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JANUARY, 1883.


Duns Scorus, the Doctor Subtilis of Scholasticisin, is the least known of the great lights of the Middle Ages. Really it may be said of him, Stat nominis umbra. While Thomas Aquinas, the darling of the Romish Church, is everywhere extolled, and his writings have been commented on in every age, till they seem submerged beneath the weight of his expositors, Scotus has had but little sympathy outside his school, and but few competent historians of his doctrine. Erdmann's account of liin, though brief, is comprehensive, and Ritter's exposition is one of his best pieces of work. Ilaureau, with his brilliant dash, gives but a travesty of his doctrine. Stöckl, with his sturdy German honesty, does him fair justice, thongh devoting only ninety pages to Duns, and over three hundred to Thomas. The French writers, Cousin, Rousselot, and others, fail to appreciate him fitly, with the single exception of Morin in his Dictionary of Scholastic Theology and Philosophy. None of the Church historians do him justice, with the exception of Baur, both in his Church Ilistory and History of Doctrines. Last year (1881) Dr. Karl Werner wrote a book of 512 pages, Svo, devoted to his system, but in language so scholastic and so completely a transfer of Duns' own modes of expression, that it is about as easy to read the barbarous original as Werner's Exposition. Certainly it is not likely to make Scotus

Fourth SERIES, Vol. XXXV.-1

any better known than before. IIis name, which signifies darkness in Greek, has been the occasion of many a pun, while his cognomen has given us the word dunce, as if his very subtilty were an indication of the want of intellectual vigor-“dark by excess of light.”

John Duns Scotus was probably born in the year 1274, in the village of Dun or Dunum, whence his name. Scotus points to the country of his birth; but as Ireland as well as Scotland is indicated by the term, it is not absolutely certain which was his native land. Still Scotland seems to have the preference, in accord with the inscription on his tomb:

“Scotia me genuit,
Anglia me suscepit,
Gallia me docnit,

Colonia me tenet." It is narrated that he was dull in his boyhood, and had no aptitude for learning. Tradition tells us that the future champion of the Immaculate Conception of Vary called upon the mother of God to illuminate his mind, and that amid his tearful struggles he fell asleep. The virgin mother appeared to him and promised the gift of learning on condition of his faithful service in her cause. This was the beginning of a new intellectual life.

We know not when he became a brother of the Minorite Order, nor yet the course of his early studies. At all events we find him in Oxford, England, before 1300, and in Merton College. Amid the dearth of information regarding his favorite studies, we learn that he was especially devoted to mathematics, and that about 1300 he was called to the Chair of Theology vacated by his master. It was at Oxford that he wrote his Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard, making six volumes of his collected works. In 1304 we find him in Paris, whither he was called to hold a public disputation on the subject of the claims of Mary, and as a champion of the Franciscan Order. It was in this contest too that he won his title of “Subtle Doctor," at the suggestion of Pope Clement V. · or of the Bishop of Paris. The chivalric knight of the honors of Mary was often called Doctor Marianus. It was at Paris that he wrote the Reportata, a new Commentary on the Master of Sentences, less full and valuable than the Oxford work.


This is known as the Paris work, and occupies one of his folio volumes.

He left Paris in 1308 for Cologne. It is uncertain on what mission he went thither, in obedience to the rescript of Gonsalvi, the general of the order. It was certainly in the interest of the Franciscans, and probably to meet the growing fanaticism of the Beguines and the Apostolic Brothers, who then swarined at Cologne. We encounter a significant feature of the discipline of the Minorite Order when we read of the unhesitating obedience with which Scotus obeyed the commands of his chief. The letter was handed him as he was taking recreation in the vicinity of Paris, with his pupils around him; but he girded himself for his journey without returning to his convent. In answer to the suggestion that he should return to Paris and bid adieu to his friends, he answered, “ The general father orders me to go to Cologne, not to the convent in order to salute the brethren."

At Cologne he expounded the Sentences of Lombard, defended the Thesis of the Immaculate Conception, and fought the heretical sects with all his

powers. But the end was near. Before the year 1308 had passed away he died suddenly, at the age of thirty-four. IIe was buried in the Franciscan Convent, at the entrance of the sacristy, near the altar of the Three Kings.

