Student You have reported many views about the condemnation of heresies. Now I ask that you would see fit to say some things about the condemnation of other errors. For I want to know whether the learned think that it is permissible for the pope to condemn other errors apart from heresies.

Master There are three kinds of other errors. For some neither are opposed to those things that pertain to faith and good morals nor is it reported of them that they hold anything of danger to the soul. Errors of this kind are those which concern purely philosophical matters and also some errors about divine sayings about which it can not be discovered what should be held without doubt. Augustine speaks about such matters in his Enchiridion, saying, "It is no sin or the slightest sin to err in those matters which do not at all pertain to the taking hold of God's kingdom." Anselm also means things of this kind when he says in chapter 18 of book 1 of Cur deus homo, "... in those matters about which different things can without danger be thought, like the matter we are now considering. For if we do not know whether more men are to be chosen than there are lost angels, I do not think there is any danger to the soul whether or not we think the one of these more than the other. If, I say, we have expounded divine sayings in matters of this kind in such a way that they seem to favour various opinions, and it is nowhere found that it is determined what should be held indubitably, I do not think that this should be censured." According to many people it is not permissible for the pope to condemn such errors because in condemning them he would entangle souls by obliging believers to believe things that are perhaps against their conscience or to deny what it produces no danger to hold or to deny.

There are other errors which are opposed to what is found in accounts of the deeds of believers, in chronicles, or in histories worthy of trust. Some people say about these that the pope can condemn them not as heretical but as dangerous and pernicious to the church. For believers could incur the greatest damage and dangers both corporal and spiritual if anyone at all were permitted to deny whatever is contained in accounts of deeds, histories and chronicles. Since a pope is obliged to prevent damage and dangers to believers, therefore, he can condemn such errors and subject those erring to the appropriate punishment.

There are other errors of which we spoke above, from which and [i.e.together with] other truths which can not be denied it is possible to infer some heretical wickedness. These are properly said to smack of manifest heresy and can be broadly called heresies. And it is licit for the pope to condemn such errors, not as heretical strictly speaking, but as smacking of manifest heresy. If someone were to say, therefore, that the chastity vowed by nuns is not more noble than conjugal chastity, the pope ought to condemn both the one asserting this pertinaciously and the assertion. Certain errors denying that the preaching friars and the friars minor can hear confessions have been condemned in this way. The highest pontiffs Alexander IV and Innocent IV solemnly condemned in this way certain Parisian masters and their errors against the state and life of [the Orders of] preachers and minorites.

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

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