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Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht --Schiller
Within this paper I hope to make a brief survey of the political philosophies present within William of Ockham's A Short Discourse on Tyrannical Government, a major work that sets a strong rational foundation for the rest of the world to examine their relationship to the Catholic church. Since Ockham has set up a remarkably well-ordered rhetorical progression, I will present the counterpoints, where existent, to his points and show how his refutation cuts the support out from under the claims of his opponents. While this debate is set within the 'Poverty Controversy', I will avoid, as Ockham has, delving into the minutiae of that contention so as to focus more specifically on the role of the pontiff in relation to the emperor or his congregants and how such a role has become prominent to Ockham through the debate. What I hope to show is although the autocratic position advocated by supporters of papal power appears to have much and 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 that there had arisen various suborders within the Catholic church, most notably the Dominicans, the Franciscans 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 to the 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, had nothing 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 Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 2 of 13 with 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 received with 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, the summaries and/or transcripts thereof copied and stored in the Vatican library.4 After reading and studying 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 rectitude that 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 do delcare[sic], after [having taken] the counsel of our brothers [the cardinals], this pertinacious assertion 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 the extreme 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 the debate by questioning the nature and role of the power that Christ (may have) willed to the church and Peter in particular. Ockham begins by stating that some believe that “it is tantamount to sacrilege to doubt the worthiness of one whom the emperor has chosen”6, a proposition no doubt stronger when one
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 3 of 13 adds the religious dimension of divine designation. In fact, Gratian himself expands the statement thus. But Ockham does not tackle this as bluntly as one would expect given the crippling 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 is contradictory given the claims the popes of times past had made. If a pope has indeed made a claim 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 result in “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 heretical nature of the 'fullness of power' claims, I believe Ockham added this passage to overtly assuage the 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 to why it is imperative for subjects to examine the power of the rulers. The sources he cites range from Augustinus Triumphus7 to the epistle of St. Peter11. His conclusion is what is salient because the 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 Franciscans in Exiit qui seminat8, a situation that would force John XXII to first legislate that overturning a predecessor's ban on discussion was legal9 before a second legislation overturning the ruling that
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 4 of 13 the ban protected5 before, in an act that was both ironic given the precedent he set with his first bull on the issue and brutal, legislating that further discussion on the subject was “vain babbling”10. In effect, the argument against what Ockham proposed was “John XXII is right because he said so and no further discussion because he said so.” However, I have one point of contention with Ockham regarding one of his points. He says that a pope who in truth wishes to remain within the legitimate bounds of his authority would not shrink from others examining the nature of his office. This is, in effect, claiming that an innocent has no claim to privacy, an idea that has only reached the status of cliché in popular culture. After proving beyond all reasonable doubt the necessity of examining papal authority, Ockham attacks the first proposition that the papal supporters make, that of fullness of power. The phrase appears first in 446 AD12 and is generally understood to mean the breadth of power that Jesus had on earth. Quite naturally, then, Ockham attacks the foundation of the notion that popes have fullness of power by claiming that the various passages in the Gospels in which Christ and the apostles subject themselves to the secular authority of the day show that, while God, Christ did not pretend to rule every nation while on earth and, by extension, neither did his 'successors' as some have labeled the apostles. Thus, in answer to the 'liberal' view of papal power that said that Jesus was the Creator God during his incarnation, Ockham replies “Yes, but he was also man.” The remainder of the points Ockham makes relate to the Biblical passages that popes have cited in support for expansion of power, namely Matthew 16:19 and others that will be elaborated on later as they have been interpreted allegorically for other points. Ockham,
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 5 of 13 however, does not merely stop at saying that this interpretation is wrong but rather goes on to say that it is heretical. For the granting of divine authority to an individual places an enormous burden on Christians, a notion antithetical to the entirety of the New Testament doctrine of freedom. After all, why should Christians be subject to the whims of an individual who, as often as not, contradicts those who came before as evidenced by the example given before about Nicholas III and John XXII? In addition, the pope could command all the Christian kings of the earth to give him all riches and explicit authority within their domains. All of this and more shows that the pope did not have fullness of power like unto Christ. The next target of Ockham is latter-day interpreters who have, in his opinion, strained the words of Innocent III. Innocent says in one source that “[t]he Lord said to Peter, and