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William Of Ockham, Dialogus


William of Ockham, Dialogus,
part 1, book 3, chapters 1-5.

Translation by John Kilcullen.
(Version 1, September 1995)
Copyright © 1995, The British Academy


Disciple Concerning Catholic truths the above investigation is enough. Now, however, I will try to investigate some points concerning Catholics and heretics. And first I ask who should be regarded as a Catholic.

Master He should be considered a Catholic who observes the Catholic faith whole and inviolate.

Disciple How can a simple layman observe the whole faith, who has never thought of many things that belong to the Catholic faith? Such a layman therefore cannot be a Catholic, if every Catholic holds the whole Catholic faith.

Master Theologians answer that to observe or hold the whole faith is possible by believing faithfully and without any doubt, explicitly or implicitly, all things that pertain to the orthodox faith.

Disciple What is it to believe something implicitly?

Master It is answered that to believe implicitly is to assent firmly to some universal [statement] from which many things follow and not adhere pertinaciously to anything contrary, and therefore whoever firmly holds that everything handed down in divine scripture and the teaching of the universal church is true and sound and does not adhere pertinaciously to any assertion contrary to orthodox truth holds the Catholic faith inviolate and whole and should be considered a Catholic.

Disciple It seems that for someone to be regarded as a Catholic it is enough to believe that all things that the universal church hands down are true, and thus it is superfluous to add that he does not adhere pertinaciously to anything contrary.

Master Some of the learned say that it is not enough to believe that all things that the universal church hands down are true, unless together with this nothing contrary is adhered to pertinaciously in particular. For many heretics have been condemned by general councils who nevertheless firmly held that all things handed down in sacred scripture are true; however, because they adhered pertinaciously to some assertion in truth contrary to the assertion of divine scripture (although they did not see this), they were judged to be not Catholics but heretics.

Disciple It seems to me not possible to know perfectly who is to be regarded as a Catholic unless one knows who is to be judged a heretic, and therefore I turn to the inquiry concerning heretics. But say first how it is explained that someone can believe that all things that divine scripture contains, or the universal church, are true, and yet adhere pertinaciously to some assertion opposed to some truth contained in sacred scripture or in the teaching of the universal church.

Master This is explained as follows. Just as it is possible to know something in a universal [statement] and not know it in particular (according to the opinion of the wise man), which is simply to know the universal proposition and not know one of its singulars (for example, I can know that every man is rational, not knowing the singular, "This is rational", pointing to someone I see from a distance concerning whom I do not know whether he is a man or a brute animal), so it is possible to know some universal and think that one of its singulars is false (for example, I can know that every man is capable of laughter, and yet, pointing to some man I see from a distance whom I think to be an ass or some other animal, as often happens, I can believe that he is not capable of laughter, because I think that he is not a man) -- so it is possible for someone to believe the universal statement, "All things contained in divine scripture are Catholic and true", and yet believe it to be false that "Blessed Andrew was an apostle of Christ", because he does not know that the truth "Blessed Andrew was an apostle of Christ" is contained in or can be inferred from divine scripture. Assuming that this is so, if he adheres pertinaciously, for whatever reason, to the statement that "Blessed Andrew was not an apostle of Christ", he must be judged not a Catholic but a heretic, however firmly he holds the universal statement, "All things that divine scripture teaches are Catholic and true".


Disciple Now more than ever I consider that to know who should be considered a Catholic one must know who should be counted among the heretics, and therefore I wish to examine some points concerning heretics. But lest I be deceived through equivocation, say first if the word heretic has one meaning or several.

Master Several meanings of this word are assigned. In one way every excommunicate is called a heretic. Thus in 4, q. 1, c. 2, Pope Nicholas says: "'And we call heretics', they say, ' both those who have formerly been rejected by the Church, and also those who after this have been anathematized by us'". And in the same chapter the gloss comments: "Note that every excommunicate is called a heretic". And the gloss notes the same on 24, q. 1, para. Quia vero.

