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Does Ockham's Concept of Divine Power Threaten Man's Certainty in His Knowledge of the World?

From: Franciscan Studies
Volume 55, 1998
pp. 169-180 | 10.1353/frc.1998.0040

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Does Ockham's Concept of Divine Power Threaten Man's Certainty in His Knowledge of the World?1
Volker Leppin
University of Heidelberg


1. This paper was read at the "International Medieval Congress" in Leeds, 10-13 July 1995. It is based on my Heidelberg theological dissertation (published as Volker Leppin, Geglaubte Wahreit. Das Theologieverständnis Wilhelms von Ockham, Göttingen 1995 [= Forschungen zur Kirchen und Dogmengeschichte 63]). Heartfelt thanks to Markus Vogt, Munich (Germany), for a critical reading, and to Stephen E. Buckwalter, Göttingen (Germany), and Ruth M. Tuschling, Cambridge (England), for correcting the English version.

2. For his works I use the following abbreviations: OT I-X: Guillelmi de Ockham Opera Theologica, ed. G. Gál and others. Vol. 1-10 (St. Bonaventure, NY, 1967-1986). OP I-VII: Guillelmi de Ockham Opera Philosophica, ed. G. Gál and others. Vol. 1-7, (St. Bonaventure, NY, 1974-1988). Opol I-III: Guillelmi de Ockham Opera Politica. Vol. 1, ed. H. S. Offler (Manchester, 1974), Vol. 2 and 3, ed. R. F. Bennett/H. S. Offler (Manchester, 1963, 1956).

3. H. Blumenberg, Säkularisierung und Selbstbehauptung. Erweiterte und überarbeitete Neuausgabe von "Die Legitimität der Neuzeit," erster und zweiter Teil (Frankfurt, 1983), 171.

4. See for example R. Wood, "Göttliches Gebot und Gutheit Gottes nach Wilhelm von Ockham," in Philosophisches Jahrbuch, 101 (1994): 38-54, who criticizes the prejudice that Ockham teaches arbitrary divine freedom insofar as it concerns ethics.

5. OT IX 586, 20f; cf. K. Bannach, Die Lehre von der doppelten Macht Gottes bei Wilhelm von Ockham. Problemgeschichtliche Voraussetzungen und Bedeutung (Wiesbaden, 1975), 248f; J. P. Beckmann, "Weltkontingenz und menschliche Vernunft bei Wilhelm von Ockham," in L'homme et son univers au Moyen âge. Actes du septième congrès international de philosophie médiévale (30 août-4 septembre 1982), ed. C. Wenin (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1986), 445-457, at 447.

6. Opol II 726, 425-430; Opol II 727, 453f; cf. Opol III 234, 3f.

7. See W. J. Courtenay, "The Dialectic of Omnipotence in the High and Late Middle Ages," Divine Omniscience and Omnipotence in Medieval Philosophy. Islamic, Jewish and Christian Perspectives, ed. T. Rudavsky (Dordrecht Lancaster, 1985), 243-269, at 254f; W. J. Courtenay, Capacity and Volition. A History of the Distinction of Absolute and Ordained Power (Bergamo, 1990), 120; E. Randi, "Ockham, John XXII and the Absolute Power of God," Franciscan Studies 46 (1986): 205-216, at 209f; E. Randi, "A Scotist Way of Distinguishing between God's Absolute and Ordained Powers," From Ockham to Wyclif, ed. A. Hudson and M. Wilks (New York: Oxford, 1987), 43-50, at 44f.

8. Doctoris Subtilis et Mariani Ioannis Duns Scoti Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Opera Omnia, ed. C. Balic, Vol. VI (Vatican 1963), 364, 3f.

9. Logically, of course, there are many more semantic ways of understanding ordinate than the two mentioned above. But, historically, the most appropriate way to understand Ockham's terminology is to see how the terms he uses, if not defined exactly by himself, are used by his contemporaries, especially by Duns Scotus, who was of great influence in Ockham's intellectual development.

10. OT IX 586, 24-29.

11. OP I 779, 232-780,3; similarly OT VIII 291, 106-109; cf. Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 137, note 28; Courtenay, "Dialectic of Omnipotence," 267f, note 46, by citing this passage, tries to substantiate his thesis of a certainty for man in general from the mere fact of potentia ordinata, neglecting the exact parallel syntactic structure given here.

12. OT VIII 294, 199-296, 226.

13. OT III 459, 23-460, 23; cf. VIII 295, 214-296, 226.

14. It is Courtenay, "Dialectic of Omnipotence," 254, who in this context speaks of God's revealed will. But none of the texts he refers to (see ibid. p. 267f, n. 46) speaks of revelation!

15. OT IX 41, 128-131; cf. V 320, 13-321,9.

16. OT IX 455, 18-456, 21.

17. OT X 115, 5-8, 19-25.

18. OT IX 455,17 Ockham speaks of the effectus naturalis consequens.

19. OT I 171, 6-9; DC 604,11-605,24; cf. M...