in Peter to his successors, 'Whatever you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven', truly making no exceptions – 'whatever you bind'”13 Firstly, as I have already elaborated, if one took Innocent's words literally that Jesus gave Peter unrestrained power, we would arrive at the heretical conclusion that was attacked earlier. But Ockham takes a different tack; the interpretation that seems natural at first glance contradicts other words of Innocent, namely “we take note that judgement[sic] of such matters belongs to the king, not to the Church” and “Not only in the patrimony of the Church, over which we have full power in temporal matters, but also in other regions... we exercise temporal jurisdiction occasionally; not that we would wish to prejudice another's right...”14 Of obvious importance here is the reference to 'right' or 'jurisdiction' that belongs solely to the ruler. How, then, could Innocent have meant that Jesus had willed unto Peter unrestrained power and authority when Innocent himself clearly recognized limits on the
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 6 of 13 authority? Ockham now turned to the concept of poverty itself as a proof of the paucity of the pope's power as could be interpreted by a literal interpretation of New Testamental exemplary poverty. In short, if Christ and the apostles were as poor in material goods as they were in political jurisdiction, there would be no justification for believing that they had any terrestrial authority from which they might have received riches. A good illustrative quote is that of Ambrose from his commentary on Luke, and in particular the passages regarding paying taxes15 or tribute16, says that “[i]f the son of God paid the tribute, are you so great that you do not think it is to be paid? Even he paid the tribute who possessed nothing; you who pursue worldly riches, why do you not acknowledge this worldly service?”17 The vast number of passages that refer to Jesus's lack of a place to lay his head, his command to forsake all, the apostles's claim that they have neither silver nor gold or Paul's insistence that he work as a tentmaker so as not to be a burden to the body all attest to the physical poverty of the founders of the Christian faith. Before pressing on, I'd like to briefly reflect on the point I made earlier about Ockham's statement regarding the legitimacy of questioning papal authority. At this point in time, the Catholic church is rich beyond imagination. If Ockham's point about poverty is correct, the church all but stole that wealth from legitimate owners and should, like a famous diminutive tax collector, pay it back with interest. And further still, the current church leader would have to withdraw from the dominating position he held over terrestrial politics. His reasons may not be as rhetorically supported as Ockham's but they are understandable nonetheless. Our next target is allegory. This is a particularly difficult problem to face because the
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 7 of 13 points being distilled from the passages are not themselves self-evident. Rather they are twisted, by definition, by the interpretation of the reader who, in this case, has made it canon law declaring it irrefutable. The first of these allegories is that of the swords.28 There is no reason, as Ockham details, why anyone should read anything deeper into this passage than that Jesus is both warning his disciples of the times to come and fulfilling a prophecy. However, some have taken it to mean that Jesus was dividing up the world into two domains, the church and the empire, symbolized by those very swords, and that both would be under the control of the church in the same way that both swords were in the hands of the apostles. So the allegorical, or 'mystical' as Ockham refers to it, interpretation falls into the same trap that the previous error of those who, as elaborated above, claim incorrectly that Jesus was the terrestrial superior of the Roman authorities while on the earth. But further still, we have more questions. Which sword did Peter have as Christ told the disciples to cease fighting? Is there an allegorical purpose to Jesus 'disarming' Peter? And why the empire and the church? Jesus had not demonstrated explicit power over the Romans so it would stand to reason that the disciples would hardly reason to that conclusion themselves. “May not one perhaps be the sword of the New Testament, the other of the Old Testament, by which we are armed against the ambushes of the devil?”29 Later we have further explanation still: “even if the two swords ought to be understood to signify two powers, it does not follow from this that they ought to be understood to signify these two powers, the temporal and the spiritual... [t]hey [could] therefore be understood to signify two spiritual powers, namely the power of preaching and the power of working miracles, or good life and sound doctrine...”29 One could interpret such a passage to mean almost anything if the dearth of
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 8 of 13 supporting evidence allowed for the original allegory were sufficient. As if that were not enough, some used the creation of two lights in the celestial heavens to signify a similar dichotomy of power sharing with one 'greater light' and one lesser.30 “[I]f it is not in divine Scripture explicitly in itself or in something which implies it, it should not and cannot be adduced to prove and confirm disputable and doubtful things about which Christians disagree.”31 So what then is it meant that God created two lights? There is no reason in the text to suspect an alternate interpretation as there are, in evident fact, two celestial bodies the provide light on earth, one major and one minor.32 While Ockham allows for allegory to 'delight' some or provide unauthoritative examples to others, he nonetheless admits that making such things canon is absurd. Here, then, is a clear restraint on the power of the pope: he cannot contradict fact. “No matter how much authority the pope has, the truth must always be preferred to him.” Ockham moves on to the relationship of the pope to human rulers and, particularly, the emperor. His description of the opposing position is that “[t]here are indeed who say that the Empire is from the pope in such a way that no one can be true emperor unless he has been confirmed or chosen by the pope.”18 In John XXII's bull Quia vir, he says that the two keys given Peter in Quia quorundam, namely the keys of spiritual knowledge and temporal authority, are to be exercised by Peter and his successors as one would expect an inherited item to be used.19 Thus, he says, that all power on earth proceeds from the hand of God and, the contended point, must be approved by God's vicar on earth, the pope. “Now this error has been the main basis of the assertion made by some called Roman bishops that the Roman Empire is from the pope, and from the same error are inferred countless others, to the unbearable, and in no way to be borne,
