The Dialectic of Omnipotence in the High and Late Middle Ages

  • William J. Courtenay
Part of the Synthese Historical Library book series (SYHL, volume 25)

Abstract

One of the great contributions of thirteenth-century scholastics both to the problem of divine omnipotence and the contingency of events was the development of an analytical tool commonly, though perhaps misleadingly, known as the distinction between the absolute and ordained power of God. The fundamental perception on which it was based, namely that what God created or established did not exhaust divine capacity or the potentialities open to God, was articulated by Peter Damian in the third quarter of the eleventh century, generally accepted by the middle of the twelfth century, embodied in the formula of de potentia absoluta/ordinata by the early thirteenth, and had become commonplace scholastic terminology by mid-century. But what was generally acknowledged to be a useful distinction expressing an accepted theological truth supposedly became, in the fourteenth century, a destructive vehicle upsetting the certainties of the natural and supernatural orders and dissolving both scientific empiricism and natural theology before the terrifying possibility of arbitrary divine intervention. The twin spectres of skepticism and fideism, so repeatedly encountered in the literature on late medieval thought a generation ago, were grounded in no small measure on the assumption that the scholastic distinction between absolute and ordained power was misunderstood or misapplied in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    H. Grzondziel, Die Entwicklung der Unterscheidung zwischen der potentia Dei absoluta und der potentia Dei ordinata von Augustin bis Alexander von Hales, Inaugural-Dissertation, Breslau 1926;Google Scholar
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  4. 1c.
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    Peter Damian, De divina omnipotentia in reparatione corruptae, et factis infectis reddendis (Epist. 2, 17), in J. P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus… series latina, Paris 1844 ff. (henceforth cited as PL), Vol. 145, col. 596: “Nam dum aliquando, ut meminisse potes, uterque discumberemus ad mensam, illudque beati Hieronymi sermocinantibus deveniret in medium…” For a thorough examination of Damian’s treatise see Lettre sur la toute-puissance divine, ed. & transl. with introduction by A. Cantin, Sources chrétiennes, CXCI, Paris 1972. For the later influence of one dimension of Damian’s thesis see my ‘John of Mirecourt and Gregory of Rimini on Whether God Can Undo the Past’, Recherches de Théologie ancienne et médiévale 39 (1972), 224–256; 40 (1973), 147–174.Google Scholar
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    PL 145, 597: “Deum non ob aliud hoc non posse, nisi quia non vult”. Desiderius’ wording is similar to the statement of Augustine, Enchiridion, c. 96 (PL 40, 276): “Non ob aliud veraciter vocatur omnipotens, nisi quoniam quidquid vult, potest”.Google Scholar
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    PL 145, 597: “Si nihil, inquam, potest Deus eorum, quae non vult: nihil autem, nisi quod vult, facit; ergo nihil omnino potest eorum facere, quae non facit. Consequens est itaque, ut libere fateamur, Deum hodie idcirco non pluere, quia non potest; idcirco languidos non erigere, quia non potest; ideo non occidere injustos; ideo non ex eorum oppressionibus liberare sanctos. Haec, et alia multa idcirco Deus non facit, quia non vult, et quia non vult, non potest; sequitur ergo, ut quidquid Deus non facit, facere omnino non possit. Quod profecto tam videtur absurdum, tamque ridiculum, ut non modo omnipotenti Deo nequeat assertio ista congruere, sed ne fragili quidem homini valeat convenire. Multa siquidem sunt quae nos non facimus, et tamen facere possumus… Si quid igitur tale divinis paginis reperitur insertum, non mox passim procaci ac praesumptiva vulgari debet audacia, sed sub modesta sobrü sermonis proferendum est disciplina; quia si hoc diffunditur in vulgus, ut Deus in aliquo, quod dici nefas est, impotens asseratur, illico plebs indocta confunditur, et Christiana fides non sine magno animarum discrimine perturbatur”. (Cf. PL 145, 601).Google Scholar
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    PL 145, 600–601; 618–619.Google Scholar
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    Anselm, Proslogium, ch. 7 (Opera Omnia, F. S. Schmitt (ed.), Thomas Nelson and Sons, Edinburgh 1946, Vol. I, p. 105).Google Scholar
  19. 8.
    Ibid., 105. “Sed et omnipotens quomodo es, si omnia non potes? Aut si non potes corrumpi nec mentiri nec facere verum esse falsum, ut quod factum est non esse factum, et plura similiter: quomodo potes omnia? An haec posse non est potentia, sed impotentia? Nam qui haec potest, quod sibi non expedit et quod non debet potest. Quae quanto magis potest, tanto magis adversitas et perversitas possunt in illum, et ipse minus contra illas. Qui ergo sic potest, non potentia potest, sed impotentia. Non enim ideo dicitur posse, quia ipse possit, sed quia sua impotentia facit aliud in se posse; sive aliquo alio genere loquendi, sicut multa improprie dicuntur. Ut cum ponimus ‘esse’ pro ‘non esse’, et ‘facere’ pro eo quod est ‘non facere’, aut pro ‘nihil facere’.” Cf. De casu diaboli, 12 (Opera Omnia, I, 253). For an extensive examination of Anselm’s position see my ‘Necessity and Freedom in Anselm’s Conception of God’, Analecta Anselmiana 4.2 (1975), pp. 39–64.Google Scholar
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    Cur Deus homo, II. 10 (Opera Omnia, II, 107): “Omnis potestas sequitur voluntatem. Cum enim dico quia possum loqui vel ambulare, subauditur: si volo…. Possumus itaque dicere de Christo quia potuit mentiri, si subauditur: si vellet. Et quoniam mentiri non potuit nolens nec potuit velle mentiri, non minus dici potest nequivisse mentiri. Sic itaque potuit et non potuit mentiri”. Cf. also chs. 16 (II, 120–121) and 17 (II, 122– 126).Google Scholar
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    Cur Deus homo, II, 5 (Opera Omnia, II, 100): “Non enim haec est dicenda necessitas, sed gratia, quia nullo cogente illam suscepit aut servat, sed gratis. Nam si quod hodie sponte promittis cras te daturum, eadem cras voluntate das, quamvis necesse sit te cras reddere promissum, si potest, aut mentiri: non tamen minus tibi debet ille pro impenso beneficio cui das, quam si non promisisses, quoniam te debitorem ante tempus dationis facere non es cunctatus”. “Quare multo magis, si deus facit bonum homini quod incepit, licet non deceat eum a bono incepto deficere, totum gratiae debemus imputare, quia hoc propter nos, non propter se nullius egens incepit. Non enim illum latuit quid homo facturus erat, cum illum fecit, et tamen bonitate sua illum creando sponte se ut perficeret inceptum bonum quasi obligavit. Denique deus nihil facit necessitate, quia nullo modo cogitur aut prohibetur facere aliquid”.Google Scholar
  24. 13.
