IS IT FOR CANONISTS, OR FOR THEOLOGIANS, TO DECIDE WHAT IS HERESY? - WILLIAM OF OCKHAM BOOK 1 CHAPTER 6
Master: THERE is a lot you do not know I know some canonists who presume to scoff at theologians when they try to investigate about many assertions whether they should be counted among the heresies, saying that such an investigation is known to pertain to canonists not to theologians.
Student: I am absolutely astonished at what you say, because such a statement seems to have no probability. Nevertheless tell me if those who assert such a thing bring forward any reason for it.
Master: I have heard that they are moved only by the fact that when theologians or others are accused of or try to accuse others of heresy they do not know how to compose or prepare the writs of accusation, reply, appeal, and the like, but must have recourse to canonists. They say, therefore, that it pertains to canonists not to theologians to determine which assertion should be considered catholic, which heretical.
Student: That argument seems so frivolous to me as not to need a reply. For it is one thing to determine which assertion should be thought of as catholic or which heretical, and it is another to know the formulae for law suits , the way of proceeding against heretics in court , and also the way of defending in court those accused of heresy. The first is known to pertain to theologians, the second to lawyers, just as it is one thing to know true money from forgeries, gold from brass, healthy horses from sick ones, strong and skilfully made arms from others, and it is another thing to know---if someone wanted to accuse someone in court of any one of the above and the accused strove to defend himself---how the writs of accusation, reply, appeal, and the like which it would be suitable to use in court should be prepared and composed: the first is known to pertain to moneyers, goldsmiths, makers of iron and forgers of arms, but there is indeed no doubt that the second pertains to lawyers. By that argument, therefore, it would be possible to prove that it would pertain to lawyers to determine what is true gold and what false, which garments have been skilfully made and which otherwise, which buildings are useful to anyone at all and which not useful, and, to conclude briefly, lawyers would chiefly have the power to determine, in connection with all the works of mechanical art and all natural objects that fall to the use of humans, what kind of thing they were according to their nature or to art, since it is possible to litigate in court about everything of this kind. In such a case it is necessary for those litigating to have recourse to lawyers for writs of accusation, reply, appeal, and the like. It is certain, however, that learned lawyers often do not know how to judge of the smallest things whether they are such as they should be according to their nature or the art by which they are made. Yet they are not ignorant about how it is appropriate to prepare writs for recovering or defending such things in court and about other matters which pertain to the form of acting and defending before a judge
Master: So I have briefly investigated your first question in the form you fixed for me in advance. Now propose another one, or allow me to rest.
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM, DIALOGUS
part 1, prologue and book 1
Text and translation by John Kilcullen and John Scott
as at december, 2003