In a second way a pervertor of the sacraments is called a heretic. And thus a simoniac is called a heretic. Thus Gregory (as we read in 1, q. 1, c. Quisquis) says: "Anyone who is ordained through money is promoted to this, that he may become a heretic".

In a third way, whoever doubts or thinks that the Christian faith is false or an invention is called a heretic. And in this way all Jews, Saracens and pagans should be considered heretics. Hence the gloss says, 24, q. 3, para. Quia vero, "Sometimes anyone who does not hold the articles of faith is, in a broad sense, called a heretic". And according to this the Jew and the Gentile are heretics, and according to this not every heretic is excommunicate. In this way also those doubtful in faith are heretics, because they are unbelievers, as we read in Extra, De haeretics, c. 1. Thus also those who are at first Catholics and afterwards think that the Christian faith is false are heretics, and thus those who apostatize from the faith by mouth and mind are to be considered heretics. (But if anyone apostatized only by mouth, he would not be a heretic before God, though the Church would have to regard him as a heretic unless it were certain that he apostatized from fear of death.)

In a fourth way, every Christian, or one who thinks or thought himself to be a Christian, who errs pertinaciously against Catholic truth is said to be a heretic.

Disciple Why is it said "who thinks or thought himself" to have been a Christian?

Master It is said on account of those who are baptized outside the Church's form, who are not Christians but thought or think themselves Christians; and yet they are heretics otherwise than Jews or pagans are, and should be punished in another way.

Disciple Say if this word heretic has other meanings.

Master In a fifth way everyone who adheres pertinaciously to an error which smacks of heretical wickedness is called a heretic.


Disciple I see clearly several meanings of this word heretic, but in some of them it is seldom used, though heretics are often mentioned. Say, therefore, if you have heard or seen a description of this word heretic in the meaning in which it is more commonly used.

Master Perhaps you mean to speak of the heretic who is excommunicate, and, if he has been lawfully convicted and has not corrected himself according to the Church's form, should be handed over to a secular court.

Disciple Describe him, if you can.

Master Some describe [him] saying this: A heretic is someone seriously baptized, or acting as someone baptized, who pertinaciously doubts or errs against Catholic truth.

Disciple Clarify the elements, and explain which persons they intend to include and which to exclude.

Master By the first element, when they say "seriously baptized", they exclude those baptized in jest who are considered as not baptized. And they include by the same element not only Christians baptized by Catholics, but also those baptized by heretics in the Church's form -- and outside the Church's form (who in no way receive baptism as to either grace or character). By the same element they exclude Jews, Saracens and pagans who have never been baptized and have not acted as baptized persons, who should not at all be punished by the penalty of the heretics of whom you speak.

And by the second element, when it is said "acting as someone baptized", they include those who think or pretend that they are baptized and live among Christians as if baptized. If these withdraw from the faith they should be punished as if they had truly been baptized.

By the third element, when it is said, "who errs or doubts pertinaciously against Catholic truth", they exclude all those who either doubt or err against the faith from simplicity or ignorance alone, without any pertinacity. For such persons should not be considered heretics, but should be diligently informed about the faith. If afterwards they doubt or err pertinaciously they should be condemned as heretics.


Disciple So as to understand better the material about heretics I will object against the above description in many ways. For the first element, which is put in place of a genus, when it is said "seriously baptized", does not seem suitably laid down. For many are seriously baptized outside the Church's form, who, however much they may err pertinaciously, should not be judged heretics as we are now speaking of heretics, because we are speaking now only about heretics who belong to the forum of the Church and are to be judged by the Church. But those who are outside the Church and never were of the Church and never were Christians should not be judged by the Church, as the Apostle testifies. In 1 Corinthians 5, he says, " For what business is it of mine to judge those outside?" But those baptized outside the Church's form have always been outside and never have been Christians. Therefore they should not be judged by the Church and consequently should not be regarded as heretics.

