Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Merry Christmas

Hoc praesens diecula loquitur
adaucta longitudine,
quod sol verus radio sui
luminis vetustas mundi
depulerit genitus tenebras.

Nec nox vacat novi
sideris luce,
quod magorum oculos
terruit scios:

Nec gregum magistris
defuit lumen,
quos praestrinxit claritas
militum dei.

Gaude, dei genetrix,
quam circumstant obstetricum vice
concinentes angeli
gloriam deo.

This present little day proclaims,
its length increased,
that the true Sun by the ray
of its light has driven off
the ancient darknesses of the world.

Nor does this night lack
the light of the new star,
which terrified the knowing
eyes of the magi:

Nor was light lacking
for the masters of their flocks,
who were stricken by the brightness
of the soldiers of God.

Rejoice, O god-bearer,
who instead of midwives are surrounded
by angels singing in harmony
glory to God.

--Notker of St Gall, "Natus ante saecula"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

John the Canon on Objective and Subjective Being

[Update: The following text is a verbatim quote from Petrus Thomae. So the title of the post should be John the Canon secundum Petrum Thomae on Objective and Subjective being.]

John the Canon was a secular priest (not a Franciscan as is commonly assumed) who taught at Toulouse in the 1330's. He was a Catalan, as can be seen by the various examples of Catalonia he cites. His only extant work is a commentary on the Physics. In this work he quotes a great deal of material from Peter Auriol, Francis of Meyronnes, Francis of Marchia, and Petrus Thomae, and probably others as well. The following is a text in which he defines objective and subjective being, which I post out of my interest in the divine ideas and fourteenth-century debates concerning them. In a later post I will post the text that follows this definition, in which he argues in favor of a series of conclusions based on it.

Ioannes Canonicus, Quaestiones super libros Physicorum II q. 3 (ed. 1520, f. 29rb): “Quantum ad secundum punctum de nobilitate esse subiectivi et obiectivi est primo sciendum quod est esse subiectivum et obiectivum, et unde dicantur ista vocabula non bene inest memorie nostre; ubi sciendum quod secundum Hylarium ‘sermo rei non est rei subiciendus et ideo non est curandum de vocabulis’, tamen secundum Philosophum necessarium est scire quod per nomen significatur ideo dico primo de subiectivo esse quod esse subiectivum venit a subiecto. Subiectum autem dicitur aliquod ut materia vel sicut in quo vel sicut de quo vel circa quod vel ipsum quod. Primo modo dicitur ‘subiectivum’ illud de quo fit aliquod ut de ipsa materia. Secundo modo in quo existit aliquod. Tertio modo circa quod versatur actio. Quarto illud quod in se subsistit vel substat, et tamen advertendum est quod licet istis quatuor modis dicatur subiectum, tamen esse subiectivum, de quo hic queritur, dicitur a subiecto quarto modo sumpto. Ad cuius evidentiam est advertendum quod omne substans vel substat a se et per se, ut ipse deus, vel per se et non a se, et sic est substantia, vel non a se nec per se sed in alio, tamen absolute ut accidens absolutum; aliud est quod non substat neque a se neque per se neque in alio absolute sed in alio ad aliud, ut omnis forma relativa. Secundum hoc potest distingui quadruplex esse subiectivum, scilicet essentie divine, esse subiectivum substantie et accidentis absoluti et accidentis respectivi.

Viso ergo quod est esse subiectivum videndum est quod est esse obiectivum, ubi dico quod esse obiectivum secundum proprietatem vocabuli nihil aliud est quam esse obiectum alicui, unde esse obiectivum potest distingui sic: quoddam enim est quod habet tantum esse in fictione, puta cum secundum communiter loquentes aliqua potentia fingit sibi aliquod quod ex se nullum habet esse nisi esse obiectivum, aliud quod vere habet esse representativum in aliquo ipsum continente modo representativo et ad hunc modum sequitur esse intelligibile et intellectivum. Secundum ergo hoc potest dici quod duplex est esse obiectivum: unum quod est simpliciter fictum et hoc habent figmenta, aliud quod est esse representativum, et hoc habent solum illa que ex natura rei in aliquo representantur non ex aliqua fictione potentie ficitive et ad istud esse sequitur intelligibile et intellectivum.

