Staunch Defender of the Immaculate Conception

Blessed Duns Scotus

Feast Day: 8th November

John Duns, later known as the Subtle Doctor, was called Scotus on account of his birth in the Scottish county of Roxborough. He was born in 1266, educated by the Franciscans and at 15 entered the Order. He was ordained at St. Andrew's Church in Northampton on 17 March 1291 ten years later. He studied at Cambridge, Oxford and Paris and died in Cologne. He taught in the universities of Paris and Cologne.

In training to be a Friars Minor he would have learnt of St Francis of Assisi's love for Christ in the Eucharist, his reverence for the priesthood, and his loyalty to "The Lord Pope”. He imbued these Franciscan traits and they were to surface time and time again in his own theology. His controversial claim that our Blessed Lady never contracted original sin seemed to conflict with the doctrine of Christ's universal redemption. He maintained that even if man had not sinned Jesus would have become man. He taught that the will is superior to the intellect and love to knowledge, and that the essence of heaven consists in beatific love rather than the vision of God.

Today he is remembered for his brilliant defence of the Immaculate Conception although it was immediately challenged by his secular and Dominican colleagues.

Among theologians Duns Scotus is remembered for his approach to the Incarnation. The Church's traditional approach is that the Divine Word (the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity) became Incarnate as Jesus in order to redeem the human race from sin by His Death and Resurrection.

Duns Scotus approached the Incarnation in a completely original way. He based the Incarnation on God's gratuitous love, rather than sin as the cause of the Incarnation, showing that redemption is not a necessary reason for the existence of Christ. God's first intention was that a human nature (that of Jesus) should be united to the divine Word, giving it the greatest possible glory. This act would manifest God's freedom in generous self-giving, in that God's supreme Being would be given to a lesser nature.

Duns Scotus gives another reason for the Incarnation, also based on love and independent of redemption: God wants to be perfectly loved by Creation in return for His love. God, Who loves Himself perfectly, both in Himself (the Person of the Trinity) and in others (created beings), also wills to be loved perfectly by someone outside God. Christ is willed, therefore, to be this Creature with God's own capacity to love God, even if the Fall had never occurred. Some theologians conclude that, had Adam and Eve not sinned, Jesus would not have come into the world, since a redeemer would not have been necessary. Duns Scotus could not accept such reasoning. His theology insists on the total freedom of the Divine Will and love. The fact that he has been made a Blessed is proof that the Church has approved his way of thinking.

He was exiled from Paris when he was 37 because of his refusal to sign his name to the libellous attack made by Philip IV the Fair, King of France, on Pope Boniface VIII. He went to Cologne where he lectured until his death at the age of 42. His body lies in the nave of the Franciscan church near Cologne cathedral.

Among Catholic theologians during the 16th to 18th centuries Duns Scotus' following rivalled that of St Thomas Aquinas and in the 17th century outnumbered that of all other schools combined.

Already during his lifetime the outstanding Christian virtues of this great Master of Theology had gained for him a high reputation for holiness, and within a short time after his death he was venerated in a public cult, not only in the Seraphic Order to which he belonged, but also at Cologne, and Nola in Italy. It is interesting to note that he was never officially made blessed but his cult as a blessed was confirmed by Pope John Paul ll on 6 July, 1991.

We Franciscans today can thank God for the intellectual talents He gave our brother. We are proud to know that despite stern opposition he maintained and promoted the doctrine of Our Blessed Lady’s Immaculate Conception. May he draw us nearer to Mary, our Mother, who in turn will lead us to her Son.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Blessed John Duns Scotus … pray for us.