Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Duns Scotus
"Defender of the Immaculate Conception"
H.H. Benedict XVI
July 7, 2010
Dear brothers and sisters,
This morning -- after a few catecheses on several great theologians -- I
wish to present to you another important figure in the history of
theology: John Duns Scotus, who lived at the end of the 13th century. An
ancient inscription on his tomb summarizes the geographical coordinates
of his biography: "England received him; France instructed him; Cologne,
in Germany, keeps his remains, he was born in Scotland." We cannot
overlook this information, because we have very little information on
the life of Duns Scotus.
He was born probably in 1266 in a village, which in fact is called Duns,
on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Attracted by the charism of St. Francis
of Assisi, he entered the Family of the Friars Minor and was ordained a
priest in 1291. Gifted with a brilliant intelligence geared to
speculation -- an intelligence that merited him by tradition the title
of doctor subtilis, "subtle doctor" -- Duns Scotus was directed to the
study of philosophy and theology at the famous Universities of Oxford
and Paris. Having concluded his formation successfully, he undertook the
teaching of theology at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and
then Paris, beginning his commentary, as all teachers of the time, on
the Sentences of Peter Lombard. The main works of Duns Scotus represent,
in fact, the mature fruit of these lessons, and take the title of the
places in which he taught: Opus Oxoniense (Oxford), Reportatio
Cambrigensis (Cambridge), Reportata Parisiensia (Paris).
Duns Scotus left Paris when a serious conflict broke out between King
Philip IV the Fair and Pope Boniface VIII, preferring voluntary exile
rather than signing a document hostile to the Supreme Pontiff, as the
king had imposed on all religious. Thus -- out of love for the See of
Peter -- he left the country together with his Franciscan Brothers.
Dear brothers and sisters, this fact invites us to recall how many times
in the history of the Church believers have met with hostility and even
with persecutions because of their fidelity and their devotion to
Christ, to the Church and to the Pope. We all look with admiration to
these Christians, who teach us to guard faith in Christ and communion
with the Successor of Peter, and thus with the universal Church, as a
However, relations between the king of France and Boniface VIII's
successor soon became friendly again and in 1305 Duns Scotus was able to
return to Paris to teach theology with the title of magister regens,
today we would say ordinary professor. Subsequently, his superiors sent
him to Cologne as professor of the Franciscan Theological Studium, but
he died on Nov. 8, 1308, when only 43 years of age, leaving, however, an
important number of works.
Because of his fame for holiness, devotion to him soon spread in the
Franciscan Order and Venerable Pope John Paul II wished to confirm him
solemnly blessed on March 20, 1993, describing him as "singer of the
Incarnate Word and defender of the Immaculate Conception." Synthesized
in this expression is the great contribution Duns Scotus made to the
history of theology.
First of all, he meditated on the mystery of the incarnation and, as
opposed to many Christian thinkers of the time, he maintained that the
Son of God would have become man even if humanity had not sinned. In the
Reportata Parisiensia he affirms: "To think that God would have given up
such work if Adam had not sinned would be altogether irrational! I say,
therefore, that the fall was not the cause of the predestination of
Christ, and that -- even if no one had fallen, not angels or man -- in
this hypothesis Christ would still have been predestined in the same
way" (in III Sent., d. 7, 4).
This, perhaps, rather surprising thought is born because for Duns Scotus
the incarnation of the Son of God, projected from all eternity by God
the Father in his plan of love, is the fulfillment of creation, and
makes it possible for every creature, in Christ and through him, to be
filled with grace and give praise and glory to God in eternity. Duns
Scotus, though aware that, in reality, because of original sin, Christ
has redeemed us with his passion, death and resurrection, confirms that
the incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the whole
history of salvation, and that it is not conditioned by any contingent
fact, but is the original idea of God to finally unite the whole of
creation with himself in the person and flesh of the Son.
Duns Scotus, faithful disciple of St. Francis, loved to contemplate and
preach the mystery of the salvific passion of Christ, expression of the
immense love of God, who communicates with enormous generosity outside
of himself the rays of his goodness and his love (cf. Tractatus de primo
principio, c. 4). And this love is not only revealed on Calvary, but
also in the Most Blessed Eucharist, to which Duns Scotus was most
devoted and which he saw as the sacrament of the real presence of Jesus
and as the sacrament of the unity and community that induces us to love
one another and to love God as the supreme common good (cf. Reportata
Parisiensia, in IV Sent., d. 8, q. 1, n. 3).
Dear brothers and sisters, this theological vision, intensely "Christocentric,"
opens us to contemplation, to wonder and to gratitude: Christ is the
center of history and of the cosmos; he it is who gives meaning, dignity
and value to our life! Like Pope Paul VI in Manila, I also would like to
cry out to the world today: "[Christ] reveals the invisible God, he is
the firstborn of all creation, the foundation of everything created. He
is the Teacher of mankind, and its Redeemer. He was born, he died and he
rose again for us. He is the centre of history and of the world; he is
the one who knows us and who loves us; he is the companion and the
friend of our life. ... I could never finish speaking about him"
(Homily, Nov. 29, 1970).
Not only the role of Christ in the history of salvation, but also Mary's
[role] is the object of the reflection of the doctor subtilis. In Duns
Scotus' times, the majority of theologians offered an objection that
seemed insurmountable to the doctrine that Most Holy Mary was free from
original sin from the first instant of her conception. In fact, the
universality of the redemption wrought by Christ, at first glance, might
seem compromised by such an affirmation, as if Mary had no need of
Christ and of his redemption. Because of this theologians were opposed
to this thesis.
To make this preservation from original sin understood, Duns Scotus then
developed an argument which later would also be adopted by Blessed Pope
Pius IX in 1854, when he defined solemnly the dogma of the Immaculate
Conception of Mary. And this argument is that of the "preventive
redemption," according to which the Immaculate Conception represents the
masterpiece of the redemption wrought by Christ, because in fact the
power of his love and of his mediation obtained that the Mother be
preserved from original sin. Hence Mary is totally redeemed by Christ,
but already before her conception. The Franciscans, his brethren,
accepted and spread this doctrine enthusiastically, as did other
theologians who -- often with a solemn oath -- committed themselves to
defend and perfect it.
In this regard, I would like to highlight something, which it seems to
me is important. Valuable theologians, such as Duns Scotus with the
doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, enriched with their specific
thought what the People of God already believed spontaneously about the
Blessed Virgin, manifested in acts of piety, in the expressions of art
and, in general, in Christian living. Thus faith in the Immaculate
Conception or in the bodily assumption of the Virgin was already present
in the People of God, while theology had not yet found the key to
interpret it in the totality of the doctrine of the faith. Thus the
People of God precede theologians and all this thanks to that
supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy
Spirit, which qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith, with
humility of heart and mind.
In this sense, the People of God is "magisterium that precedes," and
that later must be deepened and intellectually accepted by theology. May
theologians always be able to listen to this source of faith and have
the humility and simplicity of little ones! I made this reminder a few
months ago saying: "There have been great scholars, great experts, great
theologians, teachers of faith who have taught us many things. They have
gone into the details of Sacred Scripture, ... but have been unable to
see the mystery itself, its central nucleus. ... The essential has
remained hidden! On the other hand, in our time there have also been
'little ones' who have understood this mystery. Let us think of St.
Bernadette Soubirous; of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, with her new
interpretation of the Bible that is 'non-scientific' but goes to the
heart of Sacred Scripture" (Homily. Holy Mass with the Members of the
International Theological Commission, Dec. 1, 2009).
Finally, Duns Scotus developed a point to which modernity is very
sensitive. It is the topic of liberty and its relation with the will and
with the intellect. Our author stresses liberty as a fundamental quality
of the will, initiating an approach of a voluntaristic tendency, which
developed in contrast with the so-called Augustinian and Thomistic
intellectualism. For St. Thomas Aquinas, who follows St. Augustine,
liberty cannot be considered an innate quality of the will, but the
fruit of the collaboration of the will and of the intellect.
An idea of innate and absolute liberty placed in the will and preceding
the intellect, whether in God or in man, risks, in fact, leading to the
idea of a God who would not even be linked to the truth and to the good.
The desire to save the absolute transcendence and diversity of God with
an affirmation about his will that is so radical and impenetrable fails
to take into account that the God who revealed himself in Christ is the
God "logos," who acted and acts full of love toward us.
Certainly, as Duns Scotus affirms, in line with Franciscan theology,
love surpasses knowledge and is increasingly capable of perceiving
thought, but it is always the love of the God "Logos" (cf. Benedict XVI,
Address at Regensburg, Teachings of Benedict XVI, II , p. 261).
Also in man the idea of absolute liberty, placed in the will, forgetting
the nexus with truth, ignores that liberty itself must be freed of the
limits imposed on it by sin.
Speaking to Roman seminarians last year, I reminded that "[s]ince the
beginning and throughout all time but especially in the modern age
freedom has been the great dream of humanity" (Address to the Pontifical
Major Roman Seminary, Feb. 20, 2009). However, modern history itself, in
addition to our daily experience, teaches us that liberty is authentic,
and helps the construction of a truly human civilization only when it is
reconciled with truth. If it is detached from truth, liberty becomes,
tragically, a principle of destruction of the interior harmony of the
human person, source of malversation of the strongest and the violent,
and cause of suffering and mourning. Liberty, as all the faculties with
which man is gifted, grows and is perfected, affirms Duns Scotus, when
man opens himself to God, valuing that disposition of listening to his
voice, which he calls potentia oboedientialis: When we listen to divine
Revelation, to the Word of God, to accept it, then we have been reached
by a message that fills our life with light and hope and we are truly
Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed Duns Scotus teaches us that what is
essential in our life is to believe that God is close to us and that he
loves us in Christ Jesus, and therefore to cultivate a profound love of
him and of his Church. We are witnesses of this love on earth. May Mary
Most Holy help us to receive this infinite love of God that we will
enjoy fully for eternity in heaven, when our soul will finally be united
for ever to God, in the communion of saints.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father greeted the people in several languages. In English, he
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on medieval Christian culture, we now turn to the
distinguished Franciscan theologian, Blessed John Duns Scotus. A native
of Scotland, he taught at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and
Paris. Duns Scotus is best known today for his contribution to the
development of Christian thought in three areas. First, he held that the
Incarnation was not directly the result of Adam's sin, but a part of
God's original plan of creation, in which every creature, in and through
Christ, is called to be perfected in grace and to glorify God for ever.
In this great Christocentric vision, the Incarnate Word appears as the
centre of history and the cosmos. Secondly, Scotus argued that Our
Lady's preservation from original sin was a privilege granted in view of
her Son's redemptive passion and death; this theory was to prove
decisive for the eventual definition of the dogma of the Immaculate
Conception. Finally, Duns Scotus paid great attention to the issue of
human freedom, although by situating it principally in the will, he
sowed the seeds of a trend in later theology that risked detaching
freedom from its necessary relation to truth. May the teaching and
example of Blessed John Duns Scotus help us to understand that we attain
happiness, freedom and perfection by opening ourselves to God's gracious
self-revelation in Christ Jesus.
I offer a warm welcome to the members of the General Chapter of the
Congregation of Holy Cross, together with my prayerful good wishes for
the spiritual fruitfulness of your deliberations. Upon all the
English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially the
groups from Wales, Ireland, the Philippines, Canada and the United
States of America, I invoke God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[The Holy Father added in Italian"]
Finally, my thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds.
Yesterday was the liturgical memorial of St. Maria Goretti, virgin and
martyr: a girl who, though very young, was able to demonstrate strength
and courage against evil. I invoke her for you, dear young people, so
that she will help you to always choose the good, even when it is
costly; for you, dear sick, so that she will sustain you in enduring
your daily sufferings; and for you, dear newlyweds, so that your love
will always be faithful and filled with mutual respect.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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