ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf


380. Influence of the Terminist School. Prohibitive Measures. -- The teaching of William of Ockam was taken up enthusiastically in the philosophical schools of the Paris University in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Even in its founder's lifetime{1} it attracted a large following. Of this no better evidence could be forthcoming than the long roll of the supporters of the venerabilis inceptor and the repeated efforts on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities to stem the rising flood of terminist teaching. Ockamism was a reaction and it was novel: those two facts in its favour were stronger than all the official prohibitions. The history of these ecclesiastical measures throws a new light on the later fortunes of Ockamism. We will examine them briefly, to see what was the spirit that animated them.

In 1339 the Paris Faculty of Arts banished from its chairs the Ockamist doctrine, which certain masters, as the statute relates, were not only teaching in their public lectures but propagating privately, and in conventicula.{2} The Faculty wanted to return to the traditions of the thirteenth century and appealed to reasons of discipline: academic regulations should be respected by those who have sworn fidelity to them, and no one can be allowed to read books other than those prescribed by our predecessors. The appeal was without effect, for fourteen months later the Faculty had to renew its prohibitions. This time, however, its tone is changed; it raises a cry of alarm: the new teachings are full of danger and form a tissue of intolerable errors calculated to compromise both philosophy and theology. This statute of 1340 is of considerable interest, for it contains a collection of the teachings it was thought advisable to proscribe and banish from the schools.

It states that the Ockamists inherit the dialectical spirit of their master and bestow great attention on the logico-grammatical matters brought into vogue by Petrus Hispanus. If separated in the least from the real content of the terminist philosophy, this formal logic leads inevitably to verbal discussions, to mere juggling of words, worthy of the sophist rather than the philosopher. We may judge from an example. The masters aimed at by the statute admit only suppositio personalis ("Quod nullus dicat simpliciter vel de virtute sermonis omnem propositionem esse falsam, que esset falsa secundum suppositionem personalem terminorum . . . actores enim sepe utuntur aliis suppositionibus ") and literal interpretation (" Quod nullus dicat propositionem nullam esse concedendam, si non sit vera in ejus sensu proprio . . . quia Biblia et actores non semper sermonibus utuntur secundum proprios sensus eorum"). They reduce science to a study of concepts and words, not of things ("Quod nullus dicat scientiam nullam esse de rebus que non sunt signa, id est que non sunt termini vel orationes"{3}).

But the Faculty refers to a second class of propositions which eontain the real cause of the war that was declared against Ockamism: certain supporters of the new doctrines, misconstruing Ockam's theories and interpolating foreign elements, had arrived at conclusions that were openly anti-scholastic (402). It was his anxiety to safeguard both the traditional scholastic philosophy and the orthodox theology that prompted Pope Clement VI., in 1346, to write to the masters and students of the University of Paris to warn them against those variae et extraneae{4} doctrinae sophisticae. The germ of error, says Clement, is latent in those dangerous theories; they will make those who should defend the good cause proselytes of the evil one.{5}

Now it is a remarkable thing that although Ockamism was solemnly condemned three times within seven years, yet it continued to spread and prosper at Paris; most of the masters in arts espoused it either publicly or privately, and, what is stranger still, even in the time of Clement VI. himself, one of the most distinguished professors of the University -- John Buridan -- who was also rector, openly defended the new doctrines of William of Ockam. In this situation we have such a conflict between right and fact as can be explained only by a consideration of the motives that prompted the condemnations. What alarmed the ecclesiastical authorities was the conduct of certain doctors who were prostituting Ockam's teaching to the defence of anti-scholastic theories: there was the evil to be avoided. But besides those deserters and traitors (402) there were crowds of Ockamists who wished to remain, and, in spite of their weaknesses, did remain, scholastics. The teaching of these latter could not give such cause for alarm; and if they were hit by the letter of the prohibition they were spared by its spirit and intention. It is in this section of the Ockamists that we find the most distinguished names.{6}

In other universities, Ockamism triumphed without an effort and even became the official teaching: as in Vienna and Cologne, which followed the teaching of Buridan; and in Heidelberg, which adopted the ideas of Marsilius of Inghen.{7} In 1425 we find the prince elector calling on some of the Cologne masters to justify their action in taking as their guides the antiqui alti sermonis doctores (Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas) instead of the magistri moderniores.{8}

{1} The Reg. Procur. Nat. Angl. for 1341 make use of the term Occhaniste: ". . . Statutum facultatis contra novas opiniones quorumdam, qui vocantur Occhaniste" (Chartul., ii., p. 507, n.). Gerson speaks of controversies hetween the formalistae and the terministae; P. Nigri uses even the term conceptistae.

{2} "Statuimus quod nullus de cetero predictam doctrinam dogmatizare praesumat audiendo vel legendo publice vel occulte, necnon conventicula super dicta doctrina disputanda faciendo" (Chartul., ii., p. 485).

{3} Chartul., ii., p. 506.

{4} RICARDUS DE BURY, op. cit., says of the Paris masters of 1344: "Anglicanas subtilitates, quibus palam detrahunt, vigiliis addiscunt" (ibid., p. 590, n.).

{5} "Plerique quoque theologi . . . philosophicis questionibus et aliis curiosis disputationibus et suspectis opinionibus . . . Se involvunt . . . sic quod, unde deherent. prodire fructus uberes sicut antiquitus reficientes fideles . . . pestifera pullulant quandoque semina."

{6} In the fifteenth century again the prohibitions were renewed. In 1473 Louis. XI. tried to banish Ockamism from Paris and France and to substitute for it the realism of the thirteenth century. After eight years (1481), the prohibitions were removed (Chartul., iii., p. x).

{7} Thus, in 1406, Jerome of Prague got into difficulties at Heidelberg for having in an actus scholasticus attacked Marsilius of Inghen, Buridan and other "nominalists" (PRANTL, op. cit., iv., p. 39).

{8} EHRLE, Die päpstl. Encycl., etc., p. 316 (240). The Franciscan convent at Oxford had a party of Scotists and a party of Ockamists (D'ARGENTRÉ, op. cit., i. p. 342).

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