“As far as the second point, concerning the nobility of subjective and objective being, it should first be known what subjective and objective being are, and why this terminology is used, which is hard to remember. It should be known that according to Hilary, ‘speech about a thing is not subjected to the thing, and therefore we should not worry about terms’ nevertheless, according to the Philosopher it is necessary to know that is signified by a name and therefore first I say about subjective being that it comes from ‘subject’. Something is called a subject, however, as matter, or as ‘in which’ or as ‘from which’ or ‘around which’ or just the thing itself. In the first way something is called ‘subjective’ from which something is made, as from its matter. In the second way, in which something exists. In the third way concerning which an action is directed. Fourth, that which subsits or stands under itself. And it must be noted that although ‘subject’ is said in those four modes, subjective being, about which it is asked here, is said from subject in the fourth way. As evidence of this, it should b entoed that every thing standing under does so either from itself and through itself, as God, or not from itself but through itself, as substance, or not from itself nor through itself but in another, absolutely as an absolute accident, another which does not stand under neither from itself nor through itself neither in another absolutely, but in another and to another, as every relative form. According to this we must distinguish four kinds of subjective being, namely of the divine essence, of substance, and of absolute and relative accidents.

Now that we have seen what subjective being is, we must see what objective being is. I say that objective being according to the meaning of its term is nothing other than to be an object of something, whence objective being can be distinuished thus: for there is a certain kind which has being only as a fiction, for example, according to the common way of expressing it, when a power is able to attain something which of itself has no being other than objective being, another [kind of objective being] which truly has representative being in the manner in which it is contained in a representative way, and this is intelligible and intellective being. According to this it can be said that there are two kinds of objective being: one which is simply a fiction and this is the kind of being that figments have, and another, which is representative being, which only those things have which from their own nature are represented, and not falsely as a result of being a fiction of a power, and this is intelligible and intellective being.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

To the Scotus Commission: a Papal Blessing


Saturday 16 February 2002

To the Most Reverend Father Giacomo Bini
Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor

1. First of all, I am pleased to greet you, Father Giacomo Bini, the members of the Scotus Commission and all who are involved in the General Secretariate for Formation and Studies. I affectionately greet the entire Order of the Friars Minor.

I am very grateful for the gift of volume VIII of the Opera Omnia of Bl. John Duns Scotus that contains the last part of Book II of the Ordinatio, the last and most important work of the Doctor subtilis.

Bl. John Duns Scotus is a well-known person in Catholic philosophy and theology, whom my Predecessor Pope Paul VI described in his Apostolic Letter Alma Parens, of 14 July 1966, as "the perfector" of St Bonaventure, "the most distinguished representative" of the Franciscan School.

On that occasion, Paul VI asserted that in Duns Scotus' writings "latent certe ferventque Sancti Francisci Asisinatis perfectionis pulcherrima forma et seraphici spiritus ardores" (the beautiful form of the perfection of St Francis of Assisi and the fervour of his seraphic spirit are certainly hidden and yet present); he added that from the theological treasures of his works can be taken precious ideas for "peaceful conversations" between the Catholic Church and the other Christian confessions (cf. AAS 58 [1966] 609-614).

2. The works of Duns Scotus, reprinted several times in previous centuries, needed a thorough revision to clear them of the many errors of the copyists and of the annotations added by his disciples. It was no longer possible to study Scotus using those editions. A serious critical edition, based on the manuscripts was needed. This was also necessary for the works of St Bonaventure and St Thomas.

The Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor and his Definitorium entrusted the work to a special team of scholars, who were named the Scotus Commission and were established at the Pontifical Athenaeum Antonianum of Rome. To date they have published twelve volumes. With great dedication they have identified and indicated the direct and indirect sources that Scotus used in his writing. The footnotes contain all the useful and necessary information for a better understanding of the thought of this great Teacher of the Franciscan School.

Duns Scotus, with his splendid doctrine on the primacy of Christ, on the Immaculate Conception, on the primary value of the Revelation and of the Magisterium of the Church, on the authority of the Pope, on the capability of human reason to make the great truths of faith accessible, at least in part, and to show their non-contradictory nature, is even today a pillar of Catholic theology, an original Teacher, full of ideas and incentives for an ever more complete knowledge of the truth of the faith.

3. Dear members of the Scotus Commission, I am delighted to encourage your work since, as the Ratio Studiorum Ordinis Fratrum Minorum says: "the research centres of the Order, such as the Scotus Commission, through their scientific and editorial activity, carry out a service of primary importance regarding the conservation and transmission of the Order's historical, philosophical, theological and spiritual patrimony" (124). I am happy to take this opportunity to encourage the young friars to undertake studies so as to continue teaching and research at the Order's research centres.

