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§ 110. Duns Scotus.


Literature: Works.—Complete ed. by Luke Wadding, 12 vols., Lyons, 1639, with a Life by Wadding, and the glosses of Hugh MacCaghwell (Hugo Cavellus, d. 1626), abp. of Armagh, Maurice O’Fihely, abp. of Tuam, etc. *New ed., 26 vols., Paris, 1891–1895, with some changes.—The Opus Oxoniense, Vienna, 1481, ed. by MacCaghwell together with the Reportata Parisiensia and Quaestiones Quodlibetales and a Life, Antwerp, 1620.—The Quaestiones Quodlibet., Venice, 1474, 1505, Paris, 1513.—The Logical Treatises were publ. at Barcelona, 1475, Venice, 1491–1493, and ed. by O’Fihely, 1504.—Duns’ system was expounded by Angelo Vulpi in Sacr. theol. Summa Joan. Scoti, 12 vols., Naples, 1622–1640. For biogr. and analytic works publ. before 1800, see Rigg in Dict. Of Natl. Biog. XVI. 216 sqq.—Baumgarten-Crusius: De theol. Scoti, Jena, 1826.—Schneid: D. Körperlehre des J. Duns Sc. und ihr Verhältniss zum Thomismus und Atomismus, Mainz, 1879.—*C. Werner: J. Duns Sc., Vienna, 1881, also S. Thomas von Aquino, III, 3–101.—Kahl: D. Primat des Willens bei Augustinus, Duns Sc. und Des Cartes, Strassb., 1886.—*R. Seeberg: D. Theologie des J. Duns Sc., Leip., 1900; also his art. in Herzog, 3d ed. and his Dogmengesch., II. 129 sqq.—Renan: art. Scotus, in Hist. Lit. de France, vol. XXV.—*Döllinger: art. in Wetzer-Welte, X. 2123–2133.—J. M. Rigg: in Dict. Natl. Biog., XVI. 216–220.—*Schwane: Dogmengesch., pp. 74–76, etc.—Harnack: Dogmengesch., III. 459 sqq.—*A. Ritschl: Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, I. 58–86; Gesch. des Pietismus, I. 470.—P. Minges: Ist Duns Scotus Indeterminist? Münster, 1905, p. 139.—The Histt. of Philos.


The last of the scholastic thinkers of the first rank and the most daring of mediaeval logicians is John Duns Scotus. With his death the disintegration of scholastic theology begins. This remarkable man, one of the intellectual prodigies of the race, may have been under forty years of age when death overtook him. His dialectic genius and ingenuity won for him the title of the Subtle doctor, doctor subtilis. His intellectual independence is shown in the freedom with which he subjected his predecessors to his searching and often sophistical criticisms. Anselm, the St. Victors, Albert the Great, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, and other Schoolmen he does not hesitate to mention by name and to assail their views. The discussions of Thomas Aquinas are frequently made the subject of his attack. Duns became the chief theological ornament of the Franciscan order and his theology was defended by a distinct school, which took his name, the Scotists. This school and the Thomists, who followed the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, are the leading schools of theology produced in the Middle Ages and came into violent controversy.

Duns’ mind was critical rather than constructive. The abstruseness of his style offers difficulties almost insuperable to the comprehension of the modern student.15681568    Döllinger, p. 2127, and Harnack, III. 429, agree in pronouncing Duns the "most acute thinker among the Schoolmen," der scharfsinnigste scholastishe Denker. Seeberg, Theol. d. J. D. Scotus, p.2, speaks of "the enormous difficulty"—ungeheure Schwierigkeit —whichthe reading of Duns offers to one who is not thoroughly familiar with his mode of thinking and expression. Again, p. 6, he speaks of Duns’ "sentences and arguments" as "endlessly complicated." Schwane, p. 78, says that Duns’ abstruseness of thought, lack of system in presenting his materials, and the thorny paths of his critical method have imparted to theology little glory. See also pp. 288, 292. complete system.15691569    Die Hoffnung aus seinen Schriften ein System herzustellen ist vergeblich, Seeberg, p. 644.n, and his use of the arguments from silence and probability, undermined confidence in the infallibility of the Church and opened the way for the disrepute into which scholasticism fell. Duns denied that the being of God and other dogmas can be proved by the reason, and he based their acceptance solely upon the authority of the Church. The analytic precision, as well as lucid statement of Thomas and Peter the Lombard, are wanting in the Subtle doctor, and the mystical element, so perceptible in the writings of Anselm, Thomas, and Bonaventura, gives way to a purely speculative interest.