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 9 of 13 prejudice of emperors... and indeed of all mortals.”20 Ockham intends to prove the existence of power outside of the church by showing various texts where biblical authorities have proclaimed deference to terrestrial authorities. Now, note the examples he chooses as the act of showing deference could be interpreted as an anointing or designating process. The first one he picks is a passage in which Abraham swears to the king of Sodom that Abraham will respect his dominion.20 The pre-existence of the kingdom of Sodom and the posterior recognition of it are what Ockham underlines here. A more explicit example, if there could ever be one, is Cyrus about whom the Lord says “This is what the LORD says to Cyrus, his anointed one, whose right hand he will empower... 'I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.'”21 And in the New Testament, when tax collectors came to John and asked how they might relate their new converted status to that of the tyrannical regime in control of Israel, John said that there was a monetary amount which the Romans were due and to require only that which the government has mandated.22 Thus, John was acknowledging as legitimate the taxes of tyrannical overlords rather the legitimizing them by his actions as some claim that the pope does to terrestrial rulers. Ockham also corrects the perception that people have no right to correct those whom God has placed over them. His cornerstone example is that of a slave whose master's house has been engulfed in flames, seeing the master attempting to rush back inside the house, restrains him against his will knowing that the good of the master depends on the slave disobeying his master's wishes. Ockham expands this analogy by saying that a people, seeing their ruler falling blindly
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 10 of 13 into error, have a duty to correct him even if it requires violence to be done to the ruler himself, as the slave violently restrains his master.23 That God would give kingdoms to both the good and the wicked is self-evident from history but Ockham cites Augustine's explanation why. “God, the author and giver of happiness, himself gives earthly kingdoms to both good men and wicked, not rashly and by chance, but in accordance with an order of things and times hidden from us... lest those of his worshippers who are still children in spiritual development should desire these gifts from him as something great.”24 Thus, those of the unconverted or the lapsed converted who are placed in power, I think here of Henry IV, are placed there to test or reprove those under the care of such kings. Now perhaps some might say, in keeping with past Catholic political doctrines, that the kingdom is God's and the king only rules over it by the grace of God's representatives on earth. This presents a tangled proposition as Christ himself said that his kingdom is not of this world. So, indeed as Ockham says, does Jesus lie? If the Roman Empire is not his kingdom, being in the world, then whose kingdom is it and by whom or what is it ordained? It follows that the kingdom, while predestined to its end as all are, nonetheless derives its authority from the willful subjection of the people to the authority of the emperor. And as Ockham elaborates, “[a]fter people have willing subjected themselves to someone's lordship they cannot withdraw from it against his will, because a lord should not be deprived of his right without some fault on his part.”26 So now a follow-up question for Ockham in absentia: since Christians subjected themselves to the 'rule' of the pope willingly and some popes have made errors of titanic proportions, does it follow that the Christian church might deprive the unjust pope of his
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 11 of 13 received authority? Nicholas of Cusa thinks not for he says “it does not matter if that successor [of Peter] should be bad, because that is his affair. The truth which matters as far as I am concerned is bound to [Peter's] see, as Augustine says.”34 Finally, though, a pope could claim that even if it were not intended by God, emperors in times past had subjected themselves to the pope thus placing themselves under his authority. However, Ockham cuts off that argument at the knees. He says that any emperor who places himself in subjection to another has ceased to be emperor and has become a slave instead. Thus, anyone in a position of power who subjects himself to another has not subjected those under him but has instead vacated his seat and placed himself and solely himself under the other. This is a marked elaboration of the concept of transpersonalism as fleshed out by Canning.27 To use the ship metaphor that Canning repeats, when the helmsman leaves his post, both the ship and the need for a helmsman still exist but he himself has made himself a slave to another. Thus, Ockham has taken the arguments of his opponents and laid them out like specimens for dissection and proceeded to logically and calmly tear the support out from under each and every one. He has used theological precedent, Scripture, irrefutable logic and, where possible, the very words from his opponents's mouths to refute and confound their arguments. And furthermore, he has shown that not only are such notions of papal autocracy unsupportable and unbiblical, but they are also manifestly heretical. And, to cement his claims beyond all doubt, reasonable or otherwise, he elaborated varied and redundant proofs for each point to show the blindness of his foes. It is this clearheadedness and elegant eloquence that has placed William of Ockham on the pillar of rhetorical glory for all time.
