Franciscan monk, theologian, and scholiast; born at Dunston, North umberland, England (according to some, at Dun, Ireland), in 1266 (?); died in Cologne, 1308. He was the foremost representative of the Franciscan Order, and founder of the Scotists, which school stood in sharp contrast to the Thomists, or followers of Thomas Aquinas, who, together with their leader, belonged for the most part to the Dominicans.

In accordance with his opposition to the doctrinal speculations of Aquinas, Duns Scotus professed, concerning the attitude that the secular authorities and the Church should assume toward the Jews, views which were diametrically opposed to the more humane and enlightened views held by Aquinas, and which represented a deplorable reaction. Thus, whereas Aquinas denounced the forcible baptism of Jewish children, especially on the ground that such a course would be a violation of justice, inasmuch as the child, not being possessed of its full reasoning powers, is naturally under the jurisdiction of its parents (compare Guttman, "Das Verhältniss des Thomas von Aquino zum Judenthum und zur Jüdischen Literatur," p. 4, Göttingen, 1891), Duns Scotus stoutly advocated such baptism. Such a procedure, he maintained, would mean a breach of natural justice only in the event of its being undertaken by a private person; to the sovereign, however, the right appertains. Just as the jurisdiction of local magistrates is limited by the authority of higher functionaries, so the jurisdiction of the parents ceases when it conflicts with the authority of God. Accordingly, it is not only a privilege, but a duty to take children out of the power of their parents in case the latter are unwilling to bring them up conformably to a true worship of God, and to lead them in the right way (commentary in Sent. iv. 4, 9: "Opera," ed. Wadding, viii. 275, Lyons, 1639).

And not only the children, but also the parents themselves should be subjected to forcible baptism. Nor can the words of Isaiah (iv. 22), according to which the remnant of Israel shall be converted in the last days, be cited against such a procedure, since, in order to fulfil this prophecy, it would suffice to transfer a little band of Jews to some island, and to grant them permission to observe the Law.

Duns Scotus, in support of his contention, refers to the decision of the Council of Toledo, which commended King Sisebut for his piety in compelling the Jews to an acceptance of Christianity (ib.).

Duns Scotus' acquaintance with Hebrew literature was confined to the "Fons Vitæ" of Ibn Gabirol (whose name takes with him, as with William of Auvergne, the form of "Avicebron") and to the "Moreh Nebukim" of Maimonides. In one place he makes mention of a rabbi who is unknown even to the greatest scholars of Hebrew literature. He speaks there of one "Rabbi Barahoc," who is a worthy counterpart to the renowned "Rabbi Talmud"; for he is indebted for this name to the Talmud tractate Berakot, out of which a certain convert of Jewish extraction communicated a passageto a Franciscan monk, who interpreted it in a spirit not very friendly to the Jews ("Quæstiones Miscellaneæ," qu. 6, art. 21: "Opera," iii. 477).

Influence of Gabirol.

The influence of Gabirol's philosophy shows itself particularly in the doctrine which is at the foundation of one of the most important differences between the Dominicans and the Franciscans. As early as Alexander of Hales, the founder of the Franciscan theological school, the view is expressed that not only corporeal, but also spiritual substance is compounded of matter and form. This view is held also by William of Lamarre, Bonaventura the Mystic, Roger Bacon, and Raimond Lully, who were all members of the Franciscan Order. Stoutly rejected by the Dominicans, this fundamental concept of Gabirol's philosophy was adopted by Duns Scotus and incorporated in his system as an integral part. In his "De Rerum Principiis" (qu. 8, art. 4: "Opera," iii. 51) he expressly declares, in opposition to Aquinas, in favor of a return to the standpoint of Avicebron.