    Glossa ordinaria on Gen. 19: “poterat de potentia, non poterat de iustitia”.Google Scholar
  25. 14.
    Introductio ad theologiam, III, 4 (PL 178, 1092): “Posse itaque Deus omnia dicitur, non quod omnes suscipere possit actiones, sed quod in omnibus quae fieri velit, nihil eius voluntati resistere queat”. (PL 178, 1094): “Hinc est illa Platonis verissima ratio, qua scilicet probat Deum nullatenus mundum meliorem potuisse facere quam fecerit; sic quippe in Timaeo suo ait: ‘Dicendum’, inquit, ‘cur conditor fabricatorque geniturae omne hoc instituendum putaverit. Optimus erat. Ab optimo porro invidia longe relagata est, itaque consequenter sui similia cuncta, prout cujusque natura capax beatitudinis esse potuerit, effici voluit’.” (PL 178, 1095): “Patet itaque quidquid Deus faciat ac dimittat, justam ac rationabilem causam subesse, ut sola faciat aut dimittat; quae fieri vel dimitti oporteat atque ipsum deceat. Quod si quidquid facit eum facere oportet, justum est ubique ut faciat quidquid facit, ac sine dubio quidquid facit facere debet. Omne quippe quod justum est fieri, injustum est dimitti, et quisquis non facit id quod ratio exigit, aeque delinquit, ac si id faciat quod rationi minime concordat”. (PL 178, 1096): “Hac itaque ratione id solum posse facere videtur Deus quod facit, vel illud solum dimittere posse quod dimittit…. Ex his itaque tam de ratione quam de scripto collatis, constat id solum posse facere Deum quod aliquando facit”.Google Scholar
  26. 15.
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  27. 16.
    Augustine, De natura et gratia, c. 7, n. 8 (PL 44, 250; Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Lationorum 60, 237); Lombard, Sent. I, dist. 43 (I, 303).Google Scholar
  28. 17.
    Quaestiones in epistolam ad Romanos, q. 91 (PL 175, col. 457): “Quaeritur an Deus potuit facere convenientiorem modum redemptionis? Si dicatur quod non potuit, videtur quod potentia Dei terminum habeat, et non sit immensa; si dicatur quod potuit, quomodo iste convenientissimus est? Solutio: Licet in hoc terminum habeat, non tamen simpliciter concedendum, quod terminum habeat. Vel licet iste modus nostrae miseriae sit convenientissimus, non tamen est necesse, quod sit convenientissimus absolute”.Google Scholar
  29. 18.
    Gaufrid of Poitiers, Summa, Avranches, Bibl. de la ville, Cod. lat. 121, fol. 137r: “Dico quod de potestate absoluta potuit ei dare. Quis enim auderet de potestate eius et immensitate disputare? Sed non potuit de potentia conditionali, scillicet manentibus decretis, quae ipse constituit”. In A. Landgraf, Dogmengeschichte der Frühscholastik, Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg, 1954, II, 2, p. 103.Google Scholar
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    William of Auxerre, Summa Aurea, Paris 1500, fol. 27v: “Ad primo objectum dicimus, quod Deus de potentia pure considerata potest damnare Petrum, et habito respectu ad potentiam Dei et potentiam Petri naturalem qua potuit peccare et non peccare. Sed non sequitur: ergo, potest damnare Petrum, quia hoc verbum ‘potest’ in conclusione respicit merita”.Google Scholar
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    William of Auvergne, De Trinitate, c. 10, Opera omnia, Paris 1674, p. 14.Google Scholar
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    Leipzig, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. lat. 573, fol. 223r: “Distingui tamen debet, quod duplex est potentia Dei, absoluta et ordinata. De absoluta potentia potuit Deus et potest adhuc dare puro homini potestatem cooperationis. De potestate ordinata non potest, id est non mutato ordine rerum. Idem enim omnino est potentia absoluta Dei et ordinata. Sed potentia ordinata respicit ordinem rebus a Deo inditum”. Cited from Landgraf, Dogmengeschichte, III, 1, p. 207.Google Scholar
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    For Guerric see Paris, Bibl. nat. lat. 15 603, fol. 11r: “Potestate absoluta potuit dare, sed non potestate ordinata, quae respicit ordinem rerum;” cited from Landgraf, Dogmengeschich te, III, I, p. 207. Albertus Magnus, Sent. I, dist. 4 2, a. 6 Opera omnia, A. Borgnet (ed.) Vol. XXVI, Paris, 1893, pp. 362–366; dist. 43, pp. 377–380. The Summa theologiae, attributed to Albert and on which Borchert relied for his interpretation of Albert, is of doubtful authenticity; see A. Hufnagel, ‘Zur Echtheitsfrage der Summa Theologiae Alberts des Grossen’, Theologische Quartalschrift 146 (1966), 8–39. Summa Halensis, Pt. I, inq. I, Tr. 4, q. 1, m. 2, c. 2, Quaracchi, 1924, I, p. 207: “Tamen comparando absolute potentiam voluntati, sic potentia in plus est quam voluntas; secundum vero quod intelligitur potentia ordinata, quae quidem ordinatio intelligitur in ratione praeordinationis, coaequantur potentia et voluntas. Distinguitur ergo potentia absoluta [a] potentia ordinata. Potentia absoluta est eorum quorum non est divina praeordinatio; potentia vero ordinata est eorum quorum est divina praeordinatio, hoc est eorum quae a Deo sunt praeordinata sive disposita”. Cf. pp. 220–222, 228, 234–235.Google Scholar
  34. 23.