I express the wish that in 2004, the year of the 150th anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Scotus Commission may publish the 20th volume which will contain Book III of the Lectura, still unpublished, in which for the first time Duns Scotus defended the Marian privilege and earned himself the title of "Doctor of Mary Immaculate".

I entrust to the Queen of the Franciscan Order the work of the Commission, while to you, Father Minister General, to all who are present with you and to all those who make your activity possible, I impart my heartfelt Blessing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

7th Centenary of Bl. Scotus's Death (A Couple of Years Later)

NB: The centenary was on Nov. 8, 2008. We offer the text below as an early Christmas present.



Rejoice, City of Cologne, which once welcomed within your walls John Duns Scotus, a most learned and devout man, who passed from this life to the heavenly Homeland on 8 November 1308; and, whose remains you preserve with great admiration and veneration.

Our Venerable Predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II, exalted him with lofty praise; we too would like to surround him with the praise he deserves and invoke his protection.

Thus the seventh centenary of his pious passing is now being celebrated, as is only right. And while articles and entire works in honour of Bl. John Duns Scotus are being published in various parts of the world and congresses are being held, including the solemn Congress currently being prepared that will take place in Cologne from 5 to 9 November 2008, we consider it a duty of our service in this circumstance to say a few words about this most illustrious man who so distinguished himself by contributing to the progress of the doctrine of the Church and of human science.

Indeed, combining piety with scientific research, in accordance with his invocation: "May the First Principle of things grant me to believe, to understand and to reveal what may please his majesty and may raise our minds to contemplate him" [1], with his refined brilliance he penetrated so deeply the secrets of natural and revealed truth, and found in them a doctrine which led him to be called Doctor Ordinis, Doctor Subtilis, and Doctor Marianus, becoming a teacher and guide of the Franciscan School, a light and example to the entire Christian People.

Thus we desire to remind scholars and everyone, believers and non-believers alike, of the path and method that Scotus followed in order to establish harmony between faith and reason, defining in this manner the nature of theology in order constantly to exalt action, influence, practice and love rather than pure speculation; in fulfilling this task he let himself be guided by the Magisterium of the Church and by a sound critical sense regarding growth in knowledge of the truth and was convinced that knowledge is valuable to the extent that it is applied in praxis.

Firmly anchored to the Catholic faith, Duns Scotus strove to understand, explain and defend the truth of the faith in the light of human reason. Thus he strove to do nothing other than show the consonance of all truths, natural and supernatural, that come from one and the same Source.

Alongside Sacred Scripture, divinely inspired, is the authority of the Church. Duns Scotus seems to follow St Augustine's words: "I would not believe the Gospel, except that I [first] believe the Catholic Church" [2]. In fact, our Doctor often gives a special emphasis to the supreme authority of the Successor of Peter. As the Blessed said: "Although the Pope cannot dispense with natural and divine law (given that his power is inferior to both), being the Successor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles, he still has the same authority as had Peter" [3].

Therefore, the Catholic Church whose invisible Head is Christ himself, who left as his Vicars the person of Blessed Peter and his Successors guided by the Spirit of truth, is the authentic custodian of the revealed deposit and the rule of faith. The Church is the firm and permanent criterion of the canonical dimension of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, she "established which books of the biblical canon were to be held authentic" [4].

Elsewhere he states that "the Scriptures were revealed in the same Spirit in which they were written, and in this way one must consider that the Catholic Church has presented them in that same Spirit with which the faith has been passed down, guided that is, by the Spirit of truth" [5].

After having proven with various arguments taken from theological reason, the very fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from original sin, he was absolutely ready also to reject this conviction should it not be in harmony with the authority of the Church, saying: "We can with probability attribute to Mary all that has the greatest perfection, provided it is not opposed to the authority of the Church or the Scriptures" [6].

The primacy of the will sheds light on the fact that God is charity before all else. This charity, this love, Duns Scotus kept present when he sought to lead theology back to a single expression, that is to practical theology. According to his thought, since God "is formally love and formally charity" [7], with the greatest generosity he radiates his goodness and love beyond himself [8]. And in reality, it is for love that God "chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He predestined us in love to be his adoptive sons through Jesus Christ" (cf. Eph 1: 4-5).

