1. Life and Works
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CHAPTERI O N E Life and Works I Biographical Notes In the Conventual Franciscan Church in Cologne, the ornate catafalque containing the mortal remains of John Duns Scotus bears the inscription "Scotia me genuit, Anglia me suscepit, Gallia me docuit, Colonia me tenet." Taken from the opening lines of a poem honoring this philosopher and theologian, this epitaph reads in English translation: "Scotland begot me, England reared me, France taught me, Cologne holds my remains." This capsule biography may serve to organize the relatively few details we know of the life of this intellectual giant, who was known to his contemporaries as the "Subtle Doctor" and regarded as father of the philosophical school of Scotism. I Scotland Begot Me First called the "Scot" or Scotus when he studied at the University of Paris, John Duns was born in the village bearing his family'sname, nestled between the Lammermuir and Cheviot Hills, close to the North Sea and the Scottish-English border, in the district of Berwick. The Tweed River runs nearby. To the northwest of the present town stands Duns Castle. Near the pavilion gate marking the entrance to the castle grounds is a historical marker that reads: "John Duns Scotus, the Subtle Doctor, and Member of the Franciscan Order, was born on this site in 1266. Wherever his distinguished name is uttered, he sheds luster on Duns and Scotland, the town and land which bore him. Erected by the Franciscan Order on the Seventh Centenary of his Birth, Sept. 1966."1 In the town's public park, a striking bronze statue of the thinker, depicted as drawing inspiration from above, bears a similar inscription, with the added line "Hie magni spirat imago viri [Here breathes the spirit ofa great man]." I 1 2 I CHAPTER ONE I England Reared Me Writing in the sixteenth century, the Franciscan theologian John Major confirms the village of Duns as Scotus's birthplace, "eight miles distant from England and separated from my own home by seven or eight leagues only." Major adds that when Scotus "was no more than a boy, but had already been grounded in grammar, he was taken by two Scottish Minorite [Franciscan] friars to Oxford , for at that time there existed no university in Scotland." Major goes on to say: "By the favour ofthose friars he lived in the convent ofthe Minorites at Oxford, and he made his profession in the religion of Blessed Francis."2 Like the Dominicans, the new mendicant order of Franciscans were not known as monks or clerics but as friars (a term derived from the way the English pronounce freres). Their convents, known as "friaries," had spread throughout England and Scotland. Major's remark that young Scotus was taken to England by Scottish friars-probably by an uncle or other close relative in the family who recognized his exceptional intellectual abilities-suggests that Scotus was interested early in life in joining the Franciscans. Boys as young as twelve could begin their studies at Oxford,3 and Scotus's observation about a thirteen-year-old's knowledge of sacred matters may be indicative of his own experience as a young man.4 Like the Dominicans, or Order of Preachers, the Franciscans were interested in studying theology to enhance their ministry of preaching. They welcomed candidates, especially from the faculty of theology, into their brotherhood, and it was in this way that these two newly founded mendicant orders first obtained chairs of theology at the universities at Paris and Oxford. It was customary to first obtain a master of arts (the program of arts, philosophy, and the natural sciences) before entering the program of studies leading to a master of theology. The mendicant friars, however, generally did not incept (that is, begin their careers as masters in a formal ceremony), determine, or reign as masters ofarts but preferred to study philosophy and the natural sciences in their own study houses rather than as artists enrolled with a regent master in the faculty of arts. Franciscans especially were loath to be called "masters," since their rule oflife was based on a literal following of the Gospels, and they took seriously the evangelical admonition "Ne vocemini magistri, quia Magister vester unus est Christus [Avoid being called masters, for one is your master Christ]" (Mt 23.10). A university graduate and master himself, Bonaventure, as minister general, or head, of the Franciscan order, had earlier written a beautiful sermon 3 I Life and Warks on Christ as the one...


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Subject Headings

  • Knowledge, Theory of.
  • Duns Scotus, John, ca. 1266-1308.
  • Metaphysics.
  • God (Christianity) -- History of doctrines -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
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