Today is November 8th and that means it’s the feast day of Blessed John Duns Scotus, OFM!!!

For those who aren’t aware, I am a big fan of the Subtle Doctor, having studied his work and been significantly influenced by Scotus’s thought over the years. I’m not the only one whose thought has been noticeably shaped by Scotus. There are particular figures of much greater significance who look up to John Duns Scotus and whose work reflects the (not so) subtle influence of this magnificent Franciscan thinker of the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Here are just a few names of people who are in debt to the Subtle Doctor for influencing their work:

  • Gerard Manley Hopkins — the Jesuit poet, author of the poems “God’s Grandeur” among others.
  • George Lindbeck — the American theologian, wrote a dissertation on Scotus.
  • Martin Heiddeger — the philosopher, author of Being and Time, wrote a dissertation on Scotus.
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg — the Lutheran systematic theologian, wrote a dissertation on Scotus.
  • Thomas Merton — the Twentieth-Century Trappist Monk and spiritual writer.
  • Charles Sanders Peirce — the American philosopher, logician, wrote very highly about Scotus.

Often remembered for his dense and penetrating philosophical work, John Duns Scotus has generally been neglected as a spiritual guide. It has been relatively few scholars that have sought to focus attention to Scotus’s religious life as something worth considering, especially in a Franciscan perspective.

Mary Beth Ingham, a well-known scholar of Scotus, wrote an article titled, “Fides Quarens Intellectum: John Duns Scotus, Philosophy and Prayer.” About a year later I wrote an article titled, “Praying With the Subtle Doctor: Toward a Contemporary Scotistic Spirituality.”  At least in the English language, these are the most recent and explicit efforts to call attention to the insight of John Duns Scotus as a resource for contemporary Franciscan spirituality. My forthcoming book also features some of Scotus’s own contributions to Franciscan spirituality, an overlooked area of the tradition.

One thing that both Ingham and I reference in our respective articles is Scotus’s prayer at the beginning of his most famous work, De Primo Principio (On God as First Principle). Surprising to many, Scotus opens his philosophical explication of God as First Principle with a prayer for wisdom and illumination. Today is a good day to return to that prayer for reflection — especially if you are a student or teacher.

Happy John Duns Scotus Day!!

From the opening of De Primo Principio (1.1-2)

May the First Principle of things grant me to believe, to understand and to reveal what may please his majesty and may raise our minds to contemplate him.

O Lord our God, true teacher that you are, when Moses your servant asked you for your name that he might proclaim it to the children of Israel, you, knowing what the mind of mortals could grasp of you, replied: “I am who am,” thus disclosing your blessed name. You are truly what it means to be, you are the whole of what it means to exist. This, if it be possible for me, I should like to know by way of demonstration. Help me then, O Lord, as I investigate how much our natural reason can learn about that true being which you are if we begin with the being which you have predicated of yourself.

1 Comment

  1. Br. Dan, I read this yesterday and smiled to myself… I think I may have even once left a comment on an older post saying, “You had me at Duns Scotus.”

    I first became familiar with him through a priest friend in the early 90’s and this introduction led me down a different path. It was when I knew that I was interested in something far deeper than I had imagined. He is a guide for me.

    Thanks for this great post and for being who you are!

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