Duns Scotus (c.1265 - 1308)

Theology on the Web helps over 2.5 million people every year to find high quality theological resources that will help to equip them to serve God and to know Him better (2 Timothy 2:15). Like other websites that provide free services, it is dependent on donations to enable it to grow and develop and only 0.004% of visitors currently do so. If you would like to support this site, please use one of the options to the right of this message.


DUNS SCOTUS, Johannes, was b. in 1260 or 1274, according to Matthæus Veglensis and Dempster, at Duns, in the southern part of Scotland; accordiug to Leland and others, at Dunstane, in Northumberland; according to Wadding, in Tre~and; d. at Cologne, 1308. He early became a Franciscan, and studied theology at Oxford, under William de Vuarra (Varro). When the latter went to Paris, Duns succeeded to his chair, and taught in Oxford with great success. He is said to have had three thousand pupils. It was especially his keenness and subtlety which impressed people; for which reason he received the title of doctor subtilis. While in Oxford he wrote a commentary upon the Sentences of the Lombard, - Opus Oxoniense. About 1301 he went to Paris, and there he also lectured on the Sentences; which lectures afterwards were published under the title Reportata Parisiensia. Tn 1305 he obtained the degree of doctor. After the order of Clement V. he held a grand disputation with the Dominicans concernmg the immaculate conception of Mary. He came out victorious. Even the marble statue of the Virgin, standing in the disputation hall, bowed to him when he descended from the cathedra; and it became a rule in the university, that he who obtained a degree there should take an oath to defend the doctrine of the immaculate conception. In 1308 Duns was sent to Cologne, by the general of his order, to contend with the Beghards, who were numerous in those regions, and with the Dominicans, who refused to accept the new dogma. lie was received with great honors, but died in the same year from apoplexy.

The best edition of his works is that by Wadding, Lyons, 1639, in 12 vols. fol. The first four volumes contain his miscellaneous writings on grammar, logic, etc. ; -vols. V.—X., time Opus Oxoniense; vol. XI., the Reportata Parisiensia; and vol. XII., the Quodlibeta. ‘l’hese works give striking evidence of the comprehensive scholarship of their author. Duns was not only familiar with the writers of his own time and the early middle ages, but he was also deeply conversant with the works of the fathers, and he had studied both the Greek and the Arab philosophers. From Averroes and Avicenna he borrowed many Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas. Porphyry and Aristotle he specially treated of: Questiones in quinque universalia Porphyrii, his commentary on Aristotle’s metaphysics and De anima, etc.

The difference between Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas is very striking. It lodged deep in the natures of the two men, and it became a stirring element in the after-history of scholasticism. In their ideas of God, Thomas is always inclined to emphasize necessity, Puns, freedom; for Thomas had a natural bent towards generalization, Duns a vivid sense of individuality. While to Thomas the relation between God and the world is a relation of substance, Puns vindicates the free causality of God; and while the Thomistic conception of the Trinity retains a shade of modalism, Puns fully carries through the distinction between the persons of the Trinity, the attributes of God, etc. The genius of Thomas was speculative: that of Duns was critical; and his method is, consequently, negative destruction of error rather than positive construction of truth. But, just as his natural bent towards individualism never made hirmi a nominalist, so his natural talent for criticism never made him a sceptic. His scepticism refers only to the argumentation, and arguments he may destroy until he has no other basis for truth than the absolute will of God and the voluntary submission of man; but this basis, the truth of the divine revelation, and the authority of the Established Church, he never touches.

The relation between God and the world was to scholasticism the great problem, and in the system of Duns Scotus this problem received an original and bold treatment. Representing God as the absolutely self-sufficient and self-controlling subject, he tries to give to the world a higher degree of independence and substantiality than it ever could attain in a system of emanation or Pantheism. But the solution is incomplete. In his innermost being, in his very essence, God remains unknown and unknowable to man, and consequently his will can never become the direct and natural contents of the will of man. The will of God is an enigma, manifested only in the form of arbitrary commands: the will of Than is an empty form, receiving its contents through voluntary submission to external authorities, -the Church.

