The Influence of William of Ockham and Nominalism on Martin Luther and Early Protestant Thought

Compiled and Edited by
Dave Armstrong

[ (P) = Protestant / (C) = Catholic / (O) = Orthodox / (U) = unknown religious persuasion / secular ]
This paper consists entirely of citations. Sources of citations will be in blue.


I. Introductions to Medieval Philosophical Nominalism

II. Introductions to William of Ockham's Philosophical Theology

III. Ockham and Nominalism Compared to the Scholastic Systems of St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus

IV. Ockham and Nominalism on Faith and Reason

V. Ockham on Ethics, the Moral Law, and God's Characteristics

VI. Ockham and Nominalism, Protestantism, and Martin Luther's Theology

VII. Ockham and Nominalism and John Calvin's Theology

VIII. Ockham and Nominalism and Later Humanist, Secularist, and Postmodernist Philosophies

I. Introductions to Medieval Philosophical Nominalism

From: Catholic Encyclopedia (C) (1911), "Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism," written by Maurice de Wulf, greatly abridged here.

These terms are used to designate the theories that have been proposed as
solutions of one of the most important questions in philosophy, often referred to
as the problem of universals, which, while it was a favourite subject for
discussion in ancient times, and especially in the Middle Ages, is still prominent                            in modern and contemporary philosophy . . .


The problem of universals is the problem of the correspondence of
our intellectual concepts to things existing outside our intellect . . . The
question, . . is to discover to what extent the concepts of the mind
correspond to the things they represent; how the flower we conceive
represents the flower existing in nature; in a word, whether our ideas
are faithful and have an objective reality.

Four solutions of the problem have been offered . . .

A. Exaggerated Realism

Exaggerated Realism holds that there are universal concepts in the mind and
universal things in nature. There is, therefore, a strict parallelism between the
being in nature and the being in thought, since the external object is clothed
with the same character of universality that we discover in the concept. This is a
simple solution, but one that runs counter to the dictates of common sense.

B. Nominalism

Exaggerated Realism invents a world of reality corresponding exactly to the
attributes of the world of thought. Nominalism, on the contrary, models the
concept on the external object, which it holds to be individual and particular.
Nominalism consequently denies the existence of abstract and universal
concepts, and refuses to admit that the intellect has the power of engendering
them. What are called general ideas are only names, mere verbal designations,
serving as labels for a collection of things or a series of particular events.
Hence the term Nominalism . . .

C. Conceptualism

Conceptualism admits the existence within us of abstract and universal concepts
(whence its name), but it holds that we do not know whether or not the mental
objects have any foundation outside our minds or whether in nature the
individual objects possess distributively and each by itself the realities which
we conceive as realized in each of them. The concepts have an ideal value; they
have no real value, or at least we do not know whether they have a real value.

D. Moderate Realism

Moderate Realism, finally, declares that there are universal concepts
representing faithfully realities that are not universal.

How can there be harmony between the former and the latter? The
latter are particular, but we have the power of representing them to
ourselves abstractly. Now the abstract type, when the intellect
considers it reflectively and contrasts it with the particular subjects
in which it is realized or capable of being realized, is attributable
indifferently to any and all of them. This applicability of the abstract
type to the individuals is its universality. (Mercier, "Critériologie",
Louvain, 1906, p. 343).


A. In Greek Philosophy

The conciliation of the one and the many, the changing and the permanent, was
a favourite problem with the Greeks; it leads to the problem of universals. The
typical affirmation of Exaggerated Realism, the most outspoken ever made,
appears in Plato's philosophy; the real must possess the attributes of necessity,
universality, unity, and immutability which are found in our intellectual
representations. And as the sensible world contains only the contingent, the
particular, the unstable, it follows that the real exists outside and above the
sensible world. Plato calls it eîdos, idea. The idea is absolutely stable and exists
by itself (óntos ón; autá kath' autá), isolated from the phenomenal world,
distinct from the Divine and human intellect . . .

Aristotle broke away from these exaggerated views of his master and
formulated the main doctrines of Moderate Realism. The real is not, as Plato
says, some vague entity of which the sensible world is only the shadow; it
dwells in the midst of the sensible world. Individual substance (this man, that
horse) alone has reality; it alone can exist. The universal is not a thing in itself;
it is immanent in individuals and is multiplied in all the representatives of a
class. As to the form of universality of our concepts (man, just), it is a product
of our subjective consideration. The objects of our generic and specific
representations can certainly be called substances (ousíai), when they
designate the fundamental reality (man) with the accidental determinations
(just, big); but these are deúterai ousíai (second substances), and by that
Aristotle means precisely that this attribute of universality which affects the
substance as in thought does not belong to the substance (thing in itself); it is
the outcome of our subjective elaboration. This theorem of Aristotle, which
completes the metaphysics of Heraclitus (denial of permanent) by means of
that of Parmenides (denial of change), is the antithesis of Platonism, and may
be considered one of the finest pronouncements of Peripateticism. It was
through this wise doctrine that the Stagyrite exercised his ascendency over all
later thought.

After Aristotle Greek philosophy formulated a third answer to the problem of
universals, Conceptualism. This solution appears in the teaching of the Stoics,
which, as is known, ranks with Platonism and Aristoteleanism among the three
original systems of the great philosophic age of the Greeks. Sensation is the
principle of all knowledge, and thought is only a collective sensation . . .

B. In the Philosophy of the Middle Ages

[ . . . ]

C. From the thirteenth Century

In the thirteenth century all the great Scholastics solved the problem of the
universals by the theory of Moderate Realism (Thomas Aquinas,
Bonaventure, Duns Scotus), and are thus in accord with Averroes and
Avicenna, the great Arab commentators of Aristotle, whose works had
recently passed into circulation by means of tranlations. St. Thomas
formulates the doctrine of Moderate Realism in precise language, and for that
reason alone we can give the name of Thomistic Realism to this doctrine (see
below). With William of Occam and the Terminist School appear the strictly
conceptualist solution of the problem. The abstract and universal concept is a
sign (signum), also called a term (terminus; hence the name Terminism
given to the system), but it has no real value, for the absract and the universal
do not exist in any way in nature and have no fundamentum outside the mind.
The universal concept (intentio secunda) has as it object internal
representations, formed by the understanding, to which nothing external
corresponding can be attributed. The role of the universals is to serve as a
label, to hold the place (supponere) in the mind of multitude of things which it
can be attributed. Occam's Conceptualism would be frankly subjectivistic, if,
together with the abstract concepts which reach the individual thing, as it
exists in nature.

D. In Modern and Contemporary Philosophy

We find an unequivocal affirmation of Nominalism in Positivism. For Hume,
Stuart Mill, Spencer, and Taine there is strictly speaking no universal concept.
The notion, to which we lend universality, is only a collection of individual
perceptions, a collective sensation, "un nom compris" (Taine), "a term in
habitual association with many other particular ideas" (Hume), "un savoir
potentiel emmagasiné" (Ribot) . . .

From: Frederick Copleston, S.J. (C), A History of Philosophy: Vol. 3: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part  I: Ockham to the Speculative Mystics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1953, 21, 26, 30.

. . . there arose and spread in the fourteenth century a new movement, associated for ever with the name of William of Ockham. The thinkers of this new movement, the via moderna, which naturally possessed all the charm of 'modernity', opposed the realism of the earlier schools and becamse known as the 'nominalists'. This appellation is in some respects not very apposite, since William of Ockham, for example, did not deny that there are universal concepts in some sense . . . a better name is 'terminists' . . . It is true that they strongly opposed and criticized the realism of earlier philosophers, particularly that of Duns Scotus; but it would be an over-simplification of their anti-realism to say that it consisted in attributing universality to 'names' or words alone.

It would, however, be a grossly inadequate description if one contented oneself with saying that the fourteenth-century nominalists attacked the realism of the thirteenth-century philosophers. The nominalist movement possessed a significance and an importance which cannot be adequately expressed by reference to one particular controversy.

. . . one is not justified in asserting without qualification that a rudimentary appreciation of physical science was peculiar to the fourteenth century, as contrasted with the thirteenth, or that the scientific studies associated withy the Ockhamist movement were the direct progenitors of Renaissance science. Already in the thirteenth century interest had been taken in the Latin translations of Greek and Arabic scientific works, and original observations and experiments had been made. We have only to think of men like Albert the Great, Peter of Maricourt and Roger Bacon . . .

Christian philosophy . . . was not radically hostile to the study of the world; and in the case of thirteenth-century philosophers like St. Albert the Great and Roger Bacon we find a combination of the spiritual; outlook with an interest in the empirical study of nature.

II. Introductions to William of Ockham's Philosophical Theology

From: "William Of Ockham and the Death Of Universals," by Neal Magee (U).

Ockham [1285-1347] was first and foremost a Franciscan theologian. While much of his work seems plainly philosophical, logical, and scientific, it was out of religious motivation and faithful conviction that he worked. While extremely innovative and creative in his thinking, often daring to reject previous thinkers because of their basic presuppositions, Ockham incorporated much of the work of some previous theologians, especially John Duns Scotus. From Scotus, Ockham derived his view of divine omnipotence, his view of grace and justification, much of his epistemology and ethical convictions. However, he also reacted to and against Scotus in the areas of predestination, penance, his understanding of universals, his distinction ex parte rei (that is, 'as applied to created things'), and his view of parsimony . . .

To begin to understand Ockham's thought, there are a number of principles and presuppositions
adopted from his predecessors which he used repeatedly. The first was a belief in the total
transcendence of God, and utter contingency of all aspects of creation. That is, there is nothing other than God which is absolutely necessary, including the physical and moral laws of our world. The second, closely related to the first, is the distinction between potentia absoluta and potentia
ordinata. That is, the difference between the power of God as considered by itself, and that power considered from a standpoint of the decrees God has made. God is free to do whatever God chooses to do, so long as it does not contradict the nature of God. This notion was derived from Scotus and other thirteenth-century thinkers. The third principle is that individual substances and qualities are the fundamental physical realities in human experience. The world is made up of individually existing things, not universalities; this was taught by Abélard in the twelfth century. Thus, the task of theology and philosophy is to explain the similarity and universality exhibited in the world around us, not its individuation. Fourth and finally, Ockham adhered to the principle of parsimony, or economy of "sufficient reason": plurality ought not to be posited without necessity. This became commonly known as Ockham's razor, or in lay terms, "the simplest answer is usually thecorrect one" . . .

Ockham's view of universals does not grant as much confidence in the world of ungraspable,
unseeable forms and ideas. Basically, universals do not even exist as external realities in apposition to concrete realities. They are simply useful terms which we can employ to sort the world we see and feel around us. Therefore species, category, or archetypes are not valid properties which exist "out there" somewhere; they are ways of describing similarities we notice among objects. Plato holds that there is an inherent, common nature among similar things: the properties of being a flower are present in roses, geraniums, and daisies. This nature also exists outside of the flower itself. Ockham insists that this is completely invalid; there are no common natures. Thus in answer to the ontological question of universals, Ockham does not allow both the view of a common nature existing apart from things and the view of a universal or common nature existing in things.

We arrive at general concepts (universals) by beginning with our experience of individuals and slowly build up our idea of similarity (a posteriori knowledge). Platonic and even Aristotelian thinkers would contend that the more 'real' realities in the cosmos are the timeless, immutable Forms, of which we recognize individual examples (particulars) in our external reality and time. To that, Ockham answers: "without existing things, time, in our sense, would not exist." He believed that Aristotle's categories of quantity and relation are not things in themselves, but are descriptions for the ways in which substances and qualities act or interact. Originally holding that a universal concept was a mental object, a fictum, or image created by the mind but possessing no reality other than logical being, Ockham later maintained that the concept was a psychic entity identical with the act of knowing: the act of abstractive cognition. This raises the issue of knowing.