    Peter Damian, De divina omnipotentia (PL 145, 619): “… non inepte possumus dicere quia potest Deus facere, in illa invariabili et constantissima semper aeternitate sua, ut quod factum fuerat apud hoc transire nostrum, factum non sit, scilecet ut dicamus: Roma, quae antiquitus condita est, potest Deus agere ut condita non fuerit. Hoc quod dicimus: potest, praesentis videlicet temporis, congrue dicitur quantum pertinet ad immobilem Dei omnipotentis aeternitatem; sed quantum ad nos, ubi continuata mobilitas, et perpes est transitus, ut mos est, potuit convenientius diceremus….” “Potuit secundum nos, potest secundum se”.Google Scholar
  35. 24.
    Summa Halensis, Pt. I, Inqu. I, Tr. 4, q. 1, m. 4 (I, 228). The Summa Halensis identifies potentia ordinata with total divine preordination, possibly influencing usage in the second half of the thirteenth century. It also establishes a trend by defining potentia absoluta not as the realm of total possibility out of which God chose but specifically those things that he did not choose.Google Scholar
  36. 25.
    A number of authors distinguished two types of order or two categories within the ordained order. Thomas Aquinas and Peter Aureoli, for example, distinguished the natural order from the order of justice, while Duns Scotus distinguished general decrees from those that applied to particular persons. Thomas was well aware of the distinction between the general will of God and the present order of things. In question 19, a. 7, of the first part of his Summa theologiae Thomas affirmed the unchanging nature of the divine will despite the changes in divine decrees. Later, in article 6 of question 105 he cited Augustine’s distinction between the common course of nature and the higher law of God (Contra Faustum, c. 26): “Deus contra solitum cursum naturae facit; sed contra summam legem nullo modo facit, quia contra seipsum non facit”. For Thomas changes in God’s ordinances do not represent changes in his will: “Unde cum praeter hunc ordinem agit, non mutatur”. And yet Thomas did not employ this distinction in his discussion of divine power in question 25, and Peter of Tarantasia’s attempt was largely unsuccessful. Pierre d’Ailly was one of the few to make this distinction in the context of his discussion of divine omnipotence. As unfortunate as it seems in retrospect, it is understandable why that distinction between normal order and special order was never fully developed in the thirteenth century. The absoluta/ordinata distinction was designed to establish necessity or contingency by proving impossibility or possibility. They were less concerned with the question of whether God might act in such and such a way, the question of what conditions the actions of God. But because the latter issue was handled separately and not built into or accomodated by the absolute/ordinata distinction, it could leave the erroneous impression that if miracles or special decrees were not in the normal order of things, they must be in the area of power considered absolutely.Google Scholar
  37. 26.
