WHAT IS A HERESY? BOOK 2 CHAPTER 31 CAN, AND MUST , THE POPE FOLLOW EXPERT ADVICE IN CONDEMNING DOCTRINE AS HERESY? ~ WILLIAM OF OCKHAM
CAN, AND MUST , THE POPE FOLLOW EXPERT ADVICE IN CONDEMNING DOCTRINE AS HERESY?
Student Even if the highest pontiffs did not have excellent knowledge of sacred scripture, it does not seem nevertheless that they should in any way be excused because of this since they could have consulted the learned and the experts. He who can have access to experts, however, can not be excused through ignorance. Such ignorance of divine scripture does not excuse them, therefore, unless it is said perhaps that because they had not been trained in theology and philosophy before they had been raised to the papacy they could not attain an understanding of such subtle theological difficulties even with the instruction of experts. But this also does not seem adequate, because even if they had not been able to understand instruction about these things they should nevertheless have believed the instruction of others, it seems, and consequently they should have proceeded in accordance with the instruction of experts to condemn the heresies even if they did not understand them. Would you therefore make clear what people hold about this last issue, that is whether a highest pontiff ignorant of the sacred scriptures should on the advice of experts condemn some heresy that has been promulgated even if he can not see how it is opposed to catholic truth?
Master Some say that in this case a highest pontiff ought to believe those who are learned in sacred scripture and in accord with their advice to proceed to the condemnation of a heresy even if he does not see how the heresy that has been taught as doctrine is opposed to the truth. Others, however, argue openly that by whomever and however often it is said to a pope that some assertion should be considered heretical he should in no way proceed to a solemn condemnation of it unless he himself clearly sees, through divine inspiration, his own meditation, the reading of books, the instruction of others or some other way, that the assertion conflicts with orthodox truth. They also say that if everyone gathered together in a general council except him were to assert that such an assertion is heretical he should not solemnly condemn it, however much they all insist, unless they confirm their opinion with a miracle or by their instruction they bring him to understand how it conflicts with catholic truth, but he would be bound to wait until it became clearly known to him either by divine revelation, by the working of a miracle directed to the disproving of that heresy, by his own meditation, by someone else's instruction or by some other means that such an assertion is opposed to catholic truth.
Student I wonder how they presume to teach as doctrine that one mortal man, endowed with whatever dignity, ought to cling to his own fantasy rather than to all the holy and learned men called together for a general council.
Master You do not understand that opinion, it seems to me. For they do not say that a pope ought to cling to his own fantasy, but they say that because of the words of men he should not condemn any assertion against or beyond his own conscience.
Student It seems that in this case a pope is bound to fashion his own conscience according to the conscience of so many great men.
Master They say that in those matters that concern the faith the pope should not rely on the consciences of men but only on divine authority.