Tuesday, May 1, 2012


* I was at dinner with the Scotistic commission the other day and someone mentioned that they thought that William of Ockham was a theological conservative.  Everyone, including me, agreed.

* A while back we had a seminar on medieval biblical commentaries.  So we had a bunch of scholars of these texts in the room.  One of them (it might have been fr. Bellamah, OP, but might not) voiced the claim that the biggest, or one of the biggest, calamities in Church history is the separation of theology from Biblical studies.



Anonymous said...

It would help if the reasoning behind these views was explicated first--otherwise this looks like a trap.

Lee Faber said...

No trap. Just opinions expressed recently in my presence by different groups of scholars who work independently of each other.

The context of the Ockham is that if one reads Ockham and the 12th c. stuff, Ockham looks like he is just a continuation/reversal to the old pre-Bonaventure/Aquinas/Alexander of Hales method of doing theology.

The comment by the biblical scholars I am personally not inclined to agree with, since after all I am a scotist and as we have found in editing the prologue of Scotus' reportationes, he quotes scripture about once every 500 arguments. You can't do biblical commentary and scientific theology at the same time. Or at least, scotus himself did not.

Anonymous said...

For Ockham, can we make a distinction between style and substance? Certainly, his approach may be conservative in that it isn't an attempt as system building, but the content of his ideas, while certainly dabbled with in the past (e.g. Roscellinus on universals), were rather radical. For instance, I can't think of a single prominent Western Christian prior to the 14th century that posited an account of causality that approaches a weak form of occasionalism. Nor can I recall such hostility to natural theology in earlier writers (with perhaps the exceptions of Saint Peter Damian or Saint Bernard of Clairvaux--but they were specifically reacting to Roscellinus, so the context was radically different).

Marty said...

Concerning the latter comment, yes, I very much agree that biblical studies and theology need to be kept close together. The cleavage that modernity has given us is a complete disaster. It has affected both disciplines and made them the poorer because one needs good theology to study Scripture, and one needs a good knowledge of Scripture (and the biblical languages) to do theology.

The theology-less commentaries that line bookshelves has given way to the new movement of theological commentaries and reading of Scripture, wonderfully.

Let's hope the theological books that have little biblical exegesis in them that line book shelves gives way to a more biblical grounded systematics (just like Augustine).

Asello Guzman said...

1. How do you define "conservative"?

2. Louis Bouyer says: "Duns Scotus is no less trenchant. According to him, Scripture alone is necessary and sufficient to make known to man the truths of salvation. That does not mean that all other kinds of writings, within and even outside the Church, may not be useful in this respect; but they cannot do more than throw additional light on our understanding of Scripture. Likewise, all the work of theologians and doctors serves only to bring out the content of Scripture." Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, 158. He cites Scriptum Oxoniense, first section (Paris ed, 1519), fol. 1-4.

If Bouyer is correct, how does Scotus live up to his own principles? Isn't part of the problem that a number of his works are lost, thus handicapping our ability to have a fair view of his theological method and insight?

Brandon said...

The second comment reminds me of the joke that theology was broken up into the fields of philosophy, biblical studies, and theology. In the break-up, the biblical scholars took all the evidence and the philosophers took all the reasoning, and the theologians kept what was left over.

Lee Faber said...

I suppose 'conservative' was meant in the general sense one finds it used in the media: looking to the past rather than the future, resistant to change.

I'm not sure what to make of the Bouyer quote. Several times Scotus puts magisterial decrees and scripture on the same level, generally with the comment that the same Spirit that breathed the scriptures inspired the council fathers or the pope as well.

Perhaps part of the problem is as Asello notes, Scotus' scriptural commentaries do not survive (note that the only evidence that he wrote any is from a library catalogue of a library destroyed during WWII; not a cross-reference in any of his suriviving works). I wonder too if people just look at the literary remains (reportatio, 1 bible quote in a 60 pg. question) and forget that he was a priest saying mass and the office every day. So whether or not he was doing dogmatic theology or speculative theology or biblical commentary or whatever, he certainly was immersed in scripture on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

1. I agree about Ockham. He was a fideist, which contradicts all the Scholastics before him. Whereas St. Thomas and Bl. Scotus seem adamant that the existence of God can be arrived at through reason, Ockham states that it cannot, and is an article of faith only.

2. Absolutely agree - the historical-critical method of Biblical studies is horrifically poor. While it has its uses, it completely eviscerates the living Word of God, chopping it up into tiny digestible chunks for people who can't possibly think a little deeper or on several different levels.