November 7, 2017

Blessed John Duns Scotus, Franciscan, Theologian of the Immaculate Conception

Blessed John Duns Scotus,

November 8th, is the optional memorial of Blessed John Duns Scotus, (c. 1266 – 1308) a 13th century, Franciscan priest and theologian, who, alongside Saint Bonaventure, is the most influential theologian in the history of the Franciscan Order. He was probably born in the winter of c. 1266 in the South of Scotland. Around the year 1279, he was accepted to a Franciscan friary. After eight years of preliminary studies in philosophy at Oxford, he began to study theology there in 1288. He was ordained to the priesthood in Northampton on March 17, 1291.

In the academic year 1298, he prepared his first theological lectures which would alter his life. The following semester, he presented the course on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the most prominent text of systematic theology at the time. During these years he wrote Lectura I-II, his lecture notes on the two first books of the Sentences. Duns Scotus' scholarship impressed his fellow academics and the Franciscan leadership, as an exceptionally penetrating and original thinker.

In the summer of 1301, Duns Scotus had fulfilled all the requirements for being a master (magister). However, he was sent to Paris by his superiors to continue his work at the most prestigious university in Europe. After having again taught on the Sentences for a year, he and some of his colleagues were banished in 1303 from Paris due to conflict between the French King Philip IV and Boniface VIII. He eventually returned to his house of studies (studium) at Oxford in early 1304.

At the end of the summer of 1304, he had journeyed back to Paris where he became professor of theology in 1306. He diligently composed his Ordinatio together with a staff of assistants. The Ordinatio was meant to be the definitive edition of his Commentary on the Sentences. For this, he used his Lectura I-III and Reportatio Parisiensis IV and other materials he had prepared in advance.

In 1307, Duns Scotus traveled to Cologne in order to become the professor of theology at the Franciscan Studium. On November 8, 1308 he died suddenly in Cologne, leaving behind numerous unfinished works, including his Ordinatio. He is best known for his theology on the Absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ, and for his eloquent explication and staunch defense of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Duns Scotus' nuanced theological insights and concise argumentation earned him the honorific title, the "Doctor Subtilis".

Let us strive like Blessed John Duns Scotus, to return to union with God who has created us so that we use all the powers of our body, soul and mind, as Bl. John Duns Scotus did, defending the prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Church, and receive for ourselves the reward for which we were created, to behold the Beatific Vision in heaven for all eternity.

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