Occam, William Of

, so called from the village of Ockham in Surrey, where he was born, was, according to Wood, a fellow of Merton college, Oxford, in the thirteenth century, and was a renowned teacher of the scholastic doctrines at that university. He had the offer of the archdeaconry of Stow in the diocese of Lincoln in January 1300, but refused it. In 1302 he was collated by bishop D’Alderby to the prebend of Bedford major in that church; and having thought proper to accept the archdeaconry on a second offer, was collated to it May 15, 1305, but seems to have vacated it about the latter end of 1319. He was a pupil of Duns Scotus, and was | little inferior to his master in subtlety. The school of the Scotists had, till his time, followed the popular opinion of the realists; but Occam, probably from an ambition of becoming the head of a separate body, revived the opinions of the nominalists, and formed a sect under the name of Occamists, which vehemently opposed the Scotists, upon the abstract questions concerning universals, which had been formerly introduced by Rosceline.

He was styled by the pope “The invincible doctor;” by others “The venerable preceptor;” “The singular doctor;” and “The unparalleled doctor.” He was chosen minister provincial of the friars minors of England, and afterwards diffinitor of the whole order of St. Francis, and in that capacity was present at the general chapter held at Perusium in Tuscany in 1322, where the fathers declared their adherence to the decree of pope Nicholas III. maintaining the poverty of Christ and his apostles, and that they had “nihii propria.” This doctrine gave rise to that pleasant question called the bread of the Cordeliers; which consisted in determining, whether the dominion of things consumed in the using, such as bread and wine, belonged to them, or only the simple use of them, without the dominion? Their rule not permitting them to have any thing as property, pope Nicholas III. who had been of their order, devised a method to enrich them, without breaking their rule. To this end he made an ordinance, that they should have only the usufruct of the estates which should be given to them, and that the soil and fund of all such donations should belong to the church of Rome. By this means he put them into possession of an infinite number of estates in the name of the church of Rome: but, for that reason, pope Nicholas’s bull was revoked by John XXII. who condemned the use without the dominion, by his “Extravaganta ad Conditorem.” He also condemned, by another “Extravaganta cum inter,” the doctrine concerning the possession of estates by Christ and his apostles, Occam, however, persisted in defending his opinions, and so greatly offended the pope that he was obliged to fly from Avignon, in 1328, to Lewis of Bavaria, who assumed the title of emperor, and refusing the pope’s order to return, was excommunicated in 1329. Lewis, his protector, was under the same circumstance, aud Occam is reported to have said to him, “Oh emperor, defend me with your sword, and I will defend you with my pen.” He | at last, it is said, returned to his duty, and was absolved. He died at Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and was buried in the convent of his order, as appears by the following inscription on his tomb in the choir, on the right hand of the altar; viz. “Anno Domini 1347, 7mo Aprilis obijt eximius Doctor Sacrae Theologise Fr. Gulielmus dictus Occham de Anglia.” He wrote a Commentary upon the Predicables of Porphyry, and the Categories of Aristotle, and many treatises in scholastic theology and ecclesiastical law; which, if they be admired for their ingenuity, must at the same time be censured for their extreme subtlety and obscurity. But whatever may be thought of these, he deserves praise for the courage with which he opposed the tyranny of the papal over the civil power, in his book “De Potestate Ecclesiastica et Seculare.” Of this, or a part of it, “A dialogue between a knight and a clerke, concerning the Power Spiritual and Temporal,” the reader will find an account in Oldys’s “Librarian,” p. 5. It was printed by Berthelet, with Henry VIII.'s privilege. Fox, in his Martyrology, says that Occam was “of a right sincere judgment, as the times would then either give or suffer.” He was the only schoolman whom Luther studied, or kept in his library. 1


Tanner.—Leland, Bale, and Pits.—Brucker.—Manning and Bray’s Hist. of Surrey, vol. III.—Fuller’s Worthies.—Moheims’s Ch. Hist.—Wood’s Annals.