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§ 20. Ockam and the Decay of Scholasticism.
Scholasticism had its last great representative in Duns Scotus, d. 1308. After him the scholastic method gradually passed into disrepute. New problems were thrust upon the mind of Western Europe, and new interests were engaging its attention. The theologian of the school and the convent gave way to the practical theological disputant setting forth his views in tracts and on the floor of the councils. Free discussion broke up the hegemony of dogmatic assertion. The authority of the Fathers and of the papacy lost its exclusive hold, and thinkers sought another basis of authority in the general judgment of contemporary Christendom, in the Scriptures alone or in reason. The new interest in letters and the natural world drew attention away from labored theological systems which were more adapted to display the ingenuity of the theologian than to be of practical value to society. The use of the spoken languages of Europe in literature was fitted to force thought into the mould of current exigencies. The discussions of Roger Bacon show that at the beginning of the fourteenth century men’s minds, sated with abstruse metaphysical solutions of theological questions, great and trivial, were turning to a world more real and capable of proof.
The chief survivors of the dialectical Schoolmen were Durandus and William Ockam. Gabriel Biel of Tübingen, who died just before the close of the fifteenth century, is usually called the last of the Schoolmen.352352 Seeberg gives a good deal of attention to Biel in his Dogmengeschichte. Stöckl carries the history of scholasticism down to Cardinal Cajetan, who wrote a commentary on Thomas Aquinas’ Summatheologica, and includes the German mystics, Eck, Luther, etc., who clearly belong in another category. Professor Seth, in art. Scholasticism in the Enc. Brit., and Werner, close the history with Francis Suarez, 1617. The new age had begun a hundred years before that time. Such men as D’Ailly, Gerson and Wyclif, sometimes included under the head of mediaeval scholastics, evidently belong to another class.
A characteristic feature of the scholasticism of Durandus and Ockam is the sharper distinction they made between reason and revelation. Following Duns Scotus, they declared that doctrines peculiar to revealed theology are not susceptible of proof by pure reason. The body of dogmatic truth, as accepted by the Church, they did not question.
A second characteristic is the absence of originality. They elaborated what they received. The Schoolmen of former periods had exhausted the list of theological questions and discussed them from every standpoint.
The third characteristic is the revival and ascendency of nominalism, the principle Roscellinus advocated more than two hundred years before. The Nominalists were also called Terminists, because they represent words as terms which do not necessarily have ideas and realities to correspond to them. A universal is simply a symbol or term for a number of things or for that which is common to a number of things.353353 Terminus prolatus vel scriptus nihil significat nisi secundum voluntariam institutionem. Ockam, as quoted by Stöckl, II. 962. Universality is nothing more than a mode of mental conception. The University of Paris resisted the spread of nominalism, and in 1839 the four nations forbade the promulgation of Ockam’s doctrine or listening to its being expounded in private or public.354354 Chartul. II. 485. Also p. 507, etc. In 1473, Louis XI. issued a mandate forbidding the doctors at Paris teaching it, and prohibiting the use of the writings of Ockam, Marsiglius and other writers. In 1481 the law was rescinded.
Durandus, known as doctor resolutissimus, the resolute doctor, d. 1334, was born at Pourçain, in the diocese of Clermont, entered the Dominican order, was appointed by Fohn XXII. bishop of Limoux, 1317, and was later elevated to the sees of Puy and Meaux. He attacked some of the rules of the Franciscans and John XXII.’s theory of the beatific vision, and in 1333 was declared by a commission guilty of eleven errors. His theological views are found in his commentary on the Lombard, begun when he was a young man and finished in his old age. He showed independence by assailing some of the views of Thomas Aquinas. He went beyond his predecessors in exalting the Scriptures above tradition and pronouncing their statements more authoritative than the dicta of Aristotle and other philosophers.355355 Naturalis philosophiae non est scire quid Aristoteles vel alii philosophi senserunt sed quid habet veritas rerum, quoted by Deutsch, p. 97. Durandus’ commentary on the sentences of the Lombard was publ. Paris, 1508, 1515, etc. See Deutsch, art. Durandus, in Herzog, V. 95-104. All real existence is in the individual. The universal is not an entity which can be divided as a chunk of wood is cut into pieces. The universal, the unity by which objects are grouped together as a class, is deduced from individuals by an act of the mind. That which is common to a class has, apart from the individuals of the class, no real existence.
On the doctrine of the eucharist Durandus seems not to have been fully satisfied with the view held by the Church, and suggested that the words "this is my body," may mean "contained under"—contentum sub hoc. This marks an approach to Luther’s view of consubstantiation. This theologian was held in such high esteem by Gerson that he recommended him, together with Thomas Aquinas, Bradwardine and Henry of Ghent, to the students of the college of Navarre.356356 Schwab: J. Gerson, p. 312.
The most profound scholastic thinker of the fourteenth century was the Englishman, William Ockam, d. 1349, called doctor invincibilis, the invincible doctor, or, with reference to his advocacy of nominalism, venerabilis inceptor, the venerable inaugurator. His writings, which were more voluminous than lucid, were much published at the close of the fifteenth century, but have not been put into print for several hundred years. There is no complete edition of them. Ockam’s views combined elements which were strictly mediaeval, and elements which were adopted by the Reformers and modern philosophy. His identification with the cause of the Spiritual Franciscans involved him in controversy with two popes, John XXII. and Benedict XII. His denial of papal infallibility has the appearance not 80 much of a doctrine proceeding from theological conviction as the chance weapon laid hold of in time of conflict to protect the cause of the Spirituals.
