John Duns Scotus – Our Next Saint and Doctor of the Church!

Scotus turning away from Aquinas’ Summa 
and toward the Immaculate (gasp!)

People may throw rotten tomatoes at me for this, but I’m going to say it any way: “Blessed John Duns Scotus should be declared a Saint and Doctor of the Church!” I’m a trained Thomist, so I don’t say this lightly: Scotus is a genius when it comes to Christology and Mariology.

All the great defenders of Catholic dogmas are both saints and doctors of the Church:

  • St Athanasius manfully defended the deity of Christ
  • St Basil, St Gregory Nazianzus, St John Chrysostom, and St Hilary defended the dogma of the Holy Trinity
  • St Basil, in particular, defended the deity of the Holy Spirit
  • St Jerome manfully defended the perpetual virginity of our Lady
  • St Cyril manfully defended Mary as “Mother of God”
  • St Leo manfully defended the humanity of Christ and the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ
  • St John Damascene manfully defended the images of Christ, Mary, and the Saints
But where’s the love for Scotus? John Duns Scotus manfully defended the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception…but he is not honored as either a saint or a doctor…
The reason for this is that he causes theological embarrassment for some Catholics. In the theological scheme of things, Scotus contradicted St Anselm, St Bernard, St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure – just to name a few – on the subject of Mary’s salvation. Each of these holy and venerable doctors of the Catholic Church explicitly taught that Mary had original sin, but that God immediately made her immaculate after she was conceived. They agree that Mary never sinned and that she was rendered immaculate in the womb of her mother St Anne. However, they are dreadfully incorrect in positing original sin to Mary in the first moment of her conception. In other words, they generally teach that Mary was conceived in original sin, and then that a moment later she was made immaculate and free from original sin.
The difficulty centers on the Church’s universal teaching that Mary was “saved” as she herself states in Luke 1:46-47:

“And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”

Previous theologians (e.g. Bernard, Thomas, Bonaventure) concluded that “salvation” required a “saving from a state of sin.” Thus, brilliant minds like Bernard and Thomas Aquinas believed that Mary had original sin for just a moment so that she could be “saved” from it.

John Duns Scotus, inspired by the Holy Spirit and cognizant that Our Lady was being dishonored, taught that salvation could entail “preservation from sin.” In other words, since humanity was collectively in original sin, God could intervene by saving Mary in a preservative way. God put out His hand and prevented inherited stain (more correctly, the lack of sanctifying grace) from extending to Mary.

Whereas most humans are born in the grime pit of sin, in the case of Mary, God reached out and prevented her from falling into this grime pit at the very moment of conception. He saved her by not allowing original sin to touch her. He created her fully righteous and full of grace. She was fully justified and sanctified at the first moment of conception.

For example, you can save a child from a car wreck in two ways: 1) Call 911 and have the medics to perform CPR and other measures to save the child’s life OR 2) jump out into the street and push the child away from the oncoming car.

In both cases, the child is “saved.” In the first way, the child is saved from wounds. In the second way, the child is saved from receiving wounds. If the “car wreck” is original sin, then we can see that Mary was saved in the second way. God prevented her from the harm of original sin.

In this way, Mary was “saved” and “without sin.” Scotus solves the difficulty. He formulates what the Church of Rome has always taught and believed.

In fact, we might even say that Christ is Mary’s Savior more than the rest of us, because He saved her so absolutely and perfectly. More grace went into saving her than anyone else because she is the Immaculate Conception.

So John Duns Scotus is absolutely brilliant. What Bernard, Thomas, and Bonaventure couldn’t see, Scotus did see. This reveals that Scotus had an intimate love for Christ and that his soul was quiet enough to perceive the mysteries of God.

Tradition also states that Mary once appeared to Scotus on Christmas and allowed him to hold the Christ Child for a moment. This further confirms that Scotus was a great mystic and saint. Recall that Scotus was persecuted in his era even called a heretic. Yet he persevered in his conviction that Mary was without blot. He was also a great lover of poverty and the poor.

The feat of the Immaculate Conception is the great vindication of Scotus. Let us pray to him. Our Lady loves him so much. He stood up for her when other great saints could not.

Blessed John Duns Scotus, pray for us to she who is without stain.

ad Jesum per Mariam,
Taylor Marshall

PS: I like to think of Thomas Aquinas waiting for Scotus at the pearly gates. When Scotus enters, Thomas gives him the fraternal kiss of peace and says, “Thank you kind friar. You corrected my mistake. I have been praying from Heaven for someone to do so.”
PPS: I’m now bracing myself for all my brother Thomists who will attempt to show that Scotus wasn’t so special after all.

