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Franciscan Studies 60 (2002) 291 VITA SCOTI1 In his 1994 Gifford Lectures, Professor Alexander Broadie eloquently stated that he believed that John Duns Scotus was Scotland’s greatest philosopher.2 The claim may appear a bit brash when other learned Scots are called to mind. Indeed, scholars like David Hume, Thomas Carlyle, and Thomas Reid have become common names around university philosophy departments. Yet, there are good reasons to suspect that Professor Broadie may be right. First, Duns Scotus’ work has been celebrated by a first rate group of scholars. Modern giants like Charles Sanders Pierce and Martin Heidegger, for example, have found Scotus to be one of the most intellectually stimulating individuals ever to set quill to paper.3 Second, Scotus has had a remarkable effect on the popular culture in every age since the fourteenth century. For instance, in the sixteenth century, the attraction was so great that Thomas Cromwell was compelled to order that Holy Scriptures be explained literally and not according to Scotus.4 Also around this same period the term “dunce” was coined as a slur aimed at Duns’ followers. What other philosopher bears such an honour? By the nineteenth century Scotus was being immortalised in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Finally, in our own age, Teilhard de Chardin has commented that in Scotus we have the philosopher-theologian of the future – a remark that will no doubt continue to hold true in the next millennium.5 1 Rega Wood, Robert Andrews and the late Father Gedeon Gál developed the general outline for this biography. Any errors that exist in this presentation, however, are mine. 2 A. Broadie, The Shadow of Scotus. Philosophy and Faith in Pre-Reformation Scotland, (Edinburgh 1995) 1. 3 C.S. Pierce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Pierce, VIII, ed. A. Burks, (Cambridge 1958). For a fairly complete study concerning Scotus’ influence on Pierce see, J. Boler, Charles Peirce and Scholastic Realism: A Study of Peirce’s Relation to John Duns Scotus, (Seattle, 1963). Heidegger, M. Traite des Categories et de la signification chez Duns Scotus, trans. F. Gaborian, (Paris 1970). The first part of this work is a study of a speculative grammar that was wrongly attributed to Duns Scotus. In 1922, Martin Grabmann discovered that the grammar is properly ascribed to Thomas of Erfurt. See M. Grabmann, “De Thoma Erfordiensi Auctoree Grammaticae Quae Ioanni Duns Scoto,” Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 15 (1922): 273-7. 4 D.E. Sharp, Franciscan Philosophy at Oxford (London 1930) 283. 5 G.M. Allegra, My Conversations with Teilhard de Chardin on the Primacy of Christ. Peking, 1942-1945, trans. B.M. Bonansea (Chicago 1971) 92. J. A. SHEPPARD 292 Yet, despite the greatness of Duns Scotus, historians are still haunted by an observation that Professor Ernest Renan made over one hundred years ago. He noted that there is perhaps no other great medieval master whose life is so little known as that of John Duns Scotus.6 Indeed, it seems that what is known about Scotus can be boiled down to an excellent capsule biography such as those written by Jerome Brown and H.J. Werner.7 This is not meant to imply that an extended treatment of Scotus’ life is unnecessary. There are, in fact, several good studies that are focused on the life of John Duns Scotus and each one offers some new evidence, hint, or insight that helps to fill the gaps in our knowledge of who this remarkable friar was. The information comes slowly, however. When Professor A.G. Little wrote his summation of the research to date in 1932, it took some thirty more years of research from all quarters before Father Charles Balic wrote his comprehensive study in 1966. There is still a long way to go in accounting for all forty-two years of Scotus’ life. Nevertheless, new tidbits about Scotus are constantly being found as scholars continue to prepare critical editions of his writings. In the work that follows, a few of those insights are introduced. The larger reason behind this study, however, is to revisit some of the generally accepted theories about Scotus’ life. The story of John Duns Scotus is not a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 291-323
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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