. . . Ockham's epistemological revolution came through his insistence that individual things
could be known as individual things, that direct, unmediated knowledge of particulars was
possible. He reduced all of human knowledge into two fundamental categories: intuitive and
abstract. Intuitive knowledge is based upon "existential judgments," which means judging an object by direct experience when it is present to our senses; to intuit means to behold and gaze on something attentively. There is no need to depend upon assumed universals or common nature to mediate our sensations and experiences.

From: Martin Anton Schmidt (P), Review of The Harvest Of Medieval Theology:  Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism, by Heiko Augustinus Oberman, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963. In Theology Today, Vol. 21, No. 1, April 1964.

Much bias has obscured a proper evaluation of the thought of William Occam. Those theologians who called him their master-the most vigorous among the late medieval "schools"-were they victims of a questionable philosophy, or did this philosophy, commonly called nominalism, help them to re-think, in an authentic way, the problems inherent in their theological inheritance? Oberman undertakes to present the last great representative of this group, Gabriel Biel (d. 1495), as a theologian of his own right and in his own context. Since in the essentials Biel deviates so little from Occam, there are good reasons "to consider whether Occam's interests would not also prove to be more theologically oriented" (p. 4) than the still prevailing interest in philosophical rather than theological issues in the history of scholasticism suggests (cf. p. 1 and p. 36, n. 36) . . .

. . . It is almost incredible to see how many judgments-of text books as well as of
acknowledged specialists-need drastic revisions. Whoever desires an understanding of what really happened between Aquinas or Duns Scotus and Luther must read this book.

. . . Oberman's book becomes a decisive appeal to Roman Catholics and Protestants to liberate this epoch of theology from its ghetto existence and to acknowledge its important (perhaps decisive) role for the self-understanding (and so also for the mutual understanding) of both confessions.

From: William Turner (C), History of Philosophy, Boston: Ginn and Co., 1903, chapter 44: "William of Ockham."

. . . Ockam is best known by his renewal of nominalism. It would, however, be more correct to describe his doctrine of universals as a modified conceptualism . . . Nevertheless, it is true that Ockam is, in a certain sense, a nominalist. He maintains, for example, that propositions, not things, are the objects of scientific knowledge . . . Ockam, therefore, is a conceptualist who uses the language of nominalism: he does not subscribe to the doctrine that the name (vox) is alone universal, but, distinguishing between the vox scripta et prolata and the vox concepta, or the term as it exists in the mind (intentio animae), he declares that the latter alone possesses universality. He is a terminist rather than a nominalist . . . But, although Ockam did not profess the cruder form of nominalism, he may justly be considered the forerunner of the nominalists who appeared at the close of the fourth period of the history of Scholasticism.

From: Frederick Copleston, S.J. (C), A History of Philosophy: Vol. 3: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part  I: Ockham to the Speculative Mystics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1953, 59-60.

There is no adequate reason for challenging his reputation as te fountainhead of the terminalist or nominalist movement . . . Ockham was an independent, bold and vigorous thinker, who showed a marked ability for criticism; he held certain clear convictions and principles which he was ready to apply courageously, systematically and logically . . .

. . . . one of Ockham's main preoccupations as a philosopher was to purge Christian theology and philosophy of all traces of Greek necessitarianism, particularly of the theory of essences, which in his opinion endangered the Christian doctrines of the divine liberty and omnipotence. His activity as a logician and his attack on all forms of realism in regard to universals can thus be looked on as subordinate in a sense to his preoccupations as a Christian theologian. This is a point to bear in mind. Ockham was a Franciscan and a theologian: he should not be interpreted as though he were a modern radical empiricist.

III. Ockham and Nominalism Compared to the Scholastic Systems of St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus

From: Philip Schaff (P), History of the Christian Church, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910, Vol. 6, Chapter Three: "Leaders of Catholic Thought."

§ 20. Ockam and the Decay of Scholasticism.

Scholasticism had its last great representative in Duns Scotus, d. 1308 . . . 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.  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. Universality is nothing more than a mode of mental conception.

From: Alfred J. Freddoso (C), "ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTIONISM AND FAITH VERSUS REASON:  A CRITIQUE OF ADAMS ON OCKHAM," from Faith and Philosophy 8 (1991): 317-339.

         Marilyn Adams's massive work William Ockham is the best comprehensive
         study of Ockham's thought ever written in English or, as far as I know, in any
         other language. Without a doubt, it will be the standard secondary source on
         Ockham's philosophy and theology for a long time to come.

         Among the numerous virtues of Adams's book is its sustained (and, to my
         mind, highly successful) attempt to root out many of the now tiresome
         misrepresentations of Ockham's writings which continue to be passed down
         from generation to generation by historians of philosophy, natural science, and
         theology. Shorn of these misinterpretations, Ockham's intellectual legacy turns
         out to be far less titillating than the wholesale subversion of Christian
         Aristotelianism that he is commonly credited with (or blamed for). Indeed,
         Adams's work makes it abundantly clear that Ockham's own ostensible
         agenda is a distinctly conservative one for an early fourteenth-century thinker,
         viz., to synthesize Aristotle's philosophy with the Catholic faith.

         Here are a few of the common notions about Ockham which Adams
         exposes as errors: (i) that his nominalist (or, better, conceptualist) theory of
         universals directly entails conventionalism with respect to natural kind terms
         and so undermines the possibility of genuinely scientific knowledge (pp.
         109-141 and 287-305); (ii) that he posits qualities as entities distinct from
         substances only because such entities are required by the Catholic doctrine of
         transubstantiation (pp. 277-279); (iii) that his account of the intuitive cognition
         of particulars leads to scepticism regarding perceptual beliefs (pp. 588-594
         and 625-629); /337/ (iv) that in attributing actuality and extension to primary
         matter in itself, he anticipates Descartes's identification of matter with extension
         (pp. 690-695); (v) that his analysis of causation savors of Humean empiricism
         and engenders scepticism regarding beliefs about particular causal connections
         (pp. 741-798); (vi) that he is wholly sceptical about philosophical arguments
         for God's existence (pp. 966-979); (vii) that his Christology succumbs to the
         Nestorian heresy, according to which there are two persons, as well as two
         natures, in Christ (pp. 979-996); and (viii) that his views about merit, grace,
         and predestination are infected with the Pelagian heresy, according to which
         human beings have a natural capacity to merit eternal salvation (pp.
         1295-1297 and 1345-1347).

From: Gordon Leff (U), Medieval Thought: St Augustine to Ockham, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958, 259-260, 279-280.

We tend to fall into the trap which modern historians have been so keen to avoid, of regarding medieval thought as the struggle between nominalism and realism. Although it is true that Ockham, at least, adopted what could be called an extreme nominalist view towards universals, he was far more concerned with the validity of our concepts and their relation to faith, than taken in themselves . . . the issue was not realism versus nominalism, but the problem of how much reason could know of faith . . .

The advent of William of Ockham . . . was not the bolt from the blue that used to be imagined. His positions had been well prepared, from most points of view, and it remained for him to weld them into a devastating unity which, for sheer destructive capacity, was unequalled during the thousand years that we have been examining. Yet . . . there was also much in Ockham's thought that was positive and of great importance for the future. Different though he is from St Thomas, he marks a similar turning-point in medieval thought, though in this case it was to be the beginning of the end, not its consummation . . .

His thought operates at two different levels: at the natural he is an empiricist, refusing to stretch knowledge beyond the bounds of ascertainable experience; in things divine he is both fideist and sceptic, placing all theological certainty in the tenets of faith and none in reason's power to elicit them. In one sense, Ockham is destructive of the entire attempt to synthesize faith and reason; in another, he gives a new consistency to natural knowledge.

From: David Knowles (U), The Evolution of Medieval Thought, New York: Vintage Books, 1962, 308-309, 327-328, 340.

Duns [Scotus] is in no direct sense the ancestor of Ockhamism, and his followers have in the sequel arrested any tendency towards Nominalism in their school by combining the theological systems of Bonaventure and Scotus.

. . . Ockham . . . explicitly propounded a new epistemology, and it was this aspect of his work that exploded, as it were, and changed the whole landscape of contemporary thought by denying to the philosopher all right to any knowledge of the extra-mental universe save the intuitive knowledge of individual things, each of which was so irreducibly individual as to be unsusceptible of any intelligible relationship or connection with any other individual. This principle . . . led forthwith to the demolition of Thomism and Scotism alike. With the dictum entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem -- the so-called "razor of Ockham" -- the most venerable philosophical entities could be shorn away. Once Ockham's epistemology had been admitted realism was doomed, causality was reduced to the observation of happenings and the central concepts of nature and substance disappeared.

. . . with the death of William of Ockham and his peers a great fabric of thought, and an ancient outlook on philosophy of a single, common way of viewing the universe gradually disappeared, and gave place, after two centuries in which pure philosophy was in eclipse, to the new outlook and varied ways of the modern world.

From: Heiko A. Oberman (P), The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., rev. ed., 1967, 1-2, 423-424.

It is a curious -- and dangerous -- coincidence that the late medieval period is one of the least known in the history of Christian thought . . . for too long a time it has been regarded solely as a part of the history of philosophy. Consequently its theological contributions have been largely neglected . . .

Reformation scholars have been inclined to view the later middle ages merely as the "background of the Reformation" and have too often been guided in their evaluation by statements of the Reformers -- especially Martin Luther -- which by their very nature tend to be informed by a conscious departure from particular developments in the medieval tradition. There is a tendency in this school to stress contrasts between Luther and late medieval theologians and in general to assign Luther more to the tradition of St. Paul and St. Augustine than to that of William of Occam and Gabriel Biel.

There is, secondly, what one may loosely call the Thomistic school of interpretation which holds that in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, the middle ages reached its apex. It states that the thought of the succeeding period, beginning with Duns Scotus and culminating in nominalism -- the work of Occam, Biel, and their disciples -- is characterized by the disintegration and rapid collapse of the Thomistic synthesis. The idea that nominalism is an essentially anti- or at least a non-catholic movement leading up to the Reformation, and that, for example, Luther, however catholic in intention, became a heretic unwittingly because of his distorted, nominalistic training, is very often connected with this hypothesis. In this school late medieval thought is merely seen as the "aftermath of high scholasticism."

Finally, there is a third school which can be called the Franciscan school of interpretation. This school is apt to stress the orthodoxy and theological contribution of "new" Franciscans such as Scotus and Occam . . . it explains the theology of Luther as an erroneous interpretation of the theology of such a nominalist as Gabriel Biel, due to other elements in Luther's thought unrelated to the nominalistic tradition. While the Thomistic school locates the break in the medieval catholic tradition somewhere between Aquinas and Scotus, the third school searches for the decisive rupture somewhere between Biel and Luther.

. . . Throughout this study we have had the opportunity to show that the often-asserted thesis of the "disintegration of late medieval thought" proves to be untenable . . . it pervades not only the specialized monographs, but also the general textbooks and outlines of the history of Christian thought . . . Biel and the Inceptor Venerabilis [Occam] stand together on all basic philosophical and theological issues . . . Biel proves to be a true disciple of Occam, and a faithful preserver of the impressively coherent structure of the Occamist system.

From: Frederick Copleston, S.J. (C), A History of Philosophy: Vol. 3: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part  I: Ockham to the Speculative Mystics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1953, 22-23, 58-59, 70, 72-73.

Ockham seems to have been convinced of his fidelity to the exigencies of the Aristotelian logic; and one can even say that it was in the name of the Aristotelian logic, or of what he regarded as such, that Ockham criticized the metaphysics of predecessors like Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas . . .

This thoroughgoing criticism of the preceding metaphysical systems obviously involved a breach in the synthesis of theology and philosophy which had been a characteristic of those systems.