What a contrast Duns presents to the founder of his order, Francis d’Assisi, the man of simple faith and creed, and popular speech and ministries! Of all the Schoolmen, Duns wandered most in the labyrinth of metaphysical subtleties, and none of them is so much responsible as he for the current opinion that mediaeval theology and fanciful speculation are interchangeable terms. His reputation for specious ratiocination has given to the language the term, "dunce."15701570    "Remember ye not," said Tyndale, "how within this thirty years and far less, the old barking curs, Dunce’s disciples, and like draff, called Scotists, the children of darkness, raged in every pulpit against Greek, Latin and Hebrew ?"—Quoted by Trench: The Study of Words, p.91.

Of his personal history scarcely anything is known, and his extensive writings furnish not a single clew. Even the time and place of his entering the Franciscan order cannot be made out with certainty. The only fixed date in his career is the date which brought it to a close. He died at Cologne, Nov. 8, 1308. The date of his birth is placed between 1265–1274.15711571    1274 is the date accepted by Wadding, Cavellus, and Schwane. Döllinger, Rigg, and Seeberg adopt an earlier date. Seeberg, pp. 36 sqq., lays stress upon the refusal of the bishop of Lincoln, in 1300, to grant to Duns the privilege of hearing confession. A rule of the Franciscans, 1292, required that members of the order should be thirty before aspiring to this privilege. In this case Duns was born before 1270.

England, Scotland, and Ireland have contended for the honor of being the Schoolman’s native land, with the probability in favor of England. Irishmen since the fifteenth century have argued for Dun, or Down, in Ulster. Scotchmen plead for Dunse in Berwickshire, while writers, unaffected by patriotic considerations, for the most part agree upon Dunstane in Northumberland.15721572    Döllinger attaches much weight to a statement made in a MS. of one of Duns’ works in Merton College, to the effect that he was born in Dunstane, England. O’Fihely, MacCaghwell, and Wadding, all Irishmen, are loyal to the theory that he was of Irish nativity. Dempster gives twelve reasons to prove Duns was a Scotchman. See Dict. Natl. Biog., XVI. 216, and Seeberg, p. 34. by the general of his order to Cologne, where he died soon after. The story ran that he was buried alive.15731573    Seeberg, pp. 46 sqq. MacCaghwell in two tracts learnedly denied his being buried alive.s inscription:—


Scotia gave me birth, England nursed me,

Gaul educated me, Cologne holds my ashes.15741574    Scotia me genuit, Anglia me suscepit,
   Gallia me docuit, Colonia me tenit.


Among the stories told of Duns Scotus is the following, behind which more wisdom hides than is found in whole chapters of his labored discussions. On one occasion he stopped to speak to an English farmer on the subject of religion. The farmer, who was engaged in sowing, turned and said: "Why do you speak to me? If God has foreknowledge that I will be saved, I will be saved whether I do good or ill." Duns replied: Then, if God has foreknowledge that grain will grow out of this soil, it will grow whether you sow or withhold your hand. You may as well save yourself the labor you are at."

The works of Duns Scotus include commentaries on Aristotle, an extended commentary on the Sentences of the Lombard, called the Opus oxoniense, his theological lectures delivered at Paris, known as the Reportata parisiensia15751575    It fills 3 vols. in the Paris ed.; the Opus Oxoniense, 14 vols.; the Quodlibetales, vols. XXV., XXVI.ems. A commentary on Genesis and one on the Gospels, sermons and other writings of doubtful or denied authenticity are ascribed to Duns.15761576    Trithemius, 1495, distinctly speaks of two volumes of Duns’ Sermons. Seeberg, p. 63.

In philosophy Duns was a moderate realist. The universals are not intellectual fictions, fictiones intellectus. Our ideas presuppose their reality.15771577    Universali aliquid extra correspondet a quo movetur intellectus ad causandum talem intentionem. Seeberg, p. 69.ferentiation from something else but by its own real essence, or quidditas. A stone is an individual by reason of something positive, intrinsic within itself. The individual is the final form of being, ultima realitas entis.

Theology is a practical science and its chief value is in furnishing to the will the materials of faith to lighten it on the path of virtuous action.

The Scriptures contain what is to be believed, but the authority of the Church establishes what these truths are. Articles of faith are to be accepted, not because they are demonstrable by reason. Reason is unreliable or, at best, obscure and many truths it cannot prove, such as the soul’s immortality, the unity of God, and transubstantiation. A doctrine such as the descent into hell, which is not found in the Scriptures is, nevertheless, to be accepted because it is found in the Apostles’ Creed. Other truths the Church possesses which are not found in the Scriptures. Our belief in the Scriptures rests ultimately on the authority of the Church.15781578    Libris canonici sacri non est credendum nisi quia primo credendum est ecclesiae approbanti et autorizanti libros istos et contenta in eis. Seeberg, p. 120.he will of God, and to submit to the will of God is the highest goal the human will can reach. Here he differs widely from Thomas Aquinas, who places God’s intelligence above His will. The sufficient explanation of God’s action is His absolute will.15791579    Quare voluntas voluit hoc, nulla est causa, nisi quia voluntas voluntas est, Seeberg, pp. 162 sqq., 660 sqq.d is good because God wills to be so. The will of God might have made what is now bad good, had God so chosen. He can do all things except what is logically absurd.15801580    Harnack, Dogmengesch., III. 446, has chosen strong words to show the unwillingness of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus to pursue the narrow way to the knowledge of God, that is, through the person of the historical Christ. And Seeberg, p. 671, lays stress upon the failure of Duns to bring God near to the soul. God remained a God afar off. According to both these modern dogmaticians, it remained for the Reformation through the principles of a living faith and God’s love to bring God into nearness to the soul.ange an event which has already happened.

