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1362 An Oxford debate

To get a degree in 14th century Oxford you did not exactly sit down and take a formal written examination. It was your skill in the debating chamber that determined ultimately whether you would be considered worthy of a degree. Formal debates between a master and a student would take place across the academic year, watched by other students and based around quotations from the set texts, often St Augustine, or Peter Lombard. Once the student could hold his own in the debates as first an opposer of the motion and latterly as an opponent of the motion, he would be considered eligible to receive his degree. Notes of the debates were kept and some of these have survived in a folio in Worcester Cathedral library. From these debates comes the following text in which one of Adam's own debates is annotated. The documents are undated and all we can say is that they must date from after his return to Oxford in the late 1350's and before his "inception" as a Doctor of Divinity.

Adam, probably in one of his early debates, starts out clearly believing he is in command of the arguments, even brazenly showing off his knowledge of the counter argument. Master Radclif very quickly puts him in his place. This is very esoteric material and not always easy to follow!



Adam is putting the question and his master, Nicholas Radclif is responding:


Subject: Whether Adam obtained from his state of innocence (ie before the Fall of Man), an immediate vision of God just as the angels have.

This will be argued in three ways and here is the first:

Adam in his perfect state of innocence had pure and total knowledge just as natural as that of the angels. Therefore with this special natural knowledge, he did not need to wander between knowing and not knowing, as a consequence he knew naturally (instinctively) that same state of divine essence, in the same way as the angels. It follows that he himself did not know from learning, nor through the medium of some other creature, therefore his vision was immediate.

This is confirmed by the Master of the Sentences in Book IV Distinction I Chapter V, who says that man before sin saw God without a medium. From the point of sin (after the Fall) he was unable to know the divine essence except through mediums.

The second is thus:

Adam in his state of innocence was disposed to see the divine essence just as if his soul was separated from himself by reason of it not being impeded by sin. Had the soul been separate and his reason not impeded by sin, then he would have had an immediate vision of the divine essence just as naturally as that of the angels.

The consequence is clear, mainly that his understanding was not impeded by matter and moreover, matter was separate from him. Also it seems that he had sufficient natural power to see for himself, so his object (vision) was by no means impeded.

The third is thus the same:

Adam in his state of innocence had a perfect love of God and that perfect love was equal to, in fact just as perfect, as the knowledge of the divine essence.

The opposite argument is thus:

Adam in the state of innocence he was in (before the Fall) was not placed outside the condition of life, but to have an immediate vision of God places man outside the condition of life, from which we see the opposite (of the above arguments). This is also revealed in Augustine in Book I of De Trinitate, final verse where he proposes that the vision of the essence of God is the sum of “holy wages” from which the opposite (argument) can be seen.


Responding to this question which is difficult and subtle I suppose that what the question means by “an immediate vision of the divine essence “ is the same as the facial contemplation (of God). From this supposition the first conclusion is:

Adam did not have immediate vision of the divine essence from what he saw in his state of innocence, just as the angels before their fall did not have a natural vision. This conclusion therefore suggests that all immediate vision of the divine essence is the same as contemplating the face of God which is solely promised as a reward for those that have been raised up by the Father, something that did not apply to the nature of the angels before the fall, nor to the state of man in his innocence.

I conclude it is in the blessed Father’s gift .

It follows that this is good and stands from that supposition and just as much according to the direction shown by the said Augustine in Book I of De Trinitate and no less the subordinate principles given by Hugh (of St Victor) in De Sacrimentis Book I, Part VI, Chapter XXV.

A further conclusion is this: That Adam in his state of innocence saw a view of the essence of his creator. It follows from this conclusion that Adam in his state of innocence saw the divine essence not only in abstract but intuitively. It follows this is correct and all the foregoing is revealed by the arguments of Hugh in De Sacrimentis Book I Part VI Chapter XIV.

A third conclusion is this:

As the state of angels, just as man before sin, saw the divine essence intuitively through the medium of their own species; the conclusion follows thus: as the state of angels and man before sin saw the divine essence intuitively they did not have a clear view of the face of God, this is my conclusion.

It follows that this is right and proof of this conclusion on the issue of the nature of angels follows from Augustine  “Genesis and Letters” Chapter XXXI and on the nature of man towards the end of the book.

The second and subordinate conclusion follows form the first.

The fourth conclusion is thus:

If the intellect of the mind was separated from the body and constituted as such in a state of innocence, then it would have an intuitive vision of the divine essence through the medium of its created species. The conclusion therefore follows that the intellect of mind separated from the body and constituted in a state of innocence has as perfect an intuition of the divine essence as the angels had before the fall, but neither can have a perfect intuitive vision (ie facial contemplation) of the divine essence. This I conclude.

It follows from everything shown above.

The fifth and last conclusion is this:

The same Act through which Adam in his state of innocence loved God, was itself a species ending in its object (ie the love of God). The same act of which Adam in his state of innocence saw God was also a species ending in its object. It follows that it is shown that all love and intellect are presupposed to have as their end, the same object.

And from these conclusions is revealed the opposite of the question  by these four conclusions.
Worcester Cathedral MS F65 folio 20v