. . . Ockham possessed an extensive knowledge of the work of the great Scholastics who had preceded him and a remarkable acquaintance with Aristotle . . . his originality is incontestable. Though the philosophy of Scotus gave rise to certain of Ockham's problems and though certain of Scotus's views and tendencies were developed by Ockham, the latter constantly attacked the system of Scotus, particularly his realism; so that Ockhamism was a strong reaction to, rather than a development of, Scotism . . . He certainly tried to overthrow Scotist realism with the help of the Aristotelian logic and theory of knowledge, and further he regarded all realism as a perversion of true Aristotelianism; but he also endeavoured to rectify the theories of Aristotle which excluded any admission of the liberty and omnipotence of God.

. . . although St. Thomas and William of Ockham were fundamentally at one in denying that there is any universale in re, the former combined his rejection of ultra-realism with the Augustinian doctrine of the universale ante rem, whereas the latter did not.

. . . Ockham's insistence on individual things as the sole existents does not mean, therefore, that he rejects science considered as a knowledge of universal propositions. Nor does he reject the Aristotelian ideas of indemonstrable principles and of demonstration . . .

Ockham . . . was very far from being a despiser of the syllogism. 'The syllogistic form holds equally in every field.' . . . he adhered to the Aristotelian idea of demonstrative 'science'. In view of the fact that Ockham is not infrequently called an 'empiricist' it is as well to bear in mind the 'rationalist' side of his philosophy. When he said that science is concerned with propositions he did not mean that science is entirely divorced from reality or that demonstration is incapable of telling us anything about things.

From: Philotheus Boehner (C), Introduction to [Ockham's] Philosophical Writings: A Selection, translated by Philotheus Boehner, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957, ix-x.

Scholastic philosophy found its mature expression during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The scholasticism of the thirteenth century was predominantly receptive and constructive in its tendencies. Its chief exponents were mainly interested in absorbing the wealth of philosophical learning that came to them from Greek and Arabic sources, and in constructing articulate systems comprising the thought of their time. Their work can perhaps best be called 'synthetic'. By contrast, fourteenth-century scholasticism was occupied in sifting, revising and adapting its rich legacy of ideas. Its chief exponents focused their attention on the structure of the traditional philosophy itself; they tested its basis and examined the solidity of its parts. Their philosophy may therefore be characterised by the term 'critical'. These labels must not, however, be taken as mutually exclusive . . .

In one aspect the two centuries are two parts of a single whole -- the period of classical scholasticism. There is a tendency on the part of historians who have mainly studied the thirteenth century to look upon them as two distinct or even opposing periods. In their view the thirteenth century is unmistakably the golden age, the fourteenth a period of decline and decadence. Yet . . . there was a unity . . . ensured by an agreement in holding the dogmas of the Catholic faith . . . There was the unity of an unbroken academic tradition guaranteed by the use of common textbooks, viz. the writings of Aristotle, the Sentences of Peter Lombard and others, which had to be read and publicly interpreted by anyone aspiring to academic degrees. Within this unity there was a lively discussion of the various conflicting solutions of the common problems.

IV. Ockham and Nominalism on Faith and Reason

From: Martin Anton Schmidt (P), Review of The Harvest Of Medieval Theology:  Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism, by Heiko Augustinus Oberman, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963. In Theology Today, Vol. 21, No. 1, April 1964.

The deficiencies in our natural knowledge of God make it impossible to have more than probable
reasons for our faith. But such reasons are available because faith is available. "Probability. . . . is only the form under which certitude appears" (p. 83)

. . . There is no divorce of faith and reason in Occamism. Indeed, due to a strong awareness of man's intellectual limitations, the rationality of our faith becomes a very complex problem-but not an unsolved one (pp. 75-78). Probable reasons are functionally important. They represent "a middle ground between a rationalistic confusion and a positivistic divorce of faith and understanding" (p. 81). It is misleading, therefore, to characterize nominalist theology either as "rationalism" (cf. pp. 105-107) or as "ecclesiastical positivism" of a "blind faith" (cf. pp. 68-70). It is the same thing with the alleged "voluntarism" in Occam's anthropology (pp. 63-65, cf. pp. 99, 165). Oberman concludes that "the requirement of cooperation in the process of salvation is . . . founded on the intellect and it rational activities" (p. 84).

From: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (U),  "William of Ockham."

According to his attitude toward the dogmas of the Church, it appears that "authority, reason,
and experience" are the sources of religious knowledge. A scientific proof of dogma is
impossible. This he shows by the method of evolving a number of propositions which on
ecclesiastical principles ought to be possible, but actually contradict the doctrine of the Church.
The instances are frequently rather startling; but it would be quite misleading to understand them in the sense of anti-ecclesiastical unbelief or frivolous skepticism. Ockham's purpose is to show that reason is useless as a foundation of ecclesiastical dogma. The infidel can "attain all the knowledge, whether simple or complex, which the believer can have"; the difference is in the
possession of faith. The act of belief depends on the fides infusa, and proceeds from the
cooperation of this with the fides arquisita derived from instruction, Bible-reading, and
intelligent meditation on various truths. Theology is not thus in the strict sense a science; it is not a form of natural metaphysical cognition, but a special mode of cognition effected by the operation of the infused "habit" of faith. In the application of these principles to the faith of the church of his day, Ockham accepts and even enhances the ecclesiastical positivism of Scotus. The faith of theChurch must be accepted in toto, either explicitly or implicitly. Reason may question thedoctrines or ordinances of the Church, but the Christian as a Christian accepts them. The more critical activity awoke, the more need there was for this counterbalancing thought. The legal conception of the Church finds expression here; he who wishes to belong to it must subject
himself to its laws, whether or not he is personally convinced of their justice. Here again there is
need of the miraculous fides infusa. However, this is itself an article of faith which is learned only by authority, not "by reason, by experience, or by logic." So it comes back to the point that a man must accept the teachings of the Church because he wishes to belong to it.

From: Joy F. Kirch (P), "Martin Luther: How One Man Responded."

Luther parts ways as well with Occamism's view of the relationship between theology and          philosophy. Luther was opposed to the Occamists' "logic of faith" that is applicable when
mysteries of the faith are involved; it was a sort of blending between theology and          philosophy, utilizing reason to solve theological propositions. Rational speculations could be
made concerning a matter of faith in order to interpret the issue, in effect placing theological
knowledge on the same level as philosophical conjecture . . . Luther was disgusted by this "logic of faith" and claimed that "no one could be a theologian unless he rejected the help of Aristotle" . . .  In other words, nobody can reveal the truth of faith by utilizing reason because "reason has been blinded through the corruption of nature and as a result is unable to understand 'what belongs to the Spirit of God.'"

From: Alfred J. Freddoso (C), "Ockham on Faith and Reason."

. . . Ockham is not a radical intellectual separatist, but he is in fact less hopeful than Aquinas or even Scotus in his assessment of just how much philosophical truth natural reason is capable of acquiring without the aid of divine revelation . . .

. . . Scotus and especially Aquinas have often been cast as veritable rationalists in order to contrast their views on faith and reason with Ockham's alleged "fideism." To some extent this is to be expected, for historians of philosophy who follow the chronological progression from Aquinas and Scotus to Ockham have naturally tended to underscore what is distinctive to Ockham. But more recent cultural and historical factors have also engendered exaggerated estimates of the degree of confidence that Aquinas and Scotus repose in natural reason.

. . . [if we] imply that natural reason can provide a wide range of substantive and easily discernable points of agreement between believers and non-believers regardless of other historical, cultural, and moral differences in their respective epistemic situations, then it is contrary to the positions of Aquinas and Scotus no less than to that of Ockham. In short, a good dose of wariness about the capacity of natural reason, as situated in concrete historical and cultural settings, to discern with clarity even relatively fundamental metaphysical and moral truths is and must be endemic to any     authentically Catholic philosophy.

. . . Ockham's emphasis on the limitations of unaided human reason is often portrayed within mainline Catholic circles as a (perhaps dangerous) aberration in order to contrast it with the less   gloomy assessment of natural reason associated with thinkers such as Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, and Suarez, who constructed elaborate natural theologies and were convinced that the Catholic faith could in principle be shown to satisfy any plausible standards of rationality. Although not entirely misleading, such a portrayal obscures the firmness with which all the important Catholic medieval thinkers held to the conviction that divine revelation is absolutely necessary for us to flourish as human beings and that, as far as ultimate metaphysical and moral questions are concerned, we remain in an utterly perilous state of ignorance without it.

By way of corroboration one need only cite Summa Contra Gentiles 1, chap. 4, where Aquinas argues in great detail that even though God's existence and many of the divine attributes can in principle be discovered by natural reason, hardly anyone, even the most astute philosophers, would have a sufficiently accurate and secure cognition of God were it not for divine revelation--and this just a few chapters before he lays out his most sophisticated rendering of the proof for an Unmoved Mover . . . as regards moral knowledge at least, Scotus's assessment of the power of natural reason is even more bleak than Aquinas's . . .

. . . Aquinas thus divides divinely revealed truths into what he elsewhere calls the mysteries [or: articles] of the faith, which "altogether exceed the capability of human reason," and the preambles of the faith, which can at least in principle be established by the light of natural reason. Ockham draws a similar distinction between theological truths that we are naturally able to have evident  cognition of and theological truths that we can have cognition of only supernaturally.

. . . Aquinas not only admits but insists that in this life we can never have an evident grasp of the mysteries of the faith, which are included among the first principles of Christian theology. Rather, we must accept these mysteries on faith not only at the beginning of theological inquiry, but for as long as that inquiry continues in this life. It seems to follow straightforwardly that theological inquirers cannot have scientia with respect to the conclusions of theology. This is a point Ockham emphasizes repeatedly in his critique of the claim that "our theology" counts as a science . . .

          . . . we glimpse unmistakably the wariness about natural reason that
         characterizes Aquinas no less than Ockham. In other places Aquinas cites
         approvingly Aristotle's dictum that natural reason is as incapable of
         comprehending the most intelligible natures as the eye of an owl is of viewing
         the sun. Even though the mysteries of the faith are not evident to us by the
         light of natural reason, they are nonetheless more certain for the devout and
         prayerful believer than are even the simplest self-evident truths. For God
         himself, who by his grace enables us to recognize certain non-evident
         propositions as divinely revealed truths and empowers us to adhere to those
         truths by the gift of faith, is a more reliable source of true cognition than is the
         relatively dim light of natural reason. In short, our grasp of the first principles of
         theology by faith is firmer and more certain than any grasp of first principles we
         might have by the faint light of natural reason, and our consequent grasp of the
         conclusions validly derived from those principles will share in the certitude we
         have with respect to the first principles and will thus be more certain,
         absolutely speaking, than our grasp of the conclusions of any merely human

         . . . Ockham and Aquinas agree that theological sophistication is not necessary for
         salvation, and that all devout believers, even the theologically unsophisticated,
         have divinely infused "gifts of the Holy Spirit," habits by which they are
         able--through supernatural instinct, as it were, rather than through reasoned
         cognition--(i) to distinguish genuinely revealed doctrines from counterfeits, (ii)
         to view created things in the supernatural light of faith, and (iii) to know more
         intimately the Divine Persons to whom they are joined in the friendship of
         supernatural charity . . . on the issues we have been discussing there is no substantive
         disagreement between Aquinas and Ockham . . .

        Ockham seems clearly to countenance the possibility of conflicts
         between faith and reason that are in principle irresoluble. As he sees it, certain
         mysteries of the faith are not just beyond natural reason, but contrary to
         natural reason. And, once again, it is easy to understand why someone who
         holds this view would not be inclined to value very highly--or, a fortiori,
         engage in--the sort of apologetic outreach to philosophically sophisticated
         non-Christians that Aquinas and Scotus take as an integral part of the task of
         Christian intellectuals.

