Student Because you can not make that last opinion clear let us defer its clarification until another time, if by chance you can get the above things from that Order. [See Significant Variants, para. 6.] And tell me whether anyone holds that someone inferior to the highest pontiff can forbid some assertions and order them not to be held, even if he can not condemn them.

Master There are some who think that although no gathering less than a general council nor anyone inferior to the highest pontiff can licitly excommunicate or condemn as heretical any assertion that has not been explicitly condemned, yet other gatherings and prelates inferior to the pope are permitted for a reasonable cause to forbid erroneous assertions and to order that they not be defended publicly. And therefore they say that if the University of Paris and the oft-mentioned archbishops of Canterbury had forbidden Thomas's opinions for a reasonable cause, only ordering that no one was to defend or teach them publicly at Paris, and had not proceeded to a sentence of excommunication and condemnation of those opinions, they would have done nothing rash.

Student What can be a reasonable cause for ordering that some opinions not be held publicly?

Master They say that any opinions, even sometimes true ones, can be reasonably forbidden for the purpose of avoiding scandal, schism and other evils and dangers.

Student Was there ever any scandal about Thomas's opinions?

Master I have often heard it said by many Englishmen that when conclusions which follow from Thomas's opinion about the unity of form were explained there was endless scandal among the English people.

Student What were those conclusions following from that opinion about the unity of form which expressly scandalised the people?

Master According to them, they are those written below. That Christ's body was not the same in number alive and dead; that the body that lay in Christ's tomb over the three days was never Christ's body when he was alive; that the bodies and relics that are venerated by believers as the bodies and relics of saints were never the bodies and parts of the saints when they were alive; that dead bodies were never the bodies of people alive; that dead flesh was never living.

Student You have sufficiently exemplified the conclusions which follow from that opinion about the unity of substantial form, and so returning to our plan set out the arguments for the above assertion, if there are any.

Master They prove their assertion by the following argument. Everything that can licitly be omitted by subjects can for a reasonable cause be forbidden by prelates and by those having jurisdiction over the subjects; for he who is in command can and should make provision for everyone's benefit in all matters and prevent dangers, and it behoves their subjects to obey them in permitted and honest matters of this kind, as we gather from the sacred canons, 11, q. 3, c. Si autem [col.646], c. Si quis [col.646] and c. Absit [col.647]; but there are some opinions which it is permissible, indeed sometimes it is necessary and expedient, not to defend or teach, and therefore this can also be forbidden for a reasonable cause by prelates and colleges having jurisdiction.

Student According to this argument prelates would sometimes be permitted to forbid truths, for it is sometimes expedient to be silent about the truth.

Master According to them no one is permitted to forbid the truth to everyone and for all time, yet it is permissible to order some people for some time not to presume to teach some truths, just as the Apostle said [1 Tim. 2:12], "I suffer not a woman to teach", and in the gospel [Matt. 7:6] the Lord said, "Give not that which is holy to dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine." We gather from these words that it is not expedient for everyone all the time to preach, teach or defend the truth.

Student It seems from this that no one is permitted to forbid to everyone for all time opinions or assertions which he can not condemn, although he can licitly forbid them to some people for some time.

Master They grant this conclusion, and therefore it is significant that they say that inferiors are permitted to forbid some assertions "for a reasonable cause", implying by this that when the cause ceases the forbidding ceases.

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

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