condemnation of heresies should pertain principally to theology.
Student: That reply seems probable to me. I would like to know, nevertheless, why they say that approval and condemnation of this kind pertain "chiefly" to theology, by which they seem to imply that they may not pertain only to it.
Master: They reply to that question of yours by saying that the books of the Decretum and Decretals, and other statutes and letters of the highest pontiffs (even if they have not been inserted in the above books), pertain to the science of the canonists. However, in those books and in some statutes and letters of the highest pontiffs some catholic truths are asserted and some heresies disapproved of, although both the truths and the heresies are few in comparison with those that are found in theology. And therefore it pertains not only to theology but also to the science of the canonists to approve some catholic truths and to disapprove of some heresies, though few. It pertains to theology, however, to approve all catholic truths and to disapprove of all heresies. Therefore although such approval and disapproval pertain chiefly to theology, they do nevertheless pertain secondarily to the science of the canonists.
They bring forward another argument too, saying that in approving catholic truths and in disapproving of heresies theology receives or borrows nothing at all from the science of the canonists. The science of the canonists, however, proceeds in the approving of catholic truths and the disapproving of heresies by borrowing everything from theology. Therefore these activities are known to pertain chiefly and universally to theology but to the science of the canonists secondarily, to a certain extent and only in particular cases.