         Ockham is not a radical intellectual separatist who disdains natural reason or
         regards with suspicion any Christian thinker who wishes to study the works of
         non-Christian philosophers with the same intensity as the books of Sacred
         Scripture. In fact, anyone familiar with Ockham's thought knows that he has
         immense respect for Aristotle and that his theology is marked by (what he
         believes to be) Aristotelian positions on a wide range of issues in ontology and
         philosophical semantics.

         Yet, as we have seen, Ockham rejects the notion that intellectual inquiry as
         practiced by the classical non-Christian philosophers, even Aristotle himself, is
         a useful propaedeutic to the Christian faith. Natural reason is sufficiently
         powerful and trustworthy when it operates within its proper sphere, but it is
         too weak to provide much illumination in the arena of natural theology and it is
         downright unreliable when used to pass judgment on the first principles of
         revealed theology. To be sure, philosophical inquiry unaided by divine
         revelation can help foster logical skills and intellectual habits that are required
         for the articulation of true wisdom within Christian theology; it can even
         provide Christian thinkers with new and useful conceptual resources. But it
         cannot on its own make any noteworthy progess toward providing us with the
         substance of absolute wisdom.

         Therefore Ockham's is an irenic separatism that rejects the prototypically
         Catholic intellectual project of unifying classical philosophy and the Christian
         faith in such a way as to exhibit the latter as the perfection of the former, and
         yet that stops short of disdaining the light of natural reason in the manner of
         radical intellectual separatism. Perhaps this explains why, on the matters we
         have been discussing here, Ockham will always be viewed as something of an
         outsider both by the radical separatist, who is bent on isolating faith and reason
         completely from one another, and by the mainstream Catholic thinker, who
         seeks a genuine synthesis of faith and reason.

From: Alfred J. Freddoso (C), "ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTIONISM AND FAITH VERSUS REASON:  A CRITIQUE OF ADAMS ON OCKHAM," from Faith and Philosophy 8 (1991): 317-339.

         I do not mean to insinuate that Ockham is a full-fledged anti-secularist. He
         does not, for instance, spurn efforts to articulate Christian doctrine with the
         help of conceptual resources borrowed from secular philosophy. Nor does
         he repudiate in theory the natural theologian's attempt to show that at least
         some revealed truths can be established on grounds that unbelievers as such
         should or at least can accept.

         However, as we shall see shortly, he does evince anti-secularist leanings on
         one important issue. All sides agree that because human reason stands in need
         of the illumination of faith, it is not surprising that philosophers who operate in
         ignorance of revelation often come to conclusions that are contrary to the faith.
         According to anti-secularism, however, a Christian is not obliged to refute such
         conclusions on their own terms, i.e., by appealing only to the deliverances of
         reason. Indeed, anti-secularists allege that in many cases a philosophical (in the
         narrow sense) refutation may well be impossible, given that human sinfulness
         has rendered reason unreliable. Perhaps this means that Christian doctrine will
         inevitably appear foolish in the eyes of secular philosophers. So be it. The
         Christian's task is to emulate St. Paul, who preached the Gospel in its own
         terms and on its own terms even to the intellectually sophisticated Athenians.

         . . . it is worth noting that by contemporary standards Ockham is
         positively bullish on natural theology. Today it would be remarkable indeed to
         find a theistic philosopher who claims to have demonstrated what Ockham
         explicitly asserts to be demonstrable, viz., the existence of a being than which
         none is more perfect. Ockham is no sceptic regarding natural theology, and
         only historical shortsightedness could lead one to think otherwise.

         As I intimated above, the real chasm separating Ockham from Aquinas
         appears only when we turn to Ockham's views about how tensions between
         faith and reason are to be resolved.

From: Gordon Leff (U), Medieval Thought: St Augustine to Ockham, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958, 291.

. . . the dominant tone which Ockhamism set . . . was not one of unbelief, so much as doubt over its rational foundations. The constant cry is not that we do not believe, but that belief is a matter of faith. Thus Ockham helped to transform faith as much as reason: while the latter came increasingly to rest upon empirical observation and natural causation, the former was directed increasingly towards a positive theology, with its own independent truths: "all truths necessary to man in his journey to eternal beatitude are theological truths." Certainly lay in faith alone without the need of intermediaries. At one and the same time, a growing empiricism was giving rise to a growing fideism. Ockham perhaps did more than anyone else to effect this change.

From: Heiko A. Oberman (P), The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., rev. ed., 1967, 35-36, 81, 88.

. . . let us beware of taking it for granted that a particular philosophy forced Biel or any other nominalist to particular theological conclusions, a view which is implied, for example, in the widespread thesis that the philosophy of nominalism corrupted its theology. If any corruption took place, theology itself or some exterior force may be primarily responsible. As a matter of fact, wherever we move within nominalistic thought, we find, as a result of its unusual stress on the dialectics of the the two orders, a constant oscillation between philosophy and theology . . .

Biel is interested in safeguarding the peculiar character of faith and is keen not to have it subsumed under some form of higher reason. He thus makes every effort to distinguish between philosophy and theology by marking as clearly as possible where the one ends and the other begins. But there is no indication that this distinction is carried so far as to become a divorce between faith and reason.

. . . the traditional assertion that the thirteenth-century synthesis of faith and reason disintegrated in the later middle ages and was replaced by a radical emphasis on the divorce of faith and reason does not apply to the nominalism of Gabriel Biel.

From: Frederick Copleston, S.J. (C), A History of Philosophy: Vol. 3: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part  I: Ockham to the Speculative Mystics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1953, 138-139.

In the case . . . of statements about God's existence, for example, the nominalists maintained that they owed their certainty not to any philosophical arguments which could be adduced in their favor but to the fact that they were truths of faith, taught by Christian theology. This position naturally tended to introduce a sharp distinction betwen philosophy and theology. In one sense, of course, a sharp distinction between philosophy and theology had always been recognized, namely in the sense that a distinction had always been recognized between accepting a statement as the result siomply of one's own process of reasoning and accepting a statement on divine authority. But a thinker like Aquinas had been convinced that it is possible to prove the 'preambles of faith', such as the statement that a God exists who can make a revelation. Aquinas was also convinced, of course, that the act of faith involves supernatural grace; but the point is that he recognizes as strictly provable certain truths which are logically presupposed by the act of faith; even if in most cases supernatural faith is operative long before a human being comes to understand, if he ever does advert to or understand, the proofs in question. In the nominalist philosophy, however, the 'preambles of faith' were not regarded as strictly provable, and the bridge between philosophy and theology (so far, that is, as one is entitled to speak of a 'bridge' when faith demands supernatural grace) was thus broken. But the nominalists were not concerned with 'apologetic' considerations. In the Christian Europe of the Middle Ages apologetics were not a matter of such concern as they became for theologians and Catholic philosophers of a later date.

From: Philotheus Boehner (C), Introduction to [Ockham's] Philosophical Writings: A Selection, translated by Philotheus Boehner, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957, xxv.

. . . a few minutes ago I saw a cloud; I had an intuitive cognition of this cloud, and on the basis of this cognition I gave my assent to the evident judgment 'There is a cloud'. I do not see this cloud any more, but I think of it, I have it in my mind; this latter knowledge or cognition cannot be the ground for assent to the vident existential judgment 'This cloud exists', for it does not imply the actual existence of a cloud at this time. It abstracts, therefore, from the existence or non-existence of the object and for that reason is called an abstractive cognition; it need not be abstract in the sense of 'universal'. Both cognitions are caused by the object and the intellect. They are the result of a causality in which the object and the intellect co-operate to produce an act of intellection or cognition. Hence both intuitive and abstractive cognition represent real objects outside or inside the mind. Ockham, therefore, is a realist in his epistemology.

V. Ockham on Ethics, the Moral Law, and God's Characteristics

From: Martin Anton Schmidt (P), Review of The Harvest Of Medieval Theology:  Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism, by Heiko Augustinus Oberman, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963. In Theology Today, Vol. 21, No. 1, April 1964.

The famous nominalist distinction between the potentia absoluta and the potentia ordinata of God does not invite us to understand God's decisions and actions against a background of pure arbitrariness (p. 40, cf. pp. 99, 100-103). The all-pervasive function of this distinction is to determine the reliability of God's chosen order: It is the reliability of a free commitment of God's mercy (p. 43), not the necessity of an ontological relation (cf. p. 168). The fact that the tension between God's love and His justice has been "ideally resolved" in Jesus Christ (p. 43) does not make the fruits of His work automatically applicable to us. There is a radical non-necessity in God's order of salvation.

From: "William Of Ockham and the Death Of Universals," by Neal Magee (U).

Divine power and the ground of possibility were two areas of questioning common to the Medieval
period. They asked questions relevant to their situation about the ability of God: "Are things possible because God has the power to make them, or does God have the power to make them because they are possible?" . . .  The center of their questions revolved around finding the 'source' or 'ultimate ground' of possibility and impossibility. Some found the answer in God's power, and others in God's lack of it.

Throughout his writings, Ockham constantly reiterated his belief in the total transcendence of God. God is not reliant upon any person nor power for existence, the power to create, or the power not to create. In other words, God is not coerced by any outside principle or power to be God or to do the work of God. The Creator may choose not to create, or to create however God sees fit. The definition of creature is utter dependence and contingency on the will of the Creator.

His second distinction is that between potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata . . . Potentia absoluta is the first, relating to God's omnipotence, and means that God is free to do whatever God chooses to do, so far as it is without contradiction to God's nature. This would include coming to earth in the messiah as a piece of wood, or a goat, or droplets of water. While sounding almost farcical to us, this line of argument was quite insulting to his opponents. Then, because God is free to act freely, sole reliance on reason, Ockham insists, in matters of faith is to be rejected. When we discover categories of how we expect God will act or work, we are then limiting God to behave in a particular way, and hence being unfaithful as Christians. Ockham might say "when we base our faiths on reason and 'figure out' what God will do or say, we are putting God in a box," and limiting the scope of what God is capable and incapable of doing.

The second power of God, potentia ordinata is the way God has acted in history, decrees, and
revelation. It is the concrete and actual ways we have come to experience God in the world. God
has chosen to be bound to the creation and to uphold natural and spiritual orders. While God has the freedom to move in any direction, the Creator has made choices which we experience as our
universe. Potentia ordinata refers to those things which God does according to the laws God alone has ordained and instituted. God's created order thus represents the willed and realized
possibilities out of numerous others. In this line of reasoning, however, Ockham does not mean that there are really two powers in God . . .

Primary in Ockham's Franciscan theology is the idea that the physical universe and the theological
order of salvation are completely dependent and contingent upon the will of God. This again
emphasizes God's omnipotence, an idea borrowed from Scotus, and God's freedom to act outside
the bounds of human reason, but within the bounds of non-contradiction. God, therefore, is free to give grace to whomever God chooses, independent of human qualification; however, Ockham did believe that this gift was normally granted to those who did their best to fulfill the commandments of God.

From:Alfred J. Freddoso (C), "Ockham's Ethics."

Ockham's moral doctrine has often been summarily dismissed as voluntaristic, authoritarian, fideistic, and even skeptical. Though the first two charges are at least defensible, recent work suggests that Ockham's ethical writings are more subtle and, in short, more Aristotelian than is commonly recognized . . .

Some conclude that on Ockham's reckoning human nature itself and thus the dictates of right reason are infinitely malleable according to divine whim. But this conclusion seems to stem from the mistaken idea that Ockham's nominalism regarding universals rules out a thoroughgoing Aristotelian  essentialism . . .

John Kilcullen (U), "Natural Law and Will in Ockham," History of Philosophy Yearbook, vol. 1, of    The Australasian Society for the History of Philosophy, ed. Knud Haakonssen and Udo Thiel, Canberra, 1993.

