— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) January 8, 2015
“At the first blow of His thundering sword, the mountains and all Nature will tremble in terror, for the disorders and crimes of men have pierced the vault of the heavens. Paris will burn and Marseilles will be engulfed. Several cities will be shaken down and swallowed up by earthquakes. People will believe that all is lost. Nothing will be seen but murder, nothing will be heard but the clash of arms and blasphemy. Our Lady of La Salette 19 Sept. 1846 (Published by Mélanie 1879)
Student: FOR MY PART I willingly give heed to that second opinion because it seems that it should be considered to be completely reasonable with respect to what it says about (a) theological matters, (b) imperial laws, and (c) universal purely moral matters. But with respect to (d) particular and purely positive moral matters passed on only in the books of the canonists, it does not seem to have plausibility. For no one can judge, I do not say more deeply, but in any way, things he does not know. Since such things [purely positive moral particulars] do not pertain to the knowledge of those who treat of other sciences, therefore, it does not in any way pertain to these people to judge them. Nevertheless I would like to know if any plausible arguments can be thought of for that assertion.
Master: Some people try to prove that assertion by argument and by example. The argument is as follows. Concerning things taught in an inferior science subordinate to it a superior science can judge more certainly and deeply than the inferior science can. But with respect to many moral particulars which can admit change the science of the canonists is an inferior science subordinate to theology, and with respect to many such matters it is subordinate to moral philosophy, just as particulars are subordinate to universals. About such matters, therefore, theology and moral philosophy can judge more certainly than the canonists' science can.
A second argument is as follows. Of those particular possible acts that can be changed that science can judge most certainly against which nothing is able to be ordained or decreed in a particular case and through which anything that has been unjustly decreed ought to be wholly condemned. With respect to particular possible acts that can be changed found in the canon law, both theology and true moral philosophy are known to be [sciences] of this kind. Of those matters, therefore, either theology or true moral philosophy has the power to judge most certainly. The major [premise] seems to be clearly evident; the minor [premise] is proved by the following argument.
An ecclesiastical statute is not of greater dignity or firmness than an ecclesiastical custom. But every custom gives way both to the truth of divine scripture and to natural law (which is found not only "in the law and in the gospel" [as Gratian says, dictum ante dist. 1, c. 1, col. 1, [Treatise on Laws p. 3], but also in true moral philosophy), if it is found to be opposed to it , and, as a consequence, if any custom were contrary to theology or to true moral philosophy, it should be wholly condemned. If any ecclesiastical statute , therefore, has been proved to be opposed to one of those sciences it should be condemned. It is inferred from this that theology and true moral philosophy have the power to judge all matters of this kind most certainly.
This argument is confirmed by a text of blessed Cyprian who says, as we read in dist. 8, c. Consuetudo [c. 8, col.15], "A custom which had crept up on certain people should not prevent the truth from prevailing and triumphing. For a custom without truth is the long existence of an error ." From this text and others in the same distinction---namely, c. Veritate [c.4, col.14], c. Si consuetudinem [c. 5, col.14], c. Qui contempta veritate [c. 6, col.14], c. Frustra [c. 7, col.15] and c. Si solus [c. 9, col.15] [Treatise on Laws, pp. 26-28]---we gather that every custom opposed to the truth, wherever it be found, whether in theology or in moral philosophy, should be completely disregarded.
It follows from this that every ecclesiastical statute should be rejected and condemned if it is inimical to the truth. Hence Gratian says in dist. 8, para. Dignitate [col.13], "But natural law is superior in dignity to custom and statute alike. For anything which has either been accepted as custom or is contained in writing should be considered void and useless if it is opposed to natural law." And he says in [the last paragraph of dist. 8, and] paragraph 1 of dist. 9 [col.16], "It is quite clear, therefore, that custom is esteemed less than natural law"; and "that a statute should give way before natural law is proved by many texts." And in the last paragraph [of dist. 9] [col.18] he says, "Since nothing is commanded in natural law, therefore, except what God wants to happen, and nothing is forbidden except what God prohibits, and since there is nothing in canonical scripture except what is found in the divine laws, the divine laws is consistent with nature , it is clear that if something proves contrary to the divine will or to canonical scripture, it is also opposed to natural law. So it is necessary to prefer natural law to anything which it is considered should be esteemed less than the divine will, canonical scripture or divine laws." [Cf. Gratian, [Treatise on Laws, pp. 25, 28,32.]
It seems to them that we clearly learn from the above that anything in canon law found contrary to theology or to natural law--which is contained not only in theology but also in moral philosophy (in that it [natural law] "began with the first rational creature", as we find in dist. 6, para. His ita respondetur [col.11, Treatise on Laws, p. 21])--by either of those sciences, should be wholly condemned. Therefore each of those sciences has the power to judge such matters most certainly, and the experts on such sciences would have the power to judge such matters more certainly than canonists, in that they are known to use more certain, worthier, prior and more universal principles.
Secondly (principally), they try to make their assertion known by an example, recounting that when a commentator on the books of blessed Dionysius, having been accused in connection with many articles by his rivals, who had corrupted the pope and cardinals with gifts, was forced to reply in consistory, he, as a pure philosopher and theologian completely ignorant of the law, asked the pope for an attorney. The pope replied to him, "Let us not shame you, who are regarded as more learned than all the other clerics in the world, by having another speak for you. You may speak for yourself." When he perceived this malice, having accepted a copy of the objections and received a recess of three days for deliberation, he replied on the fourth day through theology and natural reason to all of the many civil and canon laws brought against him on which his adversaries had, indissolubly as they thought, based their accusation, so clearly assigning them meaning in his favour that all the laws that had been alleged against him were, in the judgement of all who understood, plainly conclusive in his favour. Whence, as is reported, the cardinals who had been opposed to him afterwards accused his enemies, saying, "You said that this bishop does not know the [civil and canon] laws. He knows the principles, roots and causes of all the [civil and canon] laws." From this they conclude that this theologian, who was also a great philosopher, judged more certainly, deeply and clearly about the meaning of the laws, of which he had had absolutely no memory before, than those ignorant of theology and natural reason who had nevertheless been nourished from their infancy in those matters. [The story is probably about Grosseteste. See David Luscombe, "William of Ockham and the Michaelists on Robert Grosseteste and Denis the Areopagite", in The Medieval Church: Universities, Heresy and the Religious Life (ed. Peter Biller and Barrie Dobson), Studies in Church History. Subsidia Series, Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1999.]
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM, DIALOGUS
part 1, prologue and book 1
Text and translation by John Kilcullen and John Scott
as at december, 2003