The metaphysical and cosmological system which is advanced in this work, presupposes Gabirol's doctrine of a unitary, universal substance underlying all created things, both corporeal and spiritual. In elaborating this doctrine Duns Scotus, as might be expected of an independent thinker of his type, follows his own individual bent. But as regards the fundamental principles, the dependence of his system upon Gabirol is so marked that, in the words of Stöckl ("Gesch. der Philosophie des Mittelalters," ii. 808), "his work gives the impression of a running commentary on the metaphysics of Avicebron."

Strange to say, Duns Scotus makes no mention whatsoever of Gabirol's teaching on the will. In his other works, which are mainly in the nature of a commentary on the Bible, and in which, therefore, there is little occasion for a systematic substantiation of his theological doctrines, Duns Scotus rarely refers to Avicebron.

Influence of Maimonides.

With Maimonides, too, Duns Scotus shows more than one point of contact. Like Thomas Aquinas, he follows the statements of Maimonides concerning belief and knowledge, or the relation of revelation and reason, which statements are all, in their essential points, traceable back to Saadia as their first source (see Guttmann, "Die Religionsphilosophie des Saadia," pp. 24-25; idem, "Das Verhältniss des Thomas von Aquino," etc., pp. 32 et seq.). "The doctrine concerning the existence and freedom of God," says Duns Scotus, referring to Maimonides, "had to be imparted to the Israelites by means of revelation, although it may indeed be demonstrated by human reason. Such a revelation was necessary in view of the fact that the culture of the Israelites was of an imperfect order, and also because they were inclined to idolatry" (comment. in Sent. i., dist. 2, qu. 3, 7, v. 294; compare "Moreh Nebukim," ii. 31). "Altogether, it can not but be helpful to a people that even truths accessible to reason should be authoritatively communicated to them; since there is a general indolence in regard to the discovery of truth, and the powers of comprehension of the average man are limited; and, finally, for the reason that errors are apt to creep into speculations independently carried on, giving rise to doubts. Through an authoritative communication or revelation such a danger is obviated" (Duns Scotus, ib. p. 295; compare "Moreh Nebukim," i. ch. xxxiv.; Munk, "Guide," i. 118-130).

In connection with Aquinas' statements concerning the divine attributes, Duns discusses the view of Maimonides, which he finds to be in harmony with that of Ibn Sina, and which is to the effect that the attributes applicable to God either refer to His activity or else are of a negative character (commentary in Sent. i., dist. 8, qu. 4, 2: "Opera," v. 751; compare "Moreh Nebukim," i. ch. li., liii. et seq.). To Maimonides also is traceable the statement that there occur in the Bible designations that are applicable only to God—a view which the Jews held in regard to the Tetragrammaton (comment. in Sent. i., dist. 22, qu. 1, 3: "Opera," v. 1053; compare "Moreh Nebukim," i. ch. lxi.; Munk, "Guide," i. 271 et seq.).

Duns Scotus follows Maimonides also in his treatment of the various forms of prophecy, not to mention other less important particulars. The highest form of prophecy is, according to him, that in which the prophet not only grasps the revelation that comes to him, but is also aware of its coming to him from God. Of this character was, for instance, the intuition of Abraham, who would not have been ready to sacrifice his own son had he not been convinced that the command proceeded from God ("Quæst. Miscell." 6, 8: "Opera," iii. 474; compare "Moreh Nebukim," iii. ch. xxv.; Munk, "Guide," iii. 194-195). On the other hand, Duns Scotus combats the opinion that the temporal character of the world can not be proved—an opinion held by Aquinas, and borrowed by the latter from Maimonides, whom Duns does not mention ("Quæstiones in Metaphys." qu. 1, 13: "Opera," iv. 513; compare "Moreh Nebukim," ii. ch. xxi.; Munk, "Guide," ii. 269).

  • Guttmann, Die Beziehungen des Johannes Duns Scotus zum Judenthum, in Monatsschrift, 1894, xxxviii. 26-39;
  • idem, Die Scholastik des Dreizehnten Jahrhunderts in Ihren Beziehungen zum Judenthum und zur Jüdischen Literatur, Breslau, 1902.
J. J. G.
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