Ockham holds that nothing ever happens by God's absolute power and not by his ordinate power. But some historians point out that on Ockham's account of this distinction, in contrast with the account given by Duns Scotus, God's ordinate power is not restricted to general ordinances. God
may have willed from eternity a kind of detailed schedule according to which moral laws will be suspended or even changed on various dates, just as (according to Christians) he did will that the religious law revealed to Moses should cease from the time of Christ; God doesn't change his will, but it may be that he has always willed that at certain times the moral law will change. So we may find, tomorrow, or the day after, that murder, adultery, lying, etc., are not forbidden, and they may even be obligatory. It may never happen, but we can't be sure it won't. The moral future may not resemble the past. Now Ockham himself never says anything like this. Historians like to sensationalise Ockham's thinking, to make him seem more exciting than he was. The radical view sketched above is not expressed by Ockham, in fact he says many things inconsistent with it, but it is supposed to follow from various other things he does say. In this paper I will suggest that perhaps it does not.

. . . Another source of confusion, I believe, is the tacit inference that because (according to Ockham) God's will overrides moral principles, therefore those principles are principles only because God wills them. This does not follow. Ockham seems to hold that there are a number of moral principles per se nota, one of which is that God is to be obeyed, and that this principle overrides the others when there is conflict. But it does not follow from this that the other
principles are principles by virtue of God's will. That the rule 'Obey God' takes precedence over the rule 'Thou shalt not kill' does not imply that 'Thou shalt not kill' binds (when it does bind) only by virtue of a divine command . . . the basic principles in Ockham's theory are a plurality and are independent of one another, though one overrides the others in case of conflict.

. . . To sum up: In many places Ockham says that the basic principles of morality are evident to natural reason. He never says that morality rests upon the command of God. The passages from which some historians have inferred that he must or should have thought that morality rests upon divine command do not imply this. It would seem that Ockham's moral theory is not voluntarist.

From: Heiko A. Oberman (P), The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., rev. ed., 1967, 90, 92, 95, 104-105.

. . . there is a striking consensus that nominalism stood for a doctrine of double ethics, and broke asunder the unity between the law of God and the law of man . . . we do not believe this to be an adequate interpretation of the nominalistic position . . .

. . . Occam . . . admits an absolute rule of ethics, namely, the obligation to obey God . . . the critics are inclined to forget that in nominalistic thought God's will is another word for God's essence, in the same way that intellect stands for essence. Essence, will, and intellect are thus in no sense mutually exclusive, let alone divorceable.

The famous question whether God can command someone to hate him forms the test-case here. Occam answers this in the affirmative: this act as such can be done by God himself . . . for [Occam scholar] Boehner this is nothing more than the expression of the theological truth that God is the primary cause of every effect. As a creature is able to command somebody to hate God, it is clear on "purely logical grounds" that God can give the same command. However, a man so commanded would be thoroughly perplexed, for by obeying the will of God he would at the same time love God and not love God. While this might be logically possible, psychologically it would be impossible.

. . . Biel's understanding of the irrevocability -- even de potentia absoluta -- of the first two commandments of the Decalogue excludes, though not explicitly nevertheless implicitly, the possibility that God would be able to command somebody to hate him. Thus we may conclude that in the famous question de odio dei, Biel prefers to follow Duns and Gregory of Rimini . . . his position on this issue can be characterized as a more or less open departure from Occam.

. . . In this context the question arises whether one can wish one's own damnation out of love for God. Biel here follows Gregory of Rimini's solution: if God should reveal that he wants to reject someone -- which is highly improbable -- such a person should conform himself to the will of God as the highest moral norm. This is seemingly a close parallel to Occam's question de odio dei; Biel with his pastoral formulation escapes, however, the awkward consequencces of Occam's syllogisms by transferring this issue from the logical into the theological sphere, as Gregory had done before him.

From: Frederick Copleston, S.J. (C), A History of Philosophy: Vol. 3: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part  I: Ockham to the Speculative Mystics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1953, 118-120.

It would seem, then . . . that we are faced with what amounts to two moral theories in Ockham's philosophy . . . there is Ockham's insistence on right reason, which would seem to imply that reason can discern what is right and what is wrong. The authoritarian conception of morality expresses Ockham's conviction of the freedom and omnipotence of God as they are revealed in Christianity, while the insistence on right reason would seem to represent the influence on his thought of Aristotle's ethical teaching and of the moral theories of his mediaeval predecessors. It might seem, then, that Ockham presents one type of ethical theory in his capacity as a theologian and another type in his capacity as a philosopher . . .

That there is truth in the contention that two moral theories are implicit in Ockham's ethical teaching can hardly, I think, be denied. He built on the substructure of the Christian-Aristotelian tradition, and he retained a considerable amount of it, as is shown by what he says about the virtues, right reason, natural rights, and so on. But he added to this substructure a superstructure which consisted in an ultra-personal conception of the moral law . . . In retaining a good deal of the former moral theory while at the same time asserting an authoritarian interpretation of the moral law, Ockham was inevitably involved in difficulties. Like other Christian mediaeval thinkers he accepted, of course, the existence of an actual moral order; and in his discussion of such themes as the function of reason or the existence of natural rights he implied that reason can discern the precepts, or at least the fundamental precepts, of the moral law which actually obtains . . . But, if the present moral order is dependent simply and solely on the divine choice, how could we know what it is save through God'e revelation? It would seem that there can be only a revealed ethic . . . Without revelation men could see that certain acts fit human nature and human society and that other acts are harmful; but they could not discern an immutable natural law, since there is no such immutable natural law, nor could they know, without revelation, whether the acts they thought right were really the acts ordered by God . . . It is one thing, however, to say that the two ethical systems are implicit in Ockham's moral teaching; and it is another thing to suggest that he intended to promote an ethic divorced from theology.

From: Philotheus Boehner (C), Introduction to [Ockham's] Philosophical Writings: A Selection, translated by Philotheus Boehner, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957, xlix-l.

. . . we have to remind the reader that God's will is identical with God's intellect, wisdom and love. The one living God, the omnipotent and merciful God, is the supreme rule of ethics. If, however, in a mental experiment we set aside all other attributes of God and view only God's power in itself, we may then admit the principle that God can do by this absolute power everything that does not contain a contradiction; and in this sense, absolute and purely logical, it is true that God can command anything He pleases. For God is nobody's debtor, and He is only restricted -- if this can be called a restriction -- by the impossibility of what contains a contradiction. Hence God can command everything with this power, except not to obey Him. As soon as a human person knows that a certain command is the will of God, he is bound to obey. To do the will of God or, equivalently, to love God, is the supreme ethical rule.

However, it is well known that Ockham admitted that God can command by His absolute power that a person should hate Him or at least not love Him. It is important to note that this possibility is admitted in the purely ontological and logical realm . . . In the ethical realm, however, an antinomy is encountered, the only real antinomy in Ockham's philosophy. If God commanded a creature to hate Him or simply not to love Him, the creature would be obliged to obey, but it could not obey since in obeying it would love Him . . . the command to hate God is not a logical or ontological impossibility, but to fulfill this command is an ethical impossibility. For the rest, Ockham's ethics remain within the general limits of scholastic teaching.

VI. Ockham and Nominalism, Protestantism, and Martin Luther's Theology

From: Philip Schaff (P), History of the Christian Church, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910, Vol. 6, Chapter Three: "Leaders of Catholic Thought."

 . . .  Ockam�s views combined elements which were strictly mediaeval, and elements which were adopted by the Reformers and modern philosophy . . .

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.  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. 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.

From: William Turner (C), History of Philosophy, Boston: Ginn and Co., 1903, chapter 44: "William of Ockham."

Ockham . . . has been described as the first Protestant. And, indeed, he defended in his controversial writings the principles subsequently invoked by the first reformers to justify the encroachments of the secular power. In philosophy, too, his whole attitude is one of protest against the prevailing realism, and against the belief that he study of philosophy can be of material aid to theological sciences. In an age when theism and spiritualism were universally taught as philosophical tenets, he protested, in the name of human reason, that belief in God and in the spirituality of the human soul has no foundation except in revelation.

From: "William Of Ockham and the Death Of Universals," by Neal Magee (U).

At the heart of Scotus' and Ockham's teaching on grace and justification lies the concept that the meritorious quality of a good act is not inherent in the act but is ascribed to it by God. This
obviously parallels . . .  Ockham's view on universals, since the definition of what is good lies in the will of God . . .

From: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (U),  "William of Ockham."

The authority of the Church's teaching was essentially based, for Ockham, on that of the Bible. This in itself was nothing new, as all the scholastics (following Augustine) had regarded church doctrine as the formulated expression of Scriptural truth. The novelty here is that Ockham is driven by the party conflicts of his day into acknowledging that the authorities of the day may diverge from Scriptural teaching. Thus he comes to a more consciously strict application of the principle of Scriptural infallibility. Popes and councils may err, but the written word is sure. "A Christian is not bound to believe, as necessary to salvation, anything which is neither contained in the Bible nor may be plainly and of necessity inferred from what is contained there." It is true that he does not realize how far this principle might lead, or how far it was one day going to lead Luther. He also does not seem disposed to apply it except where the necessities of his own position, as in the controversy on poverty, forced him to it. In practice, throughout his whole dogmatic system, the authority of the Fathers and of the Roman Catholic Church stands out as coequal with that of the Scripture. In fact, the Church has the last word, and the doctrine of transubstantiation (which is not expressly taught in Scripture) is unquestioningly accepted on that authority.

From: Roland H. Bainton (P), Studies on the Reformation, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, 131.

In the late Middle Ages the so-called "Augustinians" took a position close to Calvin, for they believed that faith and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. The Occamists were at the other extreme, for they not only separated faith and knowledge but also faith and reason. Aquinas was in between. Faith and knowledge are to be distinguished, but reason leads up to and illustrates faith. In the Protestant camp Luther's view was Occamism grown religiously vital. Faith was pitted even more violently against "the harlot reason," but faith was mightily sure of itself. Melanchthon and Zwingli, while toning down Luther, still held to the essential irrationality of faith. Calvin with this background arrived at an accentuated "Augustinianism."

From: Alister E. McGrath (P), Luther's Theology of the Cross, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1985, 25, 72-73, 103-104.

. . . Luther's own theological development . . . can only be properly evaluated in light of the theological currents prevalent in the later Middle Ages. The tendency to regard the study of the theology of the later medieval period as serving as little more than a prologue to that of the Reformation has recently been reversed, with increasing emphasis being placed upon the importance of the later medieval period as a field of study in its own right. As a consequence, we . . . are thus in a favourable position to attempt an informed evaluation of Luther's initial relationship to this theology, and also the nature of his subsequent break with it.

Luther was not a man without beginnings, a mysterious and lonely figure of destiny who arrived at Wittenberg already in possession of the vera theologia which would take the church by storm, and usher in a new era in its history. Although it is tempting to believe that Luther suffered a devastating moment of illumination, in which he suddenly became conscious of the vera theologia and of his own divine mission to reform the church on its basis, all the evidence which we possess points to Luther's theological insights arising over a prolonged period at Wittenberg, under the influence of three main currents of thought: humanism, the 'nominalism' of the via moderna, and the theology of his own Augustinian Order . . .