Master Your objection is based on an equivocation, for people are said to be "outside" in various ways. For some are outside because they have never been baptized, by either true or false baptism, and have not in any way acted as baptized persons, and the Apostle means these. However much they err pertinaciously against Catholic truth, they are not to be punished by the Church, as baptized heretics are.

Others are outside who never received true baptism; however, they have received false baptism, or have acted as baptized persons; and these, like those who have been within, are subject to the jurisdiction of the Church.

Others are outside who have at some time been inside but are separated from the Church by the Church's censure; and nevertheless at some time they remain within. And in this way all excommunicates are said to be outside. Thus Jerome, as we read in 24, q. 3, c. Si quis, says: "It happens sometimes that he who is sent outside is inside, and he is outside who seems to be retained within". Those also, however much they are outside, are not at all exempt from the Church's jurisdiction.

Disciple That objection seems probably answered, but still another occurs to me. For people who are insane, asleep, and altogether contradicting it, even if they are baptized, if they afterwards err pertinaciously or remain in pertinacious error, do not seem to be regarded as heretics, because they will not belong to ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Master Those who describe the heretic in the above way say that if people thus baptized persist in contradiction, they are understood not to be baptized by either true or false baptism. Certainly not by false; nor by true, because whoever is baptized by true baptism receives the character of the sacrament.

Disciple What do they say about catechumens and those who express an intention to be baptised, if before they are baptized they fall into heretical wickedness or return to their previous rite?

Master Some of them say that such people should be punished as heretics because they regard themselves as Catholics, therefore if they afterwards err they should be regarded as heretics. Also, all adult catechumens, and those who assert that they intend to be baptized, act as being persons baptized by the baptism of fire; therefore they are subject, as being baptized, to the judgment of the Church, and consequently, if they return to their vomit or fall into pertinacious error, they should be struck by the Church with due penalty. Others, however, say that before they are baptized such people do not belong to the jurisdiction of the Church; therefore they can, without fear of the Church's punishment, return to their previous rite and in other ways err pertinaciously.


Disciple Though I could ask many questions about this matter, nevertheless, because few or no catechumens are now found, or unbaptised persons acting as being baptized, and I have wanted the present work to be made mainly so that I would better understand the controversies ventilated among the Christians of our times, I turn to the last element of the description given above. It seems superfluous to put "pertinaciously", since every Christian should be added to the number of the heretics if he simply doubts or errs against Catholic truth.

This seems provable, first, by a text of Innocent III. As we read in Extra, De verborum significatione, c. Super quibusdam, writing to the Count of Toulouse, he says: "Your devotion has asked of us who are to be called manifest heretics. Upon this we have decided that it should be answered that those should be understood to be manifest heretics who publicly preach against the Catholic faith or profess or defend an error, or who have been convicted or have confessed before their prelates, or have been condemned judicially by them on a charge of heretical wickedness". In these words there is no mention of pertinacity. Anyone, therefore, who preaches publicly against the Catholic faith, even if he does not err pertinaciously, must be considered a heretic.

Pope Celestine, as Pope Nicholas reports, seems to think the same. As we read in 24, q. 1, c. Ait Celestinus, he says: "If anyone has been excommunicated or stripped of his office as bishop or cleric by Bishop Nestorius or by others who follow him (from when they began to preach such things), it is manifest that this man remains and has remained in our communion, and we do not judge him to have been removed; because it was not possible for anyone to remove another by his sentence if he had already shown that he himself should be removed". By these words we are given to understand that as soon as someone begins to preach against Catholic truth, he straightway loses the power to excommunicate others. From this it follows that such a person should be regarded as a heretic. And yet someone can preach things contrary to Catholic truth without pertinacity. Therefore for it to be the case that someone should be considered a heretic it is not required that he err or doubt pertinaciously.

Blessed Jerome also seems to testify to this. As we read in 24, q. 1, Haec est fides, he says, writing to a pope, "But if this confession of ours is approved by the judgment of your Apostleship, whoever wants to blame me will prove himself unskilled or malevolent or even not a Catholic but a heretic". Here also there is no mention of pertinacity. Therefore it is superfluous to put "pertinaciously" in the above definition.

