Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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 / A Letter to the Friars Minor and Other Writings

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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 / A Letter to the Friars Minor and Other Writings

Article excerpt

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. By William of Ockham. Edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade; translated by John Kilcullen. [Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1992. Pp. xxxiv, 215. $49.95 cloth; $15.95 paperback.)

A Letter to the Friars Minor and Other Writings. By William of Ockham. Edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade and John Kilcullen; translated by John Kilcullen. [Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1995. Pp. xl, 390. $64.95 cloth; $24.95 paperback.) These volumes present a translation of Ockham's Breviolquium or Short Discourse-the first complete translation of any of Ockham's political treatises-together with substantial translated excerpts from Ockham's other political works. The two volumes are very welcome. Ockham's political writings are among the most important of the medieval era but, until now, they have been inaccessible except to scholars who can read them in the original Latin.

The editor and translator have done their work excellently. The introductions of McGrade are clear and concise, the translations of Kilcullen fluent and accurate, and the footnotes provide material that will be helpful to a student without being too intrusive. I have only one quibble about the translation-the persistent rendering of the word dominium as "lordship. This sometimes obscures Ockham's meaning and even leads to phrases that are hardly English at all. Thus Kilcullen has Ockham write that "someone is said to have lordship over a horse when he can manage it as he pleases" (p. 103); but in English we never say that a rider has "lordship" over his horse. The word needed here is "mastery." In other contexts "jurisdiction" or "ownership" would be appropriate.

In the Short Discourse the editors made an excellent choice of a work to translate in full. This treatise presents in a clear, straightforward, and accessible fashion Ockham's case against the contemporary popes. He attached not only specific abuses of the papal power, but a whole theory of papal absolution that he regarded as corrupt and heretical. (It is important to note, however, that Ockham never attacked the papacy as such.) The theory of papal authority that Ockham rejected held that the pope, as vicar of Christ on earth, was supreme lord of the world in all temporal and spiritual affairs. All rights of government and rights of property were derived from him. …

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