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

Love Perfects, Knowledge Informs

ScotusDue to the fall of man and the inheritance of original sin our intellect is darkened and our will is disordered. Although the redemptive work of Christ enlightens our intellect and reorders our will toward the appropriate desire for God and to love him above all things, we still struggle with the “old self.” Through the cleansing of baptismal waters we become a new creature, buried in the death of Christ and united in his resurrection. While a new creature, we still struggle with sin and forget ourselves, so to speak.

St. Paul explains the remains of concupiscence in his epistle to the Romans:

Romans 7:14-20

“For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I work, I understand not. For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do.  If then I do that which I will not, I consent to the law, that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good. For to will, is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

I have found myself relating to this passage throughout my life as a Christian. I know what I ought to do but my wounded will loves that which is contrary to the ordered love of God in Christ.

So understood, a moral theology and philosophy should take seriously the properly ordered love of God located in the human will rather than seated primarily in the intellect. The problem with fallen man is not the intellect alone; it is that the will is bent toward that which is ungodly. The first chapter of Romans teaches us that we know God exists through the things that are created by God, so the problem is not that the intellect is darkened in such a way that we are ignorant of the existence of God. Rather, we suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness and choose idols to love rather than the Creator in whom we live and move and have our being.

For these reasons, it seems to me that this succinct summary of Scotus’s ethics demonstrates why his system specifically, and the Franciscan moral tradition generally, is very much in line with the Scriptures on this issue.

“The will is central for Scotus because it is love, not knowledge, that perfects the human person as rational animal. Following Augustine, he locates the fulfillment of human nature in the act of right and ordered loving. With other mainline Franciscan thinkers he places sin not in the intellect as an error of judgment but in the will as disordered desire.” (The Philosophical Vision of John Duns Scotus, Mary Beth Ingham Pg. 117)


– Lucas G. Westman


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