A. Dorner, "Duns Scotus," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 1. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. p.674.


Article in Journal or Book D.A. Cress, "Towards a bibliography on Duns Scotus on the Existence of God," Franciscan Studies 35 (1975): 45-65.

Primary Sources

Book or monograph F. Alluntis, OFM & A.B. Wolter, OFM God and Creatures; The Quodlibetal Questions. Princeton, NJ & London: Princeton UNiversity Press, 1975. ISBN: 0691071950. pp. xxxiv + 549.
Book or monograph Charles Balic, ed. Opera Omnia. Vatican City: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950.
Book or monograph John Duns Scotus, God and Creatures; The Quodlibetal Questions. Princeton University Press, 1975. ISBN: 0691071950.
Book or monograph John Duns Scotus, Concerning Metaphysics: Extracts, Allan B Wolter, translator. Akros Publications, 1995. Pbk. ISBN: 0861420322.
Book or monograph Allan Wolter, OFM, ed. & trans., Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1992. Hbk. ISBN: 0813206227. pp.543.
Book or monograph Allan B. Wolter, OFM, ed. & trans. Philosophical Writings, 2nd edn. Nelson Philosophical Texts. Hackett Publishing Co. Inc., 1987. Hbk. ISBN: 0872200191. pp.198.

Secondary Sources

Article in Journal or Book Marily McCord Adams, "Duns Scotus on the Goodness of God," Faith and Philosophy 4.4 (1987): 486-505.
Article in Journal or Book Bernardino M. Bonansea, "The Divine Will in the Teaching of John Duns Scotus," Antonianum 56.2/3 (1981): 296-335.
Book or monograph Bernardino M. Bonansea, OFM. Man and his Approach to God in John Duns Scotus. Langham, MD, 1983.
Article in Journal or Book Alexander Broadie, "Duns Scotus on Sinful Thought," Scottish Journal of Theology 49.3 (1996): 291-310.
Book or monograph F. Copleston, SJ. A History of Philosophy, 2 Vols. 1950. pp.476-551.
Article in Journal or Book Richard Cross, "Duns Scotus on Eternity and Timelessness," Faith and Philosophy 14.1 (1997): 3-25.
Article in Journal or Book Richard Cross, "Duns Scotus on Goodness, Justice, and What God Can Do," Journal of Theological Studies 48.1 (1997): 48-76.
Book or monograph Richard Cross, The Physics of Duns Scotus. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. Hbk. ISBN: 0198269749. pp.320.
Book or monograph Cross: Duns ScotusRichard Cross, Duns Scotus. Great Mediaeval Thinkers Series. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1999. Pbk. ISBN: 0195125533. pp.250.
Article in Journal or Book Richard Cross, "'Where Angels Fear to Tread': Duns Scotus and Radical Orthodoxy," Antonianum 76.1 (2001): 7-41.
Book or monograph Cross: The Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns ScotusRichard Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Hbk. ISBN: 0199244367. pp.358.
Article in Journal or Book Cecil B. Currey, "The Natural Theology of John Duns Scotus," Recherches De Theologie Ancienne Et Medievale 46 (1979): 183-213.
Article in Journal or Book Stephen D. Dumont, "The Necessary Connection of Moral Virtue to Prudence according to John Duns Scotus -- Revisited," Recherches De Theologie Ancienne Et Medievale 55 (1988): 184-205.
Book or monograph Charles R.S. Harris, Duns Scotus, 2 Vols. Oxford: Hardcover (1959) New York: Oxford University Press, 1959. Hbk. ISBN: 0196471222.
On-line Resource C.R.S. Harris, Duns Scotus, facsimile of 1927 edition. Thoemmes Press, 1994. Hbk. ISBN: 185506331X. pp.800.
Article in Journal or Book Joseph M. Incandela, "Duns Scotus and the Experience of Human Freedom," Thomist 56.2 (1992): 229-256.
Article in Journal or Book Mary Beth Ingham, "Duns Scotus, Morality and Happiness," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 74.2 (2000): 173-196.
Article in Journal or Book William E. Mann, "Duns Scotus, Demonstration, and Doctrine," Faith and Philosophy 9.4 (1992): 436-462.
