(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

John Duns Scotus was probably born in the small town of Duns, in the Borders region of Scotland. In 1279 he entered the Franciscan convent in nearby Dumfries, then the next year went to Oxford University. For eight years he studied the basic liberal arts courses, then arranged into the quadrivium of four subjects and the trivium of three. Having completed these courses, he became a student of theology in 1288. On March 17, 1291, he was ordained. In 1297, he received the baccalaureus, which enabled him to lecture, with the view to his becoming a doctor of philosophy and a university professor.

The main way to do this was to give a lecture course of a year’s length based on the Sententiarum libri IV (1148-1151; Four Books of Sentences, 2000) of the medieval theologian Peter Lombard, after spending a year preparing these lectures. This is when Duns Scotus wrote his Lectura. Basically they were lecture notes on the sentences, set out in the formal scholastic manner: proposition to be defended, questions on it, possible answers, possible objections, and refutation of objections. For some reason, he did not receive his doctorate immediately after having distinguished himself in these lectures. He attracted, it seems, some thousands of students, and was given the nickname of “Doctor Subtilis,” the subtle doctor. He also had the tag “Scotus” (the Scotsman) added to his name.

In 1301 Duns Scotus was sent to the University of Paris, which had been the center of fierce theological strife, to teach the course again, plus teach a philosophy course and enter into debate about the immaculate conception of the Virgin...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cross, Richard. Duns Scotus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. One of the Great Medieval Thinkers series and probably the easiest overall introduction to his work, from a leading Duns Scotus scholar.

Ingham, Mary Beth. Scotus for Dunces: An Introduction to the Subtle Doctor. St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2003. Ingham is a leading scholar on Duns Scotus. She considers “rational love” in her section “Reading Scotus Today.”

Ingham, Mary Beth, and Mechthild Dreyer. The Philosophical Vision of John Duns Scotus. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. This is much more of an academic textbook than the above. It shows Duns Scotus as philosopher and moralist as well as theologian. Chapter 6, “The Rational Will and Freedom,” is the most relevant.

Vos, Antonie. The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. A summary of Duns Scotus’s life as well as an overall view of his writings from this leading Dutch Reformed scholar.

Williams, Thomas, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A series of essays covering various aspects of Duns Scotus.

Wolter, Allan B. Scotus and Ockham: Selected Essays. St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2003. This is more of a philosophy text, but it does discuss Duns Scotus in a wider context. Wolter takes Duns Scotus to be more Aristotelian and less Augustinian than some other scholars.