Of the earlier period of Ockam’s life, little is known. He was born in Surrey, studied at Oxford, where he probably was a student of Duns Scotus, entered the Franciscan order, and was probably master in Paris, 1315–1320. For his advocacy of the doctrine of Christ’s absolute poverty he was, by order of John XXII., tried and found guilty and thrown into confinement.357357 It lasted four years, Müller,Ludwig der Baier, p. 208. With the aid of Lewis the Bavarian, he and his companions, Michael of Cesena and Bonagratia, escaped in 1328 to Pisa. from that time on, the emperor and the Schoolman, as already stated, defended one another. Ockam accompanied the emperor to Munich and was excommunicated. At Cesena’s death the Franciscan seal passed into his hands, but whatever authority he possessed he resigned the next year into the hands of the acknowledged Franciscan general, Farinerius. Clement VI. offered him absolution on condition of his abjuring his errors. Whether he accepted the offer or not is unknown. He died at Munich and is buried there. The distinguished Englishman owes his reputation to his revival of nominalism, his political theories and his definition of the final seat of religious authority.
His theory of nominalism was explicit, and offered no toleration to the realism of the great Schoolmen from Anselm on. Individual things alone have factual existence. The universals are mere terms or symbols, fictions of the mind—fictiones, signa mentalia, nomina, signa verbalia. They are like images in a mirror. A universal stands for an intellectual act—actus intelligenda — and nothing more. Did ideas exist in God’s mind as distinct entities, then the visible world would have been created out of them and not out of nothing.358358 Nullum universale est aliqua substantia extra animam existens, quoted by Seeberg, in Herzog, p. 269. Quoddam fictum existens objective in mente. Werner, 115. The expression objective in mente is equivalent to our word subjective.
Following Duns Scotus, Ockam taught determinism. God’s absolute will makes things what they are. Christ might have become wood or stone if God had so chosen. In spite of Aristotle, a body might have different kinds of motion at the same time. In the department of morals, what is now bad might have been good, if God had so willed it.
In the department of civil government, Ockam, advocating the position taken by the electors at Rense, 1338, declared the emperor did not need the confirmation of the pope. The imperial office is derived immediately from God.359359 Imperialis dignitas et potestas est immediate a solo Deo. Goldast, IV. 99, Frankf. ed. See also Dorner, p. 675. The Church is a priestly institution, administers the sacraments and shows men the way of salvation, but has no civil jurisdiction,360360 Kropatscheck, p. 55 sq., Matt. 30:26 sqq. Clement VI. declared Ockam had sucked his political heresies from Marsiglius of Padua. potestas coactiva.
The final seat of authority, this thinker found in the Scriptures. Truths such as the Trinity and the incarnation cannot be deduced by argument. The being of God cannot be proven from the so-called idea of God. A plurality of gods may be proven by the reason as well as the existence of the one God. Popes and councils may err. The Bible alone is inerrant. A Christian cannot be held to believe anything not in the Scriptures.361361 See Riezler, p. 273, and Seeberg, pp. 271, 278, Christianus de necessitate salutis non tenetur ad credendum nec credere quod nec in biblia continetur nec ex solis contentis in biblia potest consequentia necessaria et manifesta inferri.
The Church is the community of the faithful—communitas, or congregatio fidelium.362362 Romana ecclesia est distincta a congregatione fidelium et potest contra fidem errare. Ecclesiae autem universalis errare non potest. See Kropatscheck p. 65 sqq., and also Dorner, p. 696. The Roman Church is not identical with it, and this body of Christians may exist independently of the Roman Church. If the pope had plenary power, the law of the Gospel would be more galling than the law of Moses. All would then be the pope’s slaves.363363 See Werner, III. 120, who quotes Scaliger as saying of Ockam, omnium mortalium subtillissimus, cujus ingenium vetera subvertit, nova ad invictas insanias et incomprehensibiles subtilitates fabricavit et conformavit. The papacy is not a necessary institution.
In the doctrine of the eucharist, Ockam represents the traditional view as less probable than the view that Christ’s body is at the side of the bread. This theory of impanation, which Rupert of Deutz taught, approached Luther’s theory of consubstantiation. However, Ockam accepted the Church’s view, because it was the less intelligible and because the power of God is unlimited. John of Paris, d. 1308, had compared the presence of Christ in the elements to the co-existence of two natures in the incarnation and was deposed from his chair at the University of Paris, 1304. Gabriel Biel took a similar view.364364 See Werner, D. hl. Thomas, III. 111; Harnack, Dogmengesch., III. 494; Seeberg, 276.
Ockam’s views on the authority of the civil power, papal errancy, the infallibility of the Scriptures and the eucharist are often compared with the views of Luther.365365 For example, Kropatscheck, especially p. 66 sqq., and Seeberg, p. 289. The German reformer spoke of the English Schoolman as "without doubt the leader and most ingenious of the Schoolmen"—scholasticorum doctorum sine dubio princeps et ingeniosissimus. He called him his "dear teacher," and declared himself to be of Ockam’s party—sum Occamicae factionis.366366 Weimar, ed. VI. 183, 195, 600, as quoted by Seeberg. The two men were, however, utterly unlike. Ockam was a theorist, not a reformer, and in spite of his bold sayings, remained a child of the mediaeval age. He started no party or school in theological matters. Luther exalted personal faith in the living Christ. He discovered new principles in the Scriptures, and made them the active forces of individual and national belief and practice. We might think of Luther as an Ockam if he had lived in the fourteenth century. We cannot think of Ockam as a reformer in the sixteenth century. He would scarcely have renounced monkery. Ockam’s merit consists in this that, in common with Marsiglius and other leaders of thought, he imbibed the new spirit of free discussion, and was bold enough to assail the traditional dogmas of his time. In this way he contributed to the unsettlement of the pernicious mediaeval theory of the seat of authority.
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