restricted access William of Ockham, Dialogus, Part 2, Part 3, Tract 1 (review)
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Reviewed by
John Kilcullen, John Scott, Jan Ballweg, and Volker Leppin, editors. William of Ockham, Dialogus, Part 2, Part 3, Tract 1. Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi 20. London-Oxford-New York: The British Academy and Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xxvi + 371. Cloth, $75.00.

The British Academy editing project of William of Ockham’s Dialogus was established in 1995 with six leading Ockham scholars—the editors of this volume. The project’s first published work is the carefully edited Ockham’s Dialogus Part 2 and Dialogus Part 3, Tract 1. It is the first to be published of a projected five volumes of Ockham’s Dialogus, which will complete the edition of Ockham’s Opera politica begun by H. S. Offler, J. G. Sikes, and others, who edited four volumes between 1940 and 1997.

This edition differs from ordinary editions in one sense, namely in having a related website ( The website has for several years offered scholars an opportunity both to use the edition in draft form and to comment on it during the editorial process. It also plays a crucial role in the printed volume. In the historical introduction to the tracts, John Kilcullen refers to the website whenever a more explicit analysis of the arguments is needed, or when problems with the text are described, and when collating or giving text parallels. The website also gives more detailed descriptions of all manuscripts and witnesses to the text than are possible in the printed edition. The printed edition, however, is useful as such and contains all needed information, even though the rationale for what is included in it is not always clear: for example, I do not fully understand why endnote 1, a brief discussion on Ockham’s various opinions on papal power, and endnote 4, which compares Ockham’s texts with those of Marsilius of Padua, are given in the printed volume instead of in the introduction or on the related website. The edition also includes two high-level introductions explaining the basic historical background, main topics, and authenticity of each tract, as well as detailed descriptions of the manuscripts.

This edition is based on a careful comparison of the surviving fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscripts (over thirty in all) and the early printed editions, aiming to bring the text as close as possible to what left the author’s hand. Despite the fact that Melchior Goldast’s edition (Frankfurt 1614) is the most cited among scholars, the text in this edition is that of Johannes Trechsel’s edition (Lyons 1494), with the abbreviations spelled out. It is the first edition to contain the complete Dialogus, by itself, in its presently existing form.

It is generally known that Ockham never finished the Dialogus, and that the work that has come down to us with this title is not what he intended to publish. The Dialogus is in three parts, as Ockham intended, but only part 1 is securely attributed to him. As the editors conclude, part 2, as we have it, does not belong to the Dialogus but consists of two separate works (tracts), perhaps written by different authors. They are titled in this edition De revocacione ficta Iohannis 22i (Concerning the fictitious revocation of Pope John XXII) and Responsiones ad quasdam raciones sophisticas adductas ad muniendum errorem Iohannis 22i de visione animarum sanctarum in celo (Reply to certain fallacious arguments put forward to support the error of John XXII concerning the vision of the holy souls in heaven). The evidence for their conclusion is based on a comparison of the manuscripts and cross-references to Ockham’s other texts, as well as on Ockham’s own plan for the work. The editors have thus decided to keep the tracts as part 2 of the Dialogus.

The text of part 3, tract 1 of the Dialogus edited in the present volume is generally attributed to Ockham, but there is also room for doubt about this, based partly on manuscript witnesses. The tract 3.1 Dialogus has been transmitted by only three witnesses, the earliest from the late fourteenth century. These witnesses are also...