The will of God determines the salvation of men. The predestination of the elect is an act purely of God’s determination. The non-elect are reprobated in view of their foreseen demerit. On the other hand, Duns seems to hold fast to the doctrine that the elect merit the eternal reward by good works. Without attempting to exhaust the apparent contradiction between divine foreordination and human responsibility, he confesses the mystery attaching to the subject.15811581    Seeberg, Dogmengesch., II. 135, Theologie, etc., 227 sq., 293 sqq., 666 sq.; Schwane, p. 463.

Sin is not infinite, for it is connected with finite beings. Original righteousness was a superadded gift, forfeited through the first sin. Eve’s sin was greater than Adam’s, for Adam shrank from offending Eve—Eve sought to be equal with God. Man’s freedom consists in his ability to choose the contrary. Original sin consists in the loss of original righteousness which Adam owed to God.15821582    Carentia justitiae originalis. Seeberg, 218 sq.; Loofs, Dogmengesch., p. 305. Harnack, III. 551, and Seeberg, p. 220, emphatically assert that Duns abandoned the Augustinian conception of sin and moral corruption.f moral inability, the servum arbitrium. It belongs to the very nature of the will to be free. This freedom, however, the will can lose by repeated volitions. Sin is inherent in the will alone, and concupiscence is only an inclination of the will to desire objects of pleasure immoderately.15831583    Pronitas in appetitu rationali, i.e. in voluntate ad concupiscendum delectabilia immoderate. Quoted by Stöckl, II. 362.

The ultimate questions why God permitted evil, and how He could foreknow evil would occur without also predetermining it, find their solution only in God’s absolute will. God willed, and that must suffice for the reason.

The infinite value of the atonement likewise finds its explanation in the absolute will of God. Christ died as a man, and for that reason his merit of itself was not infinite. An angel, or a man, free from original sin, might have made efficient atonement if God had so willed. Nothing in the guilt of sin made it necessary for the Son of God to die. God determined to accept Christ’s obedience and, in view of it, to impart grace to the sinner. Duns follows closely Anselm’s theory, whose principles he carefully states.15841584    He concludes his account of Anselm’s exposition by acknowledging his indebtedness to Anselm, in the words haec veraciter, ut potui, ex dictis ejus, collegi. Seeberg, p. 283. Seeberg’s full discussion of Duns’ theory of the atonement, pp. 275-296.

In his treatment of transubstantiation, Duns vigorously attacked the view of Thomas Aquinas as a transition of the body of Christ into the bread. He argued that if there were such transition, then at celebrations of the eucharist during the three days of Christ’s burial the elements would have been changed into his dead body. To avoid this difficulty he enunciated the theory that the body of Christ, as of every man, has more than one form, that is, in addition to the rational soul, a forma mixti sive corporeitatis, which is joined to matter and constitutes it a human body. Into this corporal form of Christ, corporeitas, the elements are transmuted and this form remained with Christ’s corpse in the grave. Duns declared that the doctrine of transubstantiation cannot be proved with certainty from the Scriptures, nor at all by the reason. He then argued that it is more probable than any other theory because the Church has accepted it, and the dogma is most in keeping with God’s omnipotence. The dogma must be accepted on the authority of the Church.15851585    For quotations see Schwane, pp. 656 sqq. Seeberg finds in Duns’ definition the doctrine of consubstantiation.

The doctrine upon whose development the Subtle doctor had altogether the most influence is the doctrine of the immaculate conception, which he taught in the form in which it was proclaimed a dogma, by Pius IX., 1854. Departing from the statements of Anselm, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura, Duns taught that Mary was conceived without sin. His theory is presented at length in the chapter on the Virgin Mary. The story ran that, in championing this theory, at a public disputation at Paris, he controverted Thomas’ position with no less than two hundred arguments.15861586    Döllinger regards the story as open to grave suspicion because, at the time at which the disputation is set, there was no conflict between the two orders. Wetzer-Welte, X. p. 2129. and this controversy belongs to the number of the more bitter controversies that have been carried on within the Roman Catholic communion. It was a contest, however, not between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, but between two eminent teachers equally in good standing, and between the two orders they represented.

