John Duns Scotus’ Development

  • John Duns Scotus
Part of the The New Synthese Historical Library book series (SYNL, volume 42)


It was probably in the winter of 1266 that a new scion was born to the Duns family of Berwickshire on the Scottish Borders; John3. Later, when he comes to take his place in the flourishing English Franciscan life, he will usually be called John of Scotland (‘Scotus’4) in order to distinguish him from other brethren of the same name. In about 1279 Scotus was admitted to the Franciscan friary of Dumfries by his uncle, Elias. He was ordained to the priesthood by Oliver Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln, at the age of twenty-five on 17 March 1291. At that time, Oxford was part of the diocese of Lincoln5, and it was here that in 1288 Scotus began to study theology. We still possess a document telling us that as from August 1300, Scotus was allowed to help with hearing confessions in the busy Franciscan church in Oxford6.


Philosophical Writing Medieval Philosophy Vatican City Opus Omnia Cologne Cathedral 
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  1. 3.
    In Scotus’ time, one had to be 25 in order to be ordained to the priesthood. Scotus was 25 by 17 March 1291 but because his Bishop had ordained young theologians in mid-December 1290, we may assume that Scotus had not been old enough at that time and had only attained the priestly age later. It follows then, that he had been born in the winter of 1265–1266. Anyway he was not born in 1274 as earlier biographers have maintained. This was the year in which Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas died. Cf. E. Longpr6, `L’ordination sacerdotale du Bx. Jean Duns Scot, Document du 17 mars 1291’, Archivum franciscanum historicum, 22 (1929), 54–62.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Scot(t)us’ may also mean `Irish’ in early medieval Latin (John Scotus Eriugena!) but, contrary to the suggestion of L. Wadding, the 17th century editor of Scotus’ Opera omnia,in 13th and 14th century England, it referred exclusively to someone or something from Scotland.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Oxford did not become an independent diocese until 1542, during the reign of Henry VIII. Consequently, the university of Oxford did not originate from a cathedral school. Cf. A.B. Cobban, The medieval English universities: Oxford and Cambridge to c. 1500, Aldershot 1988, 10–12, 19–30.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    This document is the Liber memorandum of John Dalderby, Bishop of Lincoln, who authorised Scotus and other `fratres’ to hear confessions. The text of this document is edited in: A.G. Little, Franciscan papers, lists, and documents,Manchester 1943, 230–243, 262.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Duns also stayed in Cambridge for some time, but we do not exactly know when. Cf. C.K. Brampton, `Duns Scotus at Oxford, 1288–1301’, Franciscan studies, 24 (1964), (5–20) 18.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    L.M. de Rijk, Middeleeuwse Wijsbegeerte,Assen 19812, 128, characterizes a `baccalaureus’ as “a semi-qualified student assistant who has the task of teach-mgGoogle Scholar
  7. A `baccalaureus formatus’ is one who had finished the obligatory course on the Sententiae and Scripture and who is preparing for his doctorate. Cf. Little, Pelster, op. cit., 169 f. For the curriculum of theology in Oxford, see: Brampton, `Duns Scotus at Oxford, 1288–1301’, 16. Cf. also footnote 10.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Cf. E. Longpré, `Philippe de Bridlington, O.F.M. et le Bx. Duns Scot’, Archivum franciscanum historicum, 22 (1929), 587–588; A.G. Little, F. Pelster, Oxford theology and theologians c. A.D. 1282–1302, Oxford 1934, 310 and 345; Wolter, `Duns Scotus, John’, The new encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 4, 278.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    In Oxford, Scotus was a `baccalaureus sententiarius’ for the initial two years during the first of which (1297–1298) he had to prepare his one-year course on Peter Lombard’s Sententiae,the obligatory text in dogmatic theology, and this course had to be given during the following year (1298–1299). During these important years, the Lectura took shape. In his third year he served as `baccalaureus biblicus’ and in the final year (1300–1301) as `baccalaureus formatus’. Cf. 4 Brampton, op. cit., 18. Cf. on Paris: De Rijk, Middeleeuwse wijsbegeerte,117124, 127–131.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Although the writings on logical issues occasioned by Aristotle’s De sophisticis elenchis (ed. Wadding, I, 224–272) are generally held to be by Scotus, the fact that his future ideas of contingency are not yet present, suggests that these Quaestiones 26–28 must be dated in the first half of the 1290s.Google Scholar
