Preface to the Dialogus

The following preface is unlikely to be authentic, since it has been found so far in only two manuscripts (Fr and We). In its circumstantial detail it may echo some authentic tradition, though anyone who invented a preface might also invent some plausible circumstantial detail. It supposes that Ockham intended the Dialogus to be anonymous but that the secret got out after the publication of Part 1; the Preface purports to be written for the publication of the later Parts. However, the manuscripts containing only Part 1 also give the author's name, and no manuscript containing only Part 3 contains this preface. To some late-medieval editor it might have seemed strange that Ockham's name appeared at the top of the very page in which the Disciple asks the Master "to hide your own opinion and even your name", and this seeming anomaly might have prompted the composition of this preface. However, the names of the offices of Pope John, Brother Michael and others are also suppressed and their personal names reduced to initials even though they are stated clearly on the first page. Just as Ockham never intended to make any secret of the fact that "I" is Pope John, so he may never have intended to conceal under the name "Master" his own authorship of the Dialogus. As author he is not simply identical with the Master, who is a character; but it seems reasonable to suppose that when the Disciple tells the Master to include his own opinions among those reported, this is an indication that Ockham's own opinions will be included.

See Juergen Miethke, "Ein neues Selbstzeugnis Ockhams zu seinem Dialogus" in Anne Hudson and Michael Wilks (eds.), From Ockham to Wyclif (Oxford, 1987), pp. 19-30.

The text is that of We, with variants from Fr.

Venerandorum virorum vestigia non relinquens, duas personas, discipuli scilicet et magistri finxi seu suscepi, inter quas sequens dialogus verteretur, in persona discipuli verbis utens quam pluribus ex quibus posse colligi videretur quod idem discipulus de parte esset omnino mihi {trs. Fr} contraria mecumque communionem habere penitus non auderet, tali modo quod ego sequentis operis essem auctor omnibus hominibus {om. Fr} duobus exceptis putans et gestiens occultare {occultari Fr}.

Following the footsteps of men who should be revered, I have represented or undertaken two dramatis personae, namely of disciple and master, between whom the following dialogue would be exchanged, using in the person of the disciple many words from which it would seem possible to gather that this disciple belonged to a party altogether opposed to me and would certainly not dare to have any dealings with me -- thinking and desiring thus to hide from all men, except two, my authorship of the following work.

Sed contra estimacionem et intencionem meam {trs. 312 Fr} accidit, nescio per quem, contrarium. Nam communicata prima parte operis huius, statim quod ego feceram quam plures non latuit. Nec tamen propter hoc inceptum procedendi modum et loquendi dimisi, sed continuavi et usque ad {in Fr} finem continuare propono. Quam ob rem nemo mihi debet quamcumque opinionem qualitercumque hic discussam vel recitatam imponere, nisi quam a me {a me] omitted Fr} alias vel in aliis {trs. Fr} operibus scriptam {a me added Fr} vel dictam assertive vel opinative cognoverit. Nichil enim in persona mea sed aliorum hic dico. Quid autem de omnibus sencio in quodam alio opere intendo concedente domino explicare.

But contrary to my expectation and intention, the opposite happened, I do not know through whom. For as soon as the first part of this work was put into circulation, it was not hidden from many people that I had written it. But I have not for this reason abandoned the way of proceeding and speaking that I had begun but have continued it and propose to continue it right to the end. For this reason no one should attribute to me any opinion in any way discussed or reported there, except one he knows has been assertively or as an opinion written or said by me elsewhere or in other works. For here I say nothing in my own person, but in that of others. However, what I think about all these matters I intend, if the Lord grants it, to explain in some other work.

Return to Table of Contents