Döllinger expressed the opinion that the controversy was turned into a blessing for theology by keeping it from "stagnation and petrifaction," and into a blessing for the Church, which took under its protection both systems and kept each from arrogating to itself the right of final authority.

The common view in regard to the place of Duns Scotus in the history of doctrine is that he was a disturber of the peace. Without adding any element of permanent value to theological thought, he shook to its base the scholastic structure upon which Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and other theologians had wrought for nearly two centuries. The opinion will, no doubt, continue to prevail that Duns was a master in intellectual ingenuity, but that his judgment was unsound.15871587    This is the view of such experts in the history of mediaeval theology as Schwane, p. 78, etc., and Stöckl. Stöckl, II. 868, declines to compare Duns with Thomas as a trustworthy teachers and says that Duns’ only service to theology was through his polemics, which started an impulse to search for a firmer basis of certainty for doctrinal truth in reason and revelation.t, but the head of a new period of development and worthy of equal honor with Thomas Aquinas. Yea, he ascribes to him a more profound and extensive influence upon theology than Thomas exerted. He broke a new path, and "was a historical figure of epoch-making importance."15881588    pp. 33, 668, 672, 677. Ritschl was a student of Duns and praises his clearness of thought so long as he keeps free from syllogisms. He kept the Schoolman’s Works constantly within reach. O. Ritschl, A. Ritschl’s Leben, II. 483.

By his speculative piquancy, on the one hand, Duns strengthened the desire of certain groups in Europe for a saner method of theological discussion; and on the other hand stimulated pious minds along the Rhine to search along a better way after personal piety, as did Tauler and the German mystics. The succeeding generation of Schoolmen was brought by him as their leader into a disputatious attitude. What else could be expected when Duns, contrary to the fundamental principles of Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, and other divines, did not shrink from declaring a thing might at the same time be true in philosophy and false in theology?15891589    See the reference to the Reportata, Schwane, p. 78,

Ockam, who shared Duns’ determinism, called him "the doctor of our order." In the dispute over the immaculate conception in the fifteenth century no divine was more quoted than he. A century later Archbishop MacCaghwell and other Irish theologians warmly expatiated upon his powers, wrote his biography, and edited his works.

One of the works of the Reformation was to dethrone Duns Scotus from his seat of authority as a teacher. Richard Layton wrote to Cromwell, 1535, "We have set Dunce in Bocardo and banished him from Oxford forever, and he is now made a common servant to every man fast nailed up upon posts in all houses of common easement."15901590    Quoted in Dict. of Natl. Biog.XVI, 219,15911591    In spite of this, Seeberg, pp. 683-685, tries to make out that in his conception of God, Luther, howbeit "negatively," was influenced by Duns’ view of the divine will. Luther certainly did not acknowledge any such indebtedness. Duns had no presentiment of any other order than the papal and said nothing looking toward a reformation in doctrine.

Among the contemporaries with whom Duns had theological affinity were Henry of Ghent and the Englishman, Richard Middleton. Henry of Ghent, named doctor solemnis, a celebrated teacher in Paris, was born at Ghent and died, 1293, in Paris or Tournay. His Quodlibeta and Summa were published in Paris, 1518 and 1520.15921592    MSS. of other works are given by Ehrle, Zur Biogr. Heinrichs von Ghent, in Archiv für Lit. u. K. gesch., 1885, pp. 400 sq. See Schwane, pp. 71-76, etc., and Wetzer-Welte, V. 1704 sqq.otus, who adopts some of Henry’s views. Henry’s discussions run far into the region of abstruse metaphysics. He leaned to Platonism and was a realist.

Richard Middleton was supposedly a predecessor of Duns at Oxford. Little is known of his life. He was a Franciscan, a scholar at Paris, and was appointed by the general of his order to examine into the doctrines of Peter Olivi, 1278–1288. He died about 1307. His commentary on the Sentences of the Lombard survived him.15931593    Publ. at Venice, 1489-1509, Brescia, 1591, etc. MSS. exist in Oxford and elsewhere. See Little, Grey Friars of Oxford; Kingsford, in Dict. of Nat. Biog., XXXVII. 356 sq.; Seeberg, pp. 16-33.r solidus. At the council of Constance he was cited as an authority against Wyclif. His name is inscribed on the tomb of Duns Scotus at Cologne, and the tradition runs that Duns was his pupil. In his teachings regarding the will, which he defined as the noblest of the soul’s faculties, he may have influenced Duns, as Seeberg attempts to prove. Middleton compared the mind to a servant who carries a light in front of his master and does nothing more than to show his master the way, while his master commands and directs as he pleases.



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