Material Swords and Literal Lights: The Status of Allegory in William of Ockham's <i>Breviloquium</i> on Papal Power

A. J. Minnis

in With Reverence for the Word

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780195137279
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849482 | DOI:
Material Swords and Literal Lights: The Status of Allegory in William of Ockham's Breviloquium on Papal Power

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At Luke 22:38, the disciples are presented as saying to Jesus, “Lord, behold, there are two swords”. The significance of the “two swords” (one drawn and the other undrawn) doctrine was debated from time to time in the early Middle Ages. In patristic exegesis, the undrawn and drawn swords are often interpreted as signifying, respectively, spiritual and temporal, or ecclesiastical and lay, power. During the Middle Ages, Luke's remarks about them became a battleground on which many issues relating to regnum and sacerdotium were fought out. This chapter examines certain aspects of William of Ockham's contribution to the debate which raise general hermeneutic issues, centering on the extent to which sound doctrine can rest on spiritual interpretation as opposed to literal declaration. Here, exegesis and politics intersect crucially, with potentially very serious consequences. The focus is on the status of allegory in William of Ockham's Breviloquium on the power of the pope. The argument of the Breviloquium depends heavily on the Bible as a source of authority for what should be believed about the nature of papal power.

Keywords: William of Ockham; Breviloquium; power; pope; swords; Bible; Middle Ages; exegesis; politics; allegory

Chapter.  10225 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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