    Albertus Magnus, I Sent., dist. 42, a. 6, Opera omnia, A. Borgnet (ed.) Vol. XXVI; Paris, 1893, p. 366: “Ad aliud dicendum, quod potentia absolute considerata generalior est, quam est ars vel scientia practica: et ideo illa objectio non procedit, nisi de potentia exsequente, et non de potentia absolute considerata”. I Sent., dist. 43, arts. 1–3 (XXVI, pp. 377–380), where Albert contrasts potentia absoluta with potentia conjuncta actui. I Sent., dist. 44, arts. 2–4, where Albert seems to restrict the divine wisdom to the present order of things (XXVI, pp. 391–395. Bonaventure, Commentaria in quatuor libros Sententiarum Petri Lombardi, I, dist. 43, dub 7 (Opera omnia, Vol. I; Quaracchi, Collegium S. Bonaventurae 1883), p. 778: “Aliqui distinguunt hic potentiam Dei dupliciter, dicentes, Deum posse aut de potentia absoluta, et sic potest Iudam salvare et Petrum damnare; aut de potentia ordinata, et sic non potest. Sed haec distinction non videtur esse conveniens, quia nihil potest Deus, quod non possit ordinate. Posse enim inordinate facere est ‘non posse’, sicut posse peccare et posse mentiri”. Elsewhere Bonaventure seems to allow some validity to the distinction of divine capacity and volition; cf. Breviloquium, p. 1, c. 7; Sent. I, dist. 43, q. 4 (I, p. 775); Sent. I, dist. 43, dub. 2 (I, pp. 776–77); Sent. II, dist. 7, p. 1, a. 1, q. 1, ad 1. Richard Rufus, In comm. Sent. Bonav. abbreviatio, I, dist. 43 (Vat. lat. 12993, fol. 117rb, cited from Gál, ‘Petrus de Trabibus’, p. 285): “Responsio: quidam dicunt quod Deus potest de potentia absoluta et Iudam salvare et Petrum damnare, sed de potentia ordinata non potest. Sed haec distinctio potentiae non videtur conveniens, quia nihil potest Deus quod non possit ordinate. Posse enim inordinate facere est non posse, sicut posse peccare”. Henry of Ghent later repeated Bonaventure’s reservations about applying this distinction to God’s power. It is curious that those most responsible for perfecting the distinction in the thirteenth century were Dominicans: Hugh of St. Cher, Guerric of St. Quentin, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas, while those most suspicious of its value have usually been associated with the Augustinian tradition: Bonaventure, Richard Rufus, and Henry of Ghent. The latter were reluctant to apply to God a distinction that to them suggested a difference between the way God normally acts and the way he occasionally acts. Albert’s position on this issue has usually (Borchert, Desharnais) been extracted from the possibly inauthentic Summa theologiae (see note 22 above). There potentia absoluta was defined as total possibility, unchecked even by the principle of non-contradiction; potentia ordinata, on the other hand, meant that God cannot make contradictories true at the same time. Albertus Magnus (?), Summa theol., Pt. I, Tr. 19, q. 78, m. 2, solutio (Opera omnia, XXXI; Paris 1895), p. 832: “Ad hoc dici consuevit, quod potentia Dei potest accipi absolute, et potest accipi ut disposita et ordinata secundum rationem scientiae et voluntatis. Si accipitur absolute: tunc, ut dicit Damascenus, accipitur ut pelagus potestatis infinitae, et tunc nihil est quod non possit. Si autem accipitur ut potentia disposita et ordinata secundum providentiam et bonitatem: tunc dicitur quod potest facere ea quae potentiae sunt, et non ea quae impotentiae. Unde sic non potest facere majorem se, nec potest facere contra ordinem veritatis suae, et sic non potest facere esse et non esse simul de eodem, vel alia opposita esse simul, quia faceret contra veritatem ordinationis suae”.Google Scholar
  38. 27.
    Thomas Aquinas, Sent. I, d. 42, q. 1, a. 1; q. 2, a. 2–3; d. 43, q. 2, a. 1–2; III, d. 1, q. 2, a. 3; q. 2, a. 4; d. 2, q. 1, a. 1; d. 12, q. 3, a. 2; d. 24, q. 1, a. 1.Google Scholar
  39. 28.
    Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de potentia Dei, q. 1, a. 5 (Opera omnia; Parma 1856), VIII, p. 10: “Respondeo dicendum, quod hic error, scilicet Deum non posse facere nisi quae facit, duorum fuit. Primo fuit quorumdam Philosophorum dicentium Deum agere ex necessitate naturae. Quod si esset, cum natura sit determinata ad unum, divina potentia ad alia agenda se extendere non posset quam ad ea quae facit. Secundo fuit quorumdam Theologorum considerantium ordinem divinae justitiae et sapientiae, secundum quem res fiunt a Deo, quem Deum praeterire non posse dicebant; et incidebant in hoc, ut dicerent, quod Deus non potest facere nisi quae facit”. “Ex his ergo colligitur quod id quod ex necessitate natura agit, impossibile est esse principium agens, cum determinetur sibi finis ab alio. Et sic patet quod impossibile est Deum agere ex necessitate naturae; et ita radix primae positionis falsa est. Sic autem restat investigare de secunda positione. Circa quod sciendum est, quod dupliciter dicitur aliquis non posse aliquid. Uno modo absolute; quando scilicet aliquod principiorum, quod sit necessarium actioni, ad actionem illam non se extendit; ut si pes sit confractus; posito enim opposito alicuius actionis, actio fieri non potest; non enim possum ambulare dum sedeo”. “Sicut enim manifestatur divina bonitas per has res quae nunc sunt et per hunc rerum ordinem; ita potest manifestari per alias creaturas et alio modo ordinatas; et ideo divina voluntas absque praeiudicio bonitatis, iustitiae et sapientiae, potest se extendere in alia quam quae facit. Et in hoc fuerunt decepti errantes: aestimaverunt enim ordinem creaturarum esse quasi commensuratum divinae bonitatis quasi absque eo esse non posset. Patet ergo quod absolute Deus potest facere alia quam quae fecit. Sed quia ipse non potest facere quod contradictoria sint simul vera, ex suppositione potest dici, quod Deus non potest alia facere quam quae fecit: supposito enim quod ipse non velit alia facere, vel quod praesciverit se non alia facturum, non potest alia facere, ut intelligatur composite, non divisim”. Summa theologiae, Pt. I, q. 25, a. 5, ad 1 (Ottawa 1945), I, p.177: “… quod attribuitur potentiae secundum se consideratae, dicitur Deus posse secundum potentiam absolutam”. “Quod autem attribuitur potentiae divinae secundum quod exequitur imperium voluntatis iustae, hoc dicitur Deus posse facere de potentia ordinata. Secundum hoc ergo dicendum est quod Deus potest alia facere de potentia absoluta, quam quae praescivit et praeordinavit se facturum; non tamen potest esse quod aliqua faciat, quae non praesciverit et praeordinaverit se facturum. Quia ipsum facere subiacet praescientiae et praeordinationi; non autem ipsum posse, quod est naturale”. Cf. De ver., q. 6, a. 4; q. 23, a. 8; Contra err. Graec., q. 1, a. 16; De pot., q. 1, a. 7; q. 7, a. 1; De malo, q. 16, a. 2; Quodl. IV, q. 3–4. 29 Peter of Tarantasia (Innocent V), Sent. I, dist. 43, q. 1, a. 4 (In IV. Libros Sententiarum Commentaria, Vol. I; Toulouse 1652; repr. 1964), pp. 360–61: “Respondeo: est ordo simpliciter et est ordo ut nunc. Nihil potest Deus nisi de potentia ordinata, primo modo loquendo de ordine; sed multa potest de potentia, circumscripto hoc ordine, scilicet ut nunc. Primo modo dicitur posse de potentia absoluta; secundo modo dicitur posse de potentia ordinata. Ergo multa potest primo modo quae non potest secundo modo. Ideo quaedam dicitur posse de potentia absoluta, quae non potest de ordinata, quia multa subsunt suae potentiae quae non congruit sibi ut nunc facere; posset tamen ea facere convenientia, et sic ea facere”. Thomas Aquinas distinguished between present law and total divine will (Summa theol., Pt. I, q. 19, a. 6–7) but not in the context of his discussion of omnipotence.Google Scholar
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    If an adjectival construction was to be substituted for the adverbial, absoluta might better have modified ‘possibility’ than ‘power’.Google Scholar
  41. 31.