. . . between 1509 and early 1514, Luther's theology in general, and his theology of justification in particular, was typical of the later medieval period. This suggestion is not, of course, new. In his celebrated critique of the reformer, Heinrich Denifle argued that Luther's rejection of catholic theology was ultimately a reflection upon the particular type of 'catholic' theology with which Luther was familiar. For Denifle, Luther was only familiar with the 'unsound' theology of the later medieval period, such as that of Gabriel Biel, and not with the catholic theology of St Thomas Aquinas or Bonaventure. Perhaps surprisingly, modern Luther scholarship has tended to endorse Denifle's judgment: whereas Luther frequently demonstrates first-hand knowledge of the writings of the leading theologians of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, such as Pierre d'Ailly and Gabriel Biel, such knowledge is conspicuously absent in the case of earlier medieval theologians, such as St Thomas Aquinas. It must, of course, be pointed out that this is precisely what is to be expected, if Luther was educated within the via moderna, characterised by its logico-critical attitudes and an epistemological nominalism: the great theologians of the thirteenth century belonged to the via antiqua, characterised by an epistemological realism, from which Luther would have been taught to distance himself by his mentors at Erfurt . . .

Luther began his theological career at Wittenberg in 1512 steeped in both the methods and the presuppositions of late medieval theology . . . It must therefore be regarded as methodologically unacceptable to attempt to study Luther's theological development in isolation from, or with purely incidental reference to, this context . . .

. . . if Luther's difficulty [over justification] represented a problem which had been adequately discussed within the earlier western theological tradition, it remains to be explained why Luther appears to have been quite unaware if the established solutions to this problem. The answer given to this objection is substantially the same as that given to the charge of Heinrich Denifle -- that Luther had misrepresented the western theological tradition as a whole. According to Denifle, not a single writer in the western church, from Ambrosiaster to the time of Luther himself, understood iustitia Dei in the sense which Luther noted. Both objections are based upon the assumption that Luther was familiar with the earlier western theological tradition -- which, as we have emphasised earlier, appears not to have been the case. Luther is only familiar with the theology of the moderni, such as William of Ockham, Pierre d'Ailly and Gabriel Biel at first hand, and shows little familiarity with other theologians. Indeed, where such familiarity can be demonstrated, there are usually grounds for suspecting that he has encountered them indirectly, at second hand.

From: Alister E. McGrath (P), Reformation Thought: An Introduction, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2nd ed., 1993, 73, 75-76.

. . . there were actually two different schools of thought, whose sole common feature was anti-realism. Both schools adopted a nominalist position in matters of logic and the theory of knowledge -- but their theological positions differed radically . . . both schools rejected the necessity of universals -- but thereafter could agree on virtually nothing. One was highly optimistic concerning human abilities, the other considerably more pessimistic. These two schools are now generally known as the via moderna, 'the modern way', and the schola Augustiniana moderna. 'the modern Augustinian school' . . .

The term via moderna is now becoming generally accepted as the best way of referring to the movement once known as 'nominalism' . . . the movement adopted a doctrine of justification which many of its critics branded as "pelagian' . . . Both assert that men and women are accepted on the basis of their own efforts and achievements . . . It would seem that the writers of the via moderna were simply reproducing the ideas of Pelagius, using a more sophisticated covenantal framework.

From: Frederick Copleston, S.J. (C), A History of Philosophy: Vol. 3: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part  I: Ockham to the Speculative Mystics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1953, 32.

Martin Luther was very strongly anti-Aristotelian and anti-Scholastic; but Melanchthon, his most eminent disciple and associate, was a humanist who introduced into Lutheran Protestantism a humanistic Aristotelianism set to the service of religion.

From: Louis Bouyer (C), The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, translated by A.V. Littledale, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1955, 43-44, 164, 166.

. . . the Lutheran sola gratia . . . this assertion , , , is a genuinely Christian one, and fully in accord, of course, with Catholic tradition properly understood . . . Luther's basic intuition, on which Protestantism continuously draws for its abiding vitality, so far from being hard to reconcile with Catholic tradition, or inconsistent with the teaching of the Apostles, was a return to the clearest elements of their teaching, and is in the most direct line of that tradition . . .

. . . . by the very logic of its nature, it should have initiated in the Church itself a powerful movement of regeneration . . . Unfortunately, that is not what happened, though the blame, in any case, does not lie exclusively with the basic principle of the Reformation. Considered in itself, and in the natural course of its development, it does not lead to division and error. These are only the accidental results of the Reformation . . . the schisms and heresies of the sixteenth century resulted, not from its initial impulse, but from external and adventitious factors which disturbed its development.

. . . the negative, 'heretical' aspect of the Reformation neither follows from its positive principles, nor is it a necessary consequence of their development or vindication, but appears simply as a survival, within Protestantism, of what was most vitiated and corrupt in the Catholic thought of the close of the Middle Ages . . . What the Reformation took over from the Middle Ages was just what it should have criticised and rejected; in fact it led the positive principles the Reformers had brought to light to assume a negative and polemical aspect . . .

From: Hartmann Grisar, S.J. (C), Luther, 6 volumes, translated by E.M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Vol. 1, 2nd ed., 1914, 137-139, 216-217, 238-240, and Vol. 4, 1st ed., 1915, 435-436.

Luther came ruthlessly to condemn all the Schoolmen and the whole Middle Ages ostensibly on the ground of the pretended poisoning of the faith by Aristotle, but really because he himself had set up a contradiction between faith and reason. He says in 1521 that the Scholastics, headed by Aquinas . . . had smuggled philosophy into the world, though the Apostle had condemned it . . .

. . . he committed . . . the indefensible injustice of blindly charging Scholasticism and theology generally with what he found faulty in his own narrow circle, though these errors had been avoided by St. Thomas and the best of the Schoolmen. It has been pointed out that he was not acquainted with this real Scholasticism, nevertheless, in 1519, he had the assurance to say: "No one shall teach me scholastic theology, I know it." "I was brought up amongst them (Thomas, Bonaventure, etc.); I am also acquainted with the minds of the most learned contemporaries and have saturated myself in the best writings of this sort . . .

. . . I had formerly learned among the monstrous things which are almost accounted axioms of scholastic theology . . . that man can do his part in the acquiring of grace; that he can remove obstacles to grace; . . . that his will is able to love God above all things through its purely natural powers and that there is such a thing as an act of charity, of friendship, by merely natural powers.
We are to believe that these were the "axioms of scholastic theology"! Such was not the case. For all acts necessary for salvation true Scholasticism demanded the supernatural "preventing" grace of God. Yet as early as 1516 Luther had elegantly described all the scholastic theologians as "Sow theologians," on account of their pretended "Deliria" against grace.

. . . he was to say to Melanchthon in 1536: "Born of God and at the same time a sinner; this is a contradiction; but in the things of God we must not hearken to reason." His Commentary on Romans prepares us for later assertions: "The gospel is a teaching having no connection whatever with reason . . . reason cannot grasp an extraneous righteousness" . . . "The enduring sin is admitted by God as non-existent; one and the same act may be accepted before God and not accepted, be good and not good." "Whoever terms this mere cavilling is desirous of measuring the Divine by purblind human reason and understands nothing of Holy Scripture."

. . . Several times in his Commentary on Romans he represents resignation to, indeed even an actual desire for, damnation -- should that be the will of God -- as something grand and sublime . . . "If men willed what God wills," he writes, "even though He should will to damn and reject them, they would see no evil in that . . . for, as they will what God wills, they have, owing to their resignation, the will of God in them." Does he mean by this that they should resign themselves to hating God for all eternity? Luther does not seem to notice that hatred of God is an essential part of the condition of those who are damned . . . He even dares to say to those who are affrighted by predestination to hell, that resignation to eternal punishment is, for the truly wise, a source of "ineffable joy" . . .

Acording to Luther, even Christ offered Himself for hell whole and entire . . . "He found Himself in a state of condemnation and abandonment which was greater than that of all the saints . . . He actually and in truth offered Himself to the eternal Father to be consigned to eternal damnation for us . . . His human nature did not behave differently from that of a man who is to be condemned eternally to hell. On account of this love of God, God at once raised Him from death and hell, and so He overcame hell."

. . . [Luther] was delighted to find his rigid views expressed in the Notes of the lectures on Romans and 1 Corinthians, which Melanchthon delivered in 1521 and 1522. These Notes he caused to be printed, and sent them to the author with a preface cast in the form of a letter. In this letter he assumes the whole responsibility for the publication, and assures Melanchthon that "no one has written better than you on Paul."

I hold that the Commentaries of Jerome and Origen are the merest nonsense and rubbish compared with your exposition . . . They, and Thomas too, wrote commentaries that are filled with their own conceits rather than with that which is Paul's or Christ's, whereas on the contrary yours teaches us how to read Scripture and to know Christ, and thus excels any mere commentary, which is more than one can say of the others hitherto in vogue.
. . . It contains, for instance, the following propositions: "Everything in every creature occurs of necessity . . . It must be firmly held that everything, both good and bad, is done by God." "God does not merely allow His creatures to act, but it is He Himself Who acts." As He does what is good, so also He does what is indifferent in man, such as eating and drinking and the other animal functions, and also what is evil, "such as David's adultery and Manlius's execution of his son."

. . . Ten years later Melanchthon had grown shy of views so monstrous; he thought it advisable to repudiate this book . . . Luther, on the other hand, as we know, never relinquished his standpoint on the doctrine of free-will.

VII. Ockham and Nominalism and John Calvin's Theology

From: "Theology in Western Europe from Gabriel Biel to John Calvin," Michael L. Czapkay Sudduth (P), University of Oxford, M.Phil. Exam in Philosophical Theology (1994).

There is substantial evidence which supports the contention that John Calvin was influenced by two prominent features of late medieval theology: voluntarism and the dialectic of the two powers of two powers of God (theological features of both the via moderna and Schola Augustiniana Moderna).

Voluntarism held that the ultimate grounds of merit (ratio meriti) of an act was not intrinsic moral
value, but the will of God. Here the moral and meritorious realms are seen as discontinuous. This is should be contrasted with the intellectualist school (represented, e.g., in Thomas Aquinas), which held that there was a proportion or equity between the moral and meritorious value of an act. The ratio meriti was intrinsic to an act, determined by its moral worth ex natura rei. Voluntarism sought to ground the meritorious value of an act in the extrinsic dimension of God's will, specifically in hiscovenant with man, according to which the meritorious value of an act is a matter ex pacto divino. Duns Scotus applied this principle to the merits of Christ. He claimed that the Christ's merits and passion had no intrinsic value, but rather its meritorious value was conferred on it by God.

Calvin, in the 1559 edition of the Institutes of Christian Religion, similarly maintains that Christ's
redemptive work had no intrinsic value, but that the ratio meriti Christi must be located in the divine will or determination to accept as such. Now, this discussion is absent until the 1559 edition of the Institutes, and its insertion in Book II.17.1-5 may be traced to Calvin's correspondence with Laelius Socinus in 1555. Socinus had asked how God could have been determined by the merits of Christ if redemption was solely a matter of God's free and sovereign decision. Is God is sovereign, there would appear to be no need of any intermediate (such as the merits of Christ). Moreover, if God is wholly free in his determination to redeem, he could not have been determined by any extrinsic intervention, not even the merits of Christ. Calvin responds by denying that God was determined by any such extrinsic elements in the scheme of redemption by basing that scheme in the heavenly decree itself--the divine will. Calvin, therefore, denies that the merits of Christ had any intrinsic value. God, Calvin asserts, is the determiner of the value of the redeemer's work: "Nam Christus nonnisi ex Dei beneplacito quidquam mereri potuit" (II.17.1) . . .

. . . First, it is important when assessing Calvin's dismissal of the absolute power of God as advocated by the "Schoolmen" that we understand what Calvin thought such "power" consisted in. Inasmuch as Calvin dismissed the dialectic because he thought it separated God's will from his justice and wisdom, it would appear that Calvin thought of the potentia Dei absoluta to be the divine power as operating without any input from or constraints from the nature of God. According to Calvin, what God can do is delimited not only by the principles of logic (principally non-contradiction) but by aspects of God's own nature. He clearly understands the schoolmen to deny this. He characterizes their God as an arbitrary tyrant who acts according to a nuda potentia absoluta, naked or sheer absolute power. Now there is reason to think that Calvin correctly understands the absolute power of God as held by Scotus and Ockham, but the important point is that this is what he thought the Schoolmen were affirming. Therefore, his rejection must be confined to this conception of the absolute power of God.

