IS IT FOR CANONISTS, OR FOR THEOLOGIANS, TO DECIDE WHAT IS HERESY? - WILLIAM OF OCKHAM BOOK 1 CHAPTER 4
Student: THIS REPLY seems likely to me. Therefore investigate the second argument.
Master: The reply to the second argument is that in respect of matters of faith theology is more deserving of belief than any other science and that it is not appropriate to believe any of the writers of any sciences like the writers of sacred theology. As to the text of blessed Augustine, which, they say, is adduced frequently, it is brought forward by many people very wrongly against blessed Augustine's meaning .
To understand this they say that it should be known that the word "church" is taken ambiguously in different written works. For sometimes it is taken for the physical place set aside for the divine services, sometimes for some particular body of clerics, sometimes for the whole body of all clerics, sometimes for some particular gathering of the clergy and people , sometimes for the whole gathering of believers living together in this mortal life, and sometimes the word "church" includes not only the whole gathering of catholics who are alive but also those believers who are dead.
It is in this last way that blessed Augustine takes "church" in his book against the Manichees which is reported in dist. 11, c. Palam [col.25]. He says, "It is well known that in a doubtful matter the authority of the catholic Church prevails for faith and certainty; from those first founded sees of the apostles right up till today it remains strong through the series of bishops succeeding each other and through the agreement of so many peoples." Here "the catholic church" refers to the bishops and peoples succeeding each other from the time of the apostles right up till today. And in this way Augustine takes the word "church" when he asserts that he would not believe the gospel if the authority of the church did not force him to. For, as has been proved, "church" in that sense includes the writers of the gospel and all the apostles. It can not be inferred on the basis of the text of Augustine properly interpreted, therefore, that the Roman pontiff, the maker of the canons, should be believed more than the gospel. And consequently it can not be proved by it that greater trust should be shown in the sacred canons than in the holy gospel. Nevertheless they grant that the church which is the multitude of all catholics who have existed from the times of the prophets and the apostles up till now is worthy of greater belief than the gospel, not because there should be any doubt at all about the gospel, but because the whole is greater than any of its parts---therefore the church which is of greater authority than an evangelist is the church of which the author of the gospel is known to be part, and it is not astonishing if the authority of the whole is greater than that of a part. And therefore the authority of the whole gathering, including the evangelists and all other orthodox [believers] right up to these times, is greater than that of one member, or even of many members, of that gathering.
That the maker of the canons is not of greater authority than the gospel, however, but of much less, the makers of the canons themselves clearly attest. For as we find in 25, q. 1, c. Sunt quidam [col.1008], Pope Urban says, "It should indeed be especially known that he", i.e. the Roman pontiff, "can establish new laws on a point where the evangelists have not said anything. But where the Lord or his apostles and the holy fathers who followed them have judicially decided something, there the Roman pontiff can not give a new law, but rather should confirm what has been proclaimed at the cost of life and blood. For if he were to strive to destroy what the apostles and prophets taught---may it never happen---he would be convicted not of passing judgment but rather of erring." We clearly gather from these words that the maker of the canons is of much less authority than the sacred gospel. He can not establish any new law against it, but is obliged to defend it even at the cost of life and blood; if he were to presume to give a new law against it, he should be convicted of error by catholics.
Pope Fabian agrees with this. As we find in 11, q. 3, c. Qui omnipotentem [col. 669], he says, "He who fears God almighty does not agree in any way to do anything against the gospel of Christ, the apostles, the prophets or the determinations of the holy fathers." We clearly find from these words that if the maker of the canons fears the Almighty, he presumes to establish nothing which is against the gospel, and thus he is known not to be of greater but of less authority than the gospel.
This is even clearer and more certain from many chapters inserted in the Decretum, as in dist. 9, c. Noli [c. 3, col.17], c. Ego solis [c. 5, col. 17], c. Quis nesciat [c. 8, col.17], c. Noli [c. 9, col.18] and c. Neque [c. 10, col.18], dist. 11, c. [Nos] consuetudinem [c. 8, col.25], dist. 14, c. Sicut [c. 2, col.33] [for which see Gratian, The Treatise on Laws, translated by Augustine Thompson, with the Ordinary Gloss, translated by James Gordley (Washington, 1993, pp. 29-32, 40, 53), and 11, q. 3, c. Si is qui preest [col.671]. Very many other texts, which it would take long to record, plainly assert the same thing, and for the same reasons say that the whole multitude of Christians now living in this mortal life is not of greater authority than the holy gospel, because the multitude of those living ought to defend the gospel at the cost of life and blood.