    Thomas Aquinas, Summa theol., Pt. I, q. 25, q. 5, ad 1 (I, p. 176): “… in nobis… potest esse aliquid in potentia, quod non potest esse in voluntate iusta, vel in intellectu sapiente”.Google Scholar
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    G. Post, Studies in Medieval Legal Thought: Public Law and the State, 1100–1322, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1964, pp. 264–269.Google Scholar
  43. 33.
    Corpus iuris civilis, C. 1, 14, 4, P. Krueger, T. Mommsen, and R. Schoell (eds.), (3 vols., Berlin, 1899–1902), II, p. 68, cited in F. Oakley, ‘Jacobean Political Theology’, p. 330. The mid-fourteenth-century civilian and canonist, Baldus de Ubaldis, glossed the lex digna by using the absoluta/ordinata distinction to underscore the self-binding nature of human sovereignity; Oakley, p. 330. Giles of Rome used the same analogy in his De ecclesiastica potestate, R. Scholz (ed.), H. Böhlaus Nachf., Weimar 1929, III, 9, pp. 190–195. It should be noted that Giles does not equate plenitudo potestatis with potentia absoluta either for pope or God. Actions within the law and outside the law are both ordained, but in different ways. In concluding a passage on the self-binding nature of papal conformity to the law (III, ch. 7, pp. 181–182) Giles states: “Verumtamen huiusmodi iurisdictio, quod sit sic casualis non est referenda ad suum posse absolutum, sed ad suum posse, ut est quibusdam regulis regulatum”. It is interesting that this analogy was not taken one step further in the constitutional structure of medieval society. One could argue that all human obedience to the law is in some sense self-imposed by way of an earlier social contract. One might view Marsilius of Padua’s legislator humanus as a corporate personality that has voluntarily bound himself to obey the law.Google Scholar
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    Hostiensis, Lectura in quinque Decretalium Gregorianarum libros, Ad 3, 35, 6 (Venice 1581; repr. 1965), III, fol. 134r: “dixerunt quod super his non potest Papa dispensare cum monacho, quamdiu monachus est, potest tamen facere de monacho non monachum…. Alii dicunt, quod licet votum sit de substantia monachatus, tamen hoc potest de plenitudine potestatis, quasi dicant, non de potestate ordinata, sed de absoluta, secundum quam potest mutare substantiam rei…. Nec obstat, quod hic dicitur, quia quod sequitur possit exponendum est, id est, potentiae suae non congruit, sic exponitur illud Hieronymi…. Vel de solito cursu, quia non consuevit hoc facere, posset tamen si vellet, sic expone et hic. Vel hoc non potest Papa sine causa, sed ex magna et Deo magis placente hoc posset…. Alii tamen quam Papae contra iura sine causa dispensare non licet, quod si praesumpserit non valet dispensatio, vel revocatur…. Sed et ex causa potest Papa dispensare cum monacho, ut proprium habeat. Quid enim si tota Christianitas, vel etiam aliqua pars ipsius esset in periculo, nisi monachus fieret rex. Forte, quia non est alius qui posset vel sciret regnum regere. Nonne dices, quod monachus fiat rex in hoc casu?” Hostiensis’ reference in this context to the famous passage in Jerome suggests that his analogy was derived from the theological tradition we have examined, not from the commentaries on the Decretum, where Jerome’s text occurs in a different context. J. Marrone, ‘The Absolute and the Ordained Powers of the Pope: an Unedited Text of Henry of Ghent’, Mediaeval Studies 36 (1974), 7–22, has called attention to another passage in Hostiensis where papal dispensation is described as de potestate absoluta. Lectura, Ad 5, 31, 8 (V, fol. 72v): “… quia Papa hoc potest facere sine concilio ecclesiarum,… sed episcopus hoc non potest absque laudatione clericorum suorum, et consensu ambarum ecclesiarum.. . Sed nec Papa haec, vel alios casus sibi specialiter reservatos, ut in praemissis versibus, consuevit expedire sine consilio fratrum suorum, id est Cardinalium, nec istud potest facere de potestate ordinaria, [referring to his discussion of papal dispensation in 3, 10, 4 and 3, 8, 4], licet secus sit de absoluta”. See also F. Oakley, ‘Jacobean Political Theology’, pp. 323–346, who first called attention to the Hostiensis text.Google Scholar
  45. 35.
