Monday, April 2, 2018

New Book By Antonie Vos: The Theology of Scotus

Antonie Vos' long promised book is finally out from Brill.

There has been a dearth of new books published on Scotus lately, though not in ancient outdated studies republished by the reprint services, and Vos' volume makes a welcome addition. Thus far, I think the field of research in Scotus' theology has been dominated by Richard Cross, at least in English.

Here's the publisher's blurb, which gives a rough overview of the contents.

In this volume, Antonie Vos offers a comprehensive analysis of the philosophy and theological thought of John Duns Scotus. First, a summary is given of the life and times of John Duns Scotus: his background and years in Oxford (12-80-1301), his time in Paris and Cologne (1308-1309) and his year in exile in Oxford and Cambridge (1303-1304). From there on, Scotus' Trinitarian theology and Christology are introduced. Duns not only embraced the doctrine of the Trinity, he also proved that God must be Trinitarian by connecting the first Person with knowledge to the second One with will. Further insights of Scotus' are discussed, such as the theory of Creation, ethics, justification and predestination, and the sacraments. The volume concludes with an overview of historical dilemmas in Scotus' theological thought.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

From the blurb, would it be fair to say this is meant as a reasonably accessible introduction to Scotus? I sure hope so. This blog has convinced me I should look into Scotus, but it seems that it's really just Mary Beth Ingham's books that occupy that niche. The following review of Cross's book has turned me away from it, for example:

"I bought the book hoping that I would get a clear explanation of Scotus' views from within. Instead I found an exposition of an analytic philosophers contracted views on Scotus. To be blunt, Cross should not presume that the reader cares about his views in a work that purports to expound Scotus' views. I find this to be a common defect amongst the analytic philosophers, who seem intent upon telling us that we can make good use mediaeval philosophy, but fail to see that they themselves are peripheral to that ressourcement. I give it three stars for the sake of Duns Scotus, not for the sake of Cross. Beware also his work on the Physics of Duns Scotus, unless, that is, you are an analytic philosopher."

Is that accurate?

Anonymous said...

Will be interesting. Vos's book on Scotus' philosophy remains helpful. It's worthy of note (ominous?) that the book appears in the Studies in Reformed Theology series and there is no mention, in the TOC at least, of Scotus' Mariology.

JI Goff

Lee Faber said...

Anonymous, it's hard to say, since I can't get any inside views yet and don't have a hard copy. Vos' philosophy book was wide ranging, with a massive introduction summarizing all the history of interpretation and arguments over the facts of Scotus' life etc., that may not be all that useful to total beginners. And he has his own interests, so, for example, if I were to write a summary or into to Scotus' philosophy, I would probably start with what metaphysics is and how univocity and demonstration function in Scotus' thought. But Vos devotes only a page or two to univocity,, but has a massive study of contingency which he sees as significant for later calvinism. So I don't know that he intends it as an introduction. I would say the same about Cross. His "Duns Scotus" in the great medieval thinkers series is meant as an introduction, but none of his other books. Certainly not the PHysics, or the Incarnation book. Duns Scotus on God is closer, but not an introduction to a total beginner. IN a way, the best introduction is just to read medieval texts by Bonaventure and Aquinas to get the basic medieval problematic. Ingham's books are also actually intended as introductions, and they seem to me to be largely paraphrases and explanations. Cross' presuppose knowledge of analytic philosophy as much as they presuppose some background in Scotus. Thus I find it truly bizarre that modern theologians now take Cross as the basic explanation for Scotus, on say Christology, neglecting to read Scotus at all. In my experience, modern theologians have very little or no training in say the pre modern philosophical tradition, but also none in analytic philosophy. So in the case of using Cross, there is the extra layer of analytic phil. bewteen them and Scotus, that they won't even notice since they also know nothing about Scotus.

Anyway, as to that review you quote, it depends what it is from, since as I said, I don't think Cross' books are intended as introductions. It also depends who the "we" is in the review, since the "appropriation" of medieval thought by aanalytic philosophers is largely written and conduction for themselves and their friends; it is not intended to be a lasting interpretation, as was, say, Gilson's idea of christian philosophy in Aquinas.