A faithful disciple of St Francis of Assisi, Bl. John contemplated and preached assiduously the Incarnation and the saving Passion of the Son of God. However, the charity or love of Christ is expressed in a special way not only on Calvary, but also in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, without which "if not for being able to render supreme adoration unto God through the veneration of the same Sacrament every mercy would disappear in the Church" [9]. This Sacrament moreover is a sacrament of unity and love; through it we are led to love one another mutually and to love God as a common good and to be loved at the same time by others.

And as this love, this charity, was the origin of all things, so too our eternal happiness will be in love and charity alone: "Eternal life is simply the desire as well as the will to love, blessed and perfect" [10].

Since at the beginning of our ministry we first of all preached love, which is God himself, we see with joy that the unique doctrine of this Blessed keeps a special place for this truth, which we consider principally worthy to be researched and taught in our time. Therefore, willingly complying with the request of our Venerable Brother Cardinal Joachim Meisner, of Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Cologne, we are sending this Apostolic Letter with which we desire to honour Bl. John Duns Scotus and invoke his heavenly intercession upon us. Lastly, to those who are taking part in any capacity in this International Congress and in other initiatives concerning this outstanding son of St Francis, we cordially impart our Apostolic Blessing.

Given in Rome, at St Peter's on 28 October 2008, the fourth year of our Pontificate.


Vatican link

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wolter on Scotus on the Transcendentals and Existence

The following remarks from Allan Wolter are relevent to yesterday's post on the Cambridge Phantasists. Specifically, their equation of Thomistic esse with Scotus' univocal concept.

The Transcendentals and their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus, p. 66-69:

In view of the recent trend of thought, developed principally by Maritain and to a lesser extent by Gilson, the question arises, Is this notion of transcendental being to be considered primarily existential or essential? Since this transcendental notion of being of Scotus' is, to all appearances, to be identified with the being of metaphysics, the answer to this question will determine whether metaphysics is to be considered as existential or essential, in the sense coined by Maritain. St. Thomas and Aristotle are cited as exponents of an existential metaphysics; Scotus and Plato as advocating predominantly an essential metaphysics.

In discussing this question, one important thing should be kept in mind. The problem of an essential or existential metaphysics is primarily a problem for Thomists or, more universally, for a system of philosophy which admits a real distinction between essence and existence--"a fiction," says Scotus, "of which I know nothing!" Maritain unfortunately seems to have overlooked this point in describing the "error which may be termed Platonic or Scotist." As a result, he has given us a very ingenious delineation of what Scotus might have held had he been a Thomist.

What Scotus has actually done has been to give us an essential being that has lost none of its existential import. Since the position of Scotus on this matter has been treated already by Barth, there is no need to go into detail here. We believe that Barth is essentially correct when he states that being, according to Scotus, represents primarily a quidditative notion but with a tendency or aptitude to exist. Over and above the reasons listed by Barth for the quidditative nature of being, we call attention to the fact that being pertains to the order of distinct knowledge, namely, that kind of knowledge which is expressed by the definition. Now the definition expresses the essential or quidditative elements of the thing, and being, as Scotus continually asserts, is the basic element in every essence and every definition.

This "primacy of essence," Gilson suggests, "appears in the doctrine of Duns Scotus as a remant of the Platonism anterior to Thomas Aquinas." The real reason why Scotus maintains that the being of metaphysics is a quidditative notion, however, is to be sought not in Platonism, but in the simple Aristotelian axiom that no science of the contingent qua contingent is possible. Since all existence, with the exception of God's existence, is contingent, metaphysics as a science of "existences" is un-intelligible. Existence is as little capable of serving as the "stuff of which the universe is made" as the elan vital of Bergson or the eternal flux of Heraclitus. Maritian recognizes this difficulty when he insists, like Scotus, that we must abstract from actual existence. To have a science, it is necessary to discover a necessary element in the continegent. The notion of actual existence (as we experience it) does not contain any such necessary element, but the notion of possible existence does contain an element of necessity. What actually exists (God alone excepted) is mutable, contingent and temporal; what can be is necessary, immutalbe and eternal. For this reason medieval physics could never be a science of motion, but a science of the ens mobile namely, the immediate subject of motion. Similarly, metaphysics is not a science of "being" in the adverbial sense of existing, but in the nominative sense of "a being" or the immediate subject of existence, that is, "the existible."