    Paris, Bibl. Nat. lat. 3120, fol. 139v; Marrone, ‘The Absolute and Ordained Powers of the Pope’, p. 17: “… de potentia absoluta et ordinata. Licet enim circa Deum non contingat distinguere inter potentiam absolutam et ordinatam; Deus enimn, eo quod peccare non potest, nichil potest de potentia absoluta nisi illud possit de potentia ordinata. Omnis enim potentia sua quocumque modo vadit in actum ordinata [est] “. As Marrone concluded, p. 18: “since Henry of Ghent identified absolute power with power used sinfully and unjustly, he thus had to deny that God possessed such absolute power”. In light of the views of Henry of Ghent, there is a need to examine how the distinction was understood and used by Robert Kilwardby, John Pecham, Giles of Rome, and Godfrey of Fontaines.Google Scholar
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    Although Henry of Ghent rejected the absoluta/ordinata distinction as it applied to God’s power, he did equate papal plenitudo potestatis with potestas absoluta. Paris, Bibl. Nat. lat. 3120, fol. 140r (Marrone, p. 18): “Ecce plana distinctio inter potentiam absolutam et ordinatam circa dominum papam. Quando beatus Bernardus aliquid factitando ostendit se habere plenitudinem potestatis, quam appelo potentiam absolutam, super quo dubitat an habeat potentiam iusticie, quam appelo potentiam ordinatam”.Google Scholar
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    Gál, ‘Petrus de Trabibus’. Trabibus’ contemporary, Richard de Mediavilla, also established the boundaries of potentia absoluta by the principle of non-contradiction, as did Thomas; Sent. I, dist. 43, q. 7, as cited by E. Hocedez, Richard de Middleton: Sa vie, ses oeuvres, sa doctrine, E. Champion, Paris 1925, p. 245: “Respondeo, quod si dicam posse de potentia ordinata illud quod ipse facturum proposuit et rationabiliter disposuit, sic dico quod aliqua potest de potentia absoluta, quae non potest de potentia ordinata: quia absolute potest quidquid non includit contradictionem”.Google Scholar
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    Trabibus, as cited in Gal, p. 290: “Si loquamur de potentia ordinata, quia ille rerum ordo et numerus aeternaliter a divina sapientia et voluntate est praefixus et praeordinatus et non aliter, ideo licet alia possit facere et alia omittere, numquam tamen eveniret quod aliter fiat”. For a similar discussion in Trabibus’ master, Petrus Johannis Olivi, see the latter’s Quaestiones in secundum librum Sententiarum, B. Jansen (ed.), Bibliotheca Franciscana Scholastica Medii Aevi, Vol. IV, Quaracchi 1922, pp. 63–65.Google Scholar
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    John Duns Scotus, Opera Omnia, Vol. VI, A. Sépinski (ed.), Vatican, 1963, Ordinatio I, dist. 44, q. un, pp. 363–369.Google Scholar
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    Among the numerous works on these aspects of Scotus’ thought, see: W. Dettloff, Die Lehre von der Acceptatio divina bei Johannes Duns Scotus Werl 1954;Google Scholar
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    A. B. Wolter, ‘Native Freedom of the Will as a Key to the Ethics of Scotus’, in Deus et Homo ad mentem I. Duns Scoti; Acta Tertii Congressus Scotistici Internationalis Vindebonae, 1970; Rome 1972, pp. 359–370.Google Scholar
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    Scotus, Ordinatio I, pp. 364–366.Google Scholar
  53. 42.
    Ibid.: “Quando autem illa lex recta — secundum quam ordinate agendum est — non est in potestate agentis, tunc potentia eius absoluta non potest excedere potentiam eius ordinatam circa obiecta aliqua, nisi circa illa agat inordinate; necessarium enim est illam legem stare — comparando ad tale agens — et tamen actionem ‘non conformatam illi legi rectae’ non esse rectam neque ordinatam, quia tale agens tenetur agere secundum illam regulam cui subest. Unde omnes qui subsunt legi divinae, si non agunt secundum illam, inordinate agunt. Sed quando in potestate agentis est lex et rectitudo legis, ita quod non est recta nisi quia statuta, tunc potest aliter agens ex libertate sua ordinare quam lex illa recta dictet; et tamen cum hoc potest ordinate agere, quia potest statuere aliam legem rectam secundum quam agat ordinate. Nec tunc potentia sua absoluta simpliciter excedit potentiam ordinatam, quia esset ordinata secundum aliam legem sicut secundum priorem; tamen excedit potentiam ordinatam praecise secundum priorem legem, contra quam vel praeter quam facit. Ita posset exemplificari de principe et subditis, et lege positiva”. “Ideo sicut potest aliter agere, ita potest aliam legem rectam statuere, — quae si statueretur a Deo, recta esset, quia nulla lex est recta nisi quatenus a voluntate divina acceptante est statuta; et tunc potentia eius absoluta ad aliquid, non se extendit ad aliud quam ad illud quod ordinate fieret, si fieret: non quidem fieret ordinate secundum istum ordinem, sed fieret ordinate secundum alium ordinem, quem ordinem ita posset voluntas divina statuere sicut potest agere”.Google Scholar
  54. 43.
