- A short discourse on the tyrannical government over things divine and human but especially over the Empire and those subject to the Empire, usurped by some who are called Highest Pontiffs (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 13, Number 1, July 1995
- pp. 186-189
- View Citation
186 Reviews William of Ockham, A short discourse on the tyrannical government over things divine and human but especially over the Empire and those subject to the Empire, usurped by some who are called Highest Pontiffs, ed. Arthur S. M c G r a d e and trans. John Kilcullen (Cambridge texts in the history of political thought), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992; paper; pp. xxxiv, 215; R.R.P, AUSS35.00. W h e n Richard Scholz published in 1944 the Latin edition upon which this translation is based, he wrote that: 'If one has praised the English for a certain genius in their methods of rabble-rousing (Agitation), one can discover, perhaps, already something similar in the famous English thinker of the fourteenth century . . . ' . The English will be English, Scholz might have thought as he shepherded his thin volume through a severely pinched wartime press. Although Scholz may have reflected ruefully upon his devotion to an Englishman's work during the war, one might argue that Ockham's loyalties seem to have been thoroughly German. He fled from Avignon in May 1328 to Pisa and then to Germany. He took up residence in Munich at the court of Ludwig of Bavaria, where he became an extraordinary polemicist. By the time of his death in 1347? he had produced a massive amount of political and philosophical writings that has attracted the editorial and interpretive skills of many scholars. Ockham called this treatise in six books in question a Breviloquium, which McGrade and Kilcullen render as A short discourse. Their translation is based on the editions of Scholz and Baudry, and on an unpublished one by Offler. The Breviloquium was a trenchant attack on Papal authority, an attack on the iniquities, injustices, and errors of those Popes who ruled tyrannically and wickedly. It is a book about the abuse of power and the proper limitations that should be placed on sovereignty. Many of the arguments are summaries of those that Ockham made at great length in his longer works, such as the Dialogus. But, unlike in the Dialogus, in the Breviloquium Ockham never left the reader in doubt about what his personal opinion was on a particular point. His prose is direct, precise, and blunt. The editors have served Ockham well. The introduction by McGrade is a concise and useful summary of his life and work and Kilcullen's discussion of the editorial problems and the Latin text is enlightening. The only perplexing point is their treatment of the rubrics. In the manuscripts Reviews 187 there is a mbric before the Prologue, a nearly identical rubric before the first chapter of book one, and rubrics before each of the subsequent chapters. The editors omit from their translation all of them except the title rubric, but append at the end of the book translations of all the rubrics except the second (title?). They state in a note that Offler thought that the rubrics were not Ockham's and Scholz noted that they were later additions to the manuscript text. Rubrics are a problem in many medieval works. Gratian's Decretum has rubrics that are almost certainly not his. Scholars have found confirmation of this in the manuscripts. Even when there is manuscript evidence, scholars have not been inclined to eliminate them if they might have been a part of the vulgate text. There might be a point in relegating the rubrics to the end of the book if this were a Latin edition but, in a text meant for students, this is not so evident. One could argue that students may find guides to individual chapters helpful for their understanding of the text. For the most part, the translation isfirstrate. Only a few sentences are askew. At bk I, ch. 10, thefirstsentence should begin: 'Because the Pope has power not only from God but also from men, . . . ' (cf. Dialogus [Frankfurt, 1514], III.I.l [p. 772, 11. 31-32] ). In bk II, ch. 2, Ockham discusses Papal fullness of power. Kilcullen translates the famous legal phrase 'Papa omnibus legibus positivis est solutus' as "The Pope is not tied by any positive laws'. A more idiomatic and accurate rendering would have been...