2007 Archive Edition - See the Archive Notice on the Project Homepage for more information.
Called the Subtle Teacher (or Doctor) and the Greatest Teacher (or Doctor), Johannes Duns Scotus was born c. 1274/1284. England, Ireland, and Scotland claim him as a native son. At 15, he became a Franciscan at Dumfries, where an uncle had educated him, and Scotus later studied at Oxford. He was ordained a priest sometime before he completed a doctorate at the University of Paris in 1305. Philip IV the Fair expelled all Englishmen from the university shortly after Scotus finished his studies because the French king was at war with England. (He also suspended the degree-granting privileges of the University of Paris during his dispute with Boniface VIII over taxing the clergy to finance the war.) Scotus went from Paris to Cologne, where he died in 1308.
An excellent mathematician, Scotus is famous as a dialectician and theologian. He believed that the purpose of study is the service of God. Scotus was influenced by Roger Bacon and the writings of Sts. Augustine and Anselm. Philosophy has limited usefulness in explaining and defending revelation, according to Scotus, and philosophy cannot confirm revelation because philosophy is of man and revelation is of God. Revelation does not, however, contradict reason. Scotus disagrees with Aquinas who says that faith and reason are separate and complementary. God, says Scotus, is absolutely free but will not act in ways that are contrary to reason. Man's will is also free. Since knowledge precedes action, the intellect has priority, but the will commands the intellect. Scotus posits that universal concepts spring from a common nature.
Scotus was the first to argue that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without sin.
Karen Rae Keck
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