  11. In his article on Scotus in The new encyclopaedia Britannica (vol. 4, p. 279) Wolter mentions a saying of Antonius Andreas’, to the effect that he had heard Scotus lecturing from the master’s chair (`sedentem super cathedram magistralem’) on the Isagoge of Porphyry and the Categoriae of Aristotle. However, this does not prove that Scotus’ Quaestiones necessarily date from this Parisian period.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cf. Lectura I 3, Opera omnia,volume VI, Vatican City 1960, §§ 339–341 and compare I 3, § 412.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    We know Scotus’ first Oxford period through the Quaestiones super librum elenchorum mentioned above, as well as the Collationes Oxonienses. Cf. Little, Pelster, op. cit., 53–56; Opera omnia,vol. I, Vatican City 1950, 151*, and John Duns Scotus, Philosophical writings,xxvi-xxvii (introduction A.B. Wolter).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cf. C. Bali6, `Henricus de Harcley et Ioannes Duns Scotus’, Mélanges offerts à Étienne Gilson, Toronto/Paris 1959, (93–121, 701–702) 102. F.r a survey of Harcley’s life and work, see: F. Pelster, `Heinrich von Harcley, Kanzler von Oxford und seine Quästionen’, Miscellanea Fr. Ehrle I, Rome 1924, 307–356.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    On Gonsalvus Hispanus, see: G. GAI, `Gonsalvus Hispanus’, New catholic encyclopedia, New York/St. Louis/San Francisco/Toronto/London/Sydney 1967, vol. VI, 608–609.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    baccalareus hujusmodi presentandus ad presens debeat esse de aliqua provincia aliarum a provincia Francie,] dilectum in Christo patrem Johannem Scotum, de cujus vita laudabili, scientia excellenti, ingenioque subtilissimo aliisque insignibus conditionibus suis partim experientia longa, partim fama quae ubique divulgata est, informatus sum ad plenum, dilectioni vestre assigno [post dictum patrem Egidium principaliter et ordinarie presentandum.] “ H. Denifle, A. Chatelain, Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis,II,1, Paris 1891, 117.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    A Quodlibet is the report of a disputation which is distinct from the regular Quaestio disputata because the subject was determined by the auditors. A Quodlibet was held twice a year, before Christmas and before Easter. It was a very popular form of disputation during the second half of the 13th and 14th century. Cf. De Rijk, Middeleeuwse wijsbegeerte,130–131; John F. Wippel, `Quodlibetal questions, chiefly in theology faculties’, in: Les questions disputées et les questions quodlibétiques dans les facultés de théologie, de droit et de médecine,Turnhout 1985, 153–222. For the origin and technique of medieval disputation in general, see below section 3c.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cf. Wolter, `Duns Scotus, John’, The new encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 4, 279.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Cf. John Duns Scotus, A treatise on God as first principle,translated and edited with a commentary by A.B. Wolter, Chicago 1983, xiii, 146–147.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Scotland generated me England received me France educated me Cologne holds me.“ A version different from this one, going back to a text of William Worilong (about 1440), is presented by G. Abate in `La tomba del Ven. Giovanni Dims Scoto, o. min. nella chiesa di S. Francesco a Colonia, Note e documenti’, Miscellanea francescana,45 (1945), (29–79) 63: ”Scotia me genuit - Anglia me docuit - Gallia me recepit - Colonia me tenet“. The present sarcophagus dates from 1957.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1994

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