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  • Early Scotists at Paris: A Reconsideration1
  • William Courtenay (bio)

The early history of Scotism has been extensively explored in books and articles and is a topic frequently recounted in histories of medieval scholastic thought. Although Scotus read the Sentences at Oxford and possibly Cambridge before being appointed to read the Sentences at Paris, it was at Paris that Scotism is said to have developed out of the teaching of Scotus who, except for an interruption of almost a year, taught from 1302 to 1307, first as a bachelor of the Sentences and then as regent master in the faculty of theology.2 During his Parisian teaching career many students are said to have studied under him, among them Henry of Harclay, William of Alnwick, Aufredus Gonteri, “his most favorite student” John of Bassolis, “his most faithful disciple” Antonio Andreae, and Hugh of Novocastro, whose commentary on the Sentences is considered a major work of early Scotism. These students, most of whom became bachelors and masters, carried Scotus’s thought back to England, to Spain and Italy, and to other parts of France.

While much of that picture is valid in its general outline, there are a number of problems with it, some because of misunderstandings about how mendicant education was structured in this period, and some because of unwarranted conclusions relating to individual biographies. In the following [End Page 175] essay both these issues will be addressed, resulting in a different and, I hope, more nuanced picture of the emergence of early Scotism.

I. Structural Considerations: Scotus in the Context of the Franciscan Educational System

One misconception common in the literature is that friars sent to Paris for study were enrolled as students in the faculty of theology and, if sufficiently capable, advanced in a continuous manner to become bachelors and later masters of theology. Such was not the case. By the opening years of the fourteenth century each of the mendicant convents in Paris had two distinct groups of friars simultaneously resident at the convent for educational purposes. One group, most of them probably in their twenties, was sent there for study in the lectorate program to prepare them to be lectors in the convents and studia of their home province. In the case of the Franciscans, each province could send two or three friars to Paris for advanced training in theology. These friars stayed usually for three years, were taught within the convent, and were not part of the university community or its faculties. They might number as many as a 100 depending on the period. The other group was more advanced and numbered less than ten. These were the friars designated by the order to read the Sentences at Paris, to participate as formed bachelors in the disputations and academic exercises of the faculty of theology, and if possible to be licensed and incept as doctors of theology.3 [End Page 176]

Those chosen to return to Paris to read the Sentences, receive the license, and incept as a doctor of theology were in their thirties or older, and in most cases had a period of teaching and administrative duties behind them when they returned to Paris. Many, as was the case with Peter Auriol in the next decade, had already read the Sentences at a studium of the order or, as in the case of Scotus, at another studium generale before being sent to Paris to read for a second or a third time. And for those who did incept in theology, their regency lasted no more than a year or two.

There are several implications that emerge from recognizing these two separate tracks or educational programs at the Franciscan convent of Cordeliers in Paris. One is that those chosen by the order to be bachelors at Paris and be presented for licensing and inception would most likely have been resident at the Paris convent at an earlier stage of their theological training when they were in the lectorate program. As I have argued elsewhere, this applies to Scotus as well, who had probably been sent to Paris for a few years in the early 1290s, and who, in that context, came to know (and...


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