Secondly, one may understand Calvin's view to in fact support a distinction between God's absolute and ordained powers, if we modify his conception of potentia Dei absoluta to include constraints imposed by God's nature (a point raised by Heiko Oberman). Thus, although Calvin says many things quite Scotist or Ockamist in nature (e.g., "God's will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous", III.23.3), he also stresses that God acts according to his wisdom, that there are reasons why God does what he does, but that humans simply lack epistemic access to them. Calvin denies that God's ways are unjust. He seems to want to maintain a conceptual distinction between what God wills and what is just or good. Now Calvin here seems to actually align himself to Gregory of Rimini of the Schola Augustiniana moderna. It has been pointed out (by Gordon Leff) that Gregory's view of the dialectic different from Scotus and Ockham in one crucial point: Gregory held that aspects of God's nature functioned as constraints on God's absolute power. Gregory, for instance quotes St. Anselm to the effect that "Although what God wills is just because he wills it, it doesn't follow that if he were to will what were unjust, it would therefore be just because he wills it." If this understanding of Gregory is correct, it suggests a connection between Calvin and the modern Augustinian school but a discontinuity between Calvin and the via moderna. At any rate, what is certain is that Calvin had a distinction between the dialectic of the two powers of God and hence may be seen to reflect an influence of medieval theology at this point.

. . . Calvin's commitment to divine sovereignty in human redemption is a theme well-grounded in
the Augustinian tradition, and Calvin himself quotes St. Augustine at length. However, it is evident
very early in Calvin's treatment of the doctrine . . .  that Calvin's version goes beyond that of Augustine in respect to the scope of predestination and the logical rigor with which he applies the Augustinian doctrine. Augustine (as well as St. Thomas Aquinas) spoke explicitly only of a predestination "unto life" treating the negative element as God's merely "passing by others" who are left to perish in their sins--so-called reprobation. Calvin, though, does not seem content to think of a mere single doctrine of predestination, of some men as elected out of a massa perditionis, with others being permitted by God to perish in their sins. Calvin's doctrine is explicitly a doctrine of double predestination. There is--as it were--a special positive decree of God to consign some people to eternal damnation. Here Calvin reveals an affinity to the views on predestination in the Schola Augustiniana Moderna, and specifically the theological views of this school's central figure, Gregory of Rimini. Rimini (as well as Hugolino of Orvieto, not to mention Thomas Bradwardine) held that eternal life and eternal death are allocated to men ultimately irrespective of their merits or demerits.

The position is closely linked to the voluntarism of late medieval theologians (such as Duns Scotus) for whom the will of God is wholly undetermined by things external to Him. God is free. Consequently, election must be unconditional in nature. Calvin thinks that the logic of the position
requires non-election to be unconditional in similar respects. Although Calvin does state that sin is
taken into account in condemnation (as the proximate cause), (1) God's reasons for passing some by and predetermining them to hell is solely within himself and (2) God's reasons for decreeing the fall of man, whereby the human race is in a state of sin, are also within himself. Although later Calvinists will distinguish between two elements of reprobation (preterition: God's passing sinners by in his sovereignty and condemnation: God's punishing sinners by an act of punitive justice) Calvin's account tends to stress the absolute freedom of God on the side of both election and non-election (or reprobation). And he is fully aware that even if men are justly condemned for their sin, this sin may be traced to origins in Adam, and hence the question arises as to why Adam sinned. Calvin admits that, though he fell by his own fault, Adam fell by the ordination of God.

. . . Moreover, Calvin is quite aware that man of his contemporaries (such as Pighius) wanted to make predestination conditioned by foreseen actions (free actions) of men, such as foreseen faith or merits. Calvin stresses that there can be no cause outside God which determines the divine decree. God predestines neither on the grounds of what he foresees men will do in themselves or even on the grounds of what He will do in them. Hence, neither foreseen merit nor foreseen grace (given by God) is the ground of election to life. And it is highly probable that the freedom of God thus conceived leads Calvin to double predestination. If non-election is strictly parallel, then both must be unconditionally. Consequently, God predestines to life or to death without reference to merits or demerits. The allowance of sin in the picture has been suggested by some (Beza, Zanchius, and Gomarus) to indicate supralapsarian--God predestines men considered as unfallen, out of the pure mass of mankind, so that the decree of election and reprobation logically precede the decree of the fall. In this scheme sin is a means (instrumental cause) to the one end of God's glory. In other terms, Calvin's double predestination may well be a solid basis for viewing his conception of the logical order of the divine decrees as supralapsarian in structure.

In need be pointed out, however, that Calvin warns against a philosophical treatment of
predestination. He says that we must rest content with treating the doctrine only so far as it is treated in Scripture--in so far as it is a matter divinely revealed. Philip Melanchthon in his 1535 loci communes had argued that treating predestination is dangerous, and that the doctrine is useless and unprofitable. Calvin admits that a philosophical treatment is thus to be avoided, but inasmuch as predestination is a teaching given to us in the biblical text, it must be treated. But Calvin, following Scripture, treats the doctrine in the biblical context--the redemptive framework. (In the light of this, it is interesting that he articulates a double theory of predestination, as this is something more readily deducible from philosophical principles than the explicit statements of Scripture!) . . .

. . . Ockham seemed to have held that by God's absolute power God could act unjustly and it would be just, that justice (or goodness) is ultimately whatever God does and it is just (or good) for no other reason than God does it. Calvin sees the nature of God (his wisdom, goodness, and justice) functioning as constraints as to what God can do . . .

From: "Calvin's Doctrine of the Atonement Considered in Light of its Medieval Influences," Michael L. Czapkay Sudduth (P), McGrath Tutorial (1993).

. . . Calvin's doctrine of the atonement reveals a later medieval influence in the
theology of the via moderna . . .

It has been argued that the judicial and substitutionary view of Christ's atonement which we find in Calvin may be found in St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo?, thereby suggesting a possible influence
medieval influence on Calvin's thought . . . However, the differences between Anselm and Calvin are more abundant than their similarities . . .

. . .  it is necessary to consider a far more plausible medieval influence on Calvin's thought,
that of the via moderna. The possibility of this influence can be first seen in Calvin's rejection of the absolute necessity of the incarnation and atonement. This move parallels the later medieval tradition, specifically that of the later Franciscan theologians and the via moderna school--represented by theologians such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham.

A distinction, not made by Anselm, but essential within the theological systems of the later
Franciscan Order and the via moderna, was made between the two powers of God. God's
absolute power was his ability to bring about any logically possible states of affairs when he created the present world. However, though there were many possible worlds that God could have
actualized in creation, he chose to create the one which he did in fact create. This act of creation was entirely free and God was under no constraints other than the law of non-contradiction. However, having created the world, God is now bound by his own will to act according to what he has actualized and willed to come about within the created order. In addition, then, to God's absolute power, there is his ordained power. There are therefore, two possible types of necessity: a necessity relative to God's ordained power (necessity of consequence) and one with respect to his absolute power (necessity of the consequent). Scotus and Ockham both claimed that there is no necessity upon God in the latter sense, that God's actions vis-a-vis the world are necessary only in the sense that he must act according to his will. There is no law extrinsic to God to which he must conform. Hence, God is free but reliable, for he binds Himself by His eternal decree.

. . . A side note is appropriate at this point. Many later Calvinists (Gill, Shedd, the Hodges, Dabney, and Berkhof) affirm the absolute necessity of the incarnation and atonement and hence side with Anselm. William Shedd argues that: "This necessity of an atonement is absolute, not relative. It is not made necessary by divine decision, in the sense that the divine decision might have been otherwise. It is not correct to say, that God might have saved man without a vicarious atonement had he been pleased to do so. For this is equivalent to saying, that God might have abolished the claims of law and justice had he been pleased to do so" (Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 2, pp. 436-437). Louis Berkhof distinguished between three views: that the atonement was not necessary (Scotus and Socinius), that it was relatively necessary (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Zanchius and Twisse), and that it was absolutely necessary (Anselm, Voetius, Turretin, and Owen).

. . . There is a significant amount evidence for the contention that there is a real continuity between Reformed theology (at least so far as it is connected with the work of John Calvin) and the medieval tradition, especially later the medieval theology of the via moderna. This is not to suggest an absolute identity, for Calvin also differs from his medieval predecessors on many points. What we should gain here is a recognition that an adequate understanding of the reformation requires a serious consideration of the background of the theology of the reformers, and that background, for both the scholastic Luther and the humanist Calvin, was--in least in a significant part--medieval theology. It is perhaps this merging of influences and elements, the new humanist learning and the old Scholastic systems, which made possible the dynamic and revolutionary theology of the reformation.

Earlier this century Etienne Gilson argued for the continuity between medieval and modern thought. We now have learned that modern thought is best understood in the light of the medieval influences that gave rise to it. Descarte's philosophy was not built upon innate ideas but upon a solid Jesuit education, and a certain degree of tenacity as well. It should come as no surprise that shortly after the Neo-Thomist Gilson's discovery, reformation scholars should have also looked for a sort of continuity between the medieval and modern world, specifically a continuity between medieval theology and the reformation. Calvin may have owed as much to his medieval influences as to the prayerful and diligent study of the Scriptures. In this way, the old and new, may have proved most essential to the origins of Protestant theology. The fruitfulness of Reformed theology in the future will rest in large part upon this recognition.

Thomas Meyers (P), Concluding Remarks on John Calvin's Commentary on Daniel, (English edition of 1852, translated by Meyers).

         . . . . . . . We have already stated in our Dissertations
         On Ezekiel, that the theology of Europe was, during
         the middle ages, entirely moulded according to the teaching of
         either the Realists or the Nominalists. It was so then, and it is so
         now. These two classes of mental cultivation still govern the
         theological studies of mankind, and will probably do so till the end
         of our Christian dispensation. The theology of Rome is the growth
         of the scholastic philosophy built up by the Realists; the teaching of
         the Reformers springs entirely from that of the Nominalists. All
         leanings to Rome have in them the essence of Realism, made
         manifest by some Romanizing tendencies; and all
         Ultra-Protestantism verges towards a series of negatives based
         upon Nominalism. We have already alluded to the first nominalist,
         to whom Luther and Melancthon own their deep obligations. "The
         real originator of the Protestant principle," says the author of The
         Vindication of Protestant Principles, "the first man who truly
         emancipated himself from the trammels of Popish ecclesiolatry,
         the first, in fact, who referred everything to Scripture, and asserted
         the right of private judgment in its interpretation, was our own
         countryman, William of Ockham, in Surrey." He died at Munich in
         the year 1347, just 170 years before Luther fastened his ninety-five
         propositions to the church doors at Wittenberg. Leopold Ranke
         also asserts that the celebrated nominalist, Gabriel Biel, was
         chiefly an epitomizer of this favorite writer of Melancthon's. (See
         Vindic. Prot. Prin.) The Zurich Letters (Ep. 23, Park. Soc.) inform
         us of the language of Bishop Jewel when writing to Peter Martyr,
         5th November 1559, -- "We have deserted the ranks of Scotus and
         Aquinas for those of the Occamists and Nominalists," 1842. This
         sentence condenses under a short formula the very essence of the
         controversies which now agitate Christendom at large. We cannot
         dwell here on the proofs of this important statement; we can only
         remind the reader of these Lectures that he will find some lingering
         traces of the realism which once pervaded the theology of Europe,
         and in which Calvin was brought up. We all know how exceedingly
         difficult it is utterly to efface the earliest impressions made upon
         an earnest and deeply speculative mind. Whenever, for instance,
         some of the expressions with respect to the Almighty seem alien to
         our present modes of thinking, we are now able to trace them to
         their source, and to set them aside as remnants of a system which
         our Reformer energetically and vigorously opposed.

