Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 679
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...
(The entire section contains 679 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this On Divine Love study guide. You'll get access to all of the On Divine Love content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
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 Mary. So well did he defend this doctrine that it became adopted by the university, though it did not become official Catholic dogma till 1854. In 1303 he was expelled from the university in the conflict between the pope and the French king. He possibly went to Cambridge University at this time but was back in Paris the next year. It was only then he received his doctor of theology degree, or magister theologiae. He started working with his assistants on his major work of scholarship, the Ordinatio, which was to become the official commentary on the sentences.
This was interrupted by more controversy in Paris, and in 1307, the Franciscan order sent Duns Scotus to Cologne, Germany, to teach at the theological college there. He suddenly died on November 8, 1308, the Ordinatio still unfinished and now known as the Opus Oxoniense (the Oxford work). His students put together what else they remembered from his lectures, this being the Reportatio parisiensis (1302-1305). Not until the 1920’s were the Lectura discovered, and not till the 1950’s was a critical edition of Dun Scotus’s complete works produced. There is yet to be a complete English translation of the Latin.
Duns Scotus did not write any single text entitled “On Divine Love.” That title came from a commentary put together by Research Group John Duns Scotus working out of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. They collected together a number of his writings on the topic, putting Scotus’s Latin text on one side, an English translation on the other side, and then adding a commentary at the end of each section. This is the text this article will address. The sections are taken from volumes 6, 16, and 17 of the 1950’s edition, some of which is drawn from the Lectura and some from the Ordinatio.
The book is divided into six chapters. The first deals with necessity and contingency, the second applies these concepts to theological ethics, and the third discusses “the act of love” and eternal life. The subject of election and merit constitutes the fourth chapter, followed by a chapter on God’s will and its goodness. The last chapter is “An Infinite Act of Love.” The concepts of necessity and contingency may not seem to have much to do with love, but Duns Scotus makes these foundational to his notions of freedom, merit, and grace. Logically, something contingent did not have to be; something necessary did. Do we necessarily love God, or can it be otherwise, out of choice?