[2] Also, no one except a heretic is entangled in the condemnation of heretics. But, on the testimony of Gelasius, 24, q. 1, c. 1, "Whoever falls into a heresy at any time condemned entangles himself in its condemnation", where the pope does not distinguish between one who falls pertinaciously, or not pertinaciously, into a heresy at any time condemned, and, consequently, neither should we distinguish. Therefore, whoever falls, whether pertinaciously or not pertinaciously, into a heresy at any time condemned should be reckoned a heretic.

Gelasius also seems to assert this openly, as we read in the same causa and question, c. Maiores. He says: "Once the author of any insanity, and at the same time the error, was condemned, they judged it to be enough that whoever should at any time share in this error would be bound by the original sentence of its condemnation".

Pope Felix seems to agree with him. As we read in the same causa and question, c. Achatius (ii), he says: "It is therefore necessary that he fell into the sentence (if the balance is just) that the author of the error, together with his successors, had received by agreement of the synod". In these texts these supreme pontiffs do not distinguish between those who fall into heresy pertinaciously and not pertinaciously, and yet they say indefinitely or universally that the followers of heretics lie under a like sentence. Therefore "pertinaciously" is superfluous in the definition above.

[3] Also, Jerome says, upon the Epistle to the Galatians (included in 24, q. 3, c. Haeresis [col. 997]): "Therefore, whoever understands Scripture otherwise than as the sense of the Holy Spirit demands (by whom it is written), though he does not leave the Church, can nevertheless be called a heretic, and he is choosing from among fleshly works those which are worse". From these words it is clear that everyone, whether pertinaciously or not pertinaciously, understanding otherwise than as the sense of the Holy Spirit demands is a heretic. Therefore "pertinaciously" is unsuitably put in the above definition.

[4] Also, Pope Stephen, not distinguishing between pertinacious and not pertinacious doubt, says indefinitely, as we read in Extra, De hereticis, c. 1: "One who is doubtful in faith is unfaithful". Therefore everyone who doubts about the faith, whether pertinaciously or not pertinaciously, should be considered unfaithful and consequently a heretic. But it is a bigger thing to err than to doubt; therefore everyone who errs against the faith, whether pertinaciously or not pertinaciously, should be considered a heretic.

[5] Also, Pope Nicholas, as we read in 24, q. 1, c. Aperte, says indefinitely: "No one was able to depose or remove who, preaching such things, is unsteady in the faith". From these words we gather that everyone who is unsteady in faith is deprived of all ecclesiastical power. But this is only because he is a heretic. Therefore everyone who is unsteady or doubtful in faith, whether pertinaciously or not pertinaciously, should be considered a heretic. From this it follows that everyone who errs against the faith, even not pertinaciously, should be reckoned a heretic.

Gratian agrees with these. In 24, q. 1, para. His auctoritatibus, he says: "By these texts it is clearly shown that as soon as someone begins to teach something against the faith he cannot eject or condemn anyone", and consequently such a person teaching against the faith, even if not convicted, should be regarded as a heretic.

[6] Also, faith that is not firm is not true faith. Hence a general council says, as we read Extra, De summa trinitate et fide Catholica, c. 1, "We firmly believe", obviously suggesting that every Catholic should believe firmly. Hence also in the Athanasian Creed it is contained: "This is the Catholic faith; unless each one believes it faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved"; faith should therefore be firm. But one who doubts in faith, even if not pertinaciously, does not have firm faith, but unfirm, as Bernard testifies. In To Pope Eugenius, Book 5, he says: "Faith, if it has hesitation, is unfirm". Therefore one who doubts about the faith does not have true faith, and consequently should be reckoned not a Catholic but a heretic.

These are the objections that strike my mind against the above description of a heretic. However, because that description seems plausible, say how those who thus describe the heretic answer the above.



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