Thursday, February 18, 2016

Where is Ockham When Needed?

It has not been since 1328 that we have seen Papal injunctions of this kind. Perhaps we should make Ockham's "Ninety Days", Opus nonaginta dierum, mandatory reading in the Vatican.

As the NY Times reports:

Inserting himself into the Republican presidential race, Pope Francis on Wednesday suggested that Donald J. Trump “is not Christian” because of the harshness of his campaign promises to deport more immigrants and force Mexico to pay for a wall along the border. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said when a reporter asked him about Mr. Trump on the papal airliner as he returned to Rome after his six-day visit to Mexico.

 As this Bishop of Rome had previously said about those with a different orientation that he could not see into their souls, so should he say about any person. This statement is a clear interference into the politics of a country and sets a dangerous precedent. It is for this reason that John Paul II was almost at the point of disbanding the Jesuits. 

There is a long and not very praiseworthy history of the Bishop of Rome wandering into politics. This may very well be another such path. Whatever a candidates views, they should be considered by the public voting, those of all religions, at least in a democracy. Papal interference is a double edged sword.

There is an excellent review by Reid at the Cornell site on the book by Tierney and Ockham. It is truly worth the read. He notes:

Tierney's treatment of Ockham on political rights is similarly original and provocative. He shows that Ockham argued that both the emperor and the pope were obliged to respect the rights of their
subjects. Ockham maintained that the emperor derived his power from the people, who "could not confer more power than it actually possessed." A provision of the canon law of corporations, Ockham continued, limited this power, holding that a governing majorityand, by extension, the emperor-could infringe on the rights of the other members only in the case of "necessary actions. The pope, furthermore, was limited by the canonistic maxim that no one was to be deprived of rights "without fault" (sine culpa), and the fundamental principle of evangelical liberty...

Definitely worth the read. Now Reid quotes Tierney in the same page:

Ockham's favorite way of proving [the restraints on papal power] was to argue that the evangelical liberty proclaimed in scripture limited papal power by safeguarding the natural and civil rights
of the pope's subjects.... Christian law was a law of liberty, indeed, "a law of perfect liberty" according to the Epistle of James. Paul too wrote of "the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus" and declared that "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." But, if the pope could command anything not contrary to divine and natural law, then Christian law would be a law of most horrid servitude. All Christians would be made slaves of the supreme pontiff, for to command anything not forbidden by divine and natural law was precisely the kind of power that a master held over his slaves.... The proper limits to papal power were set by the liberties and temporal rights of emperors, kings, princes and other persons, rights that came to them from natural law or the law of nations or civil law.

Thus there was indeed a well understood separation of Church and State. Ockham battled John XXII who as a Canon Lawyer by training was now dealing the the Theologian. But clearly the almost century spent in Avignon was a turning point for what was formerly the Bishop of Rome. In a sense, one can agree with Tierney and see in Ockham the foundations of modern day political theory and understanding. I would further argue that the Nominalism of Ockham is also key but Tierney may not. Notwithstanding this battle spans centuries.