    Ibid.: “… potest agere praeter illam legem vel contra eam, et in hoc est potentia absoluta, excedens potentiam ordinatam. Et ideo non tantum in Deo, sed in omni agente libere — qui potest agere secundum dictamen legis rectae et praeter talem legem vel contra eam — est distinguere inter potentiam ordinatam et absolutam; ideo dicunt iuristae quod aliquis hoc potest facere de facto, hoc est de potentia sua absoluta, — vel de iure, hoc est de potentia ordinata secundum iura”. The distinction to which Scotus refers appears in Decretales Greg. IX, 1, 3, 13 where lack of power (impotentia) can result from legal condition (de iure) or from physical impediment (de facto). The positive corollary, the distinction between potentia de iure and potentia de facto can be found in Hostiensis, Lectura, Ad 1, 3, 13 (I, fol. 14vb) and Ad 2, 28, 65 (II, fol. 200vb). The juridical flavor of Scotus’ treatment of divine omnipotence has been noted by Pernoud, “The Theory of the Potentia Dei’, pp. 84–86.Google Scholar
  55. 44.
    Ockham’s discussion of the ambiguity of ‘posse’ was anticipated by the Summa Halensis, Pt. I, Inq. I, Tr. 4, q. 1, m. 4 (I, p. 228): “… sic nos loquimur de divino ‘posse’ duobus modis: habere potentiam vel uti potentia”. Cf. Petrus Johannis Olivi, Quaest. in secundum librum Sent., I, p. 64; Gal, “Petrus de Trabibus”, pp. 286, 290. Ockham’s reaffirmation of the traditional theological meaning of the distinction parallels that of Thomas at various points. Ockham followed the thirteenth-century practice, found both in Thomas and Scotus, of using human analogies to explain divine power; e.g., Quodl. VI, q. 1 (Opera theologica, IX, J. C. Wey (ed.), St. Bonaventure, N.Y. 1980), p. 586: “Sicut Papa aliqua non potest secundum iura statuta ab eo, quae tamen absolute potest”. Ockham also followed the main lines of Scotus’ ethical teaching, including the belief that God never acts inordinate but would, by a change of decree, establish a new order; see W. Kömel, ‘Das Naturrecht bei Wilhelm von Ockham’, Franziskanische Studien 35 (1953), pp. 39–85;Google Scholar
  56. 44a.
    David Clark, ‘Voluntarism and Rationalism in the Ethics of Ockham’, Franciscan Studies 31 (1971), 72–87, A. Wolter, ‘Native Freedom of the Will’. The traditional character of Ockham’s teaching on this issue has been frequently noted in the last decade. See, for example, H. A. Oberman, Harvest of Medieval Theology, pp. 30–56; Pernoud, ‘Innovation in William of Ockham’s References’; The Theory of the Potentia Dei’; Courtenay, ‘Nominalism and Late Medieval Religion’, pp. 37–43.Google Scholar
  57. 44b.
    K. Bannach, Die Lehre von der doppelten Macht Gottes bei Wilhelm von Ockham, F. Steiner, Wiesbaden 1975, provides a somewhat different interpretation.Google Scholar
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    On John XXII’s views see Ockham, Opus nonaginta dierum, ch. 95, Lyons 1495: “Quia iste impugnatus ut quidam istorum impugnatorum dicunt se audivisse ab ore eius, et ipse postea in sermonibus suis declaravit, negat illam distinctionem theologorum de potentia Dei ordinata et absoluta intendens multis rationibus ostendere quod quicquid potest Deus de potentia absoluta potest etiam de potentia ordinata, et quicquid non potest de potentia ordinata non potest de potentia absoluta”. Ockham, Tractatus contra Benedictum, ch. 3; Opera politica, Vol. III, Manchester 1956, pp. 230–234.Google Scholar
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    Ockham, Quodlibeta, VI, q. 1 (ed. cit., pp. 585–568): “… quaedam potest Deus facere de potentia ordinata et aliqua de potentia absoluta. Haec distinctio non est sic intelligenda quod in Deo sint realiter duae potentiae quarum una sit ordinata et alia absoluta, quia unica potentia est in Deo ad extra, quae omni modo est ipse Deus. Nec sic est intelligenda quod aliqua potest Deus ordinate facere, et aliqua potest absolute et non ordinate, quia Deus nihil potest facere inordinate. Sed est sic intelligenda quod ‘posse [facere] aliquid’ quandoque accipitur secundum leges ordinatas et institutas a Deo, et illa dicitur Deus posse facere de potentia ordinata. Aliter accipitur ‘posse’ pro posse facere omne illud quod non includit contradictionem fieri, sive Deus ordinaverit se hoc facturum sive non, quia multa potest Deus facere quae non vult facere …” Summa logicae, III-4, c. 6 (Opera philosophica, I, P. Boehner, G. Gál, and S. Brown (eds.), St. Bonaventure, N.Y. 1974), pp. 779–780: “Item, talis propositio ‘Deus per suam potentiam absolutam potest aliquem acceptare sine gratia sed non per suam potentiam ordinatam’ multiplex est. Unus sensus est quod Deus per unam potentiam, quae est absoluta et non ordinata, potest acceptare aliquem sine gratia, et per unam aliam potentiam, quae est ordinata et non absoluta, non potest acceptare eum, quasi essent duae potentiae in Deo per quarum unam posset hoc et non per aliam. Et iste sensus est falsus. Aliter accipitur improprie, ut ponatur ista propositio pro ista oratione: Deus potest acceptare aliquem sine gratia informante, quia hoc non includit contradictionem, et tamen ordinavit quod hoc numquam est facturus. Et iste sensus verus est”. Opus nonaginta dierum, c. 95 (Opera politica, II; Manchester 1963), pp. 726–727): “Et ita dicere quod Deus potest aliqua de potentia absoluta, quae non potest de potentia ordinata, non est aliud, secundum intellectum recte intelligentium, quam dicere quod Deus aliqua potest, quae tamen minime ordinavit se facturum; quae tamen si faceret, de potentia ordinata faceret ipsa; quia si faceret ea, ordinaret se facturum ipsa. Quia igitur, ut dicunt isti, iste impugnatus nescivit videre aequivocationem huius verbi ‘potest’, ideo male intellexit illam distinctionem theologorum de potentia Dei absoluta et ordinata”. “Rationes vero, per quas probare conatur quod praemissa distinctio de potentia Dei absoluta et ordinata non est approbanda, facile dissolvuntur. Prima enim ex falso intellectu procedit, quasi haec esset possibilis secundum sic distinguentes: ‘Deus aliquid facit de potentia absoluta, quod non facit de potentia ordinata’. Haec enim de inesse secundum eos est impossibilis et contradictionem includit; quia eo ipso quod Deus aliquid faceret, ipse faceret illud de potentia ordinata”. Cf. Gál, ‘Petrus de Trabibus’, pp. 287–288.Google Scholar
