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John Duns Scotus

1266-1308. Scholastic theologian. Born in Scotland, he entered the Franciscan Order at the age of fifteen and was ordained priest in 1291. After studying at Paris (1293-96) he returned to England to lecture on the Sentences of Peter Lombard at Oxford. Later he taught at Paris and in 1303 was banished by Philip IV (the Fair) because he supported Pope Boniface VIII. In 1304 he again lectured at Paris, but was transferred to Cologne (1307) where he died. Although venerated as a saint in his order, his cult is not universally recognized in the Roman Church. Duns Scotus's thought is so intricate that he has been given the title “the Subtile Doctor” by Roman Catholics, and Protestant Reformers called anyone whose ideas seemed obscure a “duns,” hence “dunce.” He wrote commentaries on the Sentences of Lombard, explanations of Aristotle, and explanations of Holy Scripture.

Critical of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas* which attempted to harmonize Aristotle with Christianity, he argued that faith was a matter of will and could not be supported by logical proofs. This division between philosophy and faith was to have far-reaching effects. Although arguing for the existence of God from efficiency, finality, and the degrees of perfection, he taught that all other knowledge of the divine, including the Resurrection and immortality, must be accepted by sheer belief. Creation he believed was the effect of God's love as He extends His goodness to creatures so that they will love Him freely. Grace is identical with love and has its origin in the will. Because of his idea of the superiority of the will over the intellect, Duns Scotus believed that heaven consists of sharing the love of God. Divine love can best be seen in Jesus Christ who would have come, Duns Scotus taught, even if man had not sinned. Thus the incarnation as the center and end of the universe was not determined by original sin. Although much of Duns Scotus's teaching gained wide recognition among theologians, he is especially remembered for championing belief in the Immaculate Conception. Scholars in the Franciscan school, Scotists, who followed him, moved ever further in the separation of faith and reason, leading to the eventual decline of Scholasticism.* His works were edited by Luke Wadding (12 vols., 1639) and reprinted in Paris (26 vols., 1891-95). Recent studies have demonstrated that some of the writings attributed to him are spurious; thus a new edition of his works is now appearing with the title Opera omnia, studio et Cura Commissionis scotisticae ad fidem cadicum edita (Vatican City, 1950- ).

F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. II (1950); E. Bettoni, Duns Scotus: The Basic Principles of His Philosophy (tr. B.M. Bonansea) (1961); J. Weiberg, A Short History of Medieval Philosophy (1964); J.K. Ryan and B.M. Bonansea (eds.), John Duns Scotus, 1265-1965 (1965), vol. III.