Oxford Scholasticism 1344-1355 - new readings and nuanced approaches
Dr Cal Ledsham

March 24, 2017, 7:00am - 8:30am
Department of Philosophy, CTC, UD

Treacy boardroom
278 Victoria Pde
East Melbourne 3002

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This paper discusses research in Oxford scholasticism around the years 1345-1355 on two issues: first, the idea of privation in relation to divine creation and theodicy, and second, transubstantiation and the possibility of on the one hand, co-location of two things in one place, and on the other hand, bilocation or even multilocation of one substance in many places at once. The first issue allows a new way of reading Sentences commentaries of the time to be advanced – that is, that they have a coherent and sincere theological project based around a kind of calculational theodicy in connection with the problems that arise from God as creator ex nihilo. This reading stands in contrast to the standard reading of these “English essay” style Sentences commentaries, a reading that emerged in the secondary literature post-WWII and has characterised these commentaries as being merely subtle mathematicised game-playing. The interpretive problem generated by these texts is that they do not explain openly the choice of questions and standard modes of proceeding – there is no rationale or reflection of why any of it is important in the texts themselves. The key figure on which I base this case is John Stuckley OSB  (late ~1340s), because unlike all the other English essay commentaries, he makes the calculational theodicy stand out, and one can use his commentary to provide evidence of my reading. I also bring relevant texts of Osbertus Pickingham OCARM into this discussion. The breakthrough here is having positive evidence of an alternative reading of these texts rather than just seeing the inadequacy of the reading hitherto-dominant in the secondary literature.

The second case of transubstantiation implying bilocation/multilocation of one substance, and the obverse case of co-location of many natures in one substance at one location together show the care that the scholastics displayed at the time to avoid formal contradiction while dealing with bizarre and incongruous theological doctrines and philosophical thought experiments. The key figures I use for this are Thomas Buckingham (fl. 1346-1347) who rejects the possibility of bilocation, John Stuckley and Osbertus Pickingham OCARM (fl. ?1347-1358?), each of whom accept it, and Nicholas Aston, a secular master of Queens College Oxford, who radicalises the problem of bilocation to ask whether one must admit the possibility that the entire natures of the universe could be contained in one substance in one place (e.g. a pen on a desk); and he argues a refined theory of contradiction and via appeal to consistency with the doctrines of the incarnation, transubstantiation and God’ creative potentia absoluta that this “holographic” state of affairs should indeed be believed to be possible. The conclusion I draw from this is that rather than embracing contradictory beliefs (as the prominent reading of them has put it since WWII), these scholastics are instead rather keen to avoid contradictions while being open to weird physics, metaphysics and theology.

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