Thursday, May 26, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we tell the story of Ockham’s Flight.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 26th of May 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Today I am going to tell you the story of Ockham’s Flight… which may or may not ring a bell, perhaps you hear “Ockham” and you think “razor”- and yes, this is the same Ockham. Let’s introduce him, his razor, and tell the story of his “flight”.

William of Ockham was born in 1287 outside of London in a village once likely called “Oak Hamlet” which was shortened to Ockham. We don’t know much about his early life. He made his way into London for school with the Franciscans and made a name for himself as one of the preeminent philosophers of his day. His name belongs among the likes of Aquinas and Duns Scotus as the chief philosophers of the High Middle Ages.

Ockham’s “razor” is the belief that the simplest explanation is more likely to be true. Maybe a thief or an alien got into your garbage bin overnight, or maybe it was a raccoon. Start with the simple explanation and only expand if the evidence requires you to do so (unless I saw a spaceship or am known to hide valuables in the garbage I don’t need to jump to those conclusions).

Ockham is also really important as a nominalist. This isn’t the history of philosophy podcast- but very briefly, the nominalist rejects the concept of universals. We can only know what our senses can know- so we see things and name things and might postulate the existence of invisible things but we have to work with sensible evidence. There are theological implications to this- let me quote him: “For nothing ought to be posited without a reason given unless it is self-evident or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture”. Yes, that sounds like Luther at Worms, and yes, nominalism was significant for many of the Reformers.

Ockham himself was something of a reformer, challenging the wealth of the Papacy at a time when it had moved from Rome to Avignon, France, and was flush with wealth.

Remember the Franciscans, founded by Francis of Assisi, held to a strict rule of mendicancy. That is, they were beggars. In the imitation of Christ, they believed that they should own nothing- and this call to poverty didn’t sit well with the Pope.

Pope John XXII called on Franciscans, including William, to come to Avignon to discuss the issue of poverty. There, while making his arguments, William came to see that not only was the Pope wrong in his estimation, but the Papacy, he believed, had overstepped its calling and had waded into heresy as an institution.

This was a dangerous time to condemn the papacy, which had established itself as a rival to even earthly kingdoms. And so, it was on this, the 26th of May in 1328 that William of Ockham and other Franciscans secretly fled Avignon to Italy where the Holy Roman Emperor gave them protection. For fleeing, William and the others were excommunicated by the Pope. Ockham would make his way to Munich where he spent the rest of his life writing on political matters near the court of Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig.

Today we remember Ockham’s flight- his condemnation of the wealth of the Papacy and his daring escape to the court of the Emperor.

The last word for today comes from Luke 24:

24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.

24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.

24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.

24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;

24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of May 2022 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Razors include Ockham’s, Gillette, the scooter, and Ramon, He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who has made known his love of the trash panda- especially those in Rocket City playing AA ball for the Angels. I am Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.