Student Do not involve yourself any further with that objection now, but tell me how reply is made to the second objection.

Master That objection comprises two [parts], of which the first concerns the first archbishop who was of the Order of Preachers. The second concerns the second archbishop who was of the Order of Minorites. Different people speak in different ways about the first. For some say that his condemnation was rash in that he condemned what they say are truths. Thus also a certain other archbishop [Peter of Conflans] censured him fiercely for that condemnation, writing a letter to him in which he clearly affirmed that he had condemned truths. Yet many people who think that he rashly condemned many truths do not assert that he was a heretic because, as they say, he did not condemn any catholic truth but many philosophical truths. For they affirm that in that condemnation he rashly involved himself with grammatical, logical and purely philosophical assertions.

Student Whether he should have been regarded as a heretic or not because of that condemnation could not be known unless the assertions which he condemned were discussed, and I do not intend to do this now. But if it is assumed that he had condemned some assertion as heretical which in truth of fact is purely philosophical, would he have been a

Master Some people say 'yes', because someone who affirms pertinaciously that something which does not pertain to the faith concerns the substance of faith should be judged a heretic.

Student I will investigate this later, and so return to the main argument and say whether anyone else besides the archbishop you spoke about [i.e. Peter of Conflans] considered that the aforesaid condemnation was rash.

Master Many others reckoned that it was rash. For many doctors and students at Paris publicly held the assertions condemned by the said archbishop [i.e. Robert of Kilwardby]. For among other opinions of Thomas, he condemned the one about the unity of form in a man, and yet you know that many people in Paris publicly hold, defend, and teach it; and so it is with many others.

Student Tell me another response to the second objection.

Master Others say that the said archbishop condemned those articles rashly not because among them some truths were condemned but because he usurped to himself a power of condemning that he did not have.

Student In censuring his condemnation they seem to be relying on this one principle only, namely that no one inferior to the highest pontiff has the power to condemn any assertion as heretical.

Master It is not as you say, because they do not rely only on the aforesaid principle, but they also affirm that purely philosophical assertions which do not pertain to theology should not be solemnly condemned or forbidden by anyone, because in connection with such [assertions] anyone at all ought to be free to say freely what pleases him; and therefore because the said archbishop condemned and forbad grammatical, logical and purely philosophical opinions his sentence should be regarded as rash.

Student I do not want to inquire now whether anyone is permitted to condemn such assertions, but indicate if any other reply is made to the often-cited objection.

Master Some people say that any bishop has the power to condemn heresies from the fact that it is clear to him that they are opposed to orthodox faith.

Student They deny what you proved before, that is, that only the apostolic see can determine a question raised about faith. Therefore I do not care for you to speak further about that archbishop, but set out what is said about the other one [i.e. John Pecham].

Master Some people think that he condemned Thomas's opinions rashly because they contain the truth, some, however, because it did not pertain to him to condemn any opinion at all. But indeed some say that he condemned them rightly because those opinions are opposed to orthodox faith in that the whole opinion about the unity of form in a man is clearly opposed to the teaching of the church which teaches that Christ's body was the same alive and dead. And any bishop at all has the power to condemn assertions opposed to the teaching of the church.

William of Ockham, Dialogus,
part 1, book 2, chapters 17-34

Text and translation by John Scott.
Copyright © 1999, The British Academy