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    Gregory of Rimini, Super primum et secundum Sententiarum, L. I, dist. 42–44, q. 1, a. 2 Venice, 1522; (repr. 1955), I. fol. 162v–163r. D’Ailly, Quaestiones super libros sententiarum cum quibusdam in fine adjunctis, L. I, q. 13, a. 1, Strasbourg 1490; (repr. 1968), D. Gabriel Biel, Sent. I, dist. 17, q. 1, a. 3; Biel, Sent. IV, dist. 1, q. 1, a. 3, dub. 2.Google Scholar
  61. 48.
    Fire is not necessary or contingent; the relationship of fire and combustion is necessary or contingent. It is not charitas that is necessary or contingent but the relationship of the habit of charity to the gift of eternal salvation that is necessary or contingent.Google Scholar
  62. 49.
    In terminist logic there is a great deal of interest in the way in which the truth value of propositions changes with the circumstances in which it is spoken, thought, or written. This is particularly true in the fourteenth century for the time context. To give a present example, the statement “I am in Columbus” is true [at the time this paper was read], as is the statement “I was in Columbus” (at some previous time), but the statement “I was in Columbus last week” is true only if thought, spoken, or written in the week after I was in Columbus.Google Scholar
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    Some of the parables of Christ pose that same time/reward problem, e.g., that of the laborers in the vineyard, or the parable of the talents. These also formed a source for fourteenth-century discussion and were so explored.Google Scholar
  64. 51.
    Fourteenth-century discussions of certitude in light of the possibility of intuitive cognitions of non-existents provided another context for discussions of absolute and ordained power. See in particular K. H. Tachau, ‘The Problem of the Species in medio at Oxford in the Generation after Ockham’, Mediaeval Studies 44 (1982), 394–443.Google Scholar
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    Gregory of Rimini, Super Primum et Secundum Sententiarum, Venice 1522 (repr. 1955), I, 165 F: “… et non solum de potentia Dei, sed etiam naturali, quia in casu non ponitur Deum specialiter agere nisi quantum ad dationem praecepti”. Pierre d’Ailly, Quaestiones super Libros Sententiarum, Strasbourg 1490; (repr. 1968), Sent. IV, q. 1 N: “Tercia conclusio probatur, circa quam sciendum est quod sicut dicitur quod Deus aliquid potest de potentia absoluta quod non potest de potentia ordinata, ita dico de creatura. Ideo concedo probabiliter quod licet creatura de potentia naturali seu naturaliter ordinata non possit creare vel annihilare ut dictum est. Tamen ista potest de potentia simpliciter absoluta, sive supernaturaliter seu miraculose”.Google Scholar
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    Paul Streveler, ‘God’s Absolute and Ordained Power in the Thought of Robert Holcot’. Much of Holcot’s uage is traditional, despite his fascination for time/place/ decree problems of law-changing.Google Scholar
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    Marsilius of Inghen, Questiones super quattuor libros Sententiarum Strasbourg 1501; (repr. 1966), L. I, q. 20, a. 2 (fol. 84r): “Potest uno modo intelligi de potentia Dei absoluta, scilicet agendo praeter legem quam promulgavit. Alio modo agendo secundum legem quam ordinavit et promulgavit, scilicet agendo secundum potentiam ordinatam”. “Deus de lege absoluta alicui posset dare salutem nullam habenti charitatem creatam”. Sent. III, q. 9, a. 3 (fol. 405v): “… et ex consequente potest non velle ea conservare de lege absoluta, ergo possunt ab anima Christi tolli”. By the phrase de lege absoluta Marsilius meant nothing other than power or possibility considered absolutely, hypothetice (fol. 84 r). Yet the phrase betrays the model of law-making and sovereign power, paralleling Scotus’ observation that all actions of God outside the normal course of nature and grace are simply other forms of law and order: ordo simpliciter as opposed to ordo ut nunc. Marsilius in Sent. I. q. 43, a. 1 (fol. 183 r) distinguishes between the common course of nature and potentia ordinata: “… quae secundum cursum naturae possunt esse, vel etiam secundum potentia Dei ordinatam”.Google Scholar
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    Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, J. Brewer et al. (eds). (22 vols., G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswood, London 1862–19832, IV, Pt. 2, 2158 (No. 4977); cited in Oakley, ‘Jacobean Political Theology’, p. 335, n. 61.Google Scholar

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  • William J. Courtenay

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