Jl Goff, yes, I was also struck by the appearance of the volume in the Reformed theology series. Why not just publish it with the same press that did the other book? But I did not notice that there was no Marian chapter. It would seem rather hard to pull that off. There would have to some mention of the doctrine that historically was far more controversial than the univocity of being.

Jim Given said...


I am a devout Catholic, as was B. John Duns Scotus. I would not recommend a work of Calvinist theology as a good overview for the theology of Duns Scotus. But if a person were interested in use of Duns Scotus' thought in Calvinist apology, I would recommend for them the book by William Lane Craig, "Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom". This seems to me to be a correct account of Duns Scotus (and many other metaphysicians) on the metaphysical doctrines underlying an adequate account of human freedom and its compatibility with Divine omnipotence and omniscience. This is not at all a complete view of Duns Scotus' thought, but rather a detailed critique of key doctrines of his. As others have noted, Calvinist writers will seldom wish to present all the ideas of Duns Scotus.

Lee Faber said...

Jim, it may not be fair to call it a work of calvinist theology, just because it omits the Marian theology. Vos I think is involved with the series it is in, so it may have seemed a natural place for it.

Jim Given said...

Lee, I did presume from Antonie Vos' status as given by Edinburgh Univ Press:
Antonie Vos is Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Church History and Medieval Thought for the Netherlands Reformed Church, at the University of Utrecht

that his writings and teachings supported Calvinist belief. If this was a wrong assumption, I apologize.

Pedro Santiago said...

Is this book by any chance a revised and augmented translation of his work from 1994? I mean his book in dutch, "Johannes Duns Scotus" (ISBN 9050304176), published by Groen en Zoon in the series "Kerkhistorische monografie├źn". This book contains almost 300 pages; the one by Brill has almost 460.

The contents seem very similar, at least in a broad overview:
(Chapter from Brill's Book / Chapter from dutch edition)

1 Duns Scotus’ Life and Works =?= II. Leven en werken
2 God Triune =?= XI. God Drie├źnig
3 Jesus Christ =?= X. Jezus Christus
4 Creation =?= VIII. Schepping
5 Ethics =?= IV. Ethiek (and possibly V. Wil en vrijheid)
6 Justification =?= VI. Rechtvaardiging
7 Predestination =?= VII. Predestinatie
8 Sacraments =?= IX. Sacramenten
9 Theology in a New Key: Extrapolations and Perspectives = ???

Also the "Ideas of Theology" contained in the first chapter may reflect the last chapter of the dutch book: XII. De wijsgerige godsleer ("Philosophical religion"), with topics such as: Theodicy, Finality, Excellency (eminentia) etc

Lee Faber said...

Jim, presumably, one can write scholarship about Scotus even though one may be a calvinist. I did not detect any proselytizing etc. in his book on Scotus' philosophy, though I didn't read the end of it. certainly Vos thinks Scotus was influential in reformed thought, but that is not the same thing.

Pedro, thanks for brining up this intriguing possibility. Note too that end of the philosophy book had a similar chapter, philosophy in a new key.

Unknown said...

I'm about half-way through the book. It's, so far as I can tell, pretty solid to this point as an intro text and as engaging contemporary theological thought (likely weighted towards Protestant thought, although I haven't paid too close attention on this point). As one would expect with Vos there is a great degree of emphasis (though not exclusive) upon the Lectura texts and upon synchronic contingency. He does a good job of distinguishing between necessary and contingent theology and framing his presentation of Scotus accordingly. Vos actually seems to push back against "forensic justification" and recommends a return to or at least a reconsideration of pre-Reformation/Counter Reformation formulations of the question, strongly emphasizing the need for history and systematics to work to together. There is a strong tendency to mitigate Old Testament events and commands and to favor a demythologization qua historical research in the field of Scotus's ethics. He makes a couple mistakes in his presentation of Scotus's theology of the Trinity, too. Overall the text is much less technical than Vos's philosophy counterpart. Sadly, the text is riddled with typos... to point of distraction.

JI Goff

Lee Faber said...

Thanks, Jl! I remember Vos' Philo book having the same problem with typos.