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Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht

Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht

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Published by Archon_Lives
An all too brief analysis of William of Ockham's "A Short Discourse on Tyrannical Government" in light of the papal bulls that put the Poverty Controversy in motion.
An all too brief analysis of William of Ockham's "A Short Discourse on Tyrannical Government" in light of the papal bulls that put the Poverty Controversy in motion.

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Published by: Archon_Lives on Jul 10, 2010
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10/25/2012

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Chris FruehHistory of Medieval Political ThoughtSeminar Paper Page 1 of 13
Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht
--Schiller Within this paper I hope to make a brief survey of the political philosophies presentwithin William of Ockham's
 A Short Discourse on Tyrannical Government 
, a major work thatsets a strong rational foundation for the rest of the world to examine their relationship to theCatholic church. Since Ockham has set up a remarkably well-ordered rhetorical progression, Iwill present the counterpoints, where existent, to his points and show how his refutation cuts thesupport out from under the claims of his opponents. While this debate is set within the 'PovertyControversy', I will avoid, as Ockham has, delving into the minutiae of that contention so as tofocus more specifically on the role of the pontiff in relation to the emperor or his congregantsand how such a role has become prominent to Ockham through the debate. What I hope to showis although the autocratic position advocated by supporters of papal power appears to have muchand varied Biblical support, the support is either contradictory, wildly allegorical or heretical.I begin with a brief summary of the context of the debate.
1
It is common knowledge thatthere had arisen various suborders within the Catholic church, most notably the Dominicans, theFranciscans and the Jesuits. Each of these groups adhered to slightly different minor points of doctrine and, with minimal conflict until this point, coexisted. The 'Poverty Controversy' came tothe public eye when “a Dominican Inquisitor... arrested [a Franciscan who] had asserted,amongst other things, that Christ and the apostles, in following the way of perfection, hadnothing individually or in common...”
2
, a proposition that was earth-shattering in its implications.The exact biblical citations for and against this claim will come up later as they deal obliquely
 
Chris FruehHistory of Medieval Political ThoughtSeminar Paper Page 2 of 13with whether the pope or the Catholic church owns any power 'individually or in common'. After supporters of the Franciscan cited the bull of Nicholas III of forty years earlier, a move receivedwith stubborn opposition from the local Inquisition, the Franciscan appealed to the Pope.
3
 At this time, representatives from each party made their case in the court of the pope, thesummaries and/or transcripts thereof copied and stored in the Vatican library.
4
After reading andstudying the arguments, John made his decision against the Franciscans in a bull in 1323 entitled“Quum inter nonnullos” wherein he manifestly denied any factual or scriptural claim to rectitudethat the Franciscans might have had and, further, said that “to pertinaciously affirm in the preceeding [matter, that Christ and the apostles owned nothing] is wicked to opine. We dodelcare[
 sic
], after [having taken] the counsel of our brothers [
the cardinals
], this pertinaciousassertion to be deservedly censured as contrary to sacred scripture, inimical to Catholic doctrine,and heretical.”
5
 This bull was the capstone to a long and controversial history of religiously overtoned power politics executed for good or ill by a line of popes (and bishops) originating with Sylvester in the time of Constantine. As Ockham was a Franciscan, he no doubt took offense to theextreme manner by which John XXII established the 'canonical' opinion in opposition to precedent and forbade debate thereupon. For whatever reason, he changed the nature of thedebate by questioning the nature and role of the power that Christ (may have) willed to thechurch and Peter in particular.Ockham begins by stating that some believe that “it is tantamount to sacrilege to doubtthe worthiness of one whom the emperor has chosen”
6
, a proposition no doubt stronger when one
 
Chris FruehHistory of Medieval Political ThoughtSeminar Paper Page 3 of 13adds the religious dimension of divine designation. In fact, Gratian himself expands thestatement thus. But Ockham does not tackle this as bluntly as one would expect given thecrippling effects such a preconception has upon the strengths of his argument. Rather he says that“the intention of taking away or reducing papal power... must be regarded as impermissible”,though he adds a clause saying the examining the office of the pope for instruction in where his jurisdiction begins or the nature of his power is justified.
7
I feel that such a distinction iscontradictory given the claims the popes of times past had made. If a pope has indeed made aclaim to an expansion of power where it is unjustifiable, and the secular power acceded to the pope, then any conservative examination of the justifiable limits to the pope's power will resultin “taking away or reducing papal power”, albeit in this hypothetical case unjustified power.Given this concept and the assertions Ockham makes later in the text regarding the hereticalnature of the 'fullness of power' claims, I believe Ockham added this passage to overtly assuagethe inquisition about the nature of his text. In this, the passage resembles the final chapter of 
 Il  Principe
, a text several decades in the future.Ockham spends the next pages detailing various theological and rational arguments as towhy it is imperative for subjects to examine the power of the rulers. The sources he cites rangefrom Augustinus Triumphus
7
to the epistle of St. Peter 
11
. His conclusion is what is salient becausethe rest of his argument hinges, as is obvious, upon whether such a discussion is not heretical.Pope Nicholas III had sealed all discussion on the matter having ruled in favor of the Franciscansin
 Exiit qui seminat 
8
, a situation that would force John XXII to first legislate that overturning a predecessor's ban on discussion was legal
9
before a second legislation overturning the ruling that

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