The report has gone forth, and it has really great probability, that he was committed to the tomb in an epileptic fit. When consciousness returned, finding himself in darkness, and abandoned to his terrible fate, he tore the flesh from his hands and dashed his head against the walls of his tomb. According to the declaration of more than one writer, he was found as thus described, stretched out on the pavement of his tomb. Ilis foes declared that he must thus have expiated some terrible crime unknown to the world. His friends put quite another face upon the matter. He had long been subject to the falling sickness, at which times he was unconscious for many hours. Having been so short a time in Cologne among strangers, and his disciples having found him one day stiff and cold, as in death, they mourned over him as really dead, and accordingly placed him in the tomb. His friends say still further that these trances, to which he was subject, were the issue of

his holy life, for in these ecstasies his soul took flight to the skies and basked in the mysteries of God.

The curse of Shakspeare upon the man who should move his bones might well have been adopted by Scotus, for his remains were disinterred five times in 400 years.

These traditions of his sanctity are not necessarily inconsistent with the impetuosity of the man, which is betrayed everywhere in his writings. It seems difficult, however, to conceive of him as playing the quietistic rôle or wrapt in ecstatic visions. Yet experiences of his are related similar to that of Catharine of Sienna, who wore on her finger the espousal ring given her by the Holy Child.

Certainly he clung to his vow of poverty and exemplified humility even in dress and bearings. A Latin verse speaks of him as

"Quem vestis vilis, pes nudus,
Et chorda corouant."

When on his way to. Cologne a crowd went forth to greet him, the magistrates of the city among them. They met a man, clad in the gray robe of the Franciscans, old and tattered. His naked feet and his low estate moved their pity and called forth alıns. What was their surprise to discover that they had fallen in with the world-renowned Duns! It casts a light upon the university life of those days to read of his encounter with one of his great contemporaries. One day at Paris, amid the crowd of his auditors, he remarked a man of unprepossessing appearance, and corered with rags. He did not seem to be en rapport with the discourse of the master. lle muttered his disapproval of the argument, and at a crucial point of the discussion shook his head in absolute denial. Seotus noticed this, and sought to humiliate him by a simple question in grammar. So singling him out, he proposed this: Dominus, quæ pars ? that is, What part of speech is Dominus? Instantly came back the retort, Dominus non est pars, sed totum. The master saw by this that here was a diamond in the rough, and after his lecture he invited the stranger to converse with him on the divine mysteries. The results of this conversation were afterward embodied in the treatise, Dominus, que pars? for the stranger was no less a man than Raymond Lull.

Duns is said often to have tried his hand at argument with the common people, of which we have one instance at least. One day in England he encountered in a field a peasant sowing barley. Angry at being obliged to labor he voinited forth frightful oaths, while the great scholar called his attention to the ten commandments. In vain, for the rustic replied, “You lose your time in talking to me. The will of God will come to pass, since he knows from eternity what will become of me. Well, then, if he has resolved to save me or to damn me,

it matters not what I do, for I shall go to the place appointed, be it heaven or be it hell.” Scotus now turned the tables upon him by this retort: “If God has, as you believe, imposed from all eternity such a necessity upon things, why do you trouble yourself to sow grain in your field ? If God has determined that this barley shall grow here, whether you sow it or not, it will nevertheless grow. If, on the contrary, he has determined that it shall not grow, whatever you may do, it will never sprout from the earth.” Whether this story be trne or not, it is certainly in the spirit of Duns Scotus. As the Italian proverb has it, “ If it is not true, it is well invented.”

The Subtle Doctor left behind him twelve folio volumes, edited in 1639, mainly by Luke Wadding. His works are rare, there being no copy of them in Boston, to my knowledge, and one must needs make a pilgrimage to Cambridge to find them in the library of Harvard University. Besides these published works he left numerous commentaries on the Scriptures. He wrote on most of the books of the New Testament and on some of the Old. Besides, he left an ecclesiastical work on the Perfection of States, and some books on alchemy. Were all his works published, they would, it is likely, reach the number which Thomas wrote-seventeen volumes folio-and he lived fifteen years longer than his great antagonist, dying in the year in which Scotus was born. What amazing fertility of thought and what boundless capacity for work is shown in such a library left by a young man of thirty-four years of

age If we seek now to give a general view of the work of Duns, we shall see that his industry was guided by a philosophic interest rather than a theologic. Of course the latter is not ignored, and he seeks to keep within Church lines. Had he not made theology his main business he would not have been

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