Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Remembering Duns Scotus

On his blog, Jonathan Norman today remembers Duns Scotus.

Since we have people contributing the blog who are medieval scholars from the Catholic tradition, I thought it would be interesting to see how he is received outside RO, where he is viewed as almost villainous.

In RO, he is considered the one who begins to destroy the Augustinian conception of the Triune God. RO traces the rise of secular reason back to the theological moves made by Duns Scotus. Specifically, they charge that he reduced God to sheer will, and a potentially arbitrary and cpricious will at that. He, in effect, flattens the world via his understanding of the univocity of being. As a result, the participatory structure of Augustine's Trinitarian theology is "flattened" or "unhooked" into a purely immanent realm. Again, RO does not charge Scotus with all of the moves made towards secular reason, but certainly see him, along with Henry of Ghent and William of Ockham, as the Medieval theologians who began the move towards Cartesian subjectivity, onto-theology, and the rise of secularism in the West.

Are their other readings of Scotus?


Blogger Chris Burgwald said...

There are other reasons to be unhappy with how some of Scotus' ideas worked out...

Luther scholar Joseph Lortz noted once that the Catholicism that Luther rejected was not authentic Catholicism. He was referring to the nominalist theology dominant in Luther's day, a theology that Luther rightly rejected but wrongly saw as authentic Catholicism. In my research, I found that while Ockham is the more proximate cause of that degenerate theology, the remote cause is Scotus.

Other scholars (e.g. Christopher Toner in The Thomist, January 2005) have convincingly argued that contemporary criticisms of virtue ethics are rooted in Scotus' division of the will.

Sadly, there are all sorts of reasons for people to be unhappy with the consequences of the Subtle Doctor's thought.

November 08, 2005 6:06 AM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

This isn't exactly constructive, but the word "dunce," according to this dictionary.com reference, has it's origin thus:

"After Duns Scotus, John whose writings and philosophy were ridiculed in the 16th century."

This Wikipedia entry confirms the same, but neither of these pages actually say why he was ridiculed in the 16th century.

Now for something constructive: Phillip Blond's essay on Perception in Radical Orthodoxy: a new theology probably has the best concise treatment of the errors of Duns Scotus, although Connor Cunningham's take in Genealogy of Nihilism is much more thorough.



November 08, 2005 11:28 AM  
Blogger Michael Maedoc said...

That is humorous, a good read on Scotus and you will see that his philosophy provides the basis for a solid virtue ethics. Albeit, one that does not fit well in a thomistic system. And perhaps, we can blame Luther on Luther. After all, Scotus' writings were ridiculed in reformation loving England in the 16th century for being too Catholic.

November 09, 2005 6:45 AM  
Blogger Scott said...


Is it a solid virtue ethics system that is grounded in and participates in the Triune God, or does it necessitate the univocity of being?

Also, is it a virtue ethic system dependent upon the will alone?


November 09, 2005 8:10 AM  
Blogger Michael Maedoc said...

On the will alone, of course not. How do you understand his doctrine of the will in relationship to right reason and how do you understand the univocity of being doctrine?

November 09, 2005 12:17 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I would tend to agree with the RO reading of Scotus, especially since that seems to be the reading that Chris brings to the table as well.

I must confess that I have read very little of Scotus first hand and mainly base my assumptions on the RO literature and the book Nihilism Before Nietzsche by Michael Gillespie, who is not RO but writes from the liberal perspective seeking alternative paths modernity could have followed.

November 09, 2005 1:46 PM  
Blogger Deep Furrows said...

Scotus also turns up in studies of Gerard Manly Hopkins, who loved Dun Scotus. See, for example, the excellent work, Hopkins, the Self, and God by Walter Ong, SJ.

His Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue is a brilliant look at the consequences of the technology of printing.


November 10, 2005 3:56 PM  
Blogger Garrett said...

Is there another reading of Scotus? Indeed there is. For those of you unable to engage with the subtle doctor in his own tongue or even in translation, I recommend Richard Cross's article ("where angels fear to tread: duns Scotus and radical orthodoxy" Antonianum-. 2001; 76(1): 7-41) in which he details RO's consistent misinterpretation and misuse of scotistic texts (Pickstock references non-existent passages), complete ignorance of contemporary scotistic studies, and general inability to deal with Scotus' arguments on their own terms.

March 13, 2006 8:39 PM  

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