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 12 of 13 1. 2. 3. End Notes This section is taken from Patrick Nold's summary of the Chronicle of Nicholas the Minorite published in 2003 by the Oxford University Press. Nold, pg. 1. The remainder of the Chronicle should be taken with a grain of salt as Nicholas's account seems to lose its objective standpoint and colors the facts with an eye towards denigrating the name of John XXII. While, no doubt, John has many disreputable acts to his name as a result of the conflict, I will attempt to rein in the 'heartiness' of Nicholas in the citations in question. BAV vat. Lat. MS 3740. No complete translation available. John XXII, Translation of “Quum inter nonnullos” http://www.franciscanarchive.org/bullarium/qinn-e.html Code, vol. 2. p. 385. William of Ockham, A Short Discourse on Tyrannical Government. pg. 6. Nicholas III, Exiit Qui Seminat, http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/wexiit.html John XXII, Quia nonnunquam, http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/wqn.html John XXII, Quia Vir Reprobus, http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/wqvr.html William of Ockham, pg. 9. William of Ockham, pg. 18 footnote #4 William of Ockham, pg. 20. William of Ockham, pg. 50. Matthew 17:27. “However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” I realize that I am referring to Matthew for a description of what Ambrose relates in his work on Luke. This is the passage the editor/translator felt meshed best with what Ockham felt Ambrose referred to. Luke 20:25. “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” William of Ockham, pg. 52. William of Ockham, pg. 71. John XXII, Quia Vir Reprobus, http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/wqvr.html "For since it calls into doubt whether the key of knowledge should be regarded as a key of the Church, "and reports on this question contrary and different opinions, it seems to incline to" the side [that says] that knowledge is not a key in the Church, "when it says that 'our Saviour, in the promise of the keys made to blessed Peter, seems explicitly to have held this, since immediately after that promise he added, "Whatever you shall bind upon earth will be bound also in Heaven," etc., with no mention of knowledge.'” William of Ockham, pg. 74. Isaiah 45. 1 This is what the LORD says to Cyrus, his anointed one, whose right hand he will empower. Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear. Their fortress gates will be opened, never to shut again. 2 This is what the LORD says: “I will go before you,
4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.
16. 17. 18. 19.
Chris Frueh History of Medieval Political Thought Seminar Paper Page 13 of 13 Cyrus, and level the mountains. I will smash down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. 3 And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness— secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. Luke 3:12-13. Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” William of Ockham, pg. 114. “[o]nce that conferring of jurisdiction by God and men had been done, it depended regularly on no one but God alone, although on occasion it might depend also on me (since on occasion the people had power to correct the emperor , as on occasion a slave has power to use physical force on his lord...)” William of Ockham, pg. 82. John 18:36. Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” William of Ockham, pg. 128. Joseph Canning, A History of Medieval Political Thought, pg. 78. Luke 22:36-38. “But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” “Look, Lord,” they replied, “we have two swords among us.” “That’s enough,” he said. William of Ockham, pg. 139. Genesis 1:16. William of Ockham pg. 134. The sky, viewed as of 12.15.2009 William of Ockham pg. 137. Nicholas of Cusa, Sermon 160, subsection 4.
24. 25. 26. 27. 28.
29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.
All Bible verses are taken from the New Living Translation.
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