VIII. Ockham and Nominalism and Later Humanist, Secularist, and Postmodernist Philosophies

From: "William Of Ockham and the Death Of Universals," by Neal Magee (U).

Science has 'ruled the roost' for centuries now, taking the place of theology and speculation, and is only beginning to show signs of weakening. This is because of the third way Ockham still lingers: in the reemergence of a systematic rejection of universals. It is this operation that helps define much of Postmodern philosophy, ethics, and theology today. My hesitation, however, is in making this connection too boldly and without outside encouragement. I certainly cannot make the claim that Ockham is the 'Grandfather of Postmodernism', or that it is to him that we may directly attribute much or most of it. I do, however, see an importance in finding Ockham's place, among others, which I believe he has been deprived and ignored.

From: William Turner (C), History of Philosophy, Boston: Ginn and Co., 1903, chapter 44: "William of Ockham."

The principles which Ockam formulated led to materialistic scepticism. Ockam was, however, saved from the explicit advocacy of materialism by his belief in the supernatural order of truth. If we exclude the element of faith and take his philosophy as it stands, we must pronounce him to be the forerunner of the anti-Christian philosophers of the Renaissance.

From: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (U),  "William of Ockham."

The result of this line of reasoning is the absolute subjectivity of all concepts and universals and the limitation of knowledge to the mind and its concepts-although these are real entities because of their subjective existence in the mind, reproducing the actual according to the constitution of the mind. Thus Ockham is really the pioneer of modern epistemology. The mysterious universals with their species in the sense of objective realities are abolished. Objects work upon the senses of men, and out of these operations the active intellect frames its concepts, including the so-called universals, which, while they are in themselves subjective, yet correspond to objective realities. By the statement that science has nothing to do directly with things, but only with concepts of them, the theory of knowledge assumes vital import for the progress of science, and a new method of scientific cognition is made available. Of course this increases the difficulty of the task of theology.

From: Patrick Henry Reardon (O), "Truth Is Not Known Unless It Is Loved: How Pavel Florensky Restored What Ockham Stole," Books & Culture, Sep/Oct 1998.

                      Two astute critics of modern Western thought, Richard Weaver (Ideas
                      Have Consequences) and René Guenon (The Crisis of the Modern
                      World; The Reign of Quantity & The Signs of the Times), though
                      approaching the subject from very different backgrounds, nonetheless
                      agreed in describing the intellectual revolution of the fourteenth century,
                      with its mounting distrust of metaphysical intuition, as the origin of the
                      present cultural and intellectual crisis of the West.

                      Both men contended that Ockham's nominalism, according to which the
                      "universals" are simply creations of the human mind and not knowable
                      realities (RES), served to sire our modern intellectual world, dominated
                      by its quantitative quest of objectivity (das Ding an sich) and founded
                      on the pervasive presupposition that certitude is available only by
                      empirical verification and/or the laws of logic. The nominalists' denial of
                      the mind's capacity to grasp anything other than matter and logic, to
                      know anything real above itself, Guenon and Weaver argued, led to the
                      forfeiture of metaphysics and the manifold other cultural and spiritual
                      dissolutions attendant upon that loss.

                      . . . Third, in corroding the authority of language by its denial of the
                      real content of abstract words, nominalism was a first step in the
                      overthrow of life-bearing tradition. A certain defining view of reality is
                      supposed to be transmitted from one generation to the next by the
                      direct imposition of a linguistic authority. The ancients believed that minds
                      were shaped by words and were thereby shaped for an intuitive perception
                      of the real. Michael Polanyi is one of the few recent thinkers to emphasize
                      that each generation is supposed to learn the composition of reality by
                      an attitude of acquiescence, a kind of "obedience of faith," the implicit
                      acceptance of an inherited tongue.

                      In the ancient cultures, the words for universal concepts are assumed to
                      express an intuition of the universal forms, as exemplified in Adam's
                      naming of the animals. Especially with respect to those words that serve
                      as universal terms, the authority of tradition is the starting point for the
                      investigation of the First Principles, the catholic standards of
                      truth�and, because standards, permanent and outside the vicissitudes
                      of the material world.

                      Universal conceptual language thus has about it something of the
                      oracular, what Hinduism calls Brahmanaspati. For the ancients, the
                      stability of conceptual language was what guaranteed the possibility of
                      the transmission of insight, theoria, from one generation to the next,
                      and served to place the quest of metaphysics into a social, traditional,
                      hierarchical context.

                      Nominalism, however, by reducing conceptual terms to mere "names,"
                      constructions of the human mind itself, deprived such language of its
                      sovereignty over the origins and structure of reflective thought.
                      Whereas, for the ancients, words shaped minds, we now have a
                      cultural understanding in which minds shape words, so the words
                      express nothing more than, at the very most, a "state of mind."
                      Consequently, here in the modern West it is taken as obvious that
                      words are purely a matter of contemporary convention and exist simply
                      that people may participate in one another's personal persuasions. This
                      is what Weaver called "presentism." Words have become mere tools
                      for the communication of opinions and persuasions. Alas, hardly anyone
                      seems to notice that this is exactly the theory of language taught by
                      Protagoras and Gorgias, and soundly refuted by Socrates.

From: David Knowles (U), The Evolution of Medieval Thought, New York: Vintage Books, 1962, 325-326.

We are always releved when we are able, or think we are able, to point to a single doctrine or, still better, to a single man as the cause of any specific evil we deplore, and those who prize the intellectual and religious achievements of thirteenth century scholasticism have often in the past found in Ockham and Nominalism what some have found today in Marx and Communism, the fount and source of all that is ill done. In both cases, as in all similar circumstances, the complex of ideas and tendencies is far too wide for any "ism" to contain, and an individual, however great his genius, is always a representative and an heir as well as being an originator. We must beware, therefore, of regarding Ockham as responsible for all the philosophical and theological agnosticism that came after him. Yet undoubtedly the influence of the venerable inceptor was very great. The consistency and the ruthlessness of his thought, like that of Kant in the late eighteenth century, fascinated his contemporaries and successors, and they used his technique to go further than he had gone. Though not himself a philosophical sceptic, he gave powerful assistance in the work of shattering the already trembling fabric raised by Christian Aristotelians, and to disperse the conception of an ordered, interlocking universe which in its turn was permeated by, and dovetailed into, the economy of supernatural grace.

From: Frederick Copleston, S.J. (C), A History of Philosophy: Vol. 3: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part  I: Ockham to the Speculative Mystics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1953, 163-164.

. . . this critical attitude in regard to metaphysical speculation was practically always combined [in nominalists] with a firm theological faith and a firm belief in revelation as a source of certain knowledge. This firm belief is particularly striking in the case of Ockham himself . . . If one attempts to turn the nominalists into rationalists or even sceptics in the modern sense, one is taking them out of their historical setting and severing them from their mental background.

Additional Related Online Writings

1. Gabriel Biel's Doctrine of Justification, Michael L. Czapkay Sudduth (P).
2.  Gabriel Biel in Melanchthon's Apology: A Representative Novus Pelagianus, Jeffrey J. Meyers (P).
3. The Development of Martin Luther's Doctrine of Justification, Michael L. Czapkay Sudduth (P).
4.  "Universals," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (U)
5.  Is Luther's Doctrine of Justification Compatible with Orthodox Catholic Theology?,Present Truth Magazine. (P)
6.  Logic, Ontology, and Ockham's Christology, Alfred J. Freddoso (C).
7. Catholic Encyclopedia, "William of Ockham." (C)
8.  Ockham on Universals, John Kilcullen (U).
9. Ockham on Relations, John Kilcullen (U).
10. Scotus on Universals, John Kilcullen (U).
11. Ockham and Infallibility, John Kilcullen (U).
12. Early Protestant Hostility Towards Science, Dave Armstrong (C).
13.The Early Protestant Disdain for Reason and Education, Dave Armstrong (C).
14. Ontological Alternatives vs. Alternative Semantics in Medieaval Philosophy, Gyula Klima (U).
15. The Medieval Problem of Universals, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Gyula Klima) (U).
16. Aquinas on One and Many, Gyula Klima (U).
17. Buridan's Logic and the Ontology of Modes, Gyula Klima (U).
18. The Failure of Ockham's Nominalism, Peter King (U).
19. Comments on Peter King: The Failure of Ockham's Nominalism, Gyula Klima (U).
20. Ockham's Connotation Theory and Ontological Elimination, Yiwei Zheng (U).
21. Semantical Complexity and Ontological Simplicity in Ockham's Mental Language (comment on #20), Gyula Klima (U). 

Additional Related Books

     William of Ockham. Opera Philosophica. Volumes I-VII. St. Bonaventure,
     N.Y.: Franciscan Institute Press, 1974-1988. Critical edition of Ockham's
     philosophical works.

     William of Ockham. Opera Theologica (OT). Volumes I-X. St. Bonaventure,
     N.Y.: Franciscan Institute Press, 1967-1986. Critical edition of Ockham's
     theological works.

     Marilyn McCord Adams. William Ockham. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
     Press, 2 volumes, 1402 pages, 1987.

     Gordon Leff. William of Ockham: The Metamorphosis of Scholastic Discourse.
     Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975.

     Philotheus Boehner, Collected Articles on Ockham, ed. E.M. Buytaert, New York: St.
     Bonaventure, 1958.

     Philotheus Boehner, Medieval Logic, Manchester: 1952.

     Philotheus Boehner, Ockham's Theory of Truth, New York: St. Bonaventure, 1944.

     Ernest A. Moody, The Logic of William of Ockham, London: 1935.

     John Marenbon. Later Medieval Philosophy (1150-1350). London: Routledge,

     Heiko A. Oberman. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. Trans. by Eileen
     Walliser-Schwarzbart. New York: Image Books, 1992.

     Heiko A. Oberman, The Dawn of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early
     Reformation Thought. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1986.

     Heiko A. Oberman and C. Trinkaus, eds., The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and
     Renaissance Religion, Leiden: 1974.

     Steven Ozment. The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious
     History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe. New Haven: Yale University
     Press, 1980.

     Steven Ozment, ed., The Reformation in Medieval Perspective, Chicago: 1971.

     M.H. Carre, Realists and Nominalists, Oxford, 1946.

     Richard Rorty, et al. Philosophy in History: Essays on the Historiography of
     Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

     Alister E. McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation. Oxford:
     Blackwell Press, 1987.

     Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification,
     Cambridge: 2 volumes, 1986.

     Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.
     Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700). Chicago: University of Chicago
     Press, 1984.

     John Jenkins, Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

     D.R. Janz, Luther and Late Medieval Thomism, Waterloo, Ontario: 1983.

     W. Thomas Williams, The Moral Philosophy of John Duns Scotus, University of Notre Dame
     Ph.D. Dissertation, 1994.

     Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny and Jan Pinborg, eds., The Cambridge History of Later
    Medieval Philosophy, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

     Lucan Freppert, The Basis of Morality According to William Ockham. Chicago: Franciscan
     Herald Press, 1988.

     Alvin Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature?, Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980.

     Nicholas Wolterstorff, On Universals, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

     Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, London: Sheed & Ward,

     Etienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, London: 1936.

     Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, Oxford: 3rd ed., 1983.

     David C. Steinmetz, Luther and Staupitz: An Essay in the Intellectual Origins of the Protestant
     Reformation, Durham, NC: 1980.

     David C. Steinmetz, Luther in Context, Bloomington, IN: 1986.

     Josef Pieper, Scholasticism: Personalities and Problems of Medieval Philosophy, London: 1960.

     Francois Wendel, Calvin: The Origins and Development of his Religious Thought, London: 1963.

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