It is this idea that Scotus seeks to being out when he "defines" being as "that to which to be is not repugnant". To call this quidditative notion a pure essence, in the sense of Maritain, and to treat it as a sort of "least common denominator" between the real and the logical order, is an inexcusable perversion of the conception Scotus had of being. The term "to be" (esse) is to be understood in the sense of actual existence. Whenever it is to be understood of any other kind of existence, for instance, mental existence, Scotus carefully qualifies the term. He speaks, for instance, of the esse diminutum, esse cognitum, etc. He also recognized that the terms "being," "quidddity," "thing", etc. are used equivocally and can be applied both to real and logical entities. But he carefully distinguishes between the two orders. Only where the note of compatibility with real existence is to be found do we have a notion of real being or real thing. And metaphysics differs from logic precisely in this, that the former is a real science and deals with real being; logic, on the contrary, deals with logical or mental entities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Steven Shakespeare on RO's "Scotus"

From Steven Shakespeare, Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction, by way of this blog

Apparently that's his real name.

"[...] Perhaps more significant still for Radical Orthodoxy is the belief that the seeds of secular decadence are sown by developments within Christian theology itself. The key villain of the piece is Duns Scotus, a medieval Franciscan theologian who died in the early fourteenth century. Scotus is accused of playing a major part in the breakdown of the 'analogical' world-view associated particularly with Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74). According to Aquinas, analogy was a way of talking about God which offered a middle way between two extremes. One extreme was univocal language, which assumed that words were used in exactly the same way when applied to God as they were when applied to anything else. This meant that God could only ever be different in degree (bigger and better) rather than different in kind from us and from the world. The other extreme was equivocal language, which held that words used of God meant something entirely different to their ordinary meaning. On this view, God was a blank, so utterly other to us that anything we said about God was empty and meaningless - hardly a promising prospect for for religious practice!

Analogy tried to avoid these dead ends by saying that some language (like 'God is love' or 'God is truth') could be properly used of God, as God was the source and perfect end of such qualities. However, there was still a high degree of unknowing in this account, as we could not tell exactly how such words and expressions applied to God.

Ideas of analogy can be involved and sophisticated. But the important thing to hold onto is that they try to keep open a possibility for true speech about God which doesn't either reduce God to being just one more thing (however exalted) among many in the universe, or make God into a black hole eternally irrelevant to us.

Duns Scotus is blamed with distorting this authentically Christian understanding of God and truth, because he said that 'being' is a univocal concept. In other words, there is no difference between the way in which God 'is' and the way in which a person or anything else 'is'. To be is the same thing in each case. God is different from us because of the infinite nature of his power. But this has just the consequences which analogy tried to guard against. It makes God the same kind of being as us, just (infinitely) bigger and better. The irony is that Duns Scotus' univocal view doesn't make God any closer to us, because to preserve God's uniqueness, he has to emphasize God's exalted difference from all creatures. God becomes almost identified with pure power.

A further consequence is that, as God is no longer related to us by a living chain of analogy, God becomes ever more hidden and dark to us. God retreats into the heavens, exercising his will from afar. And God's will becomes the arbitrary exercise of power. It has no inner relationship to human worth and fulfillment. God becomes the Law, imposed upon an essentially Godless world.

This account of Duns Scotus is highly controversial ...."


I don't have much time or energy for a full-blown Cambridge Phantasist rant today, so I'll just point out a few things. None of this new, just a rehash of their ideas. But I like to be up-to-date. Note that implication that Scotus is not authentically christian, since he challenged the "analogical worldview". And don't ask me what a "living chain of analogy" is supposed to be. We find here the usual errors: Scotus' univocal concept is interpreted as if he meant it to be applied to the thomistic act of being, univocity paradoxically both makes God just like us but at the same time he is so otherly other that we can't reach him at all. Note also this curious emphasis on omnipotence, which has no basis in any text of Scotus. All divine attributes have the intrinsic mode of infinity. There is nothing special about omnipotence in this respect to make it somehow prior to goodness, will, intellect, and so on. Omnipotence is kind of a bust in Scotus, as all he really wants to discuss is whether it can be proven to be a divine attribute apart from divine revelation. So where this claim that power is identified with God comes from beats me. But texts were never the strength of the movement.

Walter Kauffman, in his introduction to the Portable Nietzsche, quoted a quip from Maritain (whose Thomistic credentials should be beyond reproof) that is relevant here: "If books were judged by the bad uses man can put them to, what book has been more misused than the Bible?"