Master: BUT THIS OPINION does not please others. For they admit that it pertains to canonists to have a greater memory of many things that are found in their books: of more things, however, theologians, if they are excellent, ought to have both a more tenacious memory and a deeper understanding; some things those skilled in secular laws do indeed understand more deeply and entrust to a not inferior memory; some things , however, those gifted in natural reason, learned in moral philosophy and not ignorant of rational science both understand more fully and are known to imprint not less on their memory. Canonists, in fact, understand nothing more deeply, even if sometimes on account of a greater memory of many things they can more readily explain what the meaning of something is, a meaning at which others would arrive more slowly, though more deeply, with great labour and study. If, however, some canonists were fully instructed in rational science, moral philosophy, civil law, and theology, it would most chiefly pertain to them both to retain in a more tenacious memory what is found in their books and to judge its meaning more readily and excellently.
Now to make the foregoing clear they say that it should be noted that the books of the canonists are nothing but collections of biblical texts, texts from the books [on the meaning of originalia see Mary and Richard Rouse, Authentic Witnesses (Notre Dame, 1991),p.250] of holy theologians, texts from some (b) imperial laws and from the statutes and decisions or determinations of councils and highest pontiffs in which some (a) purely theological matters are explained and declared, as in those by which heresies are condemned and catholic truths approved. This is clear in Extra, De summa trinitate et fide catholica, c. 1 [col.5] and c. Damnamus [col.2], in Extra, De hereticis, c. Cum Christus [col.779], and in many other chapters inserted in the Decretals. Certain (c) purely moral matters which no reason can overthrow are handed down in them too, as is clear in innumerable chapters of the Decretum and Decretals. And certain things are commanded and forbidden in them which are (d) purely positive , depending on human will, and which can, for necessity and utility, reasonably be varied or wholly repealed, as is clear in Extra, De consanguinitate et affinitate, c. Non debet [col.703] and in dist. 14, c. Sicut quedam [col.33].
From these points they say that, if they are excellent, theologians surpass canonists both with respect to memory and to understanding (a) of theological matters found in the books of the canonists, although it is sometimes not necessary for a theologian to have a memory of the words themselves under which a purely theological opinion is explained in a chapter containing the church's determination. With respect to (b) imperial laws which are found in the afore-said books, however, canonists are not to be preferred to those skilled in the civil law, either with respect to memory or with respect to understanding, as is clear in 2, q. 6, c. Propter superfluam [col.472] and in many other of the following chapters and in many places elsewhere. With respect to (c) purely moral matters , however, which can not be changed for any reason, (i) if they are universal, canonists can not in any way surpass either in memory or in understanding those gifted in natural reason, instructed in moral philosophy and excellent in rational science. About other matters that are (ii) particular and yet not dispensable, canonists can have a greater memory and can even judge their meaning more readily, although it pertains to others to determine their meaning more deeply, although more slowly and with greater effort, because [they do so] through deeper principles. However, canonists do retain with a better memory those things that are (d) purely positive and can be changed for a reason; but they do not have the power to judge them more deeply.
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM, DIALOGUS
part 1, prologue and book 1
Text and translation by John Kilcullen and John Scott
as at december, 2003