Patron Saint of Computer Crashes (John Duns Scotus)

Today is the memorial of Blessed John Duns Scotus.

This past summer I was hanging out with some Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Steubenville, Ohio. We were discussing that stalwart defender of the Immaculate Conception of Mary – Blessed John Duns Scotus.

“How can we get poor Scotus canonized?” That was the question. I noted that those saints with useful intercessory skills, are the most popular saints among the laity. For example, Saint Anthony is one of the most popular saints because he is associated with “lost things.” Shoot, even Protestants pray to Saint Anthony when they lose their car keys, right? Likewise, Saint Jude (one of the most obscure Apostles) is well-known since he’s the patron of desperate cases.

So the key to popularizing Scotus would be to promote him with a popular cause. But what cause fits Scotus?

So I suggested “dry cleaning” since he defended that Mary was “without stain of sin.” Patronus Macularum. You get a stain on shirt and you pray to the patron against stains…the Friars of the Renewal shot this down as too lame.

Then Friar Pius says, “No, it has to be something that people really need. Something desperate. How about Patron Saint of Computer Crashes. There’s nothing more stressful than computer crashes.”

All the friars liked that suggestion. And so we decided to promote it: “John Duns Scotus, Patron of Computer Crashes.”

Well, a few weeks after that, my Macbook laptop crashed. I was very stressed because it had the latest version of my new book The Catholic Perspective on Paul and I hadn’t had a chance to back up the file. I was sweating bullets. So I began to ask Blessed John Duns Scotus for his prayers concerning my computer crash. My wife also started asking for Scotus’ prayers.

The hard drive crashed, but the Mac genius was able to get everything off the computer. They replaced the hard drive and my computer was great. No lost documents. I didn’t even have to buy a new computer.

So there it is folks. If your computer crashes, ask Blessed John Duns Scotus for his prayers!

Blessed John Duns Scotus, pray for us (and our computers!)

Have a blessed Blessed John Duns Scotus day.

Who is Blessed John Duns Scotus?

Duns Scotus, Blessed Johannes (c.1265–1308), ‘Doctor Subtibilis’ or ‘Doctor Marianus’, medieval philosopher and theologian. Little is known of his life. He was prob. born near Duns in Berwickshire. He took the Franciscan habit, perhaps at Dumfries c.1280, and was ordained priest in Northampton in 1291. He was then apparently studying in Oxford, where he read both arts and theology and lectured on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, prob. in 1298–9. He is known to have been in Oxford in 1300–1. It is possible that he lectured in Cambridge (1301–2), but the evidence is weak. Though the idea that he studied in Paris c.1293–6 is improbable, it is certain that he completed his doctoral requirements there and became regent master in 1305. In 1307 he moved to *Cologne, where he died the following year.

His principal work is the commentary on the Sentences. This survives in three forms: copies of his own lecture notes (Lectura) for the Oxford commentary; copies of students’ notes (Reportatae) taken from the various lectures; copies of his own final revision of the various notes. This last and most important version (the Ordinatio) was left incomplete at his death. His other writings include commentaries on some of *Aristotle’s and *Porphyry’s works on logic, a set of quaestiones on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, a Tractatus de Primo Principio, and *Quodlibeta.

Writing after the condemnation of a number of Aristotelian positions (including some opinions of St *Thomas Aquinas) by the Abp. of Paris in 1277, Scotus attempts to mediate between Aristotelianism and the Augustinianism associated with his main opponent, *Henry of Ghent. Scotus definitively rejects the Aristotelian principle of plenitude (no genuine possibility can remain forever unrealized), and posits instead the radical contingency (non-necessity) both of created entities and of God’s action. He believes that for human will to be genuinely free, it must be really able to will what it does not in fact choose to will. The intellect offers a strong guidance to the will, inclining it to the right act; but the will is able to go against the suggestion of reason. Thus, Scotus denies the universal applicability of Aristotle’s principle, ‘everything which is moved is moved by some other agent’, on the grounds that the will is freely capable of moving itself to an action. God’s will is free in the sense that God can freely desire opposite objects and effects: thus, human actions are given moral value only if God commands them. The exception is the act of loving God. It is impossible to understand the word ‘God’ without also understanding that God should be loved. For this reason, God cannot will that creatures hate Him.

Scotus’ proof of the existence of God attempts to show that one necessary cause is required in order to explain the existence of contingent entities. Creatures do not exist necessarily, and have essentially only the possibility of existence. But if the existence of some creature is really possible, then the creature must be capable of being caused; and if a creature is capable of being caused, there must be some agent able to cause it. Thus, in order to explain the existence of creatures, it is necessary to posit some being that exists necessarily.

Scotus rejects St Thomas Aquinas’s position that individuation is by matter, and holds instead that the unity and individuality of each created thing is given by its own form of individuality (haecceitas) added to its matter and form. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he does not think that all substances—including God and the *angels—are material. He also believes that not every complete individual thing is a person: Christ’s human nature is a complete individual thing that is not a human person. Individuals are properly called persons by virtue of the negative qualification of not being united to a divine person. Scotus rejects the Aristotelian position that the intellect can know only the universal ideas that it abstracts from sense data, and allows instead a certain intuitive knowledge of individual things. On the other hand, he rejects Henry of Ghent’s Augustinian position that certitude follows only from divine illumination, and holds, like Aquinas, that certitude derives from necessary principles that are known naturally by the intellect.
In his theology Scotus lays stress on the primacy of Christ as the supreme manifestation of God’s love; it follows that Christ’s coming was not conditioned by any other historical events, and in particular that the Incarnation would have taken place irrespective of the *Fall. For Scotus this also entailed the doctrine of the *Immaculate Conception of the BVM, a doctrine that he was the first well-known theologian to defend.

The thought of Scotus exercised a profound influence in the Middle Ages and beyond; in particular it was the principal element in the Franciscan theological tradition well into the 18th cent. Though the rise of *Nominalism in the 14th cent. reduced the impact of Scotus’ *Realist metaphysics in the later Middle Ages, in modern times there has been renewed sympathy with his appreciation of the non-intellectual elements in man. The word ‘dunce’, used by humanists and the Reformers to ridicule the subtleties of the Schools, is a curious testimony to his popularity. He was beatified in 1993.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev., 516 (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Pope B16 commends Bl. John Duns Scotus as a Great Christian Theologian

See video above for details.

Blessed John Duns Scotus is finally getting the recognition he deserves. I’ve conspired with some Franciscans and we’re hatching a plot to get John Duns Scotus canonized as a saint – Maybe B16 is the man to do it. The plan is comical and provocative. Check back for details!

A valid criticism of Bl. Duns Scotus?

Is this a valid criticism of Blessed John Duns Scotus?

If Scotus says that beatitude can only be accomplished by the hypostatic union, then he deprives the angels of beatitude because Christ did not assume their natures. Yet the blessed angels (e.g. Michael and Gabriel) do enjoy beatitude. Therefore, beatitude does not depend on the hypostatic union. Moreover, Adam and Eve could have been glorified without the incarnation of Christ.

[Calling Lee Faber! Calling Lee Faber!]

Does Scotus make the connection between the incarnation and human beatitude necessary or fitting? I’m guessing the latter, but I need some help on this.

Duns Scotus on Absolute and Ordained Power

Scotus taught that God can do and has done certain things according to laws that he has freely established. This is what he calls potentia ordinata (“ordained power”). potentia ordinata). Ordained power is to be distinguished from God’s potentia absoluta (“absolute power”) by which he can do anything that does not entail contradiction.

Scotus maintains this distinction in order to preserve the contingency of God’s acts, particular his act of creation. God’s absolute power is his general omnipotence. However, since God is not determined but exercises perfect freedom to act and love, so his individual acts must be the result of contingent decisions. This actual world is the result of the ordained power of God. The distinction between the ordained and absolute powers of God also prevents one from concluding that God’s absolute power is always actualized, which would mean that every possible world actually exists.

Duns Scotus on the Human Will (Affectio Commodi and Affectio Justitiae)

John Duns Scotus adopted a distinction made by Anselm: the will can operate in conformity to an affection for the advantageous (affectio commodi) or it can operate in conformity to an affection for justice (affection justitiae). When the will acts as an affectio commodi, it acts as a nature, as something moved by another. When a will acts as an affectio justitiae, it as acts truly as a will, as something self-moved.

The affectio commodi as a nature seeks its own fulfillment so that it is “no more an elicited act of the will than is the natural appetite in a stone.” The affectio commodi as a nature does not act freely. The affectio commodi seeks a kind of natural beatitude. It is incapable of attaining of loving something or something for its own sake. This affection for the advantageous requires a checkrein. The affectio justitiae restrains the affectio commodi and allows the will transcend nature and attain the supernatural. The affectio justitiae seeks the intrinsic good of something or someone in and of itself. The affection for justice allows the will to love God for himself and love one’s neighbor for himself. Charity or love is made possible by the innate presence of the affectio justitiae. Without this latter affection, the will would not be free and thus not truly capable of love.