WHAT IS A HERESY?
CAN THE POPE MAKE A NEW ARTICLE OF FAITH?
Student I see that understood in this way Jerome's words do not oppose the above description of heresy. It seems to follow from this that all assertions which are in any way at all opposed to sacred scripture should be counted among the heresies, but I do not know whether all christians think and affirm this. Do not conceal it, therefore, if some people do not think this.
Master There were the Manichees who did not accept the Old Testament; some heretics have also rejected many things in the New Testament.
Student Those about whom you are now speaking were condemned as heretics by the church and I do not care to hear about them. But I would willingly learn whether there are any catholics or any people not condemned by the church who do not regard as heretical all assertions that are in any way opposed to sacred scripture.
Master There are some moderns who say that there are many assertions which in truth of fact are opposed to divine scripture and which should nevertheless not be numbered among heresies because they have not been condemned by the church, just as there are many truths in harmony with divine scripture which nevertheless should not be counted among catholic truths because they have not been defined or determined by the church. But after assertions contrary to divine scripture have been condemned by the highest pontiff they must be held to be heresies, and after truths in harmony with divine scripture have been defined or determined by the highest pontiff they must be considered catholic. For this reason they say that the pope can make a new article of faith and, by the same argument, can bring it about that an assertion which was not previously heretical begins to be heretical after his condemnation.
Student This opinion seems completely contrary to many earlier assertions which seemed probable to me. Make clear, therefore, if it tries to base itself on arguments or authorities.
Master Those who hold it base themselves, as I hear, on two [examples]. Firstly, [they base themselves] on Alexander III's Chapter Cum Christus in Extra, De haereticis [col.779] where, as they say, he made a new article [of faith], namely that Christ is God and man, because it was permissible before Alexander's time, as they say, not to believe that Christ was God and man. Secondly, they base themselves on Lord John's constitution Cum inter nonnullos, in which it is defined that hereafter it is heretical to say that Christ and his apostles did not have anything either individually or in common, and consequently it was not heretical before. It follows from these that the pope can make new articles of faith and can bring it about that assertions which were not heretical begin to be newly heretical.
Student I ask you not to investigate here the example you brought forward from the constitution of the most holy father, Pope John XXII, because later on, as I have said, I will produce some questions for you about all of his teaching. But if you have thought of some other arguments for the aforesaid opinion put them forward.
Master That opinion can be fortified in other ways. Firstly, as follows: anyone should be condemned as a heretic for the assertion of a heresy; but there have been many false assertions the affirmers of which ought not to have been condemned as heretics before [those assertions] were condemned by the church; after the said assertions have been condemned by the church, however, their affirmers should be condemned as heretics; therefore such assertions, which after their condemnation should be considered as heresies, should not be reckoned among the heresies before their condemnation by the church; and, consequently, the same assertion which at first was not a heresy is numbered among the heresies because of its condemnation by the church. By the same argument, therefore, the same assertion which at first is not catholic, may later be catholic through the approval of the church. Approval or condemnation of this kind, however, pertains to the highest pontiff; therefore the highest pontiff can make a catholic assertion of one which is not catholic, and can make heretical an assertion which is not heretical; and therefore he can make a new article of faith.
The major [premise] of this argument is manifest; the minor is proved by clear examples. For the Greeks, who deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, were not regarded as heretics before the condemnation of their assertion, yet after its condemnation they were considered to be among the heretics. Those too who affirm Joachim's opinion which was condemned by a general council were judged to be heretics after its condemnation, yet Abbot Joachim himself was not a heretic, as we find in Extra, De summa trinitate et fide catholica, c. Damnamus [col.6], although he maintained the same assertion before its condemnation. Similarly those who, after Alexander III's constitution which is found in Extra, De hereticis, c. Cum Christus [col.779], held that Christ is not anything as a man, should have been judged as heretics, according to what the gloss notes at that point [s. v. sub anathemate; col.1671]. Yet before that they were not considered as heretics. It is clear, therefore, with regard to some assertions that their affirmers should not be regarded as heretics before their condemnation, yet after their condemnation they are counted among heretics.
Secondly as follows: He to whom it pertains to define by authority which assertion should be considered catholic and which heretical can make catholic an assertion which is not catholic and heretical an assertion which is not heretical, because otherwise his definition would seem to have no more effect at all than the definition or determination of a teacher who declares and proves by authorities or arguments which assertion should in truth of fact be regarded as catholic and which as heretical. But it pertains to the highest pontiff to define not only by way of teaching or doctrine but also by authority which assertion should be considered catholic or which heretical. Therefore the highest pontiff can make catholic an assertion which is not catholic and heretical an assertion which is not heretical.
William of Ockham, Dialogus,
part 1, book 2, chapters 1-17
Text and translation by John Scott.
Copyright © 1999, The British Academy