On-line Resource Reginald Lane Poole [1857-1939], Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought and Learning, 2nd ednReginald Lane Poole [1857-1939], Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought and Learning, 2nd edn. London: SPCK, 1932. Hbk. pp.327. View in PDF format pdf [This material is in the Public Domain]
Article in Journal or Book Robert Prentice, "Primary Efficiency and its Relation to Creation, Infinite Power and Omnipotence in the Metaphysic of John Duns Scotus," Antonianum 40 (1965): 395-441.
Book or monograph J.K. Ryan & B.M. Bonansea, eds. John Duns Scotus 1265-1965. Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, 3. Washington, 1965.
Book or monograph Michael Sylwanowicz, Contingent Causality and the Foundations of Duns Scotus' Metaphysics. Leiden: E J Brill, 1996. Hbk. ISBN: 9004105352. pp.296.
On-line Resource Ernest Crewdson Thomas [1876-1950], History of the SchoolmenErnest Crewdson Thomas [1876-1950], History of the Schoolmen. London: Williams & Norgate Ltd., 1941. Hbk. pp.677. View in PDF format pdf [This material is in the Public Domain]
Book or monograph James B. Torrance & Roland C. Walls, John Duns Scotus. Continuum International Publishing Group - Handsel Press, 1992. Pbk. ISBN: 1871828198. pp.18.
Book or monograph Duns Scotus on Divine LoveA. Vos, E. Dekker, H. Veldhuis, N.W. Den Bok & A.J. Beck, eds., Duns Scotus on Divine Love: Texts and Commentary on Goodness and Freedom, God and Humans. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003. Hbk. ISBN: 0754635902. pp.248.
Book or monograph The Cambridge Companion to Duns ScotusThomas Williams, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002 Pbk. ISBN: 0521635632. pp.424.
Article in Journal or Book Gordon A. Wilson, "Good Fortune and the Eternity of the World: Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus," Recherches de Theol et Phil Medievales 65.1 (1998): 40-51.
Book or monograph Allan B. Wolter, OFM. The Transcendentals and their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus. Catholic University of America, Philosophical Series, 96. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1961.
Book or monograph Allan B. Wolter, OFM., Duns Scotus, Metaphysician. Purdue University Press, 1995. Hbk. ISBN: 1557530718. pp.234.
Book or monograph Allan B. Wolter, OFM. The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus. M. McC. Adams, ed. Ithaca, NY & London: Cornell University Press, 1993. Hbk. ISBN: 0801423856. pp.352.
Book or monograph Rega Wood, Ludger Honnefelder & Mechthild Dreyer, eds., John Duns Scotus: Metaphysics and Ethics. Studien Und Texte Zur Geistesgeschichte Des Mittelaltars, Bd 53. Leiden: Brill, 1996. Hbk. ISBN: 9004103570. pp.500.

Related Subjects
Peter Abelard | Aelfric | Alcuin |Anselm | Augustine of Canterbury | Thomas Becket | Bede | Benedict | Bernard of Clairvaux | Boniface | Thomas Bradwardine | Bruno | Catherine of Siena | Charlemagne | Charles Martel | Clare | Clovis | Columba | Dominic | Duns Scotus | Dunstan | Meister Eckhart | Desiderius Erasmus | Francis of Assisi | Gottschalk | Gregory I | Gregory of Rimini | Gregory of Tours | Hildegard of Bingen | Hugo of St Victor | Ignatius Loyola | Innocent III | Isidore | Joachim of Fiore | John Huss | John of Damascus | John of Wesel | Jerome of Prague | Julian of Norwich | Marjory Kempe | Ramon Llull | Nicholas of Cusa | Nicholas of Lyre | Patrick | Pepin (Pippin III) | Peter Damian | Peter Lombard | Peter the Venerable | Photius | Richard Rolle | Scholastica | Thomas Aquinas | Wilfred | William of Ockham | William of St-Theirry | John Wycliffe

Become a Patron!Buy Me a Coffee!
Support this siteSponsored Ad: Biblemesh ActivEreader