Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was a Scottish Franciscan theologian, likely born in Duns Berwickshire.
Scotus challenged St. Thomas Aquinas on the relation between faith and reason. Aquinas argued that if one first believed, knowledge of God would follow. That is, reason (a form of conceptual knowledge) followed and supported faith (a set of specific beliefs). Therefore for Aquinas faith and reason were closely related.
Scotus, on the other hand, divorced faith from reason, arguing the two were irreconcilable. His quick mind earned him the title of Doctor Subtilis (the subtle doctor). Along these lines, he advocated the theological idea of something halfway between a mere concept and a reality, an idea of interest to contemporary sociologists (especially non-reductive postmoderns) and philosophers.
Like other realist philosophers of the period (such as Aquinas and Henry of Ghent) Scotus recognised the need for an intermediate distinction that was not merely conceptual, but not fully real or mind-dependent either. Scotus argued for an formal distinction (distinctio formalis a parte rei), which holds between entities which are inseparable and indistinct in reality, but whose definitions are not identical. For example, the personal properties of the Trinity are formally distinct from the Divine essence. Similarly, the distinction between the ‘thisness’ or haecceity of a thing is intermediate between a real and a conceptual distinction. There is also a formal distinction between the divine attributes and the powers of the soul.†
Scotus’ defense of the Papacy was ridiculed by Protestant reformers in the 16th century, contributing to the pun “dunce.”
- Blessed Duns Scotus: Defender of the Immaculate Conception (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- Blessed Duns Scotus, faithful disciple of Saint Francis (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- Lourdes exhibit celebrates Bible (toledoblade.com)