Blessed John Duns Scotus, Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, Philosophy, The Franciscans, Theology

The Philosophical Vision of John Duns Scotus

ScotusMary Beth Ingham on John Duns Scotus’s System of Philosophy:

“Scotus successfully re-formulates and re-presents Augustinian cognitional conclusions within an Aristotelian framework, and, by that fact, dismantles the theory of illumination as a viable alternative to the cognitional model based upon De anima III. He builds a natural bridge between philosophy and theology, showing that one can defend the formal, scientific dimension of theology on Aristotelian grounds and never sacrifice any central element of an Augustinian vision. Scotus extends the act of intuitive cognition from the senses to the intellect and offers an original integration of this theory into the Aristotelian noetic of his day…His cognitive theory provides the foundation for the certainty of subjective states, and more importantly (at least for him) explains how the beatific vision adds no perfection to the activity of the human intellect. No special illumination, no light of glory is needed to raise the human mind to enter the presence of God. Human nature is naturally constituted for the perfection that awaits it, even though that perfection surpasses its natural ability of attainment. The experiences of the beatific vision depends more on the divine will as objectum voluntarium than on the human intellect.”

She continues,

“In addition, Scotus re-frames the metaphysical question to focus on being and its transcendental attributes, true, good, and one…this re-framing identifies metaphysics as a transcendental science that deals with cognition as it relates to reality. In this way, metaphysics prepares the way for theology, since both deal with the realm of being that lies beyond sense experience. The univocity of being grounds the unity of all human cognition and enables both the mind and language to say something about the realm beyond the physical.”

– Mary Beth Ingham, The Philosophical Vision of John Duns Scotus


– Lucas G. Westman


5 thoughts on “The Philosophical Vision of John Duns Scotus

  1. Jose A. says:

    I’m new to your blog and have been browsing through your posts, especially on Bl. John Duns Scotus. Your blog is awesome! I hope and pray you continue the great work.

    I have a question regarding the first quote in this post. How does Mary Beth Ingham (or you) reconcile Scotus’ cognitive theory with the statement, “That any intellectual nature in its own self is naturally blessed, and that the soul does not need the light of glory raising it to see God and to enjoy HIm beatifically” that was condemned by the Council of Vienne (Canon 5)?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a good question. I don’t think Scotus would say that the “soul does not need the light of glory raising it so see God and enjoy him beatifically.” Scotus’s cognitive framework is addressing the “natural capacities” of the intellect, that is, did God create us with the cognitive ability to enjoy the beatific vision, or does something need to be “added” to our capacities. So the context of what Scotus is speaking of, I would maintain, does not fall into the category in Canon 5 of the Council of Vienna.


  3. Preceding the condemnation you are mentioning, the Council says this,

    [28] “We entertain in our heart a deep longing that the catholic faith prosper in our time and that the perverseness of heresy be rooted out of christian soil. We have therefore heard with great displeasure that an abominable sect of wicked men, commonly called Beghards, and of faithless women, commonly called Beguines, has sprung up in the realm of Germany. This sect, planted by the sower of evil deeds, holds and asserts in its sacrilegious and perverse doctrine the following errors.”

    This context is important because, if my history is correct regarding Scotus, he was involved with refuting the heresies of the Beghards and the Beguines. It would make sense to argue, then, that Scotus’s positions are not equivalent to the heresies he was combatting. I would need to look more into these disputes, but it looks as though the Beghards and the Beguines were preaching something that looks like a reformulation of the Pelagian heresies.


  4. Jose A. says:

    I too doubt Bl. Scotus would deny that we need the light of glory. I need to look more into his Ordinatio. As for the lady you quoted, this got me nervous “No special illumination, no light of glory is needed to raise the human mind to enter the presence of God.” It’s not clear to me in what context she is saying that. If she is saying that in the sense you have stated regarding our natural capacities, then that’s understandable. But it seems to me (and maybe other readers) that she might be saying it literally, i.e we don’t need the light of glory to see God. This would be attributing something to Bl. Scotus which he himself did not hold but also dangerous since it’s contrary to the following:
    “The Immediate Vision of God transcends the natural power of cognition of the human soul, and is therefore supernatural” (De Fide).
    “The soul, for the Immediate Vision of God, requires the Light of Glory.” (De Fide).
    Thank you for replying back. Laudetur Jesus Christus!


  5. I can see the concern over the wording of the summary presented in the posted quotation. I think, however, the argument is on the safe side of this issue concerning our natural capacities. God created us for the beatific vision, and therefore we are created with the natural cognitive capacities for this end. Its not that we have some cognitive capacity for the natural reality we currently exist, and when we reach the beatific vision must be “given,” “gifted,” or “granted” an additional capacity in the new state of existence. Here is a clarifying summary of this position offered by Alan B. Wolter O.F.M.,

    “Scotus’s theory of the appetitus naturalis for supernatural beatitude seems to be nothing more than a conclusion drawn from the commonly accepted theological dictum that the supernatural does not destroy, but is built upon and perfects the natural. Applying the Aristotelian conceptions of act and potency, Scotus claims that a passive capacity for this supernatural perfection must exist in the nature itself. If he calls this supernatural perfection ‘natural,’ it is only in the sense that it is in accord with and does not do violence to that nature.

    This passive capacity to receive such supernatural gifts as sanctifying grace or the beatific vision does not require the addition of some intermediary habit or quality by which the soul is proportioned, so to speak, to the divine causality. The soul is always in obediential potency to its creator, and this suffices.”

    *The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus, Pg. 168

    NOTE: I will post more of this summary as an update to the original post. What you have pointed you does need further clarification